In the Twitter world, Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition tweeted the following:
To which Rachael Denhollander responded:
In point of fact, Denhollander has a good point. Sadly, her view is not shared across the board among people who ought to know better. Over the years, I have, on many occasions, heard the David-Bathsheba “affair” portrayed as a case where Bathsheba bathed in plain sight in order to be seen by King David. The commentaries include everything but a winking eye, and poor David—he just couldn’t control his lusts!
I kid you not. Even in a Bible Study Fellowship presentation 23 years ago, a guest presenter provided exactly that take. And this was a fairly learned group of men.
Allow me to burst that bubble….and this, ladies and gentlemen, is not rocket science. (I’m going to use ESV for the translation, although–to be honest–it doesn’t matter. Pick any translation you wish: on this matter, it’s clear as daylight.)
Picking up 2 Samuel 11, starting at verse 1:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
The chapter begins with a layout of the background:
- It was Spring.
- It was a time during which kings typically went to battle. And we know that David is himself a warrior who has established himself as an Israelite king to be feared and respected among her neighbors.
- The Israelites were enjoying military success.
- But David–a warrior-king–did not go with his troops.
In other words, David was not doing his job.
Picking up verse 2:
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.
While the ESV translation says “late one afternoon”, the Hebrew literally translates “in an evening”. (NASB indicates “when evening came”, KJV says, “in an eveningtide”, and NIV indicates, “in an evening”. For once, the NIV is actually closer to the literal Hebrew rendering.)
So let the record show, when David saw Bathsheba bathing, it was evening. This is an important detail.
Picking up verse 3:
And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
Keep in mind that, at this time, David is married. In fact, he has at least two wives of whom we know by name: Michal (Saul’s daughter) and Abigail. When he saw Bathsheba, the proper response would have been to look away and go back to his official business, meditating on God’s Law, of which he wrote so eloquently in the Psalms.
But instead, he decided to entertain his lusts. In so doing, he asked his men about her. And their response was to the general effect of, “Uhmmm….your Majesty…she’s married, and you know both her husband and her father.” (Based on what transpired, he knew that Uriah was one of his most valiant soldiers.)
Had he dropped the matter there, all would have been well. Except he didn’t stop with that veiled admonition. We learn this in verse 4:
So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.
Now I’ve heard some commentarors use this passage to show that the David-Bathsheba “affair” was a consensual one, and that she was at least partially at fault. What gets lost in that take is that the passage does not say that.
- “David sent messengers and took her.” And yes, that is the literal Hebrew rendering.
Let’s just say that, if you’re a woman whom a king wants, and that king sends his men for you, you have two acceptable responses: “Yes, I will happily serve His Majesty” and, “which clothes does His Majesty prefer that his women wear?” Bathsheba had no choice; due to the power differential, “consent”–as we understand it–was simply not possible.
Moreoever, verse 4 gives us an additional, and important detail as to what Bathsheba was doing in the first place:
- “Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.”
In Old Testament Israel, women were deemed unclean during that wonderful time of the month that Aunt Flo dropped in for a week. At the end of that week, women ceremonially washed themselves and were then declared clean. That is what Bathsheba was doing!
When women are sexually assaulted, a common response–albeit an unfair one–is to question the degree of victimhood of the woman:
- What was she wearing?
- Was she a prostitute?
- Was she acting seductively?
- Did she really want it and then just claim rape now that “buyer’s remorse” has set in?
2 Samuel 11:1-4 is not implying that those responses are legitimate in such cases; at the same time, those 4 verses are telling us that such a response–even if you think it is valid–isn’t in play here.
- It was evening;
- Bathsheba was bathing as part of her monthly purification.
In other words, Bathsheba was doing everything “by the book”. She was being discreet. In spite of her proximity to very powerful people, she is acting so as to not be easily-seen. She is the one minding her own business.
Contrast that with the way the passage presents David.
- David wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
- He should have been on the battlefield with his troops, but he remained in Jerusalem instead;
- Even in Jerusalem, it was evening and he should have been attending to his wives or other official business;
- When he saw Bathsheba, rather than turn away from his lust, he chose to entertain those lusts by asking about her;
- In spite of a veiled warning, David sent his men and took Bathsheba, at which point “he lay with her.”
In point of fact, the Scriptures put 100% of the blame on King David and none of it on Bathsheba.
This was not an “affair”; affairs are consensual acts of infidelity. (This is why the Law commanded death for both offenders in such cases.)
This was not consensual; in fact, it was a #metoo assault long before the hashtag arrived.