What happens in the story of David and Bathsheba seems sometimes to depend on the eye of the beholder. Some suggest Bathsheba was a seductress who had her eye on the king. Others think she naively put herself in a position where her immodesty could tempt the righteous king. Either way, many people mistakenly assume that Bathsheba bears a portion of the blame for David’s sin. This is a misreading of the text. While there is some ambiguity in the narrative, the story puts the blame squarely on David’s shoulders. The story of David and Bathsheba is not the story of a conniving seductress. It is a story of a king who abused his power, took advantage of a woman, murdered her husband to cover it up, and sinned against God.
Here are five reasons why Bathsheba was the victim in this story.
1. David was on the roof. Bathsheba wasn’t.
I’m not sure why this misconception is so popular, but it seems like people are forever wanting to put Bathsheba up lounging around on the roof like a Playboy bunny. Look at the text again. “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing” (2 Samuel 11:2).
Let’s recap: Where was David? On the roof.
Where was Bathsheba? The Bible doesn’t say.
What we do know is that there wasn’t indoor plumbing in David’s Jerusalem. While there are ritual baths in the city that can be dated to the time of the Roman empire, such luxuries were non-existent in David’s time. Archeological evidence suggests that bathing was done by pouring water over the body, something that could have been done in the confines of a private home. If David was on the roof of the palace looking down, he could have easily seen Bathsheba in the enclosed courtyard of a nearby home. The sin here was not Bathsheba’s bathing but David’s looking.
2. Bathsheba was conducting her monthly purification rites.
The NIV notes that Bathsheba was “purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness” (2 Samuel 11:4). Women were considered unclean during their menstrual flow and for seven days following. David didn’t just interrupt a normal bath; he spied on Bathsheba as she was conducting a ritual of purification. This parenthetical note has several functions in the narrative. It strengthens the conclusion that Bathsheba was not trying to entice David. It also reveals that David slept with Bathsheba at a time she was likely to be fertile. However, it also raises the stakes for Bathsheba. Since her husband was away at war, it would be obvious to anyone paying attention that her husband was not the father of her child. Adultery carried a death penalty under Old Testament law. The king was not at risk, but an unfaithful wife might be.
3. The Bible doesn’t usually mince words.
When Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph, the Bible makes it perfectly clear. “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (Genesis 39:6-7). No ambiguity there. It also makes it clear when Lot’s daughters got their father drunk so they could sleep with him in order to carry on their family line (Genesis 20:30-38). When Tamar dressed as a prostitute and sat on the side of the road to force her father-in-law to fulfill her rights under levirate law, the Bible doesn’t leave any doubt about what she was doing (Genesis 38:13-19). If Bathsheba had deliberately been trying to entice David, the text would have said so.
4. David takes the initiative throughout the encounter.
David clearly plays the active role in the story. He “saw” Bathsheba, “sent” someone to find out about her, “sent” messengers to get her, and “slept” with her. She is treated almost as an object. The king sees her, wants her, sends for her, and takes her. David’s lust and power are the driving forces of the story.
5. You are the man! Nathan puts the blame on David.
Nathan’s parable in 2 Samuel 12 puts the blame squarely on David. God had given David wives, wealth, and power. Yet this was not enough. David desired and took another man’s wife for his own, then murdered Uriah to cover up his own sin. David not only committed adultery and murder, he “despised” the Lord. Nathan doesn’t include Bathsheba in his prophetic outcry. David, and David only, is the focus of his proclamation.
So What Really Happened?
Did David rape Bathsheba? There are scholars on both sides of the issue. Some argue that David’s position and power made it impossible for Bathsheba to say no. Others counter that the text omits any mention of Bathsheba resisting or objecting to David’s advances. While acknowledging that the account leaves some ambiguity, I think it’s most accurate to say that the narrator does not consider it rape. The Old Testament view of rape is fairly narrow, applying only to situations where the man forcibly overpowered the woman (see Deuteronomy 22:23-27; 2 Samuel 13:1-14). There is nothing in the text to suggest that David forced himself on Bathsheba. However, I would also add that I do not believe Bathsheba would have felt she had many options, nor do I feel it is appropriate to conclude that she was an “unprotesting partner” as the NIV study notes do. True, the Bible records no protest from Bathsheba. However, the Bible also records no protest when Sarah was taken by Pharaoh and Abimelech, when David himself reclaimed Michal from Paltiel, or when Esther was taken by Xerxes (Genesis 12: 11-20; 20:1-18; 2 Samuel 3:12-16; Esther 2:8-9). It seems most accurate to conclude that Bathsheba didn’t protest because the king’s power and authority made it impossible for her to do so.
Why does it matter?
It matters because this is not the story of a godly man who was led astray by a seductive, conniving woman. It is the story of a godly man who fell into sin because he was led astray and enticed by his own evil desires (James 1:13-15). Consider the number of red flags there should have been in this story. It was chance that David’s eyes fell upon Bathsheba that evening, but he should have known not to lust after a woman who was not his wife. Her identity as the granddaughter of David’s counselor and daughter of one of his bodyguards should have let him know that she was a woman, not an object. Her status as wife of a member of his royal guard should have reminded David that she was off limits, even to the king. Yet the king followed his desires, and they brought forth death. David lost four sons because of what happened that evening.
There’s a warning there for us. We can also fall (1 Corinthians 10:13). Temptation is common, and we should not be so prideful to think that it will never happen to us. Righteousness doesn’t come from our stature or position. Righteousness is birthed in our dependence on God. David’s sin should be a warning for us not to neglect that dependence.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
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