Bathsheba is often portrayed as an adulteress whose immodesty, either naive or seductive in nature, set off a chain of terrible events. Patriocentrists love to hold Bathsheba up as an object lesson, to keep their women hyper-focused on whether or not their clothing might cause a man to stumble.
For example, in Created to be His Help Meet Debi Pearl argues, “Because Bathsheba was indiscreet, she caused great calamity, resulting in the bloodshed and suffering of many. Her lack of discretion cost…the integrity of one whom God upheld as a man after his own heart.”
And in his book Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, Jeff Pollard states, “Bathsheba’s unwise and imprudent public nakedness certainly fueled the fire of David’s lust…Bathsheba failed to govern her modesty.”
Was Bathsheba indiscreet? Was she publicly naked? Is she to blame for the bloodshed and suffering of many?
So often Bathsheba’s bath is thought to be very public, and Bathsheba herself very naked. In fact, when I did an image search for “Bathsheba” it was hard to find a picture that I felt comfortable inserting into this blog! Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh:
Bathsheba is bathing herself. We tend to assume that this means she is disrobed, at least partially. I believe Bathsheba is bathing herself in some place normally used for such purposes. Only David, with his penthouse vantage, would be able to see her, and a whole lot of other folks if he chose.
Incidentally, Bathsheba is washing herself in Jerusalem,from which all the men of fighting age have gone to war. Remember the words of verse 1:
1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem (emphasis mine).
It is not as if Bathsheba is acting in an unbecoming manner, knowing that men are around. She has every right to assume they are not. David is around, but he should not be. On top of this, she is not bathing herself at high noon; she is bathing in the evening. This is when the law prescribed (for ceremonial cleansing), and it is when the sun is setting. In other words, it is nearly dark when Bathsheba sets out to wash herself. David has to work to see what he does. I believe Bathsheba makes every effort to assure her modesty, but the king’s vantage point is too high, and he is looking with too much zeal. I am suggesting that David is much more of a peeping Tom than Bathsheba is an exhibitionist.
II Samuel 11 does not specify Bathsheba’s extent of undress during her bath and it adds no commentary as to whether or not this bath was inappropriate behavior on her part. To say that Bathsheba was publicly naked, or even that she was indiscreet, is adding to what the text actually says.
Adultery, Rape or Seduction?
I have always considered the affair between David and Bathsheba to be adultery, not rape. But after examining all the Scriptural clues, I no longer believe that Bathsheba was an enthusiastic adulteress. Here’s why:
1. I read the text carefully and noticed that throughout the passage David is the one “doing.” That evening David walked, he saw, he sent, he inquired, he took Bathsheba and he lay with her. 2 Samuel 11:4 clarifies that David sent messengers and took Bathsheba–he fetched or captured her (Strong’s H3947 - laqach). Then he lay with her and when she became pregnant, he concocted a plan to dispose of her husband, Uriah. Verse 27 reads, the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD. Nowhere in the account does God hold Bathsheba at all responsible! God blames David and only David.
2. There’s no record that Bathsheba cried out for help or tried to resist David, but he was a rich and powerful man, roughly 30 years her senior, in a culture that treated women as property. I tend to think that David seduced Bathsheba, perhaps not by violently raping her, but by using his position as king to intimidate a powerless young woman. Deffinbaugh gives more insight:
When we read of this incident, we do so through Western eyes. We live in a day when a woman has the legal right to say “No” at any point in a romantic relationship. If the man refuses to stop, that is regarded as a violation of her rights; it is regarded as rape. It didn’t work that way for women in the ancient Near East.
Lot could offer his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom, to protect strangers who were his guests, and there was not one word of protest from his daughters when he did so (Genesis 19:7-8). These virgins were expected to obey their father, who was in authority over them.
Michal was first given to David as his wife, and then Saul took her back and gave her to another man. And then David took her back (1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:13-16). Apparently Michal had no say in this whole sequence of events.
To approach this same issue from the opposite perspective, think with me about the Book of Esther. When the king summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear (perhaps in a way that would inappropriately display her to the king’s guests), she refused. She was removed (see Esther 1:1-22). She did not lose her life, but she was at least replaced. Then, we read later in this same book that no one could approach the king unless he summoned them. If any approached the king and he did not raise his scepter, they were put to death (Esther 4:10-11).
Does this not portray the way of eastern kings? Does this not explain why Bathsheba went to the king’s palace when summoned? Does this help to explain why she seems to have given in to the king’s lustful acts? We do not know what protests — like Tamar’s in chapter 13 — she may have uttered, but we do have some sense of the powerlessness of a woman in those days, especially when given orders by the king.
3. David’s sin with Bathsheba seems to be connected to Amnon’s rape of Tamar:
in 2 Samuel 13 there is another way the text blames David. In the story of David’s son Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar. The placement of the rape so soon after the incident of Bathsheba seems to draw a parallel between sexual misconduct of father and son.” (Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pg. 212)
4. In the prophet Nathan’s parable to David (chapter 12) Bathsheba isn’t portrayed as a beautiful, tempting possession. Instead God pictured her as a cherished pet–an innocent, helpless ewe lamb!
God held the rich man (David) entirely accountable for his adultery and murder; He says, “You are the man! You did evil! You struck down Uriah and you took his wife!” In 12:13 David rightly confesses, “I have sinned.” Scripture does not hold Bathsheba, the ewe lamb, at all responsible for David’s actions.
Bathsheba does not deserve to be called indiscreet, nor to be blamed for causing great calamity, as Debi Pearl claims. Neither can she be accused of public nakedness, as Jeff Pollard argues. These accusations simply cannot be backed up with Scripture! Let’s stop using this biblical account as a “proof text” for sermons or books on modesty.
David, the rich man, used Bathsheba, the poor man’s pet lamb. He took away her dignity, he murdered her husband, and her child died because of his sin! Even David himself acknowledged that he had sinned in this matter. God’s Word puts all the blame squarely on David’s shoulders and we must do the same.