by Deborah Schiefer
I recently wrote a blog for Christmas1 and in it, I referenced the women named in the lineage of the Messiah and their broken histories. When it came to Bathsheba, I debated whether or not to mention the idea that perhaps she wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in the relationship with King David, before the death of her husband. Ultimately, I opted to bring it up because it’s important, especially in a world where 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are the victim of attempted or completed rape in the United States alone.2
I’m not sure about the corners of evangelical Christianity that others have been raised in but where I was raised, Bathsheba had always been painted as an active and enthusiastic participant in the affair initiated by David. More than that, most of teachings I’d received centered on the idea that Bathsheba went out of her way to seduce David and was accountable for his stumbling. Ah, good old purity culture! If you’re at all familiar with fundamental Christianity, you also probably understand that questioning this “reality” is a giant no-no. And so, like the good little girl I was, I swallowed that narrative until I left my conservative corner of the Midwest to join the military.
My faith has never been shaken but I did often find myself questioning these “truths” I’d been told. After the loss of my first three babies, I found myself scouring the Bible for women who also lost children, needing their hope. I found Bathsheba. As I read, my heart ached for this woman whose story I’d never truly known. I had always blamed her but as I studied her story for my own comfort, I found I believe the Bible makes it clear that she couldn’t say no.
After writing the Christmas blog, I really debated if this is a path I want to journey down publicly. I know how strongly we cling to the Biblical narratives we’ve been taught and I know how quickly we can open a controversial can of worms by going against the grain. But as a sexual assault survivor, I couldn’t not address it. Especially because I did choose to leave that possibility open-ended in the original blog for the sake of not losing the evangelical target base I was hoping to reach and convict. However, now?
Now, I’m not trying to reach an evangelical base and create change. Today, I’m purely here to stand arm in arm with a likely survivor of old, maybe bringing new light to her story, sharing reality with other survivors, and lending my strength to those living a modern-version of Bathsheba’s violation.
Last night, I poured over article after article and blog after blog from the most conservative sources, discussing David and Bathsheba. I found something that gave me a little more hope – that many conservative Christians today (compared to the conservative Church of 20 years ago) have no issue recognizing that it’s highly unlikely that Bathsheba chose to and wanted to participate in a sexual relationship with David. Much of that position comes from the same verses that keyed me into the reality of Bathsheba’s history:
- 2 Samuel 11:4 mentions that she was in her period of monthly purification when David sent for her and slept with her. Sleeping with David would have broken the Law in more than one way and Bathsheba was clearly a Law-following woman
- The assumption is always that Bathsheba was on her rooftop, bathing in clear sight and “being a tease.” This is because it’s mentioned that David was on his roof. The truth is Bathsheba’s location is undisclosed. Furthermore, in places where indoor plumbing is not a thing, outdoor bathing has always been fairly common. As recent as 12 years ago, when I lived in Hawaii, there were homes that lacked indoor showers. Those dwelling in those homes had outdoor showers where they bathed. If someone had lived at a geographically higher vantage point (as King David did in relation to Uriah and Bathsheba’s home), those with outdoor showers would need to trust those people to offer discretion and respect for privacy. Using their outdoor shower would not make them a tease. But I’ll get off my soapbox on this one, now
- After returning home, she had no contact with David until sending a message to him to inform him she was pregnant (v. 5)
- Bathsheba is never once mentioned scheming alongside David to cover her pregnancy
- The Bible specifically states that the thing David did displeased the Lord (v. 27)
- Chapter 12 opens with a message from God through the prophet, Nathan, in which Bathsheba is likened to a lamb, and not just any lamb. This particular lamb was so fond of and bonded to his master. This lamb was taken against its will and led to slaughter. Do we catch a parallel here?
- The punishment given from Nathan was handed solely to David and solely mentioned David as the sinning party
- A piece of this punishment included the fact that all things David had done in secret would be done through and in his household in broad daylight for all of Israel to see
- In 2 Samuel 13, we find that David’s son, Amnon, brazenly and brutally raped his half-sister, Tamar, even sharing his plan with a friend. Tamar’s full-brother, Absalom, plotted against Amnon and later murdered him for the violation of his sister. The sin David committed in secret was carried out by his son, publicly
- Coercion, power imbalances, and an inability to deny consent were not taken into account in the Law as documented in Deuteronomy 22:22-29. Essentially, because Bathsheba was not a virgin and because she was married, the definition for rape at the time the Bible was written would not have applied to her situation. Today, however, we legally recognize rape as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”3
Unfortunately, far too many conservative sources still describe Bathsheba as a temptress and continue the narrative that she intentionally seduced David. Even among the countless blogs and articles I read that acknowledged how grievously unlikely it is that Bathsheba truly consented and enthusiastically participated in a sexual relationship with David, the majority refuse to acknowledge that what David did would be considered rape or assault, today. The argument? That rape means physical force with the survivor physically fighting for their life and calling it anything else is redefining it. That’s not even remotely accurate. The quote shared in the last bullet point above proves that.
In our modern world, if a person is incapable of saying no or fighting off an offender because of threat against themself or their family/friends, the assailant can still be charged with rape. As David was king, even if it wasn’t a spoken threat, Bathsheba would have faced a threat against herself and, as we saw in David’s response to her pregnancy, against her husband had she fought back or said no.
Do you see how different that lands when we recognize that David was king? That he held ultimate human power in this situation? Can we see how unfairly balanced Bathsheba’s plight stood when we strip away the names and use “the king” and the “citizen”?
In short, there was no way for Bathsheba to have been able to consent. The only answer available to her was to comply. The Bible doesn’t even state how she responded to David’s lusts, just that he succeeded in sleeping with her. And given the way Nathan paralleled Bathsheba in his narrative, the way the punishment for the sin was dictated, and the way Bathsheba was given back her honor in the lineage of the Messiah, there seems to be strong support for the stance that Bathsheba was not a truly willing participant in this affair.
As Christians, we often try to connect a biblical passage with an application for our own lives today. This one seems so clear and simple to me, but maybe not so to others. What I see…
We so easily place our own expectations onto survivors.
- Expectations for how they should have behaved before the assault
- How could she bathe on the roof?! Surely, she was asking for it.
- Did you know she cheated on her boyfriend? She was a flirt and a tease. She had it coming.
- Expectations for how they should have handled the attack
- She could have said no. The Bible never said she fought back.
- Men love when a girl comes on to them. Plus, he orgasmed. It couldn’t have been rape.
- Expectations for how they should have behaved after the assault
- She just went back home and acted like nothing happened until she found out she was pregnant.
- She went right back to work. If she had really been raped, she would have been too traumatized to function
- Expectations for how the survivor tries to find accountability and safety
- She didn’t even try to tell her husband. She was just going to let the king pretend the baby was Uriah’s.
- He never reported or even sought medical help. Why wouldn’t you at least get an STD test?
And in doing so, in both cases in history and current events, we miss the opportunity to meet survivors where they are, to empathize with the struggles and battles they face, and to extend God’s love and be His hands and feet to a marginalized and battle-worn community.
Christians, we should be in the trenches with survivors. All of us should be in the trenches with survivors, not just those Believers who have walked a mile in those shoes or love someone who has, but every single one of us, as the Body of Christ. We need to be willing to step into the crossfire, to lift them up, to fight for them, until they’ve found their fight and gained their voice. Until every survivor is empowered to command their own army in their own battle, we, fellow Christians, should be battling for them.
We should be the consistent safe place.
So why not start with our own history? Bathsheba. See her. Feel her grief and her loss. Her body. Her husband. Her child. And see how God restored her. Named in the line of the Messiah. Chosen for His holy purpose. Redeemed in the most glorified way possible.
If part of what makes the Bible so relatable and believable is that God never hid the dirty laundry of those, like David, whom He chose to use for His glory, then why do we try to wash their laundry for Him?
Be the safe place.
Find your fight – D.S.