This week perhaps the most relevant biblical character for our nation might be Bathsheba.
First, it’s the week before Christmas and she’s one of the grandmothers of Jesus. Matthew, in his genealogy of Jesus, starts with Abraham, and forty generations later—forty men later—arrives at Jesus. After four of the men, there is a little aside: “whose mother was…” Those four women are Jesus’ great grand-mothers. One of them, in Matthew 1:6, is Bathsheba.
We learn Bathsheba’s story in 2 Samuel 11, a story of rape and violence and loud lament. David, the king, a man in power who could have his way, had his way with a beautiful woman he saw bathing.
And that, unfortunately, is the main reason for nominating Bathsheba as “the most relevant.” This week’s issue of Time magazine (dated Mon, Dec. 18) has five “Bathshebas” on its cover—five women who are representative of the 1000s who have come forward with their “experiences of sexual harassment and assault” in the past two months. A flurry of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates and countless women have shared their harassment experiences in the weeks since then. We are shocked—though women not so much as men—that so many men in power feel they have so much access to the bodies of women around them.
How did the biblical narrator view Bathsheba and David’s liaison? Was any blame laid on the woman who attracted sexual interest? Or was it laid squarely on the man who used his power to make the encounter happen? Many of us expect the Bible to always be patriarchial, chauvinistic. We suppose the biblical text will give David a “pass”—even though we in our generation are more enlightened and realize that the person with power is always responsible. What is the Bible’s attitude?
Eugene Hung, writing for Sojourners last month, states that “the Hebrew in which the account was written strongly supports…the interpretation that King David took advantage of her sexually.” Hung doesn’t elaborate, so I will!
Here are several of the many ways the narrator of 2 Samuel 11 lays responsibility for all that happened squarely on David. (Text is from NRSV, unless otherwise noted.)
11:2 – …late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch… David is rising from his bed at a time when others are beginning to think about retiring to their beds. The narrator paints the picture of an afternoon in idleness and ease. When David caught that glimpse of Bathsheba bathing from the high vantage point of his palace, it was in a mood of laziness and moral laxity.
11:4 – David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Note the fast narrative flow—one verb after another. The author is making clear that David is the primary actor here. One of the verbs is Bathsheba’s action: she came to him. But that need not signal consent or complicity—the same expression is used for her husband Uriah, who, after being summoned by David, obediently “came to him” (v.7). Note the second verb, took. In actuality, David sends royal messengers and they “took” her—in the sense of bringing her or fetching her. But the narrator suggests that David himself (by means of the messengers, to be sure) “took” Bathsheba. The man in power is being held accountable.
11:26 – When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband (ESV). The narrator does not use the customary word for mourning (the word used in v.27) but a stronger, more emotive term: she made lamentation, wailed with loud cries. These are not the emotions of one secretly wanting to be queen but bitterly grieving the loss of strong, noble husband. Further, notice how often the verse refers to Uriah. We get the idea that she was married to someone other than David!
11:27 – …the thing that David had done displeased the Lord… The narrator ends the account with an explicit indictment of David. Not David and Bathsheba, but only David.
May we, like this biblical narrator, hold a person in power accountable for any sexual advances and harassment.
I’m indebted to an article by Richard M. Davidson entitled “Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology” (Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Autumn 2006, pp.81–95) [accessed here Dec. 2017]