Going about your day, carrying on your duties as a dutiful Jewish woman, only to be summonsed by the king, the most powerful man in your known world to come to him. Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment…
As I hear the story of King David and Bathsheba told over countless times, I feel unsettled and disturbed as I hear her being portrayed as an adulterous woman, and depending on which preacher is telling the story, she’s painted as a downright seductress. I’ve read this story over and over again, and I can’t help but feel heartbroken for Bathsheba. She was victimized and violated by a man in a position of great power.
The story begins in 2 Samuel 11 with King David staying home from battle. The Israelite army was at war in Rabbah with the Ammonites and King David was not with his men at battle, as kings normally are. He walks the roof of his home, looking over his kingdom and sees a very beautiful woman bathing. Now, let’s understand, that Bathsheba was not just bathing, but taking part in a cleansing ritual that Jewish women were required to do after their menstrual cycle to regain “purity” for their husbands. This ritual often times involved a female attendant to ensure that her body was fully covered by the water and therefore “cleansed.” In doing this, there was no way Bathsheba would have known that the king would have been watching her. How was she to even fathom that the king was not at battle? Her own husband was at battle, why wouldn’t the king be away also?
King David saw Bathsheba and was aroused by what he saw, to the point to where he questioned about her. He was king, so why wouldn’t he ask about her? He had women at his disposal and beautiful woman such as her would make a great addition to his harem. He was told that she was the daughter of Eliam (one of David’s mighty men as listed in 2 Samuel 23), and the wife of Uriah the Hittite (a loyal soldier of David and also member of David’s elite list of mighty men). So these men that were related to Bathsheba were some of his closest comrades in combat. Men he trusted, but in spite of this, David pursued her anyway.
As the story continues, we learn that David sent messengers, and took her. I can imagine Bathsheba being home with her husband away in battle and several men showing up telling her that King David wants her to come to the palace. How frightening that must have been. You don’t know why you are being called upon. Your husband isn’t there to come to your aid or at least question these men as to why they are calling on his wife. And why did King David send more than one messenger to call on Bathsheba. Certainly only one should have sufficed. Perhaps for intimidation? She possibly could have denied the request of one messenger, but by sending several men, she wouldn’t be so bold. Or maybe the phrase “took her” means that it was by force. Only one messenger might not have been enough to force a woman to come to the palace. Another thing to consider is that the king was summonsing her and who was she to deny a powerful man and tell him no? That could get you killed. Either way this picture is painted, she had absolutely no choice in this matter. The king called for her, and she must obey. And this doesn’t sound too much like the makings of an adulterous relationship, now does it?
The next part let’s us know that King David called for her, for one reason only; to have sex. “She came to him, he lay with her, then she returned to her house.” Here is a powerful man that commands you come to him, has his way with you, satisfies his lustful thirst for you, and when he’s finished, does away with you and sends you home. Can you imagine how used Bathsheba must have felt? And here is King David using his power and position to TAKE what did not belong to him.
As you continue with the story, you find that Bathsheba conceives a child from this forced sexual encounter and King David attempts to cover his wrongdoings and when his attempts fail, he ends up getting her husband Uriah killed and taking Bathsheba as one of his wives. Now Bathsheba, just as a woman with no rights in her society, has to be married to the man that forcibly took her and killed her own husband.
Throughout this whole story of King David and Bathsheba, the bible only says King David sinned, only King David displeased the LORD. I have yet to find any reference to Bathsheba sinning and the scriptures do not call Bathsheba an adulterer. The only references to Bathsheba being called an adulterer are in the commentary footnotes you find in the bible too often written through a patriarchal lens. I admit, still have more studying to do on this story, but I still stand by what I had said before: Bathsheba was victimized and violated by a man in a position of great power.