Throughout history, the story of David and Bathsheba has been perceived in many different ways. One example is the 1951 film “David and Bathsheba” starring Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck. In that movie, Hollywood portrayed their relationship as a glorified love affair, one they want you to celebrate. Within that avenue of storytelling, those star-crossed lovers couldn’t let obstacles (even a marriage to another) stand in their way. Although the eyes of the entire kingdom were upon them, it didn’t matter. After all, they were in love. I’ve embedded the trailer below so you can get an idea of the way they make a mockery of God’s Word.
That movie ignored the real story in the name of telling one worth watching. What really happened was the largest cover-up in the Davidic Dynasty. Those moments display a completely selfish ruler obsessed with what he wanted instead of what was best for his people. Those events hurt people in real life, not some made up fairytale world. Those moments had major consequences for all parties involved and the reality of those moments was raw, unfortunate, and ultimately tragic.
In 2 Samuel 11, we have the story of a girl. She was a young lady who happened to be gorgeous and married to a young man who fought in the army alongside the best Israel had to offer. There was much to suggest that her family was intimately connected to the royal family and full of servants devoted to David.¹ By easily seeing that connection, it is somewhat confusing that David did not know who she was while gazing down at her. In 11:3, one of David’s servants explains to those of us observing from afar who it is that caught his eye. Unlike David, that servant knew precisely who she was. While notifying David of her identity, they told David that she was clearly “Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” While it seems fairly certain that David should have known who she was, after looking upon her without having anything left to the imagination, he desired her. As I personally read the text, I tend to wonder if the servant was trying to realign the king’s moral compass. Like David, many of us are guilty of looking or seeing something we shouldn’t. The dwelling on whatever it is we shouldn’t see is what causes temptation to fester, boil over, and eventually lead to sin. If the servant was trying to nudge David in the right direction, it certainly didn’t work.
Upon seeing her, David was triggered to commit sin. There is nothing in the text, however, to make us assume Bathsheba’s actions were meant to provoke or tempt him. She was merely bathing and there are several reasons why we should not frown upon her actions. First of all, it was common to bathe at any time as a woman finished her normal menstrual cycle. The method of purification from the monthly cycle was found within the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 15:19) and before that purification, no man was to touch her.² By no man, I mean not even her husband or he too would be defiled and have to go through a cleansing process as well. This idea of purity was important to the Israelites. They were to be ceremonial pure so that they could be worthy and ready for God’s presence in their worship at the Temple. Her bathing is not out-of-the-ordinary.
Secondly, the architecture of the city and their houses should have provided ample cover for her. The text clearly says David could see her, however, it doesn’t imply that anyone else could. It also doesn’t admit anywhere that she knew he was looking. There is no reason whatsoever in the text that should lead any reader to believe she was publicly showing herself off or being immodest. For a further discussion on that architecture and how it could have played a part in this event, please see the footnotes.³
As we dissect this story, we must remember to only assign blame where it belongs and up to this point, it’s all on David. In 2 Samuel 11:1, we are told that David was not meant to be in Jerusalem to even have the opportunity to lay his eyes upon Bathsheba. As we continue to read, we see that David was idle with his time in the palace. He had been lounging all day, then at dusk, as he goes out on the balcony, he sees Bathsheba. He wanted her, and he wanted her immediately. There is no evidence whatsoever that she wanted this sexual rendezvous. We must remember to put the right emphasis on the character of these people. We’ve made it clear, David is the instigator of this sin and the one who takes advantage of Bathsheba. She is the victim of a premeditated crime of passion. He saw her, he wanted her, he took her, he sent her away.
I think it’s noteworthy that we’re never really given any idea of Bathsheba’s feelings throughout this ordeal. She remains remarkably silent, save a few words to tell David she was pregnant. While Scripture remains silent, some have taken the liberty to speculate rather arrogantly about the role she played in this affair. While I can admit, it does “take two to tango,” there is nothing about this situation that should make us empathize with David and rebuke Bathsheba. When you look at the context of the times and the way in which women were viewed and treated, it seems that placing any blame on her would be quite unfair. There are plenty who would disagree with me, of course. One author even made the arrogant statement that follows, “I think both of them probably took great pleasure in this private moment.”4 I, personally, do not see anything within the Scripture that gives any information on what she was feeling, let alone a reason to believe she enjoyed it. All we know is that David gazed upon her and lingered and that his lust consumed him enough that committing the crime was deemed acceptable. We know he demanded Bathsheba come to the palace and we know he slept with her. We know thanks to 2 Samuel 11:4, that he sent messengers for her. That language does not seem to signify that her presence was passively requested at the palace, instead, she was brought.5 Make no doubt about it, he had her escorted to the palace and into his chambers for one purpose and one purpose only.
Regardless of her intentions, she still paid a price, like all victims. She lost her husband (see 11:26), a son in childbirth, and as David’s wife, bore witness to all of the heartache that David endured with his other children as a result of their sin and God’s judgment (see 2 Samuel 13:1-22; 18:33). We must remember that David’s sin against Bathsheba brought about a large price for his transgressions. The end of the chapter ends with a foreboding thought as it says, “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,” (11:27). Shouldn’t we notice that God didn’t condemn the woman’s actions here? Shouldn’t we notice God never accused her of infidelity? The judgment of God upon David did impact her collaterally, but God also blessed her directly through the birth of Solomon. After David married her, Bathsheba became queen as well as the mother of the wisest king to ever live, the previously mentioned Solomon. That’s not such a terrible end to a very terrible story.
As our thoughts of her come to a close, the real tragedy that comes to the forefront in all of this is how David viewed her as nothing more than a piece-of-meat. His arrogance victimized a woman who (like all women facing abuse) was completely unworthy of such treatment. He took advantage of her situation and for all intents and purposes, raped her without remorse. May we use our hatred of his actions as a wake-up call. Sin is selfish and it doesn’t care about any else. It can motivate you to take what isn’t yours, hurt those who love you dearly and treat people as nothing more than disposable pawns in your adventures. I can’t help but feel empathetic towards her. She was a victim and she deserved so much better. I want to help her, protect her, even avenge her. I want to keep this from happening. I think of my wife, my daughters, and the young ladies of the congregation I serve and I think of what I’d do to someone who treated her that way. In the end, the real shame lies upon the man who pledged to protect her but ended up being the one who victimized her. Shame on you David, she deserved a better king than you.
¹ It seems fairly obvious that Bathsheba had deep connections to the palace through her family. She was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, one of David’s counselors. In our context of Western Culture, he carried a role as an adviser to David and was essentially a part of the king’s cabinet. This high status and reputation would soon fade away, however when he betrayed David and allied himself with Absalom during his attempt to steal the throne. Bathsheba’s father displayed a much more interesting and loyal history with David for those who love adventures about warriors and heroes. 2 Samuel 11:3 tells us that Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam. He was referred to on a few occasions in the Old Testament but is often overlooked as he also carries the name Ammiel (see 2 Chronicles 3:5). Eliam was one of David’s mighty men. While they were often referred to as “the Thirty,” there were approximately thirty-seven of them at any given time who formed David’s inner-circle of defense (see 2 Samuel 23:4). They were David’s elite; his Secret Service, if-you-will. This means that Eliam would have possibly killed thousands of men by his own hand. Seeing that Uriah was also one of these elite soldiers, it would seem that Eliam was old enough to be one of David’s original fighting super-soldiers from his first years upon the throne. All those relationships make it highly possible she grew up just a few doors down from the palace. It’s also highly possible that he could have caught a glimpse of her at a feast or a social gathering of the mighty men when only a child. As she reached the age to wed, she did so with a Hittite man. Uriah went on to become one of David’s closest allies, fighting with him and for him in many battles. Those relationships seem to make this betrayal all the more gut-wrenching.
² Clyde M. Woods, Peoples Old Testament Notes, Vol. 2: Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy. (Henderson, TN: Woods Publications, 1974), 37.
³ While there isn’t a direct answer in the text that addresses where she was bathing, the historical approach has been on the roof of her house. If that was the case, it should be noted that in most of the city, household rooftops had a wall. That wall went all the way around the home and stood approximately waist high (see Deuteronomy 22:8). There was usually an outer staircase leading up to the roof and a view of the roof would have been hidden from all other households, include any bathing area if one did in-fact exist on her roof. It may have been logical to install a bathing area up there since rainwater could be collected on the rooftop in reservoirs for baths. It may have also been the perfect place to warm the water due to it’s exposure to the sun. In retrospect, none of that is required in light of this story, for if she had a roof and if she was bathing on the roof, she could have simply cleansed herself with a pale of water a servant brought her. (For more discussion on this topic, see Eve Lavavi Feinstein, Bathing in the Hebrew Bible by following this link.
4 Swindoll, Charles, Great Lives from God’s Word: David: Vol. 1. (Word Publishing), 187.
5 The Hebrew word there is ” lâqah,” and while the ESV translates it as “to take” or “took” it can also mean “to seize” or “carry away.” From James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek.
Originally published on May 18, 2018. Written by Ryan Scherer.