What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse. Isabel Allende
If you think that standing ovations for pastors who confess sexual liaisons with young women drive me nuts, you haven’t been around me when it comes to the topic of Bathsheba. Years ago, I started reading the stories in the Bible with a critical eye. Exactly what did these stories say and what did they not say. Early on, the story of Bathsheba caught my eye. I sat through one too many “Bathsheba was a Jezebel” sermons which would end with women being given warnings to dress modestly so we didn’t cause godly™ men to fall. I even heard women *teachers* during Mother/Daughter modesty programs bring up Bathsheba as the slut who tempted poor David and caused her baby to get murdered by God because of her indecency. How many of you out there sat through similar sermons? How many women were made to feel guilty because they looked like women?
However, as I read, I discovered that the “Bathsheba the Jezebel Temptress” is not found in the Bible. So, how did these wrong ideas of Bathsheba develop?
Works of Art
Famous painting seem to indicate that Bathsheba has long been viewed as the ultimate temptress by men. Here are some examples.
Willem Drost, Bathsheba with David’s Letter, 1654 (Ask yourself: What letter?)
How about the hauntingly beautiful Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley?
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
From Bible.Org: Caught in the Tempter’s Trap—The Story of David and Bathsheba
Read this pastor’s less than scholarly take on the account. Basically, he believes that Bathsheba was asking for it and she should have been bathing indoors in her master bedroom suite…
Bathsheba is not guiltless either. She may not have purposely enticed David, but she was immodest and indiscreet. To disrobe and bathe in an open courtyard in full view of any number of rooftop patios in the neighborhood was asking for trouble. She could easily have bathed indoors. Even so in our day, some women do not seem to realize what the sight of their flesh can do to a man. They allow themselves to be pushed into the fashion mold of the world and wear revealing clothes, or nearly nothing; then they wonder why the men they meet cannot think of anything but sex. We must not fail to instruct our younger girls in these matters, particularly as they enter their teen years. Christian parents should teach their daughters facts about the nature of man and the meaning of modesty, then agree on standards for their dress.
David found out who the beautiful bather was, sent for her, and the thought became the deed. There is no evidence that this was a forcible rape. Bathsheba seems to have been a willing partner. Her husband was off to war and she was lonely. The glamour of being desired by the attractive king meant more to her than her commitment to her husband and her dedication to God. They probably cherished those moments together; maybe they even assured themselves that it was a tender and beautiful experience. Most do! But in God’s sight, it was hideous and ugly. Satan had baited his trap and they were now in his clutches.
… Scripture does not tell us, but I am confident that Bathsheba acknowledged her sin also and God forgave them both.
Read the story in the Bible: 2 Samuel 11-12 NIV (Don’t cheat-read it.)
(NIV) 11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba,the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth[b]? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”
22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him.27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeasedthe Lord.
Challenge: Now, read through 2 Samuel 12 and point out all the verses that deal with Bathsheba’s sin, not David’s sin. I’ll give you a few minutes.
Here are the verses that I found.
But wait! Didn’t that guy at Bible.Org say she repented?…..No, he said he was confident she repented. This is Christianiese for “It says what I want it to say and I say Bathsheba was a Jezebel.* (One of these days, I want to explore some of these other women such as Jezebel. A few of them have been misrepresented as well.)
What does 2 Samuel actually say about the actions of David and Bathsheba?
- David was the one on the roof, sneaking a peek at Bathsheba.
- Bathsheba was not on the roof bathing. She was most likely in a private courtyard.
- The word used for bathing could also mean *washing.*
- Bathsheba was beautiful.
- David didn’t seem to know who she was but he was determined to find out.
- He discovered she was married and her husband was off at war.
- David sent messengers (some translations say *guards*) to bring her to him. (Imagine saying: “Well, fellas, even though you have swords, armor, and determined faces, I’m still not coming!”)
- She was in the process of completing her month purification routine (usually done in a mikveh.) It does not say exactly when she was doing the purification routine but mentions it right after he slept with her.
- The chances of a pregnancy were quite high due to the timing of the monthly puritifcation ritual.
- When she became pregnant, a guilty David had her husband killed.
- David was told he had sinned. There is nothing said about the sin of Bathsheba.
What is a mikvah?
Since is is possible, but not definite, that Bathsheba had completed her period and her mikvah ritual when David decided to take in the show or directly after he had molested her, here is a description of the mikvah, a ritual bath. The reason that I am discussing this is because the pastor of Bible.Org. seems to believe that Bathsheba should have hung out in her well appointed bathroom instead of bathing in the nude in her *public courtyard* to tempt poor David.
Briefly: A mikvah must be built into the ground or built as an essential part of a building. Portable receptacles, such as bathtubs, whirlpools or Jacuzzis, can therefore never function as mikvahs. The mikvah must contain a minimum of 200 gallons of rainwater that was gathered and siphoned into the mikvah pool in accordance with a highly specific set of regulations. In extreme cases where the acquisition of rainwater is impossible, ice or snow originating from a natural source may be used to fill the mikvah. As with the rainwater, an intricate set of laws surrounds its transport and handling.
…Family purity is a system predicated on the woman’s monthly cycle. From the onset of menstruation and for seven days after its end, until the woman immerses in the mikvah,husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations. To avoid violation of this law, the couple should curtail their indulgence in actions they find arousing, putting a check on direct physical contact and refraining from physical manifestations of affection. The technical term for a woman in this state is niddah (literal meaning: “to be separated”).
Exactly a week from when the woman has established the cessation of her flow, she visits the mikvah. Immersion takes place after nightfall of the seventh day and is preceded by a requisite cleansing. The immersion is valid only when the waters of the mikvah envelop each and every part of the body and, indeed, each hair. To this end, the woman bathes, shampoos, combs her hair and removes from her body anything that might impede her total immersion.
Most mikvahs in that time period were located outside.
A mikvah had to have a source of running water, such as a spring, or fresh water, such as rain. A mikvah had to be large enough to allow an average sized person to immerse his whole body. Stairs would be used to descend into and ascend from the mikvah. Often there was a wall separating the clean side from the unclean side.
Bathsheba: A victim of sexual coercion and/ or assault.
Slowly, some folks are waking up to the real story of David and Bathsheba. David and Bathsheba Is a #MeToo Story; Woman Not a ‘Seductress, was written by Sandra Glahn, an associate professor in Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary who teaches a gender studies course.
“David sent for her, he sent men for her. She is washing. That doesn’t even mean she’s bathing. She could have just been washing her hands. We are reading into that. And so what happens, instead of us seeing the argument of the book, which is David has gone from this shepherd boy, whom God has raised up, and now he’s abusing power. We should all take that as a lesson and a warning. But instead, we’re blaming the person who brought down the power.”
…Glahn explained that when people read the story of David and Bethsheba, they should identify with David by realizing that “I could fall, I could abuse power.”
“Now we know more about power differentials in these sort of sexual relationships, and we know that if you have a lot of power, and you’re with a powerless person, even if it’s consensual, it’s not the same thing.
Why I believe that Bathsheba’s was David’s victim.
- David sent his men to bring her to him. Bathsheba had no choice in the matter. This opinion is bolstered by David’s willingness to kill Uriah. David was a man to be feared. King David was a political king, not a priest. His power was absolute. Bathsheba had reason to fear for her life. The guards would not have protected Bathsheba if she screamed. They would have done whatever David told them to do.
- No one in the Biblical story confronted Bathsheba about her sin. This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Surely, if Bathsheba bore blame in this situation, God would have made sure the story reflected the sin of a totally consensual relationship.
One of these days, I would like to discuss the death of the David and Bathsheba’s baby because I do not believe that God specifically killed the baby in order to punish David. However, this would be sure to cause a riot and I need to write my thoughts on the matter very carefully. I shall leave it for another day. However, if you are interested in the trajectory of my thinking, start reading here.
I have spent many decades in the evangelical church, listening to stupid interpretations of Biblical passages. Sometimes, these arguments go beyond stupid and lead to the mistreatment of women in the church. I have been frustrated with supposed *pastors* who look quickly at a passage of Scripture and then proceed to diminish the role of women in the church while blaming them for tempting men. Bathsheba was not a temptress. She was a woman who was used by King David. Can you imagine being married to the guy who forced himself on you and then proceeded to kill your husband?
David got away with this because he was a political king and he had been given the power to do so. Contrary to the arguments of many at Highpoint Church, David was allowed to stay a king, not because he was forgiven, but because he held a political appointment. I wonder what would have happened to him if he had been a priest at theTemple? The Old Testament refers to a number of kings who *did evil in the sight of the Lord.” They, too, were allowed to stay in power. The Israelites demanded that they be allowed to have a king like the other nations. God warned them they wouldn’t like it but He gave them what they wanted and it wasn’t pretty.
Bathsheba has been given a bum rap by men (and women) who do not carefully read what the Bible actually says. So, next time you sing along to this song, be sure to think about it.