It was a regular Sunday morning, my husband and I attended worship at our home church. Our senior pastor was on vacation so an associate pastor was preaching on Psalm 51, David’s prayer of repentance after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.
My pastor described the backdrop of what led up to Nathan’s confrontation with King David. He told about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and how, after Bathsheba became pregnant, David covered up their affair by having her husband, Uriah, put in the front lines of battle so he would be killed.
As my pastor shared this backstory, my heart sank. This was not the first time I felt sick after hearing David’s sin described as an adulterous affair. When the service was over I walked over and asked him if he had a minute to talk.
“Of course, Leslie, what’s up?”
“I know your emphasis today was not on what happened with David and Bathsheba but rather on David’s repentant heart, but something you said troubled me. Do you honestly think Bathsheba had a choice?”
His face grew puzzled. “What do you mean?” he said.
“You said David and Bathsheba had an affair. When the King summons a woman to his bed, do you think she can say “No?” I asked. “Do you think Bathsheba had a choice?”
Surprise engulfed his face. “I never looked at it that way” he humbly acknowledged.
Seeing a familiar story in a new way comes hard. How could we have gotten it this wrong for so long? I’ve heard Bathsheba labeled as a temptress, as a mutual adulterer, but never as a victim. We’ve heard their relationship described as a love affair, not rape. Many Bibles head their chapter on this story, David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Although technically true as they were both married, other words more accurately depict their relationship.
The scriptures are clear. King David’s relationship with Bathsheba was never mutual or consensual. It was not an affair, nor was it love. It is best described as David’s lustful craving coupled with an abuse of his power. David took Bathsheba to his bed because he could. He was the king.
In the same vein, when Bathsheba told him she was pregnant; David had no concern for Bathsheba. He only wanted the mess he made to go away. When his first plan didn’t work, he misused his power again to order Bathsheba’s husband to the front lines of battle to cover up his sin. The Bible tells us Bathsheba grieved deeply for her husband. Because of her pregnancy, she ended up as one of David’s many wives. (For the story read 2 Samuel 11 and 12.)
When God’s prophet Nathan confronted David, he did not speak to David about infidelity. He confronted him by telling him a story about a rich and powerful man who selfishly used his power to take something from someone who was helpless to stop him. When he heard the story, David felt outraged at such injustice. When Nathan pointed his finger and said to David, “You are that man,” David’s eyes were opened. He saw his sin and his heart broke. Thus, he wrote Psalm 51.
Nathan never confronted Bathsheba nor is she ever held accountable because, although she was a sinner, she was not guilty of this sin. She was a victim, not a temptress, not a willing participant or mutual adulterer. Matthew describes Bathsheba this way when listing Christ’s genealogy. He writes, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6). Even though David married her, Bathsheba is always described as Uriah’s wife or widow. God himself vindicated Bathsheba in the Scriptures leaving us no room to think otherwise.
Have any of you ever seen a passage or story in a totally new way than you’ve heard before or been taught?