10 Things to Know about the Story of David and Bathsheba
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 11 Feb
The story of David and Bathsheba is not a love story or at least it didn't start that way. It is told in the book of 2 Samuel 11. Here’s the plot summary, and it’s spicy enough for any Netflix series: King David stays home when he’s supposed to go to war. He can’t sleep (maybe because he’s not fulfilling his purpose?), so he goes for a walk on the roof. He sees a beautiful woman bathing in the next house. He asks someone who she is (“She’s Bathsheba, married to Uriah, one of your elite fighting men”). He sends for her and has sexual relations with her, knowing it's wrong. She finds out she’s pregnant. David sends for Bathsheba’s husband to come home to try to cover up his sin. He talks to Uriah about the battle and sends him home so he’ll sleep with his wife and the affair will be hidden. But Uriah is a man of integrity (he doesn’t want to enjoy anything his fellow-soldiers can’t enjoy), so he sleeps outside the palace. David tries again the next night, this time getting Uriah drunk. Uriah still won’t go home.
So David sends Uriah back to the front with a note for Joab, the general, to put Uriah in an exposed position where he’ll be killed—to make sure by pulling the other troops back and leaving him stranded. Joab does it. David has committed adultery and murder. After Bathsheba mourns for her deceased husband, David sends for and marries Bathsheba. The baby has been born and at least nine months have passed, but David has not repented. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story about injustice, and David takes the bait. He’s angry hearing the story. Then Nathan reveals that the story is about David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Nathan predicts the baby’s death and that violence and abuse will continue in David’s family. David repents and worships. But Nathan’s prophecies still come true.
David and Bathsheba Bible Story - What Happened
1. David raped Bathsheba and sent her home. This story is a classic example of a powerful man and a powerless woman. In an ancient kingdom, a king could kill anyone who disobeyed him. Bathsheba had no rights. Did she resist, beg, or comply? We don’t know. We only know that David could do whatever he wanted to do. When David asked about Bathsheba and found out she was married to one of his soldiers, he sent for her anyway, raped her, and then sent her back home. He wasn’t in love with her from what the text reveals. Bathsheba was disposable to David until a pregnancy threatened to expose his actions (rape and then murder) before the nation.
The Bible is clear that what David did was wrong and the Lord condemned him for his actions. The Bible does not say the rape was an act of violence (violent rape elsewhere in the Bible uses a different Hebrew word), it also does not say the sex was mutual, and it also does not say whether Bathsheba has any choice in the matter. We could refer to this rape as 'power rape,' meaning Bathsheba was not in a position to say no (even if she wanted to) when the king called for her and collected her with guards. Paul Carter, in his TGC article 'Did King David Rape Bathsheba?', quotes author Richard M. Davidson:
"Just as intercourse between an adult and a minor, even a 'consenting' minor, is today termed 'statutory rape,' so the intercourse between David and his subject Bathsheba (even if Bathsheba, under the psychological pressure of one in power over her, acquiesced to the intercourse) is understood in biblical law, and so presented in this narrative, to be a case of rape—what today we call 'power rape,' and the victimizer, not the victim, is held accountable."1
2. David already had three wives before he married Bathsheba. David’s history suggests that he used many women to balance out his faults (lust, violence, and ego). He won King Saul’s daughter Michal for killing 400 Philistines and cutting off their foreskins. Not exactly romantic. (Actually, Saul promised David his older daughter Merab, hoping the Philistines would kill David. Saul reneged and gave him Michal instead because she was infatuated with David and Saul thought he could use her to get to David (1 Samuel 18:17-20). Later, Saul takes Michal away from David and marries her to another man, Paltiel. Next, David acquires Ahinoam as his wife, followed by Abigail, who impresses him with her wisdom and intelligence. Then when David ascends to the throne of Israel, David orders Michal to be taken from her new husband and children and brought back to the palace, apparently out of spite. Michal’s husband Paltiel trails behind her, weeping (2 Samuel 3:13-17). From that time forward, Michal despises David (2 Samuel 6:16).
3. David stopped grooming integrity. A lack of integrity in one area always seeps into a lack of integrity in other areas. Integrity guards your heart, mind, emotions, and actions. David’s laziness in rooting out lust overlaps into a laziness of calling and purpose. He gets distracted by power, fame, and success. He only notices Bathsheba because he’s home when he’s supposed to be leading his troops. As king, his responsibility is to secure a peaceful nation. A warrior, David becomes king to establish and lead Israel as a God-fearing nation, unlike the surrounding nations. Like most of us, David must have grown tired of fighting spiritual and physical enemies. He began making poor decisions in areas of his life where he didn’t think it mattered. Eventually, all of his decisions were made poorly.
4. God gave David many opportunities to resist temptation. In addition to David’s free will to stop his adulterous and murderous actions at any point, God also sent Nathan to confront David and remind him that God demanded his obedience. Nathan reminded David that his sin had removed God’s protection and blessing from his life. Even so, it wasn’t too late to ask for forgiveness and return to intimacy with the Father. God always opens pathways to repentance and freedom for us and provides escape routes for every temptation we encounter (1 Corinthians 10:13) If we ignore those, God will provide conviction when we sin (1 John 1:9). And David did repent before the Lord.
David and Bathsheba Lesson
5. Repentance didn’t reverse the effects of David’s sin. When believers sin, they bring disgrace and contempt on God’s name; therefore, God punishes believers to bring them back into fellowship and to show the world that He does not excuse or accept sin. Nathan told David a few scary consequences of his sin: 1) His secret sin would be made public. 2) The baby born from David’s sin would die; the death would show unbelieving nations that God did not approve of David’s sin. 3) David’s actions would be repeated in his family for generations. (2 Samuel 12:11-12) Although David fasted and prayed for a week for his baby to survive, God did not answer his request. Instead, God gave David a second son (Solomon) later on—and this son becomes the next king of Israel (leap-frogging over his older brothers from other marriages).
6. God restored David to intimate spiritual fellowship. David enjoys a beautiful relationship with God after his sin, writing many more Psalms of worship and thanksgiving. God removes David’s guilt and shame, but God does not remove the natural consequences that David’s sinful patterns produced. Confession and repentance not only makes our hearts whole again; it also resets our physical and emotional states. Psalm 32 relays how David’s sin and restoration affected him physically, psychologically, and spiritually. David’s confession in 2 Samuel 12:13 is beautiful and simple: “I have sinned against the Lord.” First and foremost, our sin is always against God, so it’s his forgiveness we must seek first.
7. Bathsheba was a victim who suffered from multiple life-changing traumas in the same year. She was separated from her husband as a military wife, was taken advantage of by her king, grieved a murdered spouse, became pregnant with the king's baby, married the king becoming his fourth wife, and then lost her baby. Her future child(ren) would be raised within a context of sexual misconduct, manipulation, competition, cover-up, and violence just as Nathan predicted. But God blessed Bathsheba with her son Solomon who would become king after his father.
8. David’s background influenced him. David was an insignificant shepherd when God chose him. As the last of Jesse’s eight sons, Jesse thought David was unimportant, and his brothers thought he was an annoying pest (1 Samuel 16-17). But his pursuit of righteousness was a family trait. Many theologians believe that the Proverbs 31 woman, whom Solomon wrote about, was David’s great-grandmother Ruth (Ruth 4:21-22). David and Solomon would have grown up hearing the stories of God’s redemption of their family line through Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer. Twenty-eight generations later, Jesus was born as David’s descendant. Because of Ruth’s choices, David, Solomon, Joseph, and Jesus came through her line.
9. David’s children repeated his sins. Nathan prophesied that David’s sin (metaphorically, “the sword”) would never depart from his family. David’s character influenced his children’s character. They watched his lust, self-indulgence, cover-ups, and sexual liaisons. Shortly after David’s affair with Bathsheba, David’s oldest son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. David refused to discipline Amnon, so Tamar’s brother Absalom killed Amnon in revenge and fled to escape punishment (2 Samuel 13). In rebellion against his father, Absalom mounted a coup against David and briefly took the kingdom (2 Samuel 15-17). Eventually, Joab killed Absalom. Even Solomon was not exempt from David’s sin. In brokering peace and power for Israel among neighboring nations, Solomon acquired 1000 women. He married 700 women of noble birth and took 300 concubines. The women’s pagan backgrounds wooed Solomon away from truth and introduced Israel to idolatry. Our sins always affect future generations.
10. God forgave David—and us—of any and all confessed sin. David’s passages of confession and repentance are some of the most-read and most encouraging Psalms in Scripture. Psalm 32 and 51 detail David’s journey to repentance. God in His grace restored David back to a healthy spiritual relationship with Him.
Cultural Application to David’s Story
Adultery is still sin. Today, it’s common to say that someone has fallen out of love, married the wrong person, found the right person, etc., but if either part of love affair is married to someone else, it’s wrong. (Exodus 20:14, 17)
Integrity isn’t natural. Our sin nature gravitates toward selfishness and self-pleasure. Doing the right thing, regardless of circumstances, is true righteousness. God calls us to holiness, not convenience. (Galatians 5:16-21)
Biblical parenting is counter-cultural. David’s culture accepted polygamy and sexual misconduct from men of power. God never did. David betrayed his parental responsibilities. He did not set a godly example, and he did not call his children to live godly lives. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Guard your heart. David’s greatest attribute was being called “a man after God’s own heart.” While he pursued relationship with God, he at times neglected to guard it from his own sinful nature. (1 Samuel 13:14)
Beware of power. We don’t have to look far to see that power corrupts. Politicians, mega-pastors, coaches, professional athletes, corporate leaders. Are they more prone to sexual sin than regular people? I don’t think so. But power and money makes us feel like we “deserve” certain indulgences we might not have without a position of power. Seek humility because it’s a proven weapon against the sins that come with power and prestige. (James 4:4-10)
Reach out for help. Women had little protection in the ancient world, although the Bible has always outlined rules for treating them justly. Incongruence happens when we ignore or disobey God’s laws. If you ever find yourself as a victim or a victimizer, please remember that God’s love is everlasting, and he is full of grace and mercy. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough to help you overcome trauma, guilt, or regret, but you might need professional help to navigate healing. Please reach out to a trusted pastor, counselor, therapist, or friend and share your struggles. As David’s life shows, nothing good comes of pretending a sin doesn’t exist. (Proverbs 11:14)
Lean into God for forgiveness, comfort, and direction. You can lean into God’s calling for your life and let him use your circumstances to create good. If you have perpetrated crimes or taken advantage of others, you can confess your sins and change your habits. You can choose not to excuse or normalize your behavior. (1 John 1:9-10)
David and Bathsheba's story is a traumatic one, but also one that God redeems. It stands as a clear warning to every leader, every spouse, and every believer who loves God and feels secure in their own perspectives. The story reveals the consequences of feeding secret lustful desires. Even a heart like David’s can be deceitful and wicked. The heart can fool any of us and destroy the best of us (Jeremiah 17:9). We must all be actively aware of the battle for our hearts (1 Peter 5:8-10) and respond accordingly, with the power of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
1. Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology in Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/2 (Autumn 2006): 81–95. Article copyright © 2006 by Richard M. Davidson.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/SergioYoneda
Sue Schlesman is an award-winning author, speaker, blogger, English teacher, and minister. Her second book, Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places, won a Selah Award in 2020. Sue has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her material appears in a variety of print, online, radio, and podcast mediums. You can find her writing about life, education, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com and 7prayersthatwork.com, which attract visitors from across the globe.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.
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