A debate has raged on Twitter in recent days that strains credulity – not that the topic is being debated but the force with which it is being argued. The question is whether David’s sin with Bathsheba was adultery or did it constitute rape. Did David rape Bathsheba? That is a valid discussion, but as is often the case, social media has turned it into a free-for-all. If you do not share my opinion on the topic your biblical bona fides are called into question. If you believe that David raped, you are putting your emotion ahead of biblical exegesis and don’t really love God’s word. If you don’t believe that Bathsheba was raped, you are an opponent of the protection of women and are supporting abusers.
While that is, perhaps, slight hyperbole, if you’ve been reading Twitter recently, you know the exaggeration is only slight. It began with Rachael Denhollander responding to a tweet by Matt Smethurst in which he listed a bunch of characters in the Bible who fell into sin. He included David as a fornicator and Rachael responded, “David raped. It is important that we get that right.” Match, meet dry tinder.
David raped. It’s important we get that right.
— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) October 4, 2019
I suspect that if anyone but Rachael had given this response it would have blown over quickly, but she is enemy #2 (after someone whose name rhymes with Peth Store) in the 1689, anti-social justice Twitter world. It escalated from there. I am going to attempt to anger everyone in this post. It is my opinion this has devolved into a ridiculous discussion that is more about choosing sides than about doing solid biblical exegesis. So, let me make some points and attempt to make the whole world hate me.
1. In the interpretation of the story, both sides of this kerfuffle agree on almost everything.
- David sinned against God in a horrible way.
- God held David liable for his sin and sent Nathan to confront him.
- David repented deeply and beautifully of his sin.
- God forgave him.
- There were serious consequences that remained in David’s life, his family, and his kingdom even after his repentance. While God restored him and forgave him, he reaped the whirlwind he had stirred up for the rest of his days.
I do not spend all day scouring Twitter, so I’m sure that someone disagrees with something I’ve stated here, but in general, everyone I’ve read, on both sides, would agree to these points.
2. The disagreement is over whether David’s sin should be classified as rape or adultery. Both sides claim that the exegetical evidence is “clearly” on their side and wonder that anyone could possibly see it another way.
3. It is my belief (ducking now) that a reasonable argument can be made EXEGETICALLY for either side of this issue.
- Denny Burk referenced an article by Alexander Abasili in his post entitled, “Adultery or Rape: What happened between David and Bathsheba?” The article makes the distinction between the definition of rape that existed in biblical days as opposed to the modern definition of rape. Clearly, by modern definitions, David’s abuse of his power would be classified as rape. Abasili argues that by Hebrew definitions, it was not. The unfortunate term “biblical-rape” was picked up from that article and widely ridiculed. (Note – that was Abasili’s term, not Burk’s.) I understood what was meant by it, but when we write on topics like this, it is a minefield and that term wasn’t helpful. Overall, the article made some good points. The Bible never calls this a rape, and it is seldom reticent about speaking the truth about its hero’s foibles.
- I also saw a link in the discussion to an article from the Adventist Theological Society Journal that argues forcefully, on exegetical grounds, that what David did was rape. Richard M. Davidson wrote, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba, A Case Study in Narrative Theology.” It was well-argued and convincing. Others in the discussion made solid biblical points about how the wording of the text gives hints at David’s abuse of power.
If reasonable arguments can be made exegetically then perhaps we ought not to anathematize people who believe differently than we do on issues such as this. Perhaps someone can believe that David and Bathsheba committed adultery and still support the #metoo and #churchtoo moments. I believe some argue for David’s sin being adultery on the grounds of their antipathy for Rachael and her advocacy, but not everyone. Disagreement is not always hostility.
4. I have found no one arguing the “David was seduced by Bathsheba” trope that has been all too common in years past. I heard it more than once in my growing up years. Poor David was out looking around his kingdom and that hussy Bathsheba went out to bath and draw him into her web. She was following Levitical law, taking a ritual bath at the end of her period, and it was David, looking down from his rooftop at bathing time, who was violating social norms.
The text gives no help to someone who wants to lay the guilt at Bathsheba’s feet.
5. I believe in the biblical ethic of sexual fidelity and think it is important, but a repeated argument on Twitter is that Bathsheba should have honored God by choosing death over rape. She could have resisted David if she were willing to die for her convictions. This is stunning nonsense. The Bible consistently holds David, not Bathsheba responsible and a woman who is raped is not guilty of sin. A rape victim is not compromising her convictions or dishonoring God. This is a reprehensible idea, saying that women should choose death over being raped.
I taught my sons and daughter a high sexual ethic. I did not impose a higher sexual ethic on my daughter than I did on my sons. And I would never tell my wife or daughter to resist rape to the point of death. I would be horrified if such a thing happened, but I would want them to live through it. I would never tell an innocent victim that it is better to die than to be raped. Misogyny can make us say some awful things. This is the kind of thing we advocate about other people’s wives and children, but not our own. I would hope that the people who say it just haven’t thought through it clearly. Better to die than to be raped? Please, brothers in Christ. Think before you speak.
6. The iceberg principle is in effect here. We are discussing the tip but the real issues are under the surface. Each side claims they are arguing exegetically, but since an exegetical case can be made on both sides, what is this all about? It is an argument about the emotional issue of abuse. It is a #metoo argument. Somehow, if we accept that David raped Bathsheba, we are giving in to the #churchtoo crowd, I suppose. Or, if we say David only committed adultery with Bathsheba, we are protecting molesters? The argument is not about the argument, if you know what mean.
7. The extreme lack of charity among many Christians is on full display in this discussion. If you wonder why we are losing ground, just look at how we ignore the mountain of biblical truth that calls on us to honor one another, to love one another, to be gentle with one another, to believe the best about one another, while we chew one another to the bone on an issue where the Bible doesn’t speak with 100% clarity. Did David sin? Yes. Did he repent and receive forgiveness? Yes. What was his sin? It depends on your definition and how you marshal the biblical evidence.
But someone who takes a slightly different view of this than you do is NOT an enemy of the Cross!
Yes, there are Christians out there doing and saying terrible things on social media, but the problem is that sometimes, we are those Christians! We convince ourselves that our cause is just so eviscerating others is an act of righteousness. There are few of us who haven’t erred in this. Yes, there’s a time to stand. But most of the time, the weapons of our warfare are fleshly and they cause more damage than they do spiritual progress.
It is time that we stopped seeking “likes” on social media and cared only about the amen of heaven. It is a constant struggle. I know. I fail daily. But when we have discussions like the one we have had about David and Bathsheba, there are no winners.