In Psalm 51:2-4, David prayed, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You and You only I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and pure when You judge.”
This was the Psalm that David wrote after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite. I’m preparing to preach on this Psalm this coming Sunday. As providence would have it, the story of David Bathsheba has been a hot topic on social media this week, the heat of the discussion emanating from this question: “Did David rape Bathsheba?”
A lot of digital ink has been spilled about whether David raped Bathsheba. Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and Relevant Magazine; Russell Moore, Rachael Denhollander, and even John Piper—they have called King David a rapist. But a straight-forward reading of the text does not lead to that conclusion. Let’s look at what the text says and why this debate keeps coming up.
What is the Matter?
In 2 Samuel 11:1-4, we read the following:
- Now it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.”
- Now when evening came, David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.
- So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
- Then David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.
John Piper said it’s this word “took” that suggests rape. In a segment of Ask Pastor John that aired in January, Piper said David “didn’t invite her. He didn’t woo her. He didn’t lure her. He didn’t trick her. He took her. That’s what the text says: he took her. In other words, the description is of a completely one-sided, powerful exertion of his desire, with no reckoning with hers.”
It is not accurate to say the description is “completely one-sided.” In fact, the description appears quite mutual. Look again at verse 4: “Then David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.” Piper is leaning entirely on the word “took” without acknowledging the next part, “and she came to him,” which does not suggest being brought by force.
Besides, the word “took” does not always mean seize or capture. The same Hebrew word appears in Ruth 4:13, which says, “Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.” These were David’s great grandparents, and the book of Ruth has a shared authorship with 1 and 2 Samuel.
Verse 4 is one sentence which describes the act between David and Bathsheba: “David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness”—in other words, when she had washed herself of the sin she had just shared in with David—”she returned to her house” of her own volition. There is nothing here to indicate a rape had occurred.
According to the commentary by Keil and Delitzsch, “There is no intimation whatsoever that David brought Bathsheba into his palace through craft or violence, but rather that she came at his request without any hesitation and offered no resistance to his desires.”
As I’ve argued before, there is as much evidence in the text to say that Bathsheba seduced David as there is to say that David raped Bathsheba. What if she was bathing where she knew David would be taking his evening constitutional, with the intention of catching his eye? You can say, “Wait, the text doesn’t say that!” Exactly. That’s my point. “Learn not to go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Author Larry Alex Taunton searched twenty Old Testament commentaries written prior to 2000. Some of the teachers he researched included Matthew Henry and John Gill. Not one commentary on 2 Samuel 11 and 12 took the view that David raped Bathsheba. In fact, they were unified that she committed adultery, too. Historically, if anyone called it rape, they were in the minority. The rape charge is a more recent interpretation.
Besides, there is a story of rape the next chapter over in 2 Samuel 13, when Amnon violated Tamar. That is clearly an instance of rape, but the story of David and Bathsheba is not. David committed adultery, Bathsheba became pregnant, and then to hide the affair and the pregnancy, David set up Uriah to be murdered in battle. When confronted, David grieved over his sin, knowing that he deserved death. He called out to the Lord for mercy and restoration.
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation,” David sang. “Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:9-12, 14).
We read in 1 Kings 15:5, “David did what was right in the sight of Yahweh, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” Not that he raped Bathsheba, but that he murdered Uriah. And he is still regarded as a man of righteousness (see also 1 Kings 15:11, and 2 Kings 16:2, 18:3, 22:2).
Even if David was guilty of rape, he was still called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He had a passionate desire for God and he loved God’s Law. In this, David is presented to us as an example to follow. Jesus mentioned him as an example of worship (Matthew 22:42-45). Paul said he is an example of “blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6). And David is in the hall of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
The Bible does not say that David raped Bathsheba (less is said about Bathsheba than David because she’s not the focus of the story). Did David commit adultery? Yes. Did he have an innocent man murdered to cover it up? Yes, he did. And God showed him mercy—the same abundant mercy that we all need, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We must not lose sight of the gospel, the only hope of our salvation. But that’s what we’re in jeopardy of missing when we eisegete the Bible, reading things into the text that are not there. In this particular case, the Scriptures are being twisted to fit a cultural narrative.
Why Does This Matter?
Where did all this talk about David raping Bathsheba come from? It’s because of the growing influence of Cultural Marxism, which takes social and moral credibility away from the “privileged”—in this case, men in authority—and entitles the “oppressed”—in this case, women. We might sometimes call this identity politics, as I referred to it in a previous article. It’s also called intersectionality, a term coined by feminist activist and UCLA professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.
According to this worldview, Bathsheba is not guilty because David has power. In fact, a person who analyzes the story this way may go as far as believing that a consensual relationship between a woman and a man of this kind of power is not even possible. She has no choice but to go to bed with him. This translates into saying that women are not guilty of their poor sexual choices. They have no volition in the matter. The men are guilty, especially men of power.
This is what has been driving the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, in which victims of sex abuse are being used to tear down power structures. While there are are people caught up in these movements who genuinely care for sex abuse victims, most are unaware how much Cultural Marxism is manipulating those efforts. It is even affecting the way we interpret the Bible.
In October of 2019, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention hosted the Caring Well Conference. Though the intention was caring well for abuse survivors, the conference was fraught with problems. The gospel of Jesus Christ was not the focus, if it was even mentioned; but it was said that unbelievers should judge the church (contrary to 1 Corinthians 6:1-11) more women needed to be in positions of authority (contrary to 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7), and even “survivors” needed to be given authoritative lead.
In one session, then ERLC president Russell Moore interviewed abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander, and Denhollander brought up the story of David and Bathsheba. She said:
“Especially in the church context, one of the most important things you can do is handle Scripture well, handle it accurately. Make sure that you are treating passages of Scripture that deal with abuse with the same level of exegetical scrutiny that you would apply to any other passage of Scripture.
“An excellent example of this we just saw on Twitter just recently where there was a post—and it was a great post—about God’s redemption. It was not maliciously done in any way, shape, or form. And it listed a lot of Old Testament characters who had committed grievous sins: Noah got drunk and this person did this and this person did this. And then it said, ‘David fornicated.’ David didn’t fornicate, David raped.
“And if you understand the power dynamics and you understand the Hebrew and you look at the Levitical examples and discussion of rape, and you understand what Nathan is saying in his parable, it is abundantly clear from that text that David raped. But more often than not, pastors take passages like that, and they minimize, downplay, or completely twist what happened.”
With all due respect to Mrs. Denhollander, but in her best interest and in the interest of those listening to her, Dr. Moore should have told her to stop talking. Instead, he gave a misguided woman a platform, and the very thing she told pastors not to do was what she did: she twisted the biblical text and drew wrong conclusions that the majority of biblical scholars down through history have not shared.
What was the very first tool that Denhollander said you should use to scrutinize David? She said, “Power dynamics.” Whether or not she’s aware, she has been influenced by Cultural Marxism. She imposed intersectional standards onto the text, applying a different definition of rape and a different standard of determining guilt than what the Bible says. Denhollander doesn’t just interpret the Bible like this. As a lawyer and abuse advocate, she interprets the law like this.
Let’s come back again to the Scripture and look at the parable Denhollander mentioned. After David had Uriah murdered to cover up the adultery, Nathan confronted David with the following story (2 Samuel 12:1-7):
- Then Yahweh sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.
- The rich man had a great many flocks and herds.
- But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished. And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat his morsel of bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
- Now a visitor came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
- Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As Yahweh lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.
- And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”
- Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!”
To Matt Smethurst, editor of The Gospel Coalition, Denhollander said, “When Nathan tells David the parable of the rich man who took the ewe, David is portrayed as stealing, not as two people running off together. Bathsheba is portrayed as an innocent lamb that is slaughtered. This is the exact imagery for rape from the Old Testament.” But perhaps Mrs. Denhollander doesn’t understand or maybe her husband or her pastor didn’t teach her how to interpret a parable.
I’ve been taking my children through the parables of Jesus in our family devotions, and as I’ve said to them, a parable has only one meaning. It is an allegory meant to teach a lesson. The question you want answered is, “What is the lesson?”
The imagery in parables are not always meant to be one-to-one parallels. While the ewe lamb does represent Bathsheba to a certain extent, Bathsheba was not slaughtered. Remember, she washed off and went home. At the time Nathan made this confrontation, she was living with David in the palace and just had a child from their illicit affair. Uriah was the one who was slaughtered. So the lamb represents more than just Bathsheba.
When Nathan confronted David, he gave him this parable of a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb. David said that the rich man deserved to die. Well, that wasn’t what the law said. For stealing and slaughtering another man’s lamb, the penalty was not death. Nathan was very shrewd in this regard for how he presented this parable and had David condemn himself with his own words.
John MacArthur notes, “According to Exodus 22:1, the penalty for stealing and slaughtering an ox or a sheep was not death, but restitution. In the parable, the stealing and slaughtering of the lamb represented the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah by David. According to the Mosaic law, both adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and murder (Leviticus 24:17) required punishment by death. In pronouncing judgment on the rich man in the story, David unwittingly condemned himself to death.”
Again, this is the right interpretation of 2 Samuel 11 and 12 shared by most biblical scholars throughout history. Second century theologian Tertullian wrote, “David, by confession, purged Uriah’s slaughter, together with its cause—adultery… David, a good man ‘after the Lord’s own heart,’ is guilty afterwards of murder and adultery.”
In the fifth century, Jerome wrote, “David was a man after God’s own heart, and his lips had often sung of teh Holy One, the future Christ; and yet as he walked upon his housetop he was fascinated by Bathsheba’s nudity, and he added murder to adultery… Yet bursting into tears he says: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness. According to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.'”
Like David condemned himself with his words, so did Rachael Denhollander with her words. She rebuked pastors for twisting Scripture which is what she did. She has some strange views about justice which are not biblical. I know she means well, and that she and the many who follow her think they are doing good. But critical theory and intersectionality influence her thinking and have caused her to misinterpret and misapply the Bible.
No one takes God’s word more seriously than God does. Peter warned that the ignorant and unstable twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). We must be careful not to twist the Bible into what we want it to say, lest we lose the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only hope for our salvation—for David, for Bathsheba, and for you and I.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words—those of our Lord Jesus Christ—and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but having a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
That’s what Cultural Marxism has done to people in the church. It causes people to suspect the worst of their brothers and sisters in the Lord. You will label things sinful that are not sinful, and accuse people of sin they are not guilty of. Meanwhile, you will view yourself as a perpetual victim. “I’m not guilty,” you will say, “this person wronged me, or this person owes me, or it is the system that’s the problem.” Even biblical hierarchy and authority will be viewed as oppressive and needing to be deconstructed. That includes the Bible, which will be regarded as insufficient and in need of science, philosophy, and government to solve man’s ills.
The only solution to sin is Jesus Christ. When and where He will change hearts is in His good timing. We must be faithful to preach the gospel and teach the full counsel of God, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another… with gratefulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
As I quoted from Psalm 51, God alone is pure in all His judgments. He alone forgives and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness, when we repent and come to Jesus. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (v.17).