Bathsheba: Temptress or Victim?


Last week I posted on Ezer Rising about Bathsheba and the post got a load of comments. I did a little digging and researching so this post has additional thoughts and is basically an extended version of my original post. Note: I don’t claim to be a scholar or theologian, just putting two and two together based on what I could find in Scripture and researching the culture of the day and is strictly an opinion piece.

The Bible has so many courageous, brave women. At women’s events we always hear about Mary, Martha, Esther, Deborah, the woman at the well, and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. These women are praised and used as examples. But, what about the women in the Bible whose stories were heartbreaking or horrifying? Tamar, Hagar, Vashti, Leah, and others are often overlooked in favor of happier, more redemptive stories. We cannot always just focus on the happy, wonderful things. We have to acknowledge injustice and abuse and call it what it is and learn from it. I don’t think it’s an accident that we see loads of these stories in the Old Testament.

The story of Bathsheba (in 2 Samuel 11-12) has always bothered me – even when I was little. When I first read this story (I was probably 11) I remember thinking that David had done something horrible to this poor woman. My 11-year-old brain hadn’t considered “rape” but I knew what “not consenting” looked like. I felt that Bathsheba had been violated and I felt for her, I felt sad for this woman I had heard painted as a willing participant by pastors. Even at a young age this didn’t sit well with me.

In our society, we often hear women get blamed for men’s actions because of their clothing choices or because of where they were. This post is not a slam at King David (who repented, was restored, and was referred to as a man after God’s own heart) but to show an example in the Bible where a man was held responsible for his own lust, his eyes, and God did not blame the victim for what happened to her.

So, my question is, “was Bathsheba a victim of rape or was she a willing participant”?

Bathsheba was a woman whose husband had been sent to war while she stayed at home. We enter the story with King David walking on his rooftop. What’s interesting about that is that while the rest of the men were at war – David was chilling at home in his palace.  While standing on his roof he sees a young woman washing and in verse 2 it says that David found her very beautiful and sent his servant, Joab, out

This image is a mikveh that was used in the 1st century and the one Bathsheba would have been using would have been very similar. Image from: http://www.generationword.com/jerusalem101/39-mikvah-ritual-baths.html

to find out who she was.

Let’s talk about this “bathing”. Verse 4 says she was cleansing following her monthly menstruation. This leads me to believe Bathsheba was not in her home but at the Mikveh which was a public place for women to clean themselves following their period. Read about that here and draw your own conclusions. Bathsheba was not taking a seductive bath hoping that she would be seen.

I have often heard sermons that imply that Bathsheba knew the king was on the roof and she was bathing on her own roof to gain his attention. I have also heard it said that Bathsheba was aware King David was watching her and she welcomed the attention. Those teachings have been used as a tactic to excuse David’s bad choices and paint Bathsheba as “asking for it”. For starters,  David should’ve been at war with the rest of the men (see verse 1) so Bathsheba really wouldn’t have had any idea David was even around. Also, I doubt any woman washing off a week’s worth of menstruation is really thinking about sex and feeling sexy. Amiright, ladies or is that just me?! Also, if Bathsheba had been at fault God would’ve punished her as well, not just David. See the stories of Eve, Saphira, Jezebel, and Lot’s Wife as examples of God punishing women for their own bad choices.

Anyways…David had two choices – look away and walk away or stand there and allow lust to fill his heart. In short – he chose the latter and had his servant, Joab, bring Bathsheba to him. King David allowed lust to fill his heart and had this woman brought to him (I would say forcibly – because she couldn’t deny the King – if she couldn’t say “no” then that was force) where he had sex with her (although, in honesty, I think it is what we would call rape) and she ended up pregnant. After finding out she was pregnant with his child David sends for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and has him brought home from the war – in hopes that Uriah will have sex with his wife and it will look like her husband impregnated her. However, Uriah was an honorable man who didn’t feel right going home while his brothers at war were camped in tents and fighting. So, Uriah slept on a mat on the palace floor. So, David, being in a tight spot gets a little crazed and does the following:  “In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 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.” – 2 Samuel 11:14-15. In verse 17 we learn that Uriah died because of David’s plan. Then at the end of the chapter, David has Bathsheba brought to him (again, he’s the King and she cannot deny him) and he marries her.

The key verse here is verse 27: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”. And, if you keep reading the story there were serious repercussions from David’s heinous actions towards Bathsheba and Uriah. In chapter 12 David is rebuked harshly by a prophet and “calamity” is brought down on his house because of this – because King David allowed lust to fill his heart.

David had two choices. David chose to continue watching Bathsheba and he chose to allow lust to fill his heart. David made a choice and God held David responsible for his actions. God did not blame Bathsheba by saying, “Well, you shouldn’t have ___” or, “if you hadn’t ___”. Nope, God held David completely responsible for the choice he made.

My heart always aches for Bathsheba. She was a married woman (and her husband sure seemed like a good guy) who was raped by a King (because she was beautiful – see vs 2), pregnant because of rape, her husband was murdered, and then that very child died.

Bathsheba was a victim, she was a woman who didn’t ask for any of this. She was a woman innocently washing herself, had her privacy violated, was forcibly brought to a man she was unable to consent to sex with, she became pregnant, her husband was murdered by the same man, and she had her child die. She was a victim through and through yet rarely do we hear about her at women’s conferences. We hear about the Deborah’s, Jael’s, Priscilla’s, and Mary’s…but I have never heard a sermon on Bathsheba that didn’t paint her as a temptress or seductress.

Bathsheba is one great example (from the Bible) of how God held the man accountable for his eyes and did not blame the woman. God did not blame Bathsheba but put full responsibility on David. In our society women are constantly blamed for men’s actions and when they are assaulted/raped/abused they are asked:

  • What were you wearing?
  • Where were you?
  • Why were you alone?
  • Were you drinking?

And then they are told:

  • Well, if you had been wearing/not wearing _____, this probably wouldn’t have happened.
  • If you hadn’t been walking in that part of the city alone this probably wouldn’t have happened.
  • If you hadn’t been drinking you would have been aware of the situation and this probably wouldn’t have happened.

We put blame on victims instead of predators. Which, in my opinion, David was a predator and God punished David harshly for what he did to Bathsheba. God did not blame Bathsheba once – David was held completely accountable for what he did.

Anyways, 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is where you can find this story! I would love to know your take on this story!

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7 thoughts on “Bathsheba: Temptress or Victim?

  1. Thank you so much for this post. As someone currently recovering from sexual assault, and hearing warring voices of “you asked for it” and “it’s not your fault”, seeing this story through a different lenses is profoundly freeing and reassuring. There’s plenty of subtle hints and outright mentions of non-consensual sex in the Bible, and seeing this as God’s reaction is really comforting.

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    1. It really is amazing to see God hold only David responsible…we see so much victim blaming in our society and this story was one I spent some time looking into and really felt it was super relevant. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment ❤

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  2. I always thought it odd that David could see her bathing (although her name being BATHsheba did not go unnoticed 😉 ), I hadn’t seen the verse about it being that “time of the month”. I don’t think any competent judge would have held her responsible but as usual, men’s actions upon women mean that they take the consequences of the act not the male perpetrator(s)!

    Our God is a just God and through that story we can see that however badly we think we have messed up, God is there waiting for us to repent and come back to him! Doesn’t mean we will get away scot free as our actions have consequences and rarely is it solely us as sinners who bear that burden.

    Interesting thoughts anyway, thank you

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  3. I love your take on this. I’ve also read that in ancient Israel, it was perfectly normal for people to bathe on the roof, i.e. Bathsheba wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. (I can’t verify this fact but I thought it was interesting if it’s true.) This story has always made me angry though because if the text of 2 Samuel is taken literally, God did punish Bathsheba, even though she didn’t do anything wrong, by taking the life of her son. The way God chose to punish David punished Bathsheba too, maybe even more, since I think there are few things more powerful than a mother’s love. It seems like women so often pay the price for men’s sins. I’ve never been able to make peace with Bathsheba’s story because of that.

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