David and Bathsheba

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I had intended to move on to the ninth commandment, but since writing about the tenth, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of David and Bathsheba. It’s a perfect story for illustrating the prohibition on coveting your neighbor’s wife. If you haven’t read the story or need a refresher, you can find it at 2 Samuel 11–12. It’s the sort of salacious story you expect to find in the tabloids.

David, strolling on the roof of his palace one evening, sees a woman bathing on her own roof nearby. He sends to find out who she is and learns that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of the thirty warriors of unquestionable loyalty who acted as David’s personal guard. David sends for her and has sex with her. His coveting leads to adultery, an attempted cover-up, and then murder—killing not only Uriah, but others who were with him on the field of battle.

The story includes almost nothing about Bathsheba. She appears only as the object of David’s desire. It could be argued that this is because she is a woman and not worthy of consideration as a active agent in the story. Yet there are other stories in 1 and 2 Samuel of strong, wise women such as the story of Abigail, another of David’s wives who exhibits great initiative in saving herself and her family from David’s wrath. You can read about her in 1 Samuel 25. Even Bathsheba shows herself capable of taking matters into her own hands when the need arises. So the story does not ignore her agency because she is a woman.

Rather, the reason for the story’s silence on Bathsheba is because of the power differential between her and David. David is her king. She dare not refuse him. Even to remonstrate with him would be to take her life in her hands. So the question of Bathsheba’s culpability is moot. Whether she desired David or not, the power was all on his side, and so no blame attaches to her. Like the woman raped in the country, she is regarded as innocent because she could not resist or cry out. David uses his privilege as king to take Bathsheba, regardless of her desire. That’s rape even if he did not use physical force. By breaking the tenth commandment, David also became guilty of much more—of despising the word of the Lord and showing utter contempt for him.

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