Christian denominations, most prominently the Southern Baptist Convention, have had to examine their record regarding sexual abuse. The reverberations have begun and will not end soon. With increasing revelations of sexual abuse, it was only a matter of time when Biblical accounts were examined for accusation of abuse. David, king of Israel, became a prime suspect.
The incident of David and Bathsheba is the most well-known example of sexual wrongdoing in the Bible. Evangelical pastor John Piper said,
“…we are not exaggerating to use the word rape for David’s abuse of his power in the indulgence of his sinful lust in the way he took Bathsheba.”
If David were brought before the bar of justice, with what crime would he be charges? Did David rape Bathsheba?
The Biblical account gives this information. David, in a fit of boredom, spied on a bathing Bathsheba. He called for her to come to the palace. We do not know the full content of the conversation that took place that evening. As II Samuel 11:4 indicates, “…she came to him, and he lay with her.” The Hebrew word for “lay” means to lie down, but in the context sexual relations took place between the two. The text does not indicate that force was used. The account suggests that the assignation was consensual.
How do we evaluate this incident? The king was described as a man after God’s own heart, but he failed. David committed adultery. That adultery led to a cover-up resulting in the killing of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. God was not fooled by the cover-up and sent the prophet Nathan to admonish David and pronounce judgement upon the king. The punishment from the Lord for David’s sin was the loss of a child and family conflict. The family conflict came about as a result of another incident of sexual sin.
In chapter 13 of II Samuel, one of David’s sons, Amnon, fell in love with Tamar, David’s daughter from another wife. Amnon would have done anything to be with her, even use force. Amnon forced himself on Tamar. The Hebrew text uses the same word to describe the union between David and Bathsheba but adds another word which makes this even worse. In II Samuel 13:14, the text says that “he forced her and lay with her.” This text does not get as much attention as the incident between David and Bathsheba, but in the larger context of Scripture it is informative and allows us to compare the two acts.
The case against David is one of grievous sin. The writer of II Samuel was inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe the sin of David as adultery and Amnon’s action as an act of sexual assault. We must condemn both acts, but we must call them for what they are: two different sins. If David’s sin included rape, then the text would inform us of that as it did with Amnon. To accuse both men of the same heinous sin would be a misrepresentation and an act of injustice.
We must condemn acts of sexual abuse when they occur. We must also be sensitive to the abused and seek justice for them. Condemnation of sin and sensitivity for the abused are not served when we misinterpret Scripture.