There was something refreshing about the evening air in springtime. Much of the day had been put behind her save for those last nagging thoughts that tend to linger upon uncertainty. It was the season of war, and hubris pitted nation against nation (2 Sam 11.1). Her husband was among those fighting another man’s battle for glory–taken in by the illusion that bloodshed somehow brought honor or made men great (11.11). Fool, but still, she loved him (12.3; Kensky 155). Like the evening air, the water was cool and invigorating, providing respite in the midst of a tumultuous season. She was unaware of the gaze that held her like an object to be owned or the hunger rising behind those lurid eyes (2 Sam 11.2-4). When the king’s men arrived, Bathsheba had no recourse. Hers was but to submit.
The structures of power are aligned against Bathsheba. To position her as villain or vixen in the account of 2 Samuel requires leaps the text does not provide. Neither does the Hebrew provide wiggle room to frame David as the unwitting victim of feminine wiles. In the clearest (and least academic) terms, based on what is revealed in the text, Bathsheba was minding her own damn business. It is David’s lustful eyes that happen upon her private moment, and it is David who sexualizes and objectifies her body. Like Simba, who disregarded Mufasa’s warning that the dark places were not his to tread, David considers all he lays eyes upon to be his, for he is king. Therefore, he sends his messengers into the shadowlands beyond divinely established moral borders to take what does not belong to him.
David does what David does because he believes he can. He is king; who can challenge him? There is no hard evidence to prove that his audience with Bathsheba was anything more than a friendly chat. Rumors, after all, are only rumors. It is when Bathsheba becomes pregnant that things get a little more complicated. David can’t just shove $600 into her hand and tell her to “take care of it.” Instead, he does the next worst thing–he brings her husband home for a bit of r&r in the hope of hiding the truth surrounding Bathsheba’s condition. When that doesn’t work, the king murders her husband by proxy.
What transpires between Bathsheba and David is a sexual assault. Regardless of how force, intimidation, or coercion may have been used, the encounter remains an assault. From the moment the male gaze of David falls upon her, Bathsheba’s life is in danger. She cannot refuse the king, for he can put her to death (or worse). If her husband discovers she is pregnant and he a cuckold, he can put her to death to restore his fragile honor. The power differential is far too vast for Bathsheba to cross safely.
Bathsheba is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Her personhood is violated by a prick in a crown. She has no earthly means of getting the justice due her. Her assault and the murder of her husband go unresolved because the structural powers are set against her. Yet, the unfathomable injury against her does not go unanswered. The Divine Creator of the universe sees the harm brought against the “least of these” (Mt 25.31-46) and is enraged. Bathsheba, bearing the imago dei, has been grossly injured and God is not having it–not today, anyway.
This divine intervention reveals that our sacred cows do not always get it right–they don’t even get it mostly right. Yet, because we do not want to critique our idols, we miss what is happening before us. To frame this story as “what you do doesn’t matter as long as you love God” is to miss Bathsheba. The man after God’s own heart inflicts undue trauma on her. As Tikva Frymer-Kensky suggests in Reading Women of the Bible, Bathsheba–and not her husband–is the poor man whose lamb is taken and slaughtered (155). The “thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam 11.27) and he is held accountable.
God loves Bathsheba. Though her society makes her lesser because of her gender and renders her male property, the Creator’s action casts her in a different light. The Divine brings judgment down on the king’s head for her. Her personhood and dignity matter. She bears the same imago dei as her male counterparts. God equally loves her.
This divine act almost seems to foreshadow the coming Christ, who will fulfill the Law and tear down the barriers erected to segregate us from each other–in whom there is no distinction between “us” and “them.” Certainly, this should call to mind the foundation of the Law and Prophets–to love God with all we are, and to love the human beings around us as we ought love ourselves (Mt 22.36-40) regardless of the segregating barriers culture would have us erect. BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, female, male, poor, rich, homeless, disabled, white, cisgender, heteronormative, non-heteronormative, and everything in between, in Christ, we are one, and by our love we will be judged (Mt 25.31-46).
Perhaps, then, it is imperative that we strive to see the overlooked among us—for regardless of our own perceived standing before God, we will be held to account where we withheld love in favor of cruelty and self satisfaction.