Up On the Rooftop

We see it far too often…people abuse power and authority by manipulating people and situations. It is unfortunately part of living in a fallen world.
For far too many generations, well-intentioned teachers and pastors have lumped David and Bathsheba together in the sin of adultery. The only ones who do try and take a different stance on Bathsheba’s sin are labeled as “biblical feminists.” I don’t know about you, but I am not sure why it is only a feminist who can read the passage of scripture in 2 Samuel 11 and see that perhaps, just perhaps, David was a man in authority that for a moment used his fleshly desires to effect the lives of so many people.
Here is what it says in 2 Samuel 11:1-4:
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.

Even as I read this scripture again for the hundredth time, I can’t see why the names David and Bathsheba are wrapped together in an adulterous affair scenario that makes grown people blush on Sunday.

David started out his sinful spiral first by not going off to war with his men. It was the king’s job to go to war. Then while his men were off winning battles, David was just plain lazy – I mean, he took a nap in the middle of the day! What could he possibly be tired from? All of his men were out to battle and he was home alone.

     photo of Old Bathtub on Rooftop - Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia by Mark Richards

And then verse 2 is where everyone first brings Bathsheba into this sordid mess. Bathsheba was bathing late in the afternoon on her rooftop. We read later in verse 4 that she had just completed her bathing ritual after her “monthly visitor.” This is an important fact that is included in scripture because it makes known that this was Bathsheba’s best chance at becoming pregnant and that there was no doubt that it would be David’s child and not Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who had been away at battle.

So what gets even odder here is that most people when they talk about this story act as though this was totally consensual - that Bathsheba knew what she was doing. That somehow she knew precisely what time the king would wake up from a nap and happen to walk outside on his rooftop. Moreover, we know from the woman at the well in John 4 that most people were inside during the afternoon because it was so hot. It was late afternoon when Bathsheba took her bath…the hottest part of the day. As a Jewish woman, this bath was not optional, but was required as part of her custom and she needed to get it done. When better to do it than when most people were inside?

Secondly, King David didn’t even know who this woman was before he sent for her. Verse 3 tells us that he sent for someone to tell him who this woman was. Unlike Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:6-18 who harassed Joseph daily and tried to seduce him, we see no indication in scripture that Bathsheba seduced or tried to become known to King David prior to this moment.

Third, there was time for King David to repent of his sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” David was already married at the time he saw Bathsheba. In fact, he had multiple wives by this time and yet, he was not content with what God had given him and he wanted more. He was already in a place of disobedience to God by not going to war like he was supposed to and therefore he found himself restless and pacing back and forth on his rooftop.

King David had time to think about what he had already done and what he was about to do while he waited for his messengers to bring Bathsheba to him. Nowhere in scripture do we see Bathsheba just show up to David’s door for a rendezvous. If the king sent his messengers for and requested Bathsheba’s appearance, she would have very little opportunity to say no. She didn’t even have a husband at home to consult with or question the request.

We know what could happen if one were to go against the king. Queen Esther, who was married to the king, couldn’t even go before him without an invitation and without fear of being put to death. Esther 4:16 says, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

King David had time to change his mind. When Bathsheba arrived at his palace, he could have sent her away. However, he was already in a sin spiral. This is what happens to a lot of us when we start making bad choice after bad choice. One sin leads to another sin and then another and before we know it, what at one time seemed harmless has turned into something major.

King David used his power and authority to request Bathsheba’s presence and then they had sexual relations. Again, I am not sure why many pastors and teachers illustrate this as consensual. King David yielded authority over Bathsheba and David clearly was not thinking with his God loving heart or mind at this moment. We cannot infer what is not there when we interpret scripture. Just because a man and a woman sleep together does not mean it is consensual on both sides. King David had the authority to kill Bathsheba for denying his request. And even after all that happened, King David could have used his authority to have Bathsheba killed instead of her husband Uriah. Adultery was punishable by stoning and David could have easily said that Bathsheba got pregnant by another man while her husband was out to war and had her killed. Perhaps by David killing Uriah instead of Bathsheba, people throughout the generations have assumed that this relation was consensual and it was Bathsheba who lured David into this sordid affair and it was her to blame.

It all goes back to the garden. Eden made the first bad choice, but Adam had the choice to make the right choice. So too did David. Just because Bathsheba, for whatever reason, was bathing on the rooftop, he didn’t have to make the choice to invite her over to his palace. He didn’t have to make the choice to sleep with her and sadly, he didn’t have to make the choice to kill her husband to cover up his sin. Bathsheba was a victim of an abuse of power like many are still today. David also fell prey to sin and a pride problem.

We are all just a step away from sinful choices and the only way to keep us out of sin is to stay close to God. Had David been doing what he was supposed to have been doing, this story would have never made it to the pages of the Bible and David’s family would not have had to “live by the sword” as a result.

How else can we see that perhaps, just perhaps, this was David’s sin and not a sin on the part of Bathsheba? David repents to Nathan after Nathan called out his sin (2 Samuel 12:13-14),
"Then David confessed to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord. ' Nathan replied, ‘Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.’”

We never see Bathsheba repent anywhere in scripture. Not only do we not see Bathsheba repent, but God actually rewards her with a son, Solomon, who would later become the wisest king and her name is only one of four women (not including Mary) in scripture named in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

It was David who God could have killed for what happened (Nathan told him so), not Bathsheba. Bathsheba suffered as part of what happened to her…she lost a child and she lost a husband. She, like Esther, could have chosen to go against the law and refuse the king and choose death over life, but she didn’t. That would have been her only way out of this mess.

As a society, we need to learn from this. People in authority and people who yield authority often times use their position to harm others. They think of no one but themselves until perhaps, like David, they feel remorseful and/or are caught and then repent. We can only hope that a “Nathan” comes into their lives so they can right their wrong. If they don’t, they are left to continue to spiral down. It is sad for them and sadder for anyone who comes into contact with them.

As a society we also need to recognize that women were created to be a helpmate to men - “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Genesis 2:18) However, instead of being seen as a helper, women have often been seen as property or a possession by some men. If society continues to view women in a position other than what God created them to be, chaos ensues. We will end up seeing more sexual assaults, sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography and a disruption in the ideal regarding marriage.

There are good men out there who need to take a stand and stand up for the value of women. There are people in this world who need to stand up for the order and purpose of creation. It starts in the Church. The Church needs to fully value women, not be threatened by them. Men, protect and honor the women in your family, church, community and in your world; don’t cause them harm or allow others to bring harm upon them.Teach your boys to do the same. 

Erin Olson

Founder and CEO of Sandalfeet Ministries

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Robert Ledbetter - March 14th, 2014 at 9:11am

Very good read. I like the breakdown.

Maria Avila - March 11th, 2015 at 11:27am

I love this Erin. I have only been exposed to the view point of their relationship being consensual and reading your point of view makes much more sense. I really appreciate how you back traced and used scripture as references to make your point. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Thanks for sharing.