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Did King David Rape Bathsheba?

Users of the RMM (Robert Murray M’Cheyne) Bible Reading Plan were confronted today with one of the most unpleasant stories in all of Holy Scripture. It is the story of David and Bathsheba as told in 2 Samuel 11. That this story is even in the Bible is something of a miracle. David represents the high water mark in the Old Testament. His Kingdom represents the time when God’s people appeared to have it all. They had the law, the land and the King they always wanted. Surely his reign represented the beginning of the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

And then this happened.

It turns out that David was a sinner!

It turns out that even the best of us is capable of doing wicked, evil and brutal things. We need Jesus! We need a King sent from God! We need someone to save us from our sins and to protect us from ourselves.

We need Jesus!

That’s why this story is in the Bible.

And that is why we need to be honest with ourselves when we read and reflect upon this story. This story is telling us something about human nature. This story is warning us about the evil that lies inside even the most noble of human hearts.

This story is telling us that King David raped Bathsheba.

Perhaps out of loyalty to the “hero of the Old Testament” contemporary evangelicals often speak of this story as more of “sordid affair” which, while horrific and sinful, seems to most of us a lesser sin than the sin of rape. Rape comes pretty close to the unforgivable sin in the minds of most reasonable people so we tend to be reserved about using that kind of language. Richard M. Davidson however puts the matter clearly:

“Just as intercourse between an adult and a minor, even a “consenting” minor, is today termed “statutory rape,” so the intercourse between David and his subject Bathsheba (even if Bathsheba, under the psychological pressure of one in power over her, acquiesced to the intercourse) is understood in biblical law, and so presented in this narrative, to be a case of rape—what today we call “power rape,” and the victimizer, not the victim, is held accountable.”[1]

King David sent armed guards to bring one of his subjects into his bed – in every civilized country in the world that is considered rape.

David was a rapist.

To cover up his rape he became a murderer.

These facts are not denied in the narrative and they were not denied by David. In Psalm 51 when David is repenting for his actions he uses just about every possible word for sin in the Hebrew language. He doesn’t attempt to sugar coat things or to minimize what he has done. In verse one he uses the word “pesha” which is translated in your Bible as “transgressions”; it means literally to rebel against authority – either human or divine.[2] In using that word David admits that he is a rebel. He understands full well that he had to cross a number of lines – lines that God had drawn – in order to do the wicked things that he did.

In verse 2 he uses the Hebrew word “aon” which is translated as “iniquity”. It means guilt and by using that word David acknowledges that he deserves punishment. The punishment for the sins he had committed was death. David know its, he admits it willingly.

In verse 2 he uses another word, the Hebrew word “khatta’ah” which is translated sometimes as “sin” and other times as “evil”. David acknowledges that he has done evil things – more than that, David admits that he is an evil person.

How different that is than the so-called confessions we often hear today! Disgraced politicians and celebrities speak about “lapses in judgment” and “making mistakes” but those are not the words commended to us in the Bible. Putting two cups of sugar into your muffin mix instead of one is a mistake. Raping your neighbor and killing her husband is evil.

And David owned it.

He owned it before Nathan and he owned it before God. He told the truth about who he was and what he had done and he begged the Lord for mercy. He said:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalms 51:1 ESV)

David appealed to God on the basis of the covenant promises made to Abraham. The word translated in the ESV as “steadfast love” is the Hebrew khesed; it means “covenant love” or “faithful mercy”. God had promised to be merciful to the people of Abraham. Way back in Genesis 15 God himself passed through the pieces and walked the path of blood in effect assuming upon himself the curses associated with our future disobedience. David remembered that and begged God to be merciful to him in accordance with those promises.

He went to God on the basis of who he was and how he had acted before.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalms 51:4–7 ESV)

The reference to hyssop was an allusion to the story of Passover. In Exodus 12 God told Moses to speak to the children of Israel and to say to them:

“Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Exodus 12:21–23 ESV)

In the story of the Passover anyone who sought refuge under the blood of the lamb was safe from the judgment that fell upon the Egyptians. David now is claiming that for himself.

“Hide me under the blood of the Lamb!”

“Be merciful to me according to the promises you made to Abraham!”

That’s good repenting.

David was a terrible sinner.

David was a rapist and a murderer but thanks be to God, David was also a good repenter. He admitted his sin, he hated his sin, he turned from his sin and he begged the Lord for mercy. On the basis of who God was and what God had done and what God had promised – David pled for mercy.

And miraculously, he received it.

His story is the ugliest and most beautiful story in all the Bible. It is the story of an ugly sin and a beautiful Savior.

We mustn’t be offended by the honesty of the Bible. The Bible says that we are all sinners. The Bibles says that we are all capable of doing ugly and despicable things. In the wrong situation, at the wrong time in our lives, we can do wicked and evil things.

But thanks be to God – we can be healed, forgiven, strengthened and restored.

As it was with David so can it be with us.

Repent of your sins, plead the blood of the Lamb and thou shalt be saved.

That is the Gospel.

That is mercy.

Old Testament and New.

Thanks be to God.



Pastor Paul Carter

To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

N.B. An earlier version of this article by the same author can be found here.

[1] Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology in Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17/2 (Autumn 2006): 81–95. Article copyright © 2006 by Richard M. Davidson.

[2] KM Hebrew Dictionary, Accordance Version, H7322.