Did David Rape Bathsheba?

Did David rape Bathsheba? The answer requires going deep into what the Bible tells us about society, women's agency, and power in this period of history.

Updated Mar 10, 2023
Did David Rape Bathsheba?

Did David rape Bathsheba, or was it a consensual union? Many people grew up hearing one side of the story, but we’ll focus on what Scripture says—and doesn’t say.

Years ago, I had a friend who was brutally raped and beaten, left in the dark to die. Her wait for justice was excruciating, as was her healing⏤emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When chosen as a juror for a local court hearing several years later, I was asked, along with others selected, if we’d ever personally known a rape victim. Several of us stood to our feet. Perhaps it was the number of people who stood or the somber expressions on our faces, but the defendant immediately chose to plead guilty and forego court proceedings. Sin never affects one person, and few examples in the Bible prove this more than that of David and Bathsheba.

Following my friend’s attack, she asked hard questions like “How could God allow this to happen to me?” “What did I do to deserve that?” Today’s question, “Did David rape Bathsheba?” is also difficult. It’s a question that’s not taken lightly. My friend searched the Bible for her answers, as will we.

Where Were David and Bathsheba When the Story Began?

According to 2 Samuel 11:1, it was spring, a time when kings went out to battle. David led his army to victory in 2 Samuel 10, but when it came time to go to battle again, he stayed home. David was not where God wanted him to be, and this decision helped set the stage for what was to come.

“Our greatest battles don’t usually come when we’re working hard; they come when we have some leisure, when we’ve got time on our hands, when we’re bored.” — Charles Swindoll

In 2 Samuel 11:2, 4, we’re told that Bathsheba is bathing, but we’re not told where. In “Bathing in the Hebrew Bible,” Eve Levavi Feinstein shares that bathing was mainly done by pouring jugs of water over your body since bathtubs were uncommon. Architectural discoveries found that most homes at that time had a courtyard, so this may be the most likely location.

Was Bathsheba fully naked as she bathed, possibly in her private courtyard? In those days, bathing wasn’t always done in the nude. Clothes or sarongs were sometimes worn to avoid being totally exposed. The Bible does not say if Bathsheba was nude or clothed.

Let’s also remember that David wasn’t supposed to be in his palace. Therefore, Bathsheba may not have realized he was peering from above.

“Now at evening time, David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof, he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance” (2 Samuel 11:2).

Uriah and Bathsheba lived in the lower section of Jerusalem. King David’s palace was elevated above all the houses, so he had a private vantage point. Based on Scripture, David was on a roof, not Bathsheba.

Did Bathsheba Seduce David?

First, let’s consider what we know about Bathsheba.

Based on 2 Samuel 23:34, 39, she was part of a brave and godly family. Her husband, Uriah,  and her father, Eliam, served on King David’s elite team of soldiers. Her grandfather, Ahitophel, was considered a trusted counselor of the king.

Interestingly, the bath mentioned in verse 2 was not an ordinary washing for cleanliness. It was ceremonial, performed by Jewish women every month after a “state of uncleanliness.” The count for seven days of impurity ended in the evening at sunset. The evening time of the seventh day was when a woman would carry out the ceremonial washing. Bathsheba was where she was supposed to be (Leviticus 15:19, 28) and when she was supposed to be there. From all indications, Bathsheba was obeying the law of Moses.

Did Bathsheba seduce David? Did she place herself within David’s sight in hopes of receiving the king’s attention? Scripture does not say. God alone knows the heart, as well as its motives. Even if she had, it was still David’s choice to look beyond a glance and act on that temptation.

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).

Did David Force Himself on Bathsheba?

“…and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Samuel 11:3).

Bathsheba is identified by her husband and her father, which was common in biblical times. Because both men were well respected, this identification reflected positively on Bathsheba’s reputation. Also, David had fought alongside both her husband and father in an elite “mighty men” army. Her identity alone should have pierced David’s conscience.

“And David sent messengers and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house” (2 Samuel 11:4).

David sent messengers and “took” her. There’s no wooing here. In Hebrew, the word for took is lqah. In this context, it carries the sense of summoning, which speaks to his power. Scripture doesn’t reveal any desire on her part to go to the king. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, but God chose to remain silent on that detail while amplifying others.

Did David force himself on Bathsheba? Scripture leaves little doubt that the sin was his, something even David confesses in 2 Samuel 12:13. But did David rape Bathsheba? Scripture does not mince words when dealing with sin, including the terrible act of rape.

In Genesis 34:1-2, Scripture specifically uses the word “rape” when referring to Dinah: “When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her.” It’s also found in 2 Samuel 13:14 when referring to David’s Amnon raping his sister, Tamar.

Different wording, however, is used in 2 Samuel 11, which doesn’t mean what happened between David and Bathsheba was consensual. Nor does it mean that Scripture defends David’s sin in any way, but there’s also no evidence in Scripture that a violent act occurred, as seen in the previous stories.

Did Bathsheba Express Consent to David?

Could Bathsheba have refused to go with the messengers or refused King David’s advances? It’s doubtful, based on the culture and other biblical accounts of ancient cultures. In Esther 1:11, Queen Vashti, wife of King Xerxes, was stripped of her royal title and banished from the king’s presence forever because she refused her husband’s command to appear at his banquet. Esther 2:14 also speaks of the king summoning women by name.

The Bible does not indicate whether Bathsheba willingly went to the palace or not. Based on the lack of evidence in Scripture, ancient culture, and what we know of Bathsheba’s reputation, it’s highly unlikely she would have disobeyed the king’s wishes, but we cannot say for sure.

How Much Choice Did Ancient Israelite Women Have in Bathsheba’s Situation?

In the Apocrypha’s version of the Book of Daniel, we see a story about two judges spying on a woman named Susanna as she bathes. Their lingering also turned to lust, and both attempted to use her, threatening to testify she had been with a young lover if she did not give in to their demands. Either she would give in to their demands—which disobeyed the law of Moses—or resist them—and risk receiving the death penalty for adultery, based on their testimonies (Lev. 20:10, Deut. 22:22). She chose to refuse them and trust God for the outcome. Although Susanna went to trial, a young Daniel’s wisdom helped to reveal the truth, and in the end, the two judges were put to death. Though this story does not fit into the original canon of Scripture and could be a legend about Daniel, it does offer insight into how ancient Israelite women were perceived.

What Do We Learn from David and Bathsheba’s Story?

We can learn several important things from what happened with David and Bathsheba:

1. A label is not required to take a subject very seriously.

2. We need to stay on guard against sin. If David, a man after God’s own heart, isn’t immune to the desires of the flesh, neither are we.

3. Sin has consequences (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

4. Healing is possible. “‘For I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17). We see this in Bathsheba’s story, as well as my friend’s, who is now a wife and mother living a beautiful life in the country. 

5. The same God who tenderly cared for the women abused in Scripture is the same God who tenderly cares for those abused today. He is El Roi, the God who sees, hears, and acts on our behalf (Genesis 16:13).

6. God’s grace is available for both the perpetrator and the victim (2 Corinthians 12:9).

A Prayer for Those Who Have Been Abused

Father, our hearts grieve with those being abused sexually, physically, or emotionally. We may not hear their cries or know their deepest fears, but You do, Lord, and You will bring justice. Cover them with protection, strength, and healing over them in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tomertu

Cathy Baker Salem Web Network ContributorCathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.

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