The White Spaces Of The David And Bathsheba Account

It’s amazing to see people take five verses of a Bible narrative and read into it competing assumptions of motives and actions. Parties on both sides of the argument over whether Bathsheba deliberately seduced David or David raped Bathsheba depend more on what Scripture doesn’t say than on what it actually records, resulting in vicious fighting that rivals a seventh grade food fight.

Before we examine what the story doesn’t say, I think we ought to read the story itself:

Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.

Now when evening came David arose 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. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, “I am pregnant.” ~~2 Samuel 11:1-5 (NASB95)

Of course the account continues with David’s attempts to cover up the origin of the pregnancy, his murder of Uriah so that he could marry Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of David and David’s genuine repentance for his sins. And really, the main point of the entire account is that, as heinous as David’s sins were, God forgave him when he repented. David and Bathsheba’s second son carried on the royal line, culminating in the birth of Christ.

For the purposes of this article, however, we must confine ourselves to just the account of David’s sexual encounter with Bathsheba. The debate lies within these five verses, so it’s best to stay inside of those boundaries.

So let’s begin with the centuries-old allegation that Bathsheba intentionally bathed outdoors with the full knowledge that David would walk around on his roof and see her naked body. Even on the surface, we can easily spot problems with this argument. Firstly, David wasn’t looking out his bedroom window, as many people assume. Secondly, he was walking around his roof in the evening, after he had already been in bed. Did he normally walk around his roof at that time of evening? If so, how would Bathsheba have known about this habit? And how would she have known that he sent Joab out to battle instead of going himself?

How can we know, simply from the text, that Bathsheba deliberately planned to seduce David by taking a bath just when he would be walking around his roof? Not one thing in the text so much as hints that she had any indication that he would be up there at that precise moment. The very fact that it was late enough in the evening for David to have been in bed suggests that she may have had reason to expect privacy in bathing. Scripture mentions absolutely nothing either way about her motives, making it unfair to accuse her of purposefully seducing David.

Does this line of reasoning mean that Bathsheba didn’t intentionally bathe at that time to tempt David? Again, nothing in the text suggests that she couldn’t have known that he’d be up on his roof. Scripture doesn’t say anything further than that that he arose from his bed, walked around his roof and saw her bathing. We can only speculate as to what she was thinking.

Over the centuries. Bible scholars who should have known better have insisted that Bathsheba was a temptress. Their insistence, however, reads things into the text. We call this sort of Bible interpretation “reading the white spaces.” For whatever reason, scholars have thought it helpful to assign motives to Bathsheba that she may or may not have had. Otherwise reliable commentators have set a very poor example by advancing such an unsubstantiated rendering of the story.

But present-day egalitarians are equally guilty of reading the white spaces when they push the narrative that David raped Bathsheba. Their argument rests primarily on the first part of verse 4, which says that his messengers took her. As they see it, this description could only mean that they took her by force — against her will. On top of that, they tell us, David capitalized on his position as the king of Israel to coerce her into having sex with him. They conclude that the liaison could never have been consensual, even if Bathsheba had outwardly agreed to it. No — this was a clear example of male dominance and an abuse of power.

The second part of verse 4, however, muddies the water a little bit. It says that Bathsheba came to him, Some people who argue against the notion that David raped her insist that this clause indicates her willingness to commit adultery with him. Of course, that claim can’t be proven, but the very fact that it can’t forces us to admit that the act of the messengers taking her is equally inconclusive.

The text doesn’t say whether or not the messengers took Bathsheba to David against her will. Was she kicking and screaming the whole way? Did she plead with them not to take her? Did she go bravely, resigned to her fate while loathing the thought of it? Did she feel powerless to resist the lecherous demands of the most powerful man in all Israel? All these possibilities are quite plausible, we must admit. But none of them shows up in the text.

The account continues by saying matter-of-factly that David lay with her and a pregnancy resulted. It doesn’t give the necessary details as to what happened in that bedchamber. Who seduced whom? Or was seduction even a part of the equation? Did David use physical force? Did he threaten reprisals against her husband (who, after all, served in his army)?

Since I wasn’t hiding behind a curtain watching the sordid affair, I have no idea what happened. I wasn’t there! Neither were the commentators who say Bathsheba deliberately bathed in full sight of the king’s house. And neither were the egalitarians who feel absolutely certain that David raped her. None of us should read anything into the white spaces because not one of us was there! Instead of imagining all the possible scenarios, perhaps we should just stick with the basic facts. Perhaps we should trust that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer of 2 Samuel to tell us all He wants us to know about the situation.

In interpreting the account of David and Bathsheba, let’s remember Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 4:6 not to exceed what is written. Our speculations either way lead to arrogance and cause unnecessary division. Since none of us was there, let’s allow the text to speak for itself and humbly admit that the white spaces have nothing to teach us.

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