A long time ago, a king strolls the roof of his palace and spies a beautiful woman bathing. Being rich and powerful and used to getting what he wants, he orders the woman brought to him, whereupon he rapes her.
Often this is portrayed as a conniving seductress enticing a king in his moment of weakness, but that’s not evident from the text. Bathsheba was more likely washing as part of her monthly purification ritual, just like every other woman in the kingdom. As for David, he knows her husband, and possibly her father; Bathsheba may well have not been a stranger to him. Had she caught his eye before? Had he finally spied his opportunity? Regardless, there’s an abuse of power here: in a rigidly patriarchal society, how many women would feel able to say no to the will of a king?
Let’s not blame Bathsheba for this, just because we love the giant-slayer, just because we love the psalmist. This is all on David. The subsequent cover-up and murder of Bathsheba’s husband just compounds the whole thing. A culture of shame and silence pervades the palace, and later, when David’s own daughter is raped by her own brother, the king does nothing about it.
We like to think we’ve moved on from primitive Bronze Age attitudes like this, but the avalanche of reports detailing sexual assaults by actors, politicians and other high profile figures show that Bathsheba’s story is never far away. And as with Bathsheba, these reports are haunted by the suggestion that powerful, ambitious, successful men are reduced to a helpless mass of urges when faced with a woman, or maybe even a teenager; men become predator and prey rolled into one, a whole culture groomed for sexual exploitation and assault.
Rape and sexual assault are often treated as a “women’s issue”, but given the statistics around those who perpetrate these crimes, they’re also issues of toxic masculinity, and as such the onus is on men to do something about this. We have to stop diminishing it, enabling it, normalising it; if you can’t control yourself around women or girls, or men or boys, you need to seek counselling rather than seeing other people as your divine right. And, to be fair, we have to stop belittling cases of sexual assault where men are victims, because that’s toxic as well.
And churches need to stop defending this, covering it up, justifying it, because to do so is a whole other level of sin.
In short, David committed a crime of power that’s constantly replaying down through the ages.
So men must stop raping people.