What happened to Dinah with Shechem (Gen. 34), Bathsheba with David (2 Sam. 11), and Tamar with Amnon (2 Sam. 13)? I think two (for sure) describe rape, maybe all three, but I’ve heard a lot of explanations. Some people say Bathsheba was a seductress. Some blame the victims. Also, book authors have written fiction novels about these people and I can’t tell who has the right view. What happened in each case? Why are these things in the Bible?
In Part 1 of this answer, I discussed the rape of Dinah by Shechem, and suggested these passages are not provided as a template for understanding sexual assault. But the account of Dinah can, in context, be carefully applied as a caution about looking for close friendships in the world. Also, we see how Jacob’s own lack of wisdom in his life rolled downhill into the lives of his adult children. A terrible injustice was inflicted on Dinah, and her brothers Simeon and Levi caused an even worse injustice in their vengeful response.
In Part 2, I looked into a significant translation difference for Genesis 34:2 that yields different points of view on what really happened with Dinah. I believe the correct conclusion is rape, but we also looked at how this doesn’t affect the lessons God’s Spirit is presenting. Again, the passage is not a comprehensive teaching on abuse. Dinah’s trauma is one of multiple tragedies that occur due to the choices made by both Jacob and his adult children.
We have two more cases to examine, and both occurred in King David’s household. I also believe they are connected in a similar way: lack of wisdom in an elder’s choices leads to cascading trouble in the next generation. Now, this is not a guaranteed path for all family tragedies. Children can and do make unwise choices independent of their parents’ examples. But in both Jacob’s and David’s households, Scripture provides a clear warning.
David and Bathsheba
I want to begin with the passage in 2 Samuel, and comment on a few details:
“(1) In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
“(2) It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. (3) And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ (4) So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.” (2 Sam. 11:1-4).
David started from a wrong position. There are seasons for rest, but never for idleness. If David had been leading his army in battle, his energy would have been used in serving the people. Instead, he was idle, and began thinking about how one particular woman could serve him. The book of James warns us about the progression of temptation: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
We continue to see the effort of Satan to confuse and disrupt the human lineage by which Jesus Christ would enter the world as the Son of Man. God is merciful to David by not recording the total number of wives and concubines he had, but Bathsheba appears to be the eighth wife recorded after David arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in the battlefield. David had mistresses (concubines) besides. So, he was already not walking the path God intended for a king of Israel (compare 2 Sam. 5:13 to Deut. 17:14-17).
What really happened to Bathsheba?
Was Bathsheba raped? Scripture doesn’t provide those details, so that must limit our claims. But David abused his power. As king he had authority to conscript any person for any purpose, and that person could not refuse the order. He sent for Bathsheba and she came as directed.
We can reasonably say that she wasn’t bathing on her roof as an exhibition. Israelites at this time, other than the very wealthy, typically lived in a “four-room house” design which might not offer privacy on the ground level. Also, there was no central plumbing. Water was either heated over a fire, or placed outdoors in the desert sun. And Bathsheba needed to bathe. When the passage states that she was “purifying herself from her uncleanness,” we understand she was performing the ceremonial cleansing required by the Law after menstruation (Lev. 15:19). The timing also correlates to how David’s lustful act resulted in her pregnancy.
Additionally, while we read of David’s difficult repentance after being rebuked by Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 12; Psa. 51), nothing is said against Bathsheba. She mourned for the loss of her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:26). Later, as David’s wife, she was blessed with birthing Solomon into the line of Christ. Whether she was intrigued by King David’s interest, or compelled by the force of his authority, we are not told. Both are possible, neither is confirmed. But David abused his power and she submitted. Even today, businesses and governments sometimes forbid intimate relationships between superiors and subordinates, because the power difference corrupts good judgment and blurs the line between consent and coercion.
What can we learn? In the spiritual realm, we again see Satan attempting to ruin the genealogy of Jesus Christ, but God’s sovereign purpose prevailed. For Bathsheba, there was grace and healing after trial. And for David? He repented and received forgiveness, but there were practical consequences for his actions. God forgave the sin, but David still had to see the results play out in his family life.
What about Amnon and Tamar?
When the prophet Nathan rebuked David for his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, he warned about the consequences in David’s family (2 Sam. 12:9-12). From here forward in 2 Samuel, we both see and read about a decline in David’s spiritual discernment and ongoing troubles among David’s adult children, starting with Amnon and Tamar in the next narrative (ch.13).
Please read the full chapter for context. The narrative is detailed and blunt. Tamar is presented as a caring and nurturing woman, willingly serving others in her family. Amnon, inflamed with lust, plotted against her. David blindly sent Tamar into Amnon’s house. Upon realizing Amnon’s wicked intent, Tamar pleaded with him, even offering to become his wife to avoid disgrace, but Amnon raped her. Later, Amnon’s brother Absalom plotted against him and killed him (2 Sam. 13:28-29). After that, Absalom planned a coup against his father but was killed by his own vanity and the scheming of Joab, the captain of David’s army (2 Sam. 15-17). As with Dinah and Shechem, we again see tragedy building upon tragedy in a family where wisdom was lacking.
Here, the word “rape” is not in question. Tamar did everything right, yet she suffered a terrible injustice. Her father did not govern his own sexual desires in the past, so his sons had a deeply flawed example (also see 1 Kings 1:6, regarding David and Adonijah). Again, not all bad choices by children result from bad choices by parents, but when parents do make bad choices, the cascade effect is real.
If you are a parent or hope to be one someday, please keep David’s example close to your heart, and apply it cautiously to your thoughts and actions. The things you do hastily in a flame of impassioned feelings – whether by lust, anger, despair, or something else – may prove to be the most damaging things you ever do to your family’s life-long spiritual health.
Did this Q&A series prove helpful? Did it resolve some of your questions about these difficult Bible narratives? Please share your thoughts or further questions in the comments section, as the PT team would like to engage with you.
My hope is that in these Old Testament narratives, you will see more than just the negative aspect of what took place. These accounts typify the pathway the Lord Jesus walked through when he came to earth, and illustrate how necessary it was that He should come as the Redeemer and Savior.
 This is an important point. Compare what people say about Bathsheba, or anyone else in the Bible, to the details God’s Word actually records. How much comes from the Bible? How much comes from unverified assumptions or inferences about the event? Worse still, are commentators importing 21st-century ideas into a text written anywhere from (at least) two to six millennia before today? Both deductive and inductive reasoning can be dangerous when handling Scripture.
 The “Four Room House:” see “Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition,” published by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, section 1, p.10, © 2018. Sold as a companion guide for the March-September exhibition. Similar information available at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_room_house