Christians typically refer to King David's interaction with Bathsheba as “adultery.” This is at least true of David, yet it can lead one to assume Bathsheba was just as complicit in the affair. Was it consensual? Or to put it bluntly, was King David a rapist? I was asked this question recently, and here are my thoughts.
The Bible doesn't tell us to what degree Bathsheba welcomed King David's advance. David's extreme charisma, prestige, and physique meant that many women were attracted to him. Frankly, not every woman flees from adultery with such a man, so if we are honest we must acknowledge the possibility that Bathsheba smiled at the opportunity. Three factors, however, suggest their sexual relationship was not entirely consensual.
First, Bathsheba was married to a notably admirable man, Uriah, who loved her deeply. The idea of betraying him at the first wink from David seems unlikely.
Second, the prophet Nathan's parable to king David pictures Bathsheba as having been stolen from Uriah like a beloved lamb. The imagery suggests she had little choice in the matter.
Third, David's immense advantage in power, along with the intimidating private location to which he summoned her via armed guards, suggests Bathsheba was hardly in a position to object or resist. Others in similar positions have testified to an instinctual awareness and overwhelming fear that resisting might result in harm or death to oneself or another. For all we know, she might have thought submitting to David the best way to prevent him from harming Uriah. It is questionable to what extent Bathsheba could even think rationally in the situation.
Consider our modern legal principle of statutory rape. When adults have sexual relations with minors, even if the minor voluntarily consents, it is judged by the law as rape. This is because minors are not regarded as having necessary faculties to make responsible sexual decisions. Something similar can be applied in cases of power or force. A man threatens to kill a woman unless she sleeps with him, adding she must appear to want it. Upon being charged with rape, the man objects, your honor, she seemed at the time to want it! But since her apparent compliance came as a result of duress, not sincere desire, the court rules the man guilty of rape. So while David may not have used violence to coerce Bathsheba, the hugely asymmetrical circumstances of the encounter lead me to classify their affair as most likely statutory rape, at minimum. It is simply unfair to think Bathsheba felt total freedom to choose otherwise.
One might point to Bathsheba's later marriage to David as evidence of willingness on her part. Yet here too, she was hardly in a position to say no and had reasons beyond sex and romance to say yes. Her future children stood to gain immensely from her sacrifice (Solomon, anyone?). Moreover, there are details in the biblical text which suggest David and Bathsheba had a chilly marital relationship. Again, it is possible she was entirely willing to be seduced, but it is hardly certain and very probably false.
All of this points to several hard facts. David's actions show us that even the best of sinners is fallen and therefore capable of depraved acts. This should cause you to confess, but for the grace of God, there go I, and to guard your path from temptation. Also, the Lord's forgiveness and restoration of David demonstrates the free character of grace, having nothing to do with our own merits. Finally, David's beastly behavior toward Bathsheba underscores the need of Christ's Bride to be delivered safely into the arms of a righteous king, our Lord Jesus.