She Who Shall Not Be Named

You never know where your Bible study will take you. You never understand how perfectly God has woven his Word until you follow a single thread from author to author, culture to culture, millennium to millennium, and see how God’s revelation of himself and his purposes is so perfectly consistent. Recently I followed a thread that began in a New Testament epistle and then ran past ancient priests and prophets, cultures and kingdoms, until eventually it wrapped around the life of King David. And here I found something that challenged me, something that I believe can challenge you too. It is something that speaks poignantly to a situation we face here, these thousands of years later.

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King David’s infamous act of adultery has long been held as a powerful case study of the nature of temptation. Through its consequences to his life, family, and kingdom, it has been held as well as a case study of the terrible ravages of sin. As each generation has grappled with the sins of its age, David’s depravity has provided new and timely lessons, new warnings, and new rebukes.

You know, I am sure, how the story unfolds. As David walks on the rooftop late one spring afternoon, he spots a woman bathing—a particularly beautiful and desirable woman. As David investigates, he learns that she is also particularly vulnerable—vulnerable because her husband is off fighting David’s war. “So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her” (2 Samuel 11:4). Shortly thereafter, she would report to David that she was pregnant with his child. Adultery would lead to murder, making it an evil, ugly story of sin begetting sin begetting sin.

It makes a fascinating study to observe the difference between older and newer commentaries when it comes to Bathsheba’s role in what unfolded. If you do this, you will see that many of the older commentators lay a measure of blame on her. What was she doing bathing then and there? Didn’t she come willingly when the king summoned her to his palace? Didn’t she later prove herself a formidable woman who was angling for her son to be David’s successor (see 1 Kings 1)? Maybe she was the victimizer and he the victim!

By contrast, most modern commentators (rightly, I believe) attach the full measure of blame to David. The ESV Study Bible seems to stick closely to the text of 2 Samuel 11 and to offer the best insight into human nature when it says “Given the elaborate attempt David makes (vv. 6–13) to cover up the initial act of his adultery, it is hardly likely that he makes his intention clear when he summons Bathsheba. Probably David makes inquiry about the welfare of the family of his trusted general during Uriah’s absence and gives Uriah’s wife the honor of a private interview, even sending messengers (plural) to invite Bathsheba.” There is no hint in the text that Bathsheba is anything other than the unwilling victim of the king’s sexual exploitation.

Bathsheba dutifully responds to the king’s summons and it is only when she arrives that David makes his intentions clear. By then he has set aside all self-control and will now take what he has determined he ought to have. Walter Brueggemann deduces this from both the words and the style of the narrative:

The action is quick. The verbs rush as the passion of David rushed. He sent; he took; he lay (v. 4). The royal deed of self-indulgence does not take very long. There is no adornment to the action. The woman then gets some verbs: she returned, she conceived. The action is so stark. There is nothing but action. There is no conversation. There is no hint of caring, of affection, of love—only lust.

David has a sudden surge of sexual desire and acts on it recklessly and impulsively. Whether by strength or seduction he takes what is not his. Then the deed is over and right at this moment we can make an observation about a small detail in the text. After the text’s description of David’s deed it says, “the woman conceived.” Brueggemann points out that “David does not call her by name, does not even speak to her. At the end of the encounter she is only ‘the woman’ (v. 5).” Only “the woman”? Why? We had already been introduced to her as Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, but now after the consummation of the act she is only “the woman.” She has become only “she who shall not be named.”

Why? Because David had not treated her as a person. He stripped her humanity when he stripped her clothing. He stole her dignity through his brutality. And this is where we can draw a lesson for the twenty-first century, especially as it pertains to the plague of pornography. The people who act out pornography have fake names or no names at all. They have no family, no history, no dreams, no future. They have no reality, no humanity. They lack all of this because in the minds of those who lust after them they are not fully human. They are nameless faces, personless bodies. Those who exploit them strip them of their names to strip them of their humanity. To do what they do to them, to take what they take from them, they must first remove their humanity. This is the cost of obsession, compulsion, and exploitation. These women, too, are only “she who shall not be named.”