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The Abuse of Power | Abuse Against Women

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her…Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant.’

2 Samuel 11:1–5

 


 

Abuse of power is the misuse of a position of power to take unjust advantage of individuals, organisations, or governments.

Was it adultery or was it rape?

Regardless of the answer, David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14) has let his position of power go to his head. While idling in the palace, instead of fighting beside his army on the battlefield, David notices his attractive neighbour, Bathsheba, from his rooftop. He sends his men to bring her to the palace, has sex with her, and she conceives. Trying to avert scandal, David recalls Bathsheba’s husband Uriah and then orchestrates his death in battle when his devious plan to cover up the pregnancy fails.

This encounter between David and Bathsheba is often described as adultery, implying mutual consent and a power balance between both parties. Yet, David had arguably more power as sovereign over Israel’s largest empire. This sexual violation is serious, and even though David confesses his wrongdoings, and forgiveness and restoration follow, there can be no reversing the devastating consequences of David’s act.

When we dig deeper into this text and see how David used his power over Bathsheba, we also validate the stories of other victims of abuse. This story happened a long time ago, but the issue remains as timely as ever. Just as God saw what David did to Bathsheba, so God sees what perpetrators do to abuse victims today.

The End Violence Against Women coalition challenges cultural attitudes which condone gender inequality and thereby perpetrate abuse. 2021 saw a national conversation about the state of violence against women and girls following the murders of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sabina Nessa, and many others who didn’t make the headlines. In recent days, a Premier League footballer has been arrested on suspicion of rape. The number of police-related domestic abuse crimes in England and Wales rose 6% in the year ending March 2021 to 845,734 (Violence Against Women Snapshot Report 21-22).

While most of us don’t hold the authority David did, many of us do have influential power in the smaller spheres of our lives, in family, school, and work contexts. Change takes time, especially cultural change which transforms social attitudes. We can all play our part by growing awareness and opening conversations about equality and respect. We can call out harassment and bad behaviour that, if ignored, could lead to abuse with devastating consequences. And we can certainly all pray for a better world for our emerging generations.

___

Revd Lyn Weston
Director of Church of England Relations, LICC

Where might God be asking you to use your influence to see violence or abuse against women and girls addressed on your frontlines, at home, at school, or in your workplace?

Join the conversation in the comments below.

There’s lots of organisations to go to for advice if you think you or someone you know has experienced abuse. Helping Survivors (an organisation based in the US) could be a great place to start.

Comments

  1. An important piece, Lyn, and a powerful series. Thank you for raising these concerns, and calling us to a better, Christlike way, of leveraging what power we have to empower and lift up those so often trod down.

    Christine Woolgar wrote a piece at https://licc.org.uk/resources/accountability-abuse-and-awareness/ also tackling David’s abuse of Bathsheba. Other readers and respondents to your piece here may find the comments at the bottom of Christine’s piece helpful, as she outlines the reasons why *most* biblical scholars do consider this rape rather than adultery. It’s confronting to be sure, but we mustn’t downplay what God’s word records in historical context, for the sake of protecting David’s reputation.

    By Dr Dave Benson, LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship  -  11 Jul 2022
  2. Great message – thank you Lyn. I’d not read it that way before.

    By ashley hardingham  -  11 Jul 2022
  3. I think this is very dubious exegesis put to the service of gender equality via critical theory.
    There was no evidence of compulsion. The bible knows how to describe if rape is occurring and could easily have made it clear if appropriate in this case.
    Bathsheba remained on good terms with David, becoming ultimately the Queen Mother and in a position of considerable power herself.
    If LICC presses ahead with espousing Critical Theory and this type of Gender Equality you will soon lose me as a reader. These ideas are antithetical to true Christianity.

    By Roger Dunlop  -  13 Jul 2022
    • Dear Mr Dunlop,
      I read your comment with great interest. It never occurred to me that David’s action could be considered anything other than rape and had always assumed that the rape was part of David’s sin before God.
      Please could you tell me why such an idea would be antithetical to true Christiantity?
      Many thanks, JR

      By JR  -  15 Jul 2022
    • Hi Roger, happy to discuss further if you like, but you’ve misread this one. Most every biblical scholar agrees this was akin to rape, though not for the ideological reasons you suggest. Do read the comments and link I have posted above which outline the scholarship. Blessings as you read the word in context, and seek wisdom for your everyday life.

      By Dr Dave Benson, LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship  -  18 Jul 2022
  4. The problem with the interpretation of this event is that adultery is not a sin of “one hand clapping” as it were, and the consequence ( the death of the baby) fell on both of them. Bathsheba, was undoubtedly feeling lonely, and under the influence of her hormones, chose to bathe outside when she must have known she would be observed. This is not to excuse David taking advantage of the situation. David’s real abuse of power was in his effort to cover up his wrongdoing.

    By Peter Birch  -  20 Jul 2022

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