The story of David and Bathsheba has been on my mind the past few days in light of the recent news of the Stanford rape case. A few years ago one of my friends was saying that the affair was her fault: she was bathing naked in clear view, and it wasn’t David’s fault he saw her and was aroused. If this story were happening today, then certainly that would be the interpretation, however someone with a background in Scripture study would see it differently.
The nudity taboo in ancient times wasn’t in being naked. Most people, such as the ancient Israelites traversing the desert, performed all kinds of intimate functions (such as going to the bathroom) in plain sight. It is possible married couples even had sex in the presence of other people in a common tent, with the understanding (such as the scene in Dances With Wolves) than others would avert their eyes. The nudity taboo in ancient times was looking on the nakedness of another, especially the genitals. This is part of the story in Genesis 9, where Noah’s son (and grandson presumably) found him naked and drunk in his tent. Canaan is cursed to perpetual slavery for violating this taboo, which shows how strong the taboo was.
The scene were David is walking on his palace roof takes place at night. The fact that he’s in the city is a scandal since the Israelites are at war and the King’s duty is to lead the soldiers. David is having a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Bathsheba is in a garden of a private residence with a high wall: the only place someone could see inside would be from the highest point in the city, the Royal Palace. (It must not have been far away for a middle aged man with presumably declining vision to see what’s going on. Not to mention what light source was available.) David’s duty in such a situation is to avert his gaze. If he’s interested in carnal delights, he has a harem full of wives and concubines to take care of him. There’s no good reason for him to summon her in order to act on these feelings.
However he sends a messenger to bring Bathsheba to the palace. How could she say no? How could she say no to any request he might make of her? He was the king in his own palace surrounded by his henchmen. If she were unwilling, he had the strength of others to help him if he wasn’t strong enough to wrestle her to the ground. It is a miracle the story turns out so well for her: she could have been cast aside and die an anonymous death rather than bring scandal on the king, but instead she becomes a royal wife (of many) rather than a concubine and the mother of the eventual heir. But in no way did she bring the initial encounter on herself.
“They brought it on themselves” is a common phrase that absolves anyone else from responsibility. It came up in the case of the athlete who raped a girl by a dumpster near Stanford University. If someone takes a dumb risk, does something that can be interpreted ambiguously, makes a mistake, only they bear the guilt for the action and no one else in popular perception. If you put yourself out as food for a wild animal, that it’s not the wild animal’s fault you get consumed, right? “They brought it on themselves” also shuts out any concern or charity given to the victim: if anyone’s going to be that stupid, they deserve no compassion on our part.
We go to lengths to blame people’s mistakes on themselves rather than someone else. To say a rapist isn’t responsible for their rapes is to say a murderer isn’t responsible for killing people, or a corrupt politician or businessman isn’t responsible for cheating people. Saying a man’s carnal desire can’t or shouldn’t be controlled is an anomaly in human conduct, and washing away responsibility for his actions is ludicrous.
This isn’t a standard only used in rape cases. If you don’t work hard enough in someone’s view, then you should be ignored and given no help, because you bring poverty on yourself. Doesn’t matter if you and your family starve to death (presumably.) If you’re fooled by someone and lose most of your money to fraud, you shouldn’t get any slack or help, because it’s your fault you’re not a better consumer. If someone manages to legally cheat you out of something, it’s your fault you didn’t hire an adequate lawyer soon enough to defend you. If you take out a Payday Loan because you need to pay a bill immediately and can’t get credit (or cash) otherwise, it’s your fault for not managing your finances better, even though your job may not pay you enough to make an adequate living, not to mention saving for a rainy day. For some, even a mass shooting in a public place (such as Orlando or Sandy Hook) is not the fault of the gunman but that no one in the crowd had a weapon to shoot back. (As if a concealed pistol will pose much of a threat to a shooter with an AR-15. ) Granted, people can be very dumb at times. However it seems “stupidity” is to be punished more vigilantly and comprehensively than evil. It’s only nature, a Darwinian principle of survival, and the only action of nature we seem unwilling to subvert, corrupt, or resist.
This license not to care, this license to write someone off because “they brought it on themselves” gives us permission to do nothing while still considering ourselves moral and compassionate people. It’s even a license to criticize people who try to help people who bring it on themselves for having misplaced charity. Charity for stupid people is itself stupidity and a sign of weakness. Charity for stupid people is seen as a reason for victims to be dismissed out of hand and ignored by the moral people who assert the right to vilify them just because were in the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, only strong people have a right to mold society and human existence to their benefit, and weak people who do stupid things should remain voiceless.
How many of us go through our lives without doing something stupid? A lot of us have the good fortune of not being caught in our stupidity: we make mistakes and never pay the price for them. How often are we caught in a bad place simply through bad luck? If we have enough money or influence, we don’t even pay the price when we are caught. It’s not just high school and college athletes that seem to have no accountability for their actions. If Brock Turner had been on a more popular team than the swimming team, this might not have even made the news. If he were a CEO is surely wouldn’t have made news. If a politician is caught, they have an embarrassing fall from grace, but they can always make a comeback: if they can’t be elected again, there’s always the routes of power behind the scenes, such as lobbying. Those in power, whether in business or government, that take unjust advantage of others are seen as being powerful and exercising that power as God gave it to them. At least we don’t bother to blame them for their stupidity. So much for a just society where all are equal. Our prisons rarely hold rich inmates.
Most of us are moral. Most virtuous men who come across a drunk woman try to help them, and vice versa. At least, that’s how we see ourselves. Most people at least want to help someone down on their luck, who has fallen afoul of circumstances and needs a hand. It is when this kind of integrity is idealized as proof of the strong person that we have a chance of overturning the Rape Culture as well as all others were victimized for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is only when there are no boundaries on our charity that we have a reasonable chance of containing evil, and making the world a better place. Ultimately we cannot save people from the consequences of their own foolishness, true. However, if we are to call ourselves good people, we cannot rationalize and justify indifference as a mandate from God. We do not make the world a better place by increasing suffering. God is universally merciful toward our mistakes and lapses in judgment, which He sees without obstruction or rationalization. As the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) reminds us, imperfections in our attitude of charity have dire personal consequences. They seem to be poisonous to a culture as well.