Whenever a Christian leader walks into catastrophic moral failure, we like to talk about David being man after God’s own heart (though that doesn’t mean what we typically think it means). We like to say that “Even David, a man after God’s heart, fell into adultery.” Of course, that mischaracterizes David’s rape of Bathsheba, and it leaves out what seems to me a significant part of the David narrative: he and his family suffered severe consequences for raping Bathsheba and murdering her husband.
In 2 Samuel 12 we read that David repented for his sin after Nathan confronted him with the harrowing tale of the wealthy man who slaughtered his impoverished neighbor’s only lamb. In the next chapter, after “some time passed” (2 Sam 13:1), we read that one of David’s sons, Amnon, raped his own sister, Tamar. King David—knowingly or not—gave Amnon the opportunity to commit the rape by commanding Tamar to appease Amnon by going to his house and “prepar[ing] a meal for him” (1 Sam 13:7). Like Bathsheba, Tamar has no real agency to protest the king’s command, so she goes to Amnon to cook him dinner. Soon after she delivers Amnon’s meal, he ignores her screams and rapes her.
David and Jacob paint a dark picture of the repercussions of sexual violence that extend far beyond the act of sexual abuse.
Though David had no problems commanding women to do his bidding, he remains silent about Amnon. Tamar’s brother, though, avenges her two years later by killing Amnon. Absalom’s act of vengeance rends his relationship with David, and in 2 Samuel 15 we read that Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” by standing at the city gate and promising to do exactly what David failed to do for Tamar: effect justice.¹ David eventually prevails over Absalom, but not before he loses yet another child (read 2 Sam 18:9–33). The consequences of David’s rape of Bathsheba didn’t end with the death of their first son; it also cost him three more children—Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom—and it very nearly cost him the entire kingdom.
Genesis 34 records a similarly catastrophic failure of justice. There we read that Jacob, the famous patriarch and wrestler with God, was more concerned with his reputation, life, and livelihood than he was with effecting justice for his daughter when she was raped. As the head of his family group (which was much more expansive than the nuclear family), Jacob was responsible for ensuring the safety and security of everyone in his family, along with avenging them should they be harmed (see Josh 20). In the case of his daughter Dinah, though, he remained silent because he feared retribution from the family of his daughter’s rapist. Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, take on the duty their father should have fulfilled, and they end up killing every man in the entire city their sister’s rapist was from. Their justice exceeded its bounds, but Genesis gives them the last word in the narrative, thus indicating they acted rightly in defending Dinah.
Millennia after Jacob and David refused to do justice for their daughters, the Houston Chronicle has followed in the footsteps of Simeon, Levi, and Absalom and done for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) what we should have done for ourselves by exposing the scourge of sexual abuse in the SBC. Despite my deep roots in the denomination (I was SBC long before I became a Christian), I had no idea we suffered from a pandemic I thought affected only Roman Catholics. I should have known, to be sure, because abuse survivors like Christa Brown had been sounding the alarm for decades, as detailed in her horrifying recounting of the abuse she suffered not only from a predator preacher but also from those who circled their wagons around him. (If you can stomach it, Twitter is filled with stories just like Christa’s. #SBCToo is a good place to start.)
The consequences of David’s rape of Bathsheba didn’t end with the death of their first son.
Last week was the annual meeting of the SBC, a time when thousands of members of churches gather to spend time with one another and conduct denominational business. During those few days the church members (called “messengers”) passed two motions pertaining to sexual abuse and in response to the spotlight the Houston Chronicle has shined on the convention: one for a convention-wide assessment of abuse, and another for a third-party investigation into how the SBC executive committee has (mis)handled sexual abuse allegations. (The executive committee is a group of people that “acts on behalf of the Convention between sessions.”)
David and Jacob paint a dark picture of the repercussions of sexual violence that extend far beyond the act of sexual abuse and into the consequences for remaining silent when it is in one’s power to act. Sexual abuse survivors themselves have borne the brunt of these consequences in the SBC, but I hope and pray that the motions passed at the convention last week are merely the first steps in turning aside from the paths modeled by Jacob and David and instead following after their sons by doing justice for sexual abuse survivors—sans the killing, of course.