I’ve already heard the comparisons on NPR radio between two great military leaders: General David Petraeus and King David. A reference is made to II Samuel when King David was supposed to be off to war, but outsourced the work to General Joab. Maybe David was bored, maybe he was contemplating life, or perhaps he regretted not being out fighting and leading as he had always done so well. Whatever the case, he noticed Bathsheba.
After much hailed success in strategizing the wars in the Middle East, David Petraeus has been head of the CIA for a while and not so connected to military operations. It was during his time as CIA chief that the affair occurred. Seems like a similar story of Davids up to this point. However, the similarities end here. The Petraeus affair and the King David affair are very different in quality – King David’s being much worse. Neither of them is in any way acceptable, but each is redeemable.
In her book, “A Woman Called,” Sara Barton offers a shocking interpretation of King David’s affair with Bathsheba. There are various interpretations of the story, but a common one is that Bathsheba strategically situated herself to be seen by the king and essentially seduced him (she’s bad) and the king in his weakness gave in to her seduction (he’s bad). Seems fair – two people behaving badly. She’s just as a bad as he is.
Barton offers up an interpretation that grinds the traditional interpretation top a nub. It wasn’t an affair, it was rape. Rape. The word itself is hard to stomach. It is worse connected to revered and honored King David. It is hard enough to endure his affair. We find ways to bypass murder. But this is rape. When you thought it couldn’t get any worse – it’s rape. We can contort it all we want – it wasn’t violent rape - it wasn’t forcible rape (or was it?) - it wasn’t fill in the blank with mildly soothing modifier rape. It was rape rape. It was sexual relations with another person against the will of the other person.
We can’t hide behind “well, things were different back then.” Was God different back then? God is now, was then, and forever will be 100% and completely against rape. Rape is the most egregious violation of the gift of sex.
Is there redemption for the rapist? My kneejerk reaction is, “No way in Hell!” Scripture may show a pathway, but it isn’t easy.
In Psalm 51 we find King David as broken as a person can get. He’s begging for mercy. He knows his sin as it is so clearly laid out before him. He is humiliated, contrite, and broken. He is a suffering man. He is man who will suffer the rest of his life because the consequences are lived out in other people’s lives, in other people’s deaths, and in the undeniable and unfixable soul knowledge he has. His only redemption is sustained surrender, humility, and vulnerability and firm commitment to accept whatever consequence come his way. He did not opt out of consequence because he was king.
The affair of David Petraeus has significant consequences as well, but perhaps not as longstanding as David (The Petraeus affair will not be record in scripture for all eternity). His affair has ruptured his marriage, betrayed the trust of millions who saw him as a paragon of virtue, and perhaps set a nation’s security at higher risk. The consequences live large and are never going away. My hope for this David is that he can learn something from the other David about a pathway to redemption.