“So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.” (2 Samuel 11:4, ESV).
It is interesting to note the variety of interpretations that are placed on this description. There is a lot drawn from the verbs and one senses the commentators influencing each other.
Brueggemann is influential. He writes:
“The action is quick. The very 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 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). The verb that finally counts is ‘conceived’. But the telling verb is ‘he took her’.” (Brueggemann, Samuel, p 273).
Dale Davis quotes this paragraph of Brueggemann’s in full (Davis, 2 Samuel, p 117) and describes David as being driven by eros.
Brueggemann might be correct but it is to be noted that he omits one of the verbs: ‘she came to him’.
John Woodhouse does note this phrase but it has no real significance. Indeed, Woodhouse goes further in the judgemental interpretation by using the word ‘brutal’:
“The extraordinary brevity of the account is brutal: He ‘sent’, he ‘took’, she ‘came’, he ‘lay’. We hear of no conversation between them, no expressions of affection. We are told nothing about the emotions or the thoughts of either person. All we see are the acts.” (Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, p 288).
Now there is absolutely no question about the sinfulness of David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11 as well as in his adultery with Bathsheba. But, to introduce the word ‘brutal’ into the analysis of verse 4 seems to me to be completely unjustified. Brutal is an extremely loaded word to use especially in the context of sexual relations. Brutal conveys the notion of savagery, of cruelty, of violence. Woodhouse has already noted that while the verb ‘he took her’ conveys David’s forcefulness it ‘may not have been physically violent’. But he then reintroduces this idea by using this word ‘brutal’ not to describe David’s actions but ‘the extraordinary brevity of the account’. But, what does that mean? Well actually, the choice of that word ‘brutal’ has nothing to do with the brevity really. No, the choice of that word subtly sows for the reader that David’s action here was ‘brutal’ without directly saying so. To me that seems disingenuous and not a helpful way to comment on the verse.
It is absolutely clear that David did wrong – he took another man’s wife. But was there anything ‘brutal’ about his dealings with Bathsheba? Was he even harsh with her let alone ‘brutal’? The fact is, as Woodhouse notes, we are not told of the details. And while Brueggemann correctly observes how succinctly the action is related, the fact is that verse 4 does not read ‘he sent, he took, he lay’ but it actually reads ‘he sent, he took, she came to him, he lay’. Which begs the question – why include ‘she came to him’? In fact, if one did want to be brutal in abbreviating the account surely this would be the phrase to omit!
My own view is that the narrative makes quite clear that David is completely responsible for his actions. His passion dominates and overtakes him. But we are not drawn into the details of their relationship in coming together. That is, as far as I can see, for all we know the phrase ‘she came to him’ might well sum up a textbook romantic scene in which there was not the slightest indication of force or coercion, let alone anything which might fit into the domain of ‘brutality’. My point is that the narrative is focussed on the wrongdoing done by David to the husband, Uriah the Hittite. Introducing the word ‘brutal’ diverts away from that to the relationship of David and Bathsheba which is precisely where the narrator does not go.