A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
October 21, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27, 12:1-14
It’s been said that we are to read the newspaper with the Bible in our other hand. It’s the Bible that’s supposed to interpret the news. I confess that recent news in our society are causing me to read this text, and maybe you to hear this text, a little differently than we did in the past.
Let’s get some of the baggage about this story out of the way.
Bathsheba is not a willing, equal conspirator in David’s sin.
This is a story about power, not a story about love. David had the power. Bathsheba did not. Sexual violence is not about sex. It is about power.
I’m sure there are people who would ask, “why was she bathing on the roof top if she didn’t want to be raped?”
Or “why did she make herself be so beautiful if she didn’t want David to want her?”
Or, “why did she willingly go to the palace when the King sent his messengers to escort her there? Why didn’t she say no?”
Or, “why did she go to the castle and live with him if she didn’t love him?”
The answers to all of those questions, by the way, are “None of those answers matter. Don’t change the subject. Men do not have the right to take women’s bodies. Full stop.”
Over the years, Bathsheba has been implicated in this mess of a story because our culture has been most excellent at implicating women in the violence that men perpetrate against them.
We tell women what to wear, and what not to wear.
Our culture tells women how not to attract the male gaze, but how to still be polite to strange men who want to talk to them, but not too polite as to encourage them.
We tell women they shouldn’t get drunk, and then that when they don’t drink, we tell them they aren’t any fun.
We tell women not to walk alone at night, and then we ask why women are afraid of walking alone at night.
And when women tell stories of the violence against them, we ask why they waited so long to come forward if something really happened.
And nothing seems to change. And it is reinforced that women need to be silent, and do what they can to stay safe, while men continue not to take responsibility for their violence against women.
The truth is, Bathsheba had the right to take a bath at her own home, and to be as beautiful as she wanted to be, without the King deciding he had the right to “take” her. She was a married woman, minding her own business, when the king saw her, desired her, and took her.
In fact, Bathsheba was doing what the Law required of Israelite women, bathing to purify herself after her period. Faithfully following God’s commandments didn’t protect Bathsheba from sexual violence.
What David does to Bathsheba is sin. Criminal, by today’s standards, although we know similar stories aren’t always prosecuted to a conviction, if the woman is believed at all.
Yes, David is God’s beloved, and anointed king, the leader on whom God’s steadfast love rested, and the ancestor of Jesus to whom we look for kingly attribute and lineage.
Yes, David violates Bathsheba and violates the commandments of the God who loves him.
Both of those realities are true.
This story takes place in a story about war. We’re told David stayed in Jerusalem, even though it was the season when kings went to war. I notice the way the author makes going to war sound like the “season when kings went to pick apples and make cider” or the “season when kings go to their beach house”.
The language for the battles the king missed reveal the violence the other description tried to avoid. They “ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah”. This story is bathed in language of violence and power.
In the verses that we didn’t hear this morning, David concocts an elaborate plot to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed on the battle field, to hide David’s sin.
When we violate commandments and then lie to cover up our errors, the misdeeds get exponentially bigger. David could have ended it with an admission to Uriah of how he had violated Bathsheba. Instead, he tries to hide his sin by having Uriah brought back from the battle, so the pregnancy could be thought to be Uriah’s, hiding David’s sin. Uriah’s honor doesn’t allow him to sleep with Bathsheba, so then David has Uriah put on the front lines, where he dies.
Nathan’s response included this line, announcing God’s judgment against David:
For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’
When we lie, and try to keep our misdeeds from being known, it may work for a time. But truth is like a seed. Even if you bury it in the dirt, it will do what it needs to do to reach the light. God brings David’s crimes to light.
There’s a lot about this story that triggers for us the news in our world, and in our culture, but at it’s heart, it is a story about what happens when we don’t live according to God’s commandment and instruction.
We live our lives of faith in the midst of our complicated stories. Being faithful people doesn’t mean our stories get easier, or that our decisions are always the right ones. Being faithful people means we deal with those mistakes in the midst of a relationship with God.
And this is where David’s story diverges from our news reports today.
When Nathan confronts David with the story of the stolen lamb, David gets angry.
‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
Nathan calls him out. “You are that man”.
David’s response is, “I have sinned against the Lord”.
Can you imagine a politician today saying what David says in response to Nathan’s judgment?
Today, we would hear, “I didn’t do it. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Here’s my calendar”.
And maybe we’d hear a smear campaign from David, insulting Bathsheba for her appearance by calling her “Horse face”.
And maybe we’d hear comments from one of David’s other wives, denying it was an abuse of power in the first place, and claiming since Bathsheba was an adult when she wore that blue dress in the oval office of the palace in Jerusalem, nothing wrong happened. She was an adult. (Hillary Clinton, I’m looking at you.)
And maybe we would hear people who wanted to make sure David’s kingdom remained in David’s power, jumping in to support him. “Nathan’s working for the other political party, coming in with their allegations and mob mentality to discredit God’s anointed king.”
The one thing I haven’t heard from any of our nation’s leaders in too long is “I have sinned against the Lord”.
This is what it means to be a person of faith, while also being a person who gets it all wrong and hurts people terribly.
“I have sinned against the Lord”.
We have different sins than David. I hope. But Nathan’s statement, “you are that man, (that person)”, is directed our way at some point in our lives. In our personal relationships, or here at church, or at work, how well do we apologize to each other when our words wound and our actions harm?
Are we willing to claim our mistakes? To say, “I have sinned against the Lord”? To apologize to the people we have harmed?
Acknowledging our mistakes, our sins, is healthy for restoring our own relationship with God. It can be even more healing for the people we have harmed with our errors.
A friend of mine was raped in seminary. And the processes in place at the time didn’t secure justice for her. We were talking about this recently and she said that what she wanted then, and what she still wanted now, was for him to acknowledge his error, his sin. She wanted him to admit what he’d done to her.
How different would our world be if people would publicly acknowledge our mistakes, our sin, the ways we hurt other people.
In this Me Too era, as so many men have lost jobs because of their misconduct, we’ve had a few apologies, and even fewer sincere ones. Many of the men who lost their jobs and slunk away in shame are now preparing for their “comebacks”, as if all they need to do to atone for their mistakes is to wait out the news cycle.
Where is the restoration for their victims as they watch those men restored to power without acknowledging their wrongdoing? And is there a chance of real restoration for the men, having that as a cloud that follows them the rest of their careers?
David’s admission of his sin doesn’t erase any consequences to his actions. The story of his family, from this point in the narrative, becomes a story of chaos, even more violence, fights for power, even more violence against women.
But David’s relationship with God remains. And David will not die for his sin. And he remains on the throne.
We don’t know the nature of David and Bathsheba’s relationship after this story, but I have to believe that hearing him acknowledge his sin must have brought some measure of relief for her. She moves into the palace, as one of his wives. She will bear 4 of his sons, and possibly some daughters, but their names aren’t written in the text. Her voice and wishes are obscured in today’s story, but in 1 Kings, chapter 1, her voice and wishes are honored by David, and he declares that her son Solomon will succeed David. We will hear from Solomon next week.
The last we see of Bathsheba in the biblical narrative is 1 Kings 2:19. “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, has she sat on his right”.
That’s the image I want to bring up when I remember Bathsheba.
I want to believe that her life was not only the story of the death of her husband, the death of her child, the violence against her. I want more for her. And for the other women crying out today against the violence perpetrated against them. I will remember her as queen mother, sitting on a throne next to her son.
One of my preaching professors, Anna Carter Florence, writes:
“Scripture is a script that is already published. But our lives—at least in the time that is before us—are not. There are narratives still in process. Asking how a text might go differently is another way of asking how our lives might go differently. …We can claim the freedom of imagining new endings—where things might go differently, so life can flourish. This is an act of imagination, truth telling, and hope.”
May we, too, claim the freedom of imagining new endings. And may our relationship with God lead us to being honest about our sins, and hopeful about our future.
(Even though I didn’t quote her in this sermon, I’m grateful for the insights from Dr. Wil Gafney’s comments about Bathsheba in her book, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, p 211-221.)