Bathsheba #MeToo

Today we are focusing on Bible Study as a key spiritual practice: Learning what the core stories of our faith teach us about faithful living. The Bible isn’t just one book though… it’s many books… it’s the story of God’s people and our relationship with God. It’s full of the full range of human emotions and reactions, it’s uplifting and devastating. It can also be confusing, because we don’t know the history, or the context in which it was written, so we don’t understand some things. Or we read our own context into it and make wrong assumptions. So, when we read a passage from the Bible, or listen to it, it’s important to know something about the background. Maybe, I’ll start including the links to the podcasts I listen to when I’m doing sermon prep as part of my Monday Message.

What do you know about the story of David and Bathsheba? And how do you know it? Is it from movies? Art? Music? Is it from some almost forgotten Sunday School lesson?

There is no doubt that David was a great king in many ways… and he was also deeply flawed. He was the shepherd king… the one who slew the giant Goliath… he united Judah and Israel, bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, making it the centre of worship and ruled peacefully for many years… But that’s not all he was…

The photograph up on the screen is from The Bible in Pictures, my siblings and I received it for Christmas in 1966 and I LOVED it. Apparently, a Bible nerd from way back. An interesting detail of this Bible is that it starts with the story of Jesus, not creation!

But, if you know anything about the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba, you will know that this photograph skips over about 2 long chapters of the relationship between them.

A relationship that encompasses a forced sexual encounter, betrayal, murder and death of a baby. Not exactly child bible friendly.

However, interestingly enough, this Bible, The Family Story Bible actually deals with the story in its entirety, in a sensitive manner. A professor recommended that graduate students in theology get a children’s Bible and read it to get a sense of the arc of the story. Because let’s face it, some parts of the Bible are hard to get through… true confession, I have never made it through entirely! One of the things, I think we sometimes forget, in our completely understandable desire to protect our children from these kinds of stories, is that they already hear about, or even experience these kinds of things.

We can lay our stories, alongside the Biblical story and look for grace and redemption, even in the difficult stories. 

So, this morning’s reading and reflection are longer than usual, the Biblical reading is broken into several parts, with my comments and reflections interspersed. So get comfortable!

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 

Right there, we have an anomaly, in the ‘time when kings go out to battle,’ David stays home. Setting aside whatever our feelings are about war, it was the king’s duty to keep his subjects safe and for David to remain safely in Jerusalem, was already a dereliction of his duties as king. But you wouldn’t know that, unless you knew some of the history.

2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 

A few lines from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah kept ringing in my ears this week as I thought about this text:

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her. (Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah)

You might not have noticed that it’s King David that sees her FROM the roof, NOWHERE does it say that Bathsheba is on the roof! I’ll repeat it: 2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. The king’s palace would be the highest building there was and would provide a vantage point for his to see all around.

Bathsheba wouldn’t be engaging in the ritual act of purification in public. Setting aside our notions of clean and unclean, a ritual bath after menstruation was and continues to be a religious practice for many Jewish women. But it would be done in private, not public. King David may have seen her through a window.

Drs. Amy Robertson and Bobby Williamson on The Bible Worm podcast had quite a discussion about whether it was important to include the piece about the ritual purification, and concluded that it was important, to demonstrate that there could be no doubt about the paternity of her child. It could only be King David’s.

5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 

Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”

Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. 10 David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 “The chest and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!”

12 Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day 13 David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home.

This part of the text demonstrates David’s attempt to palm off Bathsheba’s pregnancy on her husband. But Uriah does not comply. So, King David doubles down on his treachery towards his trusted general.

14 The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”

16 So as Joab was attacking the city, he put Uriah in the place where he knew there were strong warriors. 17 When the city’s soldiers came out and attacked Joab, some of the people from David’s army fell. Uriah the Hittite was also killed. 18 Joab sent a complete report of the battle to David.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her back to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.

But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes.

Imagine being forced to marry someone who had forced themselves on you? Bathsheba would have had no choice about marrying King David; he was the king. Kings had absolute power over everyone. Even so, one of David’s advisors, the prophet Nathan still had enough courage to stand up to him. Like Jesus did in his lifetime to illuminate an idea, Nathan told a story:

12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 

The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare and drink from his cup and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “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 said to David, “You are the man!

What a horrible, horrible story isn’t it? That’s why I sent out the trigger warning by email yesterday and also said something at the beginning of worship.

This is not the kind of story that illuminates love, justice and mercy is it? So, why do we read it? What can we learn from it and where is the grace? David forgot about God… he forgot that kings were supposed to have the best interests of their people as their primary purpose. He forgot that he had been anointed by the priests in a holy ritual and he was to care for and protect his people. He forgot everything but his own wants and desires. There was obviously no Behavioural Covenant in place!  

I think that’s something we can learn… when we have power, or are in a position of perceived authority, we are not there to get our own way. We have all encountered people who just want to get their own way… people with power… and we read or hear stories both historic and contemporary of leaders who succumb to lure of their power.

There were some horrible consequences of David’s unacceptable use of power and he eventually realizes it. The baby Bathsheba bore became ill and died… in later chapters, his heirs start fighting over who will become the next king and death comes to his house once more. Even as David forgot about God… God did not forget about him.

God continued to work on David’s heart, softening, opening and says, “I’ve sinned against the Lord!” David said to Nathan.

God knows what David’s heart is truly like. God knows David’s heart is filled with love, compassion and justice and is looking for the glimmer of that.  God walks with David speaking gently, hoping David will hear and open his heart once again to love, compassion and justice. (Evelyn MacLachlan)

And David writes Psalm 51, which is entitled a prayer for forgiveness.

You are kind, God!
    Please have pity on me.
You are always merciful!
    Please wipe away my sins.
Wash me clean from all
    of my sin and guilt.
I know about my sins,
and I cannot forget
    the burden of my guilt.
You are really the one
    I have sinned against;
I have disobeyed you
    and have done wrong.
So it is right and fair for you
    to correct and punish me.

I have sinned and done wrong
    since the day I was born.
But you want complete honesty,
    so teach me true wisdom.
Wash me with hyssop[a]
until I am clean
    and whiter than snow.
Let me be happy and joyful!
You crushed my bones,
    now let them celebrate.
Turn your eyes from my sin
    and cover my guilt.
10 Create pure thoughts in me
    and make me faithful again.
11 Don’t chase me away from you
or take your Holy Spirit
    away from me.

12 Make me as happy as you did
when you saved me;
    make me want to obey!
13 I will teach sinners your Law,
    and they will return to you.
14 Keep me from any deadly sin.
    Only you can save me!
Then I will shout and sing
    about your power to save.

15 Help me to speak,
    and I will praise you, Lord.
16 Offerings and sacrifices
    are not what you want.
17 The way to please you
is to be truly sorry
    deep in our hearts.
This is the kind of sacrifice
    you won’t refuse.

God’s love, justice and mercy love is always deep in our hearts… we repent and return once more to God’s ways. Bible Study… the good, the bad, and the ugly… and delving deeply into the story, not just a quick reading, is a key spiritual practice of being a disciple of Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of being one of her people. Amen.

2 Samuel 11 & 12

October 23, 2022 – Stairs Memorial United Church

Catherine MacDonald

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