Come home to Calvary
Scripture should come with a content warning. This story is intense. It’s pretty bad. And it is scripture.
Let’s get some of the baggage about this story out of the way before we figure out what God might be trying to say to us through this story.
Bathsheba is not a willing, equal conspirator in David’s sin.
This is a power story, not a love story. 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 to not have 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.
And 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 reveals the violence the other description tried to avoid. They “ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah”. This story is bathed in 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 battlefield, 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 its 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; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
The word David uses that is translated as ‘pity’ more fully means compassion for another human being. David self identifies his lack of compassion for another.
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.”
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. Patients who sue doctors for malpractice often just want to hear the doctor say “I’m sorry. I made a mistake and caused you harm.” But our legal system rarely allows doctors to admit culpability. People may, or may not, get compensation for their harm, but they rarely get what they really want. An apology.
The point of this story is not to make us feel terrible because we make mistakes. We all make mistakes. And none of our mistakes remove us from the category of people God loves. But how we respond to our mistakes is how we heal the world.
How different would our world be if people would publicly acknowledge our mistakes, our sin, the ways we hurt other people.
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 can think of this story playing out on a personal level—like David harming Bathsheba. Or we can picture it on a bigger level. Like when a country imposes sanctions on another country for human rights violations, only to find that they were also committing human rights violations.
Or we can see it in religion—where church systems preach morality and justice from their pulpits and then cover up clergy misconduct and gas light victims.
How do we want to live our whole lives before the sun, as individuals, as a country, as a congregation?
Who do we want to be as a church?
It is an interesting moment in history to be church. Calvary has been pretty stable in our giving and membership, considering the world around us. But as fewer and fewer people participate in organized religion, one of the implications of that is that what we do here is not known by most people. They hear stories on the news of churches behaving badly, and religious people being hypocrites. (I mean, we’re hypocrites too, but we know it.) They don’t know what we stand for or how we try to help our community.
What can we do, not to just promote ourselves, but to really bring the goodness and authenticity of faith before the sun in a world that doesn’t pay attention to religion anymore?
You, and the way you live your life, are our best communication to the world.
We are in the process of putting together the budget for the coming year. In it, we are hoping to increase our giving to our community partners, and we are looking to hire a new youth director, and to return to concerts and other programming that will bring people into the building.
Your pledges of time, talent, and treasure can bring all those things to fruition. I ask you to be in prayer about how your pledging can bring the goodness of God before the sun. The world surely needs to know that wonderful and imperfect people can be in authentic community, just as they are. And, also, we have tote bags for those of you who pledge.
The truth will come out, before the sun, as Nathan says. Let’s do what we can to make it be a good truth, a hopeful truth, a life giving truth.
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 four of his sons, and possibly some daughters, but their names aren’t written in the text. Her voice and wishes and agency 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.”
Let’s create a better narrative with 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.
2 Samuel 11:1-5; 26-27; 12:1-9
David and Bathsheba
11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.