Queen Bathsheba Too
The Sacred Story comes from 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9 and Psalm 51:1-9. Clink the links to read the full story - a story of David and Bathsheba, of the abuse of power and God’s ongoing work of transformation.
The bible is not a series of disconnected stories, it is a single narrative that points to one person, to the One who is true and better. These stories are our stories, as we point to one who is true and better than anything we can comprehend. These stories are about us, because God is about the lives of everyday people, but the true subject of these stories is God.
God uses all types of people to tell this story – people like David, Uriah, Bathsheba, and Nathan. God is present with David, who was thing gangly underdog of a boy who defeats giants, becomes a national hero and was known as a man after God’s own heart. David who nevertheless has his ego run away with him to the detriment and demise of real live people around him. David, who objectifies Bathsheba and then tries to cover up his actions by sending her husband, Uriah, to the front lines of a war as a means of murder.
God is present in Uriah - a soldier betrayed by the leader he serves and is treated as disposable.
God is present in Bathsheba – who is at all not a seductress, but someone following the rules of ritual cleansing, someone who follows God’s laws of mourning, and yet still becomes a victim of the powerful. She is a common woman of Israel, with no particular notoriety, she is a survivor, and a grieving widow. Bathsheba endures erasure as her name begins to disappear from the text after verse 5. So many victims are “disappeared” as their stories go untold and their pain is unrealized or ignored. Bathsheba as a woman in her society, was powerless to call David to account for what he had done to her. Bathsheba continues to be a victim and yet her situation is overlooked. At verse 26, her name is taken away and she is referred to simply as “the wife of Uriah.” But God knows her name and her story. Whether recorded or not, God saw what had been done to Bathsheba. She too was a child of God, with all the rights and privileges of God’s favor. The Story of God includes her story.
God is present in Nathan – someone sent by God with the courage to confront a man he knew was capable of violence and murder.
This is God’s story. These are God’s people. This is our story.
What David did to Bathsheba was assault. As king, someone with authority over Bathsheba and any person in Israel and as the one with power over anyone else in this situation, consent is simply impossible. I just want to be very clear that when we talk about David’s brokenness here, we’re not talking about what Bathsheba looked like or was wearing, we’re not talking about a “mistake,” and we’re not talking about adultery – we’re talking about violence. This isn’t about intimacy, it’s about power. He abused his position of power. He did not consider the consequences of his actions, or he considered himself excused from those consequences. Even when we look at Nathan’s parable, the issue is that the rich man was not willing to give up his assumed privilege, but abused his authority to take what he thought he was entitled to.
Like David, we find that it is easier to name the brokenness of others rather than our own. We desperately want to believe that this exists apart from us, and apart from our involvement. It’s something that happens over there, amongst those bad apples. Tsk tsk, what a shame. It also seems that it is even easier to name the brokenness of others when that “other” is someone we consider to be outside our tribe. When someone’s abusive behaviors exposed, we get a twisted sense of glee or feel sense of betrayal that is dependent on whether or not they align with our politics, our worldview, or even our church denomination – someone we considered one “us”. Our feelings of how bad the offense is…may seem to shift whether the perpetrator is Bill O’Reilly, or our Olympic gymnastics staff, or clergy, or Matt Lauer, or Roger Ailes, or Kevin Spacey, or Garrison Keilor…
God speaks through Nathan to disrupt this toxic behavior. It’s not that David doesn’t know right from wrong, but he is blind to his part in it. I’m not even going to address the problematic part of comparing women to livestock, but Nathan does speak God’s redemption to David.
Redemption comes not because what happened wasn’t THAT bad, nor even because David says “I’m sorry.” David is only able to plead forgiveness, because another comes alongside him to help him understand the depth of what he’s done, and helps him recognize his identity as something other than this. In this sacred story and in our world today, I hear the question - how can there be healing and reconciliation after a violation? What does the road back look like for someone who has harmed others?
It turns out that honesty isn’t just a virtue; it is a catalyst for transformation.
What changes David isn’t shame, it’s love. That doesn’t mean he’s exempt from the consequences of his actions, but even guilt and punishment won’t transform him like love does. What changes him is his deep relationship with Nathan, who is able to reflect with him, in profound honesty. I don’t even think I’d categorize this as tough love, it’s a liberating love, although it can certainly be confrontational and uncomfortable. But when we are deeply loved, we are also deeply known. In the midst of love we can be honest about ourselves and be released from the masks we keep up in order to seem valuable to the world. This is the truth in which God sees us, and even so God still loves us. This is a divine truth! But more often it comes to us not as a voice from a cloud, but in the embrace of a friend as the house of cards comes tumbling down.
The prophet Nathan is someone that helps David to recognize for himself that his identity doesn’t rest on his power over others.
In the midst of the last several years of headlines, the growth of the “Me Too” movement, and the increasing entrenchment of political tribalism, there is a Word of redemption here for us too. This story highlights how women have been dealing with this for thousands and thousands of years, so it’s understable that patience and second chances are running low. But what does redemption look like in this era?
Perhaps redemption looks like the courage of modern prophets to speak truth and confront people they are close to, especially men speaking to other men. Redemption calls us to speak up and say, “that joke isn’t funny,” “you keep interrupting her,” or “there’s absolutely no need to comment on what she’s wearing.”
Perhaps redemption is revealed when, in the clear light of day, those who have caused harm can confront their own brokenness, without dodging the consequences, and then begin to join the day in and day out work of proclaiming the dignity of all people.
Perhaps redemption comes as we pray for our leaders – that they may be wise and compassionate, aware of their influence and the vulnerability of others. And that we, the ones they are called to serve, hold them to account on behalf of the vulnerable.
Perhaps redemption looks like unearthing stories of hurt that we thought we had to hide until now. Perhaps it is most powerful in the assurance that our stories are already known and seen by God, whether or not anyone else acknowledges them.
Redemption is surely what God is still doing in these days and throughout time, and has already accomplished. It is the promise that God, in Jesus, is a true and better David – a king and a leader that does not abuse their power, but lays it down for the sake of the powerless. This is the kind of world-altering redemption that has already changed the game and is yet unfurling still before our eyes. This is a kind of hope that doesn’t hinge on how well we can all get along, but yet invites us to discover a way forward in wholeness. Amen.