Rev. Diane K. Hooge
II Samuel 15:1-15
I suspect that it won’t surprise any of you to learn that this text from II Samuel isn’t in all lectionaries. However, upon visiting with Randy Ellison, and being touched by his work, I signed a pledge to speak out against violence. The bulk of data on this text tends to focus on David or Uriah. So, I’m inviting you to hear this text from my interpretation of Bathsheba’s point of view.
Glorious spring days brought about a love/hate reality. A love of the spring flowers breaking through and carpeting hillsides with a mosaic of colors, and then the reality would set in as good-byes were offered to husbands, fathers, sons, uncles and cousins as they headed off to war on the newly dried out roads that enabled the movement of troops and horses with far greater ease. Spring was the season of war.
It had only been a few days since Bathsheba had said her good-byes to her husband Uriah, and to her father, Eliam. It was always difficult–difficult because one never knew if that would be the final good-bye of their lives. Any scrap of news from the warriors was both feared and longed for.
One evening, following the religious mandate, Bathsheba had warmed water for her purity bath following her monthly cycle. According to the law, it was to occur the evening of the seventh day. She thought nothing of it, until wrapped in her robe and ready for bed, a knock had come at the door. The servant girl returned with a message. King David wanted to see her. Her stomach immediately caved in. She felt her body respond to the reality of her entrapment, as she began to feel faint, and beads of sweat broke out on her neck and forehead. There was no way out. She was born into a family that held high ranking men in the King’s army beginning with her grandfather and then her father. She had married Uriah, a trusted member of the elite group of soldiers who were so valued by King David. As she sat on the edge of her bed engulfed in the terror of what was before her, she pounded the bed raging against a king who does not go to war himself—a king who not only sends off his best and brightest, but then preys on their families. As the reality sank in that there was no choice, she moved as if in a stupor, stumbling around her room stuffing a few things into a bag, and slowly joined the waiting messenger from the palace.
I suspect that Bathsheba did what generations upon generations of women have done faced with the entrapment that comes with having no power, no voice and no choice. We don’t know how she coped with the violation of that night. Did she distance herself by moving into her head and creating dissociative amnesia? We don’t know if she had support when she arrived home and had to deal with post-traumatic stress. However she coped became even more complicated a month later when she realized that she was pregnant.
Who stood by her as she wrestled with how to deal with her pregnancy? With whom was she safe to tell her story? How many hundreds of times did she play out scenarios with Uriah? Did she wait until she was two months along to be sure, or was the strength of her morning sickness clue enough? At what point did she finally mirror King David’s communication tactics? She found a messenger, entrusted them with the one liner and sent them off to the palace to deliver the news that stated: “I am pregnant.”
The pain and rage had to have escalated when she discovered that the king had sent for Uriah. She felt the agonizing mixture of pride and loneliness in knowing that Uriah refused to take advantage of the opportunity to go home to see her because of his loyalty to the men he led —men, who, under his command, would not have had the same privilege.
All the internal wrestling with what to tell Uriah when he did come home came to an end when Bathsheba answered the knock at the door …and a messenger stood before her bringing the news of Uriah’s death. When was it that she came to know the truth? How many informal messengers relayed the news of the king’s strategy to place Uriah, a military strategist, on the frontline in order to assure his death? How many saw through that cover up no matter how well King David thought he had handled it?
Who was it that determined that Bathsheba’s mourning was over? Did she have any say in when the wedding took place to the king? How did she cope with a pregnancy that came out of such a violation of her personhood…a pregnancy that everyday spoke to being a victim while mourning the loss of her husband? The months passed, and the baby boy was born.
One day, King David, who had successfully added Bathsheba to his kingdom, and had welcomed the birth of his son, had a surprise visitor at the palace. The Prophet Nathan brought him a parable. “There were two men in one city, one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished and it grew up together with him and with his children. It used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie on 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.”
At this point in the story, King David became enraged. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die. He shall restore the lamb four-fold because he did this thing and because he had no pity. Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
Nathan brought God’s truth telling litany to David. It began with his rescue from the hand of Saul, his anointing as king, the gift of the palace, wives, and kingdom, and yet, David struck down Uriah, and claimed his wife. David listened to the punishment that Nathan passed on from God upon his household because of his behavior. He confessed and repented. His life was spared, but the life of his infant son was not spared. In spite of David’s fasting and pleading with God for seven days for the child—in spite of his nights spent face down on the ground in submission to God, the baby died.
I appreciate the fact that Nathan confronted David. I appreciate the fact that his behavior was condemned, but I find little comfort in the fact that the issue with Prophet Nathan was one of property. Bathsheba was the property of Uriah, and before that the property of Eliam her father. Of course I understand that we’re dealing with ancient history and ancient norms, but we cannot leave this text where it is.
Remember several years ago when South Carolina’s Governor, Mark Sanford, grabbed ahold of this text and said, “King David didn’t resign so neither will I.” It behooves the Church to review how stories get twisted to suit cultural norms and not the reality of the lives of those with little or no power.
This is one of the ugliest R rated stories in the Bible, and yet it is told in scripture in the most understated and one-sided manner. Over and over again through art, movies, preaching, and Sunday School lessons, Bathsheba has been known as the “immodest temptress.” As I viewed commentaries I ran across such phrases as “love birds.” I often found myself questioning the commentaries on this text. I’m frustrated by Nathan’s blindness to Bathsheba. This is part of our role, isn’t it—to determine what needs to be identified as disordered and to speak our truth.
It’s taken generations for us to have an understanding that God has a profound love for all God’s children. We have had to wrestle for generations with issues of gender, race, class and sexual orientation. It’s a lifelong process to fully embrace God’s inclusive love. We can look back and see how love has been withheld over and over again.
Jesus’ radical teaching was to help us fully understand the depth of the prodigal son story. And, Jesus’ teaching was about no one being left out—the Good News is for all of us, not just those with power. There is no proof of this story being about two consenting adults. But, there are generations of stories that help us understand the oppression, lack of voice, and lack of power that comes from structures that are not equal. And the task of the Church is to continually learn from these stories and continually speak the truth. If we do that, our understanding of some of our stories will change. We are forever invited to view these ancient texts with new eyes and new understanding that help us to continue to be part of Christianity as a movement, not something cast in stone.
What I’ve learned over the years is that I never know what residue of abuse resides within those sitting in the pews of churches. I believe that part of our role as the Church is to provide opportunities to talk about this issue in our faith community and to keep ourselves educated and our eyes open to the reality of sexual abuse in our society. I invite you to check out the back of the Social Hall where you will find the appalling statistics regarding sexual abuse in our nation. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. 1 in 5 children are sexually solicited on the internet. Only 10% of these acts are reported to authorities. 30-40% of child victims of sexual violence are abused by a family member. On this Speak Out Sunday, we’re all invited to update our knowledge on this painful subject and to be ready to offer support to those who may dare to trust us with information that demands our action.
May we never collude with disordered systems –with systems of society or Church that perpetuate victimizing anyone. Where are we being invited to listen to voices that have not been heard? Everyone is entitled to speaking their own truth. On behalf of countless Bathsheba’s in our world, may we stand in solidarity as they dare to speak their “NO”. Amen.
Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology by Richard M. Davidson, Andrews University Theological Seminary, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2006.