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2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Never before have I preached on King David’s rape of Bathsheba, a story that also includes David’s murder-by-proxy of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. There are many reasons for that, not the least of which is that it is a horrible story, a chilling account of power and its many abuses, a graphic portrayal of the ages-old objectification and sexual abuse of women, and a depressing reminder of how the powerful seem so often to get away with murder, sometimes literally.
Add to all that that all of us are all the time hungry for good news, perhaps now more than ever, and that the good news in this story is very hard to find. And yet it is interesting that this shameful chapter in the life of one of Israel’s greatest heroes appears in the Hebrew Bible at all. Why is it there? Why wasn’t it conveniently left out of the history?
Well, we’ll get to that but, first, perhaps you, too, have tried to forget this sorry episode. Or maybe you’ve never read Second Samuel or seen the movies or other pop culture references that portray the rape as consensual adultery and place at least some of the blame for it on the beautiful—also innocent, utterly powerless, and victimized—Bathsheba.
This is one of those Bible stories that should come with a trigger warning, so here’s the brief version:
Some 3,000 years ago, King David, beloved of God, a good ruler and a mighty warrior, had grown somewhat bored with his totally fabulous life. He had everything a man could want—untold wealth, a growing empire, many wives and consorts, a healthy family, the loyalty and love of his subjects, the fear and submission of his enemies. But having tired of fighting, he left the dangers of war to his generals and countless foot soldiers. While other kings went to battle, he stayed home.
One day, while his soldiers were out risking their lives, he was walking the roof of his grand house, and spied a beautiful woman bathing. He wanted her. Long story short: After learning that she was married to one of his soldiers, he nevertheless sent for her. She was brought to him, he had his way with her, sent her back home, and then later received word that she was pregnant.
That’s when the cover-up started. First David summoned Bathsheba’s husband home, so that it would seem that he was the baby’s father. But Uriah, out of respect for his fellow soldiers, refused to be with his wife. And so the king had his general send Uriah to the front line of a battle, where he was quickly killed. Bathsheba was widowed and, as soon as her official mourning period was over, David sent for her again. This time he made her one of his many wives, and soon she gave birth to a son.
Our scriptures give no indication of how all this was received by the king’s staff or the public. Perhaps most people were none the wiser. Maybe some people figured out exactly what had happened but just shrugged their shoulders, because that’s how the world worked. Maybe still others—among them, perhaps, the king’s wives and consorts and Uriah’s family and fellow soldiers—were outraged but had no power with which to challenge the king. As for Bathsheba, she doesn’t even merit a name in today’s reading; she is referred to only as the wife of Uriah.
But David had not gotten away with rape, murder, deception, and other abuses of his power. According to the scriptures, God knew exactly what David had done, and God was, to put it mildly, not at all pleased.
And so God sent the prophet Nathan to speak truth to power, to confront the king with his sins, and to say, when David replied in hypocritical anger against an imaginary rich and powerful man who had stolen both love and life from a poor man, “You are the man!” Then it was Nathan’s job to speak God’s word of judgment against David, which, as always, boiled down to this: Actions have consequences. As so it was that the arrogance, self-centeredness, and disregard for others that David had displayed would tarnish his legacy and ravage the next generation of his family.
And so it was that the story of David’s sins and what was understood as God’s judgment became part of the history of Israel and the lore of both Judaism and Christianity.
And so it is that 3,000 years later, prophets are still standing up to abusers and saying, “You are the man!” and “No more! This abuse will not stand.” We see it most clearly in the brave women of the #MeToo movement. We see it in careers derailed, charges filed, elections and fortunes lost, reputations ruined, and, ever so slowly, in the changing of attitudes around what is and is not acceptable, in the empowerment of those who have been victimized, in education, workplace culture, and law enforcement.
And still, women are objectified and abused—and worse. Still, women are blamed and not believed.
And still, God is displeased. Still, Jesus weeps. Still, the horrible stories must be told so that justice may be done, healing might happen, and wholeness might be restored.
And this, my friends, is the good news: That God, knowing full well all manner of hurt that we humans inflict upon one another, chose to become one of us. That in Jesus of Nazareth, God said, “Me too.” That in Jesus, God walks with us, suffers with us, ever and again reminding us of our sacred worth. That in Jesus and, if we allow it, through the church, God is revealing to us what is wrong, teaching us that the truth will set us free, offering us healing and hope, and proving to us that Love ultimately wins.
There is no scriptural record of Bathsheba’s side of this story. But she was not a nameless victim. Nor was she a seductress. She, like many women before and since, suffered physical pain, mental anguish, and untold grief at the hands of a man who viewed her as nothing more than a something to give him pleasure.
I like to think that, once she was brought back to the palace and became David’s wife, she was not alone, but that the other women there received her and comforted her. I believe that, while David’s grief over their dying baby is noted and his prayers of repentance are recorded in the psalms, that though the story tells us nothing of Bathsheba’s feelings or actions, that God heard her prayers, that God wept with her, that God’s angels waited on her day and night. History tells us that she gave birth again, to a boy who would become the wise and mighty King Solomon.
I know that in Christ there is no male or female, no he or she or they—only beloved children of God. I know that God values women’s lives and women’s bodies. I know that God values queer lives and queer bodies as well as trans and straight and male lives and bodies.
I believe that God is with every woman, and some men, who has found the courage to say #MeToo—whether publicly or privately. I believe God longs for our healing, liberation, and empowerment. I believe that while actions have consequences, our merciful God longs too for the healing, liberation, and restoration of the abusers. I believe God is forever raising up prophets to speak truth to power, to proclaim justice, and to bring healing to the shattered lives of abused and abuser alike. I believe that God sometimes moves in mysterious ways—including through mass movements and culture and laws and community—her great wonders of justice and healing to perform.
I believe in mercy and redemption.
I believe there is no shortage of good news, even in horrible stories.
And I give thanks and praise to the God who says #MeToo.