Today’s text is from 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27, 12:1-9.
The Bible is full of good people. The Bible is also filled with bad people. The Bible is filled with stories of hope, grace, and promise. The Bible is also filled with stories of deceit, murder, and abuse.
This is one of those texts – that although maybe familiar to some of us – is not a good one. In summary: King David – the same David who we hear about every Christmas season – the one for whom Bethlehem is known for – the “City of David” – the one for whom is talked about in Jesus’ genealogy – the one who beat Goliath as the underdog – the shepherd – the writer of most of the psalms – this David – the king of Israel in our reading today: Well, he’s not the good guy. And this isn’t an easy story.
First, David neglects his duty as king to lead the troops into battle by staying behind. While relaxing at home while his soldiers are dying he rapes Bathsheba – who then becomes pregnant. David then has Bathsheba’s husband killed and marries Bathsheba.
And that’s what I want us to focus on today: Bathsheba. Bathsheba is mentioned 13 times total in the Bible. David’s name is mentioned 8 times in just the first half of this reading. Bathsheba – a nobody up until this point – and certainly a nobody in comparison to the king of Israel – Bathsheba is doing exactly what the law requires her to do after her period is over: Bathe.
Now, that comes from a law in Leviticus 15 which had every woman do an asinine amount of work following their period in order to become “clean” – including offering a turtledove as a sacrifice for their supposedly monthly “sin”. And I say that in quotes. According to this law in Leviticus simply being a woman is a sin.
So, Bathsheba is following the law. David is not. He’s abusing his privilege and power as king by staying at his royal palace while the troops under his command go to battle without him – and verse one clearly tells us “the kings go out to battle” in the spring.
And then he sexually assaults Bathsheba. Now, our translation says that “David sent messengers to get [Bathsheba].” Now, the Hebrew word behind the English phrase “to get” in that sentence is used about 1,000 times in the Old Testament. About 800 times it’s translated as “take”.
The king – the one who is basking in privilege instead of duty by going to battle – this king is using all the social powers of his office and stature to quite literally take Bathsheba – to sexually assault her for no fault of her own.
And this doesn’t even get to the fact Bathsheba became pregnant by this rape and then the king decides to have Bathsheba’s husband murdered so he could continue taking everything that was possibly hers to begin with.
So, as I said at the beginning, the Bible is also filled with bad people and oftentimes quite devastating and gutting stories. So, what do we do with this? Because this is an unthinkable nightmare for Bathsheba. A woman whose name has now been mentioned more times in this sermon than in the entire Bible.
What do we do with the people – what do we do with the women in our society who are marginalized and oppressed by men in power? Because it happened thousands of years ago and it’s happened every year since.
Because, again, make no mistake, Bathsheba did nothing wrong in this story. David was the one who abused every privilege and power he had in order to assault and murder. Again, this is nothing new.
The former candidates for the 2016 presidential election have both made startling comments regarding privilege and power and what they apparently should afford you. Starting with Hillary Clinton who recently was interviewed and said that her husband’s resignation had nothing to do with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked if it was an abuse of power by the former president, Ms. Clinton said, “No. [Because Lewinski] was an adult.”
And a couple years ago a tape from 2005 recorded Donald Trump saying that, “when you’re a star they let you do it.”
So, we have two people who at one time were vying to be the President of the United States who seem to agree with David’s assessment of the situation: Use power and privilege to take what you want. So, what are we, as the church, called to do?
Well, I think we’re called to follow in the footsteps, first and foremost of Nathan the prophet – Nathan who in today’s reading calls out the king. God literally sent this prophet to the king to tell him that the acts he had committed were evil. The king – the one who assaulted Bathsheba and then murdered her husband – Nathan receives a call from God that he needs to tell that guy – the murdering, raping king – that he’s committed acts of pure evil and that he should probably ask for forgiveness. Not an easy calling.
And our second example comes in the form of Jesus. This time death does happen. Jesus tells the people things they don’t like to hear – he lets the powerful know they’ll be torn down and the oppressed will be raised up – he tells those in charge they’ll one day be last and those pillaged by the powerful that one day they’ll be first. In a sense, Jesus tells Bathsheba that one day she will be redeemed, made whole, and loved by her Lord and Savior and shepherd and he tells David that the power and privilege he once had will all come crashing down. And the result of Jesus telling the people this is they become upset and kill him.
And yet this is our calling: As a church – as a people – we are called to seek out and find the Bathshebas of this world. The people on the margins – the people abused and used and forgotten by the powerful in society. The people whose stories are rejected, the people whose lives are neglected, the people whose hopes and dreams are crushed by those racing to power, the people who are labeled as less than, the people who are left for dead, the people who are murdered, the people who are raped.
These people – men, women, children – the ones who have done nothing wrong – these are the people we are called to seek so that the abundance of love and grace and hope from Jesus Christ can be seen in their brothers and sisters – people just like you.
But, in doing so, we stand toe-to-toe with the powerful. The privileged. Those for whom power negates all else. And yet, this day the Holy Spirit calls, strengthens, and empowers you to be a prophet like Nathan. To follow in the footsteps of Jesus. To never forget Bathsheba’s story.
For this day you have been called to speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.
You. A prophet, apostle, disciple. Bringing about the grace and love of Jesus Christ to every beloved child of God.