Women of the Bible - Bathsheba
Passage: 2 Samuel 11:1–11:27, 2 Samuel 8:4–8:20
Our sermon this morning is going to start heavy and stay heavy. Sorry. If you’re here for the jokes, do come back next week. But in all seriousness it can be hard if the mood of the church service doesn’t quite match the mood you came in with. And this week it’s gonna be a bit heavy. But our story from Scripture is a bit heavy. And to do justice by that, the sermon will be a bit heavy.
There’s a lot of heaviness in the Bible. There’s even some darkness in the Bible. There’s stories of violence, there’s stories of people being hurt, of towns being killed. The story of Noah that we tell our kids because there’s animals is actually about the earth being destroyed and all the people living on the earth being killed in a flood. If you stay with the ark and the animals its cute, but if you look at 99% of the earth’s population its an immense tragedy. The book of Joshua has God commanding the Israelites to slaughter whole towns of people. The book of Judges is about the Israelite army defeating all sorts of other armies in war. And the violence continues into 1 and 2 Samuel.
Why are these stories in the Bible? Why is there so much war and violence in Scripture? Why do we have stories of people being killed or hurt or tortured or abused? That is our topic this morning.
Our story this morning is about Bathsheba. She’s the final woman we are going to talk about in our Women of the Bible series. We’ve already looked at 7 other women from the Old Testament and saw how their stories and who they are can impact our faith and our lives. Today is our final Sunday in this series and it’s probably the heaviest sermon in the series.
I want us to walk through the story first. But before we went through the story, I wanted to first say that we won’t be looking away from the tough moments in this story. In fact, we will be steering into them. These moments often make me ask: what do we do with these things when we find them in Scripture. And at the end of the sermon we’ll answer that question.
2 Samuel 11:1-27 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. 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, 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.” 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. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’” The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.” David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.” When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 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.
I told you this was a difficult story. And often we focus on affair and David’s attempts to cover it up. And we will get to that. But there’s a detail right at the start of this story that lets us know from the beginning that things are about to go off the rails.
The story starts off that when Israel’s army was out to war, David stayed in Jerusalem and sent Joab to command the army. Now we might read this and think, well I guess when you have as many stories as you have in the Bible you have to get creative with how you start them, so this might be weird but no big deal. But David staying home while his army went off to fight flies in the face of the role kings were supposed to play.
In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cry out to God for a king so that they could be like the other nations. They said:
1 Samuel 8:4-5, 10-20 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”…Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
The purpose of the king was to go out with the army and fight. They wanted someone who would be out there for them. They wanted a king for security and for safety. And here we have David, their second ever king, staying at home while the Israelite army goes off on a campaign.
If the story stopped there we might forgive David. But the Bible often does this thing where it explicitly connects two passages in one way and then implicitly connects them other ways. And in 1 Samuel 8 not only do we hear that kings were meant to go out with the army but we hear Samuel’s warnings that kings take from the people anything they want. And Samuel tells Israel that if they have a king, their king will take whatever he wants. Which is precisely what David does.
Because while David is at home when he should be with the army, he is walking around his house getting bored. Because no one had invented Netflix yet. Seriously, if he'd have been able to binge Friday Night Lights while the army did its thing, he’d have never gotten in this mess. So he notices Bathsheba bathing on the roof. Well he notices a beautiful woman bathing on the roof and asks who it is. He is told its Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah. This detail is important. Uriah was a captain in David’s army. Eliam was one of David’s select 30 warriors. David would have known both well. So its incredibly possible that this was not the first time he had ever seen Bathsheba. It’s probably that he had met Bathsheba many times before. That while he was on a campaign with his 30 select warriors Eliam was telling stories about his daughter. It’s very possible that when David’s servant told him that the woman he saw was Bathsheba she was someone David know a good deal about. And certainly he knew that she was married and that her father was a trusted ally.
But despite all that, despite the connections, despite the respect David would have had for her father and husband, David does what we have been warned kings will do and takes her for himself. His subjects go get her and David violates both of their marriage covenants and commits adultery with her. And then she is sent away.
There are lots of interpretations and commentaries and sermons given on this text that try to put some of the blame on Bathsheba. Well, they say, perhaps David loved her, had always loved her, but she was with another man. But after the act of adultery, David sends her back to her house. Clearly this was not about love or wanting to form a lasting marriage bond. Many interpretations and sermons on this text talk about Bathsheba as a temptress, one who ensnared the virtuous David. I mean, why else would she be bathing on the roof? That ignores the fact that in ancient times, before the water heater had been invented, if you wanted to take a warm bath you had to store the water on the roof where the sun could warm it.
Instead I think the way the story is written, while not explicitly calling this act abuse, does so poetically. Bathsheba does not speak until after the act. Bathsheba is given no backstory, is given no active part in the narrative. She’s identified not by anything she has done or who she is, but simply as the wife of Uriah and daughter of Eliam. She is a non-character, a non-actor in this story. Literally all we know about her is that she takes baths. And isn’t that precisely what abuse does to us? Doesn’t abuse take away our personhood? Doesn’t abuse take away our voice? Doesn’t abuse take away our sense of control? Doesn’t abuse make us feel like non-actors? And through the storytelling that is exactly how we meet Bathsheba. As someone who has had her active role in the story taken by her abuser.
The first words Bathsheba speaks are the words “I am pregnant.” And it is this, on the virtue of Bathsheba bearing David’s child, that Bathsheba is brought into the royal household and eventually made David’s wife. Not on the basis of love. Not on the basis of a being Hebrew school sweet hearts. But because she is pregnant with his child.
We heard the rest of the story from the perspective of David. Now let’s imagine the rest of the story from the perspective of Bathsheba. She writes to her abuser saying that she is with child. And she hears that her husband will be coming home. What will she do when she sees him? Can she cover up what’s happened in his absence? He is a Hittite, if she revealed what the Israelite king had done to her, would he attempt rebellion? What if he stayed in the house while he was here? What if he wanted to be intimate with her? Would she be able to? Would he know something is wrong?
But then her husband does not come to see her while he is in the city. He stays at the palace. And then again he goes off to battle. The next thing she will hear about him is that he has died in the battle. Would she have thought it all so coincidental? Would she have heard whispers around the city, from those in the high command of the army who knew her husband, who knew her father, that there was something else afoot? That it wasn’t a mission gone wrong? That it was a mission designed to fail?
And then she is told she will be marrying David, she will be marrying her abuser. Should she be happy knowing that her child will grow up in the royal courts and be set forever? Does she feel defeated knowing that she can never reveal to anyone what happened that night? Scripture says David had her brought to his house and she became his wife. Passive verbs abound for a woman who has been robbed of her own personhood.
But that is not all she will be robbed of. For what David had done displeased God. The child that David conceived will die. Shortly after being born the child was struck with illness and on his seventh day he died. The prophet of the Lord Nathan told David this was done because God was displeased with David. And so Bathsheba endures the unimaginable pain because of David’s sins.
Life in the royal court will improve for Bathsheba. She will have more children. Her son Solomon will become king. She will play an active role in Solomon becoming king. But when we first meet her she endures immense suffering and tragedy not of her own making, but from another’s sin and lust. And it will take years until she becomes an active participant in the story.
So what do we do with this story? What do we make of this story? What do we do when we find such darkness, such violence, such pain, such disorder in scripture?
One of the early church fathers, when arguing for the full humanity of Jesus, said “That which he has not assumed, he has not healed.” The point was that only that which was united with the divinity of God in Jesus Christ was healed and redeemed. If Jesus was fully human than all aspects of our common humanity are healed and redeemed. What does that have to do with Bathsheba?
Bathsheba is included in the genealogy of Jesus as told by Matthew. Her story is taken up into the history and story of Jesus. Her story, the rises and the falls, the hurt and the hope, the abject suffering and the slight vindication, is made a part of the story of Jesus. And the story of Jesus is a story of healing and redemption. It’s a story of the death and darkness of Friday leading to miracle and resurrection on Sunday. It’s a story of a God who makes things new.
The stories of Scripture are our stories. Even the dark ones. Perhaps especially the dark ones. The stories we have told as a part of this sermon series have resonance within our stories. Other stories in Scripture have resonance with our common humanity. We read the pages of Scripture and we see people who are unapologetically, unabashedly human. And their stories are assumed in the humanity of Jesus and united with the divinity of Jesus and in that union find their redemption. In the same way our stories, the good and the bad, the brightest parts and the parts that are sheer darkness, are united and healed in Jesus Christ.
And so our final question as a part of this sermon series is this:
- What parts of your story has God redeemed? How can God give you healing?