Delivered at Ames UCC on October 21, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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At this point in David’s story, he is king of both Israel and Judah. He has accrued so much power that he no longer directly fights in battle, but sends his loyal soldiers instead, including Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. He can also get away with taking naps all the way to eventide—think of it as a five-hour long siesta—and, on seeing an attractive woman, send a messenger off to get her. David has no shame, no fear of being found out. In the twilight of the day, he publicly demands the wife of another.
You might be thinking, “What about Bathsheba? Why was she flaunting her body on the roof? Maybe she was trying to seduce him.”
I don’t buy that argument.
As we well know, the Bible drips with patriarchy and misogyny. The Biblical authors, from Genesis to Revelation, have no problem with demonizing women. Just think of what comes to mind when I say the name Jezebel. If you read between the lines, she was simply a queen who was devoted to her understanding of God and merely wanted to practice her own faith. But thanks to the Bible, her name invokes the most despicable kind of woman. If the encounter between Bathsheba and David is intended to be a story of a cunning woman and an innocently overwhelmed man, the Bible would say as much, and in plain terms.
So, David is a sexual predator. A man who uses his power, which is undoubted in this case, to satisfy his own lust.
He is also violent. We skipped the section about how Bathsheba’s husband Uriah dies.
Uriah is a Hittite, so not a native Hebrew, but his name means “the Lord is my light,” and he fights faithfully for David’s kingship. After learning that Bathsheba is pregnant, David sends a letter to another commander saying,
Put Uriah in the face of the fiercest battling and draw back, so that he will be struck down and die. (2 Sam 11.15)
Well, the commander knows that will be too obvious so, as Robert Alter, the translator we used today, explains, the commander sends Uriah and many other good soldiers into a doomed battle to complete the dastardly deed. David’s unrestrained lust and power result in the death of many innocents.
King David is a violent sexual predator, but he didn’t have to be. Of all the men in the Bible to act as he did, he was the last one who should have. David did not have to, and should not have, because he was a person most blessed by God.
David’s story begins in innocence. He is a Bethlehemite lad of righteous reputation, invited to come to King Saul to play the lyre. David does and becomes both the king’s musician and his armor bearer. Then David becomes King Saul’s champion when he topples the Philistine warrior Goliath of Gath.
By the time David is 30, he is king of both Judah and Israel and has many wives and concubines and children. And we hear over and over that God is with David, that it is God who makes way the path to David’s rule.
When Bathsheba appears on that roof, David literally has everything a human being could ever need or even want, including an intimate relationship with the divine. And the divine does not let David’s violations go unremarked.
Though God does not make an appearance during David’s coveting and adultery, two violations of Decalogue covenant, or during the period of time between the sex and Bathsheba realizing she is pregnant, or while David is plotting and executing the plan for Uriah’s death. After all of that we do hear “the thing that David had done was evil in the eyes of the Lord,” and so God sends Nathan to David as an emissary.
The Bible doesn’t provide any backstory for Nathan, only presenting him as a prophet when God needs to tell David not to build a fancy temple. In that case, God speaks in very direct terms to David through Nathan.
In the aftermath of David’s evil, though, God speaks through Nathan in the parable that we heard. And it’s a powerful one: Who wouldn’t root for the poor man whose little ewe drank from his cup, ate from his plate, and rested in his lap? Who wouldn’t be angry at the rich man for so callously taking away that resource and that love?
David, who couldn’t even be bothered to leave his palace to seduce Bathsheba or kill Uriah, using proxies to facilitate both, was probably in such a space of blinding entitlement, that a direct chastisement from God would not work. The story does. The story immediately brings back to life that part of David that knows right from wrong, justice from injustice. And so David could hear God’s rebuke from Nathan, and he could confess, “I have offended against the Lord.”
We have offended, too.
Maybe not to David’s extreme, but none of us can get through reading the Decalogue, the ten teachings of covenant living, without remembering the many times we have, ourselves, lied or worked on a sabbath or worshiped our own tiny kingdoms more than God’s beloved kin-dom.
It is no wonder we are experiencing the levels of tumult and trauma that we are today if even King David, who had every reason to be an exemplary human being, still could not slay the Goliath of desire and power.
Which is where we can find a bit of good news today.
The Trappist contemplative monk Thomas Merton writes that each of us has a
center of our being…which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God.1
That was the part of David that God sent Nathan to speak to and it is the part of each of us that God is continuing to send emissaries to renew. For us as Christians, Jesus serves as our Nathan, with his own lessons and parables.
Let him. Let Jesus, God, Spirit, Sophia, the Holy Other, the Wholly Other, reach that center of your being. Take advantage of the opportunities here at church and in your private practice, to hear the story or speech that will renew your own commitment to covenant living, your own worthiness of living in covenant. God knows we need it, and our wrecked world needs it, too.
But know that even if you do not, even if your own wounds or the memory of the wounds you have inflicted leave you unable to turn to God right now, like David, and Bathsheba, and Uriah, God is still in you.
No matter what you do or what has been done to you, God is still in you in a point protected, undamaged, and eternally true.
1Merton, T. (1968). Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (p. 158). New York, NY: Image Books.