My first draft started by talking about David because everyone calls this text something about David: Nathan confronts David. David repents. But, he’s not the hero of our story and he is not where I want to start.
If you’ve been around it might not surprise you that I want to start with Bathsheba.
Despite what Leonard Cohen has told us, The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that Bathsheba was bathing on her roof it was that David saw her from his roof. Now it’s possible that is what she was doing, if they collected rainwater and didn’t bring it from the well. Jewish tradition is that a woman who is unclean during menstruation would wait a week after concludes and then bathe. The wealthy might have baths in their homes, in a courtyard, a room, or a public bath for women.
All this means three things:
1: women were really only receiving physical touch 2 weeks out of 4.
2: Bathsheba wasn’t pregnant when she was taken by David and she was at her peak fertility.
3: Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, clearly an outsider, was also one of David’s elite soldiers and was committed to the cause of Israel and to David his king. That’s why he lived close enough that David could either see the top of their roof or peak inside the windows or see into the courtyard, Uriah the Hittite was someone important.
David, who our author makes very clear, wasn’t supposed to be in his fancy palace up on a hill, he was supposed to be leading his military in war–the story starts with David in the wrong place!–he sees, while he is strolling around on his roof, Bathsheba bathing and he has to have her. This is the start of the fall of David, when his blessed life turns to one filled with horror. What is the sin of David? What is sin? I will always argue, sin is damaging relationships, the relationship each person has with God, the relationship each person has with God’s creation, the relationship each person has with others.
There are a lot of people who do a lot of work to say that David didn’t do anything wrong by taking Bathsheba from her home and having sex with her–that David can claim whatever woman he wants, that military men got divorced when they went to war and remarried when they came back, that Bathsheba asked for it.
In the classic film with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, they have Bathsheba admit to manipulating the situation and seducing David from her own bathtub.
3 years ago this month, this guy made this tweet with a list of all the terrible things some biblical characters have done if you assume doubt is a terrible thing which I don’t. *Here is our character for the day David who fornicated. There was a relatively swift response by Rachel Denhollander here she’s a lawyer and was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention which is important if you have paid attention in the last 6 months and the release of some of their documents relating to sexual assault.
She wrote David raped and it’s important we get that right. And Surprise! Not everyone agreed with Rachel. What follows was a nightmare. Why was she bathing where she could be seen? They might as well be saying what was she wearing and why was she in that place that night she was asking for it. Well, she would have said something if it was a legitimate rape, the text would have called it rape. Maybe but, quickly into our story but Bathsheba but no longer gets a name, she’s just referred to as Uriah the Hittite’s wife. While she is 1 of 4 women listed as Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew, she is the only one not given a name.
1 of 4. 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in college. 1 in 3 women worldwide are subjected to physical or sexual violence. Every 68 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Both men and women experience sexual assault and rape, and almost half of survivors were in their homes, minding their own dang business, like Bathsheba, when someone made a choice to violate their autonomy, personhood, and sacredness.
And David probably thought he got away with everything. I wonder if he didn’t get the “incident” a second thought. But Bathsheba waited at home for 2 months. With every passing day, she felt the walls close in and her world fall apart. Bathsheba found herself on the edge of a “he said, she said,” and was the king! We already know he gets what he wants, can do what he wants.
Bathsheba sends a message with 2 words “I’m pregnant.” A note filled with all of her fear and her anxiety and her sorrow; filled with shame and that anger this shame was forced on her.
David tried to fix the situation, and manipulate Uriah so he would think the baby was his, but he was too good and wouldn’t do what his soldiers could not. So Uriah the Hittite had to die. David, his king, sent Uriah on a suicide mission.
Bathsheba lost everything. In a matter of months, Bathsheba lost her security and her safety. Bathsheba lost her family and her husband. But she belonged to the future that she had been promised and that she was expecting. Bathsheba lost faith in her political leaders. And no matter how she feels about this pregnancy and this baby, she will lose him too as a consequence of David’s actions, as punishment from God.
And David has done the “right thing”, making Bathsheba one of his many wives.
Nathan tells this story of a man who loves his lamb like a family member, like the best good dog, like a child. And his neighbor, who has much, takes it away, and makes a meal of the lamb.
David calls him a son of the devil. Evil. Nathan had painted this image of a loving home and the horror of loss and then tears it away! Behold the painting is a mirror! It’s You!
And David apologies, and repents, to God.
Here’s the thing: I believe that we are and can be forgiven. I believe that a broken heart before God will not go unanswered with grace. No one is outside of the love and forgiveness of God.
But, I really wish this story had something to say to Bathsheba. I wish I knew what David’s lesson was and I wish it was that he cannot treat people like they are objects to be used and abandoned or collected. I wish this story told us that sometimes repentance is also the hard work of standing in front of the person we’ve injured and naming the wrong.
A couple of months ago, a pastor stood before his congregation and admitted that he had had an affair years earlier. And he was asking for their grace and God’s forgiveness, admitting like David, he was a flawed human. A woman got up to say she that woman, that it wasn’t an affair, she was 16. His confession failed to mention that part, failed to be vulnerable, and failed her.
It matters the words we use and how we name an event, situation, abuse. There were some responses to the David Raped tweet. *It matters that we are honest with ourselves. It matters how we tell the story of David and Bathsheba, because it matters how we think about assault, because it matters how we treat victims, and how we repent. There is a reason one of the 12 steps is to make reparations when it is safe to do so, because it matters how we repent to those we have hurt, that we step out of our own view of the world, that we stop to see from the other person’s point of view, with compassion and empathy, as if they matter. And reparations span all kinds of ways that are about the person who was harmed.
We, every week, gather in confession. We confess our sins, the places where we have damaged relationships, or own or others, before God and one another. And God is faithful in forgiving us. Because God loves and forgives and that love and forgiveness is meant to bring wholeness back into our lives. That is what the healings of Jesus were about, that is what grace is about. That is what our confessions and forgiveness ought to be about.
So we practice it, it is a ritual we participate in so that we are able to leave this place and live confession, grace, forgiveness, and reparations in the world beyond these doors. To help restore the fullness of life that comes when we can be fully seen and heard even in our pain and brokenness, when we honestly confess and work to make the world right, It’s how we model full humanity, our own and the person whom we have wronged. It’s how we grow in compassion and empathy.
We practice confession, grace, forgiveness, and reparations because it reminds us and it teaches those who are watching–the world, our neighbors, our children–to see the sacredness, the image of God-ness in each person, so may they will move in the world with more compassion.
Here’s how I think the years went for Bathsheba: She was one of many wives in David’s court. She hated him, tolerated him, and planned behind his back. She grieved her first son and refused to let her second son be ignored, and it was she who made sure he would be king. Next week we’ll meet him, Solomon, who in a lot of ways took after his father but he was wise and I would give that credit to his mother.
Bathsheba didn’t deserve what happened to her. She didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t because of what she was or wasn’t wearing. She did what she had to do to survive and she will find no shame here.
If Bathsheba’s story feels a little like your own, and statistically, there are several of us, you’ll find no shame here.
I wondered if I could get up and again talk about sexual assault and domestic abuse on a Sunday morning, but the numbers matter because they are each a story of someone hurting–and the numbers increased during COVID. Too often the church has been silent on issues of assault and rape, deciding that kind of “sex” is not the church’s problem, while often being perpetrators of abuse.
What can we do?
*In the UCC, the movement and organization is Break the Silence. There are always things that the church, all of us, have to speak up about, endless causes and injustices, this is one of them. Their color is purple.
And, for the last 3 years, I have worn black on Thursdays.
Maybe join us. I can get you a pin. We make space. We make our church and our lives a safe place for stories, we advocate, we tell our stories. We ask confess, honestly. We ask for forgiveness. We work to make each person, and the world, whole.