(The following blog post is the manuscript of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 29th. The Scripture text was the story of David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:1-15. Some of you asked for it, so here it is.)
The shepherd has become the wolf. The shepherd King, the man after God’s own heart has devoured his people, ignored his God, and served his own appetites for lust, pleasure, and power. No longer is David now a man after God’s own heart; now, David is obsessed with himself. The story of David’s sin as recorded in chapter 11 is one of the most calamitous failures in spiritual faithfulness and service as recorded in the entirety of the Scriptures. When we read or hear of this account we tend to think of David’s sin here expressed as one sin, the sin of adultery, but upon further reflection, it is evident that David’s sins are legion – for they are many.
So what happened. David’s primary failure is a failure of his identity, which leads to a failure of his call. His identity is that of a shepherd, called to protect, steward, and defend his people. He is to protect his people from the wolves that would threaten to devour; David is called to risk is own life for his people. But instead of risking his life for his own people, we learn in verse 1 of chapter 11 that David instead of fighting for his people and defending them from their enemies, David has sent his troops into battle without joining them; “In the spring when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites…But David remained in Jerusalem.” The King’s place in battle was with his troops. If he was to ask his warriors to risk themselves for their fellow-people, the King was expected to be present with them, risking his life as well. Instead, we are given a picture of David who has literally dispatched his commanders, advisors, and troops to fight his battles while he remains in his luxurious palace in safety and in comfort. Instead of shepherding his people, David has asked his troops to protect and shepherd him.
This failure of leadership, failure of courage, and indulgence in his position of privilege and wealth is then met with a second sin. That of lust. While he wandered about, as if bored while his troops risked their lives in battle, he acts the part of a deviant voyeur and illicitly spies on a woman, unaware of David’s eyes upon her, bathing herself. We later learn that this bath was an act of both faithfulness and worship for her, for she was seeking to follow the Torah law and have a ceremonial bath following her period of menstrual bleeding to be purified as woman were instructed by the Jewish Law.
David has now become a man who believes he can have whatever he wants and that the wishes, desires, and interests of others are of secondary importance to his wishes, desires, and interests. David has become a man who believes others exist for his benefit; he has sent his troops out to fight his war and he now has identified a woman who he believes attractive and with whom he would like to have sex. Following his carnal desire to have sex with this woman bathing in what she believes to be privacy, David summons his advisors and asks for the woman’s name and identity. He learns from his advisors that her name is Bathsheba and that she is a married woman and her husband is Urriah, David’s trusted and excellent military general – who at this very moment is risking his life fighting David’s battle.
Even upon learning this information David asks his advisors to summon Bathsheba to him. In verse 4 we read, “When she came to him, he had sex with her.” Throughout Church History this passage of Scripture has been sanitized to minimize its scandal and the sin David commits here by merely naming David’s transgression adultery. And adultery it certainly is. The Scripture is clear to note that David has been made aware that Bathsheba is married and that having sex with her would be a violation of the Ten Commandments provision both against adultery – having sex with another spouse’s partner – and also coveting another person’s spouse. David willfully and brazenly choses to disobey God’s laws because now, David has not only become someone who believes others exist for his own interests and benefits, but he has also become someone who believes he is superior to God. But David’s sin here is not merely adultery. David’s sin here is sexual assault of the most egregious kind; 11:4 of the book of 2 Samuel records David’s rape of Bathsheba. The brevity and starkness of the text, the use of pronouns, the syntax, and word order of the sentence unequivocally connote non-nonsexual, forced, unlawful, carnal, knowledge.
After having used Bathsheba to fulfill his own purposes, she is no good to him anymore and he dispatches her back to her house to no longer be burdened by her presence and to worry about her no more. But in being raped, Bathsheba has also become pregnant. There can be no question about the identity of the father, for her husband, Urriah, is honoring his God, his people, and his King by bravely risking his life for others and is not in town but at the front. To avoid the exposure of his sin, and to live in denial of his massive abuse of power, his failure in faithfulness, and his atrocious rape and assault on another human being, David launches, what he thinks is a brilliant plot. He will summon Urriah home from the war, thank him for his service, graciously grant him home leave to sleep in his own bed – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – next to that beautiful wife of his. Unlike David, Urriah is an honorable man and refuses to go home and enjoy such pleasures when his fellow troops risk their lives for their King, country, and most importantly, God. He sleeps on the front porch of David’s palace. David then resorts to get Urriah drunk hoping this will lead to a lapse in character and integrity, but Urriah drugged proves himself more faithful than David stone cold sober. Finally, David arranges for Urriah’s murder by instructing Joab to position Urriah at the front of the armed invasion thus assuring his death. We can be certain that had Urriah miraculously survived this assault, David would have found another way to kill him. David’s desire for self-protection now knows no bounds.
David’s behavior is disgusting and repulsive. His sin represents some of the worst humanity has to offer. By a quick inventory of the Ten Commandments David has arguably violated 8 of the 10: he has worshipped himself as God, creating an idol of himself and prioritizing himself above his God’s will and laws; he has taken the name of the Lord in vain by making a mockery of God’s call and command in his life; he has committed adultery; he has coveted his neighbor’s spouse; he has testified falsely; he has stolen; and he has killed. The Ten Commandments were structured in such a way to create healthy, whole, and life giving relationships both between humanity and God, and between human beings themselves. David’s sin has shredded the sanctity of relationship between David and his God and between David and his community.
Upon rereading this passage of Scripture and preparing for this sermon this previous week I was overwhelmed with a sense of rage and anger. Which I must confess are not holy nor righteous and is entirely my own sinfulness. My rage was directed at David and the way he treated others. My rage was directed at the Biblical witness and a history of Scriptural interpretation that continues to view this passage of scripture through sexist lenses that continue to perpetuate sexism and sexual assault. My rage was directed at contemporary leaders in both religious and political realms who demonstrate attitudes and enact behaviors that reek of self-interest, privilege, pride, and arrogance as they behave in ways that clearly evidence their belief that other people exist for their own pleasure. And my rage was directed at God who chose David in the first place, who seemingly allowed (and allows?) this type of predatory behavior and who just doesn’t seem to go far enough to hold David accountable for his sin.
David should have been imprisoned not left to remain in his palace. Sure, yes, there are consequences to his sin and he will indeed have to live with the results of his sin. Later in 2 Samuel we will learn that David’s Kingdom will be divided, his sons will turn murderous towards one another. More than one of his future heirs will die a violent death. David’s line will eventually lose the dynasty that God had promised them – all because of David’s heinous sin and unfaithfulness.
But who cares about David, what about Bathsheba? Should we not be focused on her, the victim of such atrocious assault? Even in her victimization the Biblical witness seems only to care about her in regards to its impact and effect on the Davidic story. Eventually we will learn that the child of her rape by David will die in infancy, according to God, as a punishment against David. But in this punishment is more grief and suffering not heaped upon Bathsheba. We learn that she becomes David’s wife. So now the assaulted is forced to live as wife to the man who did her assaulting? We even learn that surprisingly, the future child Bathsheba will bear to David, Solomon, will be David’s heir. But is this really consolation to Bathsheba? What about her loss, her grief, and her suffering as she attempts to make sense of her rape by the King, her husband’s murderer, while she is forced into marriage with “God’s anointed.” Is this not the stuff religious cults?
As I read this passage of scripture I am overcome with a deep sense of embarrassment and disappoint. I can only shake my head and disagree and argue with what I read in the Scriptures. I take issue with this account. I take issue with the Scriptural resolution and I take issue with generations of scriptural interpretation that has the tendency to gloss over David’s sin and move towards embracing David with grace, celebrating his penitence after being found out in his sin and viewing him as a redeemed character one from whom Jesus will proudly be descended. I find myself not necessarily interpreting the Scriptures this week, nor applying the Scriptures, but I find myself this morning deeply dissatisfied with the Scriptures. I hope that is ok.
God’s denouncement of David and the consequences of David’s sin just don’t seem to be sufficient to me. Listen, I’m all for grace and forgiveness, but we must never abuse God’s grace and forgiveness by using it as an illusionary shield that protects us from having honest conversations that wrestle with and admit the deep sin in our lives and in this world that unleash unspeakable pain in the lives of so many. There is a time to speak of forgiveness and grace, but as far as I see it, in this particular passage of Scripture, it is Bathsheba’s privilege to lead us into that conversation when her healing allows it.
As I put on my hat of counselor, I am very much aware that anger is what is known as a secondary emotion. Usually, anger sits upon a deeper emotion and is used to deny or distract us from some kind of deeper emotional reckoning. So I ask myself this morning, what primary emotion is my anger covering up? In fact, I’ve asked myself this question all week, and to the best of my ability I am discovering that my anger stems from a deep sense of crushing grief. This passage of Scripture makes me desperately, horribly, indescribably sad.
I grieve not just David’s own unfaithfulness, but I grieve the repeated and seemingly perpetual unfaithfulness and sin enacted within the church that simply mirrors David’s example. The things I see played out in this passage of Scripture in relation to David’s sin and Bathsheba’s victimization have, throughout the history of the Church been present, and remain present in the Church. The Church continues to be a place that does not sufficiently speak against sexual assault and the victimization of women at the hands of men. The Church continues to be a place that does not denounce nor expose the inherent unjust power dynamic at place in society and within the church that subjugate women to men. The Church continues to be a place that does not know how to talk about nor care for victims of abuse of all varieties. The Church continues to be a place that props up malformed, immature, unfaithful religious and political leaders who damage others because of their self-interest and pride. And in doing all of this, the church proves itself to be as unfaithful as David in its worship of God and as guilty of a legion of sins of omission and commission in failing to unmask, name, and struggle against the powers and principalities of this world that demean, oppress, and marginalize others.
I am sad and a grieve because this should not be and this neither represents Christ’s own nature and character nor Christ’s call for the Church to live. By continuing to repeat the sins of David, the Church not only fails in its call and mission of God to be a community of justice, wholeness, and healing, but it also bloodies the eye and reputation of Jesus by providing such a poor example of the ways of Jesus and by being such shabby representations and ambassadors of Christ on this earth. My heart is broken by the way the Church has wounded so many and by the way the Church deserves all the critiques of hypocrisy that have been heaped upon it.
And yes, my grief and sorrow lead me still to anger. I think I’m so angry and so confused because this text seems to be the very roots that have ensured the Church be a place that perpetuates the marginalization of the world’s most vulnerable and nothing could be further from the call and the purpose of the Church. So this morning, I don’t have a nice bow to put on the end of this sermon. Neither you nor I will walk out of the doors this morning smiling. But we will walk out depressed and with heavy hearts. Because in David’s fall we see our own. In David’s sin we see the calamitous failure of the Church to do the very thing it was called to do, to shepherd the people of God, protecting them from wolves that would seek to devour. Just like David, to often the Church itself has become the wolf that devours, oppresses, and hurts its people and the people of this world. Amen.