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Proper 12B Alt 1st Reading

Wouldn’t you rather not preach this passage? We like David, don’t we? After all, isn’t he “A Man After God’s Own Heart?”

We don’t always like when our heroes have fallen. While we know that David will repent when faced with his great sin, our lection this Sunday isn’t chapter 12, it’s chapter 11. This week we have to reckon with a man chosen by God rejecting his fidelity to God, to nation, and to family.

Maybe that’s the problem, though. Maybe the problem is that this is all about David. Look at the verses again; did you miss it? David is the subject. David rose from his couch and saw Bathsheba. David sent messengers. David lay with Bathsheba. David sent word to Joab. David said to Uriah. David made Uriah drunk. David wrote the assassination letter.

In contrast we have Bathsheba; one whose identity is derived, the object of the story. Bathsbae is “the wife of Uriah” (even in Matthew). Bathsheba is the daughter of Eliam. Bathsheba is summoned. Bathsheba is laid with. Bathsheba is only named once here and won’t be again until after her son dies. Again, she is relegated to her relationship to a man.

Then there’s Uriah. In contrast to David’s infidelity we have Uriah, whose name means, “Yahweh is my light.” Uriah is faithful to God, to Nation, and to Bathsheba.

We like David so we try to soften the story a bit. David is a Godly man so there must be some way to rationalize or romanticize this blip. Here are some of the ways we try to rationalize:

Victim Blaming: Why was Bathsheba bathing in plain view of the King? She seduced the King… She knew what she was doing and it’s her fault David stumbles.

The modern day version of this type of victim blaming can be found in youth groups all across the country; blaming the girl for wearing something “scandalous” and not the boy not not exercising self control (you know, that fruit of the Spirit thing).

Romanticize: Uriah was a warrior and absentee husband. He doesn’t even stop by to see her when he comes home from battle. As a mercenary, he was probably abusive! Uriah had it coming… David saves Bathsheba from an abusive and absentee marriage. David and Bathseba represent real love.

Nowhere in the text do we see anything close to resembling this! David doesn’t love Bathsheba… Rather than raise the child himself, he tries to get Uriah to lay with his wife. He only marries her when all other options are exhausted.

There are countless other ways we try to soften to blow of a terribly challenging passage. In fact, both the NRSV and the NIV soften the translation of David’s action. The Hebrew is much more violent. David “takes” what he wants. Does Bathsheba want this? Is she complicit? We don’t know… She isn’t given any option; she is the object of the story.

To make matters worse, the abuse of Bathsheba leads to the murder of Uriah. In a treacherous turn of events Uriah carries the message of his own demise. David is violent against both Bathsheba and Uriah!

If there is anything redeeming or beautiful about this passage is that the tables turn when the one who was defined by her relationship to men speaks. The one with no power in the story strikes fear into the one abusing power.

This is how God works. God is on the side of the marginalized. God is on the side of the oppressed. Bathsheba’s conception is a divine path towards agency. David won’t recognize it. The scribes don’t recognize it. Many interpreters don’t recognize it. But God has.

In three simple words the weak becomes strong. “I am pregnant.” All of a sudden the one with power has lost control. David can’t stop the development of this fetus. Neither can David control the fidelity of Uriah.

This story is an unfortunate story of a revered man using his power in order to abuse others.

So how does the preacher approach this passage for her congregation?

For one, name Bathsheba. Say her name a lot. Allow the one marginalized in this story to take center stage. Don’t give David a pass because we know what is coming in the next chapter. Acknowledge David’s repentance when it happens. Sit in the sin for a moment and acknowledge the victim of this story.

The preacher could (should?) also connect the story of Bathsheba’s abuse to today’s #MeToo movement. Maybe that’s why we’d rather not preach this passage; because it’s too relevant… Is it too familiar that a strong man in a position of power sexually abuses a young woman?

We need to tell these stories. If the Scriptures find it important to tell the story of a powerful man abusing a woman, surely we ought to tell these stories as well. We so badly want to focus on the redemption, but there is no redemption without confession and acknowledgement.

So, preacher, tell the stories. Tell the stories of the women (and men) who have been abused. Even if the perpetrator is someone we like or voted for.

Danny Quanstrom

Pastor, Hastings Church of the Nazarene, Hastings, MI

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