(This sermon was delivered during a Christmas in July service, in which we sang Christmas songs. Hope that clarifies a few things.)
(Also, Trigger Warning: Discussions of Rape.)
Merry Christmas in July, everybody! Today we get to talk about everyone’s favorite uncomfortable topic–non-consensual adultery and political coverups involving murder!
Perhaps you think it odd that I would be willing to touch today’s scripture with a ten foot pole at all, let alone when we’ve scheduled a service with Christmas carols. Well, I hate to tell you this, but the truth is, I really am that odd. Let it not be said that Rev. Grant Barnes will shy away from a challenge!
To be frank, though, talking about Bathsheba and David at all is a difficult proposition. We often don’t want to admit that the Man of God’s own Heart, Best Ever King of Israel, was involved in a scandal such as this. The writer of Samuel even refrains from going into much description about the event, instead using a much more interested in clinical accuracy rather than any theological or even romantic reasoning for David’s actions. It’s as if nobody is at all comfortable talking about this.
And yet, this passage is a critically important passage to understanding David, the nature of power, the nature of sin, and finally, the event of Jesus coming into the world. I don’t want to gloss over this passage at all. I will be honest, I have trouble preaching to you about this, not because I don’t think it’s absolutely worth talking about, but because of the model we have in our minds about how church ought to be, what sermons ought to be, and what we’re getting into when we come to church.
We praise God here. We pray together here. We share in communion and fellowship here. But we also attend to the ordnances of God here too, including the reading of the book we call the Bible. The Bible is an entire library of stories, letters, poetry and teaching. Within its pages are contained a great many stories. But one of them is this one, about Bathsheba. Another one is a passage regarding Jesus’s lineage. We must read this. We must hold these passages in tension with each other. We must do this, because to simply ignore would be a disservice to the message of the Gospel.
David’s Rock Bottom
Much has been made about the “motivations” for David’s actions here. Let’s go down the list, shall we?
Many in the protestant tradition will point to David’s relative idleness as cause for his actions. Chock this up to our veneration of the “protestant work ethic.” Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, after all! David wasn’t busy, so his mind wandered to Bathsheba. This, my brothers and sisters, is I think a red herring, at best. Idleness, boredom–this makes David’s actions out to almost seem as if it’s an accident. Boys will be boys, and bored boys will be bored boys.
Perhaps this goes a bit deeper than simple idleness. Think more carefully about the character of David. Just last week, we saw what idleness led him to start thinking about, and that in particular was his desire to build a temple. So we know what idleness leads him to. No, this goes a little bit into the darker side of David’s psyche.
David, at this point, was a collector of women. It is recorded that by the time Bathsheba was around, he had already married at least 5 women. 5 women! And he had enough wealth and power to manage/command enough respect to have so many wives. Talk about your traditional, biblical marriage.
So David didn’t want for women. He didn’t want for companionship. He didn’t even want for quenching his personal thirst for bedroom activities. No, this wasn’t a matter of lack. This was a desire for excess, but also a desire to exert power over others.
David could have this woman any time. She didn’t have any agency in this matter. That’s something to remember. This was a non-consensual act. Do you really think Bathsheba had any choice in the matter? When the king’s personal guard knocks on your door, and tells you the king requested an audience with you, was Bathsheba, a soldier’s wife, in any position to refuse? And when David took her to his bedroom, do you think she had any choice in running away, saying no? This was David. Not only was he charming, but he could also have her killed if she denied him. Who could she report this to anyways, if he’s the ruler of the land? She had no way out. It was either play along, or risk getting killed. Bathsheba is given no agency in this story by even the narrator. The narrator could have said she seduced him, but that’s not what the narrator says. It says David spied her taking a bath. She in no way acted on seducing the king. David took what he wanted.
That word, that should ring some bells for us, though, shouldn’t it. Take. David took. Back when Samuel was judge over Israel, what did he say? The king will take your sons, take your land, take your livestock, and even take your daughters. The king will take, take, take, because that’s what kings do. David was king. David took. Because David could do it.
Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, David went on to cover up his act. After Bathsheba had to reveal she was pregnant (as if that’s not humiliating enough), David invited her husband Uriah back to the palace from the front lines, and told him to go home and “wash your feet.” That was code for “sleep with your wife.” Uriah, out of solidarity with his soldiers, refused. Why should he enjoy the comforts of home when they have to sleep out in the cold away from their own beds? So David considered, and sent him back to the front lines, where he would surely die. In other words: David had him killed. With Uriah out of the way, Bathsheba and her illegitimate child would be free to become David’s sixth (!) wife. And nobody would be any the wiser.
So without a doubt, this passage is an example of just how base David’s desires are. He wants not only his cake, but also to eat it too. He’s willing to disregard one person’s humanity, and then remove the life of another person just so that nobody finds out. This is David’s rock bottom. Next week, we’ll talk about David’s conviction by Nathan, but this week, I just want us to meditate on the fact that, despite this, David remains a beloved character in Christian history. Chew on that.
Another Kind of Scandal
And then, chew on this. This is not the only kind of scandal I’ll be addressing today. The other one comes out of the passage from Matthew that I read. You know, another part of scripture that people gloss over: Jesus’s genealogy.
Out of that long and impressive list of names, I just want to highlight a few of them. Chief among them, of course is David, as well as a name that is important but only alluded to. Yes, the wife of Uriah was none other than Bathsheba, and though Matthew couldn’t bring himself to utter her name, he nonetheless included her in Jesus’s parentage. This whole mess was an integral part of the history that led to Jesus.
Let that sink in. Without David acting completely reprehensibly, the lineage of Jesus would not have happened the way it did. Without this crime, the salvation of the world would not have happened. I’m not saying this to justify what David did–far from it! Rather, what I want to say is that even out of the depths of sin, Jesus entered nonetheless.
There are other scandals in Jesus’s lineage worth highlighting, too.
For instance, Jacob, though he was a patriarch, was also a thief and a liar. Scandalous.
Rahab, who was glossed over? Rahab was the prostitute that housed the Israelite spies that made it possible for Israel to take Jericho. Scandalous.
Ruth? Ruth was a widow who was practically homeless for a time, yet worked the levirate marriage system to her advantage and earned herself a place in the Jewish book of heroes. Ruth was scandalous.
That is just a quick sampler of all the scandalous people in Jesus’s lineage. Without all these people, heroic and sinful in their own ways, Jesus would not have come about.
Jesus’s own birth was a scandal too. An unmarried 13 year old girl suddenly shows up pregnant in a community where everyone knew everyone else. Foreign philosophers arrive at the king’s doorstep to welcome the birth of a new king. This current king then ordered for every child under the age of 2 to be killed in the village of Bethlehem, forcing Mary and Joseph into exile in Egypt. Jesus’s very birth was a royal scandal.
Scandal followed Jesus wherever he went. When we celebrate Christmas, we’re doing so tacitly proclaiming the uncouth nature of who we worship, the circumstances of his birth, and the circumstances of his lineage. Though he is king, and of the line of kings, he’s also of the line of liars, thieves, prostitutes, spies, widows, philanderers, rape victims, and unwed mothers. This is the king we worship.
A Scandalous Faith
Were you to poll most Christians, most would probably say that there is relatively scandalous about their faith. The person of Jesus, the people in bible stories, most would say that there’s little scandalous about what we do and who we worship. But the truth is, Jesus is a tremendously scandalous person in history, and routinely hung out with the most scandalized of people.
Jesus had a lot of people in his bloodline that were less than savory, King David chief among them. And yet, despite that, the man who was wholly God and wholly human arose out of such a tainted bloodline. God wasn’t done with the lineage of David when David committed his sins. Next week we’ll talk about his comeuppance. But today, rest with the knowledge that just because there is sin and evil in your history, that doesn’t mean God is done with you.
God can redeem even the most difficult of people. The most rejected, the most victimized, the most blameworthy people can be redeemed because Jesus came out of such a family. There is no evil too great that God can’t undo. There’s no sin too big that God can’t forgive. There’s no wound too big God can’t heal. Thanks be to God. Amen.