< August 05, 2018 >

Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

 

This text continues the saga of “a day in the life” of King David that has been the focus of the lectionary texts for the last two weeks.

David has abused his power as sovereign and taken Bathsheba against her will, resulting in both an undesired pregnancy and the murder of her husband Uriah. In this way Bathsheba becomes a victim on several counts. But since the historical record that is 2 Samuel focuses on the Davidic monarchy, Bathsheba’s story is sidelined and her situation as the victim of sexual abuse and violence is well-nigh ignored.

As earlier in 2 Samuel 11, here also we find evidence of the story of Bathsheba’s victimization being pushed to the side or even ignored. At the beginning of this text she loses name identification and is referred to simply as “the wife of Uriah.” One may somewhat justifiably make a response that the historical focus of these texts is on Israel’s monarchical line that begins with David. But, given that every sermon is preached in a congregational, community, national, and global context, Bathsheba’s situation as a victim of personal and sexual abuse and violence cannot be ignored in today’s national concern with bringing such abuse and violence against women to an end.

In the same way that she was following the mores of her culture and religion by taking a ritual bath as a means or sign of cleansing at the required time, so too upon hearing of her husband’s death, she followed all the mourning rituals required of her, despite the challenge she faced because of her pregnancy. Whatever they were, she did what was expected of a grieving widow. And also following a pattern of privileged, abusive behavior, as the text says, “when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house.”

There is no mention of Bathsheba’s consent to the upheaval in her life. Most likely she is unaware that her husband was murdered, and given her situation, pregnant and without a husband, she has no choice but to become the wife of the very one who is responsible for her untenable situation. It is the plight of so many women across the world, especially women caught in the grip of poverty, that they are subject to repeated victimization because they are without other options. David knows that his deed will not remain hidden, if even it is at this point, since he had to enlist others to carry out his murderous plan, and he tries to cover-up his misdeeds by marrying Bathsheba.

Bruce C. Birch, commentator of 2 Samuel says: “This is a classic story of the arrogant misuse of power for personal whim.”1 Yet neither he nor the several commentators consulted give any specific attention to Bathsheba’s situation or her resultant feelings. While it is true, as Birch says, that “The story of David’s adultery and murder reminds us of the deadly spiral of violence that can escalate from a single act.”2 What it also brings to light is the way in which female victims of violence are overlooked and continue to be placed within the power of their abusers. Even God, it seems, neglects to seek justice on behalf of the woman.

When the prophet Nathan comes to David, the message of God’s displeasure is not linked to the harm done to Bathsheba. The evil for which David is being chastised is named as the murder of Uriah. God, says Nathan, is displeased because of Uriah’s loss of his life and his wife. But God shows no displeasure, or so it seems, that said wife was the first to suffer violence at the hands of God’s chosen king. Her suffering is incidental to the “real” issue of Uriah’s violent end.

So does God react differently to the suffering of women than the suffering of men? It is a question worthy of note as one preaches this story. It is a question each preacher must answer to the women of their congregation, who so often represent the largest percentage of members and attendees at worship.

Over the centuries Bathsheba has been presented in ways that have done great disservice to her as an abused woman. Without any supporting evidence she has been vilified as a seductress, who tempted David until he sent for her. On the other hand there have been attempts to make of this abuser/abused situation, a romantic affair, with even a movie being created to support the myth. The preacher who takes on the task of making this sermon relevant to the present, and who must make clear the ongoing love of God for all, cannot be satisfied with simply stepping over Bathsheba’s pain and moving quickly to David’s confession.

That God sends the prophet to inform David of divine displeasure over David’s behavior does provide a teaching moment that speaks of God’s grace. God could have allowed David to believe that he had succeeded in getting away with his sin, but instead chose to open a path to David’s restoration to divine favor. But that still places all the focus on David while Bathsheba remains outside the line of vision. Perhaps the best that one can take from this story that speaks a word of justice for the oppressed is that God takes action on behalf of the oppressed.

Bathsheba as a woman in her society, was powerless to call David to account for what he had done to her. Whether recorded or not, God saw what had been done to Bathsheba. She too was a child of God, with all the rights and privileges of God’s favor. And any word that speaks of divine justice is directed to all who have been abused and offers them justice whether or not they are called by name. That’s the preacher’s task, to make present to their situation, the reality of our God, who seeks justice for all people.


Notes:

  1. Bruce C. Birch. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume ll.1&2 Samuel. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998,1288
  2. Birch, 1288.