Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9
David, Israel’s most beloved king, is described as a man after God’s own heart. Like the patriarchs in the book of Genesis, Yahweh makes a covenant with David promising to make his name great, to appoint a place for Israel and plant them so that they are free from disturbances, and to establish David’s house/throne forever (2 Samuel 7). Although David seemingly finds favor in Yahweh’s sight, he breaks many of Yahweh’s commandments, especially when he takes Bathsheba, a married woman, and engages her sexually, then has her husband Uriah killed.
David is both a symbol of the covenant that was made with the patriarchs (Yahweh promised to make Abraham’s heirs kings) and a symbol of the adulterous nation, Israel, who repetitively breaches her covenant with Yahweh. David is the embodiment of Yahweh’s promise and an infidel, causing a rupture in the covenantal relationship. He covets the wife of his neighbor, commits adultery, bears false witness against his neighbor, steals, and kills. His infidelity mirrors the infidelity of the nation, and he violates not only Uriah but Yahweh as well.
David breaks many laws and attempts to cover it up, but he fails. After his failed coverup, the prophet Nathan who, like Moses and Joshua, acts as a mediator between Yahweh and the nation/nation’s leaders, uses a parable to call out David and to provoke David to pass judgment on himself (12:1-5). To some, the biblical narrative and many interpretations minimize David’s offense. He is “held accountable” for committing adultery. However, his punishment reflects that Yahweh’s generosity to David is gruesome for the baby, Bathsheba, and others, namely David’s other wives. After disclosing to David that he is the man depicted in the parable, Nathan pronounces David’s punishment:
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” (2 Samuel 12: 10-12)
David confesses his sin to Nathan. Nathan says: “‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (13b-14). Yahweh is generous to David in sparing David’s life. But that generosity comes at a gruesome cost: his child will die and, mirroring what David does to Bathsheba, David’s other wives will be taken and given to his neighbors (to have sex with them) to recompense. Here, the women and children endure David’s punishment. Furthermore, in this story, the women and children are presented as inaudible, insignificant, and interchangeable. We don’t hear their voices or perspectives, there is no protest of Yahweh’s treatment of them, and wives and children are swapped or replaced (for example, Solomon/Jedidiah replaces the deceased child in verse 24).
David witnesses his child suffer through illness and his servants fear he will self-harm when the child transitions (12:16-18). However, he doesn’t self-harm or even mourn after the baby dies. Instead, he worships. In contrast, the child dies for his father’s sins. Bathsheba too witnesses her child suffer and die, yet she mourns (the narrator discloses that David consoles her). How is it that David commits the sins, yet the victim of his abuse, his child, and other innocent women are punished?
David’s daughter Tamar is raped in the next chapter (2 Samuel 13). She proclaims to her brother/rapist Amnon: “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame?” (verse 12). Such a thing likely refers to both incest and rape. Tamar protests Amnon’s forceful sexual engagement, considering it vile and shame producing. Her critique could serve as a double critique of her brother and her father, both of whom exploit their power and privilege to engage in sexualized violence against vulnerable women. Tamar’s words may reflect some of the feelings that Bathsheba experiences, especially since they are both depicted as mourning at the end of their respective scenes. Last, Tamar remains desolate in her brother Absalom’s house, which may show that she experiences tertiary punishment for her father’s sins against Bathsheba, Uriah, and Yahweh.
Tamar asks, where could I carry my shame? I’d like to redact her question and ask: Why should she have to carry the shame for the sins of her father and brother? Why are women and children punished for the sins of kings, princes, fathers, brothers, and nations? In Psalm 51, David pleads for pardon from sin and for cleansing, which he receives in the Samuel narrative. But what about the women that are defiled and debased because of his sin? I hope this story and this commentary evoke questions about intergenerational traumas and inspire us to probe how salvation/liberation intersect particularly with the intergenerational trauma of sexual abuse.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of forgiveness, you showed your servant David the error of his ways, and forgave him for his sins. Forgive us, and help us to see how we might live differently to honor you. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
For by grace you have been saved, ELW 598
Change my heart, O God ELW 801
Great God, your love has called us ELW 358
God, when human bonds are broken ELW 603
Create in me, Carl Mueller/Various