Fourth in the series “Wonder Women of Advent”
2 Samuel 11
We have come to the fourth Sunday in Advent and the fourth of our “Wonder Women” from Jesus’ genealogy. So far, we’ve looked at the troubling story of Tamar, who went around the law in order to obey the law and get justice for herself and her family; we’ve looked at Rahab, who demonstrates faith in Israel’s God and acts out that faith, becoming an example that even the writer’s of the New Testament hold up for all of God’s people. Last week, we looked at the story of Ruth—a woman of worth (hayil) who does the right thing in the midst of a corrupt and broken society. These are powerful women, unlikely women, who point us to the coming of Jesus.
Today’s Wonder Woman, however, is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all. In Matthew’s genealogy, she is known only as “the wife of Uriah” who bears Solomon, the son of King David. Why does he not call her by name?
Well, it’s not because she may have been a foreigner—Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth are all Gentiles who get named here. Maybe it’s because Matthew believes she did something especially wrong? Not likely. Compared to Tamar, who tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her, and Rahab, who is a prostitute, this woman is a saint.
Instead, I think the reason that Matthew simply calls her “the wife of Uriah” is to remind his readers that she rightly belonged to someone else when King David took her. It’s a reminder of a story that is a black mark on the otherwise faithful life of David, Israel’s greatest King—a story most Israelites would rather forget about. Indeed, in our day, many stories like this get swept under the rug—stories of a powerful man abusing that power to force himself on a woman. It’s the kind of story that, when it comes to light, can force the powerful to step aside, as we have seen in many high profile cases over the last several weeks. Indeed, this story could have been ripped from our own headlines, but it’s also a reminder that this kind of behavior has been going on for a long time.
This woman, whose name is Bathsheba, is not a schemer, not an outsider, a woman of questionable character—she is a victim, forced into a situation she didn’t ask for and that costs her her reputation and her preferred future. And yet, like the other women whose stories we have looked at during this series, she will overcome her circumstances in order to preserve life and she will find herself being one of the women who helps to bring the ultimate king, Jesus, into the world.
This is a story that is made for Hollywood and, in many ways, reflects its values. In fact, Hollywood has explored this story numerous times and with a slant that plays up the sordid nature of the affair—turning Bathsheba into a temptress or making this into a love story. Neither view is true to the text. When we look at it in context, we see where the fault really lies.
The story in 2 Samuel 11 begins with a terse but important statement—”In the spring, when kings go off to war…David remained in Jerusalem.” Instead of being where he should have been, at the head of the troops, David decided to hang back and relax. We know right away this isn’t a good thing. A couple of old sayings come to mind: “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” and “boredom is the Devil’s playground.” In the band meeting I engage in weekly with two other pastors we remind each other of an acronym: HALT – that we are most vulnerable to sin when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. David may have been all of those things and, as the king, he could indulge himself with a little rest, feeling like he deserved it. So, instead of marching alongside his men, he is pacing the rooftops of the palace by himself.
Meanwhile, a woman was taking a bath on the roof of her home. That would not have been unusual—it was the most logical place to do so, the only place one could get privacy in what was likely a crowded house. Roofs in ancient Israel would have had walls around them for privacy, and the only way you could see on to the roof was if you were above it—and only one person had a house high enough to do that. It may have been that David had seen things like this before. The thing is, however, that people whose lives are full and occupied with important things don’t have a lot of time to indulge sinful thoughts—it takes idleness to do that. David was idle, so he noticed this woman and the more he noticed, the more he wanted her.
Some over the years have tried to suggest that Bathsheba went up on the roof specifically to catch the eye of the king and seduce him. That’s the same kind of mentality that suggests that women who undergo sexual assault are “asking for it” because of their dress or their actions. There is no indication of blame for Bathsheba anywhere in the text. She is taking a bath, purifying herself as the law required. What happens next is all on David.
And, actually, what happens is the result of a longstanding pattern with David that led him to this moment. Falling into sin isn’t usually something that happens in a day. In Deuteronomy 17:17, the kings of Israel were warned not to take many wives, lest their hearts be led astray. But David had fudged on that rule—he had married Michal, daughter of Saul, but then kept adding wives and concubines (secondary wives). In fact, he had 8 wives (which is even more than the most famous wife swapping monarch in history, King Henry VIII). David had a weakness for women, using them to fill his own desires.
David was known as “a man after God’s own heart,” but it’s clear that his heart is also divided. But there are other people around him trying to help him. Notice, for example, what the servant says when David inquires about the bathing beauty on the neighboring roof. “This is Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (v. 3). The servant is trying to tell him, “This is someone’s daughter and someone’s wife”—a subtle way of reminding David that she is off limits.
And she is not just anyone’s wife—she is the wife of one of David’s most trusted lieutenants. Uriah is one of David’s “thirty”—his special ops unit that were like body guards to the king. Uriah would have willingly died to protect the king, but now the king was about to betray that trust. He sends for Bathsheba—making her an offer she cannot refuse because he is the king! And he forces himself on her. Bathsheba, an honorable woman from a good family, becomes a victim of sexual assault. David has committed the sins of sloth, coveting, lust, adultery, and violence—and it will get worse.
Verse 4 is telling in what it says and doesn’t say. It says, “He had sex with her,” not “they slept together.” It doesn’t say that she hung around for a while and enjoyed some drinks with the king. She went home. Bathsheba is treated as a commodity, powerless, afraid of what the king would now do to her and what her husband would do if he found out.
Having indulged himself, David soon finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant. That’s a problem for the king, so like most powerful people who find themselves in trouble, he initates a cover up. He brings Uriah home from the field in hopes that he will sleep with his wife and believe that the baby is his own. Go down to your house and wash your feet, the king says to his trusted soldier—and he’s not talking about getting a pedicure. But Uriah refuses. Note the loyalty he displays in contrast to David: “My master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and sleep with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!” (v. 11). Uriah is where David should be, acting with honor.
So David realizes that he has to get Uriah out of the way in order to try and quell the scandal. He writes an order to the commander, Joah, to put Uriah at the front of the heaviest fighting, seals the order and then, with no small amount of hutzpah, gives the order to Uriah to take back to the front. Uriah is killed. David adds murder to the list of his deadly sins.
Now he can have Bathsheba for himself. The verbs here are forceful—he “brought her back to his house” and made her yet another one of his wives. A son is born, but unlike with Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, this is not a happy event. Notice the end of verse 27 – David had done what was evil in the Lord’s eyes. The blame is squarely on him.
The child that was the result of this affair dies after a few days. David’s sin has led to destruction, death, and grief for him and for the wife of Uriah. He is confronted by the prophet Nathan and, to his credit, David undergoes a long period of repentance. Still, his family will go downhill from here—the sons of all these wives will go to war with one another over the throne. There will be incest, rape, murder, and mayhem. David will find himself on the run again. He will die an old man with many regrets, all because he used power for his own purposes.
On one important level, this is a cautionary tale for people in power and especially for those of us who are males. How are we treating others? Do we see them as objects to be manipulated for our purpose and pleasure, or do we see them as precious people made in the image of God? Do we respect boundaries and listen to God’s voice, or do we allow our boredom and desire lead us to indulge in self-gratification? Every time we allow our eyes to wander or click on that provocative image, are we remembering that this is someone’s daughter, someone’s wife; a person who is made in God’s image?
But this is also a story of hope for victims. David is the perpetrator. Bathsheba is the victim. What about her? What about this woman who has been violated, whose beloved husband has been killed, who now finds herself as a kind of trophy wife for the king? This would be just another sad tale except for the fact that God is present, even in the midst of the most horrific consequences of human sin.
Bathsheba will have another baby with David and in the midst of all the clamoring over the throne, she will make David promise that her son, Solomon, will be the heir and succeed him as king. She turns the tables on him in order to insure her future and that of her son. It is through this circumstance that God’s promised Messiah will come. He will come from a family with a tragic history. Solomon will repeat the sins of his father, exchanging wisdom for indulgence. And yet, God’s purposes come through anyway. That’s quite a paradox!
Bathsheba’s story doesn’t seem terribly heroic on the surface, but in many ways it is a reminder that God doesn’t abandon those who have been hurt, abused, and used. Her story reminds us that God can redeem the past, even if the scars remain. Bathsheba’s story sends a message to all who have been victimized:
You may feel like an outsider, taken advantage of. You may feel as if your life has been stolen, that you can’t trust people. You may feel like your name and your reputation have been tarnished; you may be grieving what is lost.
But the promise of God is that no matter where you have been or what has happened to you, you always have a place in God’s family.
Jesus came from Bathsheba’s family—he is the great, great, great grandson of a victim and, for the victims of this world, he knows exactly how they feel.
From the very beginning, Jesus gravitated toward the victim and the outcast. He identified with them and cared for them. He himself was abused and treated as a commodity. He experienced the plotting of powerful people to orchestra his death. He was treated unfairly by those who had the power to set him free. He was a victim of a religious establishment believing it was doing its duty. He was ordered to carry the instrument of his own death.
But the powerful didn’t win—and they never will. Only the one who has the power of love, grace, and hope can do that. The empty tomb proves it—that sin and death will ultimately hold no power over us. We will no longer be victims, but victors because of Bathsheba’s great, great, great grandson.
That’s good news in the midst of a broken world. Amen.