In the four chapters between last week’s reading in 2nd Samuel and this week – there were a lot of battles, sometimes called the “Davidic Wars” – which tout David’s skill as a military leader and his rising authority as King.
Now this morning we hear the story of David, the beloved king, who having developed a rather high opinion of himself, acts with arrogance and self-entitlement – he orders another man’s wife to be brought to him. And not just any one, Bathsheba is the wife of the Uriah, a loyal warrior in David’s army. Of course Bathsheba has no choice, if she wants to keep her life she must obey the king, and so she goes to him…and we all know what that means…she ends up pregnant with David’s child.
To cover his indiscretion David first attempts to convince Uriah to leave his military post and sleep with Bathsheba, so that Uriah might be fooled into thinking that the child is his. But Uriah is a good man, loyal to his duty, and refuses to break the protocol of a warrior. David then conspires to have Uriah killed and he takes Bathsheba as his wife.
David pays dearly for this egregious act of arrogance – betrayal of Uriah - a loyal friend and soldier; betrayal of a married woman – an act that might have cost Bathsheba her life too. Tragically even the child dies. Although David’s first wife, Michal tried to warn David that he was becoming too arrogant, he ignored her. (2nd Samuel 6:20).
The lectionary will skip the next seven chapters, but in them David is held accountable by the prophet Nathan, and by God, for his behavior. Suddenly cognizant of how his actions have harmed others, David becomes aware of the depth of his sin. David is humbled, makes amends, and tries to repair the damage done, to heal the brokenness he has caused.
Of course this story would be much different if told through the eyes of Bathsheba or Michal. It would tell a story much like the stories of today – of women who are nothing more than property. Michal, the wife of Saul who becomes the unloved wife of David. Michal who speaks her mind to David regarding his arrogant behavior and as a result David spurns her. Michal experiences the greatest humiliation of a woman in her era, she is childless.
And what of Bathsheba? Is she happily married to Urriah? What does she think when the king’s servants come to fetch her? We have no idea, her thoughts are not recorded. But one can imagine that she was filled with terror – she has no choice but to obey the king. And yet obeying him will surely mean the end of her marriage, and thus the end of her life. She probably felt doomed one way or the other.
Such is the fate of many women, even today. As the Olympics take place in London we hear the stories of women who have struggled against all odds of culture and religion for the opportunity to compete in these Olympics. As war wages in Syria I think of the women who are surely the untold victims of violence. Guerilla warfare tactics understand the power that raping women will have on the structure a society – these crimes of war undermine the very fabric of the community. These tactics are inexpensive, easy to organize, and effective. They leave women brutalized and their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers angry – sometimes at the woman herself – sometimes at themselves and their helplessness to prevent it – and always at the perpetrators. Countless stories could be raised that point to the victimization of women.
Thus it’s curious to me that in story in Second Samuel, David conspires to have Urriah, the husband, killed. Under the typical circumstances of war and violence it seems the woman would have been the one to die. Why does Bathsheba live? Perhaps that says something about the character of David, broken as it is? Perhaps it also says something about Bathsheba herself. Perhaps she was wiser than the text reveals?