Sermon delivered by Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., on July 26, 2009.
2 Samuel 11: 1-15
Our Bible story today should be rated R for adults but I’ll preach it in PG fashion for the sake of the children. Nevertheless it’s an R-rated story as anytime someone breaks the 6th, 7th and 10th Commandments (murder, adultery and coveting your neighbor’s wife) in a chain of events that are all part of one larger sexual issue, there’s an overwhelming chance it’s not a children’s story.
In the past, I’ve treated the story of David and Bathsheba as a story of marital infidelity and the subsequent cover-up as though it were thoroughly modern between a modern man and woman and as a morality tale we can hopefully learn from in our relationships with our spouses. But in truth, it’s not a modern story because none of us are kings and the modern notion of marriage being defined as one man and one woman for life is a part of the problem. We talk flippantly about a biblical concept of marriage as if it were only one thing when the Bible never assumes that as the only model of marriage. Polygamy is the state of things in this story and the king has a cultural pass to marry multiple wives as a sign of wealth and power. Never mind that the women have no rights in comparison to the ownership rights of the king over these women.
Another common error of assumptions in this reading is to imply Bathsheba had done something morally wrong by bathing on the roof. The sin of rape is only eclipsed by the sin of assumption that the woman has somehow done something to lure the rapist into committing the crime. Likely Bathsheba was not taking a bath in the same daily manner we might bathe in order to freshen our bodies from our daily grime; rather, she was more likely bathing ritually according to Jewish law to cleanse herself ritually from her menstruation. David’s leering of her from his kingly elevation of the king’s citadel was more akin to the elders in the Apocryphal book Susanna who watched the young girl bathing in the garden. When they each saw the other staring at Susanna, what did they do? They blamed and shamed Susanna rather than blame themselves for watching her.
It was a pleasant spring afternoon and the army was off to war but King David had remained behind in Jerusalem. Since his palace stood taller than most of the other structures, he could watch the activities of the palace neighbors below, including a not-so-private bath by this beautiful woman. To her defense, the Bible never questions her possible intentions. The teller of the tale never suggests Bathsheba is implicated in this sin. The focus sits squarely throughout this story upon the actions of Israel’s king who, like the elders of Susanna, are consumed with their lust.
Bathsheba is not even considered one of the main characters of the story because she’s helpless against the will of the king. He wants her and she is forced to come to him. The Bible gives us the clue – Bathsheba was a woman with a hyphenated name: Daughter of Eliam, wife of Uriah the Hittite.” She had no existence of her own but was instead identified by the men to whom she belonged. She was the wife of one of David’s most loyal soldiers who was off fighting for the freedom of Israel. King David was in Jerusalem with time on his hands and the boredom of his soul was soon obsessed with his sexual interest in this married woman.
The way this story is told, it appears an unyielding editor has struck all but the most essential words. It’s similar to the writing style whereby a writer puts down everything and then strikes every word that is not absolutely needed until only the barest words remain to tell the story. It’s a story that’s mostly nouns and verbs (subjects and objects) with very few adjectives or adverbs. The action is quick. The verbs rush just as the passion of David rushed. The act of the adultery itself takes very little time to tell. King David sees. He asks. He sends. He takes. He “sleeps” with her. He sends her home.
The royal deed of self-indulgence did not take very long. There was no conversation or discussion of what takes place. This was a simple crime of passion, an act of a powerful king who believed he was entitled to anything he wanted. He reached out and took what he wanted.
We live in a sexualized time and some think it’s a sign of our decline as a nation that sexuality is so blatant but we do not remember that sex has been a public and private issue for thousands of years and the power of lust and infidelity didn’t just come about in our own time. And it’s not just a concern for those who have little or no faith in their lives. It’s an issue that people of faith have not missed. In fact, it’s the furtive sin that plagues Christians as the hidden sin we cannot acknowledge. It’s our dirty little secret, some would say.
Religious scandals have always accompanied religious fervor. Carl Jung’s notion that great light necessarily creates great shadows is a reminder that there’s always been a House on C Street where piety and secret sexual sins are intertwined. Men of power may think they can escape from the desires of the flesh by having a Christian frat house where they can study the Bible by day and enjoy someone other than their wives by night, but no matter how they try to live otherwise, their sins will become public no matter how much they try to hide their sins. It must be a form of magical thinking whenever we think we can do something of the magnitude of David’s sexual conquering of Bathsheba and think we can get away with it. We fool ourselves into thinking we can walk between the raindrops whenever we believe those we’ve betrayed won’t find out the truth of our sexual secrets.
Whether it’s about politicians or preachers, CEO’s or schoolteachers, we’re seductively intrigued about the dangerous liaisons of powerful public figures that risk their reputations, their families, and every other good thing in their lives for a few stolen moments of lust with a sexualized someone who comes to have a strange obsessional power over them. Yet it’s never as simple as just “a few stolen moments,” is it? What the tabloids fail to describe is the tragedy of what happens after the affair. It’s a different story when as much attention is given to the aftershocks as to the sex itself. The Bible tells the whole story from beginning to end and the camera of the soul doesn’t blink.
Sins of deceit usually carry with them a past, a present, and a future. Often, those sins haunt and shape us for the remainder of our lives. But instead of confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness, we are more likely to try to cover them up.
A college student once found herself extremely nervous about an upcoming exam. She was a high achiever and worked hard, but the pressure to succeed in her grades was enormous. So when she had the opportunity to steal the answers to the test, she took them. After preparing for the test with the help of the stolen answers, she decided to destroy the evidence so no one would discover her secret. Around five o’clock the next morning, she snuck from her room and quietly tiptoed down the hall to burn the test questions in the metal trash bin in the hall bath. Just as she began to feel safe with the flames of her small fire, the fire alarm suddenly went off. Soon, the area was filled with students, local firefighters, and the Dean of Students. The young woman could do nothing but confess everything. Although she was a senior with a top academic record, she was expelled and her college work was ruined.
Sexual desire and the deep-seated need for intimacy is a part of every one of us because we’ve been created in the image of God and a part of that image includes the need for love, including sexual love. I cannot begin to fathom how many of us have been stung by the pain of this issue. Some of you have committed adultery while others have been betrayed by someone you had given your heart to in committed love. Some of you have been children in a family torn apart by infidelity and you’ve lived with the pain of it like a deep scar of broken trust.
Today, know that God offers pardon for sin. David came to a point of brokenness for his sin and confessed it to God for what it is: A stain against God and against those who were touched by his sin. When David fell before God and confessed his sin, God forgave him. Do we believe what the Bible tells us about the healing power of reconciliation? That’s the power of the good news! God has given us a way out by offering the hand of forgiveness in Christ.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).