Be Careful What You Wish For

Psalm 14:1b “there is no one who does good.”

David, oh David.

I’ve probably heard 72 sermons on David and Bathsheba. I’ve probably preached 4 or 5 myself. I’ve heard the text used as a morality tale about idle time. I’ve heard it as an example of violence against women. I’ve heard it as an abuse of power story. I’ve heard David compared to Clinton and Bathsheba to Monica Lewinsky. I’ve heard that Bathsheba is an evil woman, luring David from her rooftop. Of course, it has everything—murder, intrigue, war, adultery, sex, lying, getting drunk, and fornication. But the text always troubles me.

I can see each of these as valid points.

But there’s so much more going on here. There’s the personal story of David and Bathsheba, sure. But the text has to be seen in context. Israel is a new kingdom. They had Judges, spiritual community leaders, but that wasn’t enough. The people cry out for a king, “like all the other nations.” But, as they say, be careful what you wish for…

In the meta narrative of Israel, what we see is the beginning of abuse of power. David is at war (wasn’t David constantly at war?), his people are sacrificing their lives for Israel, and at the time that Kings are usually at war, David is home in Jerusalem. Lounging on the couch in the mid-afternoon. He sees Bathsheba…

Bathsheba, a married woman who is following the Law (11:4 says “Now she was purifying herself after her period.”), probably worried about her husband who is at war. She’s bathing. Then she’s summoned.

I do not know if Bathsheba willingly consented, if she felt forced to have sex with David because of his power over her, or if she was reticent to have sex with him. I can’t tell if she’s a wanton woman or a victim. There’s no way, within this text, to know this for sure. Today’s standards for consent do not exist in the Bible.

But I do know this: David is abusing his power. And the nation of Israel gets its wish, a king “like all the other nations.”


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