Our wonderful pastor preached on 2 Samuel 11:1-15 yesterday – from one perspective, “the familiar story of David and Bathsheba.” She pointed out that historically Christian readers have carefully protected the Great King David’s reputation, even here.
The NRSV’s editorial heading reads “David commits adultery with Bathsheba.” Even though “commits adultery” presumes or assumes, and implies, Bathsheba’s consent to the entire situation. The text gives us nothing to hang that presumption or assumption on, other than our cultural predilections, our willingness to treat power as a warrant for whatever. David is the oriental despot. “Just say no” won’t work for Bathsheba, then or now.
So while the text may not go out of its way to urge us to compassion for Bathsheba, it does not accuse or blame her. We cannot say the same for the official readers of scripture down through the centuries. As if David needed the interpreters’ protection so much more.
The measure of how much we need or want David to be innocent, really, the real victim in the story, is how much we are willing to blame Bathsheba for everything that happened. Our need or want here seems to have been profound. Even today – our pastor quoted an up-to-the-minute commentary from the internet that ran something like “if Bathsheba had just thought more about what she owed her husband than about her own desires look how much sin could have been avoided.”
Comments like that demonstrate that imagining what the Biblical characters “must have been” thinking and feeling is a bad exegetical habit.
Our pastor’s take on the text is that we need to stop misusing the Bible to excuse powerful men’s abuse of power. It’s an important implication.
I confess that I got distracted in church because I was busy surreptitiously looking things up in the Bible, and realizing that the story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar happens just two chapters on (2 Samuel 13) – probably not a coincidence, more like a consequence. Like father like son.
And that the assessment that Saul’s successor – we read David – is a man after God’s own heart is offered by Samuel (1 Samuel 13:14). Not our most reliable narrator.
And wondering what all this means for the way we tell the story of the Messiah.
And thinking about the implications of ordaining women.
Image: “Butterfly on Lantana,” ShajiA at Malayalam Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons