Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Jean Leon Gerome, Bathsheba, 1889
And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
— 2 Samuel 11:2
While David's soldiers under the generalship of Joab fought the Ammonites and the Syrians abroad, David, against tradition and the expectation of kings, stayed at home. Why he stayed away from the battle is not explained, but perhaps in his uneasiness of not being where he knew God wanted him to be David was unable to sleep, so paces the roof. It was on this walk that the series of events began that ultimately undermined David's kingship and brought misfortune to his family—although many commentators remind us that this incident was less a beginning and more a culmination of David's ongoing faithlessness in marriage.1
Despite displays of greatness, loyalty and honour, David here shows himself to be simply another flawed human being, just like the rest of us. It is interesting how famous this incident has become, the one story everyone knows about David. Depending on ones morality and values the story is considered either one of sexual prowess and triumph or one of shame and sin, two extremes neither of which really captures the essence of this story.
On the one hand this is hardly a story of love or romance. With nothing to indicate Bathsheba's agreement or even interest in David this is essentially a tale of rape. David looks upon Bathsheba as an object; liking what he sees, and feeling fully entitled as a king and as a man, he takes it—takes her as one might take a sweet. Bathsheba as a subject and a woman has no voice, and no rights.
On the other hand this is not the 'sin of sex' as moralistic Christians would have it. The transgression is far greater than that: this is self-worship and lust for power. David, mesmerised by his own glory, believes that God-like, he can own and possess people to do with as he pleases. Bathsheba is little more than a trinket to David. It is this denial of another's humanity that is the real sin here. The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of how power corrupts even the most Godly among us.
And the real tragedy in this story is not the rape itself, but David's inability to admit his wrongdoing, and attempt amends after the fact. Instead David persists in his self-righteousness, attempting to cover up the sin of rape by committing the sins of murder and deception. He falls so far from God that there is now no chance to recover. God forgives, yes, but we need to take the first step of recognising and admitting the transgression in the first place. Without that we are at an impasse.
We all know this story because in one way or another we have all lived this story. We have lived it as David certainly, but we have probably lived it as Bathsheba too, as her husband Uriah, and even as the prophet Nathan coming in judgment after the event. When the Word speaks so directly to us we cannot help but be moved, and when we are so moved we find ourselves, like David, called upon to make a difficult choice. Do we admit our folly and learn from the experience, moving towards God, or do we deny our part, make excuses, blame others, and move further away? No matter how powerless we may feel in any situation we always have the power of choice. Sadly, like David, we don't always wield this power wisely.
1 David's Adultery and Murder by David Guzik, Enduring Word, 2018
music Hallelujah, written and sung by Leonard Cohen, from Various Positions, 1984