First United Presbyterian Church
Rev. Amy Morgan
July 29, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-15
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.
3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite."
4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.
5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant."
6 So David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.
10 When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?"
11 Uriah said to David, "The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing."
12 Then David said to Uriah, "Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back." So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,
13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
15 In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die."
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
“Your shorts are too short and your touches are too long.” That was the title of a workshop I was required to attend in seminary, teaching us about appropriate pastoral boundaries. The men were attending a different workshop, reminding them to keep their office door open during one-on-one meetings to protect themselves from allegations of misconduct. Meanwhile, the women were taught to blame themselves if a man makes sexual advances.
The story we were told went like this: a young, female youth pastor is working with a volunteer who is a young, married man. After about a year, they find themselves together on a youth mission trip. During the trip, he kisses her. They both immediately know their desire for each other is wrong. They resolve to not take the relationship further. But the man tells his wife about it, and she tells other people at the church. The pastor is forced to resign over the matter. As the young pastor soul-searches to try to sort out how things went so far and so wrong, she talks with the man’s wife. The wife informs the pastor, “Your shorts are too short and your touches are too long.” This is what the pastor, who was leading the workshop, internalized and learned from this episode. This is what she was trying to teach us. As women, our power was not about the position or authority of our pastoral role. That is what the men were taught. No, as women, our power was in our sexuality.
I raised my hand. “Really? This was only your fault? The clothes you wear and the way you show affection gave a married man the full right to kiss you and cost you your job? Somehow that doesn’t seem like the moral of this story.” I left the workshop in frustration.
But that has been the narrative for a long, long time. And we are taught this story at a very young age. And we are taught this story from the Bible.
There are quite a few stories in our sacred scriptures that are absolutely R-rated. And yet we teach them to our children. But in order to make them child-appropriate, we need to draw a positive, concrete, palatable moral out of stories that are dark and complex, and disturbing.
As I child, I learned the story of David and Bathsheba this way: “David and Bathsheba were naughty together, and God didn’t like it.” The Children’s Story Bible, which was first published when I was six years old, says that “David did not stop to think about Uriah, who had left the comfort of his home to fight for the king. He did not think about God’s law which says, ‘do not commit adultery.’” David, and my childhood Sunday School class, and, quite frankly, the narrator of 2 Samuel, all seem to completely forget about Bathsheba. The sin in this story is clearly adultery, a sin for which both parties could be punished, regardless of consent. Nowhere does the Children’s Story Bible say, “David did not stop to think about Bathsheba.” Her consent, her feelings, are irrelevant, or at least unrecorded.
This allows an all-too-familiar, victim-blaming narrative to be constructed in the void. Bathsheba was flaunting her naked body in public. She came promptly when the king called for her. We don’t hear her protesting when the king lays with her. She doesn’t tell anyone about the incident. And she becomes David’s wife after her husband, Uriah, is murdered.
Clearly, Bathsheba is a promiscuous opportunist. This is the story I was told.
Bathsheba, “your shorts are too short and your touches are too long.” Women are dangerously sexual. They can even bring down a good king like David.
And now that I’m all grown up, all theologically educated, all worldly and wise, and now that so many women have courageously stepped forward to tell their Bathsheba stories in the wave of the #metoo movement, I have to raise my hand once again and ask, “Really? This was Bathsheba’s fault? Taking a ritually-required bath on a private rooftop gives David the full right to use a woman’s body for his personal pleasure? Bathsheba was supposed to protest or file a police report when the most powerful man in her universe sexually assaulted her? Somehow, that doesn’t seem like the moral of this story.”
And, if we actually read the whole story, the moral has nothing to do with adultery. That is not the sin committed here.
The sin David commits is theft.
Nathan cleverly tells David this story about a massive jerk, who had everything anyone could want in the world. And this other guy, who just had one little lamb he loved dearly. And the jerk guy steals the one little lamb and devours it. David is enraged and is ready to kill the jerk guy. That is, until Nathan declares, “You are the jerk!”
God isn’t mad at David because he committed adultery. He’s not even mad at him for having Uriah killed, which was essentially murder. He’s mad at David for stealing Bathsheba, an innocent and beloved lamb.
The enormity of this sin cannot be overstated. This sin is the turning point in David’s relationship with God. Up to this point, God has given David EVERYTHING: power, possessions, victory in battle, heirs to the throne. And even so, he takes what doesn’t belong to him, what hasn’t been given to him by God.
Instead of being the king the Israelites asked for, a king who would “go out before us and fight our battles,” he becomes the king Samuel warned the people about, a king who would lounge around on his couch and send their sons out to fight his battles, a king who would take, and take, and take.
God did everything God could to avoid this. God gave and gave and gave to David. And still, he takes.
We have seen this sin, not the sin of adultery, not the sin of overactive sexuality, but the sin of theft, exposed again and again in the last year. As a society, we’ve had to reckon with the fact that, statistically, perpetrators do not lurk in shadowy corners, waiting to pounce. They are men who have a hint of power, or wish they did, who understand women in much the same way David did — as objects to taken for themselves. Theft, not adultery, is the sin of Harvey, and Larry, and Matt. Men who had it all. And yet they stole women.
In ancient Israel, women were clearly understood to be property of a man. In Hebrew, Bathsheba means “daughter of seven,” and the scripture defines her by the men in her life, “daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” She is property to be bought and sold and stolen.
But when we see this narrative play out in the modern era, when we, hopefully, no longer regard women as the property of men, we can clearly see that theft is still the sin that occurs.
In the spring of 1998, Jules Woodson was offered a ride home by her youth pastor. Instead, she was driven to a remote location, told to “lay with him,” if we want to stick with Biblical euphemisms, and guilted into keeping silent about the incident. When she did open up to church leaders about what happened, she was again silenced. When the youth pastor eventually had to be fired because more people were finding out about it, the facts were so blurred and obscured that Jules was blamed by many in her congregation for the firing of a beloved youth pastor. And when, in the wake of the #metoo movement, Jules emailed this pastor, who was then leading a prominent megachurch in Memphis, he told his congregation a story about a “sexual incident” with no perpetrator and no victim, a story about personal sin and redemption, and he was treated to a standing ovation. In a haunting New York Times video interview, Jules says, “I was assaulted. He was applauded.”
While Jules isn’t the property of any male relative, she was stolen. She was stolen from her childhood. She was stolen from her self-esteem. She was stolen from her trust in others. She was stolen from her faith community. She was stolen from her own body.
Lutheran pastor Emily Scott insists this kind of theft takes place “every time one person fails to see the humanity of another, taking what he wants in order to experience control, disordered intimacy or power. It is the symptom of an illness that is fundamentally spiritual: a kind of narcissism that allows him to focus only on sating his need, blind to the pain of the victim.”
This theft takes place every time we fail to see women as the rightful owners of their bodies, no matter how short the shorts or how long the touches; no matter where they are bathing or why; no matter who they are with or when. Women, and men, I would fairly add, are the rightful owners of their God-given, God-created bodies, and no one, ever, has a right the steal them.
David, just like Harvey and Larry and Matt and all the others, received his #metoo reckoning. His life after this incident bears almost no resemblance to his life before. The child he conceived through his theft of Bathsheba dies. His daughter, Tamar, is raped by her brother, Amnon, and Amnon is killed by his brother, Absolom. Absolom usurps the throne and is gruesomely killed in battle. David’s life spirals out of control until he is a pitiful old man, shivering in bed with a Shunamite virgin, using her body for warmth.
Pastor Andy Savage, who assaulted Jules Woodson back in 1998, received a standing ovation from his congregation. His cover-up story may have worked on his church followers. But his true sin was exposed by the wider community. The backlash to this event was so great that church leaders initiated an investigation and forced Savage to resign within months. In his resignation statement, Savage apologized to Jules Woodson, and asserted, “Morality is meant to guard against injustices, not to minimize them, to compensate for them, or to obscure them. I agree with Jules that, of all places, we as the Church should be getting this right.”
Of all places, the church should be getting this right. In our scriptures, the sin a stealing a woman’s body, not just from her husband, but from herself, is punished by God. Bathsheba is rewarded in the greatest way a woman of her time could be: her second son, Solomon, succeeds David as king.
And Bathsheba’s decedent, Jesus, is a king of an entirely different sort. Instead of taking and taking, and taking, he gives, and gives and gives. He gives life, and healing, and forgiveness, and mercy. He gives his very life. He becomes that innocent and beloved lamb – stolen and devoured. And still, he keeps giving. He gives us hope. Hope of eternal life, yes. But also hope for a transformed life now, a heaven on earth now, a life rooted and grounded in love.
Theft of another person’s body uproots us all.
The pastor leading my seminary workshop, and the married man who kissed her, were uprooted. Bathsheba and David were uprooted. Jules Woodson and Andy Savage were uprooted.
Love grounds us, roots us, nourishes us.
Love – as it is described by the Apostle Paul – “does not insist on its own way.” It is mutual and consensual. Love, Paul says, “does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.” Love does not steal from another. Love does not hide, or cover up, or guilt or shame. Love gives and gives and gives. Love’s giving never ends.
We as the church should be getting this right. We belong to the family of God in Jesus Christ and have the love of Christ to root us and ground us. We must not allow lives to be uprooted, within the church or anywhere in our community. We must not defend, or hide, or applaud those who steal the bodies of others.
Rooted and grounded in love, we must seek justice for those who have been stolen. We must pray for the victims and the perpetrators of these thefts. And we must transform our community and our society with the love, justice, and mercy of Jesus Christ.
This is no small assignment. But Christ, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, is the one who calls and equips us for this work. So that no more lives are uprooted. So that we can be rooted and grounded in love.
To God be all glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.