The important education of the #metoo and #timesup campaigns now shape our understanding of Bathsheba, as we consider her story again. Generally, her story is a background to talk about David’s failures. No surprise, it’s all about him. Dr. Wil Gafney first prompted me to think about it the other way, to see this as Bathsheba’s story, with David as a side character. If we see it that way, it’s a story full of incomprehensible violence and pain. David has his soldiers take Bathsheba so he can rape her, and then he has her husband murdered. She ends up married to her rapist, and having several children with him. Her story is full of heartbreak, violence – and also triumph.
Read the scripture passage here.
Read the Working Preacher commentary by Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks
Like people we all know, Bathsheba is the victim of a powerful man who believes his desires matter more than what she wants. Many women, and some men, have lived this same story in their own bodies. Bathsheba’s story brings a level of pain to those who are survivors of assault and harassment, and disquiet to all of us.
This is also the prophet Nathan’s story. When he confronts David, he knows that David is capable of violence. He puts himself in danger to convey the word that God has for David. He has enough courage to speak the truth, even to a very powerful man.
If this is David’s story, it’s also all of our story. We have all ignored other people, on some level, to fulfill our own desires. It could be in small ways, in the coffee we drink or the clothes we wear, or on a much larger level. David is interesting, in his dramatic thoughtlessness, because he mirrors something in each of us.
Bathsheba’s first child dies, as a punishment for David. If we understand God to work that way, it’s a drastic move to get David’s attention. Even God seems to be treating her as a side character. This supposed punishment for David ignores her suffering. After this, Bathsheba and David go on to have more children, including a son named Nathan, named after the bold prophet. There we see an act of courage on Bathsheba’s part, naming her son after the man who spoke truth to power. Another son is King Solomon. Bathsheba uses her power at the court to have Solomon made the next king, after David, even though he has lots of other sons. The last mention of her in the Bible has her sitting on a throne next to her son, the king. Her story is also about wielding power, about not only being a victim but also a woman of vision and agency.
Any sermon on this topic will be heard by people who have experienced violence and sexual assault. A really great sermon might invite them to reflect on the passage, instead of a formal sermon by the preacher. That’s another way of flipping the story, and attending to the real main characters.
The recent hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court raised (again) the question of how we do or don’t believe women who tell stories about sexual violence. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told about her experience of sexual assault at a high school party, an experience that has shadowed her in all the decades since. The courage she showed in disrupting her life to tell the story earned her a mocking imitation from the President, and scorn from plenty of people who didn’t believe her. The sermon might consider how we listen to the stories of people who have experienced sexual assault, violence or discrimination, and how we prepare our minds to believe them, even when their experience is different from our own.
Or, the sermon might talk about how we decide whose stories are worth hearing. The #sayhername campaign is calling our attention to the African-American women who are victims of police violence, people who are often forgotten.
On a recent Fresh Air podcast journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis talked about how our ideas about consent on college campuses are shifting. It used to be that we were trying to teach that “no means no.” Now college students are held to a different standard, and “yes means yes.” Women who are raised to be polite say things like “maybe another time” and “not right now,” which some men take as encouragement to keep pressuring for sex. Affirmative consent requires more clarity from all parties. Bathsheba doesn’t get an opportunity to give consent, but the sermon might look at sexual ethics and how we become clear about what we want, and how we communicate that.
Or the sermon could talk about the difference between being a character in someone else’s story, a partner, a parent, a caregiver, a colleague, and being the main character in our own story. They always overlap, but so many of us have been socialized to attend to other people’s stories, to their success, to their health. It’s hard to change. But if we see it as our story, and make the choices we love, and listen for God telling us what our particular talents are, we can see what God has in mind for us. If it’s our story, there could be a whole different emphasis.
Where are your thoughts taking you this week, with this painful story? We would love to hear, in the comments section below. Blessings on your preaching!
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church. She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall. (Ignore the book description added by the publisher, which is embarrassingly not like the book…she thinks.) She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City. The image of Bathsheba is from the blog Totally Vintage Diva. This material is Copyright  Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters, and is distributed with permission.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.