12/23/18 “Wonder Women: Bathsheba”

Samuel 11:1-12:25

For a few TV seasons back in the late 50s and early 60s, ABC aired a police drama called “Naked City.” Each week, the show told a story about fictional criminals, crime victims, and the detectives of New York’s 65th Precinct. Every program ended with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

There may not be eight million stories in the Bible, but there are many, and the story of Bathsheba, our fourth “Wonder Woman” from Jesus’ family tree as Matthew describes it, is one of them. Hers is one of those stories we may think we know well but has so much more to it—like the stories of countless people in the world and throughout history. A few of those stories are told—usually the stories of the very rich, the very powerful, the very good, or the very evil. But most people’s stories go untold, or they are told simply as background for someone else’s story, even though they have much to teach us. That’s the case with Bathsheba.

Bathsheba was a subject of King David, entirely under his power. She was the daughter of Eliam, a man prominent enough to be specifically named in the story, and she was a wife—not the wife of just any man, but the wife of Uriah, a gifted general who had proved his loyalty to his men and to King David.Spring had arrived—the season for making war. Ordinarily, a king would accompany his troops into battle. In fact, that was one of the main responsibilities of a king in that time and place. But that year, David decided to sit it out and stay behind in his cushy palace. Maybe he thought he was too important to risk his own life alongside his men.

One evening, after finally getting out of bed, he decided to take a stroll on the roof of his house. Peering down over his domain, he spied a woman bathing. In an attempt to protect David’s reputation, it is often suggested that Bathsheba was purposely bathing where David could see her in an attempt to entice him. There is nothing in scripture to suggest that this is true. In fact, Scripture is silent about where she was bathing. It makes more sense to assume that she believed she was safe in the privacy of her own home, as we all assume we are when we’re taking a bath.

But David sees her, and he likes what he sees. He asks who she is. His minions tell him, but the fact that she is married means nothing to him. To him, she is simply an object to be used for his own gratification. He is the king, and he thinks that gives him the right to take what he wants. Apparently, he thinks the rules that apply to everyone else—God’s rules—don’t apply to him. He sends his henchmen to get Bathsheba. Our translation says she came to him, making it sound likes it’s voluntary. But when the king’s men come to you, a woman whose husband is the king’s general, and they tell you the king has sent them to bring you to the palace, you’re hardly in a position to refuse.

Bathsheba is brought to David and, as Scripture so delicately puts it, “he lay with her.” A woman—a married subject of the king—has been commanded to come to the king’s bedroom. There is nothing voluntary about this; I’ll let you supply the term for what actually happened. As a result, she became pregnant. We know who the father is, because that fateful bath was the one she was taking to purify herself after her period. Only David can be the father.

She sends him word of her pregnancy, and David gets busy with damage control—not because he admits that he has done something horrendous, but because he doesn’t want to get caught. His first ploy is to get Uriah home from the battlefield to sleep with his wife, in order to make it look like the baby is Uriah’s. Uriah returns, but he refuses the comforts of home and instead sleeps in the king’s courtyard with the other servants.

David was upset that Plan #1 didn’t work. Uriah explained that he couldn’t enjoy these luxuries when the ark of the covenant and his men were still in the battlefield, but even that didn’t bring David to his senses. Instead of repenting of his evil deeds, David hatched Plan #2. He kept Uriah another night, and got him drunk, hoping then Uriah would go home to Bathsheba. But even his drunkenness didn’t dilute Uriah’s loyalty and honor.

David then put Plan #3 into action—the most odious plan of all. He sent Uriah back to the front, carrying a letter that (unknown to Uriah) contained his own death sentence. The letter instructed David’s fixer Joab to make sure Uriah was stationed where he would surely be killed. This plan worked. Uriah died, along with a number of other soldiers—collateral damage. When the messenger came to give David what should have been very bad news, David said, “Tell Joab not to worry about it. This stuff happens in a war.”

Bathsheba learns that her husband is dead. All Scripture tells us is this: when she heard of Uriah’s death, “she made lamentation for him.” With Uriah out of the way, David again has Bathsheba brought to the palace. At least he managed to control himself until after the official mourning period was over, but you have to wonder whether Bathsheba’s grief was so quickly ended. David marries her, she has a son, and it looks like David’s gotten off scot-free.

But he hasn’t. He may have avoided a public scandal, but God knew what had happened and, Scripture tells us, it displeased the Lord. The baby died. Then, we are told, David consoled Bathsheba, making her pregnant again.

But this child was different. This child was named Jedediah, meaning “Beloved of the Lord.” He would be called Solomon, and through this baby of Bathsheba’s, the house of David would produce the Messiah.

This is how Bathsheba’s story is told—wrapped up in David’s story. Her name is hardly ever mentioned—just once at the beginning, when David asks who she is, and once at the end, when Solomon is conceived. We hear nothing of the feelings she had—feelings of longing for her husband as he served in the field, of confusion and fear when the king’s henchmen came for her, of shock when she learns she has been spied on; feelings of rage and shame after what David did to her, anxiety when she discovers she’s pregnant, grief over the loss of her husband, and who knows what mixture of feelings she had after the first baby died or how she felt toward the man who attacked her, killed her husband, and then made her one of his wives.

We hear a little about Bathsheba later on, as David’s sons by various wives vie for control, and David’s house descends into chaos and intrigue. But most of Bathsheba’s story doesn’t make it into Scripture. Mostly she is treated like a bit player in David’s story. 

Why then, does Matthew include her in Jesus’ genealogy? What does Bathsheba have to reveal to us about the Messiah who would come from the house of David? What can we see in Bathsheba and her story that helps us live faithfully?

One thing we can see in Bathsheba is a model of endurance. Terrible things happened to her, and none of them were her fault. They happened at the hands of a powerful man who thought he could simply take what he wanted, with no concern about the pain he would cause by his initial actions or the ensuing cover-up. We have no idea how Bathsheba coped with all that happened to her. But we do know this: she went on. She was a caring and loyal mother to her son Solomon. She worked to ensure his safety and his reign over David’s kingdom. She lived in such a way as to retain the support of the prophet Nathan, who had called David to account for what he had done. In spite of all that happened to her, she endured.

Endurance is something we all need. Sometimes we need it to get through a crisis—when medical problems are multiplying, the job prospects are dwindling, and family pressures keep mounting. We need the strength of God to keep us going in times of crisis, the kind of strength that kept Bathsheba going in all that she faced.

But, we also need endurance of a more every-day kind, as we wait for Jesus’ return. The wait may be long. It may not end in our lifetimes. And so, we need to keep on keeping on, in a world that offers us many reasons to fall away. It offers us reasons to doubt God, and it offers us shiny things that tempt us away from the things of God. We may feel worn down and worn out as we witness the evils of this world and wonder with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord, how long?” But Jesus promises that the one “who endures to the end will be saved.” And Paul assures us as he assured the Colossians, “if we endure, we will also reign with Christ.” In Bathsheba, we can find an example of the endurance we need.

The second thing that Bathsheba’s story does for us is to encourage us to open our eyes and ears to other untold stories. Bathsheba’s story teaches us to look beyond the surface and see what other people are dealing with. The mother whose child is roaming the neighborhood unsupervised, because her boss unexpectedly tells her she needs to work extra hours or lose her minimum-wage job. The elderly person who lives in a nice home but doesn’t have enough money for groceries. The teenager who won’t look us in the eye, because his stomach is in knots as he wonders what state his dad will be in when he gets home. The migrant child held in a tent on the Texas border, wondering if they will ever see their parents again. As the main character in the movie “Wonder” says, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

Often those hard battles are part of stories that are never told. But, the untold stories of the world also include our own—stories of pain and loss, anxiety and confusion, stories of unmet dreams and unrealized potential. Fortunately, they also include untold stories of victory and achievement and love and joy.

But, God hears all our stories. God came to us in human form—in Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us—so that God could directly experience our stories and live a story much like our own. Jesus spoke often of the “little ones, and when he did, he wasn’t just talking about small children. He was talking about everyone who is small in power, small in influence, small in wealth, and even small in faith. He was talking about all the people whose stories won’t be in the headlines or on the bestseller lists or on the big screen. He was talking about people like Bathsheba. He was talking about people like us.  Bathsheba’s story reminds us that we have a God who knows our stories.

The last thing Bathsheba’s story teaches us is that our actions have consequences. They have consequences for the one who acts, but they also have consequences for others—consequences that are often unwanted, unasked for, and undeserved. In Bathsheba’s story, David’s actions had terrible consequences for her, her husband, the men who were with him, the baby she bore, and David’s entire kingdom. We always need to be conscious of how our actions may affect others, whether they are actions we take as individuals or as a community, a nation, or a church. Just as pushing down one domino can cause an entire line of them to fall, the consequences of our actions can have a reach that is far greater than we think.

That reach can even extend over time. David chose to utterly scorn the Lord, Scripture tells us, and from that time on, David’s dynasty was embroiled in violence, power-grabs, and unfaithfulness that lasted for generations. Evil does not go unnoticed by God; it didn’t then and it doesn’t now, and the consequences can be far-reaching and long-lasting.

But there is good news in Bathsheba’s story as well. What we do can have positive consequences, too. Even when we make bad choices, God can bring good from them. Out of the mess David created, Solomon was born. From the house of David and Solomon, the Messiah would be born. God can bring about good even when we do things that are bad. As we sing in one of our Christmas carols, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

But, when we do the right thing for the right reason—when we choose to act in accordance with God’s law, when we follow Jesus’ teachings—our actions can affect people in positive ways, with equally far-reaching and long-lasting effects. Some years ago, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company aired some TV ads that beautifully show how this works. They were inspired by the movie “Pay It Forward,” and they showed how one act of kindness can spread throughout a community.

The ads were a good example, but we have a better example: God’s sending of Jesus—the ultimate act of paying it forward. In Jesus’ birth, God offered kindness to us. God showed us God’s face in the face of a little baby, who invited us into his life—a life of kindness and love and justice, a life that lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. Jesus went to the cross, to show us that sin does not have to control us and death doesn’t have the final say. He met evil with good, and good with better, and his actions continue to have consequences in the world and in our lives today.

As believers in Jesus, we are commanded to “pay it forward” as he did—to offer kindness and love and justice to others, so that they might want to enter into his life as well. When we enter fully into Jesus’ life, the consequences will reverberate throughout our world and down through the ages. Mary sang of the long-term consequences of her love and trust in God: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” she sang. How wonderful for us if we can sing the same song, as we live in obedience to our Lord and Savior, paying forward the love and kindness he showed to us.

Bathsheba’s story reveals so much to us.  It reveals that, in the millions of stories in our world, there are stories of endurance that encourage us in the face of hardship and as we wait for Jesus’ return. There are stories that remind us that, while we may never be famous, God loved us enough to come to us as a human being, to live and know our stories. There are stories that keep us aware of the consequences our actions have for ourselves and others, and there are stories that affirm that by God’s grace, God can use even our mistakes to build God’s kingdom. Praise be to God, who uses stories like Bathsheba’s to reveal the wonder of a Savior, who loves our stories enough to make us part if his story. Amen.

~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young