This summer I have loved the unfolding of the David story in our lectionary. I have preached on his story several times because I love how very complicated his story is. When most of us think of David, we think of the revered king. He was favored and anointed by God, is celebrated by the people of faith as an exemplary king, and for Christians, he is honored in the lineage that produces Jesus, the Messiah. Our selective memory of David is not unfounded. He has very humble beginnings. As the youngest son of his family, relegated to working in the fields as a shepherd, he is anointed as the favored one. As a boy, when whole armies feared Goliath, David is considered brave, fighting off the giant Goliath with only a bag of stones. As a young man he is the beloved friend of Jonathan and Michal. He survives multiple murder attempts by Saul – even being presented with the opportunity to kill Saul himself, David refrains. He dances boldly before God when he becomes king, showing proper adoration of the Lord. He and his son, Solomon, will be the last of the noble kings, before a strain of evil kings runs the people of Israel to the ground.
At least that is what our selective memory holds. When we proudly proclaim Jesus is descended from the house of David, we sometimes gloss over the other “stuff” about David. We gloss over the way he cuts off Michal in her grief. We gloss over the way he rapes Bathsheba, and then has her husband killed when he cannot hide his indiscretion. Of course, the text does not say David raped her – just that he “lay with her.” But when a king (who has infinitely more power than a common woman) sends men to your home when your husband is away, and they take you (not asking if you are interested in going) to the king, and the king has sex with you, I am guessing the sex was not consensual. Later, we gloss over the fact that despite this horrid beginning of a relationship with Bathsheba, Bathsheba is the one who later bares him the son, Solomon. The list of things we gloss over about David is indeed long.
I think that is why I love the unfolding story of David. He is beloved and horribly flawed. He is a revered leader with deep sinfulness. He is noble king and he is human. I have great affection for David and I am deeply disappointed by him. But isn’t that the way with all great people? I remember when I first learned of how The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was complicit with the sexism of his time, I finally began to see him as human too. And of course, David’s humanity forces me to reconcile with my own humanity.
But all of that reflection on David overshadows the humanity of Bathsheba. Like so many characters in the Bible, especially women, we are left with little of her perspective. And because we have so little information, many of us are hesitant to preach about her story. And yet, we are a community that has Bathshebas too – women stripped of power and dignity. I do not know what that means for Sunday’s preaching (when we will get Nathan’s judgment of David for his actions with Bathsheba), especially since I try to be careful about sensitive subjects in the pulpit. But this week, as we continue to journey with David, I am lingering with Bathsheba. I am lingering on what it means to be a community of Davids, Bathshebas, and Nathans – and how we do that in a healthy, honest, and humble way. Stay tuned!