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Sunday, July 04, 2010

What Did David Say to Bathsheba?

Wile teaching 2 Samuel 11 and 12 in Gospel Doctrine today (as a guest teacher), I wondered what David might have said to Bathsheba when she was brought over to meet him. "You know, my wives and concubines, they just don't understand me." That's my guess.

The story begins with unchecked lust and then turns to appalling adultery in which a big celeb goes after the wife of one of his valiant soldiers. She becomes pregnant, so David tries to cover up his sin. He tries to get the husband to come home from battle and spend some time at home so people will think the baby is his, but that fails. Then David, once a man of God, a leader in Israel who had prophesied and authored beautiful scripture (and would yet author scripture), chooses to cover his sin by murdering the husband, Uriah. Did Bathsheba have any idea that she was marrying the man who had killed her beloved husband? There's something of a creep factor in this story.

How far are any of us from becoming another David? Are we humbly aware of the dangers we face when step into the world? Have we begun each day prayerfully seeking the Lord's help to be delivered from temptation? Are we mentally prepared for what we must do when we encounter our own Bathsheba moment? It may not be a moment that appeals to sensual pleasures; rather, it may be an unexpected temptation thrown our way that appeals to our greed, our ego, or some other weakness. These temptations will come. We will each have our temptations that could cause us to fall unless we are prepared and decide ahead of time that we will not give in but swiftly turn away. Should we fall, human experience and the scriptures teach that the only safe step is to quickly come clean and face the immediate pain of repentance rather than trying to cover up our sin, which only adds to the problem and magnifies the pain that we will one day face. In David's case, he lost it all and did terrible harm to many through his sins.

How tragic and frightening. I still wonder exactly what he said when they were introduced. I also wish that Bathsheba had been taught by some of the great Young Women's leaders we have today. Might have helped her recognize the danger a little earlier before she got caught up in the excitement of being pursued by the leading rock star of Israel. Might have also helped her be a little more careful about her bathing arrangements. Or was something less innocent going on the whole time? Ah, humanity. We can be so disappointing.

24 comments:

Stephen said...

Hi, you know me, your husband is one of my thirty mighty men, my personal bodyguard, second line commander in the military (along with the others in the thirty) to whom I trust my life and family and on whose loyalty my power resides; we see each other often, are connected in many ways and your house is close to my house ...

That is what he says.

Stephen said...

Which is what we leave out. They were not strangers to each other, the betrayal implicit in the affair threatens the kingship.

There is a huge subtext, obvious in the context to someone in the culture, completely missed, it seems, to modern lessons.

Carla said...

King David should have been out in the field, warring with his men instead of being home.
Bathing on the rooftops was not uncommon.
If the King commanded one, one complied no questions asked.
An adulterous woman was stoned to death, pregnant or not.
There *is* a lot of subtext here, and it muddies the waters further.

Annie Japannie said...

I always got the feeling that Bathsheba didn't have a lot of say in the matter. The way women were treated in ancient Jewish society didn't leave a lot of necessity for her to need to be seduced. (Read "Sisters at the Well" by Richard and Jeni Holzapfel) Nor was she flirting with the "rock star." I can't even imagine the heartbreak she must have gone through.

Bradley Ross said...

Ben Spackman had some good stuff to say about this in his new Gospel Doctrine Podcast. He pointed out some of what Stephen mentioned above.

Stephen said...

Thanks, I had missed the point about Bathsheba's family, though it explains more about why Joab did not favor Solomon.

Bookslinger said...

David's 30 elite soldiers were so loyal to him, that had David asked Uriah for his wife, Uriah probably would have divorced her and gave her to him.

That's just my guess.

NM said...

Hi Mormanity,

I reckon, you be meanin' second Samuel... :)

A friend of mine asked me last week what thoughts came to mind about King David. The first couple of things were: murderer and adulterer. For me, what's worse [than the actions of David], is God's response gave as a result of David's gross sin.

Notice in II Samuel 12v3:

"And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die..."

Can you imagine the look on Bathsheba's and Uriah's families' faces? If this were to be a modern court of law, and seeing that the judge found the man guilty - yet let him go, onlookers would cry out justice...or demand that the judge be struck off...

Thank God for Romans 3:23-25, right?

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins..."

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yes, 2nd Samuel - fixed that error. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Bathsheba, incidentally, is attrubuted as the author of the last chapter of Proverbs, identified as the mother of "Lemuel", a designation of Solomon.

John said...

Frankly, I am not sure David was ever all that righteous. After all, he went off the slay 200 people just so Saul would give him his daughter in marriage. Does the Lord really smile on killing people for a wife? We skip over this story, however, just to get to the good juicy one with a woman bathing on her roof. The man was typical ruling class from start to finish.

Bookslinger said...

John,

Yeah, but that's not to say that those particular 200 guys didn't need killin' anyway. After all, they were Philistines, who were supposed to have been wiped out several generations earlier. Maybe they were "enemy combatants" and not civilians.

But you got a point. Even before the affair in question, David was a man of contrasts. He often received direct revelation in response to his prayers/inquiries. But other times, he seemed to be quite a hot-head and often reacted violently when people slighted him or broke some law/rule/custom.

After the Bathsheba/Uriah affair, he seemed to be a lot more humble and forebearing with slights.

I wonder if his prior harshness in judging others may somehow be related to his fall.

There's also a duality in the psalms, that I wonder if it's related to before/after the Bathsheba/Uriah matter. In some psalms, he's gloating over how the Lord wiped out his enemies because they were bad and he was good. And other psalms show a much more contrite, humble and repentent man.

Anonymous said...

When I read this news
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/12/the_many_wives_of_jacob_zuma

earlier this year, I couldn't help but think of David.

Anonymous said...

D&S is a great story, and here (as always in my experience) it has elicited a number of interesting responses. But no one has yet mentioned what strikes me as by far the most powerful moment in the story, the moment when Nathan, having cleverly used a story of his own to trick David into understanding the enormity of his sin, says to him, "Thou art the man!"

This to me is the mark of a prophet. The essence of prophecy is not the foretelling of the future or even the revelation of God's word, but, to put it into today's lingo, speaking truth to power. Prophecy involves holding the powerful to account, reminding them that there is some authority higher than theirs. This is the sense in which, say, Martin Luther King was a great prophet.

You see this often in reading the major biblical prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. And you can see in their poetry how the primary and definitive "speaking truth to power" aspect of prophecy relates to the secondary "foretelling the future" aspect. Often what the prophets are saying can be boiled down to this: "The powerful have substituted their own corruption for the Higher Moral Truth, and because they have done so, bad things are going to happen in the future. But if the powerful repent and start obeying the Higher Authority, then good things will happen in the future."

NM, you're right to direct our attention to God's refusal to apply the death penalty to David. But really, I can't agree that this has much if anything to do with Romans 3:23-25. God's forbearance has nothing to do with whether someone should receive due punishment here on earth. After all, had you or I committed David's crimes, we could hardly argue that we should be spared punishment simply because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and God has forgiven us anyway. And we definitely would not expect for God to respond to our own sin by taking the life of an infant child, as happens in 2 Sam. 12:14. ("Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die." Wow! This little detail is one reason I read the Bible as great literature but not the literal word of God.)

NM said...

Personally, I think it's outrageous that God passed over David's sin. Outrageous.

This is, I think, what makes Paul's letter to Rome so beautiful, as he seems to be saying in Romans 3, that Jesus' death was, in part, to show that God remains righteous - because in times past, God seemed to have overlooked sin. David's sin of adultery and murder in II Samuel, in my mind, is probably one of the best instances where God overlooked sin. If a judge on earth were to overlook crime, (s)he would be taken off in a flash, so to look at God, who is infinitely more superior than any earthly judge and DOES overlook sin is, to say the least, a major blunder.

I hope I'm making sense here. I have a habit of fudging my assertions.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, NM. The Lord not only let David off the hook but punished the innocent infant instead. To make matters even worse, God killed the infant not directly because of David's adultery, conspiracy, and murder, but because those things made for bad PR! (Because they gave occasion for the enemy to blaspheme.)

Unless one wishes to think very ill of God, one is pretty much compelled to read this as a human-authored story.

Carla, all that you wrote above is spot-on. Thank you! I did not fail to notice the delicate way you handled the incredible sexism of the final paragraph of Jeff's post. I mean, c'mon, Jeff! Do you really think Bathsheba succumbed out of infatuation, that she was some star-struck dummy ignorant of the dangers of court intrigue? The biblical text gives no warrant for us to insult her character like that.

Bookslinger said...

NM, if you'll look at the LDS footnotes to the story in the LDS online scriptures at http://scriptures.lds.org you'll see some corrections that Joseph Smith made in his _Inspired Version_ (or _Joseph Smith Translation_) of the Bible.

For those who don't know, Joseph Smith was commanded of the Lord, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, to make a new translation of the Bible. He used the King James Version as the base, and added/corrected verses as he received spiritual guidance and revelation to do so.

The current LDS edition of the KJV Bible has the major changes of the Joseph Smith translation in the footnotes, with the indicator "JST".

Most changes fit in the footnotes, but some of the longer ones are in an appendix of the printed version of the LDS KJV Bible.

Both in 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Kings, and perhaps a few Psalms, as well as a couple NT references to David's story have been changed in the JST version. These changes actually shed better light on the seeming inconsistencies that NM pointed out.

As I understand the JST changes, David was not forgiven of murdering Uriah, but he was going to have to suffer for it in the next life, as well as suffer turmoil in his family in mortal life.

I can't put my finger on the exact verse, maybe it's in Psalms, where David said he received assurance that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell forever. The implication being that he was going to suffer for a period of time.

Anon at 4:45 pm: I think it's illogical to assume that dieing as an infant is necessarily a punishment. In most Christian theology, people who die in infancy are guaranteed a spot in heaven. In LDS theology, they pretty much have a lock on exaltation.

The LDS belief in the pre-mortal existence of spirits opens the possibility of God making arrangements or agreements with such spirits about their lifespan prior to them even being born.

Bookslinger said...
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Bookslinger said...
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NM said...

Oh dear. I hope from what I said that people haven't inferred that the Bible has inconsistencies!

I don't believe there are inconsistencies in II Samuel 12. If anything, it enables me, a 21st-century Christian, to have hope! Despite David's gross sin, we can clearly see that God loved David; he is one of the best examples of whom God showed mercy towards. So, if God has, in times past shown mercy to an adulterer and murderer like David, then I can infer that God can show mercy to whomever He wishes...like you and me.

The point of II Samuel (when juxtaposed with Romans 3) shows that the death [and resurrection] of Jesus is the pinnacle of God's wrath against sin and mercy toward sinners. Can you imagine? The saying, "Salvation is free , but it came at a great price", comes to mind.

The outrageous act of God passing over David's sin in II Samuel 12 speaks simply of mercy. Right?

Anonymous said...

No, NOT right. The "outrageous act of God passing over David's sin in II Samuel 12" speaks loudly and clearly not of mercy but of the human origin of scripture.

NM said...

Anonymous (9:04 AM, July 11, 2010),

I know what you mean. And I take it you are an atheist? I was once, if I had to put a label on it, an atheistic-existentialist, before becoming a Christian. I admire your healthy scepticism! Scepticism should always be the default mode when engaging with texts (or whatever) that claim to hold truth.

Jeff Lindsay said...

You know, you're right about being unkind in raising the possibility of Bathsheba being at fault. Almost certainly she was a victim in a powerless and tragic situation. My unfair words at the end now have strike marking through them.

For interesting reading on this topic, look at "Bathsheba: David's Victim" in An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective by Alice L. Laffey.

Anonymous said...

Jeff: Thanks for the strikethrough. I'll try to take a look at the Laffey book when I get a chance.

NM: Atheist, agnostic, whatever. Those are terms that attempt to label people within the framework that makes sense to theists. I see no reason to label myself within that framework, just as you, as a Christian, probably have no interest in labeling yourself in terms of your feelings about human sacrifice.

Let me explain. Suppose I were to ask a Christian, "Are you a humansacrificist or an ahumansacrificist?"

My imaginary Christian interlocutor now has to think about the idea that Jesus was for a while fully human, and that his substitutionary atonement was to that extent a human sacrifice in which the Christian "believes," though of course in every other sense the Christian presumably rejects human sacrifice.

However one answers, one remains in the position of having to define oneself using terms and concepts that quickly lead into some conundrums and complexities and that, to put it mildly, do not put Christianity in the most favorable light. (Just as asking me about the existence of God quickly puts me in the position of how to explain conundrums like the existence of the cosmos without a God to create it, and opens me up to charges of lacking any moral foundation, etc., etc.)

The Christian is naturally concerned about belief and disbelief in God. I'm not saying they're deliberately engaging in any rhetorical sleight of hand by asking whether someone is an atheist. But the atheist might do well to ignore the question and respond with one of his own (such as, "Do you believe in human sacrifice?")

Am I an atheist? Well, I haven't found any theistic arguments very convincing. At the same time, belief is just not a big issue for me. Atheism or agnosticism are not significant parts of my identity the way belief typically is for those who are religious. We all know people whose identity is tightly bound up with (say) their local NFL team. But such people don't generally go around asking you whether you're a footballist or an afootballist. If they did, you'd think them pretty weird for assuming you share his obsession so much that you'd make your feelings about football, whatever they are, a core part of your identity.

So, sure. I guess I'm an atheist/agnostic, but in very much the same sense in which I'm an afootballist. I don't define myself by what I don't believe in, and I find it a little weird when other people expect me to.

Another thing I wish Christians would think a little more about is what it means to "believe in" something. Many Christians believe in (the existence of) God in the exact same way that they believe in (the existence of) Satan. But when I then say, "OK, so you believe in Satan...." the Christian immediately objects, because suddenly the words "believe in" are no longer heard as meaning "believe in the existence of" but "follow the teachings of" or something like that.

But enough. Just thinking out loud here.