Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. In today’s Gospel lesson we read that Jesus was “the son of David,” who was “the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:1, 6, ESV).We all know which woman Matthew speaks of: Bathsheba, third woman in our sermon series, “Bad Girls Begat Jesus.” It seems that her adultery with David was such a scandal that, of the five women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, she alone is unworthy of mention by name. Instead of being called Bathsheba, she is simply “the wife of Uriah.”
Our usual reading of the “affair” in 2 Samuel 11-12 is that of a beautiful woman who went out of her way to seduce the righteous King David, inflaming his lust and luring him into a devastating sexual liaison. But that’s not necessarily the case. Nowhere does the Biblical narrative indicate that it was Bathsheba’s fault. Rather, it seems that she may have been unduly pressured by David into this sin. But what if we have got it all wrong about Bathsheba? What if she is not the alluring adulteress who brings about David’s downfall, but rather herself a victim of rape and sexual harassment? In other words, maybe Bathsheba wasn’t really a “bad” girl. Did she really have a choice when David sent for her? It isn’t easy to speak to power, as we are discovering during this cultural moment in America that began with Harvey Weinstein. What the king wants, the king gets. And, yes, of course, I know the Bible verse, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Yet, if you refuse a king, your life may be forfeit—and not just your chastity. Bathsheba was caught in a Catch 22: damned if she do—and dead if she don’t.
You have to commend the women who are willing to come forward to face their abusers. It takes tremendous courage to speak to power, especially when so many people are unwilling to listen. Sexual assault and harassment are devastating to women and their families. And because the scars are often invisible, so they are harder to heal. Emotional and spiritual trauma are the terrible reality for many of these victims, not “just” the physical or sexual.
But this cultural moment gives us good reason to revisit this story and check our assumptions. After all, Bathsheba is no ordinary woman. She is an ancestor of Jesus—part of God’s plan and purpose for our salvation. We should be careful that we do not sneer or disregard her so easily.
Perhaps we should contrast David and Bathsheba’s obedience to God’s Law. Bathsheba was not just taking an ordinary bath. She was undergoing the rites of purification required by the Law after a woman’s period (Lev. 15:19ff). In other words, she was obeying God’s Word. David’s lust, on the other hand, drove him to commit adultery, murder, and lie. Bathsheba was faithful to the Lord, but David was not.
As Walter Brueggemann and other Bible scholars point out, David’s sin is described succinctly by three verbs in quick succession: he “sent,” he “took,” and he “lay” (2 Sam. 11:4). (It reminds me of Julius Caesar’s famous statement, Veni, vidi, vici, “I came, I saw, I conquered”). There is no mention of love or tenderness in the Biblical narrative. David doesn’t even use Bathsheba’s name. His touch is impersonal. Frederick Buechner writes that David “had to have her at any cost and that the cost would be exorbitant.”
Perhaps the fact that Bathsheba is regularly called “the wife of Uriah” is meant to underscore David’s sin, not hers (2 Sam. 11:3, 26; 12:10; Matt. 1:6). Full of pride and lust, he used his powerful position to put her at a disadvantage. And, unfortunately for them both, he got her pregnant.
That it could be David’s child there was no doubt. Her husband was away at war. So with quick resolve, David hatched a plan to call back Uriah from the front, have him sleep with his wife, and make it seem as though the child was his.
Uriah, of course, ruined David’s plan, so the king had him killed instead. Then, after Bathsheba’s time of mourning was over, David quickly married her in a shotgun wedding and hoped that nobody would count the number of months that elapsed between the wedding day and the baby’s birth. For, if they did, it would not add up to nine months.
David was a skilled deceiver. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27). So God sent the prophet Nathan to confront the king. Again, it’s not easy to speak to power. So Nathan lay the trap carefully, telling a parable about a man who stole and butchered his neighbor’s sheep, a little lamb he cuddled and coddled like his own daughter.
The injustice of it all outraged David, who declared, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5). But his words were a self-condemnation.
“YOU are the man!” Nathan declared (12:7).
To which David confessed and said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (12:13).
I know that David’s confession seems shallow, much like the non-apologies and denials of men like Kevin Spacey or Russell Simmons. But David didn’t have to confess. He was the king. He could’ve killed Nathan instead and dispatched of the whole scandal much like he did Uriah. But God finally got a hold of David’s conscience. His Word cuts sharper than any two-edged sword. David repented and confessed.
So the prophet Nathan declared, “The LORD also has put away your sin” (12:13). This is one of the simplest and earliest forms of confession and absolution in all of Scripture. God confronted David for his sin. David confessed. God forgave.
Did David ever come clean and confess to Bathsheba too? Did he ever tell her that he was sorry and beg forgiveness for forcing her to have sex with him? We do not know. The Bible doesn’t say. But what we do know is that, for all his flaws, David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). And after the death of her first husband (11:26) and first son (12:15-23), David “comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him” (2 Sam. 12:24). Through this troubled union with its rocky start, God continued the Messianic line through King Solomon all the way down through the generations to Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Truly, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). What David intended for evil, God intended for good (cf. Gen. 50:20).
Frederick Buechner envisions King David on his deathbed peering into the future and seeing the birth of Jesus the Messiah:
“He had been drinking, he realized, to the child of their child of their child a thousand years hence who he could only pray would find it in his heart to think kindly someday of the beautiful girl and the improvident king who had so recklessly and long ago been responsible for his birth in a stable and his death just outside the city walls.”
For, as strange as it is to consider, all of this led to all of that. David and Bathsheba (“the wife of Uriah”) led to the virgin birth of our Savior. Jesus was David’s heir and the true King of the Jews. But he died a rather un-kingly death as a criminal on a cross. Instead of a golden crown, he wore a crown of thorns. And, like his great-great-great-great-great… grandmother before him, he too was exposed to the world in his birthday suit. The sign above his head read THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Unlike his father David, Jesus did not use his power to coerce or control others. He did not use or abuse anyone. Instead, he humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, and became obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:8-11). Ultimately, Jesus was born to die for David’s sins—and even our sins too. And for that reason, God has given him the name above every other name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess, the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved.
Jesus is patient and forgiving. He loves you. So do not be afraid to confess your sin and ask for his grace. He is rich in mercy and ready to forgive you, no matter what evil you have done. You have sinned against the Lord. So have I. But take heart! “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). In the name of Jesus, Amen.