by Collette Broady Grund
2 Samuel 11: 1-5, 26-27, 12:1-9
This week's commentary (and biblical text) sexual violence and relationship violence.
I know we don’t want to talk about sexual violence from the pulpit again this week, but please gird your loins and do it anyway. This text demands it.
This text also demands a trigger warning to your congregation, especially if you are going to call what happened to Bathsheba rape (which you should). There is no way, when a military wife receives a sexual summons from her king (her husband’s employer), that she can realistically say no. There is also no way, even if there was a mutual attraction between Bathsheba and David (an idea that is completely unsupported by the text), that she can truly consent either, since there is an enormous power differential between them. If you are brave enough to talk about it, this is a great text for exploring what true consensual sexual relationships look like, and how consent is part of what God intends for healthy sexuality.
So, let’s say you’re not feeling quite that brave, and have reason not to talk about rape from your pulpit this week. Then, talk about murder and bearing false witness against your neighbor. The 10 Commandments were read in this lectionary two weeks ago, and however you talk about the sex part of this story, there is no leeway for David on what he does to cover it up. This is murder, this is lying. We need to wrestle with the idea that one of our greatest heroes of faith is a liar, a murderer and a rapist.
But he is also repentant, which, we know from the news cycle and our own experience, is rare in powerful men. It is David’s heart that shows him as God’s anointed when he is just a boy, though that hard seems to have been hardened as his power increases. Thankfully, God pairs each king with a prophet, roles that are supposed to have equal power in the realm of God. It must have been a fearful thing for Nathan to speak the Lord’s judgement to David, and he is clever about getting at David’s heart. He knows the king is blinded by his privilege, but that his compassion still exists underneath it all, and so he tells a story. It’s a simple story, one for a child, and probably Nathan is trying to access that child David whose heart pleased God so long ago. The story works, cracking David wide open to understand the hurt he has caused and the wrongs for which God requires repentance. Psalm 51 is traditionally understood as his plea for God’s mercy, which is why it gets paired with this text.
There is a lot of difficulty in this text, but one of the pieces that hold promise for preaching is the idea that stories have the power to reach the hearts of the powerful and break them open. In our places of power and privilege, I wonder which storytellers have our ear. Who are the prophets whose stories can reach the places we’ve hardened ourselves? Whose narratives of injustice can call us individually and communally to the repent God requires of us today?
We need such storytellers and prophets in our churches and in our nation today, and perhaps you are called to be one such voice. Likely, you also need these voices in your own life, since preaching is a position of power too, one that has great potential for displeasing the Lord as David did. So, as we prepare to preach this text, it’s a good reminder to seek out new voices in your own life that can help you to see where you are wrong.
P.S. It’s important to say that David’s repentance in this story does not redeem him for all time. In the very next chapter of 2 Samuel, David’s son Amnon rapes David’s daughter Tamar, and though David is very angry, he does nothing to right this wrong.