In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’
This is quite an appalling story, although perhaps not so very different to equally appalling stories of our own time. It is about a powerful man misusing his power to take advantage of, and rape, a woman who is in a vulnerable position.
Spring, says the reading, is the time where Kings go into battle. Well David breaks with tradition and sends Joab and his officers to make battle. So David is where he shouldn’t be and, like a peeping Tom, he watches Bathsheba bathe. She was doing what she should be doing under the law taking a bath as part of the rite of purification after her period. David learns that Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who will soon feature in the story and we will find that crime is heaped upon crime, tragedy upon tragedy. For now, David sends messengers to fetch Bathsheba, she cannot argue or defend herself for David is the King and so she lies with the King.
The story finishes with Bathsheba telling the King that she is pregnant. It seemed as though the King could have what he wants, do whatever he likes, but with those words David ceases to be in control, his power is nullified.
The story of David and Bathsheba marks a turning point in this cycle of stories, the struggle for succession begins. Walter Brueggemann comments that it marks ‘an abrupt transition from life under blessing to life under curse’
For us let us reflect upon contemporary stories. Stories of those who find themselves the victims of power, abused and taken advantage of, women and men, young and old alike. Let us think on how we can create as society where people cease to be a victim of violence and rape by those abusing their power.
Gracious God, we think of you as powerful and mighty, yet you came as one of us, in Jesus, who came among us like a slave, power overturned. May those of us with power and authority, learn to let go of such things, and not misuse our positions. May those of us who have been victims of power, overcome hurt and pain, learn to trust again, and know that you are with us. In Christ’s name Amen
The Rev’d Dr David Whiting, Minister, Sunderland and Boldon URC Partnership