David’s Giant No-No: the one dirty Bible story everyone knows. There are plenty such stories in Scripture, of course, but perhaps none as well-known as the Big Bathsheba Blunder. Poor Uriah; did he even know what hit him?
This whole scandal isn’t that surprising, not if you’ve been watching David closely, but then, who’s been watching closely? The public life of David has been so glamorous, who has been paying attention to his private life? David the rising star! David the lion-slayer! David the warrior! David the king!
David the family man is hardly noteworthy, at least, not until his family life takes a soap-opera-like turn for the worse, and suddenly the attention turns to his home life.
We’ve been watching David rise quickly from nobody to national hero, but there have been hints that something is amiss. As we saw a couple weeks ago, he has at least one wife who despises him and he has a whole harem of women, which tells you something about what kind of king David is turning out to be.
At the opening of today’s story, David’s on his rooftop, but most of the men are at war. We might understand if some of the women in Jerusalem started getting lonely, what with all their men gone for so long maintaining a siege. But David’s without much excuse—he has a whole plethora of wives and women at his disposable (not a one of them gone for war), and even still, he has a wandering eye. The man with a heart after God has a heart for many things, and on this day, God is not in his line of vision at all.
And let’s just go ahead and state it clearly—there is no indication in the text that Bathsheba did anything at all to warrant this attention. We are told she was bathing from her monthly uncleanness, which is supposed to be our clue that she was definitely not pregnant before her encounter with David. But there is nothing to suggest that she complied willingly, that she had any say, any desire, any control, in the matter at all. It is described with business-like efficiency: she was sent for and taken. They transacted. She went home. The text is utterly silent regarding Bathsheba’s role.
In essence, the text disrobes her, uses her, and dismisses her, granting her no thoughts, feelings, or actions of her own. This silence of the text dishonors her. Even if the story unfolded in such a way that Bathsheba was a seductive participant in the affair, then at least she would have a human role in the story. She is not even given that; we have no access to her point of view. Thus she is more like a prop than a person, and for the rest of human history, people will make conjectures about the motives and integrity and feelings of the naked woman—the woman whose private moment in the bath is invaded by David and by every reader after that without any opportunity to defend, explain, or cover herself.
I am quite curious about Bathsheba: What was she thinking about throughout this ordeal? And how soon did she feel signs of a baby? How hard did she pray, “Let it not be so”? Was this her first child? How long did she agonize over whether to tell the king? Did she sit at home alone at night, inventing explanations that might pacify her husband when he returned? I mean, she couldn’t be honest, could she, if it meant ratting out the king? I am curious, but the text doesn’t answer any of my questions.
The most we can make of this textual silence is that the focus in this narrative is all on David—David’s mistakes, David’s rash actions, David’s decisions. As much as I wonder about Bathsheba, the story is really about David. It does not take two to tango—not if you’re a powerful man, not if you’re king; you can take without asking if you want.
Most commentators mark this story as the turning point in the Davidic narrative. Up to the this point, the focus has predominately been on David’s public success, but from this point forward a lot in David’s private life is going to start spiraling downward. Later, for example, his sons will act out and David will seem powerless to prevent them.
As some commentators have noted, this is the point in the David story where things shift from gift to grasp. Up to this point, David has received blessing after blessing—yes, there have been challenges, but mostly David has been gifted. Gifted with beauty, anointing, special favors, musical talent, warrior skill, safety in battle, popularity, kingship, women, riches, fame. At the outset, David seems to be a humble recipient. He foregoes multiple opportunities to wipe his nemesis Saul out of the picture and take the glory for himself.
But then he gets a little greedy, a little presumptuous, a little graspy. Who can blame him? All that power and popularity and divine protection—I know it would go to my head. We see early signs of this in his confrontation with Michal—“God chose me rather than your father. God appointed me ruler. I will be held in honor.”
This arrogant David sounds different, doesn’t he, than the young David who refused to kill Saul when he had the chance saying, “Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed?”
It has begun: the shift in David from recipient to owner, from steward to Scrooge, from gratitude to grasping, from shepherd boy to miser. He’s lost his sense of wonder—wonder at God and wonder at God’s gifts, and so his eyes scan the horizon, looking for a new thrill, something that can top it all.
And I wonder if Bathsheba, beautiful though she was, really satisfied that craving in David at all. I mean, how could she? How can anything we take for ourselves be better, be more, than the simple beauty of what we have already been given? Was David satisfied when she left or more empty than ever? The fact that he didn’t call her back tells us something.
He probably would have forgotten her for good if it wasn’t for this message: “I’m pregnant.”
Two words. They are the only words Bathsheba is allowed to speak in the entire story, but there are few sentences in the world more life-altering than this one: “I’m pregnant.”
And suddenly the king who strolled leisurely on his rooftop, indulging his eyes and casually ordering things about for his pleasure is thrown into a frantic scurry, desperate for a solution.
His first idea is to get Uriah in bed with Bathsheba—a cover-up. In case we weren’t quite sure before, this is a clear sign that David is not in love with her or with his child—it’s fine with him if Bathsheba stays with Uriah, if his child grows up thinking the wrong man is his father, as long David saves his own neck.
Unfortunately, Uriah, the Hittite, the foreigner, is a principled man, loyal to his king, loyal to his troops, loyal to Yahweh, and his dogged devotion contrasts sharply to David’s self-indulgent conniving. Uriah refuses to go home, and by his very loyalty, he unwittingly seals his fate. Officially, it will look like a causality of war, but David and Bathsheba and you and I know different. It is a tragic death on so many levels: because it didn’t have to happen, because it was really a murder, because Uriah unknowingly carried the message to Joab himself, because other men died unnecessarily too, because Uriah’s pregnant widow will be taken in by her husband’s murderer.
And David’s transformation from humble recipient of God’s gifts to tyrannical grasper is more complete than we could have feared. He has gone so far as to think he can flippantly take the life of another man—other men (plural)—in order to help no one else but himself.
I want to believe that a horror story like this one has absolutely nothing to do with me. I might have young shepherd boy David characteristics, but I am nothing like King David. But somehow, David got from one to the other, and if I am honest with myself, I too have a sticky grip and it can be hard to let go. I am not always content with what I have been given. Again and again I lose my sense of wonder. I develop a wandering eye; I am on the look-out for something more. I am scared of a life where I don’t have the control.
My church in Waco had a phrase about “holding all things lightly.” It was a reminder that even the best things we had been given were gifts to be honored, not possessions to be hoarded. We can enjoy the gifts; we don’t get to control them. It’s that tight grip that gets you, slowly contorting gifts into poison. Something that started as a blessing—your job, your marriage, your church home, your family, your stuff—turns into a source of resentment, an occasion to lust after something better. Occasionally, of course, there are times to move on, to admit to yourself what you have is unhealthy and toxic or simply to embark on a new calling. But I am reminded of the monks, who, when they grew a boredom or a wanderlust, were told the best cure was to sit in their cell. In other words, stay put. Stick it out. Don’t drift.
I have found certain practices help me loosen my grip and appreciate my gifts: a simpler life, a walk in nature, time in solitude, a good long break from the computer and the cell phone, giving stuff away, or some silence. Stripped of life’s trappings, I see more clearly the goodness that is already mine.
I wonder, what if David had kept it simple? One wife, for starters. That would have been totally weird for a king, but then again, he was Israel’s king and Israel had always been a little different. We’ll never know, of course, how that story might have turned out, but our stories are still being written. It is never too late to start loosening your grip, to find ways to soften the greedy grasping, to simplify and keep simple.
Time and time again, may we regain our sense of wonder at what we have been given. May we bask in the beauty of a simple life, closing our eyes to flashing temptations, but more importantly, opening our eyes to what we already have. May God in his mercy, keep the doors back home wide open for us all. Amen.
 J. Cheryl Exum, Fragmented Women, 173.