Bathsheba, Queen Mother



Inspired by 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-18, 26-27; 12:1-10

From last week’s reading from the end of the book of Joshua to this week’s reading about Bathsheba, we have once again, skipped quite a bit of Israel’s history. After the death of Joshua, the twelve tribes of Israel live in peace one minute and discord the next. Whenever they would need a single leader, someone from among them would be raised up to lead them out of whatever predicament they found themselves in, usually of their own making. Some of the more well-known names among those leaders are Deborah, Gideon, and Samson; hence, the book of Judges, in which the Israelites continually have to fight to maintain their new homeland. We also skipped the book of Ruth, which we will cover next year. And that brings us to the books of Samuel the prophet, where today’s reading comes from.

Before our story that we read, it covers Israel’s desire to have a king, like every other nation has. Apparently, they were tired of the temporary leaders that helped them out during the book of Judges, and so they thought the answer to their woes was to have a king. The prophet Samuel warns them that this is a bad idea, not to mention disrespectful to God, their current king. But they continue to gripe about it, something they’re experts at, and so Samuel gives in and anoints Saul as their first king.

Unfortunately, Saul is less than stellar as their king. Not only were his approval ratings low, but he turned out to be a bit mentally unstable, or at least that’s the way the author portrays him. And so, Samuel anoints a new king, the same boy who defeated Goliath; and this new king has a promising start. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that he is not much of an improvement over Saul; which brings us to our sad tale we have before us today: the rape of Bathsheba.

By this time in the story, he was already, as one scholar put it, a collector of women. He had numerous wives from all over the place, all simultaneously of course, as well as numerous children. The way scripture describes it, you’d think every place that this king went had a Wifemart for him to shop at. But in spite of having more wives than any one person could need, when he sees Bathsheba, he must have her—one more woman to add to his collection. And even after he inquires about her and finds out she’s married, it does not stop him. What the king wants, the king gets. And so, when Bathsheba’s husband is away, he takes her. And this sin of the king’s marks the beginning of the end of his reign, and more importantly, his humanity.

However, I would like to focus our attention on Bathsheba, something that history has not done much of, at least not in a positive light. Like so many victims of sexual assault, she is placed in the background of a larger story, in this case, a king’s story. However, she has a story of her own, and there are enough Biblical clues to flesh that out a bit. I find it fascinating that the author does not condemn her in any way.

Right from the start, the sin of this story is placed solely on the king’s shoulders. Bathsheba is introduced as a law abiding citizen, which is why she is bathing after her monthly period, an act required by law. Even the fact that she is doing it where she can be seen by the king is explained by the author. The king wasn’t even supposed to be home! He was supposed to be on the battlefield, where any other good king would have been! But this king was not.

And so, he takes her. This particular kind of crime against her personhood is often thought of as a crime of anger, or sadism, or just plain old lust. It is none of those things. This kind of crime is a crime of power—exerting power over another person, for a variety of reasons but power is the driving force. Take this story as an example. Could Bathsheba have said no? Could she have resisted? Possibly. But at what cost? Her life? Her freedom? Her family? We don’t know for certain that she did not already have children with Uriah. If she did, they would have been at risk too.

Whatever the cost, it’s safe to say that it was too high. That is the kind of power that he exerted over her, to have his way with her—power that he wielded as a weapon. His position as king alone was power enough over her. This was a man that she probably already knew, as her husband was high enough in the king’s army to have a house so close to the palace. And so, this king was familiar to her. Bathsheba has attended dinners with this king and her husband. She has seen her husband, whom she respects and loves, bow low to this king in honor and respect, time and time again. All of this is what is rooted in his power over Bathsheba. So to say that she was an adult, or that she knew better, just doesn’t cut it—and certainly doesn’t appreciate the nuances of this heinous crime.

As if Bathsheba’s violation wasn’t enough for her to bear, the king has her husband killed, so that he can have her all to himself, anytime he wants. More power wielded as a weapon against her. The king allows the appropriate time to mourn for her husband. How considerate. And then he takes her into the palace as his wife, to live out the rest of her days at the place of the crime against her, with the perpetrator of the crime against her, as a constant reminder for the rest of her life. And I want us to just take a moment to consider the strength that it must have taken; the courage that it required of her; the toll it must have cost her.

And I also want to take this moment to acknowledge the millions of women in our world today, including in this great nation of ours, who have been sexually assaulted, and have had to endure life afterwards, who have had to keep moving forward afterwards, whose stories have been placed in the background afterwards, whose names have been ignored. I’m not sure if you noticed but even over the course of this short story that we read today, Bathsheba’s goes from being referred to by name, to being referred to as “the wife of Uriah.”

But this is not the end of her story! Our author records that she went on to fight for her family. Bathsheba and the king have a son named Solomon who she attempts to raise to be the kind of king that her people needed. Though Solomon was not the king’s oldest son, he was by far the most qualified, as the king’s other sons were too busy fighting amongst themselves, even plotting each other’s deaths. And so, Bathsheba fights for her son’s right to claim the throne. And she succeeds! She gets to see her son, a product of a crime against her humanity, ascend the throne. What a proud moment that must have been for her.

The last story that we get of Bathsheba comes in the next book of the Bible, 1 Kings. It’s a moving little scene about one of the former king’s sons still vying for the throne. She protects her son from this usurper but that’s not what moved me. When she enters the throne room she is referred to as the Queen Mother. And when she approaches her son, he descends his throne and bows low to her, as he helps her to her own throne that he has placed to the right of his—such a seemingly simple gesture that could easily be overlooked, but is swollen with meaning.

To finally, after all those years, be given respect, let alone acknowledgment of her humanity and value. This is the last image we are given of her, sitting on the Queen Mother’s throne, next to her adoring son. If only all women’s stories could have such an ending—which is why it is so important for us to give them room to lift them up. Because like Bathsheba, they are not just stories of victimhood, they are stories of survivors, they are stories of strength and courage, they are stories of resilience and fortitude, they are stories of warriors; and they are stories with names—names that we should not allow to be forgotten.

Bathsheba is referred to once more in the Bible, but unfortunately not by name. At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, she is listed as an ancestor of Jesus, as the “wife of Uriah.” Even after all the years that had passed between her and Jesus, they still could not use her name. We can do better. May we give women’s stories the room to be told, may we give them our ears to listen, may we give them our hearts to believe them, and may we give them the respect to remember their names. Names like Bathsheba, Queen Mother. Amen.

WE SIN...A LOT!



Inspired by Joshua 24:1-15

So we have to start by asking that now familiar question, “How did we get here?” Especially because, since last week’s reading of the Ten Commandments, or vows as we called them, at Mt. Sinai, we have fast-forwarded through quite a bit of Israel’s history. To sum up, after they left Mt. Sinai, they continued on their journey through the wilderness to their new home, Canaan, the Promise Land, “a land flowing in milk and honey”, as scripture describes it. But it takes them forty years to get there.

On the way, their whining and complaining never ceased, testing God’s patience at every turn, including, but not limited to, still having trouble giving up their old Gods, after all these years. They finally make it to the border of the Promise Land, where Moses gets to see it from afar, but dies before he’s able to enter it. His protégé, Joshua, takes over as leader of the Israelites, and is tasked with moving them into Canaan, their new home.

"The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan" by Gustave Dore
And this is where it gets ugly. They don’t just move in like they’ve found the perfect apartment complex. No, because you see, Canaan was already inhabited. It already had thriving societies and cultures and nations. So, if the Israelites were going to move in, they were going to have to take it, and that meant fight for it. And they ended up doing more than just fighting for it, they systematically annihilated everyone and everything in their path.

And then had the nerve to attribute these genocidal tendencies to God! How convenient, right? Every nation the world has ever known has a dark chapter or two in their history, and the Israelites, our faith ancestors, were no different. America has slavery as one of its dark chapters; Germany, the Holocaust; South Africa, apartheid. But it’s not just nations that can have a dark chapter. The Catholic church has the inquisition. And our very own Martin Luther has his extremely anti-Semitic writings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing the Israelites by saying, “Well, everyone has done this!” But if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that, from cover to cover, it is chock full of example after example, of how God’s people have broken the Ten Commandments, and if the Bible was still being written today, our dark chapters would be in their too. Why? Because the more our sin is revealed, the more God’s grace is revealed. Why?

Because we believe in a God that loves us unconditionally, as that is the only kind of love that works with us humans who continually make bad choices. And our religion, has spent way too much time covering that up, rather than celebrating it. Think of the time and energy that has been spent on trying to make us look like we somehow deserve God’s grace, that somehow we have earned it, that somehow Christians are a better breed of humans, when that couldn’t be further from the truth!

It doesn’t take much reading of church history to see why phrases like “holier than thou” or “goody two shoes” or “self-righteous prig” (that’s one of my favorites) or names like “prude” or “priss” or “choirboy”, all get directed at Christians. Because if we’re honest with our history, it’s our own fault, we’ve asked for it. Christianity has a long history of using our faith to elevate our moral superiority over other nations, over other groups, over other religions, over people of color, over women or nonbinary individuals, you name the group and Christianity probably has a history of lording itself over them at some point.

And scholars have offered many reasons why we have a habit of doing this: for power, for wealth, for our egos, but I think most pastors read history and just say, “Oh, that’s because of sin.” And why is our faith even around still, after all we have done wrong in God’s name? Most pastors see that and say, “Oh, now that’s grace.”

However, there could have been a different way we lived out our faith over the centuries, that didn’t include us trying to hide our imperfections. We could have owned them. We could have been honest about our imperfections, about our sin. Not in a “Look what I got away with!” kind of way, but a “This is who we are.” kind of way. Imagine how freeing that may have been for people over the centuries, and today, who were trying to do their best but just kept falling short—for them to hear from us, “Join the club. We’re trying too. And we’re falling short too.” With maybe even an invitation to, “Come and try with us!” But no, we have had this nasty habit of judging others faults, making them feel less than, when we are struggling with the same things. Institutionalized bullying is what it comes right down to.

In a letter to his friend and colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, Martin Luther told him to “sin boldly.” Now this wasn’t Luther giving him an excuse to sin. This is what he wrote, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin.” This was just Luther’s odd way, and yes he was an odd duck, this was his odd way of saying—you can’t celebrate God’s grace until you have first lifted up your sin! And the more boldly you do that, the more boldly you’re going to celebrate God’s mercy! So own it! Own it!

I’ve got an idea for a new motto for Christianity. Imagine someone going to our website, and seeing right on the front page, in big bold letters, “WE SIN…A LOT.” That’s the kind of boldness I’m talking about! Imagine that as a conversation starter! I can hear people seeing that motto and asking, “Umm, if y’all sin that much then how do you even function? How do you even get by then?” And then we can say, “I’m so glad you asked! Let me tell you about a carpenter I know. Great guy! Loved wine. You’d like him!”

If we could be that bold about our sin, imagine how much bolder we’d have to be about God’s grace and mercy! Which brings us to our reading from the end of the book of Joshua. They have finally “moved in” to their new homeland, “a land flowing in milk and honey” which had turned into a land flowing in the blood of those they trampled to acquire it. And Joshua and God take a moment to give them a hard reality check! Because even though things are going well for them right now, they are not going to stay that way for long.

And so they tell them, you’ve got to decide! You’ve got to choose who you are going to follow, God, or your old gods. Which was really another way of saying, you have to choose between your present or your past. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to continue to live in the past then you go right ahead. Make a decision and own it! But you can’t live your life with one foot out the back door and expect to move forward.

God, God’s people, and this world, need you fully here, in the present. And God wants all of you, meaning, all that makes you who you are—all your faults, all your strengths, all your sins, all your good deeds. And God invites you to be bold about all of it. Remember, the bolder we are about our sin, the bolder we can be about God’s grace and mercy.  Unfortunately, Joshua did not understand this and gets a few things wrong.

If you keep reading there’s a few more verses to the end of the book where the people tell Joshua that they have indeed chosen to serve God. And Joshua basically tells them no, they can’t, because they haven’t in the past and he sees no indication that they will in the future. But that’s not what he gets wrong. He then tells them that God won’t forgive their rebellion or their sins. But that’s only because he hadn’t met Jesus yet. Thankfully we have, and hopefully, we’re getting to know Jesus better and better every day. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Ten Vows



Inspired by Exodus 19:3-7, 20:1-17

Raise your hand if you have experienced long car rides with children, or as a child yourself, that was full of whining and complaining during the whole trip! I got lucky. I was blessed with the greatest traveling companions in my children. They never whined or complained. They didn’t even ask to use the bathroom! I would have to ask them if they needed me to stop! The worst traveling experiences we had was that one of my girls got car sick pretty easily, but she was usually able to tell me in time for me to pull over, usually.

But that’s it really, and I can handle cleaning up vomit in my car much better than whining and complaining! I feel bad for families whose car rides are more like hell on wheels. I just can’t relate when people share stories of car rides that were full of “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”, or fights between siblings in the backseat, or someone yelling, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” Like I said, I really was blessed with the best traveling companions.

Unfortunately for Moses, he was not. We really haven’t skipped a whole lot since last week’s story of the Exodus. After escaping the Egyptians through the Red Sea, the Israelites continue their journey through the wilderness. And the traveling doesn’t go well. Talk about horrible traveling companions! Trust me, you would not want to go on a road trip with them! They griped, and whined, and complained the whole trip! Granted, it was a forty-year road trip, but still! I don’t know how Moses kept his cool as well as he did, without yelling “Don’t make me pull this car over!” every five minutes of those forty years!

And it’s not so much that they were constantly complaining about not having enough water or food, those things are important and so those complaints can be overlooked. But at one point they asked, “Is the Lord really with us or not?” I’m imagining Moses hearing that and saying, “Are you kidding me right now? Do you not remember, two walls of water, one on the right, one on the left, waving at fishes swimming by? And you’re wondering if God is really with you or not?” Like I said, the worst traveling companions ever!

So it comes as no surprise that God stops at a rest area called Mount Sinai. Clearly, everyone needs to get out and stretch their legs, and take a break, before anyone loses their temper and kills someone. And it’s there, at that mountain, that God says, we need to talk. If this is going to work, you and I, we need to lay down some ground rules.  Because I promised to be with you forever, and we are already getting on each other’s last damn nerve! And so, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments to share with them.

And the first thing I want to point out about them is that they really shouldn’t be read just as a list of laws. I kind of think that the author missed the boat by calling them commandments. As a wise colleague pointed out to me, another way of thinking of them are as vows or commitments, rather than just laws or commandments. For these are really how God has envisioned our relationship working, both with God and with each other. So, as an alternative, try thinking of them as commitments, or even as vows that we make, one to another.

And speaking of relationships, the next thing I’d like to point out about these ten vows, are that some of them are directed at God’s relationship with us, and some of them are directed at our relationship with each other. Now, what’s significant about that is, you’d think, God would have just split those down the middle right? Here’s five for you and I, and here’s five for you and each other. But no, only the first three are for our relationship with God: have no other gods; have no idols; and do not misuse God’s name. That’s it.

Pretty straightforward, in spite of the fact that they still continue to confound us. The rest of them, the last seven, are all about our relationship with each other. And that communicates a lot to us. That tells us, that our relationship to each other, is more important to God, than our relationship with God. Or, if that’s too hard for some of you to swallow, hear it this way, our good relationships with each other, are how God wants to be in good relationship with us. The two relationships are not exclusive.

We cannot be in poor relations with each other and expect our relationship with God to be ok, or vice versa. It just doesn’t work that way. The two go hand in hand. And they either feed and nourish one another, or tear down and destroy one another. There’s no in-between. Think of it this way. How many of your relationships with people are measured by how they treat other loved ones in your life? For instance, let’s take this “random” example.

Let’s say you have a daughter who has been in a long-term relationship, and let’s say you’re about to meet this boyfriend for the first time. And your spouse tells you how much said daughter is hoping you’ll like said boyfriend. Now, whether you “like” him or not is not the bottom line is it? How he treats her is. Your relationship with him, is going to be heavily based on how he treats her. The two relationships are not exclusive. They go hand in hand. And so it is with God.

Our relationship with God, is heavily based on how well we treat each other. That’s how important it is for God. And what do we mean by “each other?” The people in our families at home? Think bigger. Remember the story of Joseph. The people of Bethlehem then? Think bigger. Remember the promise to Abraham. Then, every human being on the planet? Think bigger! Remember Noah’s ark. All of creation, is what we mean by “each other!” It’s all or nothing! How we interact with everyone and everything around us has a direct impact on our relationship with God, and vice versa. And these ten vows, are God’s way of breaking that down a bit for us.

At the Bible study on Wednesday evening, we will talk about these individual vows in a little more detail, I hope you will join us. But before we can talk about any of these vows in more detail, we must first have this foundation, of why these are important, and what their purpose is in our lives—to nurture and strengthen our relationship with the world around us, and thereby with God. Why? Because we’re going to need those two relationships for any troubling times ahead. For God knows that in spite of how much the Israelites have to complain about at this point in the narrative, more troubling times are ahead for them. And God is doing God’s best, to prepare them for that. May the lessons they learned, prepare us as well, for every trouble that life throws at us. Thanks be to God. Amen.