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Monday, December 16, 2019

#4 Beautiful Bathsheba

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Today, I share the story of beautiful Bathsheba, the fourth of the only five women listed in Jesus royal lineage of over forty generations. And of the five women listed, Bathsheba is not even fully named. Some translations add her name in parentheses, but the original Greek literally says, "and David the king begat Solomon of her of Urias".  Oh Matthew! Can't you even say her name!  Beautiful Bathsheba!

Bathsheba's story is incredibly complicated and embarrassing.  It's the kind of tragic, awful affair that most people would rather not to talk about and just forget it ever happened. Certainly, it is not the kind of glorious tale one praises as a proud moment in your family history! And yet, Bathsheba is right there in the genealogy of Christ our Lord. Without this woman and the terrible thing that happened, Jesus would not be the man he was, because Bathsheba is his great, great, great… grandmother.  So what happened to beautiful Bathsheba?

2 Samuel 11:1
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem

Note: There is trouble here. This is the time of year kings go to war, but David is in the city. For some reason, he is not acting like a king. Is he injured? Tired? Have pneumonia? Being lazy? We don't know for sure, but David's not acting like a king.

2 Samuel 11:2-3
Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

Bathsheba's father was Eliam who was the son of Ahithophel.  Ahithophel was one of David's best royal advisers. A few years after David meets Bathsheba, Ahithophel will defect to David's son Absalom when Absalom leads a rebellion to overthrow David.

Rabbinic legend holds that Bathsheba's grandfather, Ahithophel, is the one who instigated Absalom to rebel against David. Though the Scripture does not say it, ancient Jewish rabbis taught that Ahithophel told Bathsheba to seduce David on purpose as part of his own plot to take over the kingdom. I think that's just wild speculation from the rabbis who try to make sense of why David, normally so faithful and righteous, would do something so terrible.  If anything, when Ahithophel rebels, it it is to pay David back for what we are about to see happen to Bathsheba. How would you feel if someone did the following to your granddaughter?
2 Samuel 11:4-6a
Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”

Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” 

Uriah the Hittite
Uriah was Bathsheba's husband. He was also one of David's very best warriors (think Green Berets or Navy Seals).  Uriah was listed among the 37 best warriors in David's entire army--an army of tens of thousands of fighting soldiers. And Uriah was a Hittite, not a Hebrew. People often accuse God in the Old Testament and Israelites of being racists who hated foreigners, but that just wasn't true. We've already seen that Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were non-Jewish foreigners God welcomed as part of His holy people, Israel.  Foreigners were always welcome if they worshiped God.  God told His people to look after the foreigners among them, because they were some of the most vulnerable in the community and God cared about them.  God frequently reminded the Israelites they had once been foreigners in foreign land and they ought to remember that and take care of the refugees among them.  It was false gods and idolatry and wicked religion that God rejected and called His people to reject. We see now that Uriah is a foreign minority living and fighting for God's people. 

Uriah's name itself means “Yahweh is my light”. Yahweh is the proper name of God, the name He revealed to Moses through the Burning Bush when He said, "Tell my people I AM has sent you."  Uriah was a convert to Judaism who worshiped the One True God and he was one of David's best and most loyal elite soldiers. And we shall now see how honorable was Uriah's character.

2 Samuel 11:6-11
Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?” Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.”

David figures he can cover this whole thing up if he can just get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, but Uriah's honor and integrity is getting in the way. Oh the irony! David, supposedly a man after God's own heart, has lapsed in his own integrity and done a deplorable thing and he can't make it go away because his mighty man, Uriah, is too honorable!

2 Samuel 11:12-17
“Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.

David has gone from bad to worse. Now, he has gone from adultery to lies and cover up and murder. If David were our president, the Congress would call for impeachment and the Senate would have to convict! He is guilty of high crimes against the Kingdom.  He has put his own interest ahead of the Kingdom of God he swore to defend, abused his power, and murdered Uriah (and several other soldiers needlessly died in the process).

2 Samuel 11:26-27
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.

There's a tremendous story in the next chapter of how God sends a prophet, Nathan, to rebuke and punish David. I encourage you to read it. I'm not going to include it, because it’s the story about how David was held accountable and how he repented.  But this morning, I’m telling the story of Bathsheba, not David. 

You see, that's the problem you run into with Bathsheba. She's just treated as a side character in all this. David's the King. Uriah's a mighty warrior. Nathan's a prophet. And most of the commentary and sermons and books you find about this whole story centers on all the men. There just isn't much information about Bathsheba the woman. Well, it's a man's world (or at least it was when 2 Samuel was written). 

I have so many questions about Bathsheba! Don't you? Like:  Was she a willing party to this whole thing or just a victim?  Now, I must make an important disclaimer.  We live in an era where we are finally beginning to recognize and expose the shameful, devastating hurt that has been done to so many women through sexual harassment, assault, and rape.  In this #metoo era, I recognize that I still don't understand all that women have been through over the years--even though I have a wife and two daughters, I don't know all that women go through.  I have read statistics as high as 1 in 3 women are sexually harassed in their lifetime and 1 in 5 will either be raped or face attempted raped.  There may be women reading this right now who have experienced sexual mistreatment.  And I hope you know I have a pastors heart (and also the heart of a father with two daughters).  I care about what you've experienced.  Can I have your permission to speak frankly? I don't have all the answers and I freely admit as a man I may in ignorance stick my foot in my mouth, but I speak with a sincere heart.  We've got to do better.  We've got to stop the mistreatment of women.  

When I read Bathsheba's story, one nagging thought comes to mind.  Bathsheba could be like Monica Lewinsky. You remember Monica Lewinsky?  She was the White House intern that had a sexual affair with President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s.  For many, Monica Lewinsky became the modern definition of a floozy.  Which begs the question: have we treated Monica Lewinsky fairly?  How about all these other women who are thrust into the public spotlight because they are victims who were sexually harassed or objectified or assaulted and suddenly their private lives are paraded out for public scrutiny and everyone’s talking about them.  It's like being assaulted all over again.  Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.  How would you feel?  

Here's the thing: People rarely ever really know the whole story about anything, but everyone forms an opinion. It's as if we cannot abide not knowing (or thinking we know) and so we’re compelled to construct our own conclusions—usually based on the most spurious of clues. We look at people's incredibly traumatic experiences that are as complex as a tangled ball of yarn, with threads of mistakes, victimization, causation, outside influences, happenstance, influences from the spiritual realm (both darkness and light) and we try to distill it all down to some simplistic, neatly tied bow that we can place on top of a Christmas present and says, "This is the story." It rarely works that way in real life. And not in God's story either, because God’s story in the Bible is REAL LIFE.  We may never know the WHOLE story of David and Bathsheba. Only God knows the TRUTH.  But we do know this, God embedded Bathsheba’s memory in Jesus’ royal lineage.  Whatever her virtues or failings may have been, God knows and He has kept her name for all to know for all time.

What we do know about Bathsheba is this:
First of all, she couldn't really say no to David.  David was the king.  What the king tells you to do, you do.  If he wanted to sleep with her, she couldn't say no.  It didn't matter if she was married.

Second, her husband was murdered.  That's terrible!

Third, Bathsheba got pregnant, gave birth, and the child died after seven days.  The Bible says the child’s death was punishment for David’s sin.  However, the baby’s death grieved Bathsheba too. (See 2 Samuel 12:24) I can't imagine the horror of carrying a child in your womb for nine months (especially if it was the result of forced sex) and then holding it in your arms for seven days and then watching it die.  And we don’t know if Bathsheba’s sex with David was consensual or forced.  And how would that effect the emotions? That's messed up!

We also know that Bathsheba became David's wife after her husband’s murder.  (Again, she couldn't really say no, could she? What the King says, you do.)  Maybe she was just making the best of her situation, like women have always had to do who lived in a male dominated world.  Maybe it was Bathsheba's plan all along (like the rabbis said).  The truth is, we don’t know.  Never the less, Bathsheba remained David’s loyal wife.  The first son died, but she had another son and named him Solomon, whom David promised would be heir to the royal throne.  Even though David had a least eight wives and had eighteen sons, Bathsheba managed to secure succession to the royal throne for her son, Solomon—an ascension that stood against all other rivals.  Furthermore, Bathsheba helped guide Solomon as he started as king.  Many believe Proverbs 31—that famous passage extolling the virtues of the ideal womanwas written by Solomon as he recalled he advice of his mother, Bathsheba.  There are certainly two pieces of advice toward the beginning of Proverbs 31 that seem like something Bathsheba would tell her son when he became king.

Proverbs 31:2-3
O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not waste your strength on women,
    on those who ruin kings.

I encourage you to take some time to read 2 Samuel 12-20 of all the trouble David got into because of what he did to Bathsheba—pain, heartache, murder, wasted time and strength and resources of God’s Kingdom.  Think of your own lives today and walk in integrity.

But there is another bit of advice I think is even more relevant and likely to come from the mouth of Bathsheba, a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world where she had no power, no voice, no respect, no guarantee of justiceProverbs 31:8-9.

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.  Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.

God can use anything in your life to accomplish his plans.  He can use your mistakes, your fears, your trauma, your sin.  God could even use an affair or a sexual assault to accomplish His plans.  That doesn’t mean we should go looking for these things.  Certainly not.  Who wants the pain and suffering and darkness and death that come from these evils?

No, we don’t go looking for them, but sometime these evils come and find us.  And if something like this has found you, I want you to know that God loves you.  God cares about you.  He knows the whole story.  And even if it feels like the world doesn’t understand or care or seek justice for you:
            GOD CARES.
                        GOD UNDERSTANDS.
                                    AND GOD WILL BRING JUSTICE as only God can.

And Jesus, the great, geat, great... grandson of beautiful Bathsheba is the answer.  He is the One who:
                    And in the end will MAKE ALL THINGS RIGHT!

He is the One who was born in a manger, but He is also the One we wait for who will come again to judge the living and the dead and make all things new.  Amen.

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