AT TIMES, I CANNOT HELP BUT THINK the Holy Bible is a confusing set of texts; for example, the story of David and Bathsheba near the front of the Bible, contrasts with the writings of the Apostle Paul near the back of the Bible. Paul’s declarations of the love of God for humanity shown in Jesus is not the love shown between David and Bathsheba; if there is any love in that story. Maybe there is love in the story of David and Bathsheba but it is more a story of lust, violations of Jewish law, adultery, lying, conspiracy, murder, corruption in government, and blind allegiance. The story of David and Bathsheba it is not a story of traditional family values but it would make a popular HBO series.
Nevertheless, bound in the same volume called the Holy Bible are words like this, “[T]hat Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love”.
I think this question is pertinent, “Is the Holy Bible a story of Human sordidness or is it a story of God’s love for humanity?” The answer is, “Yes.”
A few days ago, I read an item about a preacher who claims that if the killer in the Colorado movie theater had the Bible read to him daily instead of all the books leading to his advanced education, he would not have been such a violent person. Can this be true? Too often, we become what we read, talk about, and think. How is the story of David’s exploits, of his lust, his murderous behavior different from Batman comic books? Sometimes, the Bible should be “R” rated, possibly even “X” rated. Much of it is not a good example of so-called “traditional family values” and an example of “the Biblical traditional marriage.” Granted, there is nothing in the Bible about same-sex unions, but traditional marriages were only for the poor and nameless.
In order to read the Bible to children, we have to turn it into a picture book and delete major sections of it. How can we read to a child the story of David and Bathsheba? Trying to explain this story to a child is more than difficult. I suppose we could simply say, “David and Bathsheba did a bad thing.” Those words, however, do not cover the scope of their badness. I even wonder how we can read it as part of our liturgy. The words reflect more than lust; they tell of sordid behavior on part of both David and Bathsheba.
Nevertheless, let us ask, “Are those two characters of this ancient story evil?” I suggest that their behavior was not born out of evil desire. Instead, it comes out of a thoughtless disregard for their lives and the lives of others; this may be a story that truly depicts the “human stain”.
Reportedly, chosen by God through the Judge and Prophet Samuel, David seeks, as he grows into manhood, to fulfill his anointing. The lesson may be that we should be suspicious of those who claim a holy anointing while grasping for political power. David rebelled against his patron and king, he had multiple simultaneous marriages, and he could not influence his own children toward good behavior or good governance. He confesses his sins only after the prophet Nathan convicts him of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. Had David avoided discovery, it is likely he would have never sought God’s forgiveness.
The Church Fathers debated whether the Hebrew Bible appropriately fitted into the Christian message of love, hope, and resurrection. The argument was settled when the Church Fathers, under the direction of Emperor Constantine, saw in the Hebrew Bible the prophetic predictions of the coming Messiah. The Hebrew texts, therefore, were necessary to prove that Jesus was in the Davidic line of the Kings of Israel. Thus, his messianic lineage could not be doubted.
However, this does not help us understand the story of David and Bathsheba. Why is David so important? Why is Bathsheba, of the wives of David, singled out as important enough to tell the sordid story of their illicit romance?
The story of David is important in the Jewish context first. He was the anointed of God, a great military leader who he unified the tribes of Israel He established the capital of the nation on Mount Zion and made Jerusalem the holy city. He is the heroic symbol of the people of Israel. All of this is the reason for David’s veneration today and his symbol, the Star of David, is on the flag of modern Israel and appears in every Jewish synagogue.
Bathsheba is selected out from among David’s wives because she is the mother of David’s one loyal child—Solomon. Solomon makes Israel into a powerful and rich nation. Solomon, of course, while considered wise, actually outdid his father in adulterous and licentious behavior.
Many of the first century Galileans and people of Judea considered Jesus as the heir to this Davidic legacy. Additionally, early Christians needed to establish Jesus’ genealogy as the end line of this legacy.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, there are stories of thoughtlessness and generosity; once again, the human condition. For example, a bountiful gift of food is brought to the Prophet Elisha. Instead of adding this food to his poor larder, he instructs his servant to give the food to the people. The servant resists because there is not enough food to feed all the people. Elisha tells the servant God’s purpose is everyone will eat; food will be left over. This is very much like the story reported in the New Testament Gospel according to John in which Jesus wants to feed possibly thousands of people who have been following him around Galilee. His disciples claim there is no money to buy food, and even if there were, they could not buy enough. However, they find a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish; from that meager offering, the thousands are fed with food left over.
Feeding and eating are important metaphors for the graciousness of God. The ritual of feeding is essential to the story of Jesus. The act of feeding is retold every time Christians gather to eat consecrated bread and wine. Jesus took the food (the barley loaves and fish), blessed it, and then gave it to the people. The priest in the Christian Eucharist takes the bread and wine, blesses it, and then gives it to the people; the same holy ritual that Jesus used to feed those in need of his consecrated food.
Eating is a ritual we do daily; most of the time we do not think of sitting down to our daily meals as ritualistic. Even if it repeated day after day grabbing a sandwich at a fast food hamburger stand, soaking it down with a sixteen-ounce cup of cola and a supersized serving of French fries is hardly a ritual. Yet, at hamburger stands, it can be a ritual if we take time to be grateful for even this bad tasting and poorly prepared fast food.
If we understand eating as a ritual, even the mundane hamburger and fries at a fast food stand becomes sacred. Seeing the sacred in the mundane, and even in the sordid behaviors of David and Bathsheba, is what the Biblical stories are about.
From the least God eventually draws out the most. From the bad, God’s love changes life into good. From poverty, a gift turns into abundance for others. From a meager offering, Jesus feeds the world.
As David knelt before the Ark of the Covenant, confessing his sin and as Bathsheba felt the horrible pain of losing a child soon after birth, David and Bathsheba seemed to understand what it meant to be faithful and true to God.
Like them, we may have personal histories we do not want to reveal, but in faith, as they did we find forgiveness and we can be God’s person.
If God can feed thousands from two fish and five loaves of barley bread, God can handle our shortcomings and our limitations. A church with limited resources, being faithful to the promise of Christ to feed the world, can reach more people than any may anticipate.
From the Bible, as conflicting at it is, we learn that we are required only to seek forgiveness, forgive others and ourselves, to be willing to try to be God’s people, and finally to be faithful in love to the Gospel message.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the people of the Church of Ephesus,
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever…
Therefore, let that power work within us.