Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: 2 Samuel 11:1-14

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: 2 Samuel 11:1-14

“You have seen, O LORD; do not be silent!” (Ps. 35:22).

We live in a culture of reverence—reverence for people who wield power, reverence for people in uniforms demanding respect, reverence for people who call themselves “Reverends.” And in such a culture, those who have been victimized by the revered are often silenced. A powerful, popular pastor fires those who disagree with him and effectively silences dissent. An officer of the law shoots an unarmed man and later a video is shown portraying the victim as a “thug.” A woman reports a rape on her campus, and she is the one forced by humiliation to quit school and endure taunts and be told she is somehow to blame for her own rape. In a culture of reverence, people witness victimization but stay silent. They are cowed by the revered.

One man in the OT has been revered for centuries—a man carved in stone by Michelangelo, a man around whom a culture of reverence has clouded the biblical portrayal of a king with feet of clay. David is often called a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet many of his actions betray him as no such man. And no passage better depicts this than the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12).

How strange that this story, which clearly portrays David as a sexual predator, has done little to tarnish the king’s image. Indeed, I suggest that a culture of reverence for the king has led to a cover up of sorts; a diminishing of his role by blaming the victim—Bathsheba.
Allow me to set the stage, and then I’m going to do something unusual. I’m going to give Bathsheba, who is utterly silent in this story, a voice. I am going to give a voice to the voiceless.

It was the time of year when kings went forth to do battle. We have football season and basketball season and baseball season (which never seems to end). In OT days, they had war season in between the fall rains and the spring harvest. “It was the time of year when kings went forth to do battle BUT David stayed in Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 11:1). [1] The king was not supposed to stay safely ensconced in his palace while all the men went to war. Indeed, one reason Israel had demanded a king was so he would go forth before them in battle (1 Sam. 8:20). David was not where he was supposed to be.

One evening, he was restless. So he got up and went to the rooftop of his palace (2 Sam. 11:2). The palace was at the highest point of the city, so David had an excellent vantage point from which he could see into the courtyards of his people. And here is one detail those who wish to exonerate David try to manipulate. They claim that Bathsheba was on her rooftop doing some sort of sultry striptease to attract David’s attention. But that’s not what the text says. David was on his rooftop. And from that vantage point, he saw a woman bathing.

Aha! The David lovers say! She was bathing! In public! For shame, Bathsheba! But let’s remember a few things. First, indoor plumbing had not yet been invented. People bathed outside where the cisterns that caught the rainwater were. Bathsheba was doing nothing untoward by bathing in her courtyard. How could she know a peeping David was observing her? Second, Bathsheba was not just taking a bath. She was performing a rite of worship. She was taking a ritual bath required of her after her menstrual cycle (2 Sam. 11:4). And David was “worshiping” her.

David inquired about the woman and was told she was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, wife of Uriah (2 Sam. 11:3). The story should stop here. David now knew that this woman was off limits because she was married. And, to make things worse, Eliam, Bathsheba’s father, and Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, were both members of David’s elite military force—David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:34, 39). He knew them personally. This makes what he did even more reprehensible.

And now, let’s hear the events as though Bathsheba voiced them. Obviously, the following scenario is fiction—Bathsheba never speaks in the biblical version. We never learn how she felt about these events. But let’s use our imaginations to give a voice to the voiceless. Listen while Bathsheba speaks.

✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣

Spring used to be my favorite season.  As a little girl, I loved the rains that swept through the land from Kislev to Adar, bringing forth the wild flowers and fields of barley.  But now, as a woman, I dread this season because spring brings with it war and fear and death.  My father, Eliam, and my husband, Uriah, are warriors, two of King David’s mighty men.  So every year they must leave home to fight battles, and every year I wonder if they will return home to me.
This morning Uriah left for battle, and I wept and trembled as he embraced me one last time.  His face was drawn, and he looked deeply troubled.  When I asked what was wrong, he said, “Joab leads us forth this year, but the king remains behind.”  “Why?” I asked, “Is the king ill?”

“I don’t know why,” my husband replied darkly, and then he kissed me and walked through the door.
I never saw him again.

✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣

My monthly cycle had passed, and bitter tears fell from my cheeks as I bathed in the courtyard.  I had hoped, perhaps, that I was pregnant, that I would have wonderful news for Uriah when he returned from battle.  But instead my body had yielded no fruit, and I cleansed myself with a ritual bath that reminded me of my loneliness. Patting myself dry, I returned to the house and prepared myself for another night without Uriah.

Loud pounding on the door awakened me from my restless sleep.  I ran to the door, confused and frightened.  Had something happened to Uriah?  I opened the door, and found royal messengers awaiting me.  “The King has sent for you,” one of them said to me, “You will come with us, now.”

I had no idea why the king would send for me, unless something had happened to Uriah or my father.  Perhaps the king wished to tell me the terrible news himself since they were members of his elite army.  Horror-stricken, I followed the messengers silently, willing myself not to succumb to the hysteria welling up in my stomach.
When we arrived at the palace, one of the messengers led me to the king’s chambers, a strange place, I thought, to announce death.  But when I saw the king’s lust-filled face, a sickening realization swept over me. Nothing had happened to Uriah, but something unthinkable was about to happen to me. Terror seized me, paralyzed me, as the messenger closed and locked the door.

✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣

The days of terror and shame blended into weeks.  I spent my time huddled in the house, too afraid to venture out except to draw water and buy grain.  At night, sleep eluded me as I was tormented by nightmares and frightened by any sound that might herald another visit by the king’s messengers.

When the nausea began, I tried to believe that it was simply due to my fear and humiliation.  But then the time of my monthly cycle came and went, and now my tears fell because I knew I was pregnant, and Uriah was not the father.

What could I do? What recourse did I have? If Uriah came home and found me pregnant, by law he could have me stoned. Would he believe my claim that the king—righteous King David—was the father?  So, I sent word to David telling him the news.  I don’t know what I expected—a confession, perhaps? An apology? A promise to make things right with Uriah so my life would be spared?
But my message was greeted with profound silence.

✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣

I heard the whispers in the marketplace.  At first I thought it was just the usual gossiping about my swelling belly.  But then I noticed the looks of pity, the shaking heads, the weeping of other women whose husbands were out fighting with Uriah. And, finally, one of the wives approached me with tears in her eyes, and she said, “The battle went poorly. They got too close to the city wall. They’re dead—Uriah too. They’re all dead.”

I fell to the ground and screamed.  I ripped at my hair; I tore my clothes; I struck out at those who reached out to pull me up.  Uriah was my life, my lord, my husband!  Uriah was dead, and I knew that I was to blame—David had not made things right but had covered his own guilt with lies and death.  I was crushed by grief and overwhelmed by shame.  As I lay in the dust I begged the God of Israel to let me die, to release me from these sorrows. And then, like a tiny butterfly, I felt the baby move inside my womb.

Seven days later, after the allotted time for grief, I was summoned to King David’s palace a second time. I knew what this meant, and as horrifying as it was to go to the man who had wrenched all goodness from my life, I had no other choice. My husband was dead. I was pregnant with the king’s child.  Where else could I go?

So with tears streaming down my cheeks I married my husband’s murderer and bore my rapist’s child and wondered why David’s God looked on in silence.

✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣ ✣

But David’s God did not look on in silence. Instead, God sent a prophet to confront David about his evil deeds (2 Sam. 11:27-12:1). Nathan was the only person who did not cow down to the culture of reverence for the king. Using a parable to trap David with his own words, Nathan voiced Bathsheba’s story, comparing her to a ewe lamb and David to an evil rich man (2 Sam. 12:1-4). Nathan’s parable leaves no doubt as to who is guilty and who is innocent. David is condemned and Bathsheba is declared as innocent as a lamb.

Let us never silence the silent and revere the irreverent. Instead, let us give voices to the voiceless and always, always stand against a culture of reverence. No matter who the aggressor is, no matter how fine and upstanding they may seem in everyone’s eyes, we must always stand up for the victim. Let us be a voice in the wilderness proclaiming justice for all those who have been victimized.

How do we give a voice to the voiceless? By telling their stories. By telling their stories over and over and over again. By telling their stories accurately and brutally. By being vocal witnesses to what we have seen. By refusing to be silent.

“You have seen, O People. Do not be silent!”

 

[1] The Hebrew actually says, “It was the time of year when kings went forth . . . .” The words “to battle” do not appear. However, the verb yatstah, meaning “to go forth” connotes going forth to do battle in this context. That is clearly what the other men (Joab et al) go forth to do (2 Sam. 11:1b).

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One thought on “Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: 2 Samuel 11:1-14”

  1. Thank you for this.

    It’s amazing how reading another perspective on a familiar story (though I’m no David apologist) can point to gaps in my own understanding. It really is disturbing how Bathsheba’s silence is often perceived at worst as guilt and typically at best as compliance. What kind of outrage would ensue if a translation titled this chapter “The Rape of Bathsheba?” I can honestly say this is the first time I have heard that term used to describe this scene and it is embarrassing because it really is the correct term.

    Even if physically force was not in play, David certainly used psychological leverage and his position of authority to get what he wanted. It’s not hard to make the case that Bathsheba’s ability to consent was impaired. Even when she finally does speak in 1 Kings 1 she speaks to David as King and not husband.

    The thought of God sending Nathan to voice Bathsheba’s story is convicting. I’ve typically heard this taught as God correcting David, for David’s sake. But the witness of the Old Testament is that God answers the oppressed and humbles oppressors.

    As I see it, change isn’t made by the oppressed and silenced group until some of the oppressive side join their cause. (i hope that comes across how I mean for it to) Segregation in our churches didn’t end without white ministers and parishioners standing up for equality. Sexism in our churches won’t end without men standing up for equality. And the culture that blames the victim won’t change without men and women giving a voice to the silenced regardless of whose reputation is at stake.

    Thanks again, glad to see you posting again.

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