I’m not a biblical scholar but I have spent a lot of time reading the pages between its covers. Life and experience have taught me that anyone can read a biblical passage and come up with any number of versions of what it “really” means and what we are to do with its meaning. We each interpret biblical stories in the same way we do much of life, much more as we are than as they are in their raw form. It is with that awareness that I come to Bathsheba’s story in the book of 2 Samuel. I write today, as a 52 year old Christian woman living in a time when women have stronger voices than they ever have but with a very deep awareness that for far too many, their voices are silent. The story begins…
“Now when evening came, David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.” 2 Samuel 11:2
It is my guess that Bathsheba thought that wherever she was bathing, it was a place of privacy. David violated her privacy but it is never mentioned as such. After doing this, he violates her further.
“So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite?’ And David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.” 2 Samuel 11:3&4
David looked… David inquired… David took… David “lay with her”. Perhaps the concept of rape was invented after David’s time, so if that’s the case, I’ll let the author off the hook by saying as though it was just a fact, “he lay with her” instead of that he raped her. Webster says, “rape is the crime of having sexual intercourse with a woman or girl forcibly and without her consent”. David’s position of authority put him in position of immense power over her before he ever touched her. Any woman summoned into a relationship by a king would have faced great consequences had she refused him. She would have been summoned during a time when her own husband was away fighting for the king’s cause. One could argue that she was raped as she was taken to his door. In every way, David’s position forced this woman to engage in sexual intercourse with him.
“And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David and said, “I am pregnant.” 2 Samuel 11:5
“Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” …
The short of the story is that David got her husband out of battle, sent him home with a gift to follow, and expected that he would lay with his wife and so cover his tracks. Uriah seems to have a bit more integrity however, and in spite of how much he would like to go home and be with his beautiful wife, he mentions that his men are out “camping in the open field” apparently vulnerable to attack. He can’t imagine going home and living it up at a time like that so he stays in the king’s house. David continues trying to manipulate him into going home one more time but even being drunk, Uriah has enough integrity to stay where he is and not go to his wife. So, what does David do? He arranges for him to be placed on the front lines of battle and basically murders him in order to keep his secret. David takes Bathsheba as his wife, she bears him a child who becomes very sick and eventually dies.
What distresses me about this story is that Bathsheba’s voice is lost in the telling of this story but it appears to have been lost all along the way. Do you see anywhere in this recording of her story where she is given any choices? At all? She first lost control of her privacy, then her body, she had to purify herself for her uncleanness caused by another’s violation of her, then without any say at all, she lost a husband and a child. Bathsheba is a voiceless woman.
I, for one, want to hear Bathsheba’s voice. I want to bring her here to my house and hear her speak, but even more I want to give her power to say to a man who would look at her from a roof while she was bathing, “Stop looking at me.” Then I want to see him acknowledge her voice and agree to stop.
I want to hear Bathsheba say,
“I will not come into your house. My husband is gone, it is late, I’ve taken a bath and I’m tired. I am not going.”
I want to hear Bathsheba say,
” I do not have to “lay with” you simply because you are a king and you command it by your summons. I am a woman, and I determine who I have sex with. I actually love my husband and I am faithful to him by choice as he is to me. We are equals in a beautiful relationship of mutual respect and trust.”
I want to hear Bathsheba say so many things.
Today, in her honor, I will purpose to claim my voice. As quiet or as strong as it is, I will endeavor to be faithful to it. I think it is utterly beautiful to know that Jesus, the great upsetter of religious life, came into Bathsheba’s culture and led the Apostle Paul to write to the Galatians that, ” There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Today I flipped on the TV and came across a movie on OWN called Before Women Had Wings. It was a movie about two women who had lost their husbands and what life was like for them in the 50’s (I think). Interestingly enough I’ve also started watching Madmen on Netflix. Oh.my.goodness. Madmen is about men working at an advertising agency in the 60’s (I think) and the women in their lives; wives, mistresses and secretaries…most definitely another time “before women had wings”.
I love the imagery that comes to my mind of women with wings. Wings are powerful. Wings are designed to fit each bird’s body. Wings enable the bird to do what a bird is to do, fly, hover, dive, and soar for long distances. It’s just glorious to think of people with wings…women, with wings. Me…with wings.
Warren Buffet says, “The womb we come from largely determines our fate.” He was born in the 30’s and knew well that the women of his generation had next to no opportunity comparable to a man’s at that time. He was also white and found that a great advantage as well. I tend to agree with Mr. Buffet. I know that my life has been greatly affected by the womb from which I emerged. I’ve thought about this for a long time.
Today, after this movie was over, Oprah came on for her Master’s Class and shared her own story. Her mother brought her into the world in the very racist state of Mississippi. She didn’t want to have a baby and was completely unattached to her when Oprah was born. Raised by her grandmother for the first six years of her life, she was suddenly without warning or explanation, taken to her mother’s home which was by this time in Michigan. When she arrived the decision was made that Oprah couldn’t be in the house and would therefore have to sleep on the porch. She was terrified of what was out in the darkness and survived it by creating the image of an angel by her side sent by God to watch over her. Oprah’s prospects grew more dim as she was raped multiple times. At 14 she got pregnant and was sent to live with her father, a man she’d never met. Her baby was born and died but she, like her mother had felt no attachment to it at all. After it’s death, Oprah’s father told her she’d been given another chance. We all know she found a way to use that chance. Clearly the womb Oprah came from did not determine her fate in the end. If it did, it is certainly not the fate that one would have expected it to be. She said it took her until she was in her 40’s to completely heal from her broken and dismal childhood.
One of the things that Oprah did as a young girl before she was taken away to live with her mother was to recite the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley during a church service at her grandmother’s Baptist church. She read the poem with the text floating behind her as she told this story. As I read it on the screen, I was so amazed. Oprah’s life is truly a life of resilience. Her journey of flight has empowered millions to find their own wings. Even those who say they don’t like her, have been affected by her. She is truly a change agent in the world.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.