King David’s sin: against Bathsheba or Uriah?


Scripture: 2 Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 14 Nigel Bunce

Today’s Scripture is all about King David’s sin.  But whom does Scripture consider that David sinned against?  Was it the beautiful Bathsheba or her husband Uriah?  And where do we find similar examples today?

King David’s sin is about more than a sexual encounter

Our Scripture begins with a #MeToo encounter between the beautiful Bathsheba and King David. We look back a few years and think, ‘That’s the same story as Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood starlets on the casting couch.’

But it’s much more than a sordid sex story. It’s about entitlement: how rich and powerful people get their way over people who are powerless. Rich landlords evict poor tenants to “renovate” their properties and re-rent them to wealthier tenants. Wealthy people arrange their affairs to pay almost no income tax.

Corporations move their head offices to low tax countries and pay no tax where they actually do business and generate their profits. Many people applaud this dishonesty. Each time, ordinary people pay. While the wealthy get richer.

King David’s sin: a #MeToo event or a hit job?

Back to the story. One day, David saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her home. Filled with lust and a sense of entitlement, he determined to have her, even though he already had a whole harem of wives and concubines.

Bathsheba had no choice but to submit. He was the King. Her husband Uriah was away. She had no-one to protect her, so David had his way with her. Then Bathsheba found that she was pregnant. She couldn’t pretend that the child was Uriah’s. He was away fighting for the King.

David fixed the problem by arranging for Uriah to be put into the fiercest part of a battle. To Canadian eyes, it looks as if David arranged to get Uriah killed to avoid scandal.

Bathsheba risked being the victim of an honour killing

Actually, the situation was much worse than this. Bathsheba’s life was at risk. Uriah would accuse her (not David!) of adultery.

Bathsheba would probably die for having stained Uriah’s family honour. An honour killing. Thus, if David wanted Bathsheba, he had to get rid of Uriah before Uriah killed Bathsheba. It’s almost as if he murdered Uriah himself.

However, it seems that David actually loved Bathsheba, because he married her after her time of mourning for Uriah was over. At least, she was more than just a starlet on the casting couch who was used then thrown away like a used tissue.

King David’s sinful behaviour didn’t impress God

God sent the prophet Nathan to have a ‘little talk’ with David. Nathan didn’t confront David directly. He would probably have said, “I’m the King. I’ll do whatever I darn well please.”

Instead, Nathan shamed David by telling a parable about a rich man who had plenty of sheep and a poor man with just one lamb. The rich man refused to slaughter one of his sheep to offer hospitality to a traveller. He took the poor man’s only lamb instead.

King David was outraged by what the rich man had done. He said, “The rich man should die, because he showed no pity.” Nathan pointed out the parallel with David’s conduct. David had many wives and concubines; Uriah just one wife.

David recognized his shameful behaviour

David told Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He showed remorse. These days, David might have said, “I made a bad decision.” But he didn’t.  A bad decision sounds a lot better than “I did wrong.” “Bad decisions” seem to float “out there”, independently of the wrongdoer.

Nathan did not tell David that he made a bad decision when he raped Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. He made it clear that what David did was flat out wrong. However, David didn’t try to weasel out of it. In the words of Psalm 51: “For I acknowledge my fault, and my sin is ever before me.”

King David’s sin wasn’t really a #MeToo moment at all

As I thought more about this story, I realized that it does not represents a #MeToo moment from 3000 years ago. Nathan criticized David’s greed and lack of compassion for Uriah. But not for Bathsheba.  David repented for having taken Uriah’s only woman when he already had many wives and concubines.

However, King David’s sin should include his misogynistic attitude towards women.  “I’m a big shot, so I’m entitled to whatever I want.” In the culture of the time, neither Nathan nor the Biblical writers seemed to see a problem in David’s treatment of women as things to be used. I hope that today, we criticize David for his treatment of both Bathsheba and Uriah.

The cynic might say that King David put a different twist on the Biblical injunction to love one’s neighbour as oneself. After all, Bathsheba lived next door to one of David’s palaces! But David did not see the Biblical sense of that commandment. To have self-respect, and to respect to his neighbour.

King David’s sin was that he showed neither self-respect, nor respect for either Bathsheba or her husband Uriah who – let’s not forget – was off fighting for king and country i.e., fighting on behalf of David.

Nathan, truth to power, and a Canadian failure to listen

Before I finish, another word about Nathan. He spoke truth to power. Fortunately, the King heard what he said. Last Saturday, the Globe & Mail published a story about a modern-day Nathan who had less success.

From 1907 onwards, Peter Bryce published report after report for the Canadian Government about the appallingly high death rates in Indigenous residential schools. The causes were overcrowding and poor nutrition leading to tuberculosis. Successive governments should have taken action, but didn’t.

They turned a blind eye. They did not acknowledge their sin. Nor did they repent. This raises a terrible question. Did the Canadian government not care, or was its lack of action deliberate?

Today, there is anguish among our Indigenous people, and a sense of national shame for what happened. Both result from the failure of the modern King David (the federal government) to listen to the modern Prophet Nathan (Peter Bryce).

People sometimes ask me why we bother to read these ancient stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. My answer is that human nature doesn’t change. Only the names of the actors and the details of the events.