The Phantom Menace: A Sermon on Psalm 14 and 2 Samuel 11:1-15
CW: Discussion of Rape and Sexual Assault.
Sermon: The Phantom Menace preached in 2015 at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church
This is the toughest text that I could preach on the roughest Sunday. But God, in her infinite sense of pressing and stretching, decided that after a week of learning about trauma and healing for the Church, would guide me to this passage that has caused wounds and trauma for centuries. I have heard this scripture preached and most preachers will do a couple of things: blame the victim in this story, ignore the event all together, OR they will mention the trauma and jump to something else. From the pews, I never wondered why. But now that I am tasked with this sharing God’s message, I understand completely.
It is hard to reconcile David’s actions in this message with our canonization of David’s position with God. It is hard to offer redemption or hope after such a sin. After reading this scripture for two weeks, I don’t even know if I can do such a thing. So today, I will wrestle with this story. I will struggle with why this is considered the word of God for us, the people of God. I will offer my questions, my struggle, and the fragments of my knowledge and offer them to God this morning and I invite you to join me.
Please pray with me:
O Balm who heals our every wound, thank you for being big enough to carry our pain and stories and gracious enough to hold the fragments of our knowledge and the cuts of our questions within your pierced hands. Help us wrestle. Help us grow. Help us heal and hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. In the name of the one whose Stripes bore our iniquities and pain, Amen.
The Message reading of Psalm 14:2-6 reads like this:
God sticks [God’s] head out of heaven and looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid— one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. 3 He comes up empty. A string of zeros. Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. The ninety and nine follow their fellow. 4 Don’t they know anything, all these impostors? Don’t they know they can’t get away with this— Treating people like a fast-food meal over, which they’re too busy to pray? 5-6 Night is coming for them, and nightmares, for God takes the side of victims. Do you think you can mess with the dreams of the poor? You can’t, for God makes their dreams come true.
It is insane to think that the same man in 2 Samuel 11 wrote this Psalm.
David, the beloved psalmist and worshipper after God’s own heart, talks about the depths of human evil in the eyes of God. He speaks about how humans neglect God and follow their own whims and desires at the expense of the lowly. He even goes far to talk about the potential punishment and brokenness that is sure to follow. YET, this is the same man who when given power and authority, does exactly what he has written. It is hard to pinpoint if this Psalm is written before or after his ascent into power. But it is clear that this is an assessment of a communal phenomenon. Psalm 14 is an indictment for a people who believe that God is not concerned with their lives and their actions. And, It is an indictment of people who considers that there is no more judgment or accountability in the face of evil of this world. I need you to remember: Ya’ll, this Is David.
In today’s lesson, David is in the height of power. After years of fleeing with God and faithfulness, David has finally become an extremely successful and beloved king. He unified the nation of Israel, been victorious in battles. The favor God seemed apparent on him. So after all the good that David has done, I don’t understand how David arrived at his actions at 2 Samuel 11.
Lord Acton, a Catholic historian and politician once said,
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
This is heart of David’s downfall and descent into the depths of human evil. Up until this point, God has sanctioned his power and privilege. David had earned enough power and authority to vacate his duties as a warrior and king to find himself looking down from a rooftop from a woman attempting to be pure. This God-endorsed, God-sanctioned power grew beyond the divine partnership of God and representative to something more gruesome and unsightly, pure and unadulterated power and privilege. The consequence of such power is David’s disobedience and the rape of Bathsheba.
We don’t like to use that word, especially when it comes to talking about David. We don’t like to address that these stories in our Bible. For one, we don’t like to name the powers. To name it is to unearth the ugliness of our brokenness as creation. It also nicks at the wounds that we bury underneath the surface. To leave it unnamed is to keep the sin that is attached to such violations unchecked and replicated throughout the ages. Dr. Pierce, a womanist theologian out of Princeton, said regarding generational trauma, “If we don’t tell the story, our bodies will tell the story for us.” She pointed to the fact that many of the poor outcomes for marginalized populations could be attributed to the historical and systematic trauma and violence inflicted on our bodies. The trauma of violence against women is carried in our bodies. The stress of being black in America is carried in our bodies. The anxiety of discrimination of sexuality is carried in our bodies. Our bodies tell the stories of the trauma that we cannot speak.
In addition, we are so careless with our words in today’s culture, trivializing their meanings in casual conversations, stripping away the severity and power from their meanings. We throw around words connoting violence and hatred so easily, stating that we are beyond the stings of such word. The level of privilege it takes to dispossess history with the words we speak. We are so casual with our consumption and use of violence that we are numb to its effects. This is why is important to name and define what David did to Bathsheba.
Some preachers and theologians argue that we cannot use the word, rape, to define what David has done. They argue that the concept did not really exist. Others will attempt to frame Bathsheba was a willing participant to her own undoing. However, this is a lie and a trick of the enemy. Rape is defined as an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse, a violation of one’s personhood with or without force without mutual consent of the victim. We do not want to think that God’s beloved was capable of doing such a thing but he did. King David used his power and authority to not only shirk his responsibilities during war but then, he takes a private moment from a woman in the midst of her purification ritual and violates her body and space for his consumption.
What’s underneath David’s violations are two things: 1) the power of unchecked consumption and greed and 2) the devaluing of bodies.
From the definition, we know that rape is an act of power. It is not about the sexual act itself but rather it is an assertion of power and dominance over an assumed or perceived victim. Survivors of sexual assault will point to the fact that the act felt like a stripping away of their power and agency, an attempt to dehumanize them. We see that David was an accomplished warrior prior to his kingship. This was David who killed the giant from Philistine. David, whose agility and strength, killed thousands under the regime of Saul. David, whose popularity brought prominence and pain, was granted something beyond his wildest dreams once he became king. God establishes this amazing covenant with him, offering his descendants reign over Israel. The problem of receiving the fullness of such a promise is our human propensity to take what we hear for face value and run away with it. Four chapters later, we find David, shirking his responsibilities while the prophet and advisors lay sleeping. It is unclear why this is but what we can be sure of is that the power and perks associated with David’s ascent into power gave David and unquenchable thirst for conquest that manifested while he gazed upon the rooftop that night.
Bathsheba became one more conquest, one more victory that he could achieve and he did not even think of the consequences. Aside from this being a representation of his unchecked power and privilege, there was a devaluing of Bathsheba’s body and humanity. Bathsheba was on the roof, doing a purification ritual to be able to re-enter her household, according to Jewish law. David’s gaze on her body was unsolicited and egregious. Her private moment was not intended for public consumption but David did not care. David believed that he had a right to her body, even though she was married. David’s power blinded him to the fact that she was someone’s wife and his subject. She did not have the power to tell him no, especially since her husband was fighting in the King’s army. If you continue reading the story, David kills her husband in attempt to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. In the blind troughs of passion and privilege, bodies are merely units of pleasure or inconvenience. If David considered her humanity, he wouldn’t have taken a private matter and sought his own personal pleasure out of it. He wouldn’t have taken life in order to protect his own. If he valued bodies, he would not have entangled Bathsheba in the messiness of his own life and handed Uriah his death sentence unknowingly.
While David atones for his disobedience with the violation of Bathsheba, he struggles to deal with the root causes of his behavior for the rest of his kingship and the implication carries down his bloodline. The thirst for conquest and devaluation of human lives existed through the reign of Solomon and his harem of wives and mistress and unadulterated greed and wealth and it eventually leads to the demise of the House of David.
But this is David, God’s beloved and anointed king. This is David who wrote Psalm 14. How on Earth can we reconcile these two portraits?
David cues us into a possible answer in verse 7 of Psalm 14:
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
The beauty of God is that God’s abundant grace can penetrate the dark spaces of our own failed humanity. Just like God granted grace and mercy (with consequences) to the House of David, God gives us redemption through Jesus Christ, the root of David.
The sins of David still exist today. We conflate our political and social prowess with God’s sovereignty and call privilege favor from God. We participate in a system of unfathomable consumption and greed. We continue to devalue certain bodies and consider them expendable throughout our society. But God gave us a chance to heal our wounded souls at the root. Jesus’s arrival in the New Testament was not merely an operation of substitutionary grace. Jesus came to teach us a new way of being and living. Jesus subverts the empire mentality found in David and gives us a path of new life. Jesus sees bodies and values the body, restoring the relationship with our bodies as created and divinely good beings worthy of respect. Jesus gazes upon the marginalized and impure and provides healing, not harm. This is the deliverance of God that comes from Zion, the most intimate place that God dwells and reveals God’s self.
This is why we must tell this story, rightly. So that we may receive healing and grace that God provides for us. In our brokenness, God’s abundance grace holds us and heals us. Beyond our own wisdom, God grants us the ability to be more. Let us be open to the Spirit continual breaking of the roots of our brokenness and let us trust that Jesus can hold the fragments and heal the wounded spaces.