A Midrashic Corrective

A sermon, based on 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018

In the field of biblical interpretation, exegesis is our attempt to discern the original meaning of a text. Contrarily, eisegesis approaches the Bible from a preconceived point of view, which (for example, in the practice of proof-texting, taking a passage out of its context and focusing on what the words say at face value), in effect, reads into a text something that is not there, thus, having the text say something it doesn’t.

In all of this, whether exegesis or eisegesis, there is an inherent danger of looking at and misinterpreting an ancient word through the lens of our contemporary experience. (This is the same problem of any historical analysis that examines the actions of past generations based on the societal norms of today.) However, we, who live and only can live in the era we do live, for the purposes of our personal study and our public preaching, have no choice but to look at scripture’s “then” through the light of our “now.” For how else can we apply it to our daily living?

All this is stirred within me as I reflect on this morning’s Old Testament passage as we continue our review of the highlights and lowlights of the life of King David.

Last Sunday, we read of David, from his royal rooftop, espying the beautiful Bathsheba bathing, lusting for her and, abusing his sovereign authority, commanding that she, one of his subjects, be brought to his house; there, taking her as his own, leading to her undesired pregnancy and his desperate attempts to conceal his paternity, ending in the death, the staged murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite.(1)

What a royal mess!

“Thou art the man!”, Nathan accuses King David, Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817-1895)

Today, we read that the prophet Nathan, sent by God, tells David a parable of a rich man who took the prized possession of a poor man (thus, likening Bathsheba, as chattel, to a thing owned by a man). David, as king, thus, judge over his people, in anger cries, “As the Lord lives, that man deserves death!” Nathan declares, “You, David, are that man!” The judgment rendered, the sentence is announced. The sword of conflict shall ne’er depart from David’s kingdom and David, now, in repentance, cries: “I have sinned against the Lord!”

What took you so long, David, to come to this realization? We were all way ahead of you!

From our Jewish religious forebears, we receive the tradition of midrash, which, in places where scripture is quiet, the details absent, seeks to dream its way into the story, giving interpretative voice to the silence.

In our day and time, we observe the increasing equality between women and men; though, surely, long-deferred and, sadly, in some places still denied. As I reflect on this tale, composed in a day and time of overwhelming patriarchy and monarchical violence unto all, especially women…

I note that Bathsheba no longer has a name. She is referred to only as “the wife of Uriah”…

I note that whatever judgment befalls David it is only because of the death of Uriah, a man, and not the violation of Bathsheba, a woman…

I note that Bathsheba only “heard that her husband was dead,” meaning that is was likely she did not know how he died. (And what might, what could she, a woman, have done to protest the manner of her husband’s death? Nothing!)…

I note that Bathsheba, following the culturally-required rituals of mourning, was brought into David’s house, thus becoming the wife of the one who was responsible for her sorrowful situation.

Today, this subjugation remains the woeful state of manifold women throughout the world caught, as the poet saith, “in the fell clutch of circumstance” of the powerlessness of poverty, servitude, and victimization. And, surely, not only in other lands, but also in our United States and in South Carolina and in Laurens County and in Laurens city. In the glaring face of it all, I submit to you, to us that God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, though depicted, in this text, through the lens of the culture of that ancient time, as silent in the face of the evil of inequality, ever has been, ever is, and ever will be a God of love and justice for all, in all ways, and at all times. And this God, our God calls us to be people of equality for all people, in all ways, and at all times.

(1) 2 Samuel 11.1-15

Illustration: “Thou art the man!”, Nathan accuses King David, Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817-1895)

Endnote (giving credit where credit is due): My many thanks to my dear friend and beloved sister in Christ, the Reverend Rebecca Justice Schunior, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Denver, Colorado, one with a prophetic soul and advocate’s spirit, who, during the course of a previous telephone conversation and discussion of 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a, sowed the seeds of sage counsel that bore the fruit of this sermon.

2 thoughts on “A Midrashic Corrective

  1. Well now, how amazing is this!! I could feel Justi in some of this after reading that this sermon resulted from a phone conversation.

    This sermon is stunning!! Talk about applying the words of yesterday to our lives today!!! I feel that most women have felt like Bathsheba at some point in their lives…and I believe that it’s how we bounce back from our “circumstances” that can pave the way for other women!! AND having men in our lives who stand up and support us and preach about the treatment of women makes all of our lives better!! I sincerely thank you for this sermon …. we need this type of dialogue from the pulpit on Sunday because we can “percolate” on it all week!! Sending you love and a virtual hug for this one!! Thank you for inspiring me!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Loretta. This sermon is an example of my taking on a current (though, truth be told, in regard to the maltreatment of women by men and social, it is a concern as old as humankind) issue and looking at it through the lens of scripture. I think I was led to launch into the sermon’s preface about biblical interpretation, for, as I averred, we need to be careful to avoid the pitfalls of reading something into a biblical text that is not (may not be) there. However, we, who live in whatever era of time we do, cannot help but read scripture through the lens of our ongoing, daily experience.

    Moreover, it seems to me as I age and continue to pay attention to life in the world around and within me, my impulses and instincts have changed and are changing. That is, I read and reflect on scripture in the light of perspectives that are other or different than my views of olden times. I suppose it’s called “living”!

    Again, my thanks always for your comments and, always, my love

    Liked by 1 person

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