Sunday’s sermon: Vashti: Woman of Doomed Dignity

Text used – Esther 1:1-21

  • For 10 yrs., starting in 1947, he wore #42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson – one of the best baseball players to play the game, and the first Black man to play Major League Baseball.[1]
    • Pretty astounding player
      • Key stats for those who know baseball:
        • .311 batting average
        • 137 career homeruns
        • 734 career RBIs
        • General infielder → 1950: led the league in double plays made by a 2nd baseman with 133 double plays in 1 yr.
      • For those of you who aren’t that familiar with baseball, that basically means that Jackie Robinson was incredibly talented both with his bat and his glove.
        • Rookie of the Year: 1947
        • League MVP: 1949
    • And yet despite these stats and accolades and Robinson’s clear talent on the field, he faced an uphill from the minute he put on that blue and white Dodgers’ uniform. As I said, Robinson was the first Black player to play Major League baseball, and being a trailblazer in the public eye in regards to integration and Black/white relations in the 1940s and 1950s was a hard and dangerous path to walk.
      • Robinson was supported by a few key figures, namely Branch Rickey (president of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Robinson), Ford Frick (MLB’s National League president), Happy Chandler (baseball commissioner), Leo Durocher (Dodgers’ manager at the time), and a small handful of his Dodgers teammates including Pee Wee Reese (team capt.)
    • But beyond that small group of supporters, Robinson was met with ugliness and racism at every turn – from the teams the Dodgers played as well as the fans of those opposing teams, especially when the Dodgers were playing away games on the road; from the Dodgers own fans; from the press; even from his own Dodgers teammates, some of whom threatened to refuse to play if they had to play with Robinson.
      • Dealt with a disgusting array of heinously racist insults/remarks
      • Dealt with threats of violence to both himself and his family
      • Dealt with violence on the field → pitchers who deliberately threw pitches straight at Robinson’s head and runners who would try to gouge him with their spikes as they rounded bases[2]
      • Dealt with barriers thrown up by segregation → everything from where he could stay to where he could eat to where he could use the restroom when he was on the road with his team
    • But through it all, Robinson maintained his dignity. When he signed on to play Major League baseball, Robinson promised Dodgers’ president Branch Rickey that he would not fight back when confronted with the racism that they both knew he would face.
      • Powerful line from movie “42”[3] (w/Chadwick Boseman as Robinson) – scene where Rickey is talking to Robinson about the obstacles and racism and ugliness that he’ll face, deliberately bating him with fully plausible segregationist scenarios and racial slurs to get at Robinson’s temper, all the while reiterating the fact that Robinson can’t fight back: Robinson finally stand up and says, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” And Rickey replies, “No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.” → Sure, that’s only a movie, and while I looked, I couldn’t find anything that authenticated that as an actual line in the conversation between the real Branch Rickey and the real Jackie Robinson. But whether it’s a line from real life or a line written just for the movie, the essence of Robinson’s strength and dignity is still there. Despite the adversity and isolation that Robinson faced throughout his career (but especially during his first few seasons), his dignity remained.

  • Dignity = essence of the story for today’s woman of the Bible: Queen Vashti from the beginning of the book of Esther → Now, I have to be honest with y’all, I have been waiting for this day because Vashti is one of my favorite women of the Bible. She’s definitely one of the women that we know the least about. Her appearance in Scripture is both singular and brief, but I love the impact that she makes all the same.
    • Beginning of the text gives us some background and context for the story = height of the Persian Empire
      • Vastness of the Persian Empire is laid out in our text: This is what happened back when Ahasuerus lived, the very Ahasuerus who ruled from India to Cush – one hundred twenty-seven provinces in all.[4] → We need to pause for just a minute to understand how vast a portion of land this is.
        • Cush = region along the Nile River that follows the Blue Nile to the east
        • So these 127 provinces that were under King Ahasuerus’ command covered what is today Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, part of Tajikistan, half of Pakistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, part of Greece, part of Libya, and part of Egypt. That is a massive territory! Imagine the power and might that it would have taken to rule an empire that was that far-reaching. → gives us some insight into King Ahasuerus
    • More insight into who Ahasuerus was = partier!
      • Text speaks of the insane party that Ahasuerus threw “for all his officials and courtiers”[5]
        • Party was 6 months long!
        • Ahasuerus’ motives clear in our text: He showed off the awesome riches of his kingdom and beautiful treasures as mirrors of how very great he was.[6] → So clearly, Ahasuerus doesn’t have any self-esteem problems.
      • But the fun doesn’t stop there! → after the 6-month party, Ahasuerus decides to throw another party just for everyone in the fortified part of his capital city, Susa
        • Party is for everyone – text: Whether they were important people in the town or not, they all met in the walled garden of the royal palace.[7] → goes on to detail the lush and extravagant furnishings for this party
          • Gold and silver
          • Yards upon yards of red/purple cloth (most expensive because they were the hardest dye colors to achieve)
          • Crystal and marble and mother-of-pearl
          • Text: They served drinks in cups made of gold, and each cup was different.[8] → party favor heaven!
        • And for those cups, the wine was flowing! – text: The king made sure there was plenty of royal wine. The rule about the drinks was “No limits!” The king had ordered everyone serving wine in the palace to offer as much as each guest wanted.[9] → So clearly, when Ahasuerus decided to do a thing, he did it the. way. No halfway about it for him.
  • Okay, so this is where Vashti enters the story.
    • Text tells us Queen Vashti had thrown her own party – “a feast for women” – within the palace itself → presumably separate from Ahasuerus crazy drunken free-for-all out in the garden
    • Icky twist in the story – text: On the seventh day, when wine had put the king in high spirits, he gave an order to … the seven eunuchs who served King Ahasuerus personally. They were to bring Queen Vashti before him wearing the royal crown. She was gorgeous, and he wanted to show off her beauty both to the general public and to his important guests.[10] → So this is a loaded verse in more ways than one.
      • FIRST, clearly the king and his guests have literally been drinking for a week, so they aren’t exactly in their right mind → And because Scripture tells us that Vashti was throwing a separate party for the women, we can guess that all the guests at Ahasuerus’ party are men (which is also supported by historical accounts of cultural practices at the time). So you have a garden full of horrifically drunk men calling for a single woman to come to them.
        • Sharifa Stevens (author, speaker, activist) explains: [Ahasuerus] put [Vashti] between a rock and a hard place. As queen, it was likely culturally inappropriate for her to be present for risqué soirees. As a woman, it would have been potentially dangerous for her to be around inebriated, uninhibited men. … That these [eunuchs] were to escort her into a room with hundreds of men engaged in a week-long bender may have been a more terrifying proposition to Vashti than refusing the King of Media and Persia.[11]
      • SECOND, deep dive on Heb. “to show off” (text: “[the king] wanted to show off [Vashti’s] beauty”) = the basic root word for “see” or “be seen” → But with the form that it’s in, it takes on a particular connotation of ostentatiousness, of displaying and gloating over something. And because we’re applying it to a person, it also taken on this unsettling, voyeuristic quality of examining in detail and enjoying looking at. In fact, some scholars have argued that because of the way this word is used, King Ahasuerus was calling for Vashti to appear before them in her royal crown and only her royal crown so he could better prove to all his drunken buddied and subjects that he did, indeed, have the most beautiful wife around.
        • Even creepier when we remember that the text said Ahasuerus wanted to “show off her beauty both to the general public and to his important guests
        • Something very possessive about the way this word is used
        • Something very dehumanizing about the way this word is used
    • So it’s no surprise, really, when we read that Vashti refuses the king’s request. She refuses to go with the eunuchs to the king’s side. She refuses to put herself on display. She refuses to be King Ahasuerus’ arm candy and to be everyone else’s eye candy. (Does anyone else feel like cheering right now? Yeah … me, too.) It’s not surprising … and yet it’s this very action – this very refusal – that seals Vashti’s doom.
      • Text tells us that King Ahasuerus is furious
        • Fury at being denied
        • Fury at being humiliated in front of his guests
        • Fury at Vashti choosing her own guests over him
      • Ahasuerus consults his royal advisors regarding what he should do about Vashti’s actions → And this is where things get even grosser (if that’s possible). – text: Then Memucan spoke up in front of the king and the officials. “Queen Vashti,” he said, “has done something wrong not just to the king himself. She has also done wrong to all the officials and the peoples in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. This is the reason: News of what the queen did will reach all women, making them look down on their husbands. They will say, ‘King Ahasuerus ordered servants to bring Queen Vashti before him, but she refused to come.’ … There will be no end of put-downs and arguments.”[12]Clearly, Memucan thinks that Vashti standing up for herself is going to cause women all across the country to stand up for themselves (God forbid!), and civilization as they know it will basically implode. God forbid the women of the empire have agency over their own bodies. God forbid the women of the empire have agency over their own minds.
        • Not so different from the arguments that have been used against women throughout the ages
          • Arguments against women learning
          • Arguments against women making their own living
          • Arguments against women being in charge of their own lives (as opposed to being the ward of a husband or male relative)
          • Arguments against women in the workplace
          • Arguments against women in the military
          • Arguments against women in the pulpit
  • Do you see now why I love Vashti so much? She embodies the struggle that women have faced from time immemorial. She embodies the “No” that so many women throughout history have not been able to say … or the “No” that they have voiced but has been ignored. This is especially interesting because throughout this whole story, this refusal is the only direct interaction we get with Vashti. It’s the only thing she does. Actually, it’s the only thing that she does throughout all of Scripture which makes it even more Vashti’s only act in the entirety of Scripture is to cling to her dignity and deny her husband’s lascivious, drunken, degrading request.
    • Result: Ahasuerus carries out the plan that Memucan outlines for him → banishes Vashti and begins searching for a new queen → Actually, even this outcome is unsure. There are some scholars who argue that, because of some nuances in the Hebrew and the cultural practices at the time, when it says “Vashti will never again come before King Ahasuerus,” it means he had her executed, not just deposed and banished. Either way, we never hear from or about Vashti again. After her refusal and the king’s declaration, she disappears.
    • But the legacy that Vashti leaves is a critical one. There are all kinds of ways that we are told we are not enough today. There are all kinds of ways that society and those in it try to tear us down for who we are. “Your hair isn’t right. Your body shape isn’t right. Your gender identity isn’t right. Your language isn’t right. Your country of origin isn’t right. Your immigration status isn’t right. Your sexual orientation isn’t right. Your family make-up isn’t right. Your education level isn’t right. Your income level isn’t right.” But Vashti’s story reminds us of the importance of standing up for who you are and maintaining your dignity in the face of adversity. She knew who she was, and she refused to let anyone – even the most powerful person in her world – take that away from her. Each and every one of us has been created by God to be unique, to be different, to be special in our own ways, many of them ways that society deems flaws to fix instead of blessings to celebrate.
      • Sharifa Stevens: Vashti is remembered in the first and second chapters of the book of Esther not for her looks, but for her courage. God’s gaze is never skin-deep; [God] values the heart.[13]
      • Friends, be like Vashti. Amen.


[2] Christopher Bergland. “The Guts Enough Not to Fight Back: Valuable lessons from Jackie Robinson (No. 42) on mindfulness training” from Psychology Today, Posted Apr. 12, 2013, accessed July 18, 2021.

[3] 42, directed by Brian Helgeland, featuring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford (Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment), 2013.

[4] Est 1:1.

[5] Est 1:3.

[6] Est 1:4 (emphasis added).

[7] Est 1:5.

[8] Est 1:7 (emphasis added).

[9] Est 1:7b-8.

[10] Est 1:10-11.

[11] Sharifa Stevens. “Vashti: Dishonored for Having Honor” in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, ed. Sandra Glahn. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017), 243.

[12] Est 1:16-17, 18b.

[13] Stevens, 246.

Sunday’s sermon: Huldah: Woman of Reproach and Redemption

Text used – 2 Kings 22:11-20

The video of our service this week comes from our Facebook Live stream.


  • When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, I was a religious studies major.
    • A lot of the time it was really interesting → studying religion from an academic standpoint at a secular, state university as opposed to some private, faith-based institution
      • Degree program was made up a wide variety of requirements:
        • Intro to World Religions at the beginning (basic 100-level course)
        • Capstone course/project at the end
        • In the middle – roughly 30 more credits
          • So many credits of what were then called “Western religions” and “Non-Western religions” (since been reorganized into “Monotheistic religions” and “Asian religions”)[1]
          • So many credits devoted to more specific topics – e.g.s:
            • Religion and Morality
            • The Holocaust
            • Psychology of Religion
            • The Problem of Evil
            • Critiques of God
    • Like I said, it was a really interesting course of study. And most of the time, I picked the courses for my next semester based on the course description and my requirements. But there was one overriding factor that always steered me toward a course: the professor. In particular, I made sure to take any and every course I could from one specific professor: Dr. Charlene Burns.
      • My advisor
      • The only professor I ever went back to visit after I graduated
      • Now a professor emerita (which makes me sort of sad!)
      • When it came to her classes, Charlene was the best. Her classes were always interesting, and the sheer volume of information that Charlene could impart if you were paying attention was staggering! Her knowledge was vast and far-reaching, and the way she presented it also made it feel essential – like everything that she was saying was something I just had to know. (The only time I’ve ever taken notes faster and more furiously was during my doctrine class in seminary!) Charlene’s classes were always the best … but they were not
        • High amount of work, especially when it came to essay exams and final papers
        • High expectations for both the amount of work and the quality of work that she required
        • Every course that Charlene taught was worth every minute and every page. That’s why I signed up for them … all of them. (Seriously … I don’t think I missed a single topic that she taught.) That’s why I loved her classes. But they also took work serious work. And that’s why I also dreaded them just a tiny little bit … because I knew that the amount of effort I was going to need to get through her courses was significant.
    • In this way, Charlene was sort of my Huldah. Her classes were never easy, but they were essential. And in today’s Scripture reading, we meet the prophetess Huldah – a woman who imparts a particular word from God to King Josiah in particular and the people of Israel as a whole.
      • Word that is essential
      • BUT word that is far from easy
  • First, BACKGROUND → In order to truly get into Huldah’s story, we need to understand what led up to it.
    • Last week: King David and Bathsheba → King Solomon (son of David and Bathsheba) → Solomon = known as Israel’s wisest king and one of its most righteous kings → King Solomon ruled a united kingdom of Israel … but he was the last king to rule such a kingdom. → united kingdom of Israel splits into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah directly after Solomon’s death[2]
    • Following this split, both kingdoms of Israel and Judah have issues within their monarchies.
      • Kings who chose to worship foreign gods
      • Kings who did all manner of evil things
      • Kings who made tenuous and unseemly alliances with foreign nations
      • Kings who led the people of Israel away from God in one way after another
      • And because of this inattentiveness and unfaithfulness, northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians around 723 BCE.
    • Nearly a century after the fall of the northern kingdom, we come to Josiah, king of the southern kingdom of Judah.
      • King from 640-609 BCE → ascended to the throne at age 8 when his father, Amon, was killed → But Josiah’s lineage wasn’t exactly squeaky clean either – text: [Amon] did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes, just as his father Manasseh had done. He walked in all the ways his father had walked. He worshipped the same worthless idols his father had worshipped, bowing down to them. He deserted his ancestors’ God, the Lord – he didn’t walk in the Lord’s way. Amon’s officials plotted against him and assassinated the king in his palace. The people of the land then executed all those who had plotted against King Amon and made his son Josiah the next king.[3]
      • Thankfully, Josiah was not like his father or his grandfather. Josiah was a righteous king – a king who did walk in the Lord’s way. → enacted religious reform among the people that included renovating the Temple that Solomon had built generations before
        • As part of those renovations, a scroll was found → Josiah sends his royal secretary, Shaphan, to see the high priest, Hilkiah, about some financial matters → when Shaphan arrives, Hilkiah tells him he’s found a scroll … and not just any scroll. This is what they call the “Instruction scroll.” Scholars believe this to have been a previously long-lost version of the book of Deuteronomy – one of the five Hebrew books of the Law. This is a big deal! → contents of Deuteronomy
          • Mostly instructions given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai
          • Includes the last days of Moses’ life and a record of his final words
          • Includes historical accounts of the people’s time wandering in the wilderness
          • Also includes some looking forward into the time when the people of Israel will inhabit the land of Canaan
  • So as I said, finding this scroll after centuries was a big deal! And part of the reason it was such a big deal was because the people of Israel had fallen so far away from God’s instructions for right and holy living laid out in these instructions. This is clear in Josiah’s reaction to hearing the words of this scroll read out for the first time – beginning of our reading for this morning: As soon as the king heard what the Instruction scroll said, he ripped his clothes.[4] → Josiah is so distraught by how far his people have strayed that he embodies his distress with the traditional mourning ritual of tearing his clothes. And then he sends the high priest Hilkiah, his secretary Shaphan, and some other advisors for some essential information – text: “Go and ask the Lord on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Judah concerning the contents of this scroll that has been found. The Lord must be furious with us because our ancestors failed to obey the words of this scroll and do everything written in it about us.”[5]
    • 2 really powerful things we need to understand about the way that Josiah phrases his request
      • FIRST = devotion in it → Heb. “ask” (very first part of Josiah’s instruction: “Go and ask the Lord”) = seek out, worship → So even with the first words of his instruction, Josiah is already trying to draw the people back into their covenantal, worshipful relationship with God. He’s asking Hilkiah and the others, not to simply go and voice his question, but to take his very seeking, his very worship to God as well.
      • SECOND = the way Josiah’s words are already echoing the sacred instructions of this newly-discovered scroll → Josiah: “The Lord must be furious with us because our ancestors failed to obey the word of this scroll” – Heb. “obey” = also hear, learn, know → So the people of Israel have failed to hear these words. They’ve failed to keep these words.
        • Harkens back to Deut 6: Israel, listen! Our God is the LORD! Only the LORD! Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.[6] → These are the words Josiah has just heard read for the first time in centuries. These are the words that nearly crumbled to dust, long ago forsaken and forgotten. These are the words that Israel was supposed to be reciting daily to their children and their children’s children … the words that were supposed to adorn their cities, their homes, and their very hearts. These are the words that Josiah is already trying to work back into the life and rhythms of the people.
  • And here is where Huldah comes into the story – Huldah, the prophetess.
    • Really interesting that Hilkiah and the rest decide to come to Huldah for this spiritual inquiry because Huldah had some pretty heavy-hitter prophet contemporaries: Jeremiah and Zephaniah (as in the books of Jeremiah and Zephaniah in the Bible) → And yet, without any apparent indecision or hesitation, Hilkiah and the others go directly to Huldah for God’s word regarding this new-found scroll.
    • Also really interesting because Huldah’s a woman! → Throughout this summer series, as we’ve been exploring the stories of women in Scripture, we haven’t yet encountered a lot of women who maintain any kind of power or authority or agency when it comes to their own lives let alone the power and authority and agency required to be considered a conduit for the word of God. And yet, here we have Huldah!
      • Huldah, who is a renowned, fully respected, and fully functioning prophet for God alongside the likes of Jeremiah and Zephaniah
        • Uses all the same “prophet language” that other prophets do, particularly opening phrase “This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says” and speaking in the 1st person on God’s behalf
      • Huldah, who holds the ear of the king AND the high priest
      • Huldah, who’s message is not an easy one … but is an essential one
    • Huldah’s words speak of the truth in the words and origins of the text itself → Huldah alone authenticates this new-found scroll as the word of God for the people. Huldah declares it’s real, and she is believed. Immediately and without question. She is believed.
    • Huldah’s words speak of the consequences of the people not following the instructions laid out in this scroll → hard words to hear – text: My anger burns against this place, never to be quenched, because they’ve deserted me and have burned incense to other gods, angering me by everything they have done.[7]
    • And yet, Huldah’s words also speak a redemption of sorts – text (Huldah’s message specifically for Josiah): But also say this to the king of Judah, who sent you to question the Lord: This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says about the message you’ve just heard: Because your heart was broken and you submitted before the Lord when you heard what I said about this place and its citizens – that they will become a horror and a curse – and because you ripped your clothes and cried before me, I have listened to you, declares the Lord. That’s why I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will go to your grave in peace. You won’t experience the disaster I am about to bring on this place.[8]Even in the midst of her difficult pronouncements about the people’s sin and the consequences that will come from that sin, Huldah speaks words of redemption … words that seem to echo David’s long-ago words of worship:
      • Ps 51: Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you. Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. You don’t want sacrifices. If I gave an entirely burned offering, you wouldn’t be pleased. A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.[9]
    • And, indeed, Huldah’s prophecy does eventually come to pass. → kingdom of Judah falls to Babylonians not long after this but Josiah is killed in battle before he is forced to witness the destruction of his kingdom and the exile of the people of Israel
  • 3 critical lessons that we can take from Huldah’s story
    • FIRST = reminder that God’s word comes to us through a wide variety of people → from Christa L. McKirkland’s essay on Huldah (in Vindicating the Vixens): God is the one in control throughout Israel and Judah’s history and is still the one in control today. And God chooses to dignify people as vessels to serve plans and purposes much higher than our plans and purposes. … Huldah was willing to be a vessel and conduit for the very words of God.[10]
    • SECOND, Huldah’s words remind us of the power of true and genuine repentance → Before even hearing her words of reproach, King Josiah tore his clothes in repentance. He cried out to God with a truth broken and contrite heart and spirit. And in the face of that genuine return to the God who knew him and loved him, God blessed Josiah with redemption.
    • FINALLY = reminder that, even when we are called to speak truth to a difficult situation, we are still called to speak
      • Famous quote from activist and Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn: “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” → It couldn’t have been easy to deliver the message God gave Huldah to deliver, especially being a woman in a circle of powerful and authoritative men. But still, she delivered her message with boldness, with clarity, with composure, and with conviction. Maybe her voice shook, but still, she delivered her message. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Siegfried H. Horn. “Judah & Israel: A Divided Monarchy” from My Jewish Learning, Accessed July 11, 2021.

[3] 2 Kgs 21:20-24.

[4] 2 Kgs 22:11.

[5] 2 Kgs 22:13.

[6] Deut 6:4-9.

[7] 2 Kgs 22:17.

[8] 2 Kgs 22:18-20.

[9] Ps 51:10-17.

[10] Christa L. McKirkland. “Huldah: Malfunction with the Wardrobe-Keeper’s Wife” in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, ed. Sandra Glahn. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017), 230.


Sunday’s sermon: Bathsheba: Woman of Shameful Subjugation

Text used – 2 Samuel 11

We were having technical trouble with our streaming equipment this week, so I recorded an audio version of the sermon instead:

  • Sometimes, there’s the story that we think we know … and then there’s the real story. → perfect e.g. = Pocahontas – a story that we think we know comes from longstanding and inaccurate accounts in history books and, of course, Disney’s starry-eyed, contorted version
    • Real story = much different[1]
      • Name given at birth = Matoaka
      • Father (Wahunsenaca) later became paramount chief of Powhatan Chiefdom (made up of many tribes)
      • Mother (also named Pocahontas) died at birth → father’s love for her mother caused him to use her mother’s name as an endearing nickname for her (name Pocahontas later chooses for herself when she comes of age)
      • Pocahontas = little girl (9 or 10yo) when John Smith (then 27yo) and the English colonists arrived in 1607 (not a grown woman as Disney portrayed her) → so no budding romance
        • Smith was captured by the chief’s brother BUT never threatened to be put to death and then saved by Pocahontas
      • Kidnapped years later by English Capt. Samuel Argall who later claimed he traded her for a copper pot (lie still told by some history books) → held captive for years in or nearby Jamestown
    • Rest of Pocahontas story goes from bad to worse
      • During captivity, Pocahontas gave birth to her own child (with her husband from her own tribe), was forced to give up her 1st child, was raped, became pregnant again, and her husband killed by colonists
      • Married Englishman John Rolfe (forced?) as a way to solidify Rolfe’s relationship with the tribes so they’d teach him how to grow tobacco → Pocahontas never allowed to see her family, 1st child, or father again
      • Eventually taken to England → became token of the “good” relationship between colonists and Native nations (proof that the colonists weren’t mistreating the Native peoples … yeah, right)
      • Planned to travel back to Virginia in 1617 → died suddenly (poisoned?) before she could make that journey → only 20yo when she died
    • Not exactly the “Colors of the Wind” version splashed across the big screen, is it? And yet if you stopped 10 different people on the street and asked them about Pocahontas’ life story, how many would tell you Disney’s version? Or at least the sanitized Euro-American version? Sometimes, there’s the story that we think we know … and then there’s the real story.
      • Today’s story from Scripture = just such a story → Throughout the summer, we’ve been exploring the stories of women of the Bible, particularly some of the more unknown women of the Bible. I intentionally picked some stories that I was guessing most people weren’t familiar with – the stories of Tamar and Rahab that we’ve already talked about and the story of Huldah next week, for example – but also the stories of a few women that we may think we know … women who’s stories may be significantly different than what history has proclaimed. And, friends, Bathsheba is just such a woman.
  • Historically Bathsheba has been painted with the brush of a temptress and a femme fatale, someone who seduced King David into a mutual affair → But is that the story that we think we know … or the real story?
    • Much of Bathsheba’s besmirched reputation comes from the opening part of our Scripture reading this morning – text: One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.[2]
      • Countless artists throughout the centuries have depicted this scene with a beautiful Bathsheba shooting coy and seductive glances at a captivated David who stands very nearby
      • Reality = probably significantly different
        • Various sources that make use of historical and cultural norms and architecture at the time point out that Bathsheba was probably bathing in the privacy of a high-walled courtyard which would have been shielded from view except from above → take into account traditional layout of cities at the time = central palace/citadel on the high ground with a city that swept outward and downward from that central point → meant that David, standing on the roof of the palace (literally the highest point around) would have a view like no other … a view that Bathsheba wouldn’t even have thought about.
        • Sarah Bowler, author, editor, Ph.D student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (in essay “Bathsheba: Vixen or Victim?”): Many who hold to the viewpoint that Bathsheba acted immorally make their case by claiming she bathed in a seductive or immodest manner near the palace. Yet, this idea overlooks several valid points. For instance, the [Hebrew word] “bathing” does not necessarily mean Bathsheba stood outside completely naked. The Hebrew word used here has a variety of meanings, including everything from washing one’s whole body to washing only one’s hands, feet, or face. So, it is possible that Bathsheba washed only part of herself, and David saw a pretty face that he liked and desired to see more. … The point remains that Scripture does not suggest Bathsheba intentionally bathed in David’s view, and even if she had, the choice to sin still belonged to David.[3]
      • More to the point, the way the story is told makes it pretty clear that Bathsheba does not get any power or agency in her own story here. → clear that Bathsheba’s encounter with King David is wholly the result of David’s desires and actions
        • Text: David sent someone and inquired about the woman. … David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he slept with her. … Then she returned home.[4] → here is particularly telling in 2 ways
          • FIRST (related to syntax/the way the sentences are structured): sentences are like dominoes → one action initiates the next action initiates the next action → all stem from David’s initial seeing, wanting, and taking
          • Leads to SECOND (word-choice related): Heb. “get” (“David sent messengers to get her”) = acquire, take, keep → This is a transactional word. Our English translation makes this sound like a pleasant, congenial sort of invitation. But the Hebrew makes it clear that this was much coarser than that. Everything about the Hebrew here makes it pretty clear that this encounter between David and Bathsheba wasn’t consensual. Nothing in the text indicates that Bathsheba was forcibly taken to David, but when the king summoned a woman (a woman who was alone because her husband was away with the Israelite army, no less), what choice did she really have? The reality is Bathsheba was powerless to refuse.
      • Moreover, we have to remember who David was. This was David, the cute and plucky shepherd boy who had the guts to take on a giant. This was David, who had the cunning and wits to serve, learn from, escape from, and finally usurp King Saul as he slowly slipped from Israel’s first anointed king to jealous and paranoid madman. This is David, who rallied the Israelite army and led them to one great victory in battle after another. This is David, the golden boy … the golden boy who had already earned his fair share of tarnish by acquiring the wives of several other men. Reputation, after all, is everything.
      • Interestingly, some indication that those whom David sent to learn of Bathsheba’s identity tried gently to dissuade him from further action – text: David sent someone to inquire about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”[5] → Both of these names should have held meaning for David, meaning enough to deter him from further action with Bathsheba. Should have.
        • Eliam (Bathsheba’s father) was one of David’s best soldiers AND the son of one of David’s key advisors
        • Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) was one of the men who were part of David’s innermost circle of elite fighters – one of his best warriors
        • So when the messenger identifies David’s potential quarry by both using her familial name and her married name (an abnormality at the time) it is quite possibly a subtle warning. – Sarah Bowler: In modern English it might sound something like this: “Hey, just so you know, Bathsheba is married to Uriah, one of your best soldiers. On, and also, her father is Eliam, another one of your elite warrior. And don’t forget, Eliam’s father Ahithophel is one of your chief advisors.”[6]
    • But David, being full of pride, full of desire, full of hubris, will not be deterred. And after his singular encounter with her, like Pocahontas, Bathsheba’s tale goes from bad to worse.
      • Bathsheba realizes she is pregnant → sends word to David
      • David tries this crazy elaborate scheme to cover up his sin and pass the baby off as Uriah’s own → brings Bathsheba’s husband back from the battle in hopes that he will sleep with Bathsheba and all will be well → But time and again, Uriah refuses to return home to his wife, declaring that while the men he serves with are denied the comforts and pleasures of home and hearth, he will refrain from them as well. In a last-ditch effort, David even gets Uriah drunk in hopes that he will return to his home and his wife, but nothing works. → David eventually sends Uriah back to the battle with secret instructions for his commander, Joab, to put Uriah “at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die”[7] → Joab does this → Uriah is killed in battle à And then, finally freed of this pesky husband, King David is free to act the magnanimous king and take the grieving widow into his household as his own wife.
        • Interesting bit: throughout the rest of the telling of this story, we don’t read Bathsheba’s name once → In fact, the only time her name is uttered is at the very beginning of the story when David’s messenger identifies her to him. Throughout the rest of the narrative, she is simply referred to as “the woman” or “Uriah’s wife” or simply “her.” Indeed, Bathsheba is all but erased from the narrative from the moment of her encounter with King David.
    • Bathsheba’s redemption comes much later – bears 4 more of David’s children including Solomon → And when David is on his deathbed, Bathsheba comes to him and maneuvers him into naming not his oldest son but Solomon as the heir to his throne. Solomon becomes the wisest king of the people of Israel and the one to finally build the magnificent Temple for God.
      • Bathsheba’s final appearance in Scripture – 1 Kgs 2: [King Solomon] stood up to meet [Bathsheba] and bowed low to her. Then he returned to his throne and had a throne set up for the queen mother. She sat at his right. She said, “I have just one small request for you. Don’t refuse me.” The king said to her, “Mother, ask me. I won’t refuse you.”[8] → clear that Bathsheba has risen to a position of respect, a position of authority and influence, literally seated at the right hand of the ruler of a united Israel
  • Bathsheba is a difficult character because in order to walk with her through her story, we have to actively try to forget things we’ve heard and been taught about her in the past. For centuries, the Church (dominated by men and a powerful and ruthless patriarchy) has taught that Bathsheba was the cause of David’s sin. They worked hard to shift the blame from the man of power to the woman who was not only powerless but optionless – a story that repeats itself over and over and over again throughout history time after ugly, painful, shameful time. For centuries, Bathsheba has wrongly and shamefully born the brunt of David’s sin. She has born the weight of his desire. She has born the weight of his subjugation and all that came after. She has born the shame that should have been David’s all along. And her story matters today because she is far from alone.
    • Sarah Bowler: How we interpret biblical narratives affects how we interpret events around us today. When we say phrases such as “David had an affair” or “Bathsheba bathed naked on a roof,” we overlook the fact that Bathsheba was an innocent victim. We may also forget the “modern-day Bathshebas” who exist today. I long for the day when believers eradicate the line of thinking in which the victim shares partial blame for a perpetrator’s sin. One step toward that end is sharing the “true” Bathsheba story.[9] → That is part of where the power of Bathsheba’s true story lies: in the way that it (hopefully) opens us up to the stories and experiences of women who have walked in Bathsheba’s shoes – women who deserve to have their stories heard and believed. Nowhere in this story does God speak harshly of Bathsheba or the part she is forced to play. Nowhere in this story does God condemn Bathsheba … so why would we?
      • Other part of where we find power in Bathsheba’s story = ultimate honor and dignity that Bathsheba finds at the end → She is a woman who has been used and discarded, then retrieved and reused while being relegated to an initial place of questionable honor at best: just one of David’s many wives. And yet, God remains with her, and through her own astute actions and the devotion and respect of her son, Solomon, Bathsheba is finally elevated to a place of honor below no one but the king himself. She may not be fully healed from the traumas she has suffered in her life. She may still be grieving. She may still feel the sting of shame. But she is restored. Amen.

[1] Vincent Schilling. “The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality” from Indian Country Today, Originally posted Sept. 8, 2017, updated Sept. 13, 2018, accessed July 4, 2021.

[2] 2 Sam 11:2.

[3] Sarah Bowler. “Bathsheba: Vixen or Victim?” in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, ed. Sandra Glahn. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017), 81, 83.

[4] 2 Sam 11:3, 4.

[5] 2 Sam 11:3.

[6] Bowler, 87.

[7] 2 Sam 11:15.

[8] 1 Kgs 2:19-20.

[9] Bowler, 83.