Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Sins of Men and the Sins of Women in the Eyes of a Just and Merciful God: David and Bathsheba—An Unusual Model of Repentance and Restoration

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In today's Christian society, are men and women equal when it comes to sin? God purposed to design civil societies amongst His human creation. In His great and unmatched wisdom, He created a hierarchal system, which entailed that parental figures first be honored and obeyed. God designed a sacred Mystery for a man and woman to join together in holy matrimony and procreate. He classified the roles of males and females and distinguished biological differences in their physical faculties and in their emotional variances. This design was not intended to advocate that one gender be superior to the other, neither in intelligence nor in abilities. In God's great economy, there is balance, and all parts can fit together and work in harmony to provide unity and stability for the individual, the family, and the society. Thus, God equipped humanity with tools for building successful relationships.

Sin is the disruption of God's plan for peace, purity, happiness, and love within families and amongst societies. Sin is an inner struggle to acquire something that is forbidden. God's justice and mercy provides a moral compass by which we can preserve good and meaningful relationships and overcome sin. The Ten Commandments provide the framework of civility in society, while the Beatitudes provide the roadmap of a spiritual path toward God's kingdom. God's justice and mercy provide equilibrium of essential elements as combatants to deception and injustice. Two comparisons of God's justice and mercy are evinced in two stories taking place in the Old Testament in concurrent epochs. These were two different sets of relationships comprised of faults, flaws, sins, consequences, and the end results. One took place in the work force and included jealousy, and the other took place in a marital relationship and included infidelity. The first dyad is between Saul and David and the second dyad is between David and Bathsheba.

When we compare these two giant figures in the Holy Scripture, Saul and David, we can appreciate the attributes that God desires in His children. Saul and David were of very dissimilar characters. Saul was arrogant and insecure. Thus, he lost his relationship with God due to pride and a desire to be loved by the people more than by God. By the same standard of pride and humility, David won God's heart because he loved God, desired to be loved by Him, and to build His house. David's contrite heart yearned for God's pleasure. Thus, we can understand God's criteria for acceptance; it is humility. Humility is the purpose of the Holy Mystery of Confession, where I come with a contrite heart before God in the presence of the priest and disclose my iniquities. Humility is the driving force of this sacrament. God compared David to Saul as man-to-man and king-to-king and ruler-to-ruler. God did not compare David to Bathsheba because He acknowledged the differential of power between them.

Humble yourself before the Lord. Be ready to confess your sins. Accept your flaws and weaknesses and beat upon your chest like the publican (Cf. Luke 18:13) for all of us alike are sinners. The sin of the flesh is minuscule in comparison to the sin of pride. Repentance is far more valuable than the praise of men. God saw true love, true submission, and true repentance in David's life. The great prophet Samuel rebuked Saul (Cf 1 Samuel 13), and a lessor known prophet, Nathan, admonished David (Cf. 2 Samuel 12). Despite his grave sins of adultery and murder, God accepted David's repentance.

David and Bathsheba sinned by committing adultery. The Holy Scripture details David's thoughts and intentions and how he connived a dubious plan in order to pursue Bathsheba, with whom he lusted to have an intimate relationship, although he knew that she was a married woman (2 Samuel 11). In addition, her husband was not a stranger to David, but a fervent and loyal enlisted member of David's own army. Thus, betrayal was another compiled sin. We do not know much about Bathsheba in these early years, or her thoughts and desires concerning David. Why did Bathsheba consent? Did she love David? Did she fear David? Was she intimated by his power? Was she discontent with Uriah? Was she that naïve? The Holy Scripture does not reveal her intentions or emotions nor is the reason confirmed anywhere in the holy tradition. We can conclude that Bathsheba was not completely innocent because she was also punished. No doubt, she succumbed to David's beckon; but could she have refused him access into her intimate life? She did not.

There was a differential of power between David and Bathsheba. God being ever so just recognized this power of disparity and held David more accountable than Bathsheba. David was an anointed king, a prophet, an influential leader, a psalmist, and a minister of God. From what is revealed in the Holy Scripture, David had a much longer and stronger relationship with God than Bathsheba's relationship with God. David, a humble man—a man after God's own heart (Cf. 1 Samuel 13:4; Acts 13:22), heeded to the prophet Nathan's admonishment. Yet, Nathan did not prevent David from fulfilling his responsibilities toward Bathsheba. Thus, we can infer that they both repented, because David neither distanced himself from her, nor humiliated her, but rather cared for her for the rest of their lives, although they could have distanced themselves from each other and proclaimed the child to be Uriah's or another man's.

God's mercy on Bathsheba is also demonstrated. Though God punished both David and Bathsheba by the death of their first child that was conceived out of wedlock (Cf. 2 Samuel 12), He kindly gave them a second son—Solomon, and three more sons. We know that David repented, and though Bathsheba's repentance is not mentioned, we can surmise that she repented too, as she remained with David all of his life. This is another indication of God's justice and mercy. Though their sin was foolishness, in a strange paradox, their son, Solomon, was the wisest man on earth—who humbly requested the gift of wisdom and to whom God granted this desire.

God held David to a higher standard than Bathsheba, and David never blamed Bathsheba for enticing him. He took responsibility without her accusation, and never did he blame her. Though he had many wives and children, David loved and cared for Bathsheba, whom he took as a wife after the death of her husband and restored a better and stronger relationship with her thereafter they sinned and repented. He promised her that their son, Solomon, would reign after him. Furthermore, Nathan the prophet counseled and supported Bathsheba (Cf. 1 Kings 1). When Nathan discovered a scheme by another one of David's son's to take reign of David's throne, he instructed Bathsheba to reveal the truth about this cunning plot and report it to David. Bathsheba was obedient—another worthwhile genuine characteristic that appeals to God, and she did exactly as the prophet Nathan commanded her. With reverence and decency, she approached King David with prostrations and divulged the incident that was full of guile and deceit. David responded to her with kindness. Nathan kept his promise to support her report and David heeded to her voice and performed his vow.

Sin is human nature. Sins occur in layers as the actual intention is carried out. Subsequently, numerous sins are increased in the mental planning phase and in the execution stage to put into effect the precise objective and the ongoing cover up that perpetuates the transgression. Initially, David wanted to cover up his folly by providing an opportunity for Uriah to be identified as the father of David's illegitimate child, but when he could not, he [David] followed up with the more grave sin of murder by sending Uriah to the front lines of battle. Sin is the "I want what I cannot have" syndrome. Adam and Eve had everything and every tree in the Garden of Eden at their disposal (Cf. Genesis 1:16); yet, the one they could not have is the one they desired most (Cf. Genesis 3). David, a beloved, handsome, and successful king had it all. Yet, Bathsheba was not his to have. He wanted her and pursued her until he had her; and she submitted to him.

Women often bare more shame when caught in the sin of adultery. Where was the man that was with the woman caught in the act of adultery (Cf. John 8)? Why was he released and not dragged into the streets to be put to death like her, according to the Law (Cf. Leviticus 20:10)? God's justice and mercy are evident in civil and spiritual laws. It was Christ who protected her against the hypocrites that dragged this sinful woman into the streets to stone her to death. Christ is God and the author of the Law. In His mercy, He rebuked her accusers and covered her shame though she did not even ask for pardon. Having handled the situation first with mercy, in His justice, Christ cautioned her to sin no more.

"'Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'" (John 8:10-11).

In today's society, when men are accused of rape or domestic violence, they still often blame the woman or the victim of being provocative, luring, and deserving. David did not do this. All men need to learn this important lesson of personal accountability. David could have blamed Bathsheba, but nowhere in the Holy Scripture did he do this. Neither is there any indication that David looked down upon her, nor abandoned her. Because they repented and reconciled with God, a better relationship was restored for both of them. Bathsheba also never blamed David. Thus, God blessed David's second son from Bathsheba, the woman with whom he had sinned and with whom he had also repented. God gave them a son bequeathed with wisdom. Solomon, their son, with all his wisdom, in his adult life had himself fallen into sin with the weakness of having had multiple impure relationships, but, at last, declared, "All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:8).

Sin is sin and it applies to both men and women in the same way. God wants to hear neither fables nor excuses, only the truth from a penitent's heart. We must learn from these relationships that transformation is the end result of repentance through the virtue of humility. Never despair. Repentance can transform greed to charity, violence to peace, arrogance to modesty, and lust to love.

God bless you.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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