2 Samuel 11:26-12:15
July 20, 2014
We’re continuing our summer series, “Divine Designs for David.” I’m skipping a lot of what happens to David. I could easily spend two years preaching on the great king and sadly, I only have two sermons left with you. I am going to miss you. I have enjoyed preaching from this pulpit and have many fond memories of being up here in front of you struggling to proclaim God’s word. I’m thankful that it’s not all up to me; God’s Spirit is with us.
So far, we’ve hit the high points in David’s rise to power. Now that he’s king, we’re going to look at the first of his many low points. This was not a text that I wanted to end my time with you, so I jumped ahead a bit. Next week, after jumping over more low points in David’s life, we’ll talk about the future as David consecrates the site of the temple which would not be built until after his death.
Although David was Israel’s greatest king, he was corruptible. Like other kings (and other mortals like us), he was sinful. David, the man after God’s own heart, was tempted by the powers of his office and the beauty of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a general in his Army. Maybe this sermon should be titled “Divine Designs of David,” for the king certainly claims more power than was entrusted in him as he ignores God’s law.
This is a well-known story and you’ve heard it before, but just in case you haven’t, I encourage you to go back and read all of 2nd Samuel 11. David is no longer the warrior-king; he is living royally in Jerusalem while his armies are out in the field fighting. There, living the easy life, David spies Bathsheba taking a bath and has her brought to him. Although we’re not told for sure the arrangements, she really has no say in what happens because he’s the king. They spend the night together and then go about their lives only to discover a few weeks later that Bathsheba is pregnant. David tries to cover his tracks. He recalls Uriah for some R&R in the hopes he’ll sleep with his wife and think the forthcoming child is his. But Uriah is a more honorable man than David and he, with his mind on his soldiers’ suffering, refuses. So David takes extreme measures and arranges to have Uriah killed in battle by having the army fall back, leaving the general out in front, exposed to the Ammonite army. With Uriah dead, Bathsheba mourns appropriately and then marries David. We can imagine the headlines in the tabloids: “Compassionate king marries widow and pledges to raise the child she’s carrying.”
The story of David and Bathsheba and the attempts of the cover-up are told in a wonderful narrative style. But at the end of 2nd Samuel 11, where we will begin reading, the story shifts from narrative to a statement of facts. I’ll pick up reading with this “summary.” Here, Bathsheba is not mentioned by name, but as the “wife of Uriah,” as a reminder that she does not belong to David. Something else that provides insight is that God isn’t been mentioned in the preceding narrative. As king, David is hoping to cover up his deed. He can hide this from mortals, but not from God for now we learn that the Lord isn’t happy. God has been watching… Read 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15.
|Forbidden city with temple in background|
|View of the "Forbidden City" from temple|
David learns a painful truth. He cannot hide his sin. Even kings are to be held accountable. Up until this point, David has been rising in power, now cracks are appearing in his facade. Things will never be the same.
Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Patrick Moynihan (a friend of Kennedy’s and a member of his administration) was asked by reporter about resuming life. Moynihan said, “We shall laugh again, but we shall never be young again.” That’s how it is with David and with all of us who find truth about our lives in this passage. We may laugh again, but we will never be young again.
In Chapter 11, and I would encourage you to go back and read it, David is the one sending. He sends the army into the field; he sent for the woman bathing in the garden; he sends dispatches to Uriah that ultimate leads to his death. He’s a king and he has power. However, the 12th Chapter begins, “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” Kings are not the only one who can send and summons. There is one to whom even kings must bow and Nathan is a prophet which means his first loyalty isn’t to a king or a nation (even though he is a trusted advisor of David’s). His loyalty is to the God who calls him into the prophetic ministry. Nathan comes to David and instead of directly confronting the king, calling him a sinful jerk, tells the king a story, a parable.
There were two men: one rich and another poor. The rich man had plenty of sheep and the poor only one little lamb, which he treated as if it was his own child. One day the rich man had a guest and wanted to throw a banquet featuring lamb-chops, only he doesn’t want to waste his own flock, so he takes the poor man’s lamb and has it roasted for his guest…
Notice a few things about this parable. We’re not told much about the rich man, only that he has more than he needs. But we’re given an intimate picture of the poor man, the one who loves his one little ewe lamb so much that he treats the animal like a daughter. The two men are juxtaposed in such a way that we are left with no doubt that the rich man could feed his guest many times over from his own flock and that the poor man was so impoverished that the only joy he had from life came from his pet lamb. Hearing this story, David acts as a righteous king. He’s furious! In anger David proclaims that the rich man must die; words that will come back to haunt him…
David doesn’t see it coming. A parable can be like a Trojan horse. You don’t know what has happened until it is too late. David doesn’t realize Nathan is setting him up, allowing the mighty king to convict himself. It’s too late; the messenger has delivered God’s message and the king hears it. When Nathan points to David and says, “You are the man!” David is no longer free to rationalize his sin. He’s forced to acknowledge his guilt and to accept God’s punishment.
Because of David’s repentance, he does not die as he himself had judged. Instead, God relents and allows David to live. But the child carried by Bathsheba, the one conceived by him, dies. David has to accept a terrible truth. His sin led to the death of an innocent child just as it had already led to the death of Uriah, an innocent man.
We can’t understand why the child dies for the sin of the parents. From a human standpoint, it seems unfair… And it is, but when we think about it, lots of children suffer from the sins of their parents: those living with abuse, suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome or crack babies and that’s only scratching the surface. We don’t understand. It seems unfair (and it is) to have one suffer for the sins of another, which is exactly what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross with our sins weighing heavily on him. The innocent one died for us!
Like it or not, this story, as well as the crucifixion, reminds us that our actions have implications upon others. Someone else often pays for our sins. David and Bathsheba’s afternoon liaison wasn’t just a causal affair between two consenting adults (and there is debate over whether or not Bathsheba could have been consenting when the king “sent” for her). Regardless, this story first involves Uriah (who never knows what happens when he’s set up to be slain) and then Bathsheba’s child. What we do affects others. We don’t live in a moral vacuum.
During the Clinton administration, this passage was often alluded to as it was during the Nixon administration. Both Presidents had a hard time admitting their mistakes. Both had to be confronted with the hard truth of their actions and neither was as brave as David. Even after being caught red-handed, they both continued to deny what they’d done. Why is it that we seem to be unable to admit our mistakes? It’s not just Presidents, politicians and kings; we all struggle with admitting that we’re less than perfect. And such an admission is a necessity that will bring us into a relationship with a forgiving and merciful God.
Personally, I find the person willing to confess to be a lot more trustworthy—be they a friend or politician. I just wish we had a few more examples from which to choose. Unfortunately, the ruling principle seems to be, “Don’t get caught.” We’re reminded here that God’s judgment remains and even the most powerful will have to reckon with it.
At some point, we will all lose our innocence. We will all come to the place when we know we are guilty—when we hear the prophet say, “You are the one!” When that happens, we know there is no way to return to what once was. The truth of our own sinfulness and shortcomings will weigh heavily upon us. At such a time, we have a choice. We can isolate ourselves from others, hiding our shame, living in fear and constantly attempting to defend ourselves… Or, like David, we can live with the hope and assurance that comes from admitting our sin and accepting the judgment and love of God. The two go together: judgment and love!
To those of us who live in the shadow of the cross, this second choice makes sense. God loves us; God forgives us; and God stands ready to welcome us back home. But before we rejoice, we must examine ourselves. Are we bold enough to admit our mistakes and to accept the consequences? For regardless of how well we cover our tracks here on earth, God watches. Amen.
©2014 Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, MI