During my time in the Intro to Pastoral Care course we were assigned to construct a family genogram and then write a paper based on the research we did on our family and how that shapes and affects us. Since we had to go back to our grandparents I had to contact my mother’s sister to learn about my grandparents. I chose her over my mom because my mom was by far the youngest child and had, what I felt was, an idealized image of my grandparents. I grew up hearing stories of my grandfather. He was a war hero. He was such a hard-working man. He once stayed up 36 straight hours because he sat by my mom’s bedside all night after working a 12-hour day when she had a fever of 104 as a young child. By the time the fever finally broke he had to go take a shower and put on a clean shirt to go off to work for another 12-hour workday. This man was a great man in my mind. He was someone I wanted to aspire to be like. And then I got my aunt’s side of the story. She was the oldest in the family and she informed me of some of the many things my mom was sheltered from as a child. My grandfather was a bigot. He was a member of the school board outside of Eufaula, AL and was an outspoken advocate for the segregation of schools. In fact, when my aunt informed him that he was a racist for this belief at the young age of 15, he packed her a bag and threatened to throw her out of the house. I was so disappointed to learn the truth about this man I had so admired through the years. He died when I was a child so the legends of his greatness were all I had to hold onto. This new reality served as a major blow in how I will forever view this flawed man I call grandfather.
This very difficult passage from 2 Samuel today does the same thing to us. As we have moved through Samuel we have heard the stories of the great David. David was the great man whom God plucked from the hills as a shepherd boy. David was the great man who, as a boy, defeated the mighty Goliath with nothing but a slingshot and three stones. David was the great king who slew many men and was then ordained by Samuel to be the next king after Saul. It’s a major blow to our idealized image of David when we see this power-hungry side of him. We’re not sure where to go after this story. Our realities have been rattled. Our romanticized image of this great man of faith has been tarnished beyond repair. But we cannot merely skate past this part of the scripture. The author of Samuel will not let us. We are forced to face David, the real David, head on. This is the David that David probably doesn’t want us to know. But if we are to understand David at all we have to see him as he is. But this story does something even more powerful than that. Through seeing David as he is, weaknesses and all, we are forced to also see ourselves in this same light. This is the tough part of our text. You see David’s sins are our sins. David’s attitude of self-deception in light of his sin is the same self-deception we practice when we try to cover the tracks of our sin. And like David, just when we think we have avoided the embarrassment of our sin and retained our good reputation, we are faced in that moment with the cold, hard fact that even though we might have fooled the whole world around us, God knows better.
Leading up to our text today we are quickly rushed through the details of this story. David eyes Bathsheba and sends for her to come to the palace. It is Spring, and the armies are off to war and David seems to have, as my old boss would say, a case of Spring Fever. If we go back to early in chapter 11 we find David described by 3 verbs. He sends, he takes, he lays with Bathsheba. With no regard for any consequences David seeks to satisfy his hunger. I would even go so far as to say that this was more than a hunger for sexual satisfaction. David had a strong hunger for power. The text says he took Bathsheba because she was beautiful. But we do not read of him romancing her. There is no telling of him wining and dining her. There are no Barry White CDs in the background as he admires this woman’s beauty in the light of the early evening. No. He takes purely because he can. He takes and lays with her and then sends her back home. This was a good day for David. That is, until he checks his inbox a few days later and sees the e-mail from Bathsheba. The subject line contains two words: I’m pregnant. And thus we are taken through the remainder of chapter 11 and the sordid details of how David tries to get Uriah to go lay with his wife and, when he doesn’t, conspires with his general Joab to have Uriah killed in battle. After this misdeed is carried out David sends again for Bathsheba and takes her again, this time as his wife since she is now pregnant with his child. Coveting his neighbor’s wife, adultery and murder-David has quickly broken 3 commandments of the Decalogue.
All seems well for David. He has a new wife he doesn’t know but who cares, kings had many wives since a greater number signified greater status and power. He has a new child to care for but who cares, he has the money to provide a life. More importantly for David, no one would be the wiser as to how Uriah was killed and why exactly this new wife came to be the wife of the king. Or at least that’s what David thought. Now we have to read verse 25 juxtaposed to verse 27. Verse 25 tells us that David said to Joab, “do not let this thing bother you.” And then in verse 27 our narrative takes the surprise twist when we learn “but the thing David did displeased the Lord.” This is surely a turn David did not see coming. It is at this point in the story that we see two narratives collide: the story of how power is gained, used, and inevitably abused in the “real world” and a second narrative about God’s counter plans for the world.
The prophet Nathan comes to David in chapter 12 and tells him a parable about a rich and a poor man. He tells the story of how this rich man exploited the poor man by taking his prized possession. And we learn this story infuriates David. David, who is used to issuing court orders, declares this man deserves death. And on top of that, before he dies he should pay the poor man fourfold what he took from him. And then, after a moment of silence, Nathan takes a deep breath and tells David point of the story when he says, “you are the man.” What a bomb to drop on the king. Nathan surely risks his life by coming to the king and confronting him of his sin. But the conversation does not stop there. Nathan proceeds to tell David his message from the Lord. “Thus says the Lord: I gave you everything David. I made you king, gave you riches, gave you your power. And on top of that I would have given you more if you needed it.
In my difficult study of this passage I am stuck on a question that keeps coming up in my reflection. We know that in verse 13 David admits his guilt for his sin. But what made the difference? What was the turning point that David felt compelled to admit to his sin for the first time in this narrative? On first glance we assume it was when Nathan proclaimed that David was the wrongdoing man from the parable. But after a careful reading I am not so sure. Nathan does not come to David to condemn him for his sin. He is, instead, sent by God to remind David of, as my mother would say, who he is and whose he is. You see David’s admission to his guilt is not meant to be just a submission to the commandments, but rather, it is a submission to something more-his covenantal relationship with God. As Will Willimon writes, “just as we are about to write off David as a moral failure, the prophet calls forth a new David, who is able to submit to the dominance of God’s account of the world.” You see in this story we see ourselves in David’s cry for autonomy. But we also see God who cries for covenantal relationship with us instead.
I must confess that this subject of sin is not one I am comfortable writing or learning or much less preaching about. This text calls all of us to a place where we are not comfortable. This text takes us to the cold, dark valley of not only David’s sin but also our own. And yet it is through this journey to the dark places in our lives where, if we pay attention, we can hear God calling us back into a covenantal relationship daily. It is not through condemnation that he does this but rather through the transforming realization that like David, God has given us so much. For us, it was not power or wives, or military might. But rather it was something so much greater. He gave us himself. You see only in our humanness do we truly know the redemptive power of God. This redemption is constantly calling us into a covenant relationship with Him. Time and time again, God calls us forth into a new life with Him. Despite the depth of our sin, God’s love is so much greater.
In this narrative we learn that sin carries consequences. That’s very true. David’s family will never be the same after this episode. And we cannot forget that idea that sin carries consequences that often, just as in this story, affect the innocent more than it does us. But in spite of that sin, God continues to relentlessly pursue a relationship with us. And we can be reminded through this story of David of the dramatic love of a God who will go as far as death on a cross to remind us not only who we are, but whose we are! Amen.