By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Portions of 2 Samuel, chapters 11-12
This month I’ve been preaching about David, Israel’s most beloved king. This morning’s bible story takes place after David’s reign is well-established. Once David was a king without a throne; an enemy of the state, on the run and hiding out in the hills and the caves just to survive. But now, he is well in command...
This is the notorious story of David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. It’s found in 2 Samuel, chapters 11 and 12. Because of the story’s length, I’ve summarized some portions.
The setting is spring, a time of the year when military battles historically resume. But David, that mighty warrior who once laid low the Philistine giant Goliath with a single stone, is no longer leading his army. While he has no trouble sending his men into harm’s way, it seems he now prefers to hunker down in the safety and ease of his palace. It is late afternoon and David is taking a stroll on the palace rooftop when:
“he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant." 6 So David sent word to his commander, Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David [in Jerusalem].
Friends: David is no fool. He hatches a clever plot. There were no paternity tests in the ancient world. If he can simply get Uriah to sleep with his wife then no one will ever be the wiser. Everyone will assume Uriah to be the baby’s father. But David’s plan hits a snag, a bump in the road because Uriah has far more honor than David anticipates. David wines and dines Uriah, then – loosened up with liquor – David encourages him to go home. Yet Uriah, even in his compromised state, decides it would be shameful for him to indulge in the pleasure of home and hearth and a beautiful wife while his comrades are out on the battlefield risking life and limb, sleeping in foxholes and eating MRE’s (OK, not literally, but you get the point). The brilliant plot of a powerful king is thwarted by a mere foot soldier with too much integrity for his own good. [I pick up at verse 13]
13 David invited Uriah to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; yet in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his king, but he did not go down to his own house. 14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die." 16 As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17 The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the soldiers of David fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 19 and he instructed the messenger, "When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, 20 then, if the king's anger rises, and if he says to you, 'Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall?’ then you shall say, 'Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.'" 22 So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell.
25 David said to the messenger, "Thus you shall say to Joab, 'Do not let this thing be evil in your eyes, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.' And encourage Joab." 26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for him. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his palace, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the eyes of the Lord.
Well, at least David’s “plan B” was a success; right? What a brilliantly orchestrated cover up. But there is someone whose eyes are never covered; someone who cannot be handled or manipulated or ordered around. That someone is God and God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin by way of a very clever parable. Chapter 12…
Nathan came to David, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him."
5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no compassion." 7 Nathan said to David, "You are the man!
In the early 1900s, the worldwide population of 1.6 billion people was poised to explode, to nearly double within the early years of the century. Yet, humankind remained dependent for food production on the same agriculture methods they’d employed since we made the transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers. Nutrients were returned to soil through natural fertilizers like manure and bones; a limited, cumbersome and slow form of fertilizing that could have never kept pace with such a population explosion. Enter Fritz Haber, a German chemist who – along with Carl Bosch – invented the Haber-Bosch process, the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of high temperature and pressure.[i] Haber discovered a way to mass produce soil fertilizer that revolutionized crop production and prevented what likely would have been a world-wide famine and wide-spread war, human suffering and destruction. Haber’s work earned him the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
But Haber’s work wasn’t complete, nor was his reputation set for Haber also became the father of modern chemical warfare. Despite Germany’s participation in the Hague Convention, Haber developed and weaponized chlorine gas and his work with explosives allowed the Germans to prolong WW1 for years. Furthermore, hundreds of human test subjects (mostly Russians) were tortured and killed through Haber’s chemical experiments that laid the foundation for Hitler’s diabolic and inhumane experiments during WW2. One man – a brilliant and complex man – both saved and slaughtered the human race.[ii]
It’s troubling, isn’t it? As human persons, we like for things to be clear and simple and well-delineated. We form categories: evil versus good; sinner versus saint. But, in reality, it is never that simple… as King David and Fritz Haber make clear.
It is frankly astonishing that our bible narrator even preserves this story about David and Bathsheba. David is Israel’s finest king. He is a man after God’s own heart. He demonstrates bravery and compassion and devotion to God. But in this story of Bathsheba it is as if all of that goes out the window. The beauty of Bathsheba awakens David’s desire and when he surrenders to that unholy, covetous desire, it is as if he becomes an entirely different man with an entirely different heart, a cheating heart. He becomes a taker and a schemer who will stop short of nothing to pursue and protect his own interests. Not only does he orchestrate the death of the honorable Uriah, countless other soldiers are killed; collateral damage.
Again, it is astonishing that our bible narrator records this story. It would have been easier to edit it out and maintain the picture of a perfect, morally pristine king.
But David’s story is – in fact – our story. Bible scholar Walter Brueggeman writes: “This story is more than we want to know about David and more than we can bear to understand about ourselves. We might wish this story about David could be ‘untold’.”[iii] Likewise, there are those times within our own lives that we wish could be rewound and rewritten; words we wish we could take back, actions we wish we could undo. But what’s done is done and we are who we are in all our complexity; mixtures of good and bad, saint and sinner… each of us.
And if you have ever sat with that sick, awful feeling of regret or shame or self-astonishment, then it is worth considering how this morning’s story ends… because it doesn’t end with judgment; indictment is not the final word.
The prophet Nathan declares David to be the man who has coveted and taken and exploited and destroyed even though God had always dealt in a generous way with David. And Nathan declares that this horrible sin will not go unpunished. In fact, the punishment will come through the death of this child conceived in sin… which is a horribly troubling thought to us today but, we’ve got to remember that – in the ancient world – children and women were viewed primarily as property and assets. There will be consequences for David’s sin and Nathan lines them all out and when he is through, David responds, “I have sinned against the Lord.”[iv]
And that is all he says; a pure and simple confession which stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, King Saul, when he is confronted by the prophet Samuel for, when Saul is confronted with his sin, he can’t stop with an acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, he must – consistently and without fail – offer up an excuse for his bad behavior. For Saul, there are always excuses, always extenuating circumstances. So he does not own his own shortcomings and wrongdoings. There is always a “but,” always a “because.” But friends, God does not need our excuses, our convoluted explanations, the “but” or “because.” God asks only that we acknowledge our complex, conflicted, and sinful nature. It is enough to say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And in response to David’s confession, Nathan pronounces God’s forgiveness, “Now the Lord has put away your sin…”[v] With God, there’s forgiveness and a fresh start.
Friends, our bible narrator could have skipped this story and presented David as a flawless, perfect king. But could anyone who has lived in the real world have believed a story like that? I doubt it. David was human, like us and no matter how good and righteous we want to be and try to be, there will be times when we will fall short; times when we will succumb to covetousness and unholy desires; when we will take what is not ours; when we will consume and destroy even that which is good and honorable; when we will deceive and try to cover up what we don’t want others to know or see about us.
But it is always best to come clean before the Lord. It is always best to simply and honestly confess, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and to trust that when we confess – honestly and simply – we can trust that the Lord will put away our sin.
Some of David’s finest years lay before him even after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. He would still be Israel’s finest king and he would still be an ancestor to Jesus. And his heart would be mended and return to beating in rhythm with the heart of God.
Never hide your sin or your shortcomings, your weakness or your vulnerability. God redeems us and uses us warts and all. God can use us despite our failures and sometimes even because of our failures.
On this final Sunday of August, we’ll engage one more time with those around us in the pew. Next month our church will launch a Monday evening gathering called Fusion, an experience for people to not only hear the sacred stories but to share with one another how the word of God and those stories connect to their own lives and stories. So this experience in worship during August gives us all a chance to sample our Fusion format.
So I would ask that you turn in your bulletin to the questions printed under the sermon.
If you are a guest visiting Trinity for the first time or if you are someone who isn’t comfortable sharing, that’s OK, you’re not compelled to share. But I hope you’ll feel welcome to do so and, at least, to hear the stories and experiences of those around you. So, I’d invite you to get into groups of 4-5 people and take just a few moments to discuss the following questions:
[ii] For more of this story, check out the podcast Let’s Know Things by Colin Wright, episode 106, “Complex People.”
[iii] Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. First and Second Samuel by Walter Brueggemann; John Knox Press; 1990; p. 272.
[iv] 2 Samuel 12:13
[v] 2 Samuel 12:13
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