Roots and Tendrils: God Grows a People
“Repentance and Community”
2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9
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I’ll admit it. I find it hard to like David. Particularly the David we read about in today's passages. When I am teaching with youth I often used the Brick Testament, or the bible portrayed in Legos. This section is called “David commits adultery and murder”. Such light topics for a beautiful Sunday morning. This picture with Bathsheba is not the most explicit. When I use these pictures for some of these harder stories in the bible, I often show this warning that is on the website.
“CONTENT NOTICE - The Bible contains material some may consider morally objectionable and/or inappropriate for children. These labels identify stories containing: nudity, sexual content, violence, cursing”
Ok, let go back to the stories about David. He gets all the warnings. I like to wrestle with this. Should our Bibles have warnings on them? This isn’t clean, this is problematic. The span of todays text covers war, rape, murder, cover ups, refering to women as sheep and possesions…and the list goes on. So I will say at the outset this is a lot. Please take care of yourself. For some of you I will say too much this morning and for some of you I will not say enough. That is part of the challenge when we study this book together.
So let's dive into today's texts.
In the Spring time when kings go out to battle. David sends his officers and armies and all of Israel to war. And David stays in Jerusalem. The text seems to almost mock David or at least present some commentary because not only does he not go fight with his people, which is what a king is supposed to do. David is shown reclining on a couch. He rises leisurely and saunters across his roof in the cool evening breeze. This is the picture of a king not leading his people but basking in his power and privilege.
Before we go on, let's review some of David’s story so far. In the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel we have been following the stories of prophets and kings and God working through them to lead the people. David was not the first pick of his fathers sons, he was the little guy chosen after all his brothers had been paraded in front of Samuel. But David goes on to be wise and fast in his defeat of Goliath. He gains favor and grows in power. Then there is a power struggle with Saul which leaves David fleeing for the hills and safety at points. When Saul dies and David finally becomes King he is the second king of Israel and he consolidates the power of Judah and Israel, and brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. David’s power keeps building.
Yet as David walks across the roof and looks down at Bathsheba bathing, it is the beginning of a shift for him. And I have to ask: did his power get too great?
David sends someone to inquire about this beautiful woman he has seen. And even though he is told she is married he sends for her and lays with her. Many of you may remember my retelling of those few verses a few weeks ago when I preached about Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor. How you tell this part of the story matters.
Jo Ann Hackett writes in the Women’s Bible Commentary that “The only hint that (Bathsheba) might have cooperated willingly in her predicament is her initial act of bathing in a place where she could be observed by the king out walking on his roof.” Women’s Bible Commentary, p. 159
David has all the power in this situation and he uses it to avoid standing with his armies and instead takes and rapes a married woman just because he can.
One podcast I listened to this week encouraged the listener to read the bible and then to look for the contemporary story. And it breaks my heart that there are too many stories like this that I know and that we see today.
I’m tired, maybe you are too. Tired of men with power following the same script of using that power to take advantage of others, often sexually. Tired of systems that not only don’t stop them but actually set them up without accountability and without boundaries around the power they hold. This week I saw the trailer for a movie that is trying to tell the victims' side of the story. The fear, hurt and resistance to stand up against the powerful man who hurt them, that I saw even in that 30 second clip, made me cry.
Yes, David was a man of God, chosen to lead his people in a particular time and way. But when the checks are taken away from someone's power and they think that others are only there to serve them, destructive things can happen.
Hackett notes that “David’s affair with Bathsheba the wife of one of his soldiers, is a watershed, marking the beginning of a downward spiral for David and his family” Women’s Bible Commentary, p. 151
At this point the narrative lectionary has us jump over 20 verses. We skip David’s repeated attempts to cover up what he has done. The ways he tries to control the situation to get himself out of a tight spot. It doesn’t seem that he actually wanted Bathsheba as a wife, more he just wants to cover up that he got her pregnant - the evidence that he slept with another man’s wife. Bathsheba, like so many in women’s bodies, had to carry all of the responsibility of what had been done to her. She could not hide and pretend the life growing in her didn’t exist. Eventually when Bathsheba’s husband Uriah proves over and again how good and faithful of a man he is, staying with his post and duty instead of returning home to his wife; a stark contrast to David’s sitting in Jerusalem while his armies go to war. David has Uriah sent to the front lines of battle and then pulls the troops back. Uriah is predictably killed. David lets Bathsheba grieve for an appropriate time and then sends for her and makes her his wife.
And then we finally get a line I’ve been waiting for: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” Well I sure hope so! The God I read about in the bible would be weeping and raging right along with me.
Enter Nathan. And like many good prophets and teachers, Nathan shows up and tells a story. There was a rich man and a poor man. Their wealth is measured in this story in their amount of sheep. One has many flocks and the other has one precious lamb. The rich man’s friend comes to town and instead of going to his own herds he goes and takes the beloved lamb from his neighbor. Slaughters it, and serves it to his guest.
When I was 8 years old my family lived here in Virginia, out along the old Mt Clinton Pike. We had about an archer and we worked with a few local farmers to raise lambs. When a mother sheep would have triplets or a lamb that she could not feed, we would take it and raise the lamb by hand. This meant feeding with bottles every few hours, even through the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning. These lambs become our pets. They came when we called. We carried them around and ran with them in the field.
One snowy morning I woke and wandered into the living room still yawning, to find my Mom crying and visibly distraught. In the early morning a local dog had gotten into the field and chased our lambs. The dog killed one lamb and maimed the other two. In the freshly fallen snow you could see the trail of both the chase and the damage done. The thing was the dog was well fed, he wasn’t hungry. He had just done it for fun. Literally running our lambs to death while biting at them.
I think I can tap into some of the anger, pain and senselessness that David might have felt as he heard Nathan tell this parable. It just feels wrong! How could this happen? But then Nathan turns and I imagine him looking David in the eye as he says sternly “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to list all that God has given David. And then says “and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more”. Nathan asks the question that might be in many of our minds “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in God’s sight?” This king who has done so much for the people and been given so much from God and yet he takes what wasn’t his and throws away the life of a good man just because he can.
Lest we get carried away pointing fingers at all the people we see reflected in these stories that we could condemn. Instead of just shaking our heads in disgust, I invite you to see yourself in this story. Which character would you be in this text? When have we misused our power, sinking into our privilege to the point that our actions hurt others? Or are we the abused, our voice not included in the narrative that is just a sterilized version of what has been done to us. How might Nathan turn this text back to our lives and with the sting that a parable often has in its tail, what truth might he speak into our own contemporary situation?
Hold that raw space with me. I’m going to invite April to come and read for us part of Ps 51. Hear these words as David might have. Holding the brokenness we see and have experienced. The wrong we have done and the wrong done to us.
Maybe later today you want to go back to that Psalm and reread it, along with the verses we didn’t hear today. Because David turned and called out to God and he was not abandoned. Yes, there were consequences that David and his family had to live with. But even when we have done the worst thing, God still calls us beloved. This makes me squirm both in its injustice and in its grace and mercy. I can not do anything that will make God love me less or more. Does God grieve at injustice and at oppression? I sure hope so. But does God cast us away? No, never. We may feel like that, but God relentlessly returns as God did with David, saying I love you, try again.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once we know of God’s love and forgiveness we are called to turn and make things right with others, turning back and restoring.
Can we make an honest confession before God and then turn and work towards restoring our relationship with the community around us?
I want us to end today with a simple yet powerful prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner
How do we bring both our confession and our need for God’s love to this space. God is steadfast, abounding in mercy. I invite you to read aloud together and then I will leave space for you to repeat it quietly for yourself.
Beloved, may God give you strength and wisdom to use your power for good in this world. Amen
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