Sunday, August 5, 2018
Scripture: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:7a
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Last week I went into detail of David’s wicked behavior. It dragged Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and others into its web of deceit. There isn’t time today to get back into the details of that, but I have good news for you! You can catch up using the podcast, our videos on Facebook Live, or even go ahead and read 2 Samuel 11. Suffice to say, King David has messed up royally. He’s become an adulterer. He’s a murderer by proxy.
Most of all, he thinks he’s gotten away with it!
Our text today is what appears to be the conclusion of the matter. I have lived with this text for a few decades now, and this week was the first time I noticed how David thinks he has tricked others and gotten away with it. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, has died in battle. Bathsheba has spent the appropriate time mourning his death. Then David marries Bathsheba, and she bears their child. From the outside looking in, David appears charitable for bringing this child into his home. Appearances can be so deceptive.
Until this week it never occurred to me how long and ultimately incomplete the slow burn of justice is in this text. For upwards of a year, no one has confronted David. He believes he’s outwitted everyone – even God.
Except…in the final words of this chapter the narrator brings David’s ride to a screeching halt with these words, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Until this utterance the Lord was not even mentioned in this chapter at all. For twenty-seven verses it was all about David – his actions, his thoughts, his wickedness. We sure can get into a lot of trouble when we leave God out of our stories, as David did.
For the better part of a year David believed he had gotten away with it. He got the girl. He won the war. He was powerful. However, God knew. God saw David’s wickedness. God saw the way he used others as though they didn’t matter to God, as though they were less than him.
Well, I believe it did matter to God, which is why God sent the prophet Nathan to David. God equipped Nathan to speak to David in a way that will get him to notice – finally! – his reckless and destructive behavior. How does he do it? Nathan sets a trap for David, sharing with him a story about a callous rich man who takes a poor man’s beloved lamb from him. Deep inside David still was the “man who chased after God’s own heart,” but that was buried deep under the wicked person he chose to become. David hears the story, and his sense of justice comes flying out of him – “Surely the man who did this deserves to die!” Knowing he has caught David, Nathan turns the tables on him, “You are the man!” Nathan has awoken a sense of justice in David, and now David knows that God does indeed care about his wickedness. “I did all this for you, and this is what you have done?” says the Lord. There is forgiveness coming, but there are also huge consequences for David and for Israel. The arc of history is long, indeed, but it bends towards justice because the God who created and ordered everything is building an eternal kingdom where justice will reign. Even today when we cry out at injustice we see around us or that we experience ourselves, we must advocate for God’s way in the world. We are a part of how God makes things right in the world.
Through Nathan, God brought David to an inflection point. He finally saw that he wasn’t getting away with anything. He finally recognized his wickedness and his need for repentance. The story of the lamb caused David to feel about his sin how God felt about it. Thank God that Nathan was willing to break through to David, to speak the truth in love to him, and to start the process of healing in his life. Would that we all had someone in our lives willing to tear down the barriers we have put up between ourselves and God, as Nathan did for David!
Nathan let David know that God noticed and cared, but now I want to turn our attention to someone else whose pain went unnoticed by David. Let’s spend a little time talking about Bathsheba. It’s painful to think about, but this passage does not deal at all with her pain and suffering caused by David. She isn’t even named in what we read today! Rather, the text refers to her as the “wife of Uriah,” identified only by one part of her identity, and it’s a painful part at that. David has violated Bathsheba. He has defiled her marriage. He has killed her husband. Is she really just supposed to move on with her life, forget this has all happened, and be thankful that David’s going to look out for her?
A generation before David gained power, the prophet Samuel warned the people of Israel about kings. Not satisfied with God’s benevolent and covenantal rule, they were demanding a king, so God let them have what they wanted but left them a warning. Kings are takers. 1 Samuel 8 puts it forward very clearly, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; …13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his attendants…. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
If Samuel were still around that day, he could have added to his list, “And he will take Bathsheba, who was already married and already had a life. He will take Uriah’s life. He will take whatever he wants.” Nathan plays off of this in his story, telling David, “The rich man took the poor man’s beloved lamb.” Kings are takers. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once again the human desire to exist apart from God’s will has led down a destructive but predictable path.
The Scripture is silent as to whether David ever sought Bathsheba’s forgiveness. I wonder if all the brokenness that David’s household experienced in the generations to come was due to this. Lack of reconciliation is so toxic for all enmeshed in it.
But I am convinced that God noticed Bathsheba. God is a noticer. God notices the brokenhearted, the beat-down, and the victimized.
In our world there is still a lot of noticing to do. We must pay attention to those who have been hurt by others. These stories of Scripture – even stories as difficult as this one – are worth our attention. Why? Because they reveal the deepest human issues. These are issues that are timeless because they still ring true today. To approach the Scripture once again and ask ourselves, “What about Bathsheba?” is to open ourselves to people and voices in our own time that need our attention. As one pastor recently put it, “To hear the women’s cries and learn from their stories is to honor each one as a beloved child of God. Their stories can be mined for glimmers of hope, as precious as gold ore, or read as cautionary tales, warnings about what happens when the powerful become corrupt and the vulnerable are silenced.”
Professor Anna Carter Florence reminds us, “Scripture is a script that is already published. But our lives – at least in the time that is before us – are not. There are narratives still in process. Asking how a text might go differently is another way of asking how our lives might go differently.” When we consider how David could have seen Bathsheba’s full humanity, not as an object of desire for him to possess, we begin to see how the peaceable kingdom of God could have come to bear in both of their lives. The mess that David and his descendants made of all God gave them is merely sad proof of the human proclivity towards selfishness and violence.
Today we are still writing our stories. We still have the opportunity to live into God’s full creative intention for each of us, made possible through God’s grace and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We still have the chance to open our eyes and ears to those whose stories have been silenced. As we have seen in today’s text, the stories of the #MeToo movement are millennia old, but today – perhaps for the first time – we are finally listening to them.
These stories today as well as many of the stories in Scripture should cause us to wrestle with our brokenness as humans. Each of us get things wrong. Sometimes we leave a wake of destruction behind us, as David did. But we are not without hope. In John’s first letter to a new Christian community, he conveys the hope that we continue to share: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The table that we approach today is a reminder of God’s welcoming forgiveness. It is a tangible expression that God in Christ is refining us and making us all into something new. This is good news! But as we are welcomed to Christ’s table, let us be mindful that many have felt distant from God’s love and unwelcome at this table because we have not stopped to listen to their stories, to hear their pain, to enter into it, and create space for healing. May this table today be such a place of healing for us and for the world.