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First Impressions: 2 Samuel 11:1-15

July 21, 2009

There is no good news in this text.

King David, once a paragon of virtue, honor and courage in comparison to Saul, turned out to be a selfish, cunning murderer.  We shouldn’t be surprised, of course.  The prophet Samuel once warned us that all kings use their power to take from their people—livestock, fruit of the field, and even sons and daughters (1 Samuel 8:10-22).  David went a step beyond, taking a man’s wife and then his life.

The Lectionary had so far ignored the more ruthless aspects of David’s behavior, so his actions in chapter 11 are a surprise.  On the other hand, David had accumulated all the powers of a king, so his corruption could not be far behind.  That seems to be the way of human nature.

There is no good news in this text.  There is only selfish taking and lying and conspiracy and murder.  How can a preacher share good news when the scripture itself contains no promise of redemption?

11:1 Other kings might have been leading their troops into battle, but David stayed home.  How is it that he was already succumbing to the lure of privilege?  It is possible to preach on the tendency we all have to let power go to our heads—even leaders chosen by God?  A complete sermon, though, should be more than just a warning.  Is this a sermon about giving grace and forgiveness to those who have fallen?  Could it encourage us to cultivate lives of humility?

2-5 It is in our human nature to desire things.  Sometimes that desire overwhelms our good sense.  Fortunately, none of us share the David’s ability to command others in order to get everything we desire.  How can we moderate our wants in healthy ways?  Maybe we can learn to live in such a way that our core values are reinforced.  That way, when temptation comes, we are better equipped to act with level heads.

6-13 This was David’s first plan to hide his sin.  Unfortunately for Uriah—the Hittite, the foreigner—he was more faithful than the king.  Uriah would not sleep with his wife while his brothers were in the field.  All along the way, David had opportunities to stop the increasingly devastating consequences of his sin.  That would have required him to admit his transgression and suffer the consequences.  He was not willing to do that, and so the impact of his sin was far greater.

14-25 David finally chose to write out Uriah’s death warrant, even forcing the hapless man to carry it himself.  The Lectionary does not include verses 16-25, but these emphasize the total disregard that David and Joab had for Uriah’s life.  Other innocent soldiers were also sacrificed to protect the reputation of the king.  In the end, David passed on this cold-hearted message to Joab: “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another”  (2 Samuel 11:25).

This scripture appears in the Lectionary only weeks after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford referred to David’s failures in explaining why he would not resign after his extramarital affair came to light.  Sanford said, “I think there is a remarkable capacity for forgiveness in the state” (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/26/AR2009062602565.html).  In our text, however, forgiveness is still a long way off, and not without serious consequences for David and others.  My cynical (and judgmental) mind tells me that Sanford wants the forgiveness without the consequences.

The sad truth is that all those whom God calls will fail now and again.  We are all “clay jars” (2 Corinthians 4:7), even the great ones like David.  If, like David, we try to hide our sins away, the consequences will snowball and bury the guilty and innocent alike.

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