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First Impressions: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

July 28, 2009

At the conclusion of last week’s reading, David may well have thought he had kept the affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband quiet.  The king has the power to do that sort of thing.  This week, David is reminded that he is not at the pinnacle of moral authority.  Last week, God seemed far too silent.  This week, Yahweh speaks.

11:26-27 The aftermath of Uriah’s death is reported simply.  Bathsheba mourned.  David married her.  The narrator, however, referred to her as “the wife of Uriah.”  David may have taken her in marriage, but she did not truly belong to him.  Walter Brueggemann pointed out that even Matthew’s genealogy (in chapter 1) named Bathsheba only as “the wife of Uriah” (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: First and Second Samuel [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 279.).

God, of course, was not fooled by the king’s cover up.  There is good news in the reality that God sees and names injustice and evil as such.  God does not squirrel about with semantics.  “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27).  See also the words of Nathan in 12:9: “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?”

12:1-6 The prophet Nathan had the most delicate job in the world.  How could he tell the king of God’s judgment and still save his head?  Essentially, in telling the story of the rich man and the poor man, Nathan asked David to pass judgment on himself.  The rich man, who had everything he needed, took the poor man’s lone possession, his beloved lamb.  David, like the rest of us, knew this was pure evil.  “The man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5).

12:7-13a For me, one of the most spine-chilling statements in all scripture is Nathan’s bold revelation in verse 7: “You are the man!”  I can only imagine how David’s righteous anger immediately turned into stunned silence.  Then, Nathan powerfully contrasted all the gifts God had given David—the kingship, rescue from Saul, many wives, the house of Israel and Judah—with David’s taking of Uriah’s wife and life.  We clearly recognize David’s evil and selfish act, but which of us is satisfied with the gifts God has given us?  Human beings always seem to think we will finally be happy once we have “just a little more” than we have at present.

God, through Nathan, had already judged David’s act as evil, and then sentenced the king in verses 10-12.  David killed Uriah by “the sword of the Ammonites” (12:9), so David’s house, his entire line, could never again live in peace.  The same sword would cause David and his descendants unending trouble.  And David’s own wives would suffer, taken in broad daylight.  It seems that we are always surprised to learn how our own sin causes so many of our loved ones to suffer as well.  David would not be the only one to feel pain for his evil.  Maybe there is a sermon in the words “think before you sin.”  Usually, we don’t.

At the very least (and it is only a very little), David finally admitted to his sin.  “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13).  The king still could have pled innocence.  He could have slammed down an iron fist, eliminated Nathan and squelched any rumors.  Instead, he submitted himself to God’s judgment.  The great sorrow is that David waited far too long.  Too many lives were ruined.

Illustrations and Other Possibilities I decided to postpone using the material I recommended in last week’s “First Impressions.” I suggested reflecting on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who compared his situation to David’s.  As I worked on the sermon, the Sanford situation appeared to fit in better with this week’s text, after David’s sin had come into the light.

One of my colleagues said that when we admit to sin and ask for forgiveness, we usually are looking to be freed from the complications of our actions.  We want, by God’s grace, to avoid the consequences.  This seems to be the pattern of Sanford and other high profile admissions.  In David’s case, he doesn’t ask for favors.  He simply accepted God’s word of judgment without bargaining.  The lone exception was David’s weeping and fasting in his attempt to save the life of Bathsheba’s child (12:21-23).

What are our motivations as we repent of sin?  Is the goal to free ourselves from the complications of our sin, or is the goal to allow God to have true lordship and moral authority in our lives?

The grace in this text comes from the fact that God will not ignore sin and injustice, that there will be those willing to speak for God even if it is dangerous, and that when we are confronted with our sin, we can face up to our failures.  It is better to say “I have sinned against the Lord” than to hide from God’s all-seeing gaze.

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