Sunday, 29 July 2012

Anatomy of Sin- David and Bathsheba- 2 Sam 11

2 Samuel 11

David and Bathsheba
11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die. 

            Every few years there is some sort of celebrity or famous preacher that ends up in some sort of sex scandal. We have come to expect it. You might remember the news around the relationship between American president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. These news stories almost don’t even surprise us anymore. The story we read in 2 Samuel today has been re-lived many times throughout history. A powerful man is involved in some sort of sexual misconduct. The newspapers in the grocery store eat it up. I can almost see the front page. There’s some grainy picture of King David. His hair is messy, and he has an awkward look on his face. And, it looks like the picture was taken from the bushes behind his palace and they caught  David looking out his window.
            And we love the pictures. We love the scandals. We can feel very righteous- “can you believe it?” “What a stupid thing to do!” We love the gossip. I think this is part of the reason we love reality shows. We love to sit and watch someone else do silly things and then talk about how silly they are. It feels better to pick the sliver out of a celebrity’s eye than to deal with the log in our own. 
            We sometimes are shocked to find these same scandals in the Bible. Even more shocking is that David is not really one of the bad guys in the Bible. He’s one of the good guys.   I said last week that David is not a perfect moral example for us to imitate. David is more like a mirror. He reflects us. He shows us a very human life. He shows us the life of someone who is reaching out to God- and that’s who we are. We are living trying to follow God. Sometimes we seem like we’re doing a good job, but sometimes we fall flat on our faces. This week David fell flat on his face.     The story between David and Bathsheba is a powerful story about how sin works.
David’s armies have gone off to fight, which is what you did in Spring at that time and in that culture. But, David has now proven himself and so he is able to stay behind. From the roof of his palace David sees a beautiful woman bathing. I guess they had a rooftop culture we know nothing about. He asks about her and finds out that she is a married woman. She is the wife of Uriah, who is one of David’s soldiers. He sent for her and he slept with her. He’s the king and I can’t imagine Bathsheba felt she had much say in the matter.
David didn’t feel like a sinner at this point. The pastor and writer Eugene Peterson points this out.[1] No one ever really feels like a sinner when they are sinning. That’s the sneaky thing about sin. When we are sinning we feel powerful- like a god. When David sent for Bathsheba he didn’t feel like a sinner. He felt like a lover. Sin is sneaky. We think it will make our lives better, or more exciting, but really it leads to destruction and chaos in the end, if not sooner.
We see this in Genesis ch 3 as well. Adam and Eve didn’t feel like sinners when they ate the forbidden fruit. They felt like gods. The serpent said that when they eat the fruit their eyes will be opened and they will “be like God, knowing good and bad”. Basically they will be able to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They felt like gods over their own lives. They saw that the fruit looked good to eat and that it was desirable for gaining a kind of knowledge. We never really feel like we’re doing something wrong when we sin, we feel like we are doing something good, or exciting, or something that will make our lives better.      
Sooner or later we have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. David quickly learns that Bathsheba is pregnant. David’s first instinct, like ours, is to cover up the sin so no one finds out. It is hard to face our sin. It’s hard to look people in the face when they know you’ve done something horrible. It’s just easier to cover it up so no one finds out.
David suddenly has to scramble to cover up his sin, so he comes up with a plan. He calls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back home to give a report from the front lines. When Uriah has given his report David tells him to go home and enjoy the company of his wife. “Wash your feet” is sort of a Hebrew phrase that we might translate with an eyebrow wiggle and a nudge of the elbow. David hopes that if he goes home and sleeps with Bathsheba then Uriah will think the child is his and the sin will never be discovered.
Uriah leaves the palace, but rather than go home to sleep with his wife, he sleeps at the entrance to David’s palace. Uriah is a model of honour and faithfulness. He will not go home and sleep with his wife when he knows the army and the Ark of the Covenant are out in the field in tents. Out of solidarity with his fellow soldiers Uriah decides to not go home. It is a beautiful act. Uriah remembers the soldiers in the field and so denies himself. Contrast Uriah with David, who is willing to stay in the palace and sleep with a soldier’s wife while the army is away fighting battles. David’s faithlessness is contrasted with Uriah’s faithfulness.   
Instead of David being moved by Uriah’s honour, he becomes frustrated. David asks him to stay another day and this time he gets Uriah drunk. David is hoping that a little liquor will loosen Uriah’s libido- so he’ll go home to his wife. Again, even when drunk, Uriah has more honour and self control than King David.
David is frustrated. Now he has to go to extremes to hide his sin. Often hiding a sin requires another sin. David sends a command to Joab, Uriah’s commander. He tells Joab to put Uriah in the front lines where it is most dangerous and then have everyone pull back from the front line leaving Uriah alone with the enemy.
It is sneaky. David again is playing God. He feels like a king and a general here, not a sinner. David isn’t plunging a knife into Uriah’s chest- someone else is. It’s not technically wrong to command such a thing. A king and a general can command troops to go where they want and sometimes they die. That is part of the job description for a soldier. David doesn’t feel like a sinner here. We don’t feel like sinners when we’re sinning. But the heart of what David did was murder. He can dress it up, but it was murder. His action with Bathsheba was adultery as best- Rape at worst. It wasn’t a romantic love affair. His action with Uriah was murder. It wasn’t a king fighting a battle.
Sin often leads to more sin. Adultery in David’s case led to deception and murder. Bathsheba, and Joab would both now have a new understanding of God’s anointed king. That has an effect on relationships. Would you feel safe knowing your king was capable of such things?  Sin is like a disease. It spreads and infects others- even if it only causes people to be suspicious of each other and their leaders. And the more we try to hide it the more it digs in. That’s why Jesus came calling us to repentance. In repentance we stop pretending that our sin is something else. In repentance we stop pretending we are gods. We stop pretending that we are lovers and admit we are adulterers. We stop pretending we are kings and we admit that we are manipulators and users, and murderers. Repentance is what stops the sins that we use to cover up other sin. In repentance we limit the destructiveness of our sin.  In repentance we face our responsibility.
Repentance also calls us deeper. In repentance we recognize that adultery, and murder are really just symptoms of a disease that sits deeper in our hearts. It’s not just “goofing up”. It’s an expression of our hearts. Part of us doesn’t trust God. We might think God maybe doesn’t really love us, so we look for love in another person’s spouse. God won’t protect us, so we murder to protect our own interest. The actions we call “sins” have deeper roots in our hearts. Part of us might suspect that God is not actually good and so we take steps to protect ourselves.           
David’s sins of murder and adultery might have their roots in either a misunderstanding of who God is, or maybe even a forgetting about God. In David’s day to day life God has perhaps moved from the front and centre to “Sunday mornings” only.  David operates under the power of his own cleverness. Essentially he’s living without an awareness of God.  David thinks he’s beaten the system. David thinks he won’t have to face what he’s done. He thinks he’s gotten away with it. And we can for a while- a short while or a long while. We can get away with it for a while. We can cover our sin. But we’ll find out next week that David hasn’t really gotten away with anything. David at the very root of the whole episode with Bathsheba and Uriah has forgotten about God. David has acted as if he was God- master over people’s lives- even master over life and death. David will be reminded as we all need reminding, that God is with us. David May have forgotten about God, but God hasn’t forgotten about David.  
God is like a loving parent watching over us. Sometimes parents need to correct their children. Sometimes they need a timeout, or need to say sorry, or need to have a serious talking to so they know the seriousness of playing in the road. It is love. It doesn’t always feel like love, but it is. A God who doesn’t care wouldn’t care if you were playing in the road, or if you hurt someone, or if you were becoming a cruel person. It is a loving God who cares who we are becoming and on what path we are walking.
We don’t always like to look at this aspect of our spiritual lives. We don’t want to look at sin. It doesn’t feel nice. It feels gritty and uncomfortable. When we aren’t feeling well we go to the doctor. The doctor will poke and prod a bit. They might ask us to take off parts of our clothing. They might place a cold stethoscope on our chest and ask us to breathe deeply, or cough. And then they might ask us about our lives. Do you smoke? How do you eat? Do you exercise? Then they might find the cause of our discomfort and they will describe a particular disease to us. It’s not a comfortable process, but when we get down to understanding how it works then we can make changes by taking medicines or doing certain exercises. Then we will begin feeling better. We would like to jump over the uncomfortable part- David would have liked to- but that would be to lead a shallow life. We are called to lead lives of deep transformation, and that means honestly facing who we really are- the parts we like and the parts we don’t. God doesn’t shy away from our not so pretty parts. God sees us truly and loves us knowing all our deep dark secrets, but God also loves us too much to leave us as we are. God calls us, like he called David, to face our sin so we can lead a better life. Amen      

Questions for reflecting on 2 Sam 11:
1. How do you feel when you hear that a respected Christian leader has committed a serious sin?

2. When was a time you had to deal with the consequences of a personal sin? Who was effected by it? How did it effect their lives?

3. How do you think this action entered into David’s mind as an option? Was it an action that came out of the blue, or do you think this action is the fruit of a smaller series of temptations, thoughts, or sins? What might David have done to prevent this action?

4. Why do we want to cover up sin rather than confess it?

[1] Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson

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