Tuesday, 7 August 2012

a hard, but necessary lesson- David and Nathan- 2 Sam 11

2 Samuel 11
New International Version (NIV)
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointedyou king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing martial arts. Some kids play hockey or soccer, but my sport was martial arts. Just a few years ago we were practicing a particular technique and we would take turns being the attacker and being the person being attacked. So I was practicing this move with a friend and my sensei took my friend’s place to show us a particular detail. As we were practicing and my sensei was explaining I kept forgetting to put my hand up to protect my head. My teacher kept telling me “Chris, protect yourself”, “Protect yourself”, “Chris… remember to protect yourself”.  Suddenly, wack! He hit me really hard in the head. Once again, I wasn’t protecting myself. Then he said, “they hit harder in the street”. I was shocked, and angry, and hurt, and embarrassed, but I didn’t forget to protect myself during that particular technique again. My sensei was pretty old school and he didn’t mind using harsh methods to teach his lessons.

Once I got over my anger, and my head didn’t hurt anymore I saw what sensei was doing. I was forgetting to protect myself. Sensei was always training us to deal with actual violence. He didn’t see it as a sport, necessarily. For him, martial arts was a kind of stewardship of violence- it was not fun and games. If I forgot to protect my head in the street I might not get a second chance.  My sensei was teaching me an important lesson. It was a lesson that would keep me safe and alive. Ultimately, as hard as it was to believe at the time, it was a loving act. He could have left that lesson untaught, but he was concerned for me in case I ever found myself in a situation where I needed to protect myself or someone else.
David’s sensei was the prophet Nathan.  David has become king and has become full of himself. He has started to act as if he is above the law.  While the army was away David slept with one of his soldier’s wives, Bathsheba, who was the wife of Uriah. Bathsheba becomes pregnant and David attempts to cover up the adultery. Eventually David conspires to have Uriah killed on the battlefield and makes it look like a tactical mistake. Uriah is killed and David brings Bathsheba into his own home as his wife. David thinks he’s gotten away with murder… and adultery.
Nathan then comes to David with a story. There were two men. One man is rich. The other man is poor. The rich man has numerous sheep and cattle. The poor man has nothing except one little lamb. It is a pet lamb- it shares his food and drinks from his cup. The lamb even sleeps in the poor man’s arms. The little lamb is like the poor man’s daughter. One day a traveler came to the rich man’s house, but instead of taking one of his own animals for the meal he took the poor man’s little pet lamb.
David doesn’t see the parallel. He doesn’t see the rich man’s blessings as his own. He doesn’t see the poor man Uriah and his little lamb. Instead, David sees a chance to judge. He looks down his nose and casts judgment on someone else’s situation without considering his own.  David burns with anger and says “the man who did this must die!” not knowing that he is casting judgment on himself.
The prophet Nathan looks up from the floor and into David’s angry eyes. Nathan’s eyes are sad, and filled with tears, “you are the man”. David suddenly sees it.  The roots of the parable penetrate his heart. It’s no longer an abstract legal matter. Suddenly David feels it.
David has a choice here. Many messengers have been killed for delivering distasteful messages to rulers.  David could kill Nathan, just like he killed Uriah. He could continue to dig himself deeper and deeper into a pit he can never dig himself out of, or he can repent. He can choose to accept Nathan’s words and accept that he has been heading down a dark path.
David looks at Nathan- shocked. The room is silent. The words, “you are the man” are still heavy in the air. Then David’s eyes fill with tears. He accepts that he is the rich man, and he hears his own judgment “as surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die”. He looks back on all that God has given him. God made him king. He saved him over and over again from his enemies. He had numerous wives. He united the kingdom. And if he wanted more he just had to ask, but God seemed to drop off his radar screen as soon as he wasn’t afraid for his life anymore. As soon as he got a taste of palace life God seemed to disappear. And now David saw it. He saw what happened.       
Psalm 51 is the Psalm that is associated with David at this moment. It is believed that David wrote it and expresses how he felt at that moment. He says, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” 
This is the David God longs for.  What matters to God isn’t so much people who never do anything wrong. What matters to God are people who are in relationship with Him. God doesn’t want people who have low self-esteem and who are down on themselves all the time. Repentance isn’t about beating yourself up. It’s about realizing the starting point. The starting point is needing God. David, at this point remembers that he needs God. With tears in his eyes David admits to his starting point before God “I have sinned against the Lord”.
We live in a broken world. It is a world filled with beauty, but it is also a fundamentally broken world.  We, with David, admit to our starting point before God. “I have sinned against the Lord”. We don’t remain there, but we start there. We begin with recognizing the brokenness of our lives and our relationships. We admit to being part of the problem and to being stuck without God.
This moment can feel like the moment my sensei punched me in the head. It was a lesson I had to learn, and I wasn’t learning it any other way. When Nathan said “you are the man”, I’m sure David felt the force of that blow. But it was needed to bring David back to reality. It had to happen so David could see himself again. It was a lesson he had to learn, but it wasn’t a comfortable moment. We have to always be reminded that we aren’t God.
It’s hard to see that moment as grace, but it is. It is as if you are walking lost in the forest thinking you are going the right way, but suddenly you trip over a log and find yourself lying across a path. You look up from the ground and see a large sign and an arrow pointing you where you need to go. You realize you’ve been lost and didn’t know it. You have a long way to go, but suddenly the path is clear. That moment is grace. It might be humbling and even a bit embarrassing, but it is grace. The alternative is being lost in the woods at night, which is not fun.  God broke into David’s world and showed him he was lost in the woods- Just as God breaks into our world. That moment is grace. It is an expression of God’s loving care.

David didn’t have to receive that grace. He could have gone the way of many powerful people and kept using his power to destroy those who are trying to set him on the right path. He could have killed the prophet Nathan for daring to confront a powerful king. He could have lived an unrepentant life never wanting to admit to his own mistakes. David could have done this, but he didn’t. He received that uncomfortable grace. We can learn from David in that moment. We can learn to check our pride. We can humble ourselves. We can be willing to be embarrassed in order to see ourselves truly. We, with David, can find our way again when we lose it, which we seem to do over and over again.
We can see ourselves in David, but we can also at times see ourselves in the prophet Nathan. There are times when God may be calling us to confront an injustice. We might have to make a friend aware of the fact that they are lost in the woods, even though they are confidently striding in the wrong direction. That kind of confrontation is not comfortable. It doesn’t feel nice, it doesn’t feel loving, so we usually don’t say anything.  That is one extreme. We look the other way and hope that eventually they discover that they are lost in the words- before it’s too late.  But, how loving is that? How loving is it to watch that person walk lost into the woods when we know differently? We might think it is nice and loving to not say the hard words “you’re lost”, but is it loving to say nothing? We avoid conflict believing that it is evil in itself. It’s uncomfortable, so we think it is bad. But, love sometimes has to confront, just as Nathan confronts David. It’s risky. The relationship would be put to the test at that moment, but it was the loving thing to do- “you’re the man”.
If saying nothing is one extreme way of reacting to a friend lost in sin, the other extreme is judgementalism.  We can really love pointing out all the wrong things people do.  Someone who drives faster than us is a maniac. Someone who drives slower than us is a moron. The implied message is that we’re the only one who is driving the right speed. It feels very righteous to point out other people’s immorality. It’s a bit like making yourself taller by decapitating everyone around you. As Christians we are to avoid this kind of self-righteous judgment. It is picking the sliver out of someone’s eye when our own pride is a log in our own eye.
When sensei hit me it wasn’t to make himself feel powerful. His fist wasn’t the fist of a bully. It was a caring action to train me.  He cared about my future. Nathan cared about David’s future. But notice he didn’t come straight out and call David an adulterer and a murderer. He had to tell David in a way that he could hear it. Nathan told a story- a parable. His confrontation was a loving act. When we are called by God to act as Nathan we must be free of all self-interest. That part of us that gets joy at seeing another fall in the mud has to die. That part of us that sneers at another’s sin has to die.  It has to be replaced with compassion for one who is lost. The motivation for confronting someone stuck in sin has to be love and compassion. Sneers have to become tears.  If God is going to use us this way then we must be concerned for the people involved, including the wrongdoer, even more than our sense of justice. In that moment God is using us to draw that person back into relationship with God to re-discover who they are.
The stories of David are not examples of a life lived perfectly. If we want that we look to Jesus. The story of David, is in many ways, our lives. Sometimes David lives faithfully, honourably and compassionately. Sometimes that’s us.  Sometimes David sins horribly. He destroys, he uses, and abuses. He manipulates. It’s hard to admit, but sometimes that’s us too. In that moment- in the midst of our brokenness- like David we need to be willing to receive that uncomfortable grace. And sometimes God uses us to deliver that uncomfortable grace- like the prophet Nathan. It is a dangerous position. Our friendship is tested and so is our own soul. But sometimes we are called to lovingly, compassionately, and tearfully, deliver that uncomfortable grace. God is not put off by the mess. God works in the midst of the messiness of our world. God will work with the mess- right in the midst of it. And God will bring beautiful things out of our messy lives. Just as one example, if we look into Jesus’ family tree,  as we find it in Matthew chapter 1, we find there as one of Jesus’ ancestors “Uriah’s wife”. Bathsheba, is one of Jesus’ ancestors. God worked through the mess. He entered into the mess as Jesus. It’s fascinating that God would bring Jesus into being through a family tree that had such an undesirable relationship as David and Bathsheba. The messiness of life is the beginning for all of us. We have the messiness in common. But God brings beautiful things out of our messiness if we let him. Amen.  

Questions for reflecting on Sam 11:
1. Who is affected by David’s sins? When was a time your sin had an effect on those around you? Would you define sin as “personal” or “communal”?

2. Do you identify more with David, Bathsheba, Uriah, or Nathan? Why?

3. Why did David feel so confident to condemn the rich man in Nathan’s parable, but not see his own sin? When have you tried to pick a sliver out of someone’s eye, when you had a plank in your own (Matt 7)? 

4. Why does Nathan tell David a story, rather than accuse him of sin? How do people normally act when confronted with their sin? How do you respond when confronted by your sin?

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