2 Samuel 12:1-24
Our text for this
morning is a familiar story from the 12th chapter of the second book of
Samuel. It is the conclusion to the story of David and Bathsheba.
I think many of you remember that story, maybe not all of the details.
To refresh your memory:
David sees Bathsheba
taking a bath and desires her, summons her to his quarters even though
he already has a concubine of wives. Manages to get her pregnant,
which of course is a small problem because Bathsheba is already married
to a commander in his army who is off fighting for the nation. So
David summons him home, thinking he'll go visit his wife and then no one
will ever know. A nice little royal cover-up.
Only it doesn't work
that way, because Uriah is a very devout man and to have those kinds of
privileges in the midst of war is contrary to the principles of the time
and he wants to be loyal to his troops so he refuses to go home.
Now David has a problem, big problem, that is only going to grow with
So, he sends Uriah
back to the battle with words to his commanders to send Uriah out and to
withdraw their forces so that Uriah will be surrounded by the enemy and
will be killed. And indeed that is what happens.
David is thinking
'ha!', fixed that problem. Done and over with, how clever am I.
And this is the rest
of the story:
the thing that David had done
displeased the Lord, and the Lord
sent Nathan to David. He came to
him, and said to him, ‘There were
two men in a certain city, one rich
and the other poor. 2The rich man
had very many flocks and herds; 3but
the poor man had nothing but one
little ewe lamb, which he had
bought. He brought it up, and it
grew up with him and with his
children; it used to eat of his
meager fare, and drink from his cup,
and lie in his bosom, and it was
like a daughter to him. 4Now there
came a traveler to the rich man, and
he was loath to take one of his own
flock or herd to prepare for the
wayfarer who had come to him, but he
took the poor man’s lamb, and
prepared that for the guest who had
come to him.’ 5Then David’s anger
was greatly kindled against the man.
He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord
lives, the man who has done this
deserves to die; 6he shall restore
the lamb fourfold, because he did
this thing, and because he had no
7 Nathan said to David, ‘You are the
man! Thus says the Lord, the God of
Israel: I anointed you king over
Israel, and I rescued you from the
hand of Saul; 8I gave you your
master’s house, and your master’s
wives into your bosom, and gave you
the house of Israel and of Judah;
and if that had been too little, I
would have added as much more. 9Why
have you despised the word of the
Lord, to do what is evil in his
sight? You have struck down Uriah
the Hittite with the sword, and have
taken his wife to be your wife, and
have killed him with the sword of
the Ammonites. 10Now therefore the
sword shall never depart from your
house, for you have despised me, and
have taken the wife of Uriah the
Hittite to be your wife. 11Thus says
the Lord: I will raise up trouble
against you from within your own
house; and I will take your wives
before your eyes, and give them to
your neighbor, and he shall lie with
your wives in the sight of this very
sun. 12For you did it secretly; but
I will do this thing before all
Israel, and before the sun.’ 13David
said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned
against the Lord.’ Nathan said to
David, ‘Now the Lord has put away
your sin; you shall not die.
14Nevertheless, because by this deed
you have utterly scorned the Lord,
the child that is born to you shall
die.’ 15Then Nathan went to his
The Lord struck the child that
Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it
became very ill. 16David therefore
pleaded with God for the child;
David fasted, and went in and lay
all night on the ground. 17The
elders of his house stood beside
him, urging him to rise from the
ground; but he would not, nor did he
eat food with them. 18On the seventh
day the child died. And the servants
of David were afraid to tell him
that the child was dead; for they
said, ‘While the child was still
alive, we spoke to him, and he did
not listen to us; how then can we
tell him the child is dead? He may
do himself some harm.’ 19But when
David saw that his servants were
whispering together, he perceived
that the child was dead; and David
said to his servants, ‘Is the child
dead?’ They said, ‘He is dead.’
20 Then David rose from the ground,
washed, anointed himself, and
changed his clothes. He went into
the house of the Lord, and
worshipped; he then went to his own
house; and when he asked, they set
food before him and he ate. 21Then
his servants said to him, ‘What is
this thing that you have done? You
fasted and wept for the child while
it was alive; but when the child
died, you rose and ate food.’ 22He
said, ‘While the child was still
alive, I fasted and wept; for I
said, “Who knows? The Lord may be
gracious to me, and the child may
live.” 23But now he is dead; why
should I fast? Can I bring him back
again? I shall go to him, but he
will not return to me.’
24 Then David consoled his wife
Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay
with her; and she bore a son, and he
named him Solomon. The Lord loved
Well, it's an
interesting story, isn't it?
This is the kick-off
Sunday for our Fall stewardship campaign: "New Love, New Mercy".
You may be thinking this isn't exactly a traditional passage that we
would use to reflect on stewardship
Michael Kennedy said to me when he heard what the text was, and what the
Sunday was, and suggested I could use this as my sermon title:
"Give, or die!".
It's clear, simple,
packs a punch. Doesn't exactly give that warm and fuzzy feeling
you want to create this time of year. Kind of like going to
football game when your team is on top of their game
Not that I would ever celebrate such [the Ducks beat 6th-ranked Cal 42-3
But this text is not
exactly a warm and fuzzy text, either. It raises all kinds of
challenging issues for us. So let me start with those, because I
know there are people that when they hear this (or read it) have all
kinds of questions. Is this the way God is? How could a just
God justify taking an innocent child as the punishment for the sin of
the King? If this is God's doing, can we still think of God as
difficulty our military has whenever innocent people are killed in some
action, we have to explain that collateral damage is the unfortunate
result of war. Is God so limited that God cannot avoid that kind
of collateral damage in order to achieve some divine purpose?
Rabbi Harold Kushner,
the author of 'Why Bad Things Happen to Good People', says that if you
get on an airplane and unbeknownst to you there's some really bad people
on that airplane, and, you know, God may think this is a convenient time
to cause a little mishap on the airplane at 30,000 feet and they'll all
plummet to the ground. I mean, who could live like this?
Those are tough questions.
So we basically have
two choices with a text like this. On the one hand we can simply
accept that God knows best. Though it's hard to explain why this
child has to suffer at all, let alone suffer for 7 days. But we
can trust God is doing the right thing. That's one option.
And if that works for you, great. For many people, no matter how
bad things get, they take great comfort in the assurance that it will
all work out somehow in the end. God is in charge and knows what
he or she is doing.
Helen Hendricks, some
of you may remember, a life-long member of this church, cared for her
husband for 25 years after he had become an invalid from a stroke.
Hardly left his side, devoted to his care. By the time he died,
her health had failed and she was pretty much home-bound. Whenever
I visited Helen, she always always always said to me that her favorite
verse of scripture "For all things work for good for those who love the
Lord". She said it with such joy, her faith was so evident it was
contagious. And powerful.
But I know that
doesn't always work for everyone. And to be honest, it doesn't
always work for me.
And so after 3,000
years of reflecting on the nature of God and human suffering,
collectively, the people of faith have come to a new understanding.
People once believed that God was behind every birth and every death.
I do not. To me that idea died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
It died under the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It
died in the twin towers of New York. Don't tell me that God causes
innocent people and innocent children to die because there is simply too
much evidence to the contrary.
Maybe the author of
this text believed that God worked this way, or maybe such was simply
the common understanding. It was the best explanation that anyone
could give at the time for why bad things happen to good people.
And no one thought to question it.
Just as most people
in ancient times believed the world was flat -- it made sense, heaven
above us, hell below us. But of course in today's world that
doesn't make sense anymore, when we have an entirely different
understanding of the universe, and know that there is no such thing as
that kind of '3 story' universe. Does that mean we need to
re-write scripture to take that into account?
And so too the same
with God. We may have a different understanding today, that does
not mean that we should re-write the text. Indeed, part of the
power of the story is that it doesn't always fit our understanding of
God in the world and therefore it challenges us to think hard. Why
do we know God is like 'this' and not like 'that'?
And I know, in church
it can be a dangerous thing to do
But it's good for us to be challenged, to be honest with the text, not
pretend that everything is OK when it's not. To struggle with it.
As much as Jacob struggled with those divine messengers before he
reconciled with his brother Esau that night along the banks of the
Sometimes in those
struggles, we find the greatest blessing as we come to new
understandings of the text, or our faith, or God.
There are a couple
other issues I think are worthy of that kind of struggle that I'll just
touch upon without going into -- you can chew on them. One is the
whole issue of prayer. I mean, here is David who prays unceasing
for 7 days and nights and apparently to no affect. That raises
some issues for us. There's also the question of mourning, and
David's apparent lack thereof after this child dies.
Foreshadowing, perhaps, the difficult saying of Jesus 'Let the dead bury
the dead'. And lastly, and I think even more interesting, the
whole question of family values in a story like this. On the one
hand, David doesn't get away with his adultery and the murder.
That's all well and good. But he gets Bathsheba anyway, in the
end. What's the lesson there? And then there's the issue of this
concubine. Never does the story ever question the right of the
King to have as many wives as he chooses -- so long as he doesn't steal
someone else's wife. Not exactly traditional family values.
And finally the
threat that Nathan makes, apparently on behalf of God -- because David
stole Uriah's wife, God is going to take all the wives of David, give
them to his neighbor (presumably meaning another King), and to do this
in plain sight because of what David did in secret. Now,
never-mind that these women are traded here like pawns in a chess game,
but what Nathan is proposing makes Hugh Hefner look like a puritan saint
Probably not a good story to read to your children before bedtime.
"Mommy, how come David had so many wives?". . . . "Go ask your father".
"Daddy, did David make babies with all of his wives by himself, or did
he have help?". It's those kinds of questions that led to sex
education in schools -- some things are better left to professionals
So we have all these
questions that this text raises. But in addition to all of these,
there is the hard question of the story, of the parable, the lesson that
it suggests to us. And while the object of the parable told by
Nathan may be to expose David's abuse of power and his lack of
hospitality to the poor with the single ewe, as is the case in all
stories in scripture it's not intended solely for David's sake,
otherwise the text would not be here for us. There's a deeper truth for
us, about the relationship between wealth and poverty. The
tempting lure of greed, and the ways in which David abuses his power.
The ease by which those with money take from those with little.
It wouldn't be too
hard to update this story for modern times. I mean, you change the
sheep to something like securitized mortgages (which we probably don't
have a lot of understanding of what those are!), add to that instead of
a rich man you have a Wall St. broker, the poor man is a homeowner whose
home is being foreclosed upon. And you see, it's the same story
being played out in modern times before our eyes.
Ultimately, this is
not just a parable about 1 King long ago, or wealthy bankers far away --
it's a parable about the responsibility that we all share, to use our
wealth and power (regardless of how great that may be or how little that
may be) in ways that please God.
David, like the rich
man of Nathan's parable, displeased God because he had used that power
and wealth to satisfy his own desires with little concern for those
under him. And no amount of fasting and prayer could compensate
for his failure to fulfill his most basic responsibility to others under
John Dominic Crossan
notes that in scripture, God rejects worship for the lack of justice,
but God never rejects justice for the lack of worship.
Pleasing God is not
about praising the one above us, it's about doing right by those under
us. Sharing the wealth and power we have from God with all of
God's people, especially those who have so little of either.
That of course leads
us to why we're reflecting on this text, on this Sunday. For
Nathan's parable is a parable about not only how David abused his power
and wealth, it's about our stewardship of that which is entrusted to us
by God. And what happens when we abuse those gifts and use them
for our own personal gain, rather than for the common good of all God's
So David is not only
a negative example from which we can learn about how not to take
advantage of others, David also learns along with us and thus is a
positive model as well. Confessing his sin and begging
forgiveness. And odd as may seem, this too has implications for
stewardship. In fact, it is the basis for the theme that we are
using: "New love, new mercy". A theme drawn from the text of
Lamentations that April will reflect with us on next week.
The book of
Lamentations in particular, and lamentations throughout scripture in
general, reveal to us the depth of human pain and suffering. "My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That famous opening line
of the lamentation in Psalm 22 that Jesus then quotes from the cross.
One of the themes
that comes through this particular story loud and clear is David's
grief, David's lamentation. Realizing his error and his guilt, he
pours out his soul to God for 7 days and nights. I think we can
identify with that kind of pain, because it's one that most of us have
known at some level. Grief is simply an unavoidable part of life.
My son came home with
two little kittens earlier this year. Cute as a bug, they quickly
endeared themselves to you, a matching pair. Well, one of them
became sick, had to take him to the vet. They had to hospitalize
it for 3 days before we finally had to put the poor little thing to
sleep because of that illness. And you know, it just breaks you
up. There was more than a few tears shed in our household.
And we have that kind of grief for a pet, think how much more that grief
is for a loved one.
Learning to deal with
grief in healthy ways, letting if flow out of us, rather than damning it
inside until it bursts out in unhealthy ways is one of those critical
lessons of life that's learned early. But the witness of scripture
is not just about the depth of human grief, it is also a witness to the
depth of God's love to lift us out of that grief.
And so we note in the
story of David's misdeeds resulting in his son's death ends not at the
graveside, but at the birth of a second son to Bathsheba -- Solomon, who
we are told is the wisest of King's in Israel's tradition, and whom God
And so just as the
story attributes death to God's will, so too it attributes new life.
And while that cannot
begin to compensate for the death of Bathsheba's first son (as any
parent who has lost a child will tell you), it does give us hope.
Like David, we may screw up our lives in all kinds of ways, but God does
not cease to offer us new possibilities that bring life out of death.
To bring good out of any situation.
The message of
resurrection is right here in this story. With God, death does not
have the last word. It never has the last word. Nor does sin
remove us from the grace of God. Though there are consequences for
David's actions, there is also forgiveness. Always forgiveness.
This unending mercy
of God is the basis of our gratitude to God. No matter our pain,
our suffering, our hardships, our sin, God is always there offering to
us new possibilities of life and hope.
Gratitude is the
foundation of stewardship. It's not about an obligation, not about
a responsibility, it's not about a duty, ultimately it's about our
thankfulness, our appreciation, our gratitude for all that God gives to
us. For the beauty and the wonder of this world, and life, and the
opportunity that gives to us.
Give back, that more
may share in the grace, the new love, the new mercy of our Lord.