The Seeds within Us All, II Samuel 11:1-17, 7/13/14

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Jul 132014
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

1In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 16 As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17 The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. (II Samuel 11:1-17, NRSV)

 

There are two names which will forever be linked to David, the great king of Israel.  The first was a Philistine giant named Goliath.  The second was a bathing beauty named Bathsheba.  David’s encounter with each of them caused repercussions that would echo down not only in his life but in the life of an entire nation.

 

It was springtime, the time of year when kings typically lead their armies off to battle.  The rainy season had ended and the roads were passable again.  The harvest had arrived which meant that there would be plenty of fields for the soldiers to raid along the way.  So it was that spring that every able-bodied man in Israel headed off to battle their great enemy the Ammonites.  But David, the king, stayed behind this time.  We’re not given a reason.  What we are given is the clear impression that David, in this decision, is not doing what the king is supposed to be doing.  There is disgrace in his choice to stay behind by himself with the women and children.

 

There is also danger, as there is always danger when a person neglects a duty or calling which has been assigned.  As the old saying goes, idle hands are the devil’s workshop.  David has chosen comfort over calling and the vacuum created will need to be filled by something.

 

It’s late in the afternoon one day when David gets out of bed.  Maybe he’s been napping.  Maybe he’s been asleep all day.  Either way he goes out onto the roof of the palace to enjoy the cool of the evening and there, down below on a neighboring rooftop, is a woman taking a bath.  The language here in the text indicates that the woman, whose name was Bathsheba, was striking in her beauty, striking in a way that one could not help but notice.  David notices, and the sight of her nakedness arouses his desire.  I can’t speak for the women here today, but every man in this room knows exactly the place in which David finds himself in that moment.

 

There’s an old saying about temptation: you can’t keep a bird from flying over your head but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.  Like all sin, lust begins with a temptation you cannot avoid.  A man sees a beautiful woman and he cannot help but notice her beauty, even admire her beauty.  The bird flies over your head but as it does there is a decision.  In that moment, will that man allow his mind to lead him to imagine that this woman is somebody he might consume for his own selfish desires?  If so, then the bird begins to build its nest.

 

David’s resistance to temptation is weakened by the fact that he’s already been unfaithful in his calling as king, staying behind while his troops march off to war.  You see, the person who is living in willful disobedience to God has built up momentum to continue to willfully disobey.  Sure enough, David makes another decision that he will eventually come to regret.  In an instant, he trades what is ultimately most precious to him for the momentary fulfillment of his passion.  He sends for the woman, who happened to married to one of David’s soldiers out on the front line, and he takes her to his bed.

 

This is a good place to pause and remember that David was known as “a man after God’s own heart.”[1]  Along with Abraham and Moses, he is one of the most highly regarded leaders in the history of Israel who, at times, showed stunning faith and devotion to his Lord.  And yet in this story we see him commit some of the most terrible atrocities, not only adultery but also murder and deceit.  Here’s the lesson for us.  The seeds of great evil lie in every human heart.  They may be small at first, but like an acorn that, when planted and watered, can grow into a massive oak tree, the seeds of great evil are in your heart just as they are in my heart.  What David is capable of, so are you.

 

It’s a matter of historical record that when most of the British and American leaders, including President Roosevelt, first heard reports of the Holocaust during World War II, they didn’t initially believe it.  After the war, Roosevelt admitted that he couldn’t believe the reports because he simply couldn’t imagine that a highly developed civilization like Germany, which gave us Mozart and Bach, could possibly produce this level of evil.  Perhaps primitive cultures might engage in this sort of behavior, but not civilized people like us.  He was wrong, of course, as is anybody who tries to tell you that the potential for great evil does not lie within the heart of every person sitting in this room this morning.  Do you think you are better than David, the man after God’s own heart?  You are gravely mistaken if you do.

 

Many years ago I read the autobiography of the great evangelist Billy Graham.  At one point in his life, after he had seen moral failure, especially sexual moral failure, lead to the demise of many other leaders in the church of his day, Billy Graham made a decision that he would never again meet alone with, or share a meal alone with, or travel alone with another woman besides his wife or daughter.  It was a decision that at the time seemed extreme to many people.  It still does.  And yet, all these years later Billy Graham is one of the few leaders of his stature in the church who has not been brought down by moral failure.  I read this about Dr. Graham shortly after I was married myself and I set some similar boundaries in my own life and have never since regretted doing so.  Every married man in this room would benefit from a set of similar boundaries.

 

Here’s the thing.  I believe Billy Graham made that decision not because he was more moral or upright than the rest of us, but because he knew that he was not!  This is why the Bible pleads with us all in regards to temptation.  We all will be tempted; even Jesus was tempted.  When it happens, we must turn and run the other way.  I Corinthians 6:18 implores us, “Flee from sexuality immorality.”  Don’t walk away, flee!  James 4:7 tells us, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  The message in I Peter 5:8 is sobering: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert.  Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”

 

So let me ask you, where in your life is temptation to sin especially strong these days?  Do not take it lightly.  Do not assume you are immune to the evil and sinful behavior which result when the seeds of temptation in your heart are allowed to grow gradually and inconspicuously.  As we’re about to see, even the most faithful person takes temptation lightly at their own peril.  One unchecked lustful glance.  One roll of the dice.  One click of the mouse.  One conversation in a parking lot.  One sip.  One word that should have been left unsaid.  One grey area entered into.  One angry outburst.  Once that bird overhead is allowed to begin building its nest it’s much, much harder to get rid of.

 

Our narrator here gives us all the details we need.  David has sex with Bathsheba at a time in her menstrual cycle when she is most fertile.  One month later it’s clear.  Uriah’s wife is carrying the child of his king.  The seed has taken root and is beginning to grow.

 

The moment David hears the news of the pregnancy, he faces another crossroads.  The sin has been committed, the damage has been done.  Now there is a choice, a clear choice between truth and deceit.  He can confess and repent or he can deny and cover up.  This is, by the way, the choice all of us face when we sin.  One way leads into the light, the other deeper into the darkness.

 

It is at this moment that David shows us his true colors.  This is not a man who is acting out of character.  (None of us, by the way, act out of character.  Our actions, rather, always reflect our character.)  This is a man who has made a willful decision in his life to disregard God.  As David stood on the roof of his palace that evening to survey his kingdom he should have been filled with humility and gratitude.  God had provided for him everything he needed.  And yet David determined that God’s provision was insufficient.  He wants more.  He imagines that there is something beyond what God has provided or allowed which he must have in order to be satisfied.

 

This is always how sin works, even from the beginning.  God sets the first humans in a garden and gives them every tree of the garden to eat, more abundance than they could ever possibly need.  And yet it is the one tree that they are told they cannot have which is the one they decide they must have.  This is sin.  Ultimately it’s not about sex, or money, or power, or prestige, or pleasure.  At its core sin is always about trusting that there is something other than the Lord and his provision which we must have to be satisfied.  As writer Eugene Peterson says, all human sin has the same ring to it – we want to be gods ourselves, take charge ourselves, assert control ourselves, take from others what satisfies ourselves.  The details of our own sin may be different from David, but the theme is always the same.[2]  Your life, just like my life, is a history of attempts at satisfying the deep longings of your soul with something other than the One who alone can satisfy.

 

Without hesitation, David hatches a three-phase plan to cover up the damage which has been done.  He calls Uriah home from the front line.  After some small talk about the war, David encourages him to go home and “wash his feet,” a euphemism in those days for sexual intercourse.  “Go on home, Uriah, get yourself cleaned up, have a nice dinner, enjoy a glass or two of wine, spend some time with that lovely wife of yours, if you know what I mean.”

 

Uriah refuses.  Not because he didn’t want to.  How could he not want to!  He refuses with a solemn oath because it’s not the right thing to do.  For in those days it was understood that a soldier would not go and enjoy the comforts of home, especially in the arms of his wife, while his comrades were still away from those same comforts in battle.  This was a custom even David had abided by earlier in his life.[3]  Uriah knew that there was no honor in David’s suggestion.  Uriah didn’t know the half of it!

 

With urgency, David then moves to phase two of his plan to get Uriah in bed with his wife so people will assume the child is legitimate.  David gets Uriah drunk in hopes that the liquor will compromise his honor.  It doesn’t work.  Uriah spends the night again at the entrance to the palace.  And so desperately out of options, David displays his great capacity for appalling evil when he sends Uriah back to the front line unaware that as he goes he is carrying his own death warrant.  Deuteronomy 27:24 declares, “Cursed be anyone who strikes down a neighbor in secret.”  David has cursed himself and his curse is a disease what will infect the people around him in devastating ways.

 

If you’ve read the rest of the story you know that David’s plan works.  And when word comes back that Uriah the Hittite is dead, along with some other innocent soldiers who got caught up in the scheme, the scripture says that Bathsheba “made lamentation for him.”  After the prerequisite seven days of mourning was over, however, David sent for Bathsheba, brought her[4] to the palace, and made her his wife.  In time, she bore him a son.

 

And just like that life goes on.  What’s done is done.  Bad decisions were made, yes.  People were hurt, yes.  But now we must look forward, and move on, and let bygones be bygones.  David’s response here is not uncommon.  How typical it is in our lives for us to deal with our sin by simply moving on with life, sometimes almost as if nothing has happened.  The only problem with this is that all along the way the Lord is always present.  All through this mess, letting things unfold as they might, the Lord, though unmentioned in the story to this point, is ever present.  But in the last verse of chapter 11 we read these words, “But the thing that David did displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan [the prophet] to David.”[5]

 

To this point, it’s David who’s been doing all the sending.  Send for the woman on the roof.  Send word to Joab.  Send for Uriah to come to me.  Try to send Uriah home.  Try to send Uriah home drunk.  Send Uriah to the front line.  Send for the woman who carries my child.  But now it is the Lord who will do the sending, reminding us all that there is only one true and sovereign King in this story.

 

Nathan is a prophet.  Prophets are always sent by God.  So Nathan shows up one day in the palace with a story for David from God.  It goes like this.  There are two men in a certain city, one rich and one poor.  The rich man has many flocks and herds, too many to count. The poor man, however, has just one little lamb which he raised alongside his children, let eat from his plate, and sleep in his bed.  He loved this little lamb like his own daughter.  But then one day the rich man is hosting guests in his home and does not want to give up one of his own flock so, instead, he goes out and takes the poor man’s one lamb and slaughters it and serves it for dinner.

 

This is the story God sent Nathan to tell David and the Bible says that when David hears this story his anger towards this man is greatly kindled.  “As the Lord lives,” David declared, “the man who has done this thing deserves to die!”  And Nathan turns to the king and simply says, “You are the man!”

 

I’ve often wondered why Nathan came to David in this way.  Why tell a story?  Why not just lay out the facts, “David, God knows what you did with Bathsheba and with Uriah.  You are not going to get away with it.”  For some reason, however, a frontal attack like that was not Nathan’s approach.  Instead, he stalks his prey cunningly.  Instead of condemning David’s sin outright, Nathan leads the king to recognize his sin by first recognizing his sin in the life of another.  Could this be because Nathan knew it is always easier to see sin in the lives of others than to see the same sin in our own lives?  Isn’t it the guilty person who is most anxious to see the guilt in another so that they can feel better about themselves?  Pay attention to the sin you most despise in others and you will likely identify the sin you are desperately trying to ignore in yourself.

 

It was pointed out to me this week that Nathan came at David this way because he knew he was not sent by God to condemn but rather to convert.[6]  David was guilty, yes.  No question.  But had his guilt been thrown in his face do you think he would have owned it?  Think about yourself.  How do you typically respond when somebody condemns you for your shortcomings?  We shift the blame.  We attempt to justify and rationalize.  We deny.  We plead ignorance.  We argue it was out of character.

 

What we see here is the shrewd grace of God at work.  You see, God never comes to condemn.  Do you know that?  Is God justified in condemning us?  Of course.  But that is never what God is after, with David or with us.  After all, remember God’s greatest attempt to come and confront our sin had nothing to with condemnation.  John 3:17 makes clear, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

Can you see that this is always how God acts towards sin, in the Old as well as the New Testament?   Nathan is not sent to condemn David but is sent to convert David, to help David see his sin, admit his sin, turn from his sin and, in doing so, find his sin forgiven.

 

Every one of us needs God to send a Nathan or two into our lives, people who come not to condemn the sin in us but who come neither to ignore the sin in us.  We also need to be Nathan for others in our lives, willing to speak the truth in love to one another about specific sin in our lives in ways that get around third-person defenses and help us towards first-person recognition which leads to grace and restoration.[7]  Consider yourself blessed if you have had friends, or family members, or teachers, or pastors who have been Nathan to you in your life.

 

Nathan’s message to David is twofold.  First, David needs to recognize that he is the man.  The sin he hates in another is the sin God hates in him.  And because of David’s sin there will now be consequences.  There already have been.  A family is ruined.  People are dead.  Trust is lost.  And the consequences will continue.  David learns that the violence he has shown to others will turn back around and come to him.  Nathan tells him that his royal house will never know peace.  He also tells him that the child growing in the womb of his wife will not live.  Because of his sinful choices, painful consequences are in store.

 

This is a hard truth that we see evidenced everywhere we look today.  Addiction, disease, violence, faithlessness, dishonor are passed from generation to generation in every society and community and family on earth.  We sin and our children inherit our sin and its consequences.  A great deal of the hardship you face in life is a direct result of either your sin or the sin of those around you or before you.  And we can ask why God allows it, why God doesn’t just put a stop to it, how this all fits into God’s sovereign plan, but these questions are never all that helpful because while we know our Heavenly Father could certainly intervene and take away the immediate consequences of our sin, he often does not.  Come to think of it, neither did my own human parents who often allowed me to experience the consequences of my own poor choices and did so because they loved me.

 

In the moment he is confronted with all this David makes the first good decision of this entire story.  In II Samuel 12:13 we read, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”  There is no more denial, no more excuses, no more covering up.  He simply agrees with God about the evil and the sin in his heart.  And notice, he agrees that it’s not that his sin is against Bathsheeba, or against Uriah, or against the others killed in battle, but that his sin is ultimately against the Lord, as all sin us ultimately against the Lord because sin is never just about lust, or greed, or malice, or deceit but sin is instead always about trusting in something, anything, other than God.

 

In a way, David is admitting that the condemnation he leveled against the rich man in the story ought now to be leveled against him.  “As the Lord lives, this man who has done this deserves to die.”  But remember, God did not send Nathan to condemn, but to convert.  God did not bring David’s sin before him to hammer him with it but to get him to repent because of it.  In other words, God does not do what we, in his place, would do.  And so when David does convert, when he does confess his sin and lay it there honestly before God to see, Nathan brings the second part of his message.  In the next verse he says to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”[8]

 

I hope you have also come to this place in your life where you, like David, have been able to honestly face the sin in your life, the seeds of evil in your heart which carry such potential for destruction, and have confessed before God that you are a sinner, a person in trouble, a person who needs help, a human who needs God.  This is not a groveling admission, as some might suggest that it is, but is instead the beginning of freedom and hope, because when we confess to God that we are sinners deserving of death the very next thing we hear from God is, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

 

There is so much more that could be said here, so much more that could be learned from this story about David which, I hope you see by now, is really the story of us all.  Before I finish, let me make sure you at least know this.  As the story goes, Bathsheeba did give birth to a son who was never named because, just as the Lord foretold through Nathan, he died before he was a week old.  But in time, God’s grace began to work in the brokenness, as it always begins to work in the brokenness, and David and Bathsheeba conceived a second time and gave birth to another son whose name was Solomon.  In time, for all his greatness Solomon grew to be as stubbornly sinful as his father David and carried around the same seeds of evil in his heart, as did his children, and their children, and right on down the line.

 

When the time was right, however, a child was born of this royal lineage who had no such seeds in his heart.  Though he was the descended flesh of David, he was also the Son of Heaven, and so even though he was human he was also divine and so was righteous and holy in every way that a person was made by God to be righteous and holy.  He lived his life in such a way that nobody could have ever been justified in saying to him what was said to his ancestor, David, “You are the man!”  He was not the man.  He alone, among all men and women, was without sin.

 

They accused him anyway.  And when he stood trial one of his judges that day was a man named Pilate who, just before condemning him to die the death of a sinner, pointed to this man, whose name was Jesus, and said to those standing around, “Here is the man!”[9]  And on that same day, the condemnation of God for human sin, condemnation that rightly should have fallen on David as much as any one of us here today, fell instead upon Christ, the holy Son of God, so that the rest of us who recognize in faith what he did on our behalf can forever hear these words spoken to us from heaven, “Now the Lord in Christ has put away your sin; trust him and you shall not die.”

 

Friends, believe the good news of the Gospel.  In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

 

Amen.

 

 

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The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

Re-read the passage from II Samuel 11:1-17.  Better yet, read the whole story in II Samuel 11-12.  What stands out to you?

 

How could such a thing have happened?  What went wrong here to lead to such much destruction and pain?

 

Even in the New Testament David is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” (See Acts 13:22)  Considering what he does here, how can this be?

 

If a man like this was capable of such evil, do you believe that you are also capable of such evil?  Why or why not?

 

Where is temptation to sin in your life particularly strong these days?  Are you taking this temptation lightly or seriously?  How are you “fleeing” from such temptation?

 

Do you have a “Nathan” in your life who, without condemning you, will speak honestly to you about the sin in your life?  Are you a “Nathan” for others?  Who?

 

Is it possible that the sin you most detest in the lives of other people is the same sin you want to most ignore in your own life?

 

Have you ever come to a place in your life where you, along with David, have said, “I have sinned against the Lord.  I deserve the die.”?  Have you ever heard God say to you in response, “I have put away your sin; you shall not die.”?

 

 

 



[1] I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22.

[2] Paraphrased from Eugene Peterson, First and Second Samuel, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 183.

[3] See I Samuel 21:5.

[4] The language here is, literally, “David sent and collected her,” emphasizing David’s continued abuse of power and privilege.

[5] II Samuel 11:27.

[6] I picked up this insight in some sermon notes from a sermon preached by Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  See https://www.facebook.com/notes/redeemer-presbyterian-church-of-nyc/david-and-bathsheba-sermon-summary/153681639941

[7] I’m stealing and adapting some wording here from Eugene Peterson, p. 185.

[8] II Samuel 12:13.

[9] See John 19:5.  I gained this insight from Eugene Peterson, p. 186.