A Sermon based on from 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
I’ll love to tell you that I planned a 5-part series on the life of David and that we’re in week three of that series. The reality though is that for about 2 months I have been planning to go off-lectionary and preach a series on spiritual gifts. My hope is that we all might be able to see how the Holy Spirit has already equipped us to work for the kingdom of God, as well as to consider how we might come to actually ask for new gifts that we need and desire.
But for about the last 5 weeks, I’ve been asking God, is this the week to start the series on spiritual gifts? And so far, it seems like the answer has been no. So here we are, in week 3 of a sermon series on the life of King David that I didn’t expect to be preaching.
The first week was about David bringing the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem. Last week was about the house that David wanted to build for God and the house that God wanted to build for David. And this week is the infamous story of David and Bathsheba, which is likely the worst incident in the life of this otherwise Godly leader.
So, David and Bathsheba. What is this story about? We get a clue from just the first few verses of it.
“In 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.”
It doesn’t seem all that subtle in the text. Kings are supposed to go out to battle with their army, but David has remained home. It says “David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him.” We’re going to see David do a lot of “sending” in this passage. In fact, I read in a commentary that no other chapter in the entire Old Testament uses the word “sent” as much as this chapter. Why does that matter? David can send people, and they go. He can send for people, and they come. David has authority. Someone with authority speaks the word and it happens.
David is supposed to use that authority to glorify God and serve his people, but instead, in this story, we see him abusing his authority for person gain
Has anyone ever had someone say to them, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? Well, I think it’s true now and I think it was true back then.
So we know that David is at home, but listen again to the rest of setup for the story: “It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch” [just to emphasize, again, that David is sitting around on his keister rather than doing his job]
“He 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.”
A little background is helpful here. The city of Jerusalem is on a hill. So whenever someone goes to Jerusalem, they always “go up” to Jerusalem. Nobody ever goes down to Jerusalem from any direction. Even more than that, the king’s house would have been on the high point of the city itself. And so David would be able to get up on his roof and see all his neighbors, their roofs, the backyards, and perhaps even into some of their houses.
And so on this day he gets up on his roof. I bet he had a few good excuses lined up in his mind for why he was going up there
“Maybe I’ll get a little fresh air”
“I bet I can catch the sunset if I go up right now”
It’ll be good for me to take a little stroll
And then there’s the real reason behind all these reasons:
I wonder if I can lay my eyes on anything enticing
You know, usually sin doesn’t have to sneak up on us. The big bad decisions of life are almost always proceed by making one small bad decision at a time. One step at a time, marching up to sin’s door. Sin doesn’t have to come knock on our door if we walk up to its door and knock.
These days, we don’t have to even get up off our couches to tempt and entice ourselves. It’s available immediately. I don’t think that’s a sermon for now, but the punch line of that sermon would be this: Jesus wants to rescue from that too. For far too long in the church we’ve set our hopes too low. We’ve settled for sin management, when what we need is liberation.
Here I am getting all revved up with the gospel, but we’ve got lots more story…
Anyway, David goes up on his roof, certainly with impure motives, and I imagine that he sees something like what he hopes to see.
He can see this woman, Bathsheba, bathing from up there. He notices that she is beautiful.
Now, perhaps in different circumstances, noticing that Bathsheba is beautiful would not be a sin. But David’s mind immediately moves to how he could have her for himself. The bible has a term for when you desire things or people that you don’t have a right to, and you plot about how to take them for yourself. It’s “coveting.” And the interesting thing about the commandment not to covet, is that it’s like the commandment not to steal, but it’s a commandment not to plot to steal. Stealing somebody’s possession is bad, but the commandment to covet says, “don’t even think about it.” It’s a sort of pointer toward Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount, that it’s not just the outside that matters, but it’s what’s on the inside too.
Ok, so David sees the beautiful woman, but he can’t just leave it there. David sent someone to find out who she was. Answer: It’s Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Uriah is no stranger to David. If you read on in 2 Samuel you’ll find out that he was actually one of David’s “mighty men.” At times, he was probably part of David’s bodyguard. So this isn’t just some guy. David owes his life to this guy. But that history, and the fact that Bathsheba is his wife doesn’t stop David, because the next verse says David sent messengers to get Bathsheba. And it says “and she came to him, and he lay with her. Bathsheba goes home and some time later, she learns that she’s pregnant.
Scholars debate Bathsheba’s role in this whole debacle. In other words, is this adultery, or is this rape? I have to say that until recently I’d never considered the latter. But think about it– is Bathsheba really able to consent in any meaningful way? David is a man with authority. Whatever Bathsheba actually wanted, she didn’t ultimately have a choice in the matter. When the king sends for you, you will come, one way or another. The whole rest of this story is clearly centered around David’s abuse of his authority as king, there is no reason to think that we shouldn’t view his sleeping with Bathsheba as yet another abuse of his authority.
(It’s ok to let stories like this shake us, because this story serves as a stern warning to any among us who have authority over another person, whether it’s because of our position, our age, or maybe just our role in that person’s life. Let anyone who has ears hear what the Spirit is saying to the church)
So David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant. At this point in the story, just like every other point in the story, David has a choice. Will he fess up, or will he continue to weave a tangled web of sin, lies, and deception?
It was bad that David chose to be lazy rather than do what he should have been doing.
But he could have stopped things from getting worse.
It was bad when David chose to go up on his roof, knowing full well the temptations that awaited him up there.
But he could have stopped things from getting worse.
It was bad when David sent someone to inquire about the woman.
But he could have stopped things from getting worse
It was very very bad when David violated her
But he could have stopped things from getting worse
The story continues in verse 6: So David sent word to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. So what does David do? Does he come clean and say, “Uriah, I’ve done something terrible. I’ve sinned against God and against you. Do to me as you must”?
Well, no. He chooses to make things worse.
First he tries to play it cool, as if Uriah is there to provide first-hand news of the war. Of course, we know that David really just wants Uriah to go sleep with his wife so that Uriah will think the child is his. Imagine that lovely conversation:
“Hey Uriah, uh, have a seat on my couch….How’s General Joab and the army doing?
Fine? Ok. That’s good….
So, how’s the war going?
Still going. Of course of course…
Well, um, thank you so much for your services. So nice of you to stop by.
Why don’t you just go on down to your house. It’s just a short distance from here. Look you can see it from… oh.. Nevermind that.
Anyway why don’t you go home and, uh, get cleaned up a little bit… if you know what I mean.”
Uriah, however, is not up to playing David’s game. So David hatches plot number 2. Step 1, get him really drunk. Step 2… hope things go better at home. That, of course, doesn’t work either.
And so David decides to abuse his power yet again. He sent a letter back to the general with Uriah. He basically says, “send Uriah to the front line, but when have the rest of your folks retreat so that he’ll die.”
What a trainwreck!
It all starts out with David getting lazy, and then, before you know it, he’s breaking half the ten commandments, coveting his neighbor’s wife, commiting adultery (at the very least), lying to cover it up, and ultimately murdering Uriah.
That’s the snare of sin. It beckons us in with bait of easy solutions or enticing pleasures and then the traps snaps. I bet David thought he could handle the temptation of a little stroll on his roof. But he got stuck in sin’s snare, big time. And that’s sins way. It’s a mirage that promises fulfillment, but never delivers.
So what are we to make of David? To be sure, he did some really awful things– most of them in this story. But isn’t this the same man that has a good chunk of the book of Psalms attributed to him? Isn’t this the same David that defeated a literal Giant? Isn’t this the same man that is lifted up over and over again in scripture as the example of what a good human king is like? Isn’t this the man that God promised that he would give an everlasting kingdom to his ancestor?
Yes. David is all of those people. Mighty warrior. Passionate worshipper. Recipient of God’s promises. Horrible sinner.
Does that mean that David’s sins don’t have consequences? Of course not. They have some awful consequences, for himself and others. But I think that one of the primary lessons that God wants to teach each of us through this story is this: there are seeds of some of the most terrible sins imaginable that remain in each one of us. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian or how dramatic your conversion was. Every person, even the most born again, Spirit-filled, sold-out-for-God convert has the seeds of sin remaining. Just because you’re not walking in them now doesn’t mean you couldn’t make small decisions to walk yourself that way in the future.
Until Christ returns and humanity is glorified, we remain capable of sin and backsliding. I’ll summarize St. Augustine, a great theologian of the early church, who talked about humanity’s four stages. I’ll state them and then I’ll explain them.
Able to sin
Unable not to sin
Able not to sin.
Unable to sin.
God created humanity able to sin.
This is Adam and Eve in the garden. At first, in order for humanity to be free, they need to be able to choose to obey or to disobey– they need to be able to choose good or evil.
After the fall, humanity has become enslaved to sin.
In other words, humanity is unable not to sin.
Apart from Christ, all of humanity’s choices are sin to varying degrees, because even good deeds are tainted with impure motives.
When someone trusts Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are given a new birth into a renewed humanity. We say that they are regenerated.
As a result, those who are born of the Spirit, those who are in Christ are not able not to sin. This is the inheritance that belongs to every disciple of Jesus. It’s a benefit of trusting in Christ now.
What does that mean? It means that Christ comes to break the power of sin. It means that you can choose not to stroll around on your metaphorical roof, or your phone, or the casino, or whatever the case may be. But that day by day until Christ’s returns, you will be forever dependent on him for strength in times of weakness. The gospel means freedom, but it also means daily dependence on God’s empowering presence.
And one day, when Christ comes, the dead will be raised, just as Christ was raised from the dead. Heaven and Earth themselves will be made new, and those who trust in Christ will be glorified.
In this state humanity will be unable to sin. Those who have chosen holiness in this life will be made holy for all time.
The Christian view of humanity apart from God’s empowering grace is amazingly pessimistic. It’s one of those very unpopular things about the Christian faith. The world says, “humanity is basically good, and we’re getting better as time goes on.” Christianity says every single human heart is filled with the seeds of evil, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The gospel will never tell you that you are innocent. But the gospel will tell you that you are loved and that there is hope for transformation and faithfulness.
So where do we go from here?
The most unchristian approach to sin that remains in our lives is to pretend like it isn’t there. All that does is put up a wall between us and God while solidifying the broken relationships between us and others. Sin is not manageable. It is poison.
The Christian way is to confess quickly. If God has convicted you today that something in your life needs to change or be brought into the light, don’t leave here without it happening. The story of David and Bathsheba warns us of the penalties of not cutting sin off as soon as possible. Do it now, before things get worse.
Here’s a safe assumption that I have a feeling is born out by the experience of many among us: if you don’t bring it into the light now, it’ll come out anyway– and it’ll be at a worse time, and the consequences will be worse.
Here’s one you can write down: It’s a lot easier to squash an acorn than to chop down an oak tree. I believe that all of us have acorns to be squashed. Others of us have oak trees that need to be cut down. It won’t be easy, but with God, all things are possible.
Here’s the invitation I want to give today: simply for you to admit that you don’t have it all together, and for you to name in your heart a way that you don’t have it all together. The challenge here is to get out of the generic “I’m not perfect” mentality and to be specific before God. How are you not perfect? What sin clings to you? You won’t know forgiveness until you get specific. But when you get specific and earnest, Jesus will meet you.
God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. God’s promise is that when we bring sin into the light– when we confess and truly do mourn our sin– that Christ comes and announces God’s forgiveness over us. Receive it today, if you’re willing.