Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15
The story of David is not about a saint. He had many faults, numerous sins throughout his life. As John Walton writes,
«God has not given us the Bible with the intention that we put the heroes of the faith up on pedestals of awe and reverence. In contrast, we find that the characters portrayed in the text are shown to share many of the human weaknesses with which all of us struggle. … We cannot view them as superhuman. … Instead, their stories are in the Bible because God worked through their successes as well as their failures. … They are part of God’s story.»
God had plans for David, who was «at times an instrument and at times an obstacle». I like the fact that the Bible tells it like it is. We read about these heroes, but not just the great things they have done. We read about their failings, their wrongdoings, their dark sides. And there are lessons for us to learn.
Today I want to talk about one of David’s better known mistakes – his affair with Bathsheba and then his attempt to cover it up, by having Uriah murdered. Yes, of course there’s murder in the Bible – we find it with Cain killing Abel, with Moses killing an Egyptian before running off into the desert, and now we find David plotting a murder to hide that he got another man’s wife pregnant.
Here was a man God had anointed as a youth – the hero that had defeated the mighty Goliath. General over Saul’s army, and of whom it was said «He is a man after God’s own heart.» But yet not perfect.
Our Reading this morning starts with setting the context:
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.
Why, if kings of old went out to battle, was David at home? Well, this battle was close enough to Jerusalem that David decided to stay home and have Joab report to him daily on the battle (it was only some 40 km away). Maybe David was starting to feel his age, or nursing an injury or an illness. Maybe he was over-confident because he felt that his trusted men had everything under control. Or maybe he had become complacent, after so many victories. For whatever reason, David left himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The first problem that David has is that he is idle – after waking up from his afternoon nap (which he probably needed), instead of getting back to work or focusing on affairs of the state, he wanders aimlessly around on the roof of the palace. How do we stay out of trouble? One way is by keeping ourselves busy and occupied. I spend a lot less time spending money, if I don’t walk idly through the mall! «I’ll just go window shopping» she says. Except then something catches our eye, and before long window shopping has turned into real shopping.
There is an old German proverb that says «Idleness is the beginning of all sin», just like the Russian proverb that states «Idleness is the mother of vice.» The Irish say «Poverty waits at the gates of idleness.», and I remember hearing as a kid «Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.» Most cultures agree that idleness is not a good thing – it can get you into all sorts of problems.
We should be clear about what idleness is and what it isn’t. Resting is not being idle! Our bodies need rest – it’s vital for our health. Resting for rejuvenation is not idleness! Resting when we are sick and need to recover is just what the doctor ordered! Idleness is that state of being where we are not occupied in meaningful things. It’s slacking off or being lax, and when we have nothing better to do, we wind up in mischief.
Having a nap was not a bad thing… but there was no need for David to wander around aimlessly. There was business to conduct, the country was at war. Both rest and work are necessary, as well as having time for family, hobbies and other pursuits. But there is a problem with idleness – which is why many of the youth programs today focus on getting our at risk youth into sport or other activities, so that they will not get engaged or caught up in gangs and crime.
And because of David’s idleness, he runs into temptation. We all run into temptation, on a regular basis. We walk past Gelarti or La Italiana in the mall, and the ice-cream calls out to us! We can either choose to keep walking, or we can let our desire take over. David’s on his rooftop and sees a beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop below.
An aside here. If you wonder about bathing up there in front of God and everybody with a higher vantage point, remember that the rooftops of houses in ancient Israel were flat and served as additional living and working space. The ancient Israelites also had water gathering and storage systems on their rooftops designed to trap dew and rainwater and carry it into cisterns through pipes. I doubt that any of us remember life before indoor plumbing, but these rooftop systems were the next best thing. The water would also have been left out in the sun during the day, so that by evening it was warmed.
And so, David’s desire gets him in trouble: being tempted is not wrong. But how David handles this temptation definitely gets him into a huge bind, where one lie leads to another! Instead of letting it be, David inquires to find out who she is – and the response should have been enough to warn him to stay away. She is a daughter of a powerful man (Eliam) and the wife of one of David’s mighty men (Uriah the Hittite). She is also the granddaughter of one of David’s closest advisors.
But that didn’t stop him either. He ignores all the warning signs. And sends for her… ending up in bed together – committing adultery (which was punishable by stoning for both of them!). David sins prior to even sleeping with Bathsheba, because Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said «You shall not commit adultery». But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Instead of shutting down the temptation, David lets it run wild, until it takes over him.
And one thing leads to another… before you know it, we’ve moved from lust to adultery, to lies and manipulation, and when plan A doesn’t work (i.e. getting Uriah to come home from battle and sleep with his wife so he will think the child is his), then plan B fails (even getting him drunk on liquor doesn’t work), then David moves to plan C (having him killed in the line of duty).
David had been on solid ground – chosen by God. But he got careless and he didn’t even know it. Just like a sheep that sees a tempting mouthful of grass over there. Then another one a little farther, and then another… and another. Before you know it, he’s lost or in the sights of a predator looking for an easy meal. With each successive lie, David takes another step closer to the edge… until he’s over the edge with murder. The snowball effect, it started so small. But now, he’s tumbling down the rocks. He’s crashed and burned. And the last thing he hears is the devil singing in his ear «another one bites the dust».
It’s hard to find someone else in the Bible who could break so many of the 10 Commandments at one sitting! As far as I can see, David managed to at least break 4 in one go:
- You shall not murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife
So, I want to quickly share with you some thoughts on how we can use this example from David’s life in our own:
#1: You’re dying in the present if you’re living in the past! David had already defeated armies and nations: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and others. And so, instead of taking his place against the Ammonites, he leans on the victories of the past, and doesn’t have a vision of the future.
#2: When we are out of the way of our duty, we put ourselves in the path of temptation. David should have been out on the front lines, but instead makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem where he takes on a moral defeat. What are you supposed to be doing? Have you got a clear path cut out ahead of you? Or are you just drifting along waiting for live to happen for you?
#3: We will also fall in that one are of our life where our passion is the strongest and our principles are the weakest. There are certain temptations that one person will struggle with, while another person won’t. I gave up smoking cold turkey, without thinking twice about it – because I had only smoked because of the social aspects of it. It was no big deal to quit. But I know of many others for whom drugs, alcohol or smoking are their Aquiles heel. On the other hand, I had to continually safeguard myself against impulse spending. I don’t need more things!
#4: What we don’t resist in the mind, will soon become manifested in our thoughts and actions. One part of psychology looks at Neuro-Linguistic Programming, (NLP for short) a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming). What we think about is what we will say and do.
#5: The power of your example should always exceed the position of your authority. No matter what position you have, you should always strive to set an example of excellence. Set the standard of leadership, holding more authority from your example than from the power of the position.
I hope that this story of David helps you focus on what is truly important in your life and the example you are setting for those people that are watching you.