Friday, August 3, 2012

Reflections on "Nathan Condemns David" - II Samuel 11:26-12:15

Coram Deo – Ever Before God
This week we read the 2nd part of the sad and sordid story of David’s taking of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. To fully understand this climactic ending to the story we do need to review the first part of the story.  So, in a nutshell, here’s what happened last week:
1.     David does not accompany the army out to the field of battle but remains back at the palace.
2.     One afternoon, after getting up from his afternoon nap on his roof, he sees a woman, Bathsheba, engaging in the purification ritual bathing and he wants her.
3.     He takes her, uses her and discards her.
4.     She informs the King that she is pregnant.
5.     David summons her husband, Uriah, home from the front, plies him with wine and tries to get him to go home and sleep with his wife.
6.     Uriah refuses.
7.     David sends a note back to General Joab (with Uriah!) that Joab is to place Uriah on the front lines and see he doesn’t survive.
Then in verses 16 through 25 we get the story of how Uriah dies and David’s assuring Joab that everything is fine (apparently even Joab was displeased with this sordid business).  Bathsheba mourns her husband and then is taken as a wife by David and put into David’s harem of wives.
Ok – Good job!  The cover-up is successful. No one knows and everyone can just move on now!  “Don’t fret about Uriah,” David tells Joab.  "It’s too bad about poor Uriah, but get over it.  I got everything under control!"
Well not exactly.  It is not over yet for there are still terrible consequences to come, but to really get inside of this story a little more we need to focus on two Hebrew words that appear at crucial moments and are used in a dramatic way.  The first word is “send.”  David sends his servants to inquire and then to take Bathsheba; David sends for Uriah; David sends orders to Joab to have Uriah murdered; David sends for Bathsheba in order to make her his wife.  Ultimately, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David.  David’s sending was an effort to keep his own hands clean, it was an effort to evade responsibility.  God’s sending calls David to account and forces him to see the enormity of what he has done.
The other key word is “take.”  David sends servants to take Bathsheba (11:4 – the English word in the translation is “get” but the Hebrew word there is “take” and is the same as the word used as follows).  In Nathan’s parable the rich man takes from the poor man (the word is used here twice); In God’s judgment of David, as pronounced by Nathan, the word is then used three times.  Think of a hammer crashing down and with each blow it gets louder and louder and louder.  1 – 2 – 3!
The late 18th century French playwright Beaumarchais composed a poem (in his play "The Barber of Seville") to describe how slander works.  It begins, he said through the slimy character of Basilio, as a whisper and slowly, slowly it gets louder and louder and louder and louder until it is a deafening as the sound of a cannon.  That is also the way Sin works.  Like David we also might think we can do things quietly in secret and no one will know.  But Sin against another often takes on a life of its own, it gets out of our control and will overwhelm us.  “You are the man!”  Nathan says to David.  “You are guilty!”  David had raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, because he could.  Jesus ups the ante from this and says to us that when we judge others, when we harbor anger we are just as guilty.  Nathan points at us as well – “You!”
How does David respond?  He confesses – “I have sinned against the Lord.”  “I am guilty.”  How do you respond? Are you inclined to make excuses or can you with David confess to God and ask for God’s mercy?
In many old manuscript copies of II Samuel it is interesting to note that the scribes placed a long space right between verses 13 and 14.  Why?  The tradition was that Psalm 51 was to be prayed here.  Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my offenses.  This story as a whole, and the parable in particular provide us with an opportunity to take a close look at ourselves and to see how and in what ways we have failed and fallen short.  Have we been open to others, have we been patient and gracious to others or have we joined in the chorus of meanness and judgment that is so incredibly prevalent in our society, especially among those who call themselves Christians.  Leaders urge their followers to “take a stand for Jesus” and the result is judgment, rejection, pain and suffering – which is always what happens when we begin to presume to know the mind of God and ignore the Gospel of grace.  A popular saying a few years ago was to ask – “What would Jesus do?” – well, this question is still relevant.  And the answer is clear.  If you want to know “what would Jesus do” just look at the Gospels.  What does Jesus do?  He reaches out in love and grace to those rejected and judged by society – He feeds and feasts with the poor, hungry and the outcasts - He heals all those who reach out to Him and are in need of healing.  Most importantly, Jesus does not judge.  Remember the woman caught in adultery – Jesus’ response is “let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.”
Perhaps it is good for us to be reminded that we live our lives coram Deo – ever before God.  And that when we join in with the crowd judging or bullying others, and  while others of our group are slapping us on the back in approval, we need to remember that God is also watching.  With that in mind, ask yourselves - are you proud of what you have said or done? Or posted online? Is it Christ like? Is this how Jesus would have acted or responded?  Perhaps, like David, we all need a Nathan to point at us to remind us that we too are in need to repentance and reconciliation – with God and with others.  It is not up to us to judge – we are called to love!
David’s reaction to Nathan is perhaps the most important part of this story for us.  For David does not get defensive, or express denial or get angry or filled with self-rightousness or even have Nathan arrested.  David immediately repents!  And this gives us an insight into the true purpose of God’s judgment. “The mark of Nathan’s success is not that he tricks David into condemning David’s own actions. It is not even when Nathan cries out, “You are the man!” Instead, Nathan is successful when David confesses—for that is the true purpose of God’s judgment. God judges us not to condemn us, but to transform us by bringing about repentance. Whether the word “repent” is in Hebrew or in Greek, it means to “turn around” or “turn back.” Ultimately, that is God’s deepest desire: that we turn from our sinful ways and return to God. There may be consequences to our sinful acts, but God is always willing to put our sins aside and restore us to right relationship.”  (Pr. Shawnthea Monroe - "Pastoral Perspective" in the "Feasting on the Word series - supplement!)
Thanks to Peace Lutheran Church is Sioux Falls, South Dakota for these wonderful graphics and permission to use them.

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