Narrative Lectionary Reflection
October 21, 2018
The news is about a congressman or senator or maybe a governor. This elected official is expected to go far, maybe even to the White House. We hear about an affair with a woman. The elected official goes before the cameras with their wives in hand wearing a plastered smile that hides the fury she is feeling. The hope the official had in running for president is gone. The official resigns their office, wondering that maybe someday he could run again- this time with a chastened heart.
Today, we move from Joshua to David, Israel’s most famous king. He considered a man after God’s own heart, but even someone as faithful as David could fall into a scandal which is what happens in today’s text.
Today, we look at David, Bathsheba and a king’s attempt to cover up a grave sin.
Engaging the Text
David got very angry at the man, and he said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lordlives, the one who did this is demonic![g] 6 He must restore the ewe lamb seven times over[h] because he did this and because he had no compassion.”
7 “You are that man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and delivered you from Saul’s power.
The story opens with David in Jerusalem. The text notes that it’s springtime. War usually did not take place during the winter, so spring indicates that wars are starting up again. The text notes that kings go off to war during the spring and yet David remains in Jerusalem.
Why did David stay behind? The text doesn’t say. What we do know is that the primary function of a king during this period was to be a military leader. Saul was made king because of the threat from the Philistines. Since David had assumed the role of king he was expected to go to battle, but he didn’t. Staying behind communicated that David wasn’t acting like a king.
He sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof. Why is she doing this? Verse 4 seems to say she was bathing for ritual purification purposes.
David is captivated by her beauty. He learns that this is Bathsheba the wife of Uriah. So, David knew he was fooling with a married woman. He sends for her and she arrives at the palace. Verse 4 in chapter 11 say that David “took” her. What does took mean.? Was David forcibly taking Bathsheba? The text doesn’t really say. We know that David wanted he and if we look at the verbs being used: it is apparent that David was the actor, while Bathsheba was being acted upon.
One other, sometimes David and Bathsheba have been considered a passionate love affair, but in reality, it was at the very least one-night stand.
Sometime after the encounter, Bathsheba sends word to David that she is pregnant. This is the only time in the passage that Bathsheba speaks. David is in trouble and this leads to the next part of this passage.
It is important to note that Uriah was not a Jew, but a Hittite. So Uriah was an immigrant as was Bathsheba. Did David’s actions with Bathsheba and his attempts to kill Uriah happen because they were immigrants? We don’t know, but it is interesting that the Scripture highlights Uriah’s ethnicity.
David now has to cover up his dalliances with Bathsheba. He recalls Uriah in the hope that he would have sex with his wife and obscure the fact that David is the father of Bathsheba’s child, not Uriah. David might have forgotten that warriors took an oath to abstain from sexual relations while in battle. Uriah, the Hittite, was faithful to his oath. David, the Jewish king was not faithful.
David ordered Joab, his commander-in-chief, to put Uriah at on the front lines. This action took Uriah’s life, as well as the life of several other soldiers. The coverup was as worse as the crime.
The death of Uriah by David allowed him to marry Bathsheba and no one would know who the child’s father was. David probably thought that was the end of Uriah and the end of his problems.
Then we read verse 27 where it says, “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes.” David might have thought he had gotten away with literally murder, but it didn’t escape God.
Nathan was one of the court prophets. He was one of the few people who had the authority to speak out against the king.
Nathan doesn’t directly accuse David. Instead, he tells the parable of a man and his lamb.
Why did Nathan use a parable? Why didn’t Nathan accuse David directly?
The Intervarsity Commentary explains it this way:
The purpose of the parable was not only to induce David to condemn himself, but also to portray vividly the realities of the situation. Kings, if they were greedy, had the power to grab anything they wanted, and ordinary citizens were helpless. Nathan went on to point [p. 327] out how greedy David had been. In addition to his wives, he had apparently taken Saul’s concubines (8) as a symbol that he had taken over royal control from Saul. 1
David’s indiscretion and murder will have consequences for him and his family. Verse 9 notes“You have put Uriah the Hittite to death with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife; you have put him to death with the sword of the children of Ammon.” Bloodshed within his family would follow in the coming years and it would cause David grief.
David repents and Psalm 51 is the result of Nathan’s accusation. Nathan also says the child that was born would die, which is what happens.
While David had sinned and had to face the consequences, God did not forget Israel or David. David and Bathsheba have another child, named Solomon who would later succeed his father as king. God was able to bring good out of a bad situation.
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” is what Romans 3:23 says describing humanity’s common lot. David was considered a man after God’s own heart. He was considered faithful to God. Because of his faithfulness, Israel prospered. And yet, this man sinned. Big time.
The story of David and Bathsheba is important to us for at least two reasons. The first is that this story reminds us that we are people who sin, who sometimes wander off, that we fall short of the goal again and again. That’s not something we like to hear, but we can’t understand God’s grace unless we understand that we are not okay. Nathan’s parable is a story that shines a bright light on David’s sins. He has to face the music, he has to realize that he isn’t all that and a bag of chips. He has sinned. Maybe our sin isn’t adultery, but we have all sinned and will sin in the future. A church is a meeting place of sinners, or at least it should be. We come to church to join with other sinners to experience grace and healing. A church should be a hospital for sinners, a place where we can be made whole.
The second thing to remember is that God still uses us for God’s work in the world. We feel God’s grace, the love that won’t let you go even when we fall short. None this means we should go and sin, but it is nice to know that we are loved even when we mess up which at least in my life is rather often.
I can’t say that I would never sin. Neither can you. I’m human. None of us are above sin. We are capable of doing terrible things. But God has not given up on us. There is judgment, but there is also grace.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.