Tag: David

One Thing Leads to Another: Pentecost 22

One Thing Leads to Another: Pentecost 22

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

October 21, 2018

Introduction 

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] He must restore the ewe lamb seven times over[h] because he did this and because he had no compassion.”

“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.

-Joshua 12:5-7

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.
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Conclusion

“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.

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Rebellion in the Household – a Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 12B (2 Samuel 18)

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15,31-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 

15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

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                When Nathan the Prophet appeared before David, after he took Bathsheba, bedded her, and had her husband killed, the prophet told the king that things would go badly for him. He might not die, but there would be consequences. Such is the rest of the story. First one of his sons raped a half-sister (the sister of Absalom). This led to Absalom gaining revenge on Amnon, by having him killed. That led to Absalom’s exile, and later rebellion. I fact, Absalom at first gained the upper hand, getting himself crowned as Israel’s king in place of his father David, who ended up fleeing Jerusalem. That leads us to this week’s reading from 2 Samuel.  
 
Many of us learned, as we grew up, that David was a man after God’s heart. We think of him as a righteous man, whose rightful successor (as Christians) is Jesus. If we attend to the story in 2 Samuel, we see a man who is not a great husband, father, and at times ruler. Perhaps the image of David the harp-playing song writer that has formed our opinion of him. It might be best to simply acknowledge that David was a complicated man—as we are also complicated human beings. There is light and there is darkness in each of us. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad, and perhaps it did with David, but we must admit that he might not be the best role model for our children.  

Among those who came to believe that David was not only an unfit father, but an unfit ruler, was his son Absalom. Like his father Absalom was a beloved figure—handsome and strong, a true leader. He advisors, some of whom had advised David, who pushed him toward rebellion.  Civil war has broken out between the tribes of Israel who have been persuaded that Absalom is a better choice than David. For his part, David raised an army led by three generals. In our passage for the week David’s forces defeat Absalom’s forces in battle.
The lectionary creators, as they often do, has chosen to abridge the reading, but we have enough to put things together. We have before us a reading composed of three parts—verses 5-9, verse 15, and verses 31-33. 

        The first part, verses 5-9, begins with David’s request that his generals deal gently with Absalom, that is, if they manage to defeat Absalom’s army. They are in fact successful in their battle. David’s army defeats Absalom’s army that was gathered from the tribes of Israel (remember that David had originally ruled only the tribe of Judah, only later, after Saul’s death, did he control the entire country), putting to flight Absalom and his troops that were not slaughtered in battle. The first section ends with Absalom, who was trying to escape through the forest, getting caught up in the branches of a tree. The passage isn’t clear as to what happened, but it is possible that his hair got caught up in the branches of a tree as he was quickly moving through the forest on his mule, which left him behind, hanging between heaven and earth.  
 
        Part two is but one verse, verse 15. We are told that Joab’s guard, Joab being David’s leading general, caught up with Absalom and found him hanging from the tree. Instead of being gentle with him, as David requested, Joab’s men choose to strike and kill him (this occurs after verse 14 suggests that Joab put three spears into Absalom’s heart, raising questions as to how there was enough life in him for the guards to kill). Thus, the rebellion is brought to a conclusion. Absalom met the fate that one would expect of the leader of a failed rebellion. David should be happy, correct? Perhaps not.
 
        This leads us to the final section, verses 31-33. We’re told that a Cushite, one of Joab’s men, went to David to announce the “good news.” The Cushite declares: “the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” That a man from Cush, in Africa, was part of Joab’s entourage, suggests that David’s army was made up of mercenaries. Of course, sending this man to deliver what Joab knew would be bad news, might have been a ploy to protect someone higher up, who would normally report David. After all, David has not always responded well to bad news. In any case, it is in his response to this news that we see the side of David we have come to love. He inquired as to the situation of his son Absalom. While the messenger joyously declares that Absalom is dead, David responds not with joy, but with grief.
 
         When David heard the fate of his son, the one who had usurped his throne and rebelled against him, driving him from Jerusalem, he went away and wept. The words are moving: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” These are words that touch the hearts of parents. While not all parents would respond as did David, parents will grieve the death of a child, even a child who has chosen to disobey or rebel. This is flesh of one’s flesh, and bone of one’s bone. If we’re able, we can hear the pain present in David’s heart. Perhaps we have experienced something similar, and we can identify with him. Even if this isn’t our experience, we who are parents can feel the loss.
 
       At the same time, the story does diminish David. As Arthur Van Seters notes, “in the overall story David is a leader of war; domestically he is a disaster.” This leads to the question of approach. Do we focus on the failed leader, whose army can win battles, but whose rule is problematic, or do we focus on “the domestic perspective of a persistent parental love even for a wayward offspring?” (Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p. 353). At the end we must admit that this is a rather unsettling story, as much of 2 Samuel is unsettling. As we give attention to the passage, we ought to reflection the militarization of our society. While I’m not a pacifist, I am deeply concerned about the way in which we seem quick to turn to violence to further our aims, both in the country of my citizenship and elsewhere in the world. Here again, there is the importance of grief, as a response to the tragedy of war.
            As this reading is paired in the lectionary with Psalm 130, we can hear David crying out from the depths: “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” This cry of the heart is rooted in the hope that God’s steadfast love will redeem and sustain the one who cries out to God.

Picture attribution: Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. David weeps for Absalom, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55329 [retrieved August 6, 2018]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clicks2006/4150086667/.

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

Shepherd of Israel – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7B (2 Samuel 5)

Shepherd of Israel – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7B (2 Samuel 5)

2 Samuel 5:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. 

 

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
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                The story we read in 2 Samuel tells of the reign of David, Israel’s second and perhaps greatest king. A millennium later, when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, he was hailed the son of David, the assumption being that he would restore the glories of David’s kingdom. The question for any preacher who approaches a passage like this, is how will it preach? What message besides the historical (of course using that term for an ancient text carries its own baggage) does the passage offer?
To get to the contemporary question, we must address the original story, the one we find present in 2 Samuel. When last we met David in 2 Samuel 1, he was at Ziklag. Having received news of the death of Saul and Jonathan, he composed a song of lament. The stage was set for him to become Saul’s successor, but remember this is a federation of tribes. David may have a power base but is he ready to take over the whole nation? In chapter 2, David is made king of Judah, his own tribe. He sets up his capital at Hebron, but he only reigns over part of the tribal federation. It is only here in chapter 5 that David can consolidate his power. There at Hebron, where he had reigned for seven years as king of Judah, the representatives of the rest of the tribes of Israel come to David and ask that he be their king as well, reminding him that they are ultimately the same family. He agrees, and they crown him as the king of the entire nation of Israel. Now he is king of Judah and Israel. If we remember that this was written after the fall of the two kingdoms, which for most of their existence were separated into two kingdoms, this makes sense to speak this way.
                David might be king of all the tribes, but his capital was linked to Judah. Maybe he should think about getting a different capital, one that isn’t connected with any of the tribes. Why not the citadel of Zion, which belonged to the Jebusites? While I have included the complete text running from verse 1-10, the creators of the lectionary omit verses 6-8, which describe David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. It would be nice to think that David moved from Hebron, his original capital, into an unoccupied stronghold. But such is not the case. Warfare in the ancient world often led to the slaughter of the defeated, so imagine David doing just that. Yes, David was a king with blood on his hands. We prefer, most likely, to think of him in terms of the shepherd boy but remember that he felled Goliath and many others. You might think of David as a warlord who happened to rise to the top of the heap. I know that doesn’t make David sound like a man after God’s heart, but maybe a warrior could be a man after God’s heart. When the people in Jerusalem in the first century CE hailed Jesus as the son of David, they were hoping for a warrior. He might be the prince of peace, but peace comes through strength, or so we’ve been told.
                One of the things that confounds modern readers of the bible is the violence that is present found in its pages. The lectionary creators do their best to avoid much of the blood and guts of the Bible, but maybe we should face the facts that these texts emerged out of a violent world. Then again, we live in a violent world. Why would we expect the ancient world to be any different? As we read Scripture we find passages that reflect the human aggression, sometimes attributing such attitudes to God. For a nation that was at the crossroads where empires often clashed, is it any surprise that the people of Israel would ask God to bless their attempts to defend their territory and to carve out a bit of space to make a home? At the same time, we find passages that express hope that peace will one day reign. Thus, God is both peacemaker and warrior.
David was a warrior king. He had made a name for himself on the battlefield, and this is what the people of Israel desired. They wanted a king who would fight their battles. Saul had been the first choice, but he didn’t bring the peace that was hoped for and he died in battle. Now, Israel would turn to David, hoping that by uniting with Judah they could find that desired space of peace and prosperity. The word we hear in 2 Samuel is this: “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, God of hosts, was with him.”
If Jesus is the Son of David, in what way is this true? Some Christian interpreters are embarrassed by the depiction of Yahweh as a warrior and have followed Marcion by distancing Jesus from that God. Unfortunately for modern Marcionites, Jesus’ Bible was the Old Testament. What I’m reminded of here is that the Bible, both testaments, shouldn’t be read flatly. As we approach this story, we can acknowledge David’s gifts and calling, and that God was with him as the people of Israel found their bearings, without embracing the entirety of the story. With Jesus we can center our attention on those passages that speak of peace and justice. It is also important to remember that while Jesus may have redefined what it means to be the son of David, he doesn’t reject the title.
Perhaps the word we should take from this reading is that David’s greatness comes because God is with him. It as God’s anointed that he is Israel’s shepherd. It is not due to any special qualities on his part, except that David tried to follow God’s paths. Of course, David didn’t perfectly follow them. If we follow David’s story we discover his many imperfections. Then again, David is, like us, a human being. At the same time, God was with him. God is with us as well.

 

10646937_10204043191333252_4540780665023444969_nRobert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.