Sermon: Epiphany 5, 4 February 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

David & Bathsheba- 2Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 51

-David is called the man after God’s own heart.

-If we just had the stories of a young David who volunteers to fight the giant Goliath,

-The stories of David the soldier who saves Israel from her enemies,

-The David who replaces Saul as God’s choice of king after the faithlessness of Saul,

-Then the description would make sense.

-But we have this story of a king who neglects his duty to lead his people against their enemies,

-Which puts him in a place where he commits adultery with the wife of his next door neighbour,

-That causes him to have her husband murdered in battle.

 

-But of course that’s where the Psalms come in.

-1 & 2Samuel give us the bare facts,

-They tell us what David did.

-It’s all about the outward appearance,

-We get very few glimpses into his motivations or thought processes.

-But then we come to the Psalms and the whole of David’s inner world is opened up to us.

-We can see into the heart of a human being just like us,

-A person with all the same foibles and failures that we’re cursed with,

-And we see how he responds to the circumstances he’s placed into.

-And it’s Psalm 51 which stands atop the mountain which is David’s heart for God.

-And it’s a Psalm that stands out all the more,

-Because it comes from the deepest of his valleys.

 

-The story opens with a significant time reference.

-We’ve jumped forward quite a number of years from where we were last week.

-Saul is dead,

-David is king over all of Israel,

-He’s conquered Jerusalem,

-The Philistines have been defeated,

-The ark of the covenant has been brought to Jerusalem.

-He’s even had enough time to build himself a palace,

-And think about building a temple for the Lord.

-But this is spring time,

-The time when kings go off to war.

-And David is a long, long way from the battle front.

-He’s sent Joab out as commander of the army and he’s done a good job.

-He’s destroyed the Ammonites and besieged the city of Rabbah.

-But David is still back at home.

-Still lapping up the luxury of his new palace.

-He’s not doing what the king was supposed to be doing.

-He’d delegated that responsibility off to Joab.

-This may not seem a big deal to us,

-But it’s a signal that David is not taking his duty seriously,

-And it will have devastating consequences.

 

-One evening he gets up from his bed,

-Another hint that David has really taken hold of the good life of being king,

-And wanders around on his roof.

-Looking down he notices a woman bathing.

-Although the whole of 2Samuel 11 is titled ‘David and Bathsheba’,

-There are only three verses about her,

-In which we learn four things,

-She’s beautiful,

-She’s married,

-She’s fertile,

-And she gets pregnant,

-All of which spells trouble for David.

-Adultery can be covered up but pregnancy gives the game away,

-And now the story gathers speed.

 

-It might be nice to think that David panics and foolishly compounds his sin,

-But I don’t think David is the panicking type do you?

-In fact it seems David just instinctively enters into soldier/problem solver mode.

-Listen to how the writer describes it;

“The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’ So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David.” 2Samuel 11: 5-6

-That is almost ruthless efficiency isn’t it?

-In the time that Uriah takes to come from the battle front to the palace,

-David has conceived his plan for the cover up,

-Greet Uriah,

-Small talk about the battle,

-Send him home to his beautiful wife,

-Uriah will do what soldiers on leave are want to do,

-And no-one will be any wiser about the real father of the baby,

-Problem solved.

 

-But David’s simple plan hits a snag on the character of Uriah,

-A character contrast between David the king and Uriah the soldier.

-What have we seen so far about David?

-First he shirks his duty.

-It’s spring and he as king should be out leading his people against their enemies.

-Saul became king when the people said to Samuel,

-‘We want a king like all the other nations who will go out before us and fight our battles.’

-But David’s not out leading his people, fighting their battles,

-He’s taking it easy in the palace.

-He sends Joab out to do what he should be doing.

 

-But he not only shirks his duty,

-He violates it.

-The king was to be the protector of his people.

-Samuel warned the people of what a king would do,

-‘He’ll take your sons for soldiers,

-‘He’ll take your daughters for cooks and bakers,

-‘He’ll take the best of your lands,

-‘And your menservants and maidservants for his own use.’

-But David does something even more despicable,

-He takes another man’s wife for his own use.

-And then to cap it all off,

-He exploits his position by ordering Uriah to be sent to him so he can cover his tracks.

 

-And it’s the character of Uriah the Hittite that shines through in this story of the king and the commoner.

-Because David has shirked his duty,

-He’s ignorant of what’s been happening.

-Because Uriah has been faithful to his duty,

-He can answer David’s questions about how Joab, his soldiers and the war are going.

-Told to go home to his wife,

-Uriah instead sleeps out at the entrance to the palace.

-When David finds out he didn’t go home, he asks Uriah,

-‘Haven’t you just come from a military campaign?

-‘Why didn’t you go home?’

-But for Uriah he considers he’s still on duty.

-He may have come from the campaign,

-But the campaign is still running;

“The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 2Samuel 11: 11-12

-Then the final contrast;

“‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.” 2Samuel 11: 12-13

 

-Hospitality was one of the most important values of Ancient Near Eastern culture.

-On the surface David appears to be exercising that responsibility,

-But he’s abusing it.

-He’s plying Uriah with booze to get him drunk in the hope that he’ll go home and sleep with Bathsheba.

-But duty was also a value,

-And Uriah not only is doing his duty but he’s committed to it.

-Even in his drunken state,

-He won’t neglect his duty,

-He won’t walk away from the responsibility he has to his commander, fellow soldiers and the nation.

-That commitment to duty overrides even his own comfort and pleasure.

 

-Uriah’s character can’t be used against him,

-So David steps down into the deeper darkness of his own character;

“Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 2Samuel 11: 15

-He writes to Joab,

-And ch11 ends with Uriah dead,

-David marrying Bathsheba,

-The baby born,

-And the Lord displeased over what David had done.

 

-But this story is far from over;

“The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.

He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” 2Samuel 12: 1-7

-Isn’t that a powerful story?

-From his own lips David condemns himself.

-After all that God has done for him and given him,

-David stooped that low.

-A failure of character.

 

-But Psalm 51 shows another aspect of David’s character,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51: 1-2

-And here is the heart of a man after God’s own heart,

-Here is the heart of a person who recognises their status before a holy and righteous God,

-And who makes their appeal not to their own goodness,

-Verses 3-5 make that patently clear,

-But to the character and nature of God.

-Remember the observation from last week,

-That the problem of evil and suffering is not solved by appeals to philosophy but character,

-The character of a compassionate God of unfailing love.

-On his own, David knows that his character is warped.

-Listen to what he recognises in himself and confesses from vv3-6;

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51: 3-5

-But he doesn’t want to stay that way.

 

-Sin alienates us from God.

-It raises an impenetrable barrier between us and our holy Creator.

-We’re cut off and so experience spiritual death.

-We need to remember that this Psalm is written by the same man whom we saw write in Psalm 34;

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:7-9

-David knows the goodness and blessing of God,

-So he feels more intensely the pain of separation.

-He doesn’t just want forgiveness for what he’s done but restoration,

-He wants to know that intimacy with God he once shared;

“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” Psalm 51: 8-9

-But how can that be achieved?

-David knows that there’s nothing he can do to make the situation right.

-His only hope is in the mercy of God and his unfailing love.

-David can only find forgiveness in the grace and work of God;

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51: 7

-Hyssop was used to splash blood to signify purity.

-Back in Egypt each householder had to splash the blood of a lamb on their door posts,

-So that they’d be saved during the Passover of the angel of death.

-Lepers were pronounced clean with a splash of blood from a hyssop branch.

-Restoration required cleansing and sacrifice.

 

-But here is something else David learnt as he reflected upon the sinful path he’d walked,

-That it was his heart that was the cause of his problem.

-His behaviour was a symptom of something deeper,

-A heart that chased after sin.

-He could be restored but deep inside David knew that his sinful nature would once more arise.

-He didn’t just need restoration,

-He needed renewal;

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51: 10-12

-Ultimately, here is the reason why David is called a man after God’s own heart,

-Because he relied on God to give him a new heart,

-A heart that was guided by God’s Spirit and responded in willing obedience.

-The difference between David and Saul is not that David was perfect and Saul was sinful,

-But that David was obedient to what God asked of him and Saul wasn’t.

-Throughout 1 & 2Samuel David is enquiring of God what he should do,

-And he does it.

-Saul fails to keep even the clear commands God gives him.

 

-It’s when David forgets who he is that sin overtakes him.

-He was the king over God’s own people.

-He was not to be like the other kings around them.

-He was to be the holy king of a righteous people.

-And God had placed him in that position.

-By not being who he was meant to be,

-His life catapulted into cascading sin,

-Until he was pulled up by the confronting words of Nathan.

-But isn’t that like us too?

-We are God’s people,

-Like David we’ve been called by God to be his holy people,

-We’ve been purified by the blood of Jesus.

-But we so often forget who we are.

-Like David we sometimes need to be shocked into remembering who we are.

-We need to recognise our sinfulness and confess it to God,

-And take those next steps that David also took,

-Calling on God to not just restore us but renew us,

-To change our heart,

-And give us a willing spirit that will sustain us as we live for Christ in this world.