Scripture Reading • 2 Samuel 12.1-4 (NIV)
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. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 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.
“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.”
So, Nathan is back.
He has been sent to King David with a word from the Lord.
Nathan is counting on David still having at least some sense of right and wrong. David has changed. He hasn’t been that likable underdog lately. Something has happened and he is harder to cheer for.
As I studied this point of David’s life, David’s actions and decisions that led Nathan to approach him in 2 Samuel 12, I caught myself looking up at our stained glass window on our bell tower … that beautiful representation of young David, caring for that little lamb, and asking, “What in the world happened… David? How did you wind up here?”
It’s messy and ugly – a painful story … a story that, if we really pay attention to, should give us a gut ache.
Read • 2 Samuel 11
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”
The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
This has to be one of David’s absolute worst moments; adultery, cover-ups, plotting murder, selfish use of royal power … terrible consequences for Uriah, Bathsheba, and all of David’s family. David’s family just isn’t the same after this …
When the Israelite elders asked Samuel for a king who would govern them – a king just like all the other nations had, Samuel warned them that the way of kings is taking. Taking sons to serve in the military. Taking daughters to serve in the palace. Taking the best the land produces. Taking taxes.
Here King David acts like the king Samuel predicted – he takes in the worst ways.
Though people have tried, I can’t sugarcoat what David did. I can’t explain it. I can’t justify it. David did something terrible and tried to cover it up by doing other terrible things.
What happened to that brave shepherd boy who trusted in God and stood up to giants?
One of the underlying themes in this story is the use of power. As King, as a leader, David, abuses his power and experiences destructive consequences. These consequences are like ripples in a pond. They spiral and hurt people far beyond just David.
When we contrast David with Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, we see David is selfish and dishonorable while Uriah is selfless and honorable. David takes advantage of his position. While the soldiers are out fighting for him, David takes an honorable man’s wife and schemes to cover up the consequences of his selfishness.
Uriah’s honor and selflessness turn out to be an obstacle to David’s schemes.
David even used Uriah’s honor against him. Did you notice who it was David had deliver the message to Joab, the field general, with the orders to kill Uriah? “David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.” David had Uriah deliver his own death warrant! Talk about a punch to the gut.
Nathan’s parable about the rich guy who had everything and was too stingy to share something of his own with a guest, so he took the poor man’s beloved lamb, shakes David out of his numbness.
It turns out, David still has a sense of justice … maybe there is a soft place in his heart.
“The man who did this deserves to die,” David said. “He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did such a thing, and because he had no pity.” Israelite law didn’t connect the death penalty to stealing livestock … the fourfold restoration was the penalty prescribed for stealing sheep … maybe David’s anger shows how troubling the whole story was to David.
Then Nathan makes the parable personal. Toes are stepped on…
“You are the man,” Nathan said.
Nathan told David the thing he had done displeased the Lord.
God had given David so much.
David took more. He abused his power and disregarded his responsibility to care for his people by taking to build himself up and leaving others worse off.
Humbly David recognized his sin – and confessed “I have sinned before the Lord.”
David’s family and innocent people will still experience terrible consequences for David’s decisions and actions – David’s family will never really be the same.
Martin Luther defined sin as curving or turning in on ourselves. That seems a lot like what King David did, he turned in on himself. David had been called as king to guide and protect Israel and David made his position about serving himself. David’s world shrunk – it became all about him. Nathan spoke the truth to David and stretched out his world – he reminded David his purpose was bigger than himself.
Hopefully we have Nathan’s in our lives … friends who can speak truth to us … maybe even catch us before we do something we can’t take back that will have consequences that stick with us.
But even more than that, hopefully the life and words and actions of Jesus shape us … hopefully they catch us, turn us right … and remind us that our lives’ purposes are bigger than serving our own wants and desires whatever the cost. Jesus invites us to follow his example as the good shepherd, the one who came not to use his position or power to build himself up, but to build others up – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28). Jesus teaches us what love and life and power look like as disciples, as people who seek to trust him and to live the way of life he teaches.
In this story David used his power and position of leadership to serve himself. He used his power to build himself up and he left a trail of destruction and death behind that shook his family and his nation. David abused his authority and there were devastating results.
As Christians, as people who seek to follow Jesus, we are called to use power in a distinct way. We are called to follow Jesus and look to the ways he used power.
Jesus used his power in a different way than many of the powerful people we see around us. Jesus gave of himself and left the people around him better off than they were when they started. Jesus used his power to point people towards God’s goodness and glory … Jesus shapes how we use and understand power … he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life … Jesus gives himself to us, to show us God’s love, to build us up, and he invites us to follow his way.