David & Bathsheeba – a Sermon on 2 Samuel 11

“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act-that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?”

C. S. Lewis, of course.Who else could parody so well the rather incomprehensible nature of human (or at least ‘male’) sexuality?

According to the good people of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the U.S though, it is not only human beings that regularly get themselves into trouble through their sexuality. According to these good folk, they can predict entirely accurately when the most road kills of deer are going to take place on their state highways. Of the 17,000 or so deer that die each year in their area after being struck by motorists, the majority of those deaths take place in late autumn. Why?‘Because the males are concentrating almost exclusively on reproductive activities’, they say ‘and are a lot less wary than they normally would be.’

It would be interesting to see if there were similar statistics for roo’s and wombats over here.

From Frederick Buechner I get this powerful, if somewhat lurid, quote:

Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night. Just when we think we’re safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there’s no river in the world flows cold and strong enough to strike him down. Almighty God, why dost thou deck men with such a loathsome toy?

In a survey in Discipleship Journal, readers ranked what they believed to be the most effective means of dealing with their ‘loathsome toys’ (ie. resisting temptation):

Prayer (84 percent), avoiding compromising situations (76 percent), Bible study (66 percent), and being accountable to someone (52 percent).

If you want a rather left-of-field indicator as to the power of lust in our world, take hold of this statistic, again from the U.S.:

In 1994,the U.S. State Department spent US $200,000 to purchase condoms for U.S. troops that were being deployed in Haiti.

That strikes me as a rather grim statistic, and I trust that it has not been mirrored in any Australian government policy concerning our troops in East Timor.

Let me conclude this grim compilation though with a quote from Martin Luther who, surprisingly perhaps, saw a more positive role for lust:

‘God uses lust’ says Luther ‘to impel man to marriage, as He uses ambition to impel people to office, avarice to earning, and fear to impel people to faith.’.

Maybe so, but most of us, I think, would consider it a rather sad faith that is based solely on fear, just as we would expect a marriage based on lust to be an unhappy marriage.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… but then perhaps our Bible story today will upset our settled theories for us here, for it tells us about a marriage that was based on lust, and which indeed was developed through lies, deceit and murder, and yet… a relationship that became one of the great relationships – a relationship through which the two persons concerned become the mother and father of a great line of kings that culminates in the person of the Lord Jesus Himself – the son of David, and equally, we might say, the son of Bathsheeba.

But we get ahead of ourselves. For while our story ends in Jesus, it begins on the rooftop of a palace in Jerusalem, with King David going for an innocent stroll around his roof.

It is spring, we are also told, and the rest of the men of Israel have gone off to war. Why has David not gone with them we might ask?  Perhaps quite a lot of the men at the front were asking the same question. Indeed, David’s key role as a leader for most of his life had been as a military leader. Now though, it seemed that David had decided to let somebody else fight his battles for him!

It is spring, we are told, at any rate. And this was not just a good time to go to war, but also a good time to go for a stroll about your roof, and indeed, so it would seem, it was a good time of year to have a bath on your roof.

Was Bathsheeba deliberately flirting with David by deciding to take a bath on her roof? We don’t know. If it was the middle of winter and she was deciding to take a bath on the roof, then that would be a pretty clear indication, but it was spring and it was hot, and possibly it had never clicked with her that you could see her rooftop from the roof of the palace.

If you walk about the rectory roof at night, you can see the rooftops of many of our neighbouring houses, and I suspect that many of their residents have never thought about their visibility from the rectory rooftop. Mind you, I’ve never seen anybody bathing on any of the other rooftops.  Mind you, I probably don’t really walk around on the rectory roof often enough to really gauge whether there are any rooftop bathers in this vicinity, which is probably just as well if we follow the course of this story.

David notices Bathsheeba, and he evidently watches her, and then he tries to find out more about her, and then he sends for her, and then he sleeps with her, and she becomes pregnant, and then things really start to become interesting – from the reader’s point of view at any rate. Certainly not from the point of view of David or Bathsheeba, nor certainly from the point of view of her husband Uriah the Hittite.

David’s attempt to deal with his problem has been compared to the ancient Pharaoh’s attempt (back in Moses’ day) to deal with his problem – namely the problem that the Israelites had become too powerful. Pharaoh made three different attempts to solve that problem, if you remember – each one being increasingly more brutal. First he attempted to subdue the Israelites by enslaving them, then the midwives were told to kill the newly born male Hebrew children, and finally all Egyptians were told to throw Hebrew males into the river.

David similarly makes three attempts to deal with Bathsheeba’s pregnancy, each one increasingly more violent and unprincipled. First he sends Uriah home for some ‘R & R’. When that doesn’t work, he gets Uriah drunk, and hopes that in his inebriation he’ll forget his principles. When that doesn’t work, he has Uriah killed.

There is very little that can be said in defence of David in all these proceedings. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever read of anybody trying to say something in defence of David in this whole affair. It’s one long slimy tale of lies and usury and violence that begins with what was supposed to be a harmless one-night-stand.

Is that where the problem really begins? Perhaps we’d be better to say that the problem begins with David staring a little too long and hard at the wrong rooftop. Or perhaps it all begins when David asks his servant as to the identity of the bather. Or perhaps the problem really began when David decided to stay home while he sent all his men off to war. Presumably if David had taken responsibility for fighting his own battles, instead of letting Joab do his fighting for him, this whole sordid affair never would have happened.

Of course, it’s easy to be wise in retrospect. And yet it would be useful, I think, if we could isolate at exactly what point David ‘stepped over the line’ – where a bit of harmless voyeurism started to turn into adultery and murder.

The comparison that seems to fit best for me is with the Profumo affair in Britain, which ultimately brought down the MacMillan government.

Those who remember the story will remember the character of Christine Keeler – the high-class call-girl who became sexually involved with both John Profumo, the British Minister of War, and with Soviet Naval attach� Eugene Ivanov.

I was there when the story broke in 1963, living in Britain. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a great deal of it, as I was only 1 year old.

But the thing I remember about the story, and the reason I find it relevant to today’s story, is what has been related to me about how the whole ‘Profumo Affair’ began. Apparently the Ministers were taking a break from a rather intense cabinet meeting of some sort, and Profumo and others were standing out on a balcony overlooking a swimming pool. Profumo saw a girl bathing in the pool and asked an attach� ;who is that? The attach� replied ‘I don’t know… but I’ll find out.’

That’s where the problem starts. It’s when it all still seems quite harmless. It’s when you just seem to be playing with the edge of the flame. It’s when you decide to just take it one step further. It’s when someone says ‘I’ll find out’ and you just nod your head, or just remain silent – do nothing, because what could be more harmless than doing nothing!

This is how it all began for John Profumo, and how it all began for David – a sordid, bloody mess that would end up in death and murder and threaten the collapse of David’s entire kingdom – all beginning with David’s simple question ‘who is that bathing on the rooftop?’, and his aide saying something like ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out’.

There’s a punch line in this whole story of course – this story of treachery, deceit, adultery and murder. The punch line is that the chief villain in the story is David – God’s own guy!

And we don’t just mean that David was God’s own guy before this all happened. Nor that he was God’s own guy after he repented of everything that happened. The fact that he repented might have reflected the fact that he was God’s own guy, but the truth of the matter is that he was God’s own guy before and after, and therefore also in the middle of all this mess. Even while he was busy lying, stealing, fornicating and murdering, he was still God’s own guy – ‘the man after God’s own heart’.

Nobody in the history of the Bible, apart from the Lord Himself, is remembered so affectionately, so lovingly and so idealistically as David. ‘Son of David’ they called Jesus, and no higher title could be accorded a person. ‘Son of David’ in the Hebrew mind was indeed almost synonymous with ‘Son of God’.

How can this be? Saul, David’s predecessor, was also a man with problems, but his failings, we would surely think, pale into insignificance alongside this adulterous and murderous rampage. And yet we’re told that Saul was not God’s own guy, but that David was! One the one hand this has me thinking ‘Thank God, there’s hope for us all’. But on the other hand I’m thinking ‘If David can do all this and still be God’s own guy, how are we supposed to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys?’

I’m not going to try and offer any simple platitude to solve that dilemma today, but it does make me recall some words penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, shortly before his death at the hands of the Nazi’s. ‘Far worse’ says Bonhoeffer ‘are the good deeds of evil persons, then the evil deeds of good persons.’ Maybe that is a clue to our solving of this question. Maybe ‘goodness’ and ‘evil’ are things that take hold of persons at deeper levels than that of our thoughts and deeds. Maybe our salvation is something that takes place at that deeper level. Maybe …..

Maybe the goal should not be to ‘solve the question’ at all, at an intellectual level, but to recognise through this the need to be ‘God’s own people’ at that deeper level, even if we aren’t lying stealing and fornicating, and through this to behold something of the mystery of the deep and boundless grace of God.

First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, July 30th, 2000

Rev. David B. SmithParish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.
www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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