Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 11

In this chapter, David sins by committing adultery with Bathsheba.

This has got to be one of the most difficult chapters in the bible.  David, the man after God's own heart, commits a series of reprehensible acts for his own gratification, abusing his powers as king in some of the most horrible ways.  How could this be the man that God has chosen?  But what makes it horrible also makes it one of the most sincere, and perhaps even encouraging, chapters in the bible, because it shows us how God responds to David's faults and how we can trust God to deal with us when we make mistakes.

This is one of the most human chapters in the bible.  Let me explain what I mean by this.  Abraham was a hero of the faith.  He was a man called by God to depart from Ur and to enter the promised land and he obeyed.  He was called to sacrifice his promised son, and he obeyed (though his son was spared from death).  The closest thing Abraham had to a fault was when he lied and said that Sarah was his sister (Gen 12:13).  But how can we relate to Abraham when in every way he shows himself to be faultless?

Moses makes mistakes here and there, most notably when he acted in anger and disobeyed the LORD, thereby disqualifying himself from entering the promised land (Num 20:10-12).  While I don't want to make light of this situation, the fault of Moses is that he got too angry with the people of Israel who were themselves continuously disobedient to the LORD.  That's like the kind of fault when people say they are "too humble" or "work too hard" or something like that.  It doesn't strike me as a sincere admission of guilt, though I'm sure Moses sincerely regretted it when he was denied entrance into the promised land as a result.

This chapter is of a very different character.  David first uses his royal powers to coerce Bathsheba to sleep with him, even though she was married.  Then he tries to cover it up by bringing Uriah back and trying to get him to have sex with his own wife, that he might think the child was his own.  Bathsheba probably realizes that she was also liable to die as an adulteress, so it's probable she went along with David's attempts at deception.  Nevertheless, Uriah, in his loyalty to his fellow soldiers, refuses to go home, so David sends him with a message to Joab to have Uriah subtly murdered by putting him into a dangerous situation and then have all support withdrawn.  About the only other sin David could add to this chapter would be worshiping other gods.  Adultery and murder are enough to get him put to death under the law, so we can leave it at that.

Because David is king, there is no human with the authority to call him to account.  He is at the top of the Israelite social pyramid.  However, what we will find out in the following chapters is that there is another power atop the anointed king, and that is the God whose blessing anoints them and empowers them to rule.  We will see from this how God deals with those who sin.  For now, there are a couple points I would like to dwell on.

The first, as I said, is David as a model for sincere but sinful mankind.  David is a man after God's own heart, the hero of Israel, who endured many hardships.  David was given two chances to kill Saul, and in both instances refused to do so because it felt wrong for him to kill the man God had placed over the nation.  God, as the ultimate ruler of Israel, eventually dealt with Saul and David, having been anointed, eventually became king in his own right.  David has led Israel in many righteous ways, bringing the ark back to Jerusalem and following the LORD with a genuine heart.  Even David, the beloved of God, sins in this grievous way.  This encourages me because I know that we do not need to be perfect to be loved by God, we just need to be sincere in our devotion.  In no way am I trying to make light of David's sin, and what we will find in the chapters to follow is that David will suffer tremendously for what he has done.  But there is a tremendous difference between suffering for sins committed and being disqualified from God's salvation.  Because David sins, he will suffer the consequences; not to say that God punishes him, but the sin itself punishes him because the consequences of sin is death (Gen 3:19).  Like the way that a burning fire creates smoke, a burning sin creates anguish in those whom it touches.  It is the mercy of God to sometimes heal or remove that suffering, but much more often it is the mercy of God that takes suffering and uses it to change us, to shape us and to strengthen and grow us through these experiences to take on a lifestyle of godliness.

The New Testament speaks of these things when Jesus suffers, as a direct consequence of human sin, but God takes that suffering and transforms it into a new life, both for Jesus who was raised from the dead, but also for all of us, who believe in him and will be raised to life together with him.  In the same way, God brings about good things in our life by his transformative power, sometimes healing the consequences of sin and sometimes by training us to depend on him in order to overcome suffering and become a source of life to others.

One of the most common criticisms lodged against God is that he allows suffering to exist.  Although this is a larger point than I want to current address, I will say this.  Suffering exists as a result of sin, and this is a law of the universe just as much as the conservation of momentum or gravity or anything else.  Through the sin of Adam, suffering entered the world.  If God were to break this law, then sin would become unbounded and would grow with rampant force because there would be nothing to stop it, just as if a person jumped from the ground with no gravity, departing forever into the sky.

The grace and mercy of God is not to break the law and prevent suffering from emerging, but to control and shape that suffering in such a way that it leads to repentence, grace, mercy and eventually redemption.  Mankind was separated from God in Genesis 3 when Adam sinned, just like a person jumping from the ground departs from the ground.  But like gravity pulls the person back down to earth, God is using the consequences of sin, in combination with his own grace and mercy, to direct our course back to him.  Those who choose to depart from God shall do so, but those who choose God, even in the midst of suffering, will find themselves returning to him with an inescapable force, in spite of suffering, not in the absence of suffering.

With all that said, the second point I'd like to bring up is the contrast between the sin of Saul and the sin of David.  This is related to the first point.  When Saul sins, he does so in the absence of genuine sincerity.  Samuel the prophet accuses him of sparing the Amalekites, and he argues with Samuel three times, insisting that he had obeyed the LORD, while at the same time setting up a monument in his own honor (1 Sam 15:12).  In the end, he admits that he was acting out of his fear of the people, showing himself to have greater regard for human opinion and his own glory than for obedience to the LORD and the glory of the LORD.  In many ways, David shows himself to be the opposite of Saul, honoring God above human opinion, even though he was held in high regard by all the people.  David is certainly a pragmatic politician and carefully maneuvers himself into authority, giving gifts to the elders of Judah, his marriage to Michal and his questionable alliance with Joab the most prominent aspects of that.  But David also shows his exuberance for the LORD when bringing the ark into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6).  How is it that the ark remained in Kiriath-Jearim for the entire duration of Saul's reign, and David brings it into his capital in relatively short order?  This, more than many other things, shows how Saul did not prioritize the LORD, but David did.

They both sin, but Saul is rejected because his heart is distant from God.  David repents and suffers, but God gives him grace and matures him through his suffering, and he is not rejected.

The third point I'd like to bring up is again how this chapter reflects negatively on Joab.  Having gotten away with his own murder, Joab now serves as an accomplice to David's attempt to murder Uriah.  Not that we should be surprised a murderer shows no scruples about killing again, but the collusion between them reflects very negatively on both men.  Ultimately though, David is held responsible by God for the death of Uriah.

Fourthly, I think it is significant to point out that Uriah is a Hittite, a descendant of the native tribes of Canaan and not a descendant of Abraham.  Although we know little of his story, is it likely that he was circumcised and became a part of Israel in accordance with the provisions of Exodus 12:48.  Indeed, the very first thing Uriah mentions as being in "temporary shelters" is "the ark" (v. 11), which was probably sent out with the army as in previous campaigns (1 Samuel 4).  By all accounts, it appears as if Uriah is a convert to Judaism and a righteous and devout man in Israel's armies.  He shows his resolute commitment to God and the nation by refusing the luxuries of civilian life, forcing David's hand and thus leading to his own death.

The fifth point, then, is to contrast Uriah's righteousness in this passage with David's wickedness.  David first encourages Uriah to go home to his wife, sending a "gift" after him (v. 8).  After that didn't work, David deliberately got him drunk, to undermine his discretion and judgment and to send him home again, and that also did not work (v. 13).  It was only then that David resolved to secretly kill Uriah and marry Bathsheba, and thus to legalize a marriage with her and conceal the adultery.  It is unlikely that David originally intended to marry Bathsheba, but only sleep with her once, until after it became obvious that her pregnancy and Uriah's refusal to sleep with her would expose both her and him as sinners.  According to the law, the punishment for adultery is death.

If Uriah had slept with his wife, it is uncertain to me whether David would have continued the affair with Bathsheba or simply let it drift into the past, unknown to anyone but her and himself.  However, I believe that God crafted the situation to expose David, to force him to take an even more sinful action to protect himself, and thereby exposing the depth of his sin to all of us as a lesson.

This is the sixth point.  Just like God earlier put David twice in the position to kill Saul (first in 1 Samuel 24:3 and second in 1 Samuel 26:12), I believe in this chapter God put David in a position that after he committed adultery, he had to sin again to protect himself.  In the first cases (with Saul), David was given an opportunity to show us his righteousness.  In this second case (with Uriah), David was given an opportunity to show us his sinfulness.  He does both, showing us his capability to do good as well as evil.  But I believe these were situations that the LORD heavily influenced in the first place, to shape and change David's heart by bringing good and bad out of him, exemplifying the good and purging the evil.  And in the second place, to show these traits to us, that we might learn to emulate the good and to flee from the evil.

Seventh, it is worthwhile to contrast David's actions here with what happened earlier in 1 Samuel 25 when David married Abigail.  In that case, Abigail's husband was an evil man whom the LORD struck down, and Abigail freely married David.  In this case, David took Bathsheba by force (not violently, but hardly by the woman's free will) and killed Uriah (who was a righteous man) by using his authority as king.  In both cases David gets a new wife, but now he is the wicked man killing a righteous man, rather than when the LORD killed the wicked Nabal.

In the end, David is going to leave this experience bruised, battered, and more than a little regretful.  But it is better by far that his evil should be exposed and repented of, than that it should remain latent and smouldering within his heart.  Rather than leaving evil smouldering in David's heart, God uses this opportunity to mould his heart into something better and more pure, and because David is a man after God's own heart, he accepts this process as we will see.

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