; 2 Samuel 1126 through 2 Samuel 1213 _NRSV_ Nathan Condemns David
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2 Samuel 1126 through 2 Samuel 1213 _NRSV_ Nathan Condemns David

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									2 Samuel 11:26 through 2 Samuel 12:13 (NRSV)
Nathan Condemns David
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          When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for
     27a
him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became
his wife, and bore him a son.
        11:27b
              But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, 12:1and the LORD sent Nathan
to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich
and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had
nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him
and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his
bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was
loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but
he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5Then
David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the
man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this
thing, and because he had no pity.”
        7
          Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I
anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your
master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and
of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why have you
despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the
Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the
sword of the Ammonites. 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you
have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11Thus says the
LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives
before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of
this very sun. 12For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the
sun.” 13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
                                 Prophecy: Retribution or Hope?

A sermon preached at North-Prospect United Church of Christ, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date: August 3, 2003                  Rev. Dudley C. Rose

Text: 2 Samuel 11:26 through 2 Samuel 12:13a

        In last week’s sermon Tom Lenhart took up one of the most perplexing stories in
Scripture, the story of David’s seduction of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah the Hittite. The
content of the story is not perplexing. It is an age-old story of lust, adultery and murder; an age-
old story played out in every society, an age old story in which wrong is heaped upon wrong,
each wrong greater than the next, until the tragedy unfolds its inevitable course and becomes
breathtaking in its destruction. The story is devastating, but it is also commonplace. Lust,
betrayal, and murder are familiar and everyday occurrences in human history. It is not the plot
of the story that is perplexing.
        What is unfathomable is that the story made it into the Bible. For it is a great
embarrassment to one of Israel’s great heroes. David, the king so idealized that the coming
Messiah was referred to as the son of David, David the most heralded among Israel’s monarchs:
what is amazing is that this story of abject moral failure is told about David the most illustrious
of Israel’s kings. I give Tom a lot of credit for preaching about David and Bathsheba and Uriah.
And I give him a lot of credit for the conclusion he came to with you.
        Tom observed that David’s failure was not so much an abuse of power as it was an
illusion of even more power than David had. David forgot about God. David thought he was
God. And in that sense David was about as separated from God as one can be. The great
theologian Paul Tillich once defined sin as alienation from God. At the end of our reading this
morning, David cries out in anguish to the prophet Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
David has sinned against the Lord. David surely is alienated from the Lord.
        But at the beginning of this morning’s passage, David does not yet comprehend his state.
David is sailing along, having destroyed his friend and having stolen his friend’s wife. Then the
Lord sends Nathan the prophet who tells the king a fable:
        “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2The rich
        man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing but one little
        ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and
        with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie
        in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveler to the
        rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the
        wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared
        that for the guest who had come to him.” 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled
        against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done



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         this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing,
         and because he had no pity.”
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                   Nathan said to David, “You are the man!
         Here we begin to see one reason why this story remained in Scripture. The great
prophets of Israel very often served as the conscience of the monarchy. In a real sense, there is
not one of Israel’s kings that escaped moral failure. If you read both Samuels, both Kings and
both Chronicles, you will search in vain for a perfect king of Israel. Every one of Israel’s kings
needed a prophet of the Lord to confront him, to hold him accountable, to say in no uncertain
terms that Israel and her leaders were losing their moral compass and were separated from God.
         In every time, religion serves such a purpose. Religion and the church are meant to be
the conscience of the people. And when they fail to serve that purpose, religion and the church
most demonstrate their bankruptcy. Many in the German church abdicated their role of prophet.
Rather than Hitler’s critics, they became his accomplices. The recent scandal in the Boston
diocese is another such failure. Those in the highest office chose to protect the offenders in the
priesthood instead of the defenseless children that were their responsibility.
         The rule of prophet is not an easy one. It is not hard to understand why people avoid it.
Nathan approached his task with David through a fable, no doubt hoping to avoid being the
object of the king’s venom. A few weeks ago we talked together about John the Baptist, who
lost his head ultimately because he dared confront Herod and his wife on a moral issue. Dietrich
Bonhoeffer was one of the few German theologians to object to the Third Reich, and he, too,
paid with his life. As prophets, so, too, did Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi lose theirs.
         I think it is here that we get the closest to understanding what Jesus meant when he said,
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will
find it.” (Mat 16:25) Jesus calls us to perceive honestly and to stand up for what is right. And
very often those who are confronted object; sometimes they object violently. But their objection
holds no water. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life
for my sake will find it.” There is simply no possibility that Jesus would say keep politics out of
religion, or religion out of politics. I disagree with the Pope’s stance on homosexuality, but I
disagree even more with those who say religious values should not seek to influence public life.
The role of God’s prophet, the role of the church, at least in some large measure, is to
demonstrate both the wisdom and the wherewithal to be society’s conscience.
         The church, religious people have this responsibility. But I do want to levy a couple
qualifications, a couple of caveats that make all the difference. The church and religious people
must be is willing to look at themselves as closely and honestly as they are to look at others. If
you’re going to be someone else’s conscience, you had better be as energetically your own.
That’s hard work. We all know that it is easier to see the spec in our brothers eye than the log in
ours. But we have no business in the prophecy business if we lack this basic integrity of self-
appraisal, even self-criticism.
         Second, our motivation must be love not hate, renewal not revenge, rectification not
retribution. Back in the first Gulf War Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the large group of peace
activists in California. The Buddhist monk himself arose to fame because of his peace work in
the Vietnam War era. He paid his listeners in California that day a great compliment. He said,


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“The work you do for peace is among the most important work he will do in your life.” But then
he went on to say, “Unless you can also write George Bush a love letter, you are not really doing
the work of peace.” Very few people gathered there that day could meet that qualification. Most
of them equated opposition to the war with hatred of the President. According to Thich Nhat
Hanh, they had missed the point entirely.
         These two qualifications, self-criticism and being motivated by love not hate, are the
heart of the matter, so far as I can see. Why is it that so many advocates are filled with arrogance
and hatred? Or maybe better asked, why are so few humble and loving? A look at the remainder
of this morning’s Scripture may give us a clue.
         In the Biblical world God was described in rather human terms. And often we take that
quite literally. Indeed, we inheritors of the Biblical faith, when we are asked, more often than
not respond that God is a white-haired old guy living up in heaven and checking his list to see
who has been naughty and who has been nice and doling out rewards and punishments
accordingly. It is an unfortunate picture of God we have, for it turns life into a bit of a board
game. God has a book of rules that God uses to grade our play. We get the rules, too, and
sometimes they are clear enough, but we fail to follow them anyway, like David in this
morning’s story. But to be honest, sometimes the rules are a little hard to understand. They’re
supposed to be in the Bible and in church teachings, but sometimes they aren’t very clear, and so
people disagree about them quite a bit. They fight with each other about who has got the rules
right. So the game becomes two-fold: getting the rules right and following them. That’s the
game. But why? What’s the object of the game? The object, it seems, is to get good marks
from God and get the most rewards.
         But this way of thinking is dead wrong. The problem with thinking this way is that it
actually distracts us from what is truly important. Nathan confronted David with the king’s
moral failure, and then he went on to list the things that the Lord would do to David in return,
seemingly in retribution.
         10
            Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have
         despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11Thus
         says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house;
         and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and
         he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.
We are likely to hear these words to mean that David broke the rules, and now the old white-
haired referee in heaven is going to penalize him. David did wrong, and now God is going to
punish him. I suspect the ancients understood this way of speaking better than we do. They
would have understood Nathan to be saying something like, David, you have lost your way; you
have lost sight of God. You have thought to much of your own power, and of your own self.
You have caused great harm in the process. And this behavior, this alienation from God has
consequences. These consequences are inevitable; they ripple from what you have done as the
rings ripple from the stone thrown in the pond. You have set the moral tone, and that tone will
travel out in broad circles, wreaking havoc as they go, and their echos will come back to haunt
you.
         This is very different from punishment. This interpretation acknowledges that actions
have inevitable consequences. But that is a very different thing from seeing those consequences

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simply as punishment. They state the facts. David could not escape the chain reaction his
actions set into motion. But God’s purpose in sending Nathan was not retribution. God’s hope
in sending Nathan was that David could be reconciled with God, that the separation between
David in the holy could be breached, that David could turn his life around and learn from his
mistakes.
         We now begin to see why the story of David’s horrible failure made it into the Bible. In
the end it is a story of hope. David will have to live with the consequences of his actions, but he
will also go on to become a great king. For David recognized his failure and repented. The
story of David, then, has a powerful message. Prophecy, conscience, accountability, these are
nonnegotiable aspects of a religious life. But their purpose is not revenge or one-upsmanship
were hatred. Their purpose is the loving hope that those separated from God can be reunited. It
is clear, then, that loving one’s neighbor and loving oneself are truly the same thing, and that
criticism and self-criticism have as their purpose hope and not retribution, hope and not
recrimination. Amen.




Copyright © 2003 by Dudley C. Rose. All rights reserved.
The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ©
1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.
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