Ray-Thomas Memorial
Presbyterian Church

Sermons

David’s Sin & Ours

2 Samuel 11:1-17                                    July 29, 2018                              The Rev. Dr. Carrie Benz Scott

This story is unfortunately all too relevant.  This David and Bathsheba stuff has been all over the news. Yesterday Cardinal McCarrick resigned over it. We all know about Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. It can happen anywhere, it seems. It happened at Penn State and Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s happened throughout time. And throughout time, people have tried to cover it up.

It is extraordinary that the Hebrew Bible makes it abundantly clear that the story of David and Bathsheba is one of sexual abuse and murder and not a story about two consenting adults who fell in love. And Scripture makes it clear that people tried to cover it up. Whomever got the order to fetch Bathsheba obeyed that order, brought her to him and closed the door. The one sent to put Uriah on the front line knew it was a death sentence yet obeyed the order and looked away. With the with today’s cases, with Penn State &  Ohio State and Michigan State, people knew and looked away.

And even though Scripture warns us about this looking away, the faithful have maintained the practice. Because David was reputed to be such a man after God’s own heart the rabbis couldn’t imagine him doing such a thing without good cause, so they manufactured some “good causes.” They blamed Bathsheba.  They suggested

-         She was an opportunist who wanted her chance at the king.

-         She bathed up there on the rooftop on purpose, to lure him in, poor vulnerable David. She was such an exhibitionist.

-         She was in a lousy marriage anyway. And did the marriage even count?  Soldiers going off to war sometimes gave their wives certificates of divorce, just in case they were wounded and couldn’t return as the men they used to be. And Uriah was a Hittite, for heaven’s sake.  What’s a good Jewish girl doing being married to a Hittite?  Is it even a real marriage when you’re married to a Hittite?

“Who’s that woman?” David asked when he saw her.

“She’s the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

A Hittite? Oh!  In that case, “Send for her,” David commanded.  He might not have acted so quickly if she’d been married to a fellow Hebrew, or one of worth and stature, one who could fight back.

Was it because Uriah was a Hittite, or because David was the King that the others looked away?

Scripture says Bathsheba ran home in shock, grief and disgrace. But nevertheless, both Jewish and Christian scholars were willing to besmirch Bathsheba’s and Uriah’s good names to protect David. David was our man, our leader, our great king. So we will deal in lies and cover up to protect him.

And we will even vilify good people. Uriah was a member of an elite group of “mighty men” who served as the king’s guard. He the best of the best, the noblest of the noblest, though he was never able to be part of the absolute “in” club because he was, after all, a Hittite.   A close reading of the text indicates that Uriah knew exactly what happened with King David and his wife.  Another member of the King’s guard had been up on the rooftop with David that day; and while there’s loyalty to the king, there’s also loyalty among comrades. One suspects that’s why Uriah didn’t go home to Bathsheba. David did everything he could to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, so Uriah would think the unborn child was his, so no one would know what David did. But Uriah refused.  

David urged Uriah to go to Bathsheba. But Uriah said pointedly and point blank, “Far be it from me to go do THAT while my comrades are facing death in the field.”  Subtext: unlike you, my king. You, King David, did not go into battle with us. You, King David, slept around instead. Far be it from me to do THAT while my comrades are facing death in the field.

David tried to get Uriah drunk. Even that didn’t work. Uriah the Hittite had more integrity, honor and loyalty than King David, who should have been out there on the battlefield with his men, like all the other kings, but was not.

Uriah’s righteous refusal cost him his life. Yet David’s name was praised.

Except the Bible never forgot the truth. Centuries later, the Gospel of Matthew remembered that among Joseph’s ancestors was the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

God’s word is holding a mirror to us, shedding its light on things we don’t want to acknowledge.  All of us, good people, good servants, good citizens, believers sin. We look away. We spin the truth. We get sucked in. We cave.

Scripture traces the slippery slope of David from great king to entitled king, from hero to abuser, from man after God’s own heart to liar and murderer.  And it traces our slippery slope from those with integrity to those sucked in too.

I have been reading a really uncomfortable book entitled “How Democracies Die.” It’s written by Harvard historians. The book is somewhat controversial because it’s not exactly friendly to our current Adminstration. But even among those who criticize the writers, the criticism is that the writers sometimes fall prey to the very behaviors they decry. But no one has argued that the writers are wrong about what history teaches. It’s hard to read because it asks a question none of us want to ask:

Is our democracy in danger?

They argue, through a careful study of history in the US and globally, that the main thing that has preserved democracy in the US, especially during turbulent times when people and political parties dramatically differ from each other, is that we have fundamentally agreed upon the norms of mutual toleration and forbearance. These norms have meant that although we may not agree with each other, we won’t ultimately demonize each other or play dirty. While the rhetoric of American political fringes, either on the far right or far left, has always been nasty and willing to demonize, until recent history, those in the center have managed to maintain some decorum, working together to compromise rather than obstructing, refusing to make existential comments suggesting the other side is un-American, honoring those all-important norms of toleration and forbearance. These norms helped provide guardrails that protected us from the kinds of partisan fights that destroyed democracies in other parts of the world. But these historians argue those norms have vanished. Even among those who were once in the center, maintaining them. Its chilling because they write about history you and I have lived through and remember. Its chilling to realize, in print,   how Cobb County was part of all of this. With stories we all know and remember, they unveil the slow progressive loss of those norms.  Slowly but surely, our rhetoric took a turn. A little here. A little there.  Tolerance and compromise became dirty words. Now we can hardly believe what’s being said even by some of our closest friends. Or out of our own mouths in shocked response.

First King David stopped going with his men into battle, first he was willing to make them sacrifice themselves without threatening his own life. Then he took Bathsheba. Then he murdered Uriah. Bit by bit he lost his soul. And those around him sank with him into the mud.

Scripture tells this story. Admits it. Says it out loud. Warns us about kings and followers and innocent citizens who get sucked in.

And then Scripture reminds us about Nathan, the prophet. Nathan called David out. He refused to let a lie win. He saw through the mud and dared the speak truth. And he did it not do it by publicly humiliating David, or by flinging more mud, or creating a spin worse than David’s own spin, but by telling a parable about a lamb. A lamb taken unfairly; power run amok. A parable David could hear. And to David’s credit, he did. Nathan spoke truth and David heard. And in speaking truth to David, Nathan helped him begin to restore his soul. Lying would not have done that. Continuing the cover up would not have done that. Working on a super spin would not have done that. Only the truth can do that. The truth wisely told.

I don’t know whether or not the authors of “How Democracies Lie” are prophets. Only time will tell. What I do know is that its only the prophets, the real ones God sends, who can save us from ourselves. But in the meantime, while we wait for these prophets, while we yearn for them, we can keep this holy story in mind. Let’s not be David, easing down the slippery slope till we lose our souls. And let’s not be those who are sucked into the lies. Let’s be those who dare listen for God, seeking to be like Nathan, spotting truth and speaking it urgently but gently, in ways it can be heard above the fray.

That takes an incredible amount of wisdom. But if not to speak and enact truth that can be heard, what’s the purpose of the church?

All with ears to hear, hear. Amen. 





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