Some lessons are learned the hard way
Psalm 51: Going through the motions doesn’t please you.
This Psalm probably ranks in the top four or five best known psalms and it comes from the worst event of David’s life. He’s sinned against God in his affair with Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up by engineering the death of her husband. His evil plan never has a chance. All the time God is watching as the whole ugly thing unfolds. God sends his man, Nathan, to confront David and when he repents he writes this psalm as his prayer of confession. Its theme is “God’s loving grace.” David pleads for mercy and forgiveness and asks for a changed heart. There’s no, “I’ll try harder” in his cry to God. He realizes that his greatest need isn’t better performance but that he be made new from the inside out. I think the most powerful insight of the psalm is David’s realization that God isn’t nearly as interested in performance as he is in motivation. The Lord isn’t as interested in our behaving in some proscribed way as he is interested in our hearts. When the heart is right, performance (within human limitations) will follow. Otherwise, performance becomes for us, not a source of righteousness, but a source of pride.
Take Away: A changed heart results in changed behavior.
The reach of sin
2 Samuel 13: Kill him…and don’t be afraid.
When Nathan the prophet confronts David with his sin he not only tells him that the child of his illicit relationship with Bathsheba will die, but that there will be killing and murder in his family. This story about his daughter Tamar and sons Ammon and Absalom illustrates the truth of this statement by Nathan. It’s pretty ugly stuff. Ammon is in love with his half-sister Tamar. His first cousin Jonadab tells him to get her alone and force himself on her. Ammon takes Jonadab’s advice and ends up raping Tamar. When David hears what’s happened, he’s outraged, but does nothing about it. Could it be that his memory of his own relationship with Bathsheba stops him from acting? Technically, he didn’t rape Bathsheba, but when he sent for her on that terrible day, he did so with all the authority of the throne. She really couldn’t say “no” to the king. Beyond that, what David did went public. His family, including Ammon, knew all about it. Surely, knowing that his father took another man’s wife when he wanted her influenced his thinking in this. So Ammon rapes Tamar. When David fails to act, her full brother, Absalom decides to take matters into his own hands. He murders Ammon. Clearly, this isn’t a pretty story. No one in this incident except the victim is portrayed in a positive manner. David has repented of his sin and been forgiven by the Lord, but there are still consequences to his failure. This isn’t God punishing David by encouraging rape and murder in his family. Instead, it’s the outflow of David’s willful actions. Our actions have consequences, some reaching farther and into places we’d never imagine.
Take Away: Don’t underestimate your influence – for good or for bad.
Sometimes I just don’t get it
2 Samuel 12: The son born to you will die.
I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful, but I really dislike this passage. I struggle with the result of David’s sin being the death of this innocent child. I wish I had some nifty, easy-to-swallow answer that fits neatly into my understanding of God, but I don’t. I can just barely reach out and grasp the concept that God is the Giver of Life and that he can take that gift by his own sovereignty. That doesn’t really solve my problem with this passage although it causes me to acknowledge that God is God and that this is all under his authority. David prays and fasts that his son might be spared, asking God to show him mercy. He knows that God is merciful, so there’s hope that it might just happen. But it doesn’t and the child dies. If you think I’m about to come up with some devotional gem here, well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have nothing. That doesn’t stop me from believing that “God is love” and that he’s a compassionate and merciful God. All I can do is confess my failure to understand and go on trusting in the good character of the Lord. Frankly, this isn’t as isolated a situation as I would like it to be. Still, I go on trusting in those situations too.
Take Away: Even when we don’t understand we can trust. Actually, that’s a definition of faith.
I wonder if Nathan checked his life insurance policy first
2 Samuel 12: You’re the man!
It’s through the prophet Nathan that God responds to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her righteous husband, Uriah. We don’t know much about Nathan, but he carries on in the spirit of his predecessor, Samuel. In Nathan we see the same boldness we saw in Samuel when he stood up to Saul. A few pages back, when David wants to build a Temple, its Nathan who first agrees but then returns with the disappointing news that God doesn’t want David to build a Temple. Now, when David has fallen in sin, it’s Nathan who takes his life in his hands and confronts the king with what he’s done. The prophet is pretty smart in his approach. He comes to David with a made-up scenario about a farmer and a lamb. When David reacts with righteous indignation over what he thinks has happened Nathan responds with the famous words, “You’re the man!” David, who could have any available woman in Israel (it’s acceptable in this society for him to have multiple wives), instead wanted another man’s wife. David, who’s bravely fought God’s enemies all his life, has used God’s enemies to do his dirty work for him. It’s Nathan who stands up to David. It’s nice to be God’s spokesman and tell people about the story of God’s love for us, preaching sermons from John 3:16. However, there’s a place for confrontation too. We’d just better be sure it’s God who’s sending us with that strong message.
Take Away: No one is big enough, so valuable to God’s Kingdom, that they can get away with sin.
Murder most foul
2 Samuel 11: War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another.
David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11 is stunning. There are no excuses, no contributing circumstances that in any way lessen his failure. When Saul takes it upon himself to play the role of priest rather than wait on Samuel it’s a horrible failure, but it’s no greater than the one I read about here. David, King of Israel sees a woman taking a bath and wants her. Abusing his authority as king he sends for her and then has sexual relations with her. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, he sends for her husband in hopes of covering up his sin. The only things we know about Uriah are what we find in this story but it’s clear that he’s an honorable man and a loyal soldier. Failing in his plan, David sends a note to his general, Joab (a note carried by Uriah, himself) that’s actually a death sentence. When David receives word of Uriah’s death, he shrugs it off with “war kills.” In this case it isn’t war that kills. It’s David. In the words of Agatha Christie, this is “murder most foul.” David’s a great man, a real hero, and a key figure in God’s plan for the world. Still, the writers of Scripture do not avoid the issue here. They tell us the whole ugly story. Still, what happens, as unsavory as it is, isn’t beyond the grace of God. I’m glad the story doesn’t end here.
Take Away: The Lord can’t deal with our sin until we admit we have sinned and repent of it.