No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. When we do something that serves to separate us from God, it’s called a sin, and, according to Romans 3.23, everyone sins. Of course, we don’t need Paul’s magnum opus to the church in Rome to remind us of the universality of sin. Just think about your life, even just what you did yesterday.
Don’t worry. I wasn’t lurking behind the shrubs, looking in your windows. I can say, “Think about what you did yesterday,” because we all do things every day that separate us from God. The superstars of the Bible are no different. Samuel referred to David as “a person after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14). David gets the credit for writing a bunch of Psalms. And, Matthew lists David in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1.6). There’s no doubt about David’s standing as a key figure in God’s story, but he wasn’t perfect.
In fact, David was pretty far from perfect. In 2 Samuel 11 (1-27), David was hanging around the palace while his army was ravaging the Ammonites. Late one afternoon, after taking a nap on his couch, he went for a walk on the roof and saw a beautiful woman bathing below. He Google-stalked her and found out her name, who her parents are, who her husband was, and where she’s from. Since he was the king, he could send someone to “get” her.
David “sent” for Bathsheba in order to “take.” Her response doesn’t imply complicity. Her king sent for a subject (her), and she complied. His authority presents an incredible power disparity. It says he “lay” with her and it’s too easy to read it as an innocuous euphemism for consensual sexual intercourse. The Hebrew שכב (shaw-kab) includes in its definition “to make to lie down for sexual connection.” It is used 190 times in the Bible.
Here are some of the other occurrences of שכב:
In Genesis 19, when Lot’s daughters trick him into incest, they say, “…we will lie (שכב) with him…” (19.32-35).
In Exodus, the verb is used in the retribution laws addressing man seducing and “lying with” a virgin (22.16). It’s also used in the laws concerning bestiality (22.19).
This list goes on and on, and the context is frequently unpleasant because the verb comes up when there is violence, lack of consent, and one person violating another. At this point in 2 Samuel, the Bible doesn’t even bother referencing options. E.g., I imagine a section in the middle of 2 Samuel 11.4, between David sending for Bathsheba and “laying” with her. In this imaginary section, Bathsheba says, “Oh no. I couldn’t come over for a visit because my husband is away fighting your war. It would give the appearance of impropriety, even though I know you would never do anything untoward.”
This dark story simply moves forward. David sent for her and lay with her. The next verse highlights David’s paternity by referencing Bathsheba’s recent period. In other words, she wasn’t pregnant before visiting David. She was after the visit.
2 Samuel 11.6-25 depicts David’s two attempts to cover his sin. First, he tries to set up Uriah as the likely father. Second, after Uriah shows solidarity with the soldiers who were still fighting, and doesn’t visit his wife, David has him killed.
After the episode appears to be over, David, I guess, decides to do the right(?) or honorable(?) thing. He takes Bathsheba into his house as one of his wives. Case closed.
Ah. Deep breath. We can all move on with our lives. That’s the way sin works, right? Clean up your mess. Try to make it like the sin never happened. Everything turns out okay.
Of course not.
If our sins are personal, we have to deal with the consequences. We might not produce unintentional offspring, or rape one of the subjects of our kingdom. Maybe we are unkind, not nice, unjust, lack mercy, or refuse to extend grace to another person. After we sin, the toothpaste is out of the tube. We can apologize but sometimes there’s a deep hurt left in our wake.
When our sins are systemic, they can have consequences for generations. Even if I didn’t commit or participate in the original systemic sin, if I am a beneficiary of it and do nothing to combat it, I am complicit. The parallel with our reading is David’s role as the king. He didn’t invent the kingdom. When David was young, Saul was the king. God told Samuel to anoint a new king, and God was specific—the new king would be one of Jesse’s sons. After looking at Eliab and Abinadab and being convinced God was calling one of them, he finally settled on David (1 Samuel 16).
When David raped Bathsheba, he cemented his complicity in the systemic sins around any monarchy. David had a choice. He could take his afternoon nap, dream about whatever he wanted, and then get up, and get back to becoming a king after God’s own heart. He could have chosen to do the right thing. He could have looked for ways to glorify God.
Instead, he screwed up.
In case you think I have been avoiding Nathan the prophet, I have. Nathan’s message to David is a message to all of us. When he tells the story about a rich person and a poor person and how the rich person took from the poor person, there’s one villain in this story.
The rich person.
The rich person isn’t the villain for being rich or for having many flocks and herds. The rich person isn’t wrong for doing well. The rich person is a caricature of taking what is not ours to take—of taking in order to use.
When Nathan says, “You are that one!”, he’s talking to us. This story is an invitation to use our “analogical imagination.” There are similarities even in the differences between our experience and the two characters in Nathan’s brief story. We might have to take a few steps to get from Nathan to what we experience, but we can do it.
Once there was a rich man who had houses and flocks and good land.
Nearby lived a poor man who had nothing but a little lamb
What do we hold that isn’t ours? What do we snatch from the grasp of another? It could be honor, dignity, kindness, honesty, compassion, patience, goodness, or anything else.
When we recognize ourselves in Nathan’s story, we are ready for the next step. Until we do, we’re not ready. If we can’t see—I mean really see—our own sinfulness, then how can we be forgiven? We’re just not ready.
Today, look at our own life. You don’t have to do it right this second. Take your time and really look hard. Think about where you do anything that serves to separate you from God. Or, think about those times when you know what you should do and don’t do it.
That’s not where we live. We don’t stay in our sinfulness. Like David, God is willing to hear our contrition and respond to our confession with, “It’s okay. You are forgiven.”
Also, like David, we might still have to pick up the pieces and learn how to make things right. If we can’t make them right, we can learn how to make them better.
This is the transformation part of Nathan’s story. He didn’t tell it just to make David feel terrible. He told the story to help him (and us) see his (and our) sins. Nathan didn’t want us to just see it and confess. He was God’s prophet who delivered the message of change.
Be transformed from who you are into who God wants you to be.
Transformation is the journey of faith. It’s growing in Christ and learning how to be the people God wants us to be. We never finish because we never stop sinning.
As we go along on this journey, God is present, loving us, and leading us to change.
Let’s be transformed transgressors together. Amen.