The Sinful Side of David
Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 8/1/18
The biographers have been kind to David. The musician who strummed his way into the hearts of his fellow Israelites one song at a time. The winsome shepherd boy who slayed the Philistine giant, felling Goliath with a smooth stone and a rough refusal to blink. The poet who penned the Psalms, a book of journal entries on lament, struggle and doubt, or all the raw emotions that accompany the life of faith.
But religious history can often be revisionist history. In today’s text, it appears David has become well-adjusted to palace living, answers only to his royal title, and has grown accustomed to looking down on the world from his gilded throne.
Corrupted by the paraphernalia of privilege and power, we get exposed to the part of his biography that’s disturbing and heinous, the unbridled actions of a man usually buried in the footnotes. While there are innumerable transgressions in this unedited version of a human behavior, in today’s text, what is David’s sin?
2 Samuel 11:1-15 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”
Abusing his power and office
Letting his sin lead to even worse decisions
Taking advantage of the very people he should have been protecting
Neal Gumpel grew up Irish Catholic, one of ten siblings from upstate New York. As a teenager in 1974, he took a trip north to visit his older brother in college. Instead of staying in the dorm, Neal was encouraged to overnight at the off-campus apartment of Rev. Roy Drake, a young priest and professor. He felt strange about the arrangement, but ignored his intuition. After a living room full of students excused themselves to go home, Neal and Drake were left alone. That’s when the grooming began. Drinks were poured, joints were lit, pornography was viewed. Then the clergyman, known for his charismatic personality, exploded with force and fury. He violently attacked and sexually exploited Neal until the 16-year-old lost consciousness. When he was finally able to escape the next morning, he called his mother, but she didn’t believe him. When he decided to tell his story forty years later, the Law said the statute of limitations had passed and the Church refused to issue a public apology. After a divorce, a strained relationships with his kids, struggles with addiction, and suicidal ideations, Neal says he’s still angry. Not just with the Institution’s coverup, but also with anyone who refers to him as a survivor. “I don’t feel like I survived anything,” he says. “I think a part of me died that night.” (Russell, Eric. “Man relives a personal hell to tell story of boyhood abuse by priest in Maine,” Portland Press Herald (March 6, 2016) www.presshearld.com.)
After the Philistine titan died on the battle field that day, David’s life was likely one pat on the back after another, filled with complimentary tickets to the ball game and decadent meals on the house, an endless echo chamber of yes men all too eager to chat up his infallibility. And it was in the intoxicating image of his vainglory that David turned monstrous.
C.S. Lewis said, “sin is the perversion of love.” David perverted the marriage of Uriah and Bathsheba by violating their covenantal relationship. David perverted the sacrament of sex by cheapening it into nothing more than a hostile transaction of flesh. David perverted the possibility of a faithful solider and a dedicated husband growing gray by orchestrating his demise on the front lines.
But David’s worst perversion was committing every evil act as the chosen leader of the chosen people. There is arguably no greater suffering than the pain inflicted by the called, the anointed, and the ordained, the professionals of faith who represent the divine and yet act in depravedly human ways.
Those who don’t just violate the body, but also assassinate the soul.
After owning the ravages of today’s text, the Good News is that it comes at the beginning of 2 Samuel and not at the end of Revelation. A holy reminder that salvation, not sin, is the definitive last word of a Savior who didn’t recline on a rooftop couch, but instead slept in dirt without a pillow. Who had no royal court of minions, but a cohort of disciples who rarely followed through; who didn’t saddle a war horse but plodded along on a peaceful ass; who declined every objectification of women and instead invited them to join his inner circle; who refused to kill and instead gave himself up with lifting a finger in self-defense.
As we trust pastors, elect presidents and crown princes, let us be very careful to remember that there is only one Lord of Lords, and only one King of Kings who is set apart from all the others… Jesus the Christ, the God man without sin.