not me too!
clothed with joyful mystery

confession is good for the soul

As I suggested in what might be called chapter 1 of the story of King David and Bathsheba, if the “me too” movement had existed during David’s time, he would have qualified as one of its poster boys.  But now we come to chapter 2, which could have the dramatic title, “The Reckoning.”

With a theme we’ll look at later, Nathan, who plays the role of prophet and “he who speaks truth to power,” calls David to account.

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There’s an idea I’ve heard and I imagine most, if not all of you, have also heard.  Maybe you’ve tried it, or it’s been tried on you!  One good way to convince someone, or to make a point, is to let them think it was their idea.  This might require a bit of craftiness.  Maybe simply knowing when it’s time to shut up can figure into it.  You don’t want to come out swinging or insult someone’s intelligence.

There have been times during a group discussion when I’ve tossed an idea into the mix and then said nothing else.  I didn’t belabor the point.  And on many occasions, someone else would say the same thing, and then finding approval.  Sometimes, you just got to let someone else take the credit!

One good way to implement this method is to tell a story—something the other person can identify with.  That’s what Nathan does.

Let’s review to see why he is prompted to tell his story.  After David impregnates Bathsheba, he is finally “forced” to have her husband, Uriah, killed in a deliberately ill-conceived military move.  You know—accidentally on purpose.  When word about the fiasco is brought to David, he isn’t furious, as would normally be expected.  Kings don’t usually welcome such news in a good mood.  Instead he blows it off and assures his general Joab, “Don’t worry, that’s what happens in the fog of war.”  And there’s an understood “wink wink.”

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Speaking of “wink wink,” roughly three centuries after the writing of 1 and 2 Samuel, we have the two books of the Chronicles.  One of the writer’s concerns was to emphasize the key role of David’s dynasty.  Unfortunately, Bathsheba never figures into the story.

Here’s how chapter 20 begins: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, Joab led out the army, ravaged the country of the Ammonites, and came and besieged Rabbah.  But David remained at Jerusalem.  Joab attacked Rabbah, and overthrew it” (v. 1).  Wait a minute!  Didn’t something else happen at the time?

If I didn’t know better, I would swear someone wants to sanitize history.

And so we come to today’s reading.  When Bathsheba heard of her husband’s death, “she made lamentation for him.  When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son” (2 Sm 11:26-27).

So there we go.  David’s plan finally works.  Uriah is out of the way, and as far as the world is concerned, he is the father.  Bathsheba is now David’s wife.  He’s taken her into his home.  To the unsuspecting, it might appear he’s extending royal protection to a woman who is a widow and is about to be a single mother.  Things are going fine.  “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!”

Well, let’s not jump the gun.  Here’s verse 1: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”  “Be sure your sin will find you out,” as Moses told the people (Nu 32:23).  The king is about to find out that warning also applies to him.  He has been found out.

As we saw at the beginning, Nathan the prophet realizes he has an unwelcome message for David.  He tells the story of a rich man who had an abundance of sheep and a poor man who “had nothing but one little ewe lamb.”  Notice how he describes the little critter.  “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” (v. 3).  I’m about to cry just reading that!

But then—oh yes, but then!  The rich man has a visitor.  Hospitality requires he welcome his guest with a meal.  However, this member of the top one-percent decides he can’t bear to part with one of his vast horde of animals.  Instead, he sends his boys to grab the poor man’s lamb, slaughter it, and prepare it for the dinner plate.  Delicious.

At this point, David begins quaking and shaking with fury.  He sees red, and he explodes, “That evil so-and-so needs to be slain!  But not before making restitution to the poor fellow whose heart he crushed.”

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I wonder how long Nathan takes with his response.  Does he wait until David calms down?  Or does he strike while the iron is still hot?  Whatever the case, Nathan lets loose with something to knock David back on his heels—metaphorically and maybe even literally.  To David’s cry for the man’s blood, Nathan comes back, “You are the man!” (v. 7).

The prophet launches into a litany of what God has done for him: making him king, rescuing him from Saul, giving him Saul’s wives, “and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more” (v. 8).  But, unfortunately, that’s not all.  There will be turmoil in his family, bloodshed, and rebellion.

David does repent, but there is one more heartbreaking consequence of his actions.  As Nathan says, “because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (v. 14).  Afterwards, David fasts and prays to God that the child should live, but to no avail.

Let me go back to something I mentioned at the beginning, which is Nathan holding David accountable.  By the way, he does this, not without a degree of danger.  Who knows how the king will react?  Nathan might find himself in prison, or maybe David’s wish for the rich man will come true—except Nathan will be on the receiving end!

Having said that, it’s very important we have someone to be accountable to.  It can be easy to say, “I’m accountable to God,” and at the end of the day, it’s certainly true.  Still, without someone (that is, a wise, centered someone) looking us in the eye and saying, “So how are you doing with such-and-such?” we run the risk of not sticking to a path of spiritual growth.

I’ll admit, I haven’t always been faithful in finding such a person.  (We have moved quite a bit over the years—how that for an excuse?  However, I do have a wife who holds me accountable more often than I would like!)

After the confrontation (a stern form of accountability), as we know, David repents.  Is it possible there was at first a thought of self-justification?  There could be numerous ways to do this.  As we saw earlier, he could say he’s been protecting Bathsheba.  As for Uriah the Hittite, he was no child of Israel.  How do we know he wasn’t a spy?

David confesses his sin.  As mentioned earlier, Nathan gets his point across to David by giving him someone to identify with.  In an unexpected, uncomfortable, and even compulsory way, the rich man in the story becomes his idea, an idea he really doesn’t want to have!

4 2 smStill, it works.  Not every leader admits guilt.  Some say there’s nothing they need to apologize for.  Instead of accepting responsibility, they shift the blame to others.  But then, how often do we do that?  According to the Bible, human beings have been doing that since day one.

We see a David who is calculating, even brutal, but also in pain.  He must go through the fire to be purified.

He emerges on the other side, giving voice to one of the most beloved of the psalms, number 51.  It is the Ash Wednesday psalm.  If you notice the psalm’s title, or superscription, it is forever linked with Nathan’s calling him out regarding his sin against Bathsheba.

Look at verse 4.  “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”  Understand, this can apply to any of us.  But right now, we’re dealing with it as it applies to David.

I have a question.  Where’s Bathsheba?  Hasn’t she been sinned against?  Need we go back and run through the sorry story again?  Is she being slighted yet again?  Is her voice not being heard?  Does she need to cry out, “Me too”?

O Lord, against you alone have I sinned.

In his book, The End of Memory, Croatian writer Miroslav Volf seems to agree.  He speaks of the months-long interrogation by someone he simply calls “Captain G.”  This was during the time of the former Yugoslavia, and he was under suspicion of being a spy.  He’s reflecting on that experience from more than two decades earlier and imagining a reconciliation between Captain G. and himself.

Captain G., being a loyal communist, is also an atheist, so he would only be interested in forgiveness offered by Volf, not by God.  Our friend Miroslav, being a Christian, thinks differently.

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Miroslav Volf

“By wronging me,” he says, “you’ve transgressed the moral law God established to help us, God’s beloved creatures, to flourish; so you have wronged God.  Ultimately, only God has the power and the right to forgive, and only God’s forgiveness can wash you clean of your wrongdoing.  When I forgive you, I mostly just echo God’s forgiving of your sin.”[1]

That has the makings of a pretty good theology of forgiveness!

Of course, when we wrong someone, commit those petty little offenses, we sin against each other.  Still, as the psalmist and Miroslav Volf contend, those sins are simply a reflection of the sin against God, and forgiveness offered is a reflection of God’s forgiveness.

Confession is good for the soul.  We learn it when King David confesses.  We learn it when we confess our sin against each other.  We learn it when we confess our sin against the earth.  We learn it when we confess our sin against the body politic.  That is, if we disagree, we somehow become enemies.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (v. 10).  Confession is good for the soul.  How does that chorus go?

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“Create in me a clean heart, O God, / and renew a right spirit within me. / Create in me a clean heart, O God, / and renew a right spirit within me.

“Cast me not away from Thy presence, O Lord, / and take not Thy holy Spirit from me. / Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, / and renew a right spirit within me.”

 

[1] Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 225.

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