II Samuel 11:26-12:15
I suppose if we are human, every one of us here this morning has something in our past that we haven’t been busted for. And of course, I hesitate to add “yet”. Some of the stuff that I can come up with in my own life fits handily into the “indiscretions of youth” category. That certainly doesn’t excuse any of it, and it doesn’t explain it away, and I’ve certainly continued to leave some messes on the path of life that I’ve trod, and I’ve suffered a few consequences because of it, but thanks be to God for forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration. I would not have survived without it.
This morning we are looking in on a fellow who has made a terrible mess of not only his own life, but of the lives of several others, and he is not the least bit ashamed of himself. In fact, instead of shame, he’s quite proud of himself. He’s wearing the smug smile of someone who’s gotten away with murder and sexual immorality. In fact, if we were to thoroughly examine David’s sin, we would easily discover that he violated every single one of the Ten Commandments. And so to cover up his sin, he and his buddy Joab conspired to hatch a plan that worked so perfectly, that David emerged from the whole mess smelling like a rose.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. I’m not sure why the writer of Second Samuel tells us this; it should have been as obvious to the very first readers of this book as it is to us. And above all else, it should have been terribly obvious to David himself. When we read Psalms 32 and 51, we can get the sense that somewhere along the line that David began to develop a guilty conscience, that his sin was troubling him. But the writer of Second Samuel gives us no hint of that whatsoever.
Until he is confronted by the actual details of his sin, David portrays the image of a self-righteous prig, defiantly wearing the smug smile of his dastardly success at getting away with it all.
But because the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, God sent the prophet Nathan to David. And Nathan comes with a tale that is smarmy and sentimental and tugs at our heartstrings even today.
There’s this rich guy, see, and he lacks nothing, except a moral compass. He’s overloaded with stuff. Flocks and herds and herds and flocks. He’s probably not even sure how much stuff he’s got. Tax time isn’t until April and his accountant will let him know then.
But we’ve also got this poor guy. And the poor guy knows exactly what he’s got. He’s got one little ewe lamb. For those of us who aren’t agrarians, that’s a little girl who also happens to be a lamb. And this little lamb is the cutest thing you ever saw. In fact, its not really even a lamb at all. It’s another child. The lamb has been raised side by side with the rest of the children. The lamb eats people food and drinks people drink, and it doesn’t live outdoors. It lives inside, and it sleeps in the poor man’s bed. Some of us may even be wondering, by now, is it possible that Uriah’s nickname for Bathsheba was “my little lamb?” I would not be surprised.
But suddenly, disaster strikes right into the heart of this idyllic little scene. The rich man receives a visitor. And this is not so unusual at all. Living here along the coast of Maine in the summer, we know that visitors happen. And it is quite proper for us when visitors happen, to offer them some hospitality. The Sawyer family has a delightful story about some travelers who called up one day, introduced themselves as old friends, showed up, got fed lobster and corn on the cob, stayed well into the evening, departed, and we have not a clue who they were. And so visitors happen. And when the traveler came to the rich man, the rich man showed him some hospitality. But in the tale that Nathan tells, we learn that the rich man was loath to dip into the abundance of his own flocks and herds, and so he snagged the poor man’s child and prepared that for dinner. And I say child, because we all know that that is exactly how the poor man treated his little ewe lamb. Nathan describes a relationship with this lamb that goes well beyond the realm of normal sheep keeping. Nathan describes a sanctified relationship between the man and his little lamb that should never have been broken.
Something holy and sacred has been violated here and our self-righteous prig explodes into a rage over it. David clearly sees that several sins have been committed by the rich man, and he’s outraged over the injustice of it all. A terrible injustice has been done. There’s greed, there’s oppression, there’s theft, there’s murder, and the worst part of it all is that there is no reason at all that any of this should have happened in the first place. Everything that the rich man has done in this story is horribly, terribly, tragically wrong. The rich man trespassed where he had no business trespassing, and as far as David is concerned, the rich man must die for his sins. If the rich man thinks he’s going to get away with any of this, he’s got another think coming. This terrible injustice must not be allowed to stand; justice must be served; and it will be, just not in the way that David expects.
It is ironic to me that Nathan has nailed David to his own cross, and David does not yet know it. In a fit of rage, David has laid bare his own profound and deep-seated self righteousness, and yet he does not yet see that he is also the unjust, thieving, trespassing, murderous, greedy, oppressive rich man. How easy it is for all of us to identify, even with rage, the sins of others, pronouncing judgment on them without realizing that we are also pronouncing judgment on ourselves. Until Nathan says to David, “You are the man!” David is still wearing the smug smile of success.
When Nathan busted David, David had the good sense to repent. I would almost have expected him to be defiant. I would not have been so surprised to see him deny everything, holding on to his self-righteousness until there was nothing left to hold on to.
I still think that it was very difficult for David to say, “I have sinned against the Lord,” because I also know that it is a very difficult thing for me to say. Confession of sin, however, is the only path to forgiveness, and David will receive forgiveness for his sins. He will not die. He will not receive the death sentence that he unknowingly pronounced upon himself in a fit of rage.
David will not die. His eternal life is still assured. But for the rest of his natural life the consequences of his sin will ever be before him. His family will tumble into a terrible state of dysfunction, from which it will not recover. And the child conceived in adultery will fall ill and die. That’s a sad batch of consequences, but like visitors, consequences happen.
But even when consequences happen, there is grace. Grace to accept them and grace to endure them. David found that grace and he celebrated it and he rejoiced in it, and so can we. He has this to say in Psalm 32: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” “Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”
This was the grace that David found when consequences overwhelmed him. This is also the grace that we can find.