II Samuel 11:26-12:7a
Most of us, I think are fairly familiar with the treachery and conniving machinations that King David engaged in, in order to secure a new love interest for himself. The story of David and Bathsheba is a very complicated account of lust and abusive power coming together in about as many wrong and evil ways as possible. It is a story of murder, intrigue, and multiple falsehoods. And, after committing multiple crimes to satisfy his lust, David was pretty well convinced that he had gotten away with the whole thing. In the end, he believed that all that he had done was justified, and that he could probably live happily ever after. A study of David’s life after this salacious affair indicates that he did not, in fact, live happily ever after. After this escapade, the rest of his life was pretty well messed up, even though ultimately, God forgave all of his sins. Sometimes, even though sin is fully forgiven, consequences remain.
At the time of our passage this morning, though, no consequences had yet surfaced, and David was still patting himself on the back, and congratulating himself for pulling off such a wonderfully a successful coup. Under the circumstances, as far as David was concerned, things could not have gone better. In the end his lust was satisfied, and he got what he wanted. All was well. At least it was until this pesky fellow, Nathan showed up. And Nathan has a parable for David. It is a story about two men, one very rich, and one very poor. The rich man had everything he ever needed or wanted. He lacked nothing, and had the means to secure anything he wanted. The poor man, on the other hand, had hardly anything. He did have, though, a little ewe lamb. This lamb was precious to him, and he adored it. In fact, he treated this little lamb, not just like a pet, but as if it was his own daughter. It was a regular part of his household. The little lamb ate with him, drank with him, played with his children, and for purposes of this parable, even slept with him. But then disaster struck. The rich man received a traveling guest. And instead of selecting a meal from among his own flocks, the rich man stole the poor man’s little lamb and prepared it for his guest. When David heard this parable, the text says that “David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.” And he concluded that the rich man deserved to die for his dastardly deed. And without realizing it, David pronounced his own death sentence upon himself. And then, with extraordinary courage, Nathan looked straight into David’s eyes, and he said, “You are the man!” You are the one who deserves to die.
From time to time, I get a strong feeling of deja vu. And I’m pretty sure that I have either heard, or maybe even more likely preached a sermon about how David, in pandering to his lust, violated all, or nearly all of the Ten Commandments. And that, of course, drove me, once again, to Exodus chapter twenty, where the Ten Commandments reside. We have this wonderful image of the Ten Commandments. There they are, neatly printed on two stone tablets, all headed up by Roman numerals. I don’t even know where the Roman numerals came from. The Roman’s didn’t even exist when Moses first received the Ten Commandments. Maybe God likes Roman numerals, and created them ahead of time. But the Ten Commandments really are a bit of a misnomer. It’s really difficult to divide them up into ten separate and distinct commandments. Depending on how we divide them up, there could be only nine, or there just might be eleven. But ten seems to be the preferred and traditional number, and so that’s what we’ll try to work with this morning.
As we go through these, I’m not really very interested in focusing solely on David’s infractions. David is long ago forgiven for his sins, and long ago dead. Instead I’ve got this idea that we ought to go through them thinking about what we might gain ourselves, by violating them; that’s right, what we might gain by violating them, and then discovering what we will ultimately lose if we do violate them. The point being that these things wouldn’t be commandments if there wasn’t some perceived benefit in not keeping them. Does that make sense?
The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me.” And of course we do. The ancients kept other gods just to cover all the bases. We have favorite things that consume our time and energy and even bring us joy and satisfaction. For many of us today our gods are our wallets or the things that we can procure with our wallets. For some, our gods are a favorite sports team, or maybe even our work. The loss in keeping other gods is that we lose the joy of being in relationship with the one true God who created us and loves us. Our other gods can’t bring us true joy nor do they love us, even though we may love them. But we already know this.
The second commandment is very much like the first, and is often included in the first by those who who do alternate numbering. It is, “Do not make an idol or worship any other thing.” This one we often violate by default. We would never be tempted in this modern age to construct an idol out of wood or stone or plastic or steel or platinum and then get down on our knees and worship it. That would be silly, even though our forebears would beg to disagree. We might, though, carefully craft an idol in our hearts. We wouldn’t bow down to it, but we certainly might adore it. Our society is filled with idols both animate and inanimate. It’s easy and pleasurable to get caught up in idolizing things, sometimes we ourselves are the one that we worship. But when we make idols in our hearts, and build relationships with them, even if they happen to be ourselves, we lose the joy of worshiping the awesome God of the universe, and our spiritual lives suffer and die. So much distraction, so little time for God. Idolatry often wins our hearts.
The third commandment is “Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” I was always taught that this meant don’t say the “GD” word, or any of its lesser permutations like “gosh” or “gee”. The only benefit I ever saw in that was that the “GD” word was really handy when you were really angry. But there’s got to be more benefit to violating it than that. Most of us are generally pretty polite people most of the time. But suppose we spoke falsely on behalf of God? Suppose we claimed to be speaking for God when we were really only speaking for ourselves? The benefits here are enormous. We gain respect and honor and admiration. We might even become someone’s idol. The huge loss in violating this commandment, though, is that the powerful truth of God’s word becomes blurred in our own hearts, and we could become guilty of leading someone else astray. The real loss, though, is that we forsake the joy and the blessings of knowing just what it is that God’s word has to say to us.
The fourth commandment is “Remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The benefits to not keeping this commandment are very easy to list. There are multiple reasons to not observe the sabbath. We’re too busy, the sabbath is the only day we can do such and such. It is the only day we can get caught up or get stuff done. But by violating the sabbath, we lose the sacred gift of rest that God himself observed, and rest is so vitally important to both our bodies and to our souls. The sabbath is also a day to worship and to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that becomes a lost gift, too. Do we value that gift?
The fifth commandment is “Honor your father and mother.” We could argue that our parents are not worthy of our honor, because of their many sins. But however bad they may be, they still participated with God in giving us the gift of life, so that we can, in turn, give the gift of life to others. Honoring our parents is also honoring our Lord, because God honors life, and God is our best parent.
The sixth commandment is “You shall not murder.” This is something that most of us avoid for the fear of getting caught and spending the rest of our lives in prison. We don’t really see any benefit to murdering some one. but there’s tremendous benefit in assassinating someone’s character. That can be a delightful thing. Perhaps we do it for revenge, or to improve our own station in life. But the penalty is the same: it is death. If we remain unrepentant and unforgiven we will die a long and slow and painful death of our spirits. We will lose all joy.
The seventh commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.” It seems as though the grass is always greener and tastier on the other side of the fence, and sometimes we’re tempted to cross, if only with our eyes. But adultery is theft on almost every level, including theft from God. God has given us marriage so that we might have an earthly model of the relationship that exists in the Holy Trinity. That relationship is gloriously mysterious, and so is marriage. Adultery destroys human relationships, but also disparages heavenly relationships.
The eighth commandment is “You shall not steal.” The benefits of thievery are so manifold that I will not even try to mention them. There is much to gain in thievery. Thievery is a disease, however, and much like drug addiction, it will eventually kill us, even if we do not get caught.
The ninth commandment is “You shall not tell a lie.” The benefits of lying rival even those of thievery. Lying can be a tactic of self preservation, or it can be used to destroy others. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The loss of truth is particularly injurious to the health of our souls. Jesus is our life and our truth. Lying obscures our way, or our path to him.
The final commandment is “You shall not covet the things that others have.” I thought hard on this one, and I could think of no benefit to covetousness, even though we all do it. As near as I can tell, covetousness only makes us jealous and angry at others, and robs from us the joy that we ought to have in our own possessions. Nipping covetousness in the bud, as soon as it rears its ugly head, can only lead to joy, and joy is God’s gift to us. In fact, joy is God’s gift to us when we observe every single one of these commandments. I vote for joy.