2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9
(watch here: https://youtu.be/bUW-y6L867A)
1In 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.
2It 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. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ 4So David sent messengers to fetch 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. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’
26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord 1and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. 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. 4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’ 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
7Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
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 judgement.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
This morning our reading has us jump ahead a little in the biblical narrative. So far we’ve been with Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Joshua but this week we dwell with David. And not the mighty David who defeated Goliath and became Israel’s great leader. No, we are asked to dwell with the weak, guilt-ridden David. And he should feel guilty for the sin he committed with Bathsheba! He took a man’s wife into his bed and impregnated her. And not just any man but one of his army’s generals. To hide his sin, David has the man killed and takes Bathsheba as his own wife. But it doesn’t work. The great prophet, Nathan, learns of the treachery and cleverly confronts David about it through a story. David’s sin is exposed and he seeks forgiveness as we heard in the accompanying psalm. This is the David we’re asked to dwell with this week.
In reflecting on David’s guilt, I’m reminded of an old legend about three men and their sacks. Each man had two sacks, one tied in front of his neck and the other tied on his back. When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, “In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they’re hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.” Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn’t make much progress in life. The second man was asked about his sacks. He replied, “In the front sack are all the good things I’ve done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes in there and carry them all the time. Sure they’re heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can’t put them down.” When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, “The sack in front is great. There I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I’ve experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn’t a problem. The sack is like sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward.
“The sack on my back is empty. There’s nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I’m not carrying around any extra weight at all.”
I like this legend because, in essence, the legend lifts up three different approaches to guilt. Some of us can carry around all the bad things we’ve ever done right at the forefront of our lives so we can easily access them. For some of us this is a good place to carry them. We are susceptible to becoming prideful and delusional about our own grandness. It is helpful to remember the bad things as a way of keeping the right perspective about ourselves. Some of us carry around those bad things but don’t ever want to look at them so we put them on our backs. We don’t need to look at them to remind us of our shortcomings. But we can’t get rid of them because they, too, help us keep right perspectives about ourselves. But some of us find a way of not carrying around any of the bad things about ourselves and the way we’ve behaved in the past. We cut a hole in the bag on our backs so that we can live completely guilt-free and focus on the good things in the bags around our necks. The legend asks us to consider which of the three men we can best relate to: the aware guilty one, the unaware guilty one, or the guilt-free one.
Through the help of Nathan, David was able to change from being an unaware guilty person to an aware guilty person. For too long David had thrown the sins he committed against Bathsheba and her husband into the bag on his back. He didn’t have to look at them but they surely weighed him down. Along came Nathan who switched his bag to the front so that he could readily access his sins. David could no longer ignore what he had done and was forced to reflect on it. And David wasn’t an evil person. He knew what he had done was wrong so he boldly confesses his sin to Nathan. In verse 13 we hear, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” The first step to forgiveness is always acknowledging what it is you’re seeking forgiveness for. Once acknowledged, then the person can begin going to work in forgiving you. Even more, you become able to receive forgiveness. Without acknowledgment, without confession, it is difficult to give or receive forgiveness. Confession opens the hearts of both the sinned against and the sinner.
I’ve often found that carrying the bag of bad things around the neck is a lot easier than carrying it on the back. Yes, the bag is the same weight but for some reason it’s lighter. Maybe because when you look at it the weight actually loses weight. Maybe because forgiveness helps carry the weight. In either case, the bag seems lighter when it’s carried around the neck. I think it’s a combination of both losing weight and extra help in carrying it. And I think God’s grace does just that: it takes away weight and helps carry it. Ideally, God’s grace eliminates the weight altogether but I have yet to meet a completely guilt-free person aside from Christ alone. We are all sinners and we all carry some degree of guilt over that sin. God’s grace lessens that weight and helps carry it. And God’s grace is best embodied in Christ. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (3:23-24)
Which is perhaps why we’ve been exposed to the weak, sinful David this morning—to indirectly expose us to the mighty glory of God’s grace. Just as the faithfulness of Noah and Abraham and Moses and Joshua ultimately revealed the faithfulness of God, David’s sinfulness reveals the awesomeness of God’s grace. We need God’s grace and forgiveness if we are to have any degree of hope. If we have nothing to look forward to than his judgment and condemnation for our sins, then we would be fearful, weak people. But because of his grace, we can boldly and generously live and love our neighbors and God. We can be assured and hopeful of our salvation. We can cling to Paul’s proclamation in his letter to the Ephesians, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9) God’s grace empowers to accomplish great and mighty deeds in this world. We need God’s grace! As we read in Hebrews, “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)
All the characters in Scripture are deeply flawed. David is no more special than the others. But they all help to reveal our profoundly unflawed God. Our God is not only a faithful God but also a gracious God. Let us rejoice in him and be glad!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.