eavenly Father blessed be the Word; the mouth that speaks; the ears that hear; and the minds that understand. Amen
Most preachers prefer to focus on the Gospel reading or the News headlines of the day or just generally whatever happens to inspires them. Few tackle the Old Testament readings and with good reason.
Frankly, my wife like many others, especially women, have a visceral dislike for much of the Old Testament, and rightly so. It reflects a harsh, patriarchal, chauvinistic, honor-based culture which is out of step with today’s evolved society and deeply offensive to many modern women as they are portrayed as subordinate property.
This morning’s Old Testament reading continues the infamous story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. It’s a difficult, uncomfortable story and it would be far easier if we just avoided it.
The fact is that this Old Testament story is actual uncomfortably familiar. It could be ripped from today’s headlines. News of powerful men’s predatory sexual abuse, rape and, yes, even murder confront us almost daily. Having read, heard, or experienced the unforgivable offenses exposed by the MeToo movement, we may wonder – have we become desensitized to such horrors?
It would be easier if we just avoided it.
But, as I listened to the first installment last week a number of questions came to mind like;
The challenge in understanding David’s story is that we are generally unfamiliar with the Old Testament Covenant – the contract between God and Israel – before the coming of Grace.
As Christians we believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, changes everything. Jesus declares, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Paul makes it crystal clear that Christians are no longer under the rule of Mosaic Law and states so, in no uncertain terms, in Romans 6; “For sin will have no mastery over you because you are not under the Law but under Grace”.
Theologians and biblical scholars’ debate forgiveness models like “repentance required” versus “unconditional forgiveness”.
But that discussion is far too complex to be examined here today and not the point of this sermon. David lived a thousand years before Christ and was, without doubt, under Mosaic Law.
In Judaism, adultery is considered one of the most grievous sins.
Adultery is the only sexual offense recorded in the Ten Commandments. The Book of Genesis (20:9) calls adultery “the great sin” and the Talmud calls adultery the “sin par excellence”. According to rabbinic tradition, it is considered one of the three sins (along with idolatry and murder) that people should avoid even at the pain of death. The gravity of adultery is evident by the fact that the Bible describes the offense as being punishable by death for both the man and the woman. King David was both … an adulterer and a murderer.
To put all of this in perspective we first have to step back and ask who was this man and why is it important that his story be so prominently told?
In preparation, I’ve read that people love David’s story because: David’s story is exciting, inspiring, human, morally challenging, and ongoing.
He is after all the ancestor of the Messiah, the Son of David and Son of God — Jesus of Nazareth.
If asked, most of you know something about the life of David.
He was one of the towering figures of faith in the Old Testament and in the faith of the Israelites. Sixty-four chapters are devoted to telling the story of David. More than even Jesus himself and half of the Psalms were either written by David or about David or in honor of David.
We know that David, born 1000 years before Christ, was a shepherd in his early years. After killing Goliath, with a slingshot, he joined the entourage of King Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul eventually became jealous of David’s popularity and tried to kill him – not once but several times causing him to flee and hide out. Following the death of Saul at the hands of the Philistines, David was anointed King over Judah.
Later, David defeated Ishbo-sheth the son of Saul to become King of all Israel. He moved the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem and brought the sacred Ark of the Covenant there.
After a few more battles we finally arrive back at our readings.
David’s story is told here in all its hideousness, without reserve, without comment or embellishment. Not a single ugly detail is spared.
And what a story it is!
He was the greatest king in ancient Israel, a leader who presided over a golden age for the people of God … a poet, musician, and warrior. He was even “a man after God’s own heart” we are told in 1 Sam. 13:14 because of his extraordinary devotion to the Lord. Yet despite David’s fidelity, he is also remembered as one of history’s greatest sinners.
So, why in the world would God forgive him much less let him live? Could David even be forgiven under Old Testament Law?
So let’s examine what happens when we sin? In a sense when we sin we sin twice, once in this world against the person who is the object of our words or actions, and once in the spiritual world against God and God’s laws. Nathan, the prophet, says as much to David; “He who was chosen to be God’s anointed King has sinned against God, against Uriah, Bathsheba and the people of Israel.
Herein lays our first of three lessons.
To start, we all sin. It happens quickly. The story of David’s adultery is very short. Everything is told in twelve lines in the Tanakh, the Hebrew bible. We might say it all started “innocently.” David was strolling about on the roof of his palace when he saw Bathsheba bathing. The king could have turned his gaze away, but he found himself drawn to this other man’s wife. Consumed by his lust, he used his authority to bring her into his house, ended up fathering a child by her, lying to cover his infidelity, and murdering her husband by proxy.
The second lesson for us is far more complex but important for us to understand as it is the keys to forgiveness. First, you must have faith. Without faith, a belief in God and his loving kindness, there can be no forgiveness and, in any case, what would be the point.
Second, Judaism teaches that to sin is a part of life, since there are no perfect persons and everyone has an inclination to do evil “from their youth”.
In Jewish Law sin has many classifications and degrees. The Torah, the written law of God – the first five books of the Tanaka, list not only the ten commandments that were given to Moses but list a total 613 commandments called Mitzvot in Hebrew.
Some sins are punishable with death by the court, others with death by heaven, and others with lashes, and others without any such punishment, but no sin committed with willful intentions go without consequence. Even if we receive God forgiveness there are consequences to our sin, worldly and spiritually. David’s intentions were undeniable and there were consequences to his actions.
Nathan delivered God’s message “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
In the end, David is very publicly humiliated and disgraced, his child with Bathsheba dies, one of his daughters was raped by her brother, one son kills another and a third son tried to overthrow David and ends up dying. Then in his old age, his last son tries to take the throne from David. But through it all, because he repented, God’s blessing never left David.
Even though God stood by David, the seeds of evil cannot be so easily wiped out.
You may sin in secret and the world may never know but know there will be consequences. We cannot hide our sins from God and we must therefore confess our sins to God.
After confession we come to contrition … to me contrition has always been a little confusing. How sorry is sorry enough? Contrition from the Latin contritus means ‘ground to pieces’, or crushed by guilt in this context. David was, by all accounts, crushed by guilt. In response to Nathan’s confrontation, David becomes broken and cries out: “I have sinned against the Lord!” David now finds himself in the wilderness, one of his own making by the horrible choices he has made.
This brings us to repentance. What is true repentance?
Again in Judaism, to a man who says “I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent,” the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) brings no forgiveness. For sins against God, the Day of Atonement brings forgiveness; for sins against one’s fellow man, the Day of Atonement brings no forgiveness till he or she has become reconciled with the person they’ve wronged (Mishnah Yoma 8:9).
According to Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, in order to achieve true repentance the sinner must abandon his or her sin and remove it from their thoughts and resolve in their heart never to repeat it.
As it is said in Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the man of iniquity his thoughts”. Likewise, he must regret the past and he must call Him who knows all secrets to witness that he will never return to this sin again.
In Psalm 51 this morning we hear David’s own words of confession: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight …”
So in the end did David find forgiveness?
The scriptures claim he did.
We’ve learned that God is a god of second chances. The Scriptures say there is always hope. Even in the darkest of situations and the deepest of holes we’ve dug for ourselves, God is a god of the second chance. David responds to Nathans words of judgment by falling on his knees and humbling himself before God. And it is there, after living a year of torment with his crushing guilt, that he repents of his sins.
Repenting therefore means recognizing the sin and the pain you have caused and to fully own that … then asking God to forgive you and choosing to walk a different path in life, God’s path.
So, in the end, David’s story teaches us that when you have fallen to temptation and stepped away from God and you find yourself in a wilderness of your own creation, there is still hope.
David’s prayer in Psalm 51 can become our prayer as we cry out to God in repentance.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav
“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments”