“Incidents in the Life of King David: Bathsheba & Uriah”
By The Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, July 25, 2021
Reading: 2 Samuel 11:1-15
Abby Sunderland was only 16 years old when she set out from her home in California, in a valiant attempt to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a sailboat named “Wild Eyes.” She sailed for thousands of miles, around the southern tips of both South America and Africa, but in the middle of the Indian Ocean, about halfway between Africa and Australia, Abby endured brutal storms until, at last, her mast snapped and she found herself adrift, alone in the sea, for about 24 hours until rescuers found her and plucked her from her useless boat – which was left behind to drift where it would – and she had no choice but to abandon her course forever.
A couple of years ago, her sailboat was found drifting off the coast of Australia. It never made it back home, of course, where it was supposed to have gone when she set out. Nobody is going to retrieve the boat – the costs are too high – so Abby’s family and the Australian government have both confirmed that unless the boat becomes a hazard to other vessels, the sailboat will just remain abandoned to its drift.
When we look at the life of King David, of course, it was very different than young Abby’s; but just as she had learned from a very young age to tap into the power of the wind and use it to direct her course in her sailboat, so David had, since his youth, depended on the power of God to direct the course of his life.
For those of you who have been following my little series on King David over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen how devoted David was to being in constant communication with God, seeking God’s guidance in all that he did. We’ve seen how he sought confirmation after taking a few steps in the direction he wanted to go; getting advice from Nathan, the prophet who had a solid history of faithfully interpreting the mind of God. We read about David worshiping God with all his might in gratitude for what God had done for the nation of Israel. He was so connected into God that Nathan himself just assumed that when David wanted to do something, God had put it into his heart, saying: “Clearly, the Lord is with you!” David had “raised his sails,” so to speak, and the powerful winds of God had directed his life.
If you have been reading through 1 & 2 Samuel along with me, then after last week’s passage from Chapter 7 you have read (in Chapter 8) that God blessed David’s humility and faithfulness by giving him victory after victory over the enemies who wanted to destroy him and the nation of Israel. Then in Chapter 9 you read of the goodness of David’s heart, as he seeks to honour his beloved friend Jonathan by taking care of his last remaining descendent, a son who was especially vulnerable in those times because of a disability in his feet. Through Chapter 10, still, we continue to gain insights into the strong character of David.
Today, then, we’ve jumped ahead from Chapter 7 to Chapter 11, which begins with the words, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.”
In this passage, it seems somewhat strange to read that David has stayed back in Jerusalem rather than leading his own army into battle. It seems strange in light of what we already know about David and his devotion to God and to the nation of Israel and his skill as the leader of his army. The strangeness of this fact is emphasized when we’re told that this is the season when all the kings go forth to battle. But this time, it says, David sends Joab to lead the army, and he stays back, lounging in his bed and wandering on the roof of his new palace. How things have changed.
Now, there may have been reasons he stayed back, which are not mentioned; but the fact that he did stay back is essential to the narrative that follows. David gets up out of his bed, and while wandering around on the roof he sees Bathsheba bathing in the courtyard of her house. (There’s nothing unusual about this: Uriah and Bathsheba’s house would have been built according to the traditional style of houses at that time.) David spies her, and he is struck by her beauty, and so – even having been told that she is married to one of his top warriors - he sends for her, which, as King, he had the authority to do. He could summon anyone to his presence.
We are not told anything about how Bathsheba feels about this, but it wouldn’t have made any difference: she was in no position to refuse the king. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she sends word to David, and because her husband Uriah is away at battle it will be obvious that the child is not his. So, in order to cover up his sin and the shame that would befall Bathsheba (even though she had no choice in the matter), and Uriah’s humiliation, David summons Uriah from the battlefront and tries to get him to sleep with his wife, thereby saving face for everyone. Except that – even if it had all gone according to plan – the damage had already been done, and God would not be fooled.
But it doesn’t go according to David’s plan, because Uriah has been consecrated for battle, and a part of the consecration is abstinence from sexual activity; and even though David gets him drunk to try and lower his inhibitions, Uriah’s integrity will not allow him to betray his fellow warriors. The contrast that the biblical writer is making between Uriah and David here couldn’t be starker.
So David has him killed, making it look like he died in battle – another cover-up for his sins; and then he takes Bathsheba to be his own wife, thinking that will save face for the two of them and prevent dishonour. It really is one of the more sordid stories of the Bible, and it’s all the more shocking because it is David, the King, the Psalmist, the man after God’s own heart, the ancestor of Jesus.
Did you notice the one notable thing that David didn’t do through all of this? He didn’t seek the face of the Lord; he didn’t seek counsel from Nathan; he didn’t seek confirmation from God; he didn’t praise or give thanks or honour or glory to God in the midst of these events.
The late American pastor and author Ganse Little wrote, in one interesting commentary: “The account of David’s great sin contained in this chapter reflects the absolute honesty of the biblical treatment of God’s chosen servants. Moral obliquity is not painted in pastel shades to save the reputation of ‘the Lord’s Anointed.’ No recorded history, either sacred or secular, is so blunt in its handling of the weaknesses of its heroes. The reason, of course, is not hard to find; the Bible is concerned to maintain the glory of God, not of any individual human being, whatever his earthly fame, his trappings or his title.”
Up to this point in 1 & 2 Samuel, we have been shown a picture of David as someone who was so close to God, so devoted; a man of impeccable character and goodness. But lest we begin to glorify David, we’re given this very human story: a story of adultery; of his desperate attempts to save face; and finally of having an innocent man – one of his higher-ranking warriors even – killed so that he may then take Bathsheba as his own wife.
In today’s scripture reading, we learn that David’s mast has snapped. We don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely how he lost his close connection with God, but as we picture him getting out of his bed, wandering around on his roof alone, while all the men of Israel are off fighting his battle, we get a real sense that he is drifting. He’s not harnessing the power of God to direct his choices and decisions and the results are catastrophic.
Like Abby’s drifting sailboat would never make it home without its sails channeling the wind, spiritual drift never takes us closer to God. If we are not intentionally seeking God’s will, we will not drift into God’s will and there is the very real possibility that we will drift into sin, and damage our Christian witness, and cause harm to others. Spiritual drift can happen so easily in our lives – look how easily it happened to a spiritual giant like David! It is usually very subtle, and – as with David – we don’t even notice how far we have drifted from God until it’s too late. Maybe we drift into sin, as David did, or maybe we suddenly realize that we need God’s guidance, help, or comfort, and we feel like we don’t know where to find him; we’ve drifted, and our relationship with God doesn’t feel close or natural anymore.
How does spiritual drift happen? It often starts with us feeling overly confident or blasé in our knowledge of God, as David likely did at the point we read about this morning. Even the great prophet Nathan had just assumed that God was with David in whatever he wanted to do. We too can come to feel like we’re good, established Christians, and we know everything we need to know about God, and what Christianity is all about. That’s dangerous – we’ll never know everything there is to know about God! And as soon as we think we know enough, then we stop seeking God and we start to drift.
For me, that happened after confirmation. It’s not unusual – even if it’s not a conscious thought – to view our confirmation as a kind of “graduation,” that we have learned all that we need to learn in order to become full, adult Christians, and then we go on to attend to other parts of our lives. I attended to those “other parts of life” without the guidance of God for some time, and so I drifted.
Spiritual drift also starts to happen when we think we don’t need God and we don’t need the community of God’s people in order to live faithful lives, and this may be conscious or unconscious. We think reading Scripture isn’t important; we don’t need to pray, and we don’t need to gather with the church. We can worship God in our own ways, and so we start to fill our time with other things. But without scripture, prayer, worship, and the fellowship and support of the community we quickly grow distant from God, and we start to shape God into our own image rather than the other way around, so that God must think like we do, God must value what we value, God want what we want, rather than us shaping our thoughts, values and desires around his. We start to just “go with the flow” of the culture around us, and then when we find ourselves in a situation that is beyond our limited human wisdom, and we don’t know how to connect to God, and we’re isolated from the Christian community that might be able to help us find God’s will and plan for us in our circumstances.
For David, it was precisely when he was isolated from the rest of the community and complacent about seeking God that he ended up in the situation he was in.
So, how do we avoid spiritual drift? Well, it takes intention and commitment – we have to intentionally lift our sails and tap into the strong and powerful winds of God and commit ourselves to giving God priority in our lives. We have to choose to spend time each day in prayer, reading the Bible, and listening for the voice of God. We have to make it a priority in our lives to worship and be surrounded and encouraged by other believers. We have to make time to read and study and learn and grow. Like anything else, spiritual growth doesn’t just happen…we have be intentional about it. If we’re not intentionally growing, then by definition we’re drifting in our spiritual lives.
If you find that you’re in a state of spiritual drift in your own life right now, then there’s something interesting that you’ll find if you continue to read beyond our passage this morning, and that this: that no matter how far we have drifted, it is never too late to turn back, and we can never drift beyond the loving reach of God. A drifting sailboat will never “out-drift” the wind. Unlike Abby and her sailboat, though, God does not abandon us to our drift. God did not abandon David, and God still fulfilled his great promise to build a house for David that would endure forever, even though David’s life was changed after that. He turned back to God with great acts of repentance, and from then on he resumed his devotion to seeking God, but the damage to his family and to his legacy and to his relationship with God had been done and had left its scars. God will always forgive our sins, and we can always turn back to God and our relationship with him will be restored. But David couldn’t undo what he’d done, and he had to live with the consequences of where his drift had led him.
When we read the genealogy of Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew, though, we see something interesting. The genealogy that culminates in the birth of Jesus starts with Abraham, and then after a few generations we come to this: Obed [was] the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. The genealogy of Jesus does not shy away from the honest humanity of his ancestors, and shows us that despite our human frailties, God can still use our lives for his perfect plans, and our sincere acts of repentance when we do fall short are to be respected. With this inclusion in the genealogy of the Lord’s Messiah, we see the fulfillment of God’s great promises to David, despite his sin, despite his moral failures and shortcomings.
God’s faithfulness is not dependent on human merit, and God’s perfect plans cannot be derailed by our imperfection. David repented of his sin and got his life back on track. Things were never quite the same for him – sin always leaves its scars – and the dysfunction that was lived out amongst his children after this failing makes all of our families look positively saintly. But after that time, David renewed his practice of seeking the face of the Lord and singing songs of praise. In 2 Samuel, Chapter 23, then, at the end of David’s life, we read, “Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel.”
Because he turned back to God, that is how David is remembered in the history books of the Bible: not for his failure, as serious as it was. He was remembered for his spiritual greatness because even after his failure he returned his heart to the Lord in repentance, he lifted his sails back up to channel the powerful winds of God’s wisdom, God directed his course through the storms of his later years. I pray that this may be so for all of us. Amen.