“Create in me a clean heart, O God”
Sunday 29 July 2012
We can’t listen to the reading from the second book of Samuel that we heard today without being confronted by the reality of sin. Or perhaps, it would be more correct to say sins. Clearly, King David was guilty of more than one.
It is quite an interesting exercise to see how his actions progress from one sinful decision to another. If we wanted a model of sinful behaviour – not so that we could sin better! – but a model to help us to better understand the nature of sin, this episode provides a good example.
And while this particular episode sin begins with a sexual sin, there are more ways to sin than just sexually and what we find here can be applied to sin of any type.
The first thing which I think it is instructive for us to note is that King David didn’t intentionally want to sin in the first place. His initial sin was one of opportunity rather than planning.
The reading begins: “In 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.”
Why did David remain in the Jerusalem? The answer lies in the preceding chapter. The previous year, the Ammonites had engaged the Arameans to fight with them against Israel. David and his army inflicted enormous loss on the Arameans who sued for peace. So this time, the Ammonites were on their own and David did not think it necessary to go out for what was expected to be an easy victory.
So because of this seemingly unimportant decision, David found himself back in Jerusalem and chanced to see the beautiful woman, Bathsheba. That is the moment when all innocence ends for David.
Instead of going on with his business, whatever the King was supposed to do, he makes enquiries, establishes that her husband is away at battle, has her brought to him, lies with her, and in true kingly fashion, sends her back home thinking that he will have no more to do with her. A considered, selfish, callous action with no thought for the personhood of the other – a sin no doubt.
But his sin has consequences. Bathsheba advises him that she is pregnant. With most of the men of the court away at battle, where will the suspicion fall? So, David enters into attempted sins of deception. He gets Uriah sent home, encourages him to go home and sleep with his wife. But there’s a problem. Uriah is too honourable to stay with his wife when his brothers are back at the front engaged in the hardships of war.
Plan B. Get Uriah drunk and then send him to his wife. Again, it doesn’t work. There’s only one thing to be done. Get Uriah killed. Send him back to the front carrying secret orders to his commander Joab to expose him to certain death. Uriah is killed.
Sin upon sin upon sin.
Our reading ended there today, but let me tell you how the narrative continues next week.
“When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son”.
What can we draw out of this account? What possible lessons are there in this narrative of the court of ancient Israel.
When I was a school child, we received a lot of warnings from our priests and religion teachers about avoiding the occasion of sin. In itself, this is not bad counsel. There are certainly situations where we know that we could be putting ourselves in danger of doing the wrong thing. Our own knowledge of our personal weaknesses will no doubt alert us as to what these occasions and circumstances might be.
But this story of King David alerts us to another possibility. It is the possibility that we can find ourselves in circumstance of temptation, even though we had not intended to do so, and we have to deal with the situation there and then in an ethical way. David did not stay home from the battle to allow himself the opportunity to commit adultery with Bathsheba. He stayed home for other reasons as I explained, but when his staying home placed him in the proximity of Bathsheba, that is when his moral decision-making , or perhaps is immoral decision-making began.
I’m reminded of the little passage from first Peter that we read on Tuesday evenings in Night Prayer: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith.”
In other words, the opportunity for us to sin can be present at any time.
Secondly, we can learn from the way that David compounded his sin by failing to face up immediately to the consequences of his initial action. Once again, letting you in on next week’s instalment, When David’s sin is exposed, it is exposed in its entirety. Not only is his adultery with Bathsheba revealed, but the virtual murder of Uriah becomes known as well.
Now I know there is a problem for us in looking at the level of David’s sinfulness and applying lessons to our own lives. Hopefully, most of us have not and will not enter into sin on the scale that is recounted in this reading. But that does not prevent us from taking on board these insights gained from a reflection upon this story.
We can be as careful as we like in how we live our lives, but we can never discount the possibility that we find ourselves in a situation of great temptation through no particular fault of our own. In these circumstances, it is not the fact that we are where we are that is important, but rather, how we respond to the situation, virtuously or sinfully.
And the sooner that we admit that we have sinned at any time and seek God’s forgiveness, the better. Trying to escape from responsibility for sinfulness will only ever make the situation worse.
The consolation that we can draw from this whole episode is that, despite the gravity of David’s sin, he was still able to obtain God’s forgiveness through sincere repentance. This is an assurance of which we have even greater hope through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal son, who lived, died and rose for us that sin might be defeated.
The Reverend Allan Paulsen