Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Heart of Man (II Samuel 11-12)

In Deuteronomy, the people were left with this warning:
Take care…lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God.
So falls the greatest king of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. We see the danger signs from the very beginning:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.
Bathsheba’s husband is off fighting in the war that the King ought to be leading, and so David can take her with little effort. But soon he hears the news that she is pregnant with his child.

His first act is to recall Uriah home to report on the war, hoping that the man will sleep with his wife while in town. But Uriah is a total boy scout:
The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.
Ouch. This foreign-born soldier is more righteous here than the King of Israel. And so, knowing that Uriah is right before God, and that his own works are evil, David goes the way of Cain, and arranges for Uriah to die on the field of battle.

The story of confrontation is so famous that I have little to add to the drama. It is the classic exposal of a hypocrite. The prophet Nathan reports to David of a rich man who steals the sheep of a poor man to feed his own guests. David, stirring with righteous indignation, swears an oath to the Lord that the rich man deserves to die. Nathan then points his finger straight at the king:
You are the man!

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why 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. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
David is struck to the heart. He has sinned, not against some no name foreign soldier, but against the Lord himself – no less than if he had struck the Lord’s anointed. By pasturing himself on his sheep, he has shown utter contempt for the shepherd in whose name he rules. And, if Psalm 51 is to be believed, he repents with an agony and sincerity that has since been a model to sinners throughout the ages:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
Nathan declares that David will be spared, at the cost of the life of the child conceived by the illicit union. Furthermore, the sword will never leave his house, and his own wives will be ravished in public, for all to see.

David prays desperately for the child – hoping that the Lord will change his mind. I can’t help but wonder about the line in the psalm about being conceived in sin. How can one stand before God if his own existence is an act of murderous evil? And yet, he still holds out hope.

But it is futile. The wretched child dies. And a broken, stoic king quietly returns to the house of the Lord to worship.

What are we to make of David? Had ever a servant of God ever risen to such heights? Had one ever before fallen into such grave sin? Had anyone ever repented so passionately?

Though far from perfect, David is a perfect fit for Israel. His heart is their own. It is a heart recklessly and lovingly devoted to God, and yet also riddled with evil intentions from the very beginning. But it is also a heart which clings to the mercy of God, against all odds, despite how very deserving of destruction it may be. It is a heart that believes that somehow God could forgive a child brought forth in iniquity, even with the curse of death hanging over his head.

The difference between the godly and the lukewarm is not sin, but that the godly get up after they've fallen, and repent immediately.

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