My Senior year of high school I went with the band on a trip to New York City. We got to do all the quintessential New York things, we went to the Statue of Liberty, we saw a Broadway Musical, we bought knock off handbags and watches from an Eastern European man in poorly lit back alley. The thing I was most excited for, going in to the trip, was that we were going to be in the audience at the Today show, which meant we were going to have a chance to meet America’s weatherman, Al Roker. When we arrived at the show there was already a crowd, because some of my foolish bandmates who weren’t appropriately excited to see what was happening in our neck of the woods live and in person didn’t get up on time. So by the time we arrive there’s a good sized crowd in front of us which is a problem if we’re going to get Al to come talk to us about our lives. And we weren’t prepared at all, we didn’t have signs or costumes or anything like that, my hopes of seeing Al were fading very quickly. But we came up with a plan: two of who were about the same size put a slightly smaller person on our shoulders, and proceeded to try to move toward the center when the hosts were out with the crowd on the assumption that they’d see us if we were taller than everyone else and that people would clear if we were heading towards them. And it worked! People started to part, our path forward was clear, and Al looked over, saw us and started moving in our direction. This was it, this was my moment! And Al Roker looked me in the eyes and said “what are you idiots doing, put him down and move back.” Except he didn’t call us idiots. Al Roker cussed me at a taping of the Today show. Sweet summer child that I was (there’s Game of Thrones reference for those of you excited about the premiere tonight) I was not prepared for such from a celebrity.
We’ve been talking this summer about heroes of faith, the characteristics they have, the unexpected places they come from, the lessons that we can learn from them even though they lived thousands of years ago. This morning we’re going to look at another of the big heroes in the Bible, but we’re going to look at him at perhaps his least heroic moment. We’re going to delve into an idea that became real for me that day in New York: what happens when our heroes fail us or disappoint us or even cuss us?
It was spring, the time when kings go to war, and yet we find David not going to war. Instead he’s sent the army out to handle a siege and he’s stayed home. That’s a pretty big deal right off the bat. Most of what we’ve seen of David in scripture before this moment has been pretty positive. Way back in 1st Samuel when the people first bring up the idea of having a king Samuel, who was the judge/prophet at the time explained to them a bunch of reasons that was a bad idea and one was that a king would expect them to fight and die in his wars while he stayed back in safety. But they decided they were either ok with that or didn’t think it would happen so they got a king anyway, Samuel made Saul king. And Saul was tall. And Saul was handsome. And Saul came from a good family. And Saul was a natural leader. And eventually Saul started doing exactly the things that Samuel said a king would do. But then Saul died, and David became king. And David was handsome. And David was a great leader. But David always seemed above some of the pitfalls Saul had fallen into. David was humble, he had been a shepherd for goodness sakes. He showed this amazing faith, he had the confidence to face Goliath. He knew right from wrong, even at Saul’s worst, when people would have joined David in a revolt, he refused to raise a sword against him. And David was good, when he became king he sought out Saul’s surviving family, not to wipe them out, but to protect them. David was different. David was good. Until he wasn’t. It was spring, the time when kings go off to war, and David sent Joab.
There’s a pretty basic moral lesson there that is probably obvious but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of being said: being where you’re supposed to be matters. If David had gone off to war himself, like a good king should, nothing else that happens in this scenario occurs. One of my favorite stories about my grandfather is that one day at work one of his female co-workers, who he shared a floor with, made a pass at him. For the rest of his time with the company when he needed to get to the other side of the floor he would go up the stairs and cross on the floor above them to avoid passing by her desk. And that may seem extreme to us but he did everything he could to not end up in a situation that got away from him. I may have mentioned this before but I can’t tell you how many times in working with teenagers one would come up to me and talk about how he or she was struggling with this specific issue or sin. And I’d say, “well, what are you doing to avoid it.” And they’d just look at like I was crazy, like “I’m coming and telling you about it.” That’s not struggling with sin, that’s sinning and feeling guilty. Jesus talked about that, “if your eye causes you to sin then rip it out, if your hand causes you to sin cut it off.” If we know a situation isn’t going to go well the answer isn’t to put ourselves in it and try really hard then, the answer is to avoid the situation. Now there may be no way for David to have known what temptations waited for him when he stayed behind, and there were probably a lot of good reasons to delegate the grunt work of the siege to his general, but if he had been where he was supposed to none of the things that occur would have happened.
But David doesn’t go with his army, and what I like to imagine is he very quickly gets bored. We see the reminder in Proverbs that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and in recognition of that reality I imagine that David very quickly got bored knowing a war was going on without and that boredom took him to his roof. And then he saw a woman bathing and he decided he wanted her. And the decline in David’s status as a king continues because he see’s something he wants and he takes it. And there are a lot of explanations and excuses that you can find for this story, there are movies that have been made that try to present this as some great love story or to try to put the blame on Bathsheba, this is one hundred percent on David. He saw something he wanted and he took it. And he did it because he knew he could and he knew no one would stop him. And he only worried about the consequences once he realized he might get caught. There’s absolutely no reason to believe David would have married Bathsheba if she hadn’t gotten pregnant. This story is purely about David abusing his power and taking advantage of someone because he was bored and he knew he’d get away with it.
So there’s something there that speaks to us about power and how we use it when we have it but I think more important for most us is a message about whose side we’re on when situations like this arise. Way to often in our society the people who abuse their positions and take advantage of the power they have are given a pass and the victims of abuse are ignored or blamed. We as a society, and we as a church (universal) are far too complicit in these kinds of abuses, and if you don’t believe me do some research this afternoon on what came out last year about the football program at Baylor, a fine Baptist institution. And we’d be wise not to fall into the trap of thinking that that kind of thing isn’t going on in the athletic departments of our favorite colleges, or in any other hall of power and influence in this country. And I realize I’m kind of on a soapbox now but Baylor football is going to make millions of dollars next year and no one is going to care about how embarrassing a moment this was for the university. The only people who are going to end up hurting in any way are the victims. This happens over and over and over again and until we’re willing to say enough is enough and make sure there are consequences when these things happen they’re never going to stop. And I apologize for the rant, but we have to take those kinds of things seriously because what we see in the scripture is that God takes them seriously. Because at the very end of the chapter, after David has moved on from adultery to murder, after everything has been dealt with and handled and it seems like David is in the clear and no one is going to know and he’s going to get away with it, there is one last line, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”
And so David doesn’t get away with it. God doesn’t allow this moment to pass, and if you read on into 2nd Samuel 12 you’ll see how it happens and what punishment occurs and all of that, but I don’t want to stray too far in to that, I want to say a brief word as we wrap up this morning about what we do with this story. The first thing is this, recognize how remarkable it is that this episode is in the Bible. David looks horrible, and the author knows David look horrible. We know that because in Chronicles, which was written later, this whole deal is conveniently ignored, this episode gets left out of the account of David’s rule. But that’s not the answer. That, I think, is what we too often do with our heroes or our leaders or whoever it may be, we focus on the good and ignore the bad. Think about last year when Muhammed Ali passed away, you heard a lot about him being an Olympic gold medalist. You saw a lot of clips of him lighting the torch in Atlanta. You didn’t hear a lot about him going to jail for refusing to serve in Vietnam. We like to white wash our heroes, and the danger of that is that we lose an important revelation: if they can fall that far so can we. David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, if he can fall this far than we all can. So there’s a reminder there not to get to proud or too confident, because things can escalate for us just as quickly as they do for David.
What also is at play here is that as bad a moment as this is for David it doesn’t define him. God brings David back up from the depths to which he’s fallen, and God can do the same to us. The fact that David falls that far and isn’t abandoned by God should be a comfort to all of us. We all have the capacity to fall but God’s ability to pull us back up is so much stronger than our ability to fail. You can make a pretty good argument that David breaks five commandments in this episode. That’s half. That’s a pretty big deal. And yet God does not abandon him. God forgives him still.
Out of this moment in David’s life comes one of the most beautiful laments and cries for forgiveness we find in scripture, these words in the 51st Psalm:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me
Our heroes have a tendency to let us down. We have tendency to let people down to. We have a tendency to fall short. David fell really short. But in this moment of great failure came even greater repentance. His repentance matched and overcame his sin. God didn’t abandon David in this moment. That’s an important reminder for us this morning, God remains ready to cleanse us and wash us and to restore us to joy. God remains able to find us and call us and replace our hearts with one directed toward the things of God.