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Dirt on David
June 22, 2003
1 Samuel 17:32-49
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to I Samuel, chapter 17, and follow along as I read verses 32-49. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
32 And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.
33 And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.
34 And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:
35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.
36 Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.
37 David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.
38 And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.
39 And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.
40 And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
41 And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.
42 And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
43 And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
44 And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
45 Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
46 This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
47 And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands.
48 And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
49 And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Dirt is on David and it is about to come off. After all, this David has not had a bath in 130 years. Michelangelo’s world-famous sculpture of David is getting a serious scrubbing these days, courtesy of a group of restorers at the statue’s museum-home in Florence, Italy. These cleaners are approaching their work with the care of generals planning a major battle, using ultraviolet light to expose surface chemical deposits, and photographic mapping to show every crack, chip, and pockmark. They started their work last December, and should be finished any day now, in plenty of time for David’s 500th birthday in the year 2004.
So, why is David such a mess? The masterpiece is laden with deposits of dirt and grime from the years he had to stand out-of-doors, exposed to billowing smoke and humid weather. He also had to endure lightning strikes and excitable city-dwellers: In 1527, rioters broke off his left arm, the one that holds his sling. David’s only previous bath occurred in 1873. This was a violent scrubbing that involved the use of a high concentration of hydrochloric acid to dissolve the grime — not the kind of soap you are likely to find at Bath & Body Works.
This time, in 2003, restorers are much more gentle, using specialized vacuum cleaners and instruments resembling Q-Tips to get at those hard-to-reach places such as the ears. Crust will be removed, but not all the way down to the marble, since the stains themselves actually provide a kind of protection for the marble. This cleaning should help us to appreciate the statue that Michelangelo created almost 500 years ago, the statue of a pure and youthful David who bravely fought the giant.
This reminds us that the David of today’s text was a remarkably clean-cut kid when he faced Goliath. You know the story. Goliath is a giant, who has all the latest in military technology. He is armored from head to toe in bronze. He has a huge spear. He has a huge sword. He has a great shield. He looks undefeatable. The Israelites are terrified of him. They see no possibility that he can be defeated, and Goliath sees no possibility that he can be defeated. Then along comes David, with no armor, no military technology. David has nothing except faith in God and a sling and a pocket full of stones. Of course, Goliath should have won easily, but he did not. David hit him in the head with a rock and killed him. It was an astonishing outcome. No one thought he could do it. No one except David, who was confident not in himself but in his God. Thus, David says to Goliath in v45, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.”
Those are strong words of faith and truth, but David’s words and actions do not remain quite so clean and pure. Before long the dirt begins to stain the David of Bethlehem as it would later stain the David of Florence. After Saul’s death, David becomes king over all Israel, and he comes to the peak of his royal powers. But as his victories over the Philistines and other external enemies accumulate, his personal life begins to crash and burn. He has an adulterous affair with a married woman that leads to a pregnancy. He arranges for the murder of her husband. You might say that David is a perfect illustration of the old saying: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” King David strayed far from that handsome young man who was Michelangelo’s model.
David’s behavior leads to God’s judgment. David loses control of his family and watches as turmoil erupts among his children, with one son raping a daughter and another son committing murder to avenge her violation. David’s son Absalom rebels and civil war breaks out, a conflict that leads tragically to the defeat and death of Absalom. To be brutally honest, the history of David’s family reads like something from the Jerry Springer show. It’s a sad tale of sex and violence and vengeance and self-destructive ambition. It is a mud-slinging family meltdown in which everyone comes out of the mess looking dirty, especially David.
But David was not indifferent to the things of God. He realized that he was dirty with sin. Psalm 51 is a record of his impassioned plea for forgiveness.
But what about us? We may think we are Spirit-filled giant-killers. We’re walking with God. We’re armed against our spiritual foes with the weapons of faith. What gives us pause is the realization that none of us safe from sin. However close to God I am, I can fall into temptation and sin. Remember that when we talk of crime and sin and evil, we are not talking about a special class of criminals and sinners and evil-doers who are out there doing all the bad stuff. Sometimes we get the idea that criminals are sort of special class of people that if we can just lock them all up, it will solve our crime problems. Would that it were so simple! Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the exiled Russian novelist, writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” In other words, those criminals and evil-doers are us. We are the good guys—that is true—but we are also the bad guys.
In our text today from I Samuel, we do not see an evil young man. Yet in his later years, David did terrible things. And we do not think of ourselves as evil people, but we may sometimes do terribly things. And what do we do then? We seek God’s cleansing and forgiveness.
David, even in the midst of his sinfulness, had such a hunger for God’s love that he sought God’s cleansing. “I have sinned greatly in what I have done,” David confesses to God, in 2 Samuel 24:10, “But now, O LORD, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant”. David realizes that he can never cleanse himself completely on his own — he needs the forgiveness of the Lord.
David trusts in God, even in his darkest hour. “Have mercy on me, O God,” he pleads, after his affair with Bathsheba has been revealed, “according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2). For the David of Holy Scripture, cleansing is not going to come from specialized vacuum cleaners or instruments resembling Q-Tips. Cleansing comes only from the steadfast love and abundant mercy of God.
“For I know my transgressions,” he admits, “and my sin is ever before me.” There is no kingly cover-up being attempted here, no effort to pass the buck or spin the truth. “[I have] sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,” confesses David, “so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment” (vv. 3-4). He is painfully aware that his moral dirt-removal begins with honest confession of sins.
The scrubbing continues with repentance — with David’s willingness to make a change for the better because of sorrow for his sins. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me,” he pleads. “Then I will teach transgressors your ways,” he promises, “and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance” (vv. 10, 13-14).
Let us talk about repentance. The Westminster Confession of Faith says “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace” (15, 1)—which means that repentance is part of a gospel faith. Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming: “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (MR1:15). Repentance is an essential part of faith. Faith is not without repentance. Faith means exclusive attachment to Christ and complete reliance on Christ, hence faith involves the detachment of all other ties that bind us, not only to sin but also to self. We might describe repentance as the negative side of faith.
The New Testament Greek word for repentance is metanoia, from two words meta meaning “after” and noew meaning “to perceive, discern or understand.” Thus, metanoia means literally “to understand afterwards.” After we have done something, we understand what we did. After we commit sin, we understand that it was wrong, and the understanding here is not just an intellectual. It is an understanding in the heart and mind and soul. It is a revulsion against what we have done, so much so that we turn away from our sins in disgust.
Sometimes when we present the gospel, we minimalize the necessity of repentance. “Have faith in Jesus,” we say. Yes, we should, but part of having faith in Jesus is repentance of the things in our life that separate us from Jesus. The gospel message is a summons to a radical faith, in Jesus alone. Sometimes we may create the impression that faith in Christ can be combined with other faiths. We can have faith in Christ and faith in a denomination, faith in Christ and faith in America, faith in Christ and faith in capitalism—not so. The gospel does not work that way. It is Christ and Christ alone who is the author of our salvation. What we are repenting of is our failure to realize that and to work that out in our lives.
The motive of repentance, the reason we repent, is a sense of sin. By a sense of sin, I do not mean simply a sense of the consequences of sin. Many people do not commit certain sins because they are afraid of being caught, and thus facing the consequences of their sins. Their motive for not sinning is fear of being caught. A person who has evangelical repentance goes further than that. When we turn to Christ, we are so horrified by sin that we do not want to have anything else to do with it. We have “perceived afterwards” the evil we have done and it has become something nasty and vile to us, so much so that we never want to do it again.
Now this attitude, this attitude of grieving over our sins, can come to us only when we see our sins in the light of the righteousness of God. It is a paradox of the gospel that when we meet the mercy of God in Christ, we are led to repentance. Nothing opens our eyes so much to what the Confession calls “the filthiness and odiousness of our sins” (15,2) as the assurance that our sins are forgiven.
We should see repentance not as something we do on our own but as a gift that Christ imparts with forgiveness. We sometimes say, “Repent and you will be forgiven.” This can imply that repentance is a condition for forgiveness. If I repent, then I will be forgiven, which sort of implies that I save myself by my repentance. I do not need Christ at all. I can repent and save myself. Not so. Actually the repentant sinner is already saved and already forgiven. They are repenting because they already have faith, thus they are already saved. To put it another way, only God’s people repent. Those who are not God’s people do not care about their sins and are not interested in repenting.
As God’s people, we realize that we need to repent of every sin. Sometimes we do not take what we call “little sins” seriously. I confess I have done this myself. We call them errors or mistakes. So maybe I was driving too fast, or maybe in a moment of anger I said things I should not have said. “Don’t worry about it,” we say. “It is not like you were a serial killer or a suicide bomber.” And that is true up to a point. Words spoken thoughtlessly are not the same kind of sin as flying a plane into the World Trade Center; however, every sin needs to be repented of, every sin needs to be forgiven. Now the confession of faith has a good word for us here. It says: “As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” (15, 4). That is great stuff! We should repent of every sin, no matter how small, but no matter how great and multitudinous your sins are, if you repent, you are forgiven.
Now you might say, wait a minute here. Did not Jesus say that there was an unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit.? Yes he did. The question is: What is the sin against the Holy Spirit? It is a refusal to repent. It is that overweening pride that says, “I am not sorry for what I did.”
God’s people are sorry for their sins. That is one of the marks or distinguishing characteristics of God’s people. They confess their sins with grief and anguish. And God accepts our confession and repentance.
The dirt on David was removed, thanks to the love and mercy of God. And we can be scrubbed clean in the same way. When we turn to God, with grieving repentant hearts, God lifts us up and washes us clean and makes us whole again and bestows upon us the kiss of his love. Amen.
Williams, Daniel. “After 130 years, a masterpiece awaits a makeover.” The Washington Post, December 2, 2002, A15).
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03