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August 10, 2003 •
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of 2 Samuel, chapter 11, and follow along as I read 11:26-12:10. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.
27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,
1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.
2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;
3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him."
5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;
6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."
7 Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;
8 I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.
9 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.
10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
MYOB. That is the response most people give when they are on the receiving end of unwanted advice. “Mind your own business.” “Get off my back — off my case — outta my life!”
How do you help a person who does not want help? How do you help that person addicted to alcohol, or hooked on drugs or pornography, when they do not believe they have a problem. The only way to get them to accept reality and begin the process of recovery is to convene a confrontation. Mental Health professionals call it “an intervention.”
We might take a lesson from the TV series, The Sopranos. The Sopranos is the HBO hit drama series about a New Jersey mob family. Christopher is running around high, again, desperately trying to buy more heroin. He gets involved in a drug deal that goes wrong, and ends up getting carjacked, robbed, and beaten. The mobster Tony steps in and schedules an “intervention.”
Something has to be done because Christopher’s drug habit is getting in the way of business. How can Tony trust him to deliver drugs, smuggle dope, launder money, and whack disobedient mobsters when he is high on crack? So Tony schedules a meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting, the intervention, does not go well.
But sometimes interventions do go well, like the one in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, for example. In this case, it’s Nathan who calls a meeting. Nathan is the facilitator, and David--David the adulterer, David the murderer—is the subject of the intervention.
Of all the flawed heroes of the Old Testament, David is perhaps the most spectacularly flawed. His family is dysfunctional. David is not a family values father. His personal life is a model of dysfunction. Earlier, in 2 Samuel 11, we watch David summon another man’s wife to his bed and then, when all attempts to trick her husband into sleeping with her to hide the fact that David has fathered her child fail, he coldly sends Uriah back to the war carrying orders that will insure his death on the battlefield (11:14-25).
If this is not bad enough, however, later on David will stand passively by as his son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar (13:1-22) and is then murdered by Tamar’s brother Absalom, another of David’s sons (13:23-33). David will exile Absalom instead of having him executed for fratricide (13:34-38) and live to regret that decision when Absalom leads a rebellion against David (14:1-19:8). David does not appear to care about the peacefulness of his successor’s rise to the throne. He seems oblivious to the fact that two of his sons, Adonijah and Solomon, assume they are next in line to succeed him (1 Kings 1). David eventually designates Solomon as successor and seems unconcerned that this will inevitably lead to Adonijah’s execution by Solomon (1 Kings 2). In short, Scripture portrays both as a brilliant military leader, a hugely popular charismatic figure, a man of genuine love for God and his nation, and as an adulterer, murderer and passive abettor of horrifying violence within his own family.
Our text today follows the incident with David and Bathsheba’s adultery and its murderous aftermath. This dramatic passage of Scripture is known as Nathan’s Parable.
Notice that initially David accepts the parable as an actual legal case. As king, David was the supreme judge of Israel. He thinks that Nathan is presenting an actual incident and is appealing to him for a legal judgment. It is only because David believes this story of the rich man and the poor man to be about someone else that he can be lured into issuing an indictment against himself.
If you like to do comparisons, Joab used a similar technique in chapter 14. Joab hired the “wise woman of Tekoa” to present a fictitious legal case before David in order to convince David to bring Absalom back to court.
But today we are focusing on 2 Samuel 11 and 12. Notice that the visitor who came to the rich man is not said to be a visiting relative, or a person of importance. He is simply a traveler who has claimed the hospitality of the rich man. In other words, the rich man kills his neighbor’s pet for the sake of preserving his social status through hospitality to someone he does not even know or care about.
Likewise, David murders Uriah for the sake of a transient desire to possess Uriah’s wife. We should not suppose that David is in love with Bathsheba, though this is the usual modern secular interpretation.
Back in 1951, the movie version of David and Bathsheba was released, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Poor David is having marital problems, so the movie goes. He spies Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop and falls in love with her.
More recently, Sting, the musician, wrote a song about David and Bathsheba, entitled “Mad About You.” According to Sting, David was so lonely that he cared nothing for all he had conquered unless he had someone to share it with. In Bathsheba he found this person, and she transformed his life. It’s a pretty standard romantic plot: lonely boy meets beautiful girl; and if Sting is to be believed, it has a happy ending.
But Sting’s version is a travesty of the biblical account. David was already married to several women when he met Bathsheba, and we have no reason to think he was lonely. Indeed, we know almost nothing about his relationship with Bathsheba or with any of his wives. To turn this tawdry tale into an epic love story is to completely miss its significance.
This is not a love story. This is a story of lust and murder. Notice that in our text today, Bathsheba’s name is not even mentioned. She is simply the wife of Uriah. David saw a beautiful new toy that he wanted, and he forgot about everything else and did whatever he had to do to possess it.
As punishment for David’s sin, Nathan declares, another will take David’s wife from him, not in secret, as David took Uriah’s wife, but in public, before the eyes of the whole nation. This prophecy comes to pass in 2 Samuel 16:21-22 in another stroke of irony when David’s own son Absalom usurps his throne and sleeps with the royal harem on the rooftop of the palace — the very rooftop, in fact, from which David first saw Bathsheba and desired her (2 Samuel 11:2).
In our text, Nathan follows his parable with an angry denunciation of David for his ingratitude toward God — spelling out the many ways in which God has made David into a man rich beyond his wildest imaginings. Like the rich man from the story, who had hundreds of sheep in comparison to the poor man’s single lamb, David has a harem full of wives, one of whom was Michal, the daughter of the previous king. God has not only given David Saul’s throne and the right to rule over both Israel and Judah, he has also given David Saul’s very family. After having been given so much at God’s hand, Nathan argues, how could David have cared so little about violating God’s laws?
We wonder what was going on in David’s mind. Certainly, he knew the law. He knew the commandments of God. But somehow he has come to believe that none of this applies to him.
When Joab reports that poor Uriah is dead, David says to him, “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another” (2 Samuel 11:25). To put it in modern terms, it is almost like David is some kind of Mafia leader who had ordered a hit on someone he does not like, and he says, “Fuggedaboutit!”
But Nathan is not going to forget about it. That is why he scheduled an intervention. As we have noted, the confrontation begins with a story. “There were two men in a certain city,” says Nathan, “the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb” (12:1-2).
The little ewe lamb was “like a daughter” to the poor man, says Nathan. He would feed it at his table and let it drink from his very own cup. Then one day a traveler comes to visit the rich man, and the rich man decides he needs to slaughter an animal to feed his guest. Does he take an animal from his own flocks and herds to fix a meal for the traveler? No! He has plenty of lambs to choose from, but instead he takes the poor man’s lamb and kills it and cooks it for dinner.
David reacts with irritation and anger. “As the Lord lives,” he shouts, “the man who has done this deserves to die” (v. 5).
Nathan says to David, “You are the man!” (v. 7).
To put it in the vernacular: David is so busted. He sees reality clearly for the very first time. Nathan’s intervention, which used a story as a tool of nonjudgmental confrontation, enables David to see the truth about himself and even pronounce judgment on himself. It is when he sees himself in the story that David realizes he has a problem, and begins the process of recovery. Just a few verses later, David honestly confesses, “I have sinned against the LORD” (v. 13). Finally David realizes that he is the sinner. He is the transgressor of the law of God.
Let us reflect for a moment on the part the law plays in this intervention. John Calvin says that the law “warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness” (Institutes, II, 7,6). We might ask: “Well, what happened to David?” David certainly knew the commandments against murder and adultery. He was informed, but not warned. He knew better but he did it anyway.
Calvin also says, “For man, blinded and drunk with self-love must be compelled to know and confess his own feebleness and impurity” (Ibid). David was blinded and drunk with self-love. He cannot imagine anything being denied to King David; He cannot imagine anyone condemning King David; until Nathan confronted him and compelled him to know what he was. Nathan compelled David to actually face the law of God, and facing that law, David was convicted of sin, and condemned himself.
Sometimes, we are David. We are compelled to face our sins, and we are convicted and we say with David in v13, “I have sinned against the LORD.” That is hard and unpleasant, but it needs to be done.
Again, sometimes we are called to be Nathan. God wants us to be the facilitators of an intervention that will confront someone else with their sins. Alcohol, drugs and other behavioral problems can destroy families and end careers. Family members, employees, colleagues and company executives can find themselves trapped by such disorders. Their denial of the problem and ambivalence about treatment blur their reality. Intervention is the process of presenting reality to such individuals in a receivable way. It is an invitation to accept help. Yes, an intervention can be stressful, but it is far less stressful than not taking action.
We fear to intervene in a problem because we fear rejection. We might try to help. They might say, “MYOB. Mind your own business, get out of my life.” That is a possibility but God calls us to intervene anyway because God hates sin and God loves people.
Guidelines for Intervention
So let us turn now then to some helpful advice on how to intervene. We need to develop a protocol, an intervention convention. There are times when we have to be willing to confront sin in the lives of people who are self-destructing and spiraling out of control.
According to author Theodore Zeldin, intervention conversations have the power to change our lives. In his book called Conversation (New York: Hidden Spring Books, 2000), he says that “real conversation catches fire” and changes people. It involves more than sending or receiving information, and it requires that we talk in such a way that we are willing to be changed by the conversation. That’s what the prophet Nathan discovered. If he had simply delivered God’s anti-adultery law to David, the prophet might have been thrown out on his ear. But in a little conversation about a rich man and a poor man and a lamb, Nathan helped David to change both his mind-set and his life.
But we need a couple of guidelines in order to help us engage in honest, nonjudgmental conversation with one another? The guidelines are love and forgiveness.
To develop these guidelines, let us turn from Nathan the prophet to Jesus the Savior. Jesus once had a conversation with a lawyer who knew all about the law of God, and he felt that he was well on his way to eternal life by maintaining the proper boundaries between men and women, priests and Israelites, Jews and Samaritans. The gospel of Luke tells us that the lawyer wants to justify himself, and so he says to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan which is about God’s unconditional love. In any confrontation about sin and addiction, we are not called to condemn, we are called to love. The person we are talking to is a person that God loves and that we should love.
There is a strange little story about the great reformation leader, Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther met what they called in the sixteenth century a “melancholic.” Today we would say that this person was mentally ill. He crowed compulsively like a rooster. Luther crowed along with him, for seven days. On the eighth day, Luther announced, “I no longer have to crow — and neither do you.” The man was cured. [see Jon Spayde, “The greatest conversationalists of all time,” Utne, July-August 2002, 64-65.] Now you might ask, why would Luther so debase himself as to crow like a rooster—because he knew God loved this man, and so he, Luther, loved him, and intervened to help him.
There is another guideline we need in any intervention—forgiveness. When a person is having a problem, when they are being consumed by an addiction, we often just wish they would go away. We want to say, “Your problems are hurting me. Your problems make you such a disagreeable person that I want you to go away and leave me along.” That is not what Jesus said. He said, forgive them and keep trying to help them.
The time has come for us to take a stand against sin, as Nathan did. And when we make such a move, we’ll find that the key to a successful intervention is being objective without being callous, being judgmental without being condemning and being loving without being sentimental.
Christians do not have to break skulls, like Tony Soprano. Instead, we can open people’s minds with a God-centered conversation, as Nathan and Jesus did. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/22/04