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by Joe Harrington
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a


David who is described as a man after God’s own heart.

David who was anointed as God’s chosen king.

David who fought and defeated the giant Goliath.

David who brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

David who stands at the head of the long line to eternity.

David who seems almost like a perfect storybook character.

David who has another side.

David who is a sinner.

Today’s text starts with the wife of Uriah learning that her husband was dead. But let’s look back just a moment, review the story, and see why he died.

While the army was in the field fighting the enemies of Israel, David was overcome by lust and committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Their secret sin was threatened with publicity when it turned out that she was pregnant. As seems so often the case with the powerful, David’s thoughts turned immediately to cover-up. He needed to get Uriah home and with his wife, so that it would seem that the baby was his. Uriah, being a loyal soldier, did not cooperate with the plan. He refused to enjoy the pleasures of being home when his friends and comrades were still on the battlefield.

Plan B called for getting rid of Uriah. David then arranged for Uriah to return to battle where he was intentionally left exposed and killed. Indirect murder. Conspiracy to murder. David did not fire the arrow, but he was as guilty of killing Uriah as if he had. We still recognize this legal principle today—Cobb County recently prosecuted Fred Tokars for this exact same crime. He felt that he needed someone out of the way, so he arranged for her to be killed. Just like David and Uriah. Our legal system says that Fred Tokars is a murderer. Just like David.

And so, after a short period of mourning, the wife of Uriah becomes the wife of David. Did she know about David’s involvement in Uriah’s death? We don’t know, our narrator never says one way or the other. Our narrator does let us know that she was shrewd and powerful. She did not hesitate to use that power when it came to insuring that her son Solomon became king, but we don’t know if she was aware of how Uriah died.

Anyway, Bathsheba presented David with a son and they all lived happily ever after. Wrong! David was anything but happy. He was very much aware of what he had done and of the fact that it was displeasing to the LORD. Our narrator does not tell us this, he simply skips forward several months, but David himself tells us much in the thirty-second and fifty-first Psalms. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” [PSALM 51:3 NRSV:] “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” [PSALM 32:3-4 NRSV]

I can just imagine David waking up in the middle of the night, cold with sweat, dreaming of Uriah. A Uriah who would have had no power against the king when alive, but a Uriah whose memory had great power to make the king suffer.

And David suffered. He lost sleep. He couldn’t eat right. His mind was suffering so badly that he was physically ill. His body was wasting away, his strength fading. But his sins were still a secret. Nobody knew, at least nobody but God.

And in God’s good time, God did something. God sent Nathan.

God did not send Nathan right after David committed adultery.

God did not send Nathan right after Bathsheba told David that she was pregnant.

God did not send Nathan right after Uriah was murdered.

God did not send Nathan right after David took Bathsheba as his wife.

God did not send Nathan right after the baby was born.

God sent Nathan when God was ready for David to be confronted with his sins.

God chooses God’s time and God chooses it perfectly. We may not agree with God’s timing. We may wonder sometimes why God does not act when we think it is time to act, but God’s timing is always right.

And God sent Nathan, God didn’t send Joab, who knew what had happened. After all he was the one who made sure Uriah was up there where the arrows were flying thickest. God didn’t send Zadok, David’s priest. After all he would have been the one who performed sacrifices and made offerings on David’s behalf. God sent Nathan. Nathan the prophet who had described for David the long line to eternity, the long line of the House of David. Nathan, a friend who has the ear of the king.

Stop here for a minute. Think for a minute that you are in Nathan’s shoes. He has been sent by God to confront the king. To confront the king about a matter in which he had already had one man killed and possibly even others who were not even involved, merely fighting alongside Uriah. Remember also that David had killed the messengers who brought news of Saul’s death and the messenger who brought news of Ishbosheth’s death. Nathan was going into a situation where he could easily loose a friend and his place at court, and possibly loose his life. Nathan is sent and he goes, we aren’t told how much hesitation he may have had, but we are told that he goes.

Nathan approaches the situation carefully, telling David the story about the rich man, the poor man, and the poor man’s little ewe lamb. David, thinking that Nathan is presenting him with a real story as supreme judge of Israel, is outraged at such an abuse of power. When he says that the rich man deserves to die, he is not passing sentence, but rather speaking of his character. He does however call on the law and demand a restitution using the formula from Exodus 22.

God now has David right where he wants him and uses Nathan to jerk the string, “You are the man!”

The full impact of it all hits David and he understands. “I have sinned against the LORD.” David confesses, not just that he had broken the laws, that he had done wrong by Bathsheba, wrong by Uriah. He confesses that he has sinned againt Yahweh who had put him where he is. Yahweh who had given him Saul's kingdom, given him everything that Saul had had. and would have given him more. And Yahweh forgives him. Yahweh says through Nathan, "Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.

Remember though that the Earthly punishments that Yahweh and Nathan pronounced against David still applied. The child born from the adulterous union still died. David still had rebellion in his house. He lost other sons. He continued to live under the sword and suffer the consequences caused by his sins. But the LORD put away his sin. He no longer struggled with the same anguish that had plagued him for the last months.

David again tells us in the Psalm how he feels.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the guilt of my sin. [Psalm 32:5 NRSV]

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. [Psalms 32:1-2 NRSV]

Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart. [Psalm 32:10-11 NRSV]

But David was special to God, right. Can he forgive any of us in the same manner? Let’s look at a contemporary situation with an extreme case. Some of you may remember about Jeffery Dahmer. Dahmer was a man who revolts us to extreme. He was a man who invited other young men into his home, sexually abused them, killed them, cut their bodies into pieces, and ate them. Most of us would agree that he was an evil man.

If ever our human sensibilities tell us a man deserved to die and to suffer for all eternity, it would be Jeffery Dahmer. He struggled with the same inner feelings that David described in his Psalms. He could not be at peace, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat. But God sent Mary Mott. Mary couldn’t confront Jeffery face to face, but she wrote to him, and sent him Bible lessons. He completed them and wrote back to her. She confronted him with the reality that it was not just the men he killed and their families that he wronged; he had sinned against God. That was why he suffered inside.

Through this confrontation and with the help of a prison minister named Roy Ratcliff, Jeffery Dahmer confessed his sins, he repented, and was baptized on May 10, 1994, just months before he was himself murdered in the prison yard. Just two weeks before he was murdered, Jeffery told a television reporter that he was at peace with himself and with God. He still had his prison term to serve, but he was at peace with God.

Do we believe this story? I don’t know what is in someone’s heart, so I can’t say whether or not Jeffery Dahmer’s repentance was real or not. But God knows and I can believe that it was genuine. Are we offended that he might be in heaven for all eternity? Many are, but if we say that, we are saying that some sins are too bad for God to forgive. I can’t say that. If we try to draw a line, how do we know where it should be. How can we be offended by God forgiving Jeffery Dahmer and not offended by God forgiving David? Or forgiving me? Or forgiving you?

As someone else said, maybe once every generation or so, God picks someone like Jeffery Dahmer to be an example for us. God can hold this notorious sinner up and say, “If I can forgive Jeffery Dahmer, I can forgive anyone. If I can forgive him, I can forgive you.”

And we can look to the twenty-third chapter of Luke for another documented example. When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified along with him. Luke tells us they were criminals, but does not give us anymore about their history. Matthew and Mark both say they were bandits, but that doesn’t tell us much more. But we know that they were there. Luke tells us a little about what went on while they were hanging on the cross. We know that they were guilty of whatever they were charged with because one of them confessed, “And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds.” Then professed his faith in Jesus when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We know that he was forgiven because Jesus then replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Whether our sin is adultery and cover-up and murder; or whether it’s murder and mutilation; or whether it’s coveting our neighbor’s new car; it is sin and God’s standard is perfection. God does not care how far short of the mark we fall, only that we fall short, and we all fall short. And we are told that God’s penalty for falling short is eternal death. The anguish that David suffered and wrote about is only just the beginning. But When God forgives our sins, he forgives all of our sins and imputes to us the perfection that he requires. Then we can rejoice in our forgiveness for all of eternity.