David: Man after God’s Own Heart
Part VIII: “The Accused”
A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist
August 5, 2012
2 Samuel 12
It’s only a hunch, but I have a hunch that the 23rd Psalm was among the first David ever wrote.
I picture it written on lined notebook paper—with a pencil, and eraser marks all over the page—turned in like an elementary school writing assignment in response to the question, “Who is the Lord to you?” “The Lord…is my shepherd,” David wrote. “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
Short, simple, declarative sentences. David probably didn’t even mean for it to be poetry, but it is poetry, isn’t it? It’s profound. It speaks to us at the deepest level imaginable:
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
I have a hunch that David wrote it early in his life, perhaps while he, himself, was still a shepherd, keeping his father’s sheep in and around Bethlehem. In and around Bethlehem I say because it was hard to find food for sheep in those days, in that part of the world. Sometimes shepherds would have to lead their flocks out over the wilderness of Judah for days at a time, searching for those green pastures and still waters. They would bed them down in sheltered valleys and strain their ears for the sounds of approaching predators, wondering if they would be able to protect their sheep. I can imagine David, as a boy, caring for those sheep but wondering, “Who will care for me in this wilderness, when I am all alone and unprotected? Who will be my shepherd?” And the answer came back to him as clearly as if it had been spoken aloud: “The Lord.” “The Lord is my shepherd. And even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I don’t have to be afraid. As long as he is with me there is nothing to fear.”
The psalm speaks of this relationship between God and David that was intimate and personal. I can imagine David leading his sheep through the wilderness and carrying on long conversations with God, his shepherd. Some of his later psalms suggest that he was used to speaking with God, maybe not face to face but heart to heart. Sometimes he begins by describing God in the third person and then suddenly shifts to the second. “The Lord is wonderful. You, O God, are near to all who call on you.” David had a friendship with God that was born in the wilderness, when he was all alone except for God and, well, those sheep of course. I picture David speaking with God, his friend. Wherever David went the Lord went and wherever the Lord was there was David, too, so that David’s fondest wish, expressed at the end of Psalm 23, is that he might live in the presence of the Lord forever.
Psalm 8 is one of those that reveals the relationship between David and the Lord. I picture David stretched out on the ground at night beside his flock, looking up at the stars, his fingers laced behind his head and his elbows sticking out like angel wings, thinking to himself: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I look up at the night sky, when I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established…I feel about this big (finger and thumb a half inch apart). What is man that thou art mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? And yet you have made him a little lower than the angels.” David, marveling at God’s goodness, God’s nearness, God’s provision, God’s protection. David was the friend of God and God was David’s friend, too.
And so it was that when a lion or bear went after one of David’s flock David went after it, caught it, clubbed it down, killed it, with never a thought for his own safety because the Lord was with him. The Lord went into battle with him, fought for him, so that David could say in the presence of Goliath, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the army of Israel. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I will strike you down and cut off your head, and I will give the flesh of the Philistine army to the birds of the air , and to the wild animals of the earth so that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel.”
God was with David, David was with God, wherever they went the two of them were together. There was this wonderful friendship between them. But after Goliath had been killed Saul made David commander over a thousand soldiers in the army of Israel, and David led these soldiers out into battle, and it was hard to tell, sometimes, after the battle was over, who should get the credit. Was it the Lord? Had he fought this battle for Israel? Was it these one thousand well-trained soldiers who had fought so bravely? Or was it perhaps David himself who deserved credit for this victory? Everywhere he went, they said, he won battles so that his reputation spread among the people as a great warrior. A thousand soldiers fighting under his command, and others added along the way. Eventually all Judah recognized him as their king, and then all of Israel, too, so that David was king over the united monarchy of Israel and Judah.
I get the feeling that David was not only growing up, but growing away from God. If it is true that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely David was getting a taste of what that kind of power was like. If he told someone to do something, someone usually did it. David began to fight his own battles. In the early chapters of this story David is always asking God, “Shall I go up? Shall we go up against the Philistines?” But in the later chapters of the story that question is strangely absent. David makes his own decisions. He fights his own battles. He does his own thing. And one day he did a thing that displeased his old friend very much.
At the beginning of 2 Samuel 11 we are told that it was the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, but King David stayed home in Jerusalem. And it happened, late one afternoon, that he took a walk on the flat roof of his palace, where he looked out over the city and happened to see a woman taking a bath, pouring water over her long black hair and her bare brown shoulders. The more David looked the more he liked what he saw, the more he wanted her for his own, and because he could he did—he sent for her and took her and lay with her and sent her home again. And why not? Who would know? Who would care? Her husband, Uriah, was off fighting the Ammonites, Bathsheba was all alone in Jerusalem, and David was the king. He could do whatever he wanted. And this is what he wanted to do.
But when she sent back word a few weeks later that she was pregnant everything changed for David. He panicked, trying to cover the tracks of his sin. He called Uriah back home from the war, told him to go down to his house, “wash his feet,” enjoy conjugal relations with his wife. But Uriah would not go, as long as the army of Israel was still on the battlefield. His honor would not allow him to do such a thing. And so David had no alternative but to send him back to the battlefield and into the front lines where he was struck down and killed. When the news came to David he took it surprisingly well. “These things happen in war,” he said, thinking that he gotten away with it, and when Bathsheba had finished her period of mourning David took her as his wife and brought her into his home.
But someone had seen the whole thing. God had seen it. Nothing escapes the attention of God. And at the beginning of 2 Samuel 12 we are told that “the thing David did displeased the Lord.” This is the first time in the story that anything David has done displeased the Lord, but this thing displeased him, and this thing distanced David from his old friend. The thing about sin is that it separates. It separates us from the people we have wronged and often from the people we love most in the world. Sin creates this gulf between us and them so that relationship becomes impossible. I cannot imagine that while Bathsheba’s belly was swelling with the evidence of David’s adultery he was plucking his lyre and singing songs of praise to the Lord. More likely he was keeping his distance, hiding his face from the one who knew him through and through. All around him people were telling him what a wonderful king he was, and how generous he was to bring this poor, young widow into his home, but everytime he looked in the mirror he saw the face of a miserable sinner.
So, it was almost a relief when Nathan the prophet came to him and asked for his help with a problem. “There were two men who lived in a certain city,” he said. “One was rich and the other was poor. One had very many flocks and herds, the other had nothing but one little ewe lamb that he had bought, and he brought it up like it was one of his own children. It used to eat from his table and drink from his cup. It would lie in his bosom and he loved it like a daughter. Now, it happened that a visitor came to that city and came to the home of the rich man looking for lodging, and because he was hospitable the man offered to put him up for the night and prepare a meal for him, but since he didn’t want to take an animal from his own flock he took the poor man’s lamb, that little ewe lamb that he loved like a daughter, and he slaughtered her, and roasted her, and served her to his guest, and she was delicious. Now,” Nathan said to David, “what do you think I ought to do about that?”
And David felt something stirring inside him that he hadn’t felt in a long time: righteous indignation, that wonderful feeling of being angry for the right reasons. “The man who has done this thing deserves to die!” David roared, but Nathan roared right back, “You are the man! And thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “I anointed you king over Israel, and I took you from keeping your father’s sheep and made you king over this whole nation. I rescued you from the hand of Saul and gave you his house and his wives and his kingdom and if that had been too little I would have given you more. But you have despised me and broken my commandments. You have coveted your neighbor’s wife. You have committed adultery with her. You have had your neighbor murdered. And because of this the sword shall never depart from your house. “Violence” will be your family name. And your own children will suffer the consequence of your sin.” But as Nathan talked he saw the tears welling up in David’s eyes, saw his lower lip trembling, and when David could speak again he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
It came almost as a relief that the secret he had been carrying around for all those months was finally out in the open where it could be dealt with. The thing about actions is that they always have consequences, and what Nathan said to David is, “Your actions will have consequences. Violence will come to your own house. Death will come. But here’s what else will happen. God is bigger than any sin you have committed, bigger than any consequences that may come. God is able and willing to forgive.” David said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and Nathan said, “Because of this, because you have confessed your sin and repented from it, the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Actions still have consequences, David. You will pay for what you have done. But not in the way you may have thought. God is bigger than your sin, and bigger than the consequences.”
In the collection of psalms that David wrote there is one with a preface that says, “This is the psalm that was written by David when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It’s just a hunch, but I have a hunch that this is among the last of the psalms that David wrote. Read through them some time, all of those psalms that say at the top, “This is a psalm of David.” Again and again you will see him asking for help when he is surrounded by his enemies, talking about what it is like to be a king, and sometimes saying, “I love your law, O Lord! What a privilege it is to keep your commandments.” You get the feeling that those psalms were written in the early days. But this one must have been among the last of David’s psalms. It begins:
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. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:1-4, 7-12a).
It’s only a hunch, but I believe this psalm was among the last David ever wrote, and I believe that when he got up off his knees after that prayer he found that his friendship with God…had been restored.
—Jim Somerville © 2012