King David - Crown of Gold, Feet of Clay
Let’s get to know King David.
King David – the David that we heard about several weeks ago in the story of his covert anointing by the prophet Samuel - a surprise that God would have chosen him and not one of his older brothers.
King David - the one who, as a youth, would play music to sooth the troubled then-king Saul
King David - the one we remember in the story of David and Goliath, a classic story of the underdog winning out over a much more powerful foe.
King David - the one who led troops into a succession of successful battles over the years.
King David - who developed Jerusalem, and to whom many of the Psalms have been ascribed.
King David - one who has been so much admired and lauded over the years.
This is the amazing King David that I would like us to get to know a little better.
Now, I’d like to pick up the story when King David is a little older.
This year, it is spring and now the roads have dried enough for war - dried enough to attack, and to defend. Once upon a time David himself would have mounted upon chariot and led the troops - a regal and confident figure, a skilled warrior, and a cagey battle strategist.
But that was then. Now David stays home in Jerusalem, while the action goes on far away from him. He is no longer battle-ready: his older frame would not inspire confidence in his own troops, but it might inspire ridicule in the enemy.
It is spring - and the Biblical text says “the time when kings go out to battle”. But this king went nowhere. Joab and the officers and the troops head off to besiege Rabbah, the main city of the Ammonites, a constant threat to the people of Israel - Rabbah, what is now Amman, Jordan, some 70km from Jerusalem, as the crow flies - about the same distance as from here to Casselman, or to Chambly.... though even in the springtime, the roads would not have been as good, nor as direct.
“Tthe time when kings go out to battle”. But this king went nowhere. He has time. Lots of time. And no projects to keep him busy. Even his dream of building a temple was to remain a just a dream: the prophet had made it clear that he was not the one who was going to build the temple.
So he stays home. One afternoon, late on, he gets up, bored, from his couch, and wanders up to his roof-top - a good place to be when the heat of the day has passed. And he looks around. Of course, his house - being King - is higher that the neighbours. And he notices a sight: a woman bathing, a woman in her all-together, and he cannot help but notice that she is rather beautiful.
Of course, he had lots of other choices - for he has many wives. But....
Well, he was not to have the thrill of the conquest of war.
Nor was he to have the thrill of building a fine temple.
But here was something..... And so he sends for Bathsheba, and slept with her.
And a few weeks later she sends King David a simple, short message: “King David: I am pregnant. Bathsheba.”
Well, that stirs him up. After all.... Bathsheba is married.
Her husband is Uriah.
And Uriah is in battle, on behalf of King David, fighting against the Ammonites at Rabbah.
Now, David does not want to be found out by Uriah.
Surely there is a way out.... ah, yes, what we sometimes find in the 21st century: the coverup.
Then David got a wonderful, awful idea!
"I know just what to do!" King David laughed in his throat.
And, with grinchy plotting, he begins:
He sends a messenger 70 km to Rabbah to the leader of his troops, Joab. The message is just as simple as the message he had received himself, but different: “Send me Uriah”.
So Uriah comes back to Jerusalem, wondering what the King would want with him.
And he comes before King David, and King David sits him down. “How are you doing, my friend?” “How is the battle going?” “Are we standing up well in the face of the Ammonites?” “Are there enough rations, or do we need to send more?” And so the conversation went, until Uriah could not help but show his fatigue.
“Oh, Uriah, you must be so tired. Head off home, now - and, ah, wash your feet, if you get what I mean. You deserve a break, I’m sure!”
Now, when we read the text, the washing of feet seems, perhaps, innocuous, but it is clear it is a euphemism for something far more .... familiar.
Uriah heads out. And lies down in the courtyard with the other soldiers and servants who were not in battle on that night. And sleeps through the night.
King David hears that Uriah did not go home to Bathsheba.
He calls Uriah in again. “My dear friend, this was your chance to get a little R&R - why did you not head home?”
And Uriah answers him in humility:
“Sir, the ark of the covenant is in a tent. My leader Joab is sleeping in an open field. All my fellows are also sleeping in an open field. And you want me to head home to my wife and spend the night with her? No, there would be no honour in such a thing, and I would never, ever do such a thing - I swear it on your soul, your majesty.”
King David is not sure what to do. His cover-up - to make Uriah think that the child is his, if Uriah is poor enough at math - is not working. But he decides to simply try harder to do the wrong thing.
So he has a wonderful day with Uriah, gets him drunk, and sends him home.
Except Uriah leaves David, but does not go home: instead he sleeps again in the courtyard.
David is consumed by his desire to cover up his wrong-doing with Bathsheba.
So he writes another message, again to Joab.
“Joab: Put Uriah in the spot where the battle is the hottest. And then have the troops draw back when he does not expect it.... So that Uriah will be killed.”
After all, if he cannot fool Uriah into thinking the baby is his, then he can arrange for Uriah to never know what he has done.
And David seals the message. And places it in the hands of his loyal follower, Uriah, and Uriah delivers it to his commander, Joab.
And that is exactly what happens - Uriah is placed in a difficult position, and is killed in battle.
And now Uriah, loyal soldier, will never know what David did.
But David is not done.
Bathsheba mourns for her husband.
But when the period of mourning is over - a set period of either seven days or thirty days - David takes Bathsheba as his wife.
Actually, takes her as one of his wives, for he already has many, as per the tradition of the time.
And the cover-up seems complete.
Except that Nathan, a prophet, went to have a word with King David:
2 Samuel 12:
1 The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.
2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle,
3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 "Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him."
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!
6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity."
7 Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!
9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
David turns, and he confesses his sin.
And Nathan points to the grace and forgiveness of God, though it is only partial - there is still going to be punishment for what he has done.
I tell you this long story because of the messages in conveys...
(following this, people were invited to share their own ideas. Some are below)
Even the most wonderful people mess up.
The question is: then what do they do? Coverup, or.....
Truth, not cover-up
There is grace.... with confession.
Power is dangerous,
and doing what the powerful say without question is folly
Responsible for what we do far away.....
Now - as a side note - it is interesting that Nathan says that David killed Uriah. It mattered not that they were a day’s journey or more apart. David killed Uriah.
.... and our consumer habits kill in the sweatshops,
and our consumer habits destroy the environment where our mining companies are at work in the Philipines and elsewhere.