Ephesians 3:14-21; 2 Samuel 11:1-15
Sermon The Sins of the Father
Good morning! A few weeks ago, we heard the story of David versus Goliath. This was David at his very best, his very most faithful. Today we see David at his absolute worst. Before we dive into this morning’s lesson from Second Samuel, I want to start with what I left out of the reading last week, when we heard Second Samuel 7:1-14a.
You might—or might not—have noticed that lower-case “a” at the end of the citation. When you see a lower-case letter there, it means the editors of the Lectionary decided to leave something out of the reading. In this case, they ended the reading part way through verse 14. Here are verses 12 through 14a:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (2 Samuel 7:12-14a)
That is the end of a sentence, but there’s more to the verse. It continues: “When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.” So, the full verse reads: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings” (2 Samuel 7:14). God is promising that David’s house, his royal lineage will continue, even if one of David’s descendants grows unfaithful to God.
We talked about this last Sunday, but the difference is the acknowledgement of punishment—there will be physical consequences for unfaithfulness. A lot of people don’t like to hear Old Testament lessons because it feels like there’s too much judgment. Even worse, some people love Old Testament lessons because there’s so much judgment! Those are usually the people who think that God’s judgment is for someone else. I had an aunt who was like that, so I really avoided long conversations with her.
To be fair, there is a lot of that kind of judgment in the Old Testament. The Second
Commandment is a great example:
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
Punishing children for the iniquity of the parents. Instead of iniquity, earlier translations rendered that verse, “the sins of the fathers.” Children were punished, even to the third and fourth generation.
We don’t want to hear that.
We want to hear the 23rd Psalm and maybe the first chapter of Genesis, and then that’s it.
That’s a problem. A spiritual problem. When we cut ourselves off from the fullness of scripture, we get an unbalanced view of God’s interactions with humanity. It also makes it easier to put ourselves at the center of the story. And when we put ourselves at the center of the story, we begin to construct an idol.
There’s one more thing that I want you to keep in mind as we consider the story of King David. We are used to thinking of sin as individual bad actions—and our reading from Second Samuel certainly includes a lot of really bad acts committed by King David—his actions are completely reprehensible. But sin is also a category of relationship. That is, sinful acts are things that take us out of relationship with God and with our neighbors.
In that understanding of sin, God isn’t actively carrying out the punishments from one generation to the next. Suppose that my grandfather did something awful to my grandmother. Presumably, God might have punished my grandfather in some way, even if the people around him didn’t see the punishment at the time. It would seem completely unfair for God to punish me for that same sin, right?
Let’s say that my grandfather’s sin created a fracture in my grandparents’ relationship. Let’s also suppose that the fracture was not set properly, and thus, did not heal properly. If the fracture in their relationship was never truly healed, then the damage could be handed down from one generation to the next. The punishment could be handed from mother to daughter to grandson. Think about that for a couple seconds. God isn’t being cruel to us; we are cruel to ourselves; we hand down the punishment for our own sins.
Now hold that thought in your minds for a little while longer. Okay?
Let’s look at some of David’s many sins.
The first is a sin of relationship. The armies of Israel are out in the field of battle, yet David is home in Jerusalem. David really should be out leading the troops. Remember, the people of Israel wanted a king like all the other kings in the region, but God, speaking through the prophet Samuel, warned the people that if they had a king, the king would take their sons, take their daughters, take, take, take. And remember what they people said? They responded, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19b-20).
David has turned away from the relationship with his people, and even more so, with his troops. He’s letting other people fight his battles, when he’s supposed to be the shepherd of the people. But David is busy. Resting on his couch. So, he gets up, takes a stroll on his roof, and hey! There’s a naked woman taking a bath!
There’s nothing in the text that indicates that Bathsheba was trying to get David’s attention.
Bathsheba was taking a ritual bath, a mikveh. She had an expectation of privacy. Perhaps David didn’t mean to look. At first. But he continued to look. Remind me, is there a commandment against coveting your neighbor’s wife? Let me think about that one.
Now, if you are reading along with the text in your pew Bibles, you’ll see a heading that reads, “David commits adultery with Bathsheba.” That’s definitely a violation of one of the commandments! The problem is not just the act. That was an honor culture. If Uriah the Hittite found out, he would be entitled to take revenge against David. And if Bathsheba were to get pregnant, that child might make a claim for the throne after David’s death. But what are the odds of Bathsheba getting pregnant? Oh, right… That’s why we have to look at David’s sin in relational terms. His actious are going to continue to cause problems.
It’s worth pointing out that the sentence, “David commits adultery with Bathsheba,” was added by an editor in the twentieth century. It’s not in the original Hebrew. I think that heading is problematic.
Adultery implies consent by both parties.
As I read this story, I don’t see anything that implies consent. Do you think Bathsheba really had a choice in the matter? Can she just say to King David, “I’d rather not come over today”? I think the power differential is too great. I don’t think she’s allowed to say no in that situation. It doesn’t seem like she has much agency in this story. The only words she’s given in this story are, “I am pregnant.”
Are you uncomfortable yet?
I am. But there’s more.
David tries to cover up his crimes.
First, he calls Uriah home from the front lines. They hang out. King David gets Uriah drunk, hoping that Uriah will go home to his wife. Then there would be a plausible explanation for Bathsheba’s pregnancy. But David’s scheme doesn’t quite work. Uriah doesn’t enter his own house!
So, David plots to have Uriah murdered.
Again, that’s definitely a violation of a commandment.
Uriah the Hittite was one of David’s best soldiers, but it’s more important to David to hide his sins. David sacrificed one of his best soldiers. Uriah’s murder is very clearly a personal sin on David’s part, but it’s not just an individual sin. Think about all the people who are involved in this cover up. Think about how many people are complicit in David’s sins! And no, I’m not counting Bathsheba.
Are you uncomfortable, yet?
I am. But we have to spend some time in this uncomfortable space.
We have to spend some more time with David’s crimes.
I’ve heard it said that God can use anyone for God’s purposes. Perhaps that’s true. We can certainly look to King Cyrus the Great of Persia, who defeated the Babylonians, and then freed the Jewish exiles who were held captive in Babylon. That’s a valid example of God using someone from outside of God’s chosen people, Israel, to deliver Israel. But David’s case is very different.
First, David is described as blameless when the prophet Samuel first meets him. David starts out righteous and virtuous. Second, God isn’t using David in this story; David is using other people. He’s abusing the authority that God vested in him. David isn’t using people for the greater good, for the health and safety of the nation of Israel. No. David is using people to gratify his own desires and to cover up his crimes.
God is not using a flawed human being to accomplish God’s will. David is deliberately turning away from his relationship with God. That has human consequences. God doesn’t have to send punishment from the heavens to David. David is the author of his own punishment.
David had a number of wives and concubines. Yes, it was legal for a man of wealth and power to have multiple wives. Legal, but not good. Scripture records at least 21 sons for David, though two died in infancy and are not named. Some of those sons would lead uprisings against David. Many would be killed in the fighting. And if you want to read another uncomfortable story, read the story of David’s daughter, Tamar. You can find that in Second Samuel, chapter 13.
There’s lots of great art that celebrates King David. The most obvious example is Michelangelo’s sculpture, David, but there are many others. They all celebrate the young David; the faithful David. When we focus only on the good parts of the story, the easy parts of the story, we turn those sculptures into idols. We worship the human David, rather than the God who chose David.
Idols are dangerous. They sneak up on us. We don’t realize we’re worshiping them until it’s too late. And then we’re busy defending the idols, rather than looking toward God. Also, when we’re looking at idols and defending idols, when we’re busy doing that, we’re not busy examining ourselves.
Idols never call us to self-examination.
Idols demand our attention and our loyalty. Idols demand sacrifices. And in our misplaced loyalty, we may call out others, as they fail to honor our idols.
God calls us to self-examination, even when we don’t want to do it. Interestingly, God doesn’t call out David or Israel at this moment in time. God certainly could call out the people. Do you remember the beginning of this sermon series? It started before Saul was made king.
The people of Israel asked the prophet Samuel to speak to God, to ask God for a king, like all the other nations had. And then God warned them that if they had a king, that king would take and take and take. Remember that?
So, now, after all of the problems in the reign of King Saul, after all the ways that Saul took from the people, after God abandoned Saul, after all that, we see David doing the same things. We see David asking other people to fight his battles. We see David taking Bathsheba. It is at precisely this moment, that God could step in, maybe ought to step in, and say, “I told you so!”
Yet God never said to the people, Israel, “I told you so.” Never.
Nor did God abandon the people.
God remained faithful to the people and to David. Yes, there was punishment. Some of David’s sons fought and killed each other. David ordered the execution of one of his own sons and one of his nephews. Solomon was made king—though he was not the eldest legitimate son—after David’s death, fulfilling God’s promise that God would build David a royal house. But that royal house, that dynasty split apart after Solomon’s death.
David’s sins were great. Many of those sins were sins of relationship. That is, sins that took people out of relationships with one another. And the human punishments arose from broken relationships. David had to watch as his own family tore itself apart. But God doesn’t abandon Israel, despite the unfaithfulness of God’s anointed leader, David.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments provide us with a record of God’s interaction with and love for humanity. The Bible is God’s Word to us; we can’t ignore the parts of that Word that we don’t like. That’s why we have sermon series on David or on the Book of Revelation. The Scriptures prepare us for our lives outside of these four walls. If we impose limitations on what we’re willing to hear, then cut ourselves off from the witness of Scripture; we cut ourselves off from God. There’s a name for that kind of deliberate separation.
God has appointed many human leaders to shepherd God’s chosen people, Israel. Yet there was only one human leader who always remained faithful, Jesus. Jesus is the only human leader who kept the faith. Moses only got to see the Promised Land; he didn’t get to go in.
If we only look at the parts of the stories we like, and then whitewash the parts that we don’t like, or even ignore them altogether—when we do that, we make idols of humans, like David. And if we do that with humans from the Bible, we’re just as likely to do that with humans from our families or from our history.
We have to be awake and aware of our own history. We have to know the sins of our fathers and be honest about them. And we have to listen to stories that make us feel uncomfortable. We also have to listen to the stories of people who don’t look like us, worship like us, or live near us. This is no different from spending time with the stories in the Bible that make us uncomfortable, like David and Bathsheba, or the entire Book of Revelation. If we are to grow into a mature faith, we have to be awake to all of Scripture and all of God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember to search for the idols in your life. Root out all the things that draw your attention away from God, and then reorient your attention to God. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!