A couple of weeks ago Carrie and I went out to dinner all by ourselves, then to a concert in Cary of a couple of folks musicians we have long admired. One of them, David Holt, has won a couple of Grammys playing banjo with Doc Watson, and is extraordinary – he had played 7 instruments by the intermission. Holt is all over public television because he had also become a bit of a journalist/historian, chronicling Appalachian folk music. He also has a project going in which he is interviewing some of the oldest Americans, folks older than 105, and asking then their reflections on living. In the midst of those interviews he wrote a simple song.
The first verse begins: If you’ve got a big fine car, If you’ve got a big fine car, If you’ve got a big fine car, Then you’ve got… a big fine car. He then adds a handful of similar verses. If you’ve got a bank account, if you’ve got a bank account, if you’ve got a bank account, then you’ve got….a bank account.
Towards the end he sings: I asked the oldest people just what I need to know, They said find yourself forgiveness and be grateful as you go…and if you’ve got love in your heart, If you’ve got love in your heart, If you’ve got love in your heart, Then you’ll be satisfied.1
Today’s text is about our deepest desires, and our inability to be satisfied.
We are into the heart of this collection of stories in First and Second Samuel, as Israel transitions from a bunch of people claimed by God into a fully formed state. We have seen God deliver a king, watched the first one, Saul, fail. Alongside we have witnessed David’s extraordinary rise, his anointing, confirmed as he leans into God’s power to slay the powerful Goliath. He is anointed king of all Israel, brings back the Ark of the Covenant, and dances with abandon. I have loved going back and reading Taylor and Betty’s sermons from the past two weeks while I have been gone, about David’s desire to build a house for God, and perhaps also for his ego, and the reminder that all of our work, all of our ministry, all of our life comes from God. Betty walked us through last week – I promise I didn’t line it up for her to preach that so I could conveniently avoid it while I was out of town, David and Bathsheba. David’s temptation to power. His manipulation. His assault on Bathsheba – I think the heading in my study bible calling adultery isn’t quite right. After the assault he invites Uriah to eat and drink, even as he is plotting his death. David, the beloved one of God, seems like an awful, awful person, overcome by his desires, controlled by them.
Today’s text begins with word getting back. We don’t know how she heard, but Bathsheba heard that her husband Uriah had been killed. Like when the military chaplain knocks on the door and the spouse opens it, sees them there, and dissolves into tears. Deep grief. The text then calmly reports: When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. Her husband was dead and David, as the king, sent for her, decided he would lay claim on her, married her, and she soon had a son. The deed is complete; Bathsheba is fully a part of David’s household.
But she’s not, quite. The text – in much of the chapter before, through today’s text and a little after, doesn’t say her name. She is still called Uriah’s wife, the wife of Uriah, even after he is dead. Our author wants us to remember what David has done. Even more so this act infuriates God. The thing that David had done displeased the Lord, the text says, in an amazing understatement. It is literally, "was EVIL in the eye of the Lord."2 Now, after a chapter in which David has done all of the sending, directed all of the action, the Lord sends the prophet Nathan to see the king. Nathan tells a simple story of a rich man who has everything. And a poor man with only one little ewe, and the scene is described tenderly, feeding this lamb, drinking from his cup, as his own child. The rich man has a visitor and can’t spare one lamb from all he has, so he takes the poor man’s beloved only lamb, slaughters it and serves it up.
David, rightly, is furious. This man who has EVERYTHING steals the one thing the other man truly loves. As the Lord lives, he cries, this man deserves to die, because he has no pity! Nathan, having expertly laid the rhetorical trap, levels his gaze. You are the man. This is you. Then he begins this powerfully litany of what God has done for David, in parallel to the great covenant God had made with David in chapter 7: I anointed you king. I rescued you from Saul. I gave you his household. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. I gave it all to you, and would have given you more if you had asked. WHY, God pleads. You have stuck down Uriah, You have taken his wife and had him killed. The prophet hammers away. Therefore, I – the juxtaposition of the I and the YOU is so powerful here – I, thus says the Lord, I will raise up trouble from within your own house, I will take your wives, like you have done to others, you will not be free from this. Though YOU did this in secret, I will humiliate you in front of all people, before all Israel, the prophet says, before all creation.
I don’t know how long the silence lasts after that. David has gone from being indignant over the parable to realizing the prophet is talking about him, to some mixture of embarrassment and fear and guilt and confusion over being caught, of his sin being so named. The prophet rails at him, and he stands there and takes it. There’s nothing else he can do. David looks at Nathan and offers his confession, linked by the superscription with the psalm of penitence we read together a few moments ago. I have sinned before the Lord. I have sinned before the Lord.
Right on the heels of the covenant God makes with David, the promises of chapter 7, it seems as though David begins to think he is invincible. Maybe, perhaps, the line between who he is and who God is begins to blur. When you are confident God is on your side it’s easy to justify about anything you want. David sees something he wants, someone, and he takes her, assaults her, does whatever he wants, kills her husband to cover it up. He has a desire and he doesn’t think but he acts, without regard for anyone else, without regard for God.
I’m kind of a traditionalist on these things, but I think when you marry someone you ought to remain faithful to them, to the promises you have made before God. I think too many in our world throw away those vows too frivolously. But this is not primarily about sex, though that’s probably the most visible outcome of the kind of delusion that creeps into our thinking, thinking that what we see, what we want, we are entitled to, we deserve it, we’ve worked hard, she hasn’t treated me right, I have paid my dues, done my time. We do it with our jobs. We do it with our homes. We yearn for status, comfort, things, being seen well in the eyes of others. I want it, we think. Therefore, I deserve it. And we go out and seek it out, run over people at the office, disregard people in our families or at church, certainly in our political arena, because what we desire is righteous. Go out and spend that money, whether we have it or not, buy another toy. Treat anyone else however we want, use them for our means. And, strangely, and maybe not even consciously, God ends up endorsing whatever we want to do, whatever we want to purchase, any ‘ole thing our heart desires.
But God works very differently, we learn again. I think God’s word to the prophet is amazing here: I gave you everything, God says. I gave it all to you, David, I anointed you as my beloved, I kept you safe, I triumphed over the giant, I put you in power, I gave it ALL to you. And what did you do, David? YOU WANTED MORE. You wanted more. And there are repercussions. God’s love, God’s presence stays with David, but he doesn’t get off free here. David’s life and reign much more complicated from here, the results of the bed he himself has made. It becomes even more painful for him, because he had been given everything. But he wanted more.
Here in a moment we’ll come to the table. We’ll bring all our wants and needs and desires with us. I wonder what yours are? All of us have desires that we hold deeply, for love, for healing, for this world filled with violence and pain. We also have plenty of desires that are a little ridiculous, too, that might not come from the best part of ourselves. And we bring them all to God, to this table hosted by Jesus the Christ, who gave his own self, his own life, for us, for you. Like the prophet says to David, God has given you everything. Now come, come and eat this little bit of bread and this little bit of juice, this feast. And it will be enough. And you’ll be satisfied.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. Song by David Holt, words via email from David Lamotte, 7/29/15.
2. Courtesy Bibleworks, and Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: I and II Samuel, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p 281.