2 Samuel Chapter 12: This Week In God's Word
The most powerful asset God has graced mankind with is our conscience: our sense of right and wrong. It is also what haunts us long after God has forgiven us. David may have been a great king but he was a lousy father. The affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah changed his life forever. Many of us engage in risky behavior and take chances while underestimating not only the damage those choices could do to us but to our family, to our community, to our ministries. We don’t do all the math and we don’t understand the immense ripples in eternity our choices make as they echo past this present age and into the next. Selfishness is about moving through life with blinders on and earplugs in, indifferent to those around you and the lives you touch. The enemy will throw thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of opportunities at you. He knows he only needs one.
Counting On One Hand
The main difference between our perception of failure and God’s
perception of our failure is what happens next. By His word and
promise, redemption and restoration awaits any of us who have
failed God or even failed ourselves. God’s method is a
clean-slate approach where He judges the condition (or position)
of our heart. Repentance, in earnestness, is more than just,
“I’m sorry,” but, “I’ll never do this again.” Human weakness
being what it is, whether we actually will do it again or not
remains to be seen. God already knows. However, God’s
forgiveness is predicated not upon our actions but our motives.
An earnest prayer of repentance is something God is compelled to
act upon. But He will know if we truly mean it.
The Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) notes that crying out to God is mentioned in many Psalms attributed to David. He comments, “Fervour is a heavenly ingredient in prayer. An arrow drawn with full strength hath a speedier issue.” The Midrash Tehillim teaches from Psalm 4 “that the mere mechanical application to the Throne of Mercy is not efficacious is plainly seen from the words of King David, who says God is nigh to all that call upon Him, and … he adds the important words, ‘to those who call upon Him in truth.’”
According to Psalm 40, David’s cries to God were heartfelt though not necessarily impatient; the poignant combination of a cry for help with a confident expression of faith echo today in the song “40” by the rock group U2 and that encapsulates David’s experience with his God:
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. — Psalm 40:1–3 (NIV)
A single act or single episode of moral failure can ruin us for effective Christian ministry. In 37 years of ministry, I have not heard a black preacher express this concept in any meaningful way. I can count, on one hand, the number of black preachers I am friendly with who do not engage in questionable or risky behavior. I can count, on one hand, the number of black pastors I know whose ministry has not been dinged by some moral failure on their part. And, this is the biblical model, this is how it works: a pastor undermines his moral authority by being caught in an immoral or unethical act (it only takes one, but, more often than not, it is the one we found out about; there’d likely been many others). Even after earnest repentance and restoration, the pastor’s moral authority has been so badly damaged that his “associate” ministers, many of them wrestling with ego or temptation learn nothing from the pastor’s experience and engage in far more and far riskier behavior than the pastor did. While God may forgive and hopefully has forgiven and restored the pastor, the pastor himself, if he is truly restored has also been truly humbled by his own failure and may feel reluctance to enforce standards on his ministerial staff because he is daily reminded of his own sin.
This is the lesson of King David, whose own moral failure with Bathsheba (which then demanded his orchestration of the death of her husband Uriah) became the defining event that pivoted his story from the whitewashed greatness we vaguely accept as part of Christian mythology to the reality of David’s post-Bathsheba story being mostly about an indulgent and feckless father figure whose legacy, by rights, should have been a shameful cautionary tale about keeping your pants zipped up. David’s failure to properly discipline his children, which I will presume (this is not biblically stated) stems from his shame over his own moral failings, led to a string of moral obscenities committed by his offspring, whom David refused to discipline. David’s deranged eldest son Amnon raped his young half-sister Tamar, with whom he’d become obsessed, only to despise and burn with hatred toward her the moment the violent sex act was concluded. This led to David’s vain and pompous third son, Absalom, committing fratricide, killing his own brother, and, likely as a result of David’s failure to discipline him, the deaths of tens of thousands through a revolt led by Absalom.
The Second Half of Second Samuel
Most of what we know, or at least what we think we know, about
King David are benign stories learned in Sunday School, or what
I call Stuff We Done Heard Someplace. The biblical account of
David is complex. First, the narrative itself has problems (try
and find this), lots of problems with David’s bio and timeline
(examples). The bible never seeks to make a hero of David.
We—religious folk—have made him a hero in our romanticizing and
mythologizing I Samuel’s first 10 chapters while soft-pedaling
the bulk of the book, those remaining 14. The bible describes
David as, “A man after [God’s] own heart,” [Acts 13:22] David
was, nevertheless, a supremely flawed individual whose life
story is justifiably defined by a single episode of weakness.
Rather than put him on a pedestal, we could and should learn
from him, from his best and worst choices.
Like many pastors, David was a god-like man who engaged in extremely un-god-like behavior. I know preachers who abuse the story of David by using it to rationalize their womanizing and other sinful acts. David is not our excuse to sin but is our model for redemption. He is remembered most for killing Goliath [I Samuel 17], but was that David’s greatest triumph?
Why it often seems difficult for pastors to pass on their fervor for God to their children is evident David’s story. At home, with nobody watching, the pastor’s human weakness—cussing, complaining, lashing out, moral failures—are on display for their children. This is an enormous burden for a child, to have to keep the secrets of their pastoring father. To see but not see, having to pretend, along with the rest, to have drunken the Kool-Aid and to revere a man they know is all-too- human. Pastors routinely, thoughtlessly, stupidly, force their kids to carry the burden of their own moral weakness and to keep their secrets. When the inevitable rebellion of teen years arrives, resentment often arrives with it. This is why we see so many preachers’ kids display few if any of the qualities of God or the fruits of the Spirit. These people, as often as not, are vain, self-absorbed little snots. As often as not, they wear the best clothes, attend the best schools, and all but ignore the people who are making their lifestyle possible—the men and women of the church upon whose tithes and offerings the pastor and his family live. As often as not, preachers’ kids are superficial, awful, creepy people the church gives far too much deference to because, in our tradition, the church body often knows little or nothing about God. We don’t behave like God, we don’t treat people the way God treats people. We don’t love, we don’t forgive, we have no patience. We don’t know Him. It is impossible to know God and behave this way.
And we make the pastor our king if not our God. We worship the pastor and use ungodly, unbiblical terms like “First” Lady for his wife—and the pastor never raises an objection because either he does not know, does not care, or prefers to appease his wife than to teach correct doctrine. Our worship, therefore, extends to his children, where many church members will go out of their way to show deference to these snotty little bastards and look the other way and excuse poor behavior. The pastor’s wife and, just as often, his children become consumed with ego and self, and the pastor never gets his own family in check, despite the biblical requirement that he do so [I Timothy 3:4]. He’s a guy whose own home is completely out of control, and we all look the other way and say nothing because we worship the pastor, and we worship the pastor because we don’t know any better, because he’s not teaching us any better, and we’re too lazy to read and learn for ourselves.
This is King David. Was he a great man? Of course. Was he a perfect man? Far from it. His children were all a bunch of idiots, were all out of control and damaged and the people never called David on it or held his children to account. Perhaps the greatest example of David’s failure as a father is King Solomon, whom the bible notes was the wisest man who ever lived. But he married 700 women and engaged 300 sexual partners in addition to those, and began to worship these women’s pagan gods, dying in disgrace and estranged from God. And we name churches after him.
One Is The Loneliest Number
It only takes one. One extra-marital affair. One lie. One financial indiscretion. Gospel legend Andraé Crouch virtually owned Gospel music. All it took was one drug bust. His career never recovered. Jim Baaker. Jimmy Swaggart. Have these men been redeemed? Only God knows, but I do believe redemption is available to them, as is restoration. God is capable of forgiving and forgetting [Hebrews 8:12], humans are not.
Phillip Yancey and Tim Stafford put it this way:
“The bible views sin like cancer cells: one or two [“little”] sins here and there [actually] do make a difference…. Cancer cells grow, multiply, and take over. These are the consequences when a leader sins: his cancer not only poisons him, I grows to affect all those he leads, and it undermines his work.
According to the Law, Amnon deserved exile [Leviticus 18:9, 29]. But David, perhaps feeling his own sin robbed him of his moral authority to judge others’, did nothing to punish or discipline any of his sons.”
The most powerful asset God has graced mankind with is our conscience: our sense of right and wrong. It is also what haunts us long after God has forgiven us.
David may have been a great king but he was a lousy father. The affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah changed his life forever. Many of us engage is risky behavior and take chances while underestimating not only the damage those choices could do to us but to our family, to our community, to our ministries. We don’t do all the math and we don’t understand the immense ripples in eternity our choices make as they echo past this present age and into the next. Selfishness is about moving through life with blinders on and earplugs in, indifferent to those around you and the lives you touch. The enemy will throw thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of opportunities at you. He knows he only needs one.