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|"Looking for Justice"
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Although we are all quite familiar with
the parables of Jesus, he was not the only person in Biblical
literature to use the parable to teach. Indeed, in many ways, the
stories of the Bible can, in themselves, be considered parables.
However, this morning I would call your attention
to a parable which was told by the prophet Nathan to King David.
Now, there are some times when I think to myself that I might be better off if my wife were less nice to me and let me know of all my shortcomings, to let me know, honestly, when I behave like a jerk, and when I might be leading a better life than I do.
But what we really need are accurate mirrors, to show us ourselves as we really are, not as we think we are. And, in a way, that is what Nathan does for David in this passage, although he chooses a rather indirect way of doing it.
But to set the scene, remember what happened last week between David and Uriah. And by way of review, David had an affair with Bathsheba--destined to be twenty-four generations removed from Jesus grandmother--while she was married to Uriah, and David tried to cover up the fact that Bathsheba had become pregnant through this affair.
But when he could not cover it up, he resorted to extreme measures. And by the way, David succeeded in putting an end to Uriah by manipulating a battle. Uriah may have died in battle anyway, but David could take no chances.
And regardless of what happened to Uriah, David's transgressions remain.
So beginning with the twenty-sixth verse of the eleventh chapter of Second Samuel, we read, "When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.
“When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David.
“He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds."
Now for most of us, this probably isn't going to work, because most of us think of ourselves as middle class. We don't identify with the extremes, with the rich OR the poor. So we may simply think of the parable as applying to "someone else." And, unfortunately, so will David. But the issue is not merely of rich versus poor, as will become very apparent. It is not a question of having wealth or NOT having wealth, because those are static conditions: they don't DO anything.
The fact that the rich man had very many flocks and herds doesn't really tell us much about that rich man. But the following verse DOES tell us quite a bit about the poor man.
"But the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him."
And now, suddenly, we should realize that we're not discussing livestock holdings. Indeed, the lamb of the poor man fits more in the category of the household pet! To compare the lamb of the poor man with the flocks of the rich man would seem to be comparing apples and oranges. It really can't be done. But what makes the difference?
If we're just taking a nose count of the animals, we could calculate a comparison. But the difference goes beyond the quantity of the animals, and it is a question of the attitude that is felt toward the animals.
When we see how the poor man feels about the single ewe lamb, we begin to compare not the size of the flocks, but the degree of caring for the flocks. But do we really KNOW how the rich man feels about his flock? Well, not really.
But what kinds of conclusions might we draw from the following verse:
"Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him."
Now, I think that this is a REALLY UGLY story. But what is ugliest about it is that this sort of thing isn't lost in the history of thousands of years ago. It's still going on today. Except that today the livestock have been replaced with more subtle ways of taking things away from people. And, even worse, it's often quite legal. What immediately comes to my mind are tax loopholes.
Now I'm not talking about loopholes designed to create equity in taxation, and I'm not talking about loopholes designed to show some compassion toward the taxpayer. What I'm talking about are loopholes which can allow specific individuals to save millions of dollars in taxes, for neither of the above reasons. And for the rest of us, the burden of paying the taxes gets shifted. The wayfarer is at the door. And he's hungry.
But I'm not the only one who thinks that this is an ugly story.
"Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."
In our society we speak of punishment matching the crime. But so often, it seems to me, it is not possible for a punishment to accurately match a crime. In spite of the ugliness of what the rich man has done, does he truly deserve to die? I don't think so. That solves no problem. It proves nothing. As far as I'm concerned, it's an over-reaction. But on the other hand, what good does it do to replace the single ewe lamb with four other lambs?
It does not replace the single ewe that was so loved by the poor man. And as punishment, it probably only makes a tiny dent in the flock of the rich man.
As a result, the poor man will continue to feel the pain of the loss; but the rich man will soon forget the incident altogether.
But David doesn't sound a whole lot different from many politicians today, who have simple solutions to complicated problems. And yet, should we really be blaming them?
Too often, it appears to me, people WANT simple solutions, and the politicians try to give them what they want.
But getting back to David. Not only does he have an instant answer for the story that Nathan has unfolded for him, but he has failed to see WHY Nathan has told the story. He is incapable of seeing himself inside this parable. The story is "someone else."
So, Nathan has to spell it out.
"Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! “’Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:
“’I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more."
How spoiled can a king get? This is a man who has everything! God even goes so far as to say that if what David has isn't enough, all he has to do is ask, and God would give him more.
Now, you've probably heard this plot line before, because it has shown up in literature, in movies, and on television. It's the kind of conversation between the rich kid and the rich parent.
And it takes place when, in spite of all the parent has given, the rich kid gets into trouble. And David has gotten himself into trouble.
"Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites."
Now there are crimes and there are crimes. And we can bicker all day over what constitutes a legal crime, and which crimes are worse than other crimes. But no matter how you cut it, it's difficult to get around the conclusion that in this particular story there is a whole bucketful of evil. It is bad enough that David has committed adultery. But there is also deceit here and there is greed. For as king, David already had many legal wives; but his lust and his greed went beyond that.
And as for the death of Uriah, David did not take HIS sword in hand to slay Uriah. He did worse. For here there was conspiracy, and treachery, and cold-blooded pre-meditation in arranging for Uriah to be killed by the Ammonites.
Of course, David wanted it to appear as a natural event in the course of the war. But we know better.
And the sentence is pronounced upon David: "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife."
"The sword shall never depart" has to be the heaviest of sentences; for we know that God ordained the House of David to continue through all generations.
But the sentence continues: "Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun."
But the neighbor here is presumably Absalom, the son of David.
We learn, in the twenty-first and twenty-second verses of the sixteenth chapter of Second Samuel, "Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father's concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened." And the evil which God raises up against David out of his own house is his son. In a sense, there are two punishments here.
First, because David took another man's wife, another man will take David's wives. But second, that other man will be of David's own family, his son.
Yet, there is a third punishment tied to the first two: "For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." And thus, David's punishment is also public humiliation.
I believe that there is a message in this for all of us. First, I think we need to be concerned for the examples we set, because someone is likely to follow them. If they are good examples, we can be proud. If they are evil examples, they may come back to haunt us. Second, I think we need to understand that our greatest influence is over our families and friends, those closest to us, and we cannot help but affect their lives, either for good or for evil. And finally, those influences can magnify themselves. If for good, we should rejoice; if for evil, we should cringe in fear.
And in response to the sentence, "David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord."
The punishment meted out by God to David as he lived was a significant and meaningful punishment. Of course, it is not a punishment that brings Uriah back to life; and it is not a punishment that restores the marriage relationship between Uriah and Bathsheba. But then, what act can EVER restore the past as it was? I believe there is none.
But does this mean that we should forget the evil of the past? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think it's possible. But it is behind us, and what we should be concerned with is the good we can do in the future ahead of us.
Giving the poor man four lambs to replace the one lamb he loved, and then forgetting him, is not the answer.
We can't replace that lamb, with four or with four hundred. But we can replace our attitude of indifference, of uncaring, for that poor man, with an attitude of love for him.
For that poor man is indeed the entire family of God; and as God responded to David's injustice, so God looks out for that poor man.
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