David, Where Are You?
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
If I were to pick up this sermon with the very next verses from where Jason stopped last week, I would begin with these sentences:
David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” (11:14–15)
It’s one thing for a group of soldiers to risk their lives by traveling a dangerous road in obedience to the command of their general when their Humvee randomly and tragically encounters an IED, an explosive device placed by the enemy. That’s one thing, a tragic thing. But it’s another thing if the bomb is placed by the general who sent them down that road. That’s another thing, a sinister thing.
If you were not familiar with the actual Bible we have, if you were not familiar with how honest the actual Bible is about humanity, then you’d never suspect two verses so brutal and so icy would actually be in our sacred Scriptures, not of a beloved Israelite king anyway. But they are there. And we need to wrestle with why.
While my sermon is a continuation of last week’s, a Part 2 of 2, I’m actually going to re-read part of what Jason read last week, and then continue on into the middle of chapter 12. This will let those of you who were not here into the conversation and remind those who were here why this letter David wrote and put in Uriah’s is so troubling.
If you are using the brown Bible’s on the end of the row, it’s on page 334. After I read the passage (which is long one), we’ll pray and study this together.
11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. . . . [David fails twice to get Uriah to sleep with his wife.]
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” 16 And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. 17 And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting . . .
[The messenger comes, and then] 25 David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27 And 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.
12:1 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. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 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. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of 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 sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.
In college, there was a year I started coming back to Christianity. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home, but my heart had drifted. You might have heard me say before that in hindsight I feel like I worshiped and sacrificed for athletics and academics and a relationship with a girlfriend that was increasingly unhealthy.
But then that year in college things started to change. But before they fully changed, there was this mushy year where I was living many contradictions: attending Bible studies but living for athletic success; starting to go to church, but full of lusts and sin; trying to love God but more than loving God I loved the idea of getting good grades and making lots of money.
I bring this up because during that year I had a roommate who I only lived in a house with that one year. He didn’t live with me the next three years, the years after the good news story about Jesus did change me. All this roommate knew of me was this mush of contradictions, at least that’s how I imagine he thought about me.
There is deep angst as I think about my friend, who I never see or talk to anymore. But the angst is there not mainly because he has the wrong impression of me. He actually has the right impression. But I’m troubled when I think about him because I have him the wrong impression of God. The impression I gave him of who God is that he’s a nice person to add to your life, but God is largely indifferent to sin; he’s not worried about it.
Perhaps David, when he came to the end of his life, had these same regrets over the dark seasons in his life, the times when he had an outward show of God, but not an inward one. For example, David could use phrases like, “As the Lord lives . . .” (12:5), but he did so while sin was ruling his life, as Jason so helpfully pointed out last week. David is a mush of contradictions.
I want to approach the passage with three questions. First, How did this happen? Then we’ll ask, Where is the justice of God? And finally, What do we do now?
1. How did this happen?
Chapter 11 almost makes it to the end without a single mention of the Lord. In fact, it does make up to the end. David has told his general,
“Do not let this matter displease you . . .” (v. 25)
But the chapter ends with the icy line:
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (v. 27).
That’s the only mention of God in the chapter.
But how did this happen? How did David drink down so much sin, only to wipe his mouth and say, “I’ve done nothing wrong” (cf. Proverbs 30:20). How did he get here?
What I want to point out is that David is reliving Genesis chapter 3. Genesis 3 is the story of Adam and Eve falling into sin, and of that story there are many parallels with David falling into adultery.
I’d like to point out five of them. First, there is abundance. When God sends for David, he reminds David of his ridiculously privileged position and the wealth around him. God says, “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more” (v. 8). So it was for Adam in the garden, a paradise of abundance. In Genesis 1 we read of God giving Adam and Eve every tree, every plant, every animal for food (Genesis 1:29–30). Before Genesis 3 Adam had abundance, and before 2 Samuel 11 David had abundance. But it wasn’t enough.
Second, in the midst the abundance there were things off limits. For Adam, it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For David, his role as king over the nation did not entitle him to all the women of the nation. Another man’s wife could never be his wife. In the midst of the abundance there were limits, and these limits are for our good.
Third, there is passivity. In the story in Genesis, Adam just stands there when a war is taking place. When Adam’s wife is talking to Satan, what’s he doing? Nothing. How did our the story begin, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle . . . David remained at Jerusalem.” He’s passively just lounging on his couch and going for a stroll while a war was taking place. He’s passive.
Fourth, fruit that was forbidden looked pleasing to the eye. In the garden, our parents saw this beauty, and they took and ate. And when David saw the woman was beautiful, he took. The same exact verbs are used in both stories.
Fifth and finally, I want to point out the parallel between God going to look for Adam and God going to look for David. In Genesis 3:8–9 we read,
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
When Adam was hiding, God went after him. When David was full of sin, God sent for him. Look again at 12:1,
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 . . .
And that word “sent” is so important. In chapter 11 the word “sent” is used 12 times and the action of sending takes place several more times, chiefly with David sending for Bathsheba, sending for Uriah, and then sending Uriah to the battle. But David is not the only one who sends. God sends, and God says, “David, where are you?”
In this first point, I’ve been asking the question, how did this happen? God wants us to see that when we despise the Word of the Lord—when we minimize sin, when we believe that forbidden fruit will make us happy and that God is holding out on us—when we do all of that, God wants us to see that we are not doing something novel or strange. We are doing what has always been done. All sin is a reliving of Genesis 3. That’s true for David, and it’s true for us. It’s true in Charlottesville.
Now, just a pastoral word here this morning. I don’t know why you are here. Maybe you’re always here or maybe you’ve never been here. Regardless, I believe God wants to speak to you. He wants to confront you in your sin and brokenness, and he doesn’t want to leave you in it. He has something better for you.
There is another parallel with Genesis that I didn’t point out. And that’s that when God comes looking for us, what follows is a heavy conversation. It was for Adam. “Adam, where are you? You’re not going to die, but, Adam, know this:
Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17b–19)
That’s a heavy conversation.
And what does David hear? “David, you’re not going to die. But your child will. And your house will be in constant war. And your wives will suffer in the sunlight what you did with another man’s wife in secret.” That’s a heavy conversation. And as you read the rest of 2 Samuel, these things happen. The child dies later in chapter 12, and later in the book his wives are loved by another man on perhaps the very rooftop where David first saw Bathsheba (16:20–22).
All this brings me to the second point: where is the justice of God?
2. Where is the justice of God?
Bathsheba has been raped. Uriah (and others) have been killed. The child dies, David’s wives will be taken by another man, and the sword will plague David’s dynasty. David hears all this. And it’s heavy and tragic and terrible. But look at what he also hears in v. 13,
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
That’s good news, David! It’s good news of great joy! It’s grace and mercy!
But let’s ask the harder question rather than avoiding it because by asking it I think we’ll see the gospel more brightly. Where is the justice of God? Where is the justice of God in letting others die when David doesn’t, not immediately anyway? Where is the justice of God when a child dies, when Uriah dies, when other soldiers die, and yet David lives? Where is the justice of God when Adam’s sin plunges our world into thorns and thistles? Where is the justice of God? It’s at the cross. Look at what Paul says in Romans 3:24b–26.
[Salvation is a gift through faith in] Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The gospel is not merely about you and me becoming right with God. The cross is about God showing that he treats sin so seriously that when his own Son bore sin, God the Father crushed him. That’s the meaning of the word propitiation. It’s a sacrifice that absorbs wrath. A propitiation is a sponge that soaks up wrath. God is saying that in the past, he was saving up the full punishment for sins so that one day he could put the full punishment on Jesus. Adam didn’t die immediately. David didn’t die immediately. And more importantly, they have been spared eternal justice for their sins, not because God was forever to overlook their sin as though he didn’t care, but because he would one day deal with it. God can give you grace because he gave Jesus wrath.
I said at the start that we need to understand why the Bible is so honest about our humanity, about our brokenness. One reason is so that when we see our sin at its blackest (whether raging lust or ragin racism), when we see that our lives are full of sin, we know God can send for us and still love us because of the gospel. It’s a heavy conversation, but he can bring a change in us.
3. What do we do now?
Let me ask our final question: What do we do now? Perhaps lots could be said. Let me just focus on the two human characters in the first half of chapter 12: David and Nathan.
First, some things to think about with David. God goes looking for him. That should be an encouragement to us. Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of God disciplining those he loves (esp. Hebrews 12). God loves David enough to make him face his sin. Perhaps some of you haven’t faced your own repetitive and grievous sin. This morning God is inviting you to deal with it. To do it in the light of the gospel. If you have minimized your sin as David had done—“do not let this matter displease you” he says; “it’s no big deal”—or if you think you’ve gotten away with it and no one cares anymore—this morning God wants your attention. We only get one line from David, and it’s brief. In v. 13 we read, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”
It’s just one line. But seed of repentance grows. In Psalm 51, which we recited last week, we have a confession to God that has been a model for believers throughout the ages for how to confess our sin to God in a way that takes our sin seriously.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
51:1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
The psalm goes on. Maybe some of you need to do that. You need to get a journal and write to God your own Psalm 51. Write a blog post that you never share with anyone except God.
Those are some things to learn from David. What can we learn from Nathan? When God sends for David, he sends a thoughtful, gospel-centered, poet-preacher to confront him. Think of the artistry involved. The story about the lamb and the rich man and the poor man. Your friends and your family and this church and our culture need more Nathans. Women and men who can craft a discernible message in such a way that people are forced to see their sin, but not only their sin, but in the process to be drawn to God. Is there someone God might be asking you to confront? If so, how much time did you think Nathan spent getting his heart and mind ready before the Lord? How much time did he spend crafting the message so that it would hook deep in David’s heart?
We can call Nathan courageous, and he was. But if we pressed into his courage further, I think we would find that what was behind it was that he knew he had God’s favor, and he didn’t need the king’s favor. He didn’t need David to be his buddy. He didn’t need to be a prophet who was a “yes-man” to the king. He knew he had the favor of the King of kings. And the key to being Nathans in our day is not looking at our self to sum up courage, but looking to God in the gospel: we are loved sinners who can gently, thoughtfully, creatively wake up the world to the beauty of God.
One of my favorite songs of all time is by Dustin Kensrue. It’s called, “It’s Not Enough.”1 In his haunting and raspy and throaty voice, Kensure sings about having all the abundance in the world and it not being enough for us, that is if we don’t have God. Look at some of his lyrics.
Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete
Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
There are more lyrics, but you see it don’t you. The author is both David and Nathan at the same time. He’s saying that all the world’s joys are not enough to satisfy our deepest thirst, which is just what Genesis 3 and 2 Samuel 11 teach. But he’s doing so in a way that poetic and powerful and flings us on to God and the gospel.