Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: I have made you king over Israel, and I have delivered you from the hand of Saul, and I have given you the house of your master, and your maids: in your bosom, and have the house of Israel and of Judah, and if it were too little, I would have added so much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do that which is evil in his sight? You have stuck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken up his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now there the sword will never depart from your house, for you have despised me; and I will take up your wives before your eyes, and he will lie with your neighbors in the midst of your people. "David said to Nathan," I have to do this, and I will not do it. " sinned against the LORD. " "
Thus reads one of the most dramatic attacks on the imperial power that we read of in the entirety of the Bible. Nathan the Prophet is railing against the anointed king of Israel – David – in a way that would normally be considered both inappropriate and that is why the faithful king, who had up to this point was extremely unfaithful, is suitably chastened by the words of Uriah and he repents.
The larger dialogue is also quite gripping, I think, beginning, as it does, with Nathan's parable about the two farmers – one rich and one poor – where the rich guy picks the flock of the poor guy in order to feed a guest. s very clever way of getting around King David's defenses. Instead of confronting him with his crime head, Nathan tells David a story that gets him emotionally on-side before revealing that his story is, in fact, a story about him (David), where the king is the villain!
The story i s also a good example of the importance of understanding parables in context. If you do not know the story of David and Bathsheba, and how David had slept with Bathsheba and got her pregnant, and then tried to cover up her role in the pregnancy by trying to get her husband to sleep with her, all of which extremely led to the murder of the uncooperative husband who, strangely perhaps, chose to die over sleeping with his wife. If you do not know the broader story, the parable will not make much sense, and that that's true for other parables too – that we need to understand all of them in context if we're going to understand them at all.
Even so, what makes this passage so memorable is not the academic observations it yields regarding the interpretation of parables. It's the gut-wrenching nature of the confrontation between the prophet and the king, where David is forced to face squarely what he has done, and where he is given the choice of continuing to behave like an oriental despot by violently silencing his accuser or accepting responsibility for his actions and turning back to the real power behind the throne in obedience and faith.
Happily, David chooses the latter alternative. Even so, the story does not resolve into a happy ending. David will be punished but not directly. David will be punished indirectly, through the rape and degradation of his wives and through the death of his soon-to-be-born child, all of which seem extraordinarily unfair on the women and the child. Even so, there is one line in this story that has always ranked me here even more than the appropriate unjustified meted out against those who were certainly not responsible for David's transgressions, and that's the statement made by David he said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD. "(2 Samuel 12:13)
That line always bothered me from the first time I read it many, many years ago.
" I've sinned against the Lord "says David. of a understatement, and does not that miserably fail to grasp the full amount of your criminal responsibility? David might indeed have sinned against God, but he did not even sin against Bathsheba – the woman who he raped – and against Uriah – the man who has been murdered?
At the risk of offending anyone who charges to champion the powerless at this point, I want to recognize that questions may be raised about the innocence of Bathsheba in her disagreement with David, and even over the possible complicity of Uriah in his own death.
That may sound ridiculously at first, but I read a fairly good book recently – "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – removing cultural blinders to better understand the Bible" on the importance of unde rational the culture and context in which these biblical stories take place. The author (Randolph Richards) spent most of his life working as a missionary in remote parts of Indonesia, and spent some time focusing on this story of David and Bathsheba as he sees it as an archetypal example of where our failure to understand the cultural context leads us to misunderstand the narrative as a whole.
Richards suggests that the story of David and Bathsheba is not a simple tale of royal rape and murder, any more than a story of modern-day romance. There would have been no way that Bathsheba, bathing in the nude on her rooftop, would not have been aware that she could be seen clearly from the rooftop of the palace. Nor could she have been unaware of the king's presence on the rooftop, as he would have been accompanied by a sizeable entourage.
Furthermore, Bathsheba's presence in the royal bed-room would never have been a secret between the two adults (whether consenting or non-consenting). Every member of the palace staff would have been fully aware of what was going on, and it was pretty much that Uriah would have heard about what had happened long before he returned from the battlefield.
Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, would have been fully aware of what the king was playing at when he encouraged his soldier-on-leave to go home and relax with his wife. He would have known straight away that the king was giving him an opportunity to resolve a delicate situation. Uriah's refusal to play along though it makes us wonder what he was playing at. Was it really Uriah's integrity that stopped him from going along with the king's plan or was the man hoping to play the king for some more gain? Was Uriah looking for money or for some privileged position in the royal household, or was he just stupid?
By saying all this I do not mean to sanitize the behavior of David, nor suggest that he was not a rapist and a murderer. I'm just suggesting that all players in this drama are players.
Having said this, even if no one is completely innocent in this story, that does not really make anyone less guilty either. Whether we think David is guilty of rape, murder, or just property-theft as the parable suggests, there is no question that David has sinned grievously. And I do not think that the fact that he is prescribed as having sinned against God really makes his victimization of both Bathsheba and Uriah any less serious.
"I have sinned against the Lord," says David. "Against thee, and thou only, have I sinned," he says again in Psalm 51 (verse 4).
Does this mean that Bathsheba and Uriah have been forgotten in the reckoning of David's transgressions? On the contrary, what I think it means is that the violation of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah are things that God takes very personally. To violate them is to sin directly against God!
It has taken me a while to come to this understanding. Initially, when I read this passage, it seemed to me that both David and the Prophet Nathan were trivializing David's crimes against Uriah and Bathsheba by seeing the whole thing as a religious issue. I now see it the other way around – that every crime that we commit against our sisters and brothers in the human family is something that God takes very personally. Conversely, I see too that, from a biblical perspective, there is really only one sin – idolatry.
If that seems like a crazy or overly-pious thing to say, sometimes that's because you like me, have been used to dividing the world into two – distinguishing what is religious from what is secular, the spiritual from the scientific. In reality there is only one world, and every false thing we do in this world is a form of idolatry.
Moses cave us ten commands, you will remember. Jesus reduced the ten to two – the love of God and neighbor, – but it was Saint Augustine who reduced the two to one – "love and do what you want". There was wisdom, I think, in Augustine's reductionism, for it is true that you can not love God, which you can not see, and not love your brother or sister whom you can see (1 John 4:20) . In practice, one does resolve into the other.
Likewise, with idolatry – love's opposite. To worship the idols is to pursue an abusive and obsessive lifestyle, and to pursue and abusive and obsessive lifestyle is a form of idolatry.
I personally grow more and more convinced that this world is being overtaken by the worship of Molech – the ancient God of the Ammonites. This is the God cited in the Hebrew Bible, most often associated with child sacrifice.
I do not like to point fingers at other countries and other peoples, but I find it hard to escape the conclusion that the USA, simply because of its size and power, has led the way in the worship of Molech since I & 39; ve been alive. I am not an expert in these sorts of things and I'm happy to be corrected, but I have not seen any other country in the last generation that has so consistently sacrificed its children on the altar of war.
I remember listening to an excellent speaker reflecting on the election of Donald Trump at the last US Presidential elections. The speaker held up an iPhone and said "If you become CEO of Apple Corp you may change the color of these things and you might fiddle with the markets a bit but you still have to sell these things because it's "
If you're in the US, you've got to make war because your economy depends on it." you have to sell weapons and you have to use weapons, and you might decide to downscale military intervention in one part of the world, but you'll soon have to upscale it somewhere else because you can & # 39; t survive except by killing people! You have an economy based on death. If that's not the worship of Molech, I do not know what it is!
I hope my American friends are not taking too much an insult at this because I love the American people and I love the country, and I'm hoping they're going to let me back in there the next time I try to visit, though I appreciate that getting in the USA is far from automatic for me now due to the number of recent trips I've made both to Iran and Syria.
At any rate, my point is not to target one country and its people, but to recognize the minority way in which idolatry can overtake an entire culture and country, even when churches and other religious organizations are booming!
You will never see a more overtly Christian country than the USA, but this does not mean much, for it was always the way it worked for the prophets as well. When a prophet like Amos or Hosah or Jeremiah went about railing against the people of Israel and told them that they had abandoned the God of their fathers and worshiped idols, this did not mean that the people had closed their synagogues and replaced them with pagan temples with great stone statues in the middle. On the contrary, the orthodox religious system was often booming, and the Bible was being read and hymns were being sung and prayers were being said. It was God's prophecies to come along and say "This is not Yahweh, the God of your fathers, you are worshiping. This is Baal & # 39 ;!
If you know your Hebrew Bible, you're familiar with the term & quot; Baal & # 39 ;. It was a generic term, literally just meaning 'lord'. Correspondingly, it was a word that could have been applied fairly legitimately to the worship of the God of Israel, and in the prophecies of Hosea there is a fair degree of wordplay relating to God's role as "baal" ; or & # 39; lord & # 39 ;. The point is, of course, that it's not just about words and names. It has always been about the big picture.
What form of idolatry do we practice in this country? Are we as devoted to Molech as our American cousins? Perhaps not. I suspect that our devotion in this country is more focused on the regular Baals of the Canaanite pantheon.
If you've seen images of the Baals of the Ancient Near East, as dug up by archeologists, you know that they are generally depictions of bulls or other animals associated with fertility, often showing radically oversized genitals. Baal worship since it becomes associated with the divinization of sex, though the greater goal was always productivity and abundance. Worship of the Baals, in other words, was the spiritualization of the thirst for sex and money.
To see David's failure as a spiritual issue is in no way minimizing the serious nature of the crimes committed against both Uriah and Bathsheba. It is because to recognize that this story is more than a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting your sex drive get the better of you. It's an illustration of what happens when an individual and a country loses its focus.
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. is the great and first commandment "(Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22)
This is not just a rule that we are expected to work on, along with the nine that follow. This is about how we orientate our lives as individuals, and it's about how we orientate ourselves as a community and how we orientate ourselves as a country.
As we've noted many times in recent months, Australia was the first country in the world to sign up to the "Charter of Compassion" (in 2010) which extolls the central importance of compassion in our common life. When we look at the recent treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers in our country, what we see is not simply the result of poor policy-making, any more than it is the work of a small group of particularly misguided and morally – compromised politicians. It is rather symptomatic of a country that has its focus and forgotten the centrality of compassion, and has gone chasing after the Baals instead!
"Choose this day, whom ye shall serve, whether the gods of your fathers served in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell." (Joshua 24:15). These were the words of Joshua to the people of Israel, challenging them to regain their focus as a community.
This is the big question. This is always the big question facing us all, every day, as individuals and as a community and as a country – which God will we serve? Behind every sin and failure, great and small, behind every war and death in custody, this is the question.
"Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served … or the gods of the Amorites … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."