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Hypocrisy and Redemption

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Anyone who calls the Bible boring clearly hasn’t read the story of David and Bathsheba. It has the same lust, murder and intrigue we expect to find in a late-night cable TV movie. And of course, there is hypocrisy, deep, deep hypocrisy from a man who was clearly favored by God.

There are many nuances to this story, some difficult to notice if you are not familiar with the traditions of the day and the subtleties of language being used to tell it. Let me point out a few that are important to the story as we have heard it thus far:

  • King David was not where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do. We’ll come back to that later.
  • Bathsheba certainly was beholden to her king, and some people have described her as being a victim of power rape. That is possible, but as you read further into the Davidic story in 1 Kings, Bathsheba hardly comes across as a passive character. I believe she welcomed the series of events leading to the cuckolding and death of her husband Uriah, events that freed her from a foreign husband and empowered her.
  • The one honorable human early in the story was a foreigner. Uriah the Hittite remained loyal even after he likely has figured out what is going on, knowing the conspiracy between his king and his wife will lead to his death.

As the story continues, we see Uriah was not the only character aware of the king’s hypocrisy. Everyone seemed to know what the king had done: first messengers, soldiers and prophets; later, we can assume, the whole city, thanks to gossips, a swollen belly, and a little math. Again, the evidence for these facts is subtle, but present in the story.

How could one who was so loved by God and who loved God so much fall into such a sad, embarrassing state? Well, David fell into hypocrisy for a simple reason. He stopped being the person he was made to be.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of the story. In a time when kings went out to battle, David stayed home. David was supposed to be fighting a particular kind of battle, one waged against the enemies of God’s plan for the Promised Land. In what we have to remember is a story set in primitive times, David was fighting for what was holy. But at a time when he was still virile enough to pursue and impregnate women, he also had grown to prefer the luxuries of palace life, sending others out to do the hard work he once did so well himself.

In the process, he had become indolent, even lazy. I expect he would have described himself as bored. We are told he saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof after he had arisen from his couch late one afternoon. In other words, David was not only staying home from the war, he was sleeping through key parts of the day. And in the process, he had become a shadow of his former righteous self. Formerly passionate for God, he now simply chased the passions of the moment.

When in such a situation, it helps to have someone come along, someone you trust, who can say, “Look at yourself.” David had such a person in the prophet Nathan. The prophet used a story of a stolen lamb to stir David’s sense of righteousness, and then turned the story on David by revealing to the arrogant king he was the real thief and murderer.

Nathan also revealed the punishment, which was harsh, but not as harsh as the death the repentant David expected. David’s kingdom would be without peace for the rest of his life; also, the child conceived by Bathsheba would die, despite David’s prayer and fasting to convince God otherwise. Sin can have devastating effects in this life, even where there is forgiveness.

Never forget what God has called you to be. None of us are called to be kings, but the day we begin to follow God through Christ we all are called to enhance his kingdom in some way. It may be in public ways, like the preaching or teaching of God’s word; it may be in the equally challenging roles of mother and father to children of the kingdom; it may be in how you bring Christian values into your work or community. Such calls may last for a lifetime or simply for a season, but they are always there.

When you sense boredom in the midst of fulfilling your call, be careful how you choose to relieve it. God’s word and a steady prayer life are always your first, best choices when bored. They will enrich you rather than taking you places that sap you or impoverish you.

And know that if you have fallen from your calling, whatever it may be, you live in a wonderful time. Thanks to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, God’s grace is easier to access than ever. Simply make a true repentance and let God lead you back to the person you were made to be.

The repercussions of your sins may follow you, but God’s grace will bring you healing, restoration and a new joy.

Simple Act of Faith

In this Lenten season, we’ll call this “Back to Basics Day.” Let’s begin by considering exactly what Abram (later to be called Abraham) gave up when he listened to God and moved toward an unspecified land.

This initial call in Genesis 12:1-4 is written in a rather matter-of-fact tone, but the risk must have seemed huge for an aging man. He had property and people around him, including slaves, the mark of a comfortable, wealthy man. We don’t know how long Abram had been in Haran—we only know his father Terah had moved the family from far-away Ur some time earlier—but as the family had been able to grow their wealth while there, we can assume life in Haran had been good to them.

Now Abram was to pack his family and possessions and make a journey that ultimately would prove to be more than 500 miles, about the same distance as the drive from Kingsport, Tenn., to Jacksonville, Fla. Except they had no cars. For them, it was a dangerous month-long one-way trip, assuming the animals in their caravan were in good shape. A return visit to Haran or the true family homeplace, Ur, might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, perhaps when someone needed a bride of proper bloodlines.

And yet, Abram went, without question, without comment. He would have questions later, but not in this initial act of faith, this huge, trusting leap toward God.

It’s easy to get caught up in what Abram did rather than focusing on the importance of what was simply in his heart. The Apostle Paul uses Abram in the fourth chapter of Romans to illustrate that it’s the trust that saves us, not any work we do. When God sees we trust him, he goes ahead and calls us righteous, even though we don’t deserve it. Paul made clear he was talking about the God we know best through Jesus Christ, the one who made all things and then restored all things to holiness despite sin.

All we have to do is believe the God who promised all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abram ultimately walked among us as Jesus Christ, working great mysteries on the cross so we do not have to die forever. I know, I just leaped across hundreds of pages of Scripture to make that connection, but it’s the connection the Bible, Old and New Testaments, strives to make. Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of that initial, broad promise offered to Abram, a promise grand enough to set a very comfortable man and his people to packing.

So, we’re invited to a simple act of faith. But at the same time, we’re also called to remember that it’s so simple it can be confusing, particularly for the uninitiated. When we’ve turned away from God and are caught up in sin, we feel like we’re trapped in that Harry Potter hedge maze, the one where the turns and dead-ends seem endless and the roots and branches grab at us. We have to figure the maze out, right? To survive, we have to beat back what entangles us, right?

Wrong. All we really have to do is look up and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe you can pluck me out of this.”

In the third chapter of John’s gospel, we see the Pharisee Nicodemus desperately wanting to follow Jesus, but at the same time struggling in his rigid, legalistic mind with how to do so. Accept what is from above, Jesus told him. Trust God. Trust God’s love for his creation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” Jesus said. And then came the real kicker, particularly for a legalist striving to make himself righteous: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

What, God doesn’t seek to punish us first? I don’t have to clean up my act to accept God’s gift of salvation?

We have Nicodemus types around us, perhaps even among us. They want to make that first step toward God much more difficult than it is, trying to resolve personal angst and the global problem of evil in one fell swoop. Often, they expect a requirement to crawl at least halfway back toward the one they’ve offended before being accepted.

As Christians, our job is to keep simple what can be misunderstood as complicated. The God of Abraham, the God who walked among us and died for our sins, loves us. He’s been reaching down to humanity for thousands of years and continues to do so today.

Sure, once we accept God’s offer, there’s more to do. It’s only natural that we want a developing, continuing relationship with the one who gives us eternal life in place of death. We pray, we study, we joyfully respond to his simple requests, the first being, “Go and tell others.”

That initial act of accepting God’s outstretched hand remains simple, however.