Power

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10; 13-15 New International Version (NIV)

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.

I was in a meeting with my friend Dave yesterday. Dave is the athletic director at a local Christian college and he recently attended the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) annual meeting. One thing that they do every year is they take a break from business meetings and all the athletic directors go to a local golf course and play a round. Dave isn’t much of a golfer, but he is an easy-going fellow, so he does his best, but he is mostly there to have fun.

This makes Dave’s golf outing all the more interesting. He said that he stepped up to the 169 yard tee with a six iron in his hand, like he has done a few times before. He swung his club, and one of the guys golfing with him said, “It hit the green, and then I saw it disappear.”

Dave assumed that the ball had rolled off the back side of the green, but when he got there, he looked in the hole, and there was his ball. Because Dave is such a novice at golf, he didn’t really know what to do. Some people will take the flag from the hole as a souvenir. Others will at least keep their ball to remember the occasion, maybe even have it bronzed. Not Dave. He walked to the next hole and played the same ball.

He hit it into the woods on the very next stroke.

Being the humble guy that Dave is, he told us that after the hole-in-one, he hit an 8 on the next hole. We assured him that an average of 4.5 strokes-per-hole isn’t too bad.

Dave went from really good to really bad really quickly. But today we are talking about a different Dave, King David.

When you think about King David, I am sure that a number of phrases and titles come to mind. He was the king of the united kingdom of Israel, and a lowly shepherd boy. He was a great musician, and a dear friend to Saul’s son Jonathan. David was a great warrior, Saul had killed his thousands, but David had killed his tens of thousands.

We can come up with many different ways to describe David based on the biblical text. But my favorite is that David was called a man after God’s own heart. But what does that even mean? First of all, this isn’t an ordinal notation, as appropriate as that would be. To say that David has a heart after God’s own isn’t to suggest that there is God’s heart, and then later we find David’s, much, much later. When we read that David was a man after God’s own heart, this is a statement suggesting that there is something about God that is reflected in the heart of David.

This is actually good news to me. This is good news because when I read the books of Kings and Samuel, I see a very flawed man. David was a doubter, we was fearful, he sometimes broke the Torah. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Kind of like Dave the athletic director, King David can go from really good to really bad really quickly. But when we get to the New Testament, the apostle Paul calls David a man after God’s own heart.

This is good news, because maybe there is still hope for me. After all, I may be flawed, but I’ve never got another man’s wife pregnant and then had that man killed. If David can be called a man after God’s own heart, perhaps I can as well.

What I hope to look at today is the abuse of power on King David’s part. And know that this is not something that just took place in David’s day. We need to ask how people in power today abuse that power, and what did Jesus teach us to do as an alternative.

The text leading up to our scripture for today tells the story well. We are told that David is walking around on the roof of his house one hot evening. This was a normal thing to do in Israel. They had flat rooves and when the temperature outside began to cool off, it was normal to head outside. Other places in the Bible we read about people sleeping outside on their rooves, because it would cool off outside faster than it would inside.

Because David was the king, he had the biggest house. And when you have the biggest house, you can look down and see other people on the roof of their own house. David just happens to see a woman named Bathsheba on her roof, and she was not well dressed. She was bathing, she was naked. David is attracted to her, he sends for her, and they have an adulterous relationship. Bathsheba is married.

Now many people will want to point a finger at Bathsheba and criticize her for seducing the king. We can ask if she knew that David was watching her. Did she know that he often took a walk on the roof at 8:00 pm each night and she just happened to plan her bath for that exact time? And why didn’t she just say “no” when David sent for her. She was married, and she knew it!

I’m sure that Bathsheba was not without error or without blame in the entire situation. But notice that when you read the text, the author always points toward David as the perpetrator. Bathsheba is never blamed for bathing at the wrong place at the wrong time or anything like that.

A few weeks go by, and Bathsheba tells David that their little affair has resulted in her being a little pregnant. David tries to trick Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, into sleeping with his own wife so that he will think that the baby is his own. But when Uriah does not do the deed, David has Uriah moved to the frontline of the battle so that he is killed.

That’s one way to deal with the problem.

Our text for this morning picks up with Bathsheba mourning the loss of her husband for the customary period of time and then marrying David. It is only after David marries her that she gives birth to their son. So the entire drama takes place in a period of nine months.

David used his power to sleep with Bathsheba, tried to cover it up, had Uriah killed, and now he was taking Bathsheba as his own wife. We can assume that if David was some random leather tanner or carpenter that Bathsheba would have resisted, that Uriah would have lived another day, and maybe even had children of his own. But David saw something that he wanted, and he took it.

Now I want you to imaging that you are reading just our text for this morning and you are reading it for the first time. What is the name of the woman? We know from earlier in the book that her name is Bathsheba, but how is she referred to in this section of scripture? Four times she is called “the wife of Uriah,” or “Uriah’s wife.” I’m enough of a feminist that I want to say, “Hey, stop defining her as Uriah’s wife. She isn’t his property. She has a name, fool!” But in those days, she would have been considered Uriah’s property and the point here is to show that David took her. Even in these last few verses of chapter 11, which Walter Brueggemann calls her “royal wedding announcement,” Bathsheba is called the wife of Uriah. And when you get to the book of Matthew, where we read all of the “begats” in the genealogy of Jesus, you will read the names of other women. Tamar, Rahab, and Mary are all named by Matthew. But Bathsheba is still simply called the wife of Uriah.

I think the award for most obvious statement in the Bible has to be given to the narrator of our story for today when he writes in verse 27, “The thing David had done displeased the Lord.”

Ya think?

Our society glorifies power. A lot of people go through mid-life crises. Some people buy fast cars and fancy clothes, I just listen to the music that was cool when I was in high school. I tend to listen a lot to the music that was considered pop music in the 90’s. I didn’t like it then, but I’m listening to a lot of Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 these days. One thing that I’ve noticed is that 90’s rap music focused a lot on money and power. How many people know the words to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise?” There’s a bridge in that song, “Power and the money/ money and the power/ Minute after minute/ hour after hour.” Every song seems to have some reference to power. Power of one man over another man. Power of one group over another group. Power of a man over his woman or women. And when the artist refers to the woman/women, they are often referred to with a derogatory term. Men are often referred to with this same word. I’m the big, bad, powerful person, and you are just my bi*#^.

David had made both Uriah and Bathsheba his bi*#^.

So how do you confront power like this? David has already shown that he will have someone killed if he has to. So I imagine that even though the people in his kingdom are becoming more and more aware of what David has done, there aren’t too many people lining up at his door to call him out on it.

There is, however, one. His name is Nathan, and he is said to be a prophet. Prophets are people that speak on behalf of God and they usually have some sort of judgment to pronounce. Their job is to tell the people that they have sinned, that they have abused widows, orphans, and the poor, or that they have worshipped false gods. So pointing out David’s abuse of power is a part of Nathan’s job description.

We also know from earlier parts of the David story that he and Nathan had previous encounters with each other. They had a relationship. What I don’t know and can say for sure is whether or not their previous relationship made this confrontation easier or harder. Sometimes it is a lot easier to point out the faults of complete strangers than it is to your closest friends.

Notice how Nathan points out David’s abuse of power. He doesn’t just walk into his office one day and start laying into David with the accusations. If he had, Nathan may have ended up the same way a lot of prophets ended up. Dead. Instead, Nathan tells David a story about a rich man who had everything he wanted, including a herd of cows and sheep. In the same town, there also lived a poor man, who had nothing of value to his name. All he had was a single lamb. He loved that lamb as if it were a member of his family. The poor man fed the sheep from the table, let it drink from his personal cup, and even held it in his arms while it slept. It’s a weird scenario, but you get the idea. This was more than just a farm animal to the poor man. It was family.

One day the rich man had a visitor, and it was customary to provide a meal for a traveler. However, rather than slaughtering one of his own sheep or cows, the rich man took the family member/sheep from the poor man and served it for Sunday brunch.

I can’t say for sure if David thought that this event really happened or if he understood it to be a metaphor. But he responds by saying in chapter 12, verses 5-6, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Nathan’s famous response, “You are the man!”

And at that, David has Nathan drug out to the center of the city and stoned to death, right? No, David repents. That strange little story about the poor man and his sheep connects with David and he realizes that he was in the wrong. Maybe it is because David knows what it is like to be a poor shepherd boy. Regardless, David is able to connect on some level or another and rather than getting defensive or trying to silence Nathan, he admits his guilt.

Again, we turn to Brueggemann: “[This] is not simply a story of sexual lust, though it is that. It is about mistaken, wrongly assumed moral autonomy… The story articulates and addresses the main moral issue for any culture, ancient or contemporary, which imagines itself so free, so secular, so mature, so technological that it may do whatever it wants.”

It isn’t difficult to find stories of power and abuse among leaders throughout history. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have fathered multiple children with his slaves, which is a sad but obvious abuse of power over other human beings. Some power abuses are less obvious, but when you see people at different levels of power involved in inappropriate relationships, I feel like that is an abuse of power. So when President Clinton has a relationship with an intern, it isn’t just a sex scandal, it is also an abuse of power.

Abuses of power aren’t always about sex. Nixon used his power to try to cover up a break in at the Watergate Hotel. Others have abused their power by waging war against weaker nations.

Unfortunately, our churches aren’t immune from the abuse of power. In the last number of years, John Howard Yoder, a prominent Mennonite theologian, has been in the news for his sexual practices where he was known to have inappropriate relationships with his students. When someone is able to pass or fail you and they ask you for sexual favors, that is an abuse of power. And more recently, Luke Hartman, the former dean of enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University, has been accused of having inappropriate relationships with college-aged women half his age.

But power can be used for good, too. We just don’t often hear about it. As always, let’s let Jesus be our guide. Jesus, God in human flesh, was a strange mixture of power and weakness. He could heal people and defy the laws of nature by walking on water and turning water into wine, so that’s pretty powerful. Obviously, he was a sharp fellow, able to hold his own against the Pharisees and religious leaders in a battle of the wits. That’s powerful. But how did he use his power? He used it to serve others.

Abraham Lincoln used his power as the President of the United States to free the slaves. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the United States have each donated close to 30 billion dollars over their lifetimes.

Yet, you don’t have to be the president of the United States or own a major business to do good and to use power well. I read this week about a man named Justin Miller, a regular guy living in California, who is a fitness instructor. Justin lost a cousin and a close family friend to suicide last year. Both men happened to be organ donors and their deaths saved the lives of eight other people, each. Justin is using his influence as a fitness instructor to tell people about organ donation. And how about Tiphani Montgomery from Raleigh, NC. Tiphani is using her own life experiences and the power she has to influence teenage mothers, teaching them about financial management, parenting, and self-care. Her goal is to raise $54,000 because that is how much she needs to teach 1,000 individual, single, teenage mothers how to be better parents.

We all have the ability to go from being really good to being really bad really quickly. Whether that is on the golf course or in our personal ethics. And that change can be even more obvious when we are in positions of power.

But remember, power can be used for good, my friends! And it doesn’t have to be big to have a big impact. And if we want to be men and women after God’s own heart, we must use the power we have been given to do good for God’s kingdom.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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