What is the Bible For?
The two predominant assumptions about the Bible in our culture are these:
- The Bible is an ancient book that possesses a lot of sometimes interesting but archaic stories reflecting the religious beliefs of people ignorant of the important truths we know through science and evolved civilization. Anyone who reads the Bible or sees it somehow as relevant for life in the 21st century is a backwards fool.
- The Bible is God’s rule book. If we follow the rules of the Bible God rewards us, gives us good things in this life and takes us to heaven when we die. If we violate God’s rules we get punished with calamity now and hell after death.
Almost everyone who believes the first would agree that at least two of the rules in the second bullet point “you shall not commit adultery” and “you shall not murder” should be rules for everyone.
No matter how much license is offered by the ever evolving sexual revolution the rule against “cheating” seems to hold. The commandment “you shall not commit adultery” in the ancient world primarily told men they ought not to sleep with another man’s wife. Today we naturally broaden that to not cheat on your own spouse.
Neither do people have a problem with the command not to murder. Taking another person’s life even in a libertarian age crosses a line that should not be crossed.
What surprises people who hold to one or the other bullet point above is that today’s story, the second most famous story of David’s stories, cuts against both points.
For those who imagine that the Bible is simply a list of rules that disqualify people from communion with God we find this man after God’s own heart breaking them consciously, getting caught, punished and then restored.
For those that imagine the stories of the Bible have nothing to do with enlightened modern life today you will find that 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is as fresh today as it was three thousand years ago when the events first took place.
“When you’re a star they’ll let you do it, you can do anything…”
When then candidate Donald Trump was caught on tape speaking the truth the world pretended it was “shocked! shocked!”
1 Samuel 11 finds King David sending for Bathsheba even though he had dozens of wives and concubines to sleep with. “when you’re the king they’ll let you do it, you can do anything…” And David did.
The details of the text are important. Bathsheba was bathing for ritual purity insuring that we the reader would know for certain that the child conceived would be David’s alone.
The Duplicity The Law Produces
The Apostle Paul has interesting things to say about what our hearts do with the law given by God. If David were a monarch in another kingdom he might have simply told Uriah “hey, too bad. Your wife if hot. I’m the king. Tough luck.”
David doesn’t do this. He engineers the cover-up.
Eugene Peterson notes that the text repeats lots of “sending”. David is king, he sends. He sends for Bathsheba. He sends for Uriah. He sends to Joab the order of death. Joab sends too and Uriah is killed. David adds murder to adultery and then he sends for Bathsheba again.
Then the Lord sends Nathan to David. No one has seen but God, but that is all that matters.
Sin Makes us All Into Satans
“Satan” means adversary or accuser. We all find sin in each other, we have a far harder time seeing it in ourselves. Our hearts are skilled at making ourselves clean and finding others guilty. This dynamic turns us all into little satans.
Nathan, however, has set a trap for David, one that will test David. Can he see his sin? Can he admit his sin? Can he confess his sin? He can see and wish to prosecute the sin of the man in Nathan’s parable but can he see himself?
David first saw Bathsheba and the possibility of possessing her as life-giving. He didn’t see it as sin. Now he has to see that the good and the sinful are all bound together in this world, like the wheat and weeds of Jesus parable and the cost of separating them will be huge.
What follows probably bothers us more than what David did. Some translations in 2 Sam 12:13 says “the LORD has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die” but that papers over things too quickly.
You have to first read verses 10 through 12. David was callous with the sword in his comments to Joab about Uriah’s death. That sword will plague his him in ways David cannot see.
Verse 13 also is more complicated. The NIV tries to get at that complexity with “taken away” and in the 2011 update adds a footnote. Others have “put away”. Another way would be to say he’s “passed over” your sin. You will not die. Someone will die for his sin in his place though, his son.
We can understand the consequences of his sin as a natural consequence. Even though we often ask God to release us from the natural consequences of our sins at least that is something we get. The idea that God chooses to take the life of his innocent child and spare David’s life seems to us, and I think to David, as terrible and unreasonable.
What follows is a poignant passage where David pleads, intercedes, asks, begs that God will save his son. This in a sense reminds of of Jesus at Gethsemane. The servants watching David are concerned that after the son dies David will take his own life. They confuse David’s grief for becoming unhinged.
David figures it out. He hasn’t become unhinged. He’s fully rational and practical. Once he knows there is no reprieve, he takes up his cross and continues on in the role God has called him to.
Mercy on the other side of Lostness
If we own our emotional reaction to God taking David’s innocent son, then perhaps we should own the less our merciful side. What would we have God do with David and Bathsheba? Out they to live out the curse of their sin?
David’s punishment will fall, as we will see later, but it seems even through the rebellion God has been moving in his plan. How can this be we ask in our shallow legalism? Surely David AND Bathsheba should be disqualified?
David and Bathsheba stay married, married in the midst of David’s harem, and the produce a son. This son is a substitute as that is one meaning of Solomon. The son, as we will see, will also be an important tool of God’s mission. This son, the son of David’s bloodshed of Uriah will be the one who will build the temple and complete much of the work that David began.
What Is the Bible? What is its story?
We began by asking about the Bible. If it’s a book about legalism then even if for some strange reason God should “pass over” David’s sin, having his newborn son pay for it, then he certainly can’t use David AND Bathsheba in his plan. But this is exactly what he does.
We might wonder about the rest of David’s wives in his harem. David had 7 wives and 6 sons when saw the count in 3:2-5. In 5:13-16 we learn that David took MORE wives and concubines and had more sons and daughters. Did God not have enough to work with in the midst of that to have a chosen son?
We hear echoes of Abraham and Sarah in this story. Not Ishmael but Isaac. Why pick Bathsheba who we might rightly note only gets to David through murder and adultery? Why have their first born son be the one to pay the price for David’s sin?
We see in all of this the repeated story of the Bible. It is the story of our rebellion, its consequences, and how God uses even our rebellion to turn the story towards the reconciliation of heaven and earth and the blessing of his broken and lost people.
Yes Uriah and the baby boy are dead. Yes this is a tragedy and a loss, something rightfully grieved, but as the story unfolds there is hope for them as there is hope for the dead and lost of this world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you believe the Bible is a meaningless nothing…
If you are skeptical about the whole deal why does the Bible upset you? Why be upset about these stories that you can’t even believe happened?
But my question is also what hope do you have? The world is filled with dead Uriahs and dead babies. What answer do you have for these? At least in David’s kingdom there was a God to not let the powerful David just sweep his adultery and murder under the rug.
If you believe the Bible is a book of rules…
The story of the Bible begins with God creating a royal garden along the lines of the kind of garden a king would have had for his own delight. The gardeners of God’s garden rebel. They want to hijack the garden and take it in their own direction. Anyone actually knowing an ancient Near Eastern potentate would know exactly what such a king would do, kill the rebel gardeners.
This king does not.
He exiles the gardeners from the garden and limits their power, but begins a long, slow, painful process not only to reclaim the garden but to redeem and restore the gardeners. The great king will share his will with the gardeners but they will be both unwilling and unable to fulfill it. He works with and through them to achieve its ends.
This is good news to those of us who struggle with his will and who rebel from his ways.
We would like to embrace Davidic exceptionalism but the fact is that we are corrupted by this world and more often than not when opportunity presents itself and we are filled with our privilege we use what God has given us as a license to take.
I ponder the boy baby who buys David’s life for him. This boy is in a sense David’s redeemer. He purchases David’s future at the cost of his life. The line can be drawn to a more distant son of David who will also purchase David’s redemption at the cost of his life.
David, upon hearing of the death of his son resumes God’s mission for him. We would like to imagine a reformation of David. Perhaps there was. We know that in the stories to come David’s failures will beset him in horrible ways. David is not finished learning about himself, his shortcomings and the rebellions implicit in himself.
David proceeds to be used by God together with Bathsheba, his sin passed over by the life of their son. Solomon will be new life. Solomon will redeem the loss and bring a new beginning.
David will continue the work that God had given him in his kingdom and that work will lead to a day and a renewal that David can’t begin to imagine.