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Injustice and Fairness
Winter Quarter: Justice, Law, History
Unit 3: Justice and Adversity
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 6, 2022
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: II Samuel 12
Key Scripture (NIV):
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” II Samuel 12:7a.
- To learn the truth our sins indeed find us out.
- To understand the consequences of guilt and rationalization.
- To embrace the importance of honest confession.
- To embrace the hope that no chaos of our making can separate us from God’s love and redemption.
The books of Samuel are very “pro-David.” David is a central figure in the books. The events leading to David’s reign and the reign itself are both covered. One of the beautiful facets of Samuel is its refusal to hide David’s frail humanity. Though David is a man “after God’s heart,” he is a man with feet of clay. The Bible is unique in content to other religious writings. The heroic figures of the Bible are often broken, suffering, mistaken, and at times self-serving. We can relate to them! Though we read more of Paul’s writing and influence in the New Testament, most members of the church will most likely attest to identifying more with Peter than Paul. Peter is a compulsive man, compulsively making promises he intends to keep, but fails to do so. We can understand his need for attention and to be somebody in the world. Peter often sounds like us!
David is most likely the character to which we most relate in the Old Testament. He was a warrior/poet/shepherd. He was a fierce competitor and a gentle shepherd. He could face down Goliath and run in fear from Saul’s arrows. So often in a text, “David is us, and we are David.”
In our lesson, David reaps what he sows. The author of II Samuel understood David’s loss of a child as the consequence of his sinful behavior. In the Old Testament, actions always have consequences. And, there is always someone behind those actions. The author is not saying God killed the child. However, he does believe that when a man or woman engages in sin, they set forth a destructive course of action. In our text, the author believes David’s sin with Bathsheba led to the death of their child. Though it is often difficult to understand the Old Testament writers from where we currently stand in life, we do know that destructive choices eventually lead to destructive ends.
There indeed exists a spiritual law in our moral universe. When one plants seeds of goodness, righteousness, justice and love, they will most likely experience those attributes in their daily life. Goodness, righteousness, justice and love will all return, for we reap what we sow. I use the phrase, “most likely,” because other people, or life itself, can inflict pain or cause disruption and interruption. Just because I am a respectful man does not always mean I will be respected. However, I will experience far more respect than if I was disrespectful.
It is interesting to consider the opposite of the above paragraph. When a person lives a self-serving life, treating others with disrespect and derision, they will almost always experience those destructive behaviors in their life. However, remember, there can be an “interruption or disruption” in their life. If they open themselves to God and goodness, their course can be altered. Just as human sin and mistake can alter what we receive from life, God’s grace and love can alter a destructive course toward goodness. Thus, living a godly life means we live “awakened” to God in life. We live more aware of Jesus’ presence and the vibrancy of life about us. Even though others and life itself may inflict pain and adversity, we will continue to experience God’s goodness. Living a godly life also means I can be used of God to lovingly and respectfully interrupt the course of one on a path of destruction. We are both recipients of God’s grace and expressions of that grace in the world.
David’s sin with Bathsheba was the beginning of a downward spiritual spiral. His affair resulted in a child. Desiring to hide his sin, he made a serious, self-serving decision. His decision resulted in the indirect murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Though David did not hold the sword, he was responsible for his death. Nathan the prophet confronts David in our lesson’s text. Nathan lived in an era when prophets were still revered and feared. Nathan, to David, was the voice of God. David realized his guilt and began to accept it. When the child passed, David could no longer avoid his personal responsibility for his own life and actions. As a man with a large, breakable heart, David was overtaken by sorrow. He suffered horrific depression. It even seemed as though God had forsaken him.
For our lesson, we will examine the narrative in the following manner: 1. We will examine the confrontation between David and Nathan; 2. We will explore David’s response to Nathan’s message; 3. We will examine the future consequences of this encounter.
The Confrontation between David and Nathan
I know few, if any, who enjoy confrontation. I can only imagine the difficulty of Nathan’s task. He is called to confront the most popular king in Israelite history. David has amassed tremendous power. His name is both revered and feared. However, being a man of faith, David understood there was someone greater than himself. He always seemed to be aware that he stands where he stands in life because of God’s grace. He was definitely a man with a meaningful prayer life. Therefore, he will allow Nathan, God’s prophet, to address him.
It is helpful to examine this confrontation of David by seeing the moment through both of their eyes. Nathan was a prophet. A prophet was called of God to observe the Israelite nation and its relationship to covenant and the Mosaic Law. A prophet raised his voice in warning when he observed clear violation of the Law. Though prophets were not so much “future-tellers,” they did have a spiritual sense of where sinful behavior was headed. Thus, the prophet would often state clearly the judgement that was yet to come upon Israel without a change of course.
Kings were not only politically powerful in Israel, they were also spiritually powerful. The people believed God had chosen and anointed their king. Often the king’s voice was interpreted as “God’s voice.” However, in this case, the king’s voice is his own, fearful, guilty voice. Though called to prophesy, Nathan most likely feared delivering this message as much as we would. He had to wonder, “How is David going to respond?” “Will he seethe in anger that Nathan, a mere man, dared confront a king?”
Have you ever confronted another over what you believed were destructive choices? How did you feel about doing it? What was the result of the confrontation? Would you do it again, do it differently, or vow never to do it again? What process do we spiritually and emotionally go through to determine whether or not we should say something? How much emphasis should be placed on “how” we say it? How can we be certain our concern for their behavior is legitimate and not a result of a personal difficulty we have with the person?
When Nathan approached David, the king was almost certainly already struggling with guilt. We know from his psalms that David could feel guilt keenly. Guilt may be one of the major emotions we identify in David. However, prior to Uriah being killed, David most likely downplayed his affair with Bathsheba. After all, kings had many wives and concubines. Was what he did with Bathsheba that bad? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” David had taken another man’s wife
for his own pleasure!
Making matters worse, Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was one of David’s most trusted soldiers. This man risked his life for David and the Israelite Kingdom. When David brings him in from the field so he could lay with Bathsheba, thus giving David an out from the pregnancy, Uriah refused to lay with her. He refused the comfort of a bed, the pleasure of his wife, and even entrance into nice quarters from the open field. Why? Because his men were still in the field! Uriah cared more for those under him than did David. That lesson could not have escaped David. David is using and manipulating everyone for his own purposes and benefit. Uriah refused to belittle those under him. In other words, he would not do to another what David was doing to him.
Since the plan for Uriah to lie with Bathsheba failed, David ordered Uriah placed on the line where death was almost certain. Upon Uriah’s death, David could then claim he died in honor, in battle, and after honoring his general, David could take Bathsheba for himself. After all, she would be a widow. That was the plan.
We don’t know exactly where David morally stood as the internal struggle in his conscience raged. He knew and felt his guilt. We do not know how far David had traveled down the road of rationalization. It is in the midst of this inner battle that God’s prophet, Nathan, enters David’s life.
Nathan chooses to confront David with an allegorical parable. David is engaged with the story, for he impulsively responds in anger when the parable ends. The allegory proved powerful. It moved David emotionally as his anger stirred. Once David allowed the emotional and spiritual door of his heart opened, it was only that natural David’s feeling of rage would burst through the door. At the same time, the truth of his actions and the accompanying feeling of guilt rushed into that same heart. David became vulnerable. Nathan’s choice of the story was inspired. A story can engage us quickly. We can identify with the characters and events. Our emotions stir. Then, the message of the story drives home its point. Nathan’s story left David open and exposed. It is when we are open and vulnerable that we can experience the grace of God most powerfully.
Can you recall a story, or sermon that powerfully engaged your conscience? What was it that made the story relevant for you? Can you remember the emotions stirring within you? Can you recall hearing truth? Can you recall an emotional release and/or a new realization as you engaged the story? Has a story or word from someone ever left you feeling vulnerable? How? What was your response?
David allowed Nathan to speak, for he did possess a healthy fear of God. Though David’s behavior was at times ungodly, David’s desire to live in harmony with God never abandoned him. When Nathan appeared, David was investing his energy in denying and scheming. Had Nathan decided to forgo the parable and confront David directly, he most likely would have failed. After engaging in an affair, scheming to hide a pregnancy, failing, and participating in murder, David would have developed a strong sense of rationalization just to live with himself. He would most likely not be open to another judging him!
Use of the allegorical story by Nathan captured David’s ear and drew him emotionally and spiritually into the story. David feels anger that one man in the narrative would take from another man, a good man at that! David senses injustice in the story. “It isn’t fair!” he most likely thought. The story took David to an emotional and spiritual place where he recognized the horrible spectacle of one man abusing another. Thus, when Nathan said, “You are the man!” it would have initially shocked the king and then pierced David’s heart and conscience like the sharpest sword. What could David say as his own feelings and words trapped him?
At that moment, the suppressed guilt of David burst through the dam of rationalization. David now had no defenses against the truth. He didn’t just “feel guilty,” he was guilty! God reminded David through Nathan that every good gift in David’s life had come from God. Whereas God had been kind and gracious, David had been abusive, neglectful, and destructive. The light became too bright for David. The king could only surrender and be his honest self! “I have sinned against God.”
Can you recall a moment or moments when you attempted to rationalize your guilty behavior? How did you attempt to do so? What was the effect of such rationalization? What was it that kept you from honestly owning the sin from the beginning? How could things have proven different if you had chosen honesty and confession? What instrument was used to break through the rationalization? What emotions were released when you finally confessed and owned responsibility? What did you learn from such a struggle? About yourself? About God? Can you share the importance of confession within the Body of Christ?
David’s Response to Nathan’s Message
As stated above, David responded to Nathan with honesty. Confession is one of the great healing disciplines in Christianity. We need to speak our sins to God, in word or silently, to more deeply understand our responsibility for our actions. We can speak them to one another to heal relationships. Read James 5:19.
David realizes he had not just sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. He has sinned against God! As he powerfully prays in Psalm 51, “Against thee only have I sinned.” Hurting others through our actions sets forth a course of pain and adversity. Sinning against God affects our relationship with God. This is the one relationship that affects every other relationship in our life. When out of sorts with God, we are out of sorts with the world.
David had two choices. He could have resisted and rejected Nathan’s message. As he attempted to rationalize his own sins, David could have attempted to discredit Nathan. Had David made such a choice he would have remained in his sin. A war would continue in his conscience. God forbid, had the rationalization continued, the heart would grow colder and harder. However, David chose honest confession. He was an emotionally and spiritually wounded man; as cited previously, a vulnerable man. As a wounded soldier, David would have felt a depletion of energy, a loss of insight and focus. As one fighting his own conscience and the will of God, David knew the fight was over; surrender was the only choice.
Many of us can relate to David. How often have we wrestled with God like Jacob? Read Gen. 32:22 forward. How often have we limped through life after fighting with God and our conscience? Thankfully, many of us can relate to his moment of redemption. In that moment for David, truth was too bright and overpowered our rationalizations. Hopefully, most of us reached a similar point of surrender.
When I share the story of my call, I always state that I “did not give my life to God.” Using that phrase made me feel like one day I, out of the blue, chose to follow Jesus. God’s prevenient grace was drawing me through past experiences, people, events and prayers. There came a moment when my call to ministry was too clear, too bright, too consuming. I gave up. I surrendered. David surrendered to God’s overpowering grace and truth as expressed through Nathan.
Can you share a time of “wrestling” with God? How did you realize you were arguing or debating God? Can you share the major issue with which you were confronted? If you “surrendered,” what transpired to make this surrender possible? Who can you identify as being used by God to draw you toward Himself and truth? What events were used? Can you share your experience following the surrender? Why do you think we wrestle for a lengthy period in contrast to surrendering early?
The Future Consequences of the Encounter
We might think once David had confessed, the travail would prove over. However, though David is rid of his guilt through confession, he cannot stop the chain of events his behavior created. Sins are forgiven, yet, consequences most often remain. Nathan informed David that the king was forgiven and would “not die.” Yet, Nathan added a single statement that let David know the consequences of the king’s sin remained. Experiencing the consequences may place us in adversity. However, we rarely leave such adversity the same. The consequences of our sins and mistakes serve as our moral teacher throughout life. If the consequences were removed we would learn little.
Nathan shook David to the core when he prophesied David and Bathsheba’s son would die. It is at this point that we struggle with the text. In Old Testament thinking, the death of the child was the consequence of David’s and Bathsheba’s sin. “Living on this side of Jesus,” it is difficult to believe the death was a punishment from God. However, our behaviors create negative and destructive courses through life. We do not know whether the intense stress upon Bathsheba proved a major factor in the child dying. Let us not forget her feelings. We never know how much power Bathsheba had to refuse a king. We do not initially know whether or not she loved David. Whatever the circumstances, she is trapped in a tornado of emotion. She is with child that is not Uriah’s. Uriah her husband is killed. She becomes one of David’s wives. She experienced major and rapid change, as well as feeling powerless to stop the issues and events unfolding. Is it unreasonable to believe the child within her was possibly affected?
Though we do not know how the death of the child was related to David’s sin with Bathsheba, a destructive course was set in motion. Nathan clearly believed the road David and Bathsheba walked would lead to the death of their child. More powerfully, David and Bathsheba would have believed it as well.
Where were the two to travel from that moment forward? Shall they crawl away into the shadows of life, hiding in shame and sorrow? No. The two actually moved forward in life, as far more grateful people. David would continue as the beloved king “after God’s own heart.” Bathsheba’s and David’s son, Solomon, would become one of the greatest kings in Israelite history. The reign of Solomon was known as the “Golden Age” of Israel. The nation constructed the temple and grew in boundary and wealth. Thus, out of the chaos David and Bathsheba created, God created a redemptive future. From the line of David would come Messiah.
This narrative is a story of hope. We can often feel like we created damage beyond repair. The story of Nathan and David calls us to accept God’s forgiveness, to learn from the consequence, and follow God into the future. After all, our story from God continues. From the beginning in Genesis, the human story is one of creating chaos from God’s blessing. Yet, the story never ends until God has moved into the chaos and brought forth new life.
Can you look backward in life and recognize God’s intervention in your chaos? Did you ever feel hopeless as a result of your own choices? Did you feel God could not possibly use you again? What does this narrative say to you? Can you find hope in the story? Can you find hope in your own story?
Almighty God, we confess much of the chaos in our life is of our making. We have abused your gifts and we have suffered from our hubris. Forgive us, we pray. Teach us the lessons from our adversity, and let those lessons become wisdom. Empower us to be honest with each other, with ourselves, and especially with you, O God. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org