A sermon on this text might be entitled, “The Dream Ends, The Nightmare Begins.” This text is the Continental Divide of David’s life and of the history of the monarchy in Israel. Up to this story, everything gets better and better for David, as he climbs (or, more accurately, is lifted by God’s grace) from shepherd boy to King, uniting Israel, conquering enemies, establishing Jerusalem as capital city, building a palace, and receiving a divine promise of an everlasting dynasty in his house. After this story, it’s all downhill as his family falls apart in shocking ways and he has to run for his life and Israel is divided and finally dragged off into exile, leaving Jerusalem and the temple in ruins. This story is the tipping point where the dream ends and the nightmare begins.
It all happened because of one lazy day and one lustful look. Up to this point, David has proven to be every bit the king Israel had been looking for back in I Samuel 8. He not only led the armies of Israel to mighty victories, but as II Samuel 8:15 puts it, “David reigned over Israel, doing what was right and just for all his people.” Until here and now. What David did here could have been torn from the headlines of our day which tell stories about politicians and priests, teachers and tyrants, soldiers and civilians who prove themselves to be moral monsters. In fifteen verses this great king who always did what was “right and just for all his people” breaks 5 of the 10 commandments.
The wonder is that this story found its way into the Bible at all, given Israel’s vested interest in David’s life and legacy. The writer of the Chronicles leaves it out entirely, perhaps in an effort to cover it up. Apparently, the final writer/editor of Samuel thinks that another coverup is a very bad idea, having seen how that worked out for David. Perhaps, he thinks, there are very important lessons to be learned from this disastrous chapter in David’s life. Indeed, there are at least 4 lessons that everyone needs to learn if we are going to keep the dream from becoming a nightmare.
First, not doing the work you been called to do can be a recipe for disaster. This lesson probably isn’t the reason this story is in the Bible, but this whole story flows from David’s dereliction of duty. Before this, David had always led his armies into battle; that’s what kings did in the ancient world and what Israel expected their king to do (cf. I Samuel 8:10). But here, as other kings were going off to war, David sends his armies off to battle Ammon. He remained in Jerusalem.
We aren’t told the cause of his staying at home, but we do know the result. As he gets up from a very unroyal afternoon nap, he wanders around the roof of his cedar palace and spots a beautiful woman taking a bath. That led to coveting and lust and adultery and lying and murder, and the nightmare. “An idle mind is the devil’s playground,” goes the old proverb. Because he was not doing his God given duty, David ended up ruining his life and the life of his family and the history of his people. Again, that’s not the message of this story, but it’s a key part of the story.
Second, sin can have a cascading effect if we don’t deal with it properly in the first place. Note how one sin was followed by another and then another, until a disaster happens. Dereliction of duty is followed by lust and coveting, and that is followed by adultery, and that is followed by deceiving and lying, and that is followed by murder. Then the skein of sin seems to run out, and David gets away with it. Uzziah is properly buried and grieved for, Bathsheba is taken into David’s house and bears him a son, and no one is the wiser. David gets away with his cascade of sin. Except for one thing. “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord (27).”
Now there will be another cascade– of consequences. Your sin will find you out. You will reap what you sow. The wages of sin is death. The Bible is very clear on this. It may seem that people get away with their sin, but they never do, because there is a God in heaven who sees and knows and cares and is displeased. When sin is covered up instead of confessed, there will be consequences. As the next chapter will tell us, David does eventually confess his sin, but it’s too late by then. Sin has consequences, even when it is forgiven. So be careful that you don’t get swept away in the ever-increasing avalanche of sin that follows sin. Again, that’s not the message of this story, but it’s a key part of the story.
Third, sin can ruin the life of even a person whom God has chosen and blessed beyond his wildest dreams. That was David—chosen by God, a man after God’s own heart, Israel’s greatest king, the one from whose loins would eventually come the greatest Son of David, the Son of God. God has blessed him and had promised to bless his house forever. But God allowed his blessed one to do a damnable thing and that unleashed a virus that nearly ruined the blessing.
Over the course of my ministry, I have encountered this sort of thing countless times. One man in particular stands out. He was contemplating a particular sin; he told me about it. When I warned him not to go ahead, he said, and I quote, “It will be OK. I’ll just do it, confess it, and I’ll be forgiven. It will be fine because of God’s grace in Jesus.” And he did it. And it wasn’t fine. His life was deeply affected in a negative way.
Being a child of God, a Christian, someone on whom God has showered his love does not inoculate us against the virus unleashed by sin upon sin. Again, that’s not the message of this story, but the story surely illustrates it. So, don’t presume on the grace of God and commit sin so that “grace may abound (Romans 6).” You might pay dearly for your presumption.
But, fourth (thank God there’s a fourth), even when sin wreaks its havoc in the life of a child of God, God does not forsake the ruined sinner. Yes, sin has natural consequences, but grace is greater than sin. In the end, grace will win, and the sinner will be saved. God’s promise to David in II Samuel 7 is unconditional. David will always have a son upon the throne. Yes, if someone in that promised line sins, God will chastise that person with the rod of men (II Sam 7:14), even if that person is David himself. But God will keep his promise that the kingdom of David’s son will never end.
So, David was saved in the end, as strongly suggested in his penitential Psalms (32 and 51) and in the way he is mentioned in the rest of Scripture. From David came the Savior of all sinners who finally repent and turn to God. The promise of God to David is the overall context of this entire sordid tale; this sinful episode is part of that larger salvation epic. The promise of a son/Son overwhelms the depravity of the father. That’s finally what the story is about—the overwhelming grace of God that can cover even the foulest sin.
Indeed, David’s confession in Psalm 32 (that when he covered his sin, it caused innumerable sorrows and pain) is countered by the Good News of I John 1 and 2. After urging the free and full confession of sin and sins, the writer speaks of “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One… the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world (2:1,2).” The word “atoning sacrifice” is the word “expiation,” which means the “covering sacrifice,” the sacrifice that covers up our sins in God’s sight. When we don’t cover up our sins, God covers them in the blood of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
This story shows us that sin wreaks havoc, but the rest of the story shows us that grace brings healing and help. In Romans 5 Paul compares the Original Sin of Adam to the Original Righteousness of Jesus. Here’s his magnificent conclusion: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Even when it seems that sin has plunged us into an endless nightmare, the grace of God in Christ wakens us to a dream we can’t even imagine.
[Director’s Note: This sermon commentary is Rev. Stan Mast’s final one here on the Center for Excellence in Preaching website as he has decided to step away from this work for new opportunities. Stan has faithfully been contributing commentary articles for the past nearly ten years covering Psalms, Old Testament, and Epistle passages. We thank Stan for his service and for the hundreds of wonderful sermons his words have inspired over these past years. And we wish him God’s blessings in his ongoing ministry, starting with an interim pastorate this Fall. Beginning the first of August, we will welcome the Rev. Chelsey Harmon to the CEP website writing team when she takes over writing the Gospel sermon commentaries each week.]
I’ve used the image of the Continental Divide to characterize this story. Another image came to me as I pondered it. Perhaps it will help you show, rather than tell. It’s the image of a race and it originated with Paul’s scorching words to the Galatians, who have strayed from his Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. In Galatians 5:7, he fairly screams, “you were running a good race. Who has cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
When Saul and Jonathan died in battle, David composed a funeral song commemorating them. The theme/title was, “How the mighty are fallen!” That now describes the sweet singer of Israel himself. And it describes those who “star” in the scandalous headlines we read every day. That’s what happens whenever the mighty “despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes (II Samuel 12:9).” Pick your President, your pastor, your parents, your childhood hero! The pages of our lives are strewn with the mighty who have fallen because of their own sin. Only the mighty grace of God can lift the fallen.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 25, 2021
2 Samuel 11:1-15 Commentary