Sermon

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Tragic Flaw

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2 Samuel 11:1-15

Tragic Flaw

Dr. Mickey Anders

For the past several months, I have been doing battle with a pesky spider at our side door. At first, the spider insisted on building a web right across the entrance of the door. Every time I stepped out to go get the newspaper, I ran smack into the spider’s web. All the way to the mailbox, I would wipe my face and head trying to get it off.

The next day, the same thing happened. But finally, the spider gave up on that doorway. I think he decided it was no use. We used that door way too often for it to become an effective spider web.

But then the spider moved to the garage door. I disturbed the web less, but still too much. At least once a week, I found myself wiping my face and head to get the sticky spider web off.

At long last, the spider gave up on that location too. But he merely moved to the space between the garage and the handrail to the side door. This was an especially determined spider. But finally, I think he has given up and gone someplace else.

The image of a spider’s web is an appropriate one for this sermon on David’s famous sin. For David, one sin led to a web of deceit and sin, and it created a web of impact that lasted for generations in his family.

Some have observed that these sermons on David are really “teaching sermons,” and I think that is accurate. And today’s is really a two-part sermon for next week we will deal with the confrontation of David by the prophet Nathan, and David’s famous repentance in Psalm 51.

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But today we deal with the tragic flaw of David. In Greek literature, it seems their favorite kind of literature were the tragedies in which the hero often had a tragic flaw, usually hubris or pride. The Greek tragedies were one of the most popular forms of literature back then.

Aristotle was one of the first to describe the tragic flaw in the character o;f the protagonist of a tragedy which brings the protagonist to ruin or sorrow. It was often a king or other leader who was highly successful in almost every way, but there was something about them that was their tragic flaw that would lead to their downfall.

I find it interesting that people enjoy watching such tragedies. I think there may be several reasons why we enjoy them. Sometimes we enjoy watching tragic figures because we can learn from them. That is certainly the reason this kind of story is in the Bible.

Quite frankly, this is an embarrassing story. It is not the kind of story that I want to deal with on a Sunday morning in polite company. We don’t even walk to talk about some of the things that are told in this story.

But I think some people enjoy tragedies for the wrong reason. Sometimes they enjoy the destruction of others. I distinctly remember a time back in Arkansas when the governor was indicted. One lady I knew said with glee, “I’m glad! I hope they send him to prison forever!” I was shocked by such an attitude about the tragedy of another person. Sometimes I think we enjoy watching someone else fail. But that is not the reason this story is in the Bible.

This story is here that we might see ourselves in David, and see the same kind of tendencies in us. We should not enjoy this story, but we should learn from it.

But I find it interesting that the Bible has such a tragic story, especially about someone so well-respected as King David. But here this story is told with an unflinching presentation, making no excuses and holding none of the sordid details back. David, in the space of fifteen verses, breaks at least three of the Ten Commandments in a cold and calculated fashion: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; you shall not commit adultery; and you shall not murder.

The Bible makes no attempt to put a spin on David’s sin. There are no excuses given. Surely this story is told so that we might see ourselves and learn from David’s mistake.

The passage begins with an introductory verse that places David at home while his army lays siege to Rabbah. Verse one says, “It happened, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.”

This is a story set in the context of the violence of war. I suppose we should not be surprised to find a story of sexual violence in such a setting.

But what is David doing at home? His army was out laying siege, while David lounges at home. Perhaps David has lost interest in leading armies to battle. They said that David “had killed his tens of thousands,” so maybe he is weary of warfare. Or some have suggested that he is too valuable as king to go on such campaigns.

But I suspect that David was waiting for the final breakthrough of the city. Sieges like this could take months and even years to break down the defenses of the city. During all that time, there really wasn’t much to do. Perhaps the soldiers were digging trenches, building ladders, or even preparing a battering ram. But there was plenty of time for the king to go home and wait in luxury for the final push.

But David proves the old saying, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.” As David paces on the rooftop, he spies a beautiful woman at her bath. Verse 2 describes it this way, “It happened at evening, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful to look on.”

At this point, David had not sinned. But then he decided to put his foot on a slippery slope. He gets entangled in this spider web. Verse 3 says, “David sent and inquired after the woman. One said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'”

I think it is a very important part of this story that David did not know who this woman was. He had no previous relationship with her. There were no genuine emotions that he had toward her. He did not love her or care for her or what she might think about him. But he did have power. He was the king.

Back in 1 Samuel 8, we find the story of Israel demanding a king. The prophet Samuel warned against the power of kings. He said, “This will be the way of the king who shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them to him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen…, and he will assign some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest…. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive groves…. He will take your male servants, and your female servants, and your best young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.”

Notice the word repeated again and again, “He will take.” Now David decides to take Bathsheba. Verse 4 says, ” David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in to him, and he lay with her…. And she returned to her house.”

The scholars argue with the translation of the New Revised Version here. Where the NRSV says, “David sent messengers to get her,” they suggest a more accurate translation is, “David sent messengers to take her.”

This act of adultery is described in too few words. There is no mention of the motivations, emotions, or feelings.

The question that comes to mind is, “What about Bathsheba?” There were two people involved in this episode. Why is that Bathsheba is never held responsible for this action? The Bible very clearly places all of the moral responsibility on David.

This has not prevented people through the ages from speculating about Bathsheba. Some have said she was a flirt or that she had seduced David. Why would this be suggested if not to excuse David’s behavior?

In Joseph Heller’s novel on David, he has Bathsheba say, “I made up my mind to meet you. A king and all that too – who could resist? So I began bathing on my roof every evening to attract you.” These are attempts to excuse the behavior by saying, “She asked for it.”

In a 1985 film, King David, we find another suggested justification. Bathsheba reveals to a shocked David that Uriah is an abusive husband, thus giving David a noble motive for the act of murder and the rescue of an abused woman (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II).

But look at the text! The Bible will have none of that. The Bible does not involve this woman at all in the decision for this action. This is not a love story. This is not a relationship. David has to ask this woman’s name, and in a few minutes the deed is done.

I may shock you here, but this was not just adultery. This is very clearly a rape. It was abuse of the power of the king. In these circumstances, Bathsheba had no choice in the matter. This was coercion, plain and simple. There was no way on earth she could refuse the king, and David was not the kind of man who would take “No” for an answer. David exercised the power of his position to satisfy his lust for a strange and beautiful woman.

The Bible makes clear that Bathsheba did not bear responsibility for this action. Only David is held accountable. Read the Bible and you can come to no other conclusion.

In fact, it almost appears that she is a non-person. She is identified primarily by her ties to father and husband. In fact, she is not again called by her own name, Bathsheba, until after the death of the child she conceives with David. She is called only “the wife of Uriah” or “the woman.” The moral responsibility lies clearly on David.

But this story of royal lust is suddenly complicated in verse 5, “The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am with child’.” These words propel the story into a new and tragic dimension.

In response to Bathsheba’s words, David launches a cover-up. David intends to get Uriah to sleep with his wife so that he might appear to be the child’s father. Verse 6 says, “David sent to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah had come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet’.”

David’s euphemism “wash your feet” was very clear to Uriah. He knew that David wanted him to go down to his wife and have relations with her. But Uriah’s sense of solidarity with those facing hardship in battle precluded his being able to enjoy even a night’s respite with his wife.

As in many ancient cultures, sexual intercourse rendered a person ritually impure in ancient Israel, and David’s warriors also refrained from contact with women while on military campaigns.

The next day, David learns that Uriah did not go to his house. In verse 10, “David said to Uriah, ‘Haven’t you come from a journey? Why didn’t you go down to your house?’ Uriah said to David, ‘The ark, Israel, and Judah, are staying in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field. Shall I then go into my house to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing!'”

Faced with Uriah’s integrity, David attempts to undermine Uriah’s resolve through a drunken palace feast. “When David had called Uriah, he ate and drank before him; and he made him drunk. At evening, (Uriah) went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but didn’t go down to his house.”

We cannot help but notice the contrast between David, the stay-at-home husband, and Uriah, the man of real integrity, who has been away fighting the king’s battles, and even now, will not betray his comrades in arms.

In desperation, David determines to murder Uriah in battle, where the murder will be disguised as a battle casualty. It is chilling how easily the cover up plan shifts to a murder plot. In bitter irony, Uriah must carry the cruel order for his own death.

Verse 14 says, “In the morning, …David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. He wrote in the letter, saying, ‘Send Uriah to the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck, and die.'”

In fourteen verses, the story is told. We now know the facts, and it will not be until next week’s text that we find Nathan confronting David and his genuine repentance. And it is there that we will see the long-term consequences in his family.

But we can learn some brief lessons from this telling of the story. First, we see the slippery slope of sin. Or perhaps we should look at it as a spider web. When he was caught in one part of the web, the more he twisted and turned, the more entangled he became.

This story began with a look, then a longer look, then lust, then adultery and rape, then deception and cover-up, and finally in murder. At any point, David could have stopped this story and lessoned the damage done. But no, he slid all the way to murder.

Perhaps David fell into the trap of wondering how his actions could be so wrong if they felt so right. He was king. It was what he wanted to do. He felt this was a manageable episode. And it all might have been not much of a story until things got out of his control. He could not control Bathsheba’s pregnancy even though he was king. And it turned out that he could not control Uriah’s behavior even though he was king. Matters were out of his control and spiraled into worse and worse sins.

Which brings up the gateway problem of sin. David’s lust turned into adultery, which turned into deceit, which turned into murder. He spiraled steadily downward until he finally hit rock-bottom. This incident starts a tragic path for the family of David that will include episodes of rape, murder, and rebellion.

David is a famous king with a tragic flaw. His story is told with great frankness in the Bible and not sugar-coated as a warning to all of us. We must beware. There but for the grace of God, go we.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2006, Dr. Mickey Anders. Used by permission.