1 SAMUEL 16:10-13
Today, we continue our Lenten sermon series on Messy People from the Bible. Last week we read the parable of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal and his father and older brother were part of a very messy family situation, not so unlike something we might encounter today. Two siblings at odds with each other and a parent who loves them both. Many of us saw a little bit of ourselves in each of the personalities, recognizing that there are times when we wander away like the prodigal, needing to return to God’s grace. There are times, too, when we are like the oldest son – recipients of God’s grace yet so focused on our own self-righteousness that we are unable to celebrate what that really means. Then, too, we are offered times in which we can be the one to extend grace to another and we pray to be instruments of grace whenever we are able. But most important, we learned that God is always ready to extend grace, all we have to do is receive it.
Today’s messy person has a lot to teach us about grace, and forgiveness. In David’s story, too there is a cautionary against becoming blind to our actions and situations. This week as we take a look at God’s grace at work in David’s life, we see that he is a highly important person in Scripture. So much so that the early church believed the life of David foreshadowed the life of Christ. Indeed humble Bethlehem is birthplace for both. And the Psalms, many of which are attributed to David are seen as foretelling the coming Christ. I encourage you to read his entire story which encompasses 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, and many of the songs in the Book of Psalms. Especially through the Psalms we get a look at the ups and downs he experienced, his times of joy and times of desolation, and woven through it his heart for God. It is far from a perfect story – David is often found in the wilderness, on the run from Saul and other enemies. He presents a fascinating example of what it means to be a highly imperfect person, wholly devoted to God.
The passage we read this morning depicts our first encounter with David in Scripture. This comes about because the current King, King Saul has disobeyed God. Scripture says, “The Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” That’s not good. Through Samuel’s anointing of David, we have a story that reminds us of the very unlikely people God chooses as vessels of His grace. God’s choice here is David, a young shepherd boy, an eighth son, from the teeny tiny village of Bethlehem, from a family that has no obvious pedigree. It is a surprise, really, that God would choose such a one, but here it is clearly stated, (16:12-13), “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one,” says the Lord. And the spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David from that day forward. What an unexpected thing, it leaves us wondering and scratching our heads, especially as we look at some of the things that follow. Yet, God looks upon David’s heart and sees something there that goes way beyond his outward appearance. Even as a young shepherd boy, David is described as skillful, pleasing, easy to love. As he grows he is known as a “man of valor,” prudent in speech, with a good presence, and best of all, “God is with him.”
The two passages that follow further introduce us to David. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23 he is identified as a young musician whose music soothes Saul during times when he is plagued by “an evil spirit from the Lord.” And then perhaps the most familiar tale of David slaying the giant Goliath with just a few stones and a sling. The story gets a little more complicated from there. David becomes best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan, Saul sends David out on his behalf and everything David does is successful. Rather than being happy about this, Saul becomes jealous. He devises some plots to try to kill David. David becomes a fugitive, hiding in caves in the wilderness. Behind the scenes, David’s friendship with Jonathan continues and Jonathan tries to intercede on David’s behalf. Saul continues to rage and tries to kill David – you know, the usual messy tale. Things continue to get messier until finally Saul and his son Jonathan are killed in battle. David mourns them and is soon after anointed King over Judah and eventually king over all Israel. He is about 30 years old at the time and he reigns for 40 years.
Even as accomplished as David is, he is a flawed human being who makes mistakes, as we all are and do. David’s pride leads him to do things he knows in his heart he should not. He is blinded to things in his life that are hurtful and harmful and against God.
A few years ago, Febreze came out with a series of commercials that I have never forgotten. One of them depicts a woman and her pet happily driving along in their car. The voice over says, “you get used to pet odors in your car. You think it smells fine, but your passengers smell this.” And then you see the car transformed into a huge shaggy dog with its tongue sticking out. Another depicts a teenager’s room covered in stinky socks, the third commercial shows a family eating dinner off a dumpster full of trash in their kitchen while flies buzz around them. Each of these commercials suggests that the participants have smelled their yucky smells so long that they have become blind to them, they no longer smell it – they are “nose blind” the commercial says. How can that happen, we ask? We become used to it. Another example is living with clutter. We get used to that, too. I did a little cleanup in my office this week and realized that over a period of time, so many things had accumulated from various projects and activities that I couldn’t even see the top of my desk. It happens! Things gradually creep up on us, getting worse and worse and eventually we do not notice (or maybe don’t want to notice). Similar to going nose blind – I think there are times when we are heart blind. What do I mean by that? I mean there is a kind of blindness that leads us into sin – we become used to it.
Habits and actions creep into our lives that, at first, we recognize as being wrong. But as they linger and even grow, they become familiar and we notice them less. Sin is often like that – it starts as something small and over time that little sin becomes our new normal, then we increase it a little and that becomes our new normal, and then yet again. At that point we have established a new normal and we do not want to hear what anyone else has to say about it. Today, as we look at the life of David, we see this is one of the challenges he faces along the way and it leads to some severe consequences for him. His pride perhaps, his sense that he has done much for the Lord, so he deserves whatever he takes, his human desires, whatever it may be, it leads him to a horrible place in his life.
When we mess up there are consequences. If we break the law, we may go to jail. If we hurt a friend, we may lose a friendship, if we do drugs our bodies will suffer. God’s grace is always there for us, we are always able to receive God’s forgiveness, but the natural consequences for our actions do not go away. That is equally and more so true for David. David does receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, but he also suffers the very real consequences of his mistakes. And his mistakes are in scripture for us to see for all time!
In the spring of one year, David sends his troops out to battle, but he remains in Jerusalem. David became restless. 2 Samuel 11:2 tells us: “It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house – he saw a woman.” From there many, many things go wrong. David, uses his kingly authority to send for this very beautiful, but very married woman – Bathsheba, and he has sex with her. He commits adultery with her and sends her home. Soon she sends word back to David, “I am pregnant.” David then devises a plan to make it seem as though her husband got her pregnant, believing that then all will be well and things can go back to normal. Her husband, Uriah, just happens to be in David’s army and he is away fighting David’s battles during all of this. David calls him back, confers with him then sends him home to spend a little cuddle time with his wife, Bathsheba. The next day, however, David finds that Uriah did not spend the night with his wife, but instead bunked with the other troops. He explains to David, basically – as long as the rest of the soldiers have to sleep in tents, so will he. So that doesn’t work. The next logical step is what? Admit your mistake, try to speak to the husband, confess, I don’t know – but David comes up with a plan that is much more sinister, one that causes Uriah to unknowingly betray himself to death. Let me just read you this little passage from 2 Samuel 11:14-17 (MSG) “In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab (that is the head of David’s army) and sent it with Uriah. In the letter he wrote, ‘Put Uriah in the front lines where the fighting is the fiercest. Then pull back and leave him exposed so that he’s sure to be killed.’ So Joab, holding the city under siege, put Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce enemy fighters. When the city’s defenders came out to fight Joab, some of David’s soldiers were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.”
And so, Uriah is dead as surely as if David killed the man himself. After a period of mourning, David marries Bathsheba. That could have been the end, but instead God uses the prophet Nathan to convict David of his wrongdoing – which David is unable to see for himself. (You can read about this in 2 Samuel 11 and 12). Nathan opens David’s eyes to all he has done. Once he is no longer blinded, he can scarcely believe it himself. He confesses and repents. He receives God’s forgiveness and in spite of all that he has done, God continues to use him and he continues to trust in God.
David does not allow his mistakes, sins, or shortcomings to separate him forever from God. He does not say I am unredeemable. He does something that most of us find extremely difficult. He repents. When the prophet Nathan helps him to see what he has truly done, he admits to God. David has been heart blind, not noticing how far away from God he has wandered. Psalm 51 is said to be the Psalm that David writes after Nathan’s visit. It is read nearly every Ash Wednesday in churches around the world. It is the essence of Lent. This powerful Psalm written thousands of years ago, still today reminds us to bring all our messiness to God. David does not allow his mistakes to hold the final power over his life and even better news is that God does not either. He forgives David. Even in all of his messiness, God sees the sincerity of his heart.
I wonder if we could, during this Lent, do something similar. Could we use this time to ask God to reveal those things which we have become blind to – heart blind? Could we search our lives for things hat are keeping us from a full relationship with God? Then can we say along with David, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love…wash me thoroughly and cleanse me from my sin…create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 10, 12)?