“Power”

August 16, 2015
Jonathan Rumburg
II Samuel 11:1-15

“Power”

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Introduction

In the wake of the success of faith-based movies like “God Is Not Dead” and “Heaven is for Real”, along with the popularity of Bible-based films such as “Noah”, “Son of God” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, Hollywood has announced the development of a movie based on the life of David.

The Warner Brothers film is to be an adaptation of “David: The Divided Heart”, a book by David Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Wolpe’s book is said to be“a fascinating portrait of an exceptional human being who, despite his many flaws, was truly beloved by God.”

There’s no telling if moviegoers will flock to theaters to see David brought to life on the big screen, but who knows—his story does contain elements that are Hollywood gold.

For instance…

It’s a rags-to-riches tale of the youngest, almost forgotten, son who is plucked from the obscurity of tending his father’s sheep only to be the next king of Israel.

It is literally the original David vs. Goliath.

There are battle scenes to be staged with swords and shields.  There are elements of strategy, intrigue and even betrayal.

Add to that, more than a warrior David is a poet, musician and songwriter, who soothes previous King Saul with his music between battles.

And not to mention there are elements of a best friend/buddy-movie in David’s relationship with Saul’s son, Jonathan.

Casting for this movie tentatively titled “King David” should be fun because the Bible tells us David was “ruddy and handsome,” which are just more Hollywood gold.

The hot part though, the really golden Hollywood gold, comes from today’s Scripture lesson, and will no doubt be one of the scenes in the advertising trailer, because nothing sells quite like sex.

Even those who know little of the Bible are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba.

*******

          While this story has all the earmarks for a blockbuster hit, it is not a story of forbidden love, but rather it is a cautionary tale about the abuse of power.  And it’s that part of David’s story that I fear Hollywood, and even us, will miss.

Move 1

The author of 2 Samuel sets the scene for today’s passage with a glimpse into David’s mindset at this period in his life.

He does not tell us about David’s home life, his family or even his reputation as a remarkable public servant.

Instead, the story opens, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.  But David remained at Jerusalem.”

Similar to how we might say summer is “baseball season” or “beach season”, David and his people have come to view spring as “war season.”

Battles have become so common; it seems that every spring David is sending “all of Israel” out to fight someone, somewhere.

This is actually a result of the Israelites themselves who begged for a king that would do such acts, so they could be like every other nation.

And despite the warnings God gave, that’s what they got.

Samuel shared with them the words of God about what a king would do, which included “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots” (1 Samuel 8:11).

Eventually, the people see that God and Samuel were right, and realize having this kind of king isn’t all it was cracked up to be.  But now it’s too late.  David, it seems, has fully transformed from shepherd and servant to a king like all the others.  And to further illustrate this point, we are shown his “relationship” with Bathsheba.

Move 2

Make no mistake about it; this thing between David and Bathsheba is not a Nicholas Sparks romance novel.  There’s no instant chemistry or love at first sight—rather this is about a man of privilege taking an advantage— because he can.

David sees Bathsheba.  Filled with lust and drunk with power, David sends for her so that he can have sex with her.

*******

          Now it has been suggested that Bathsheba was complicit in this.  That she went up on the roof knowing David was watching—that this was some kind of seduction.

Let me just point out that there is absolutely no evidence of that in the biblical text.  Quite the opposite is true.  Bathsheba is taken against her will.

When David sends his servant “to get” her, the Hebrew word is actually better translated “to take” her.

Bathsheba, a woman married to a foreigner, certainly did not have the power in that ancient culture to refuse the advances of the king.

*******

          When David is done with her, she returns to her home, and that appears to be that.

Until, however, Bathsheba utters the only three words she says in the entire story, “I am pregnant.”

Now, David has a problem, and his solution is a cover-up that quickly spirals out of control.

*******

          Abusing his power again, David calls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, home from battle.

David hopes they will spend a night together, alleviating suspicion when Bathsheba has a child nine months later.

What David doesn’t count on, though, is that Uriah is far more loyal and moral than the king of Israel.

Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home while his platoon is out on the battlefield.

*******

          After another failed attempt to cover up his deed—which was getting Uriah drunk in hopes that his morals and inhibitions would lessen— David abuses his power one more time, giving orders that are certain to have Uriah killed in battle.

If we continued reading a few verses beyond our text, we would learn that Uriah is killed by the Ammonites… just as David planned.

*******

          David doesn’t do this because he’s in love; he does it because he’s in trouble.  This cover-up culminates a murder.

David goes through all of these maneuvers so that he can hide his sin and maintain his power.

*******

          David, the former shepherd, is now King David.

He sends his people into battles he doesn’t deem important to attend himself.

He uses Bathsheba for his pleasure and sends her away when he is through.

Eventually, he uses his commanders to put Uriah in a vulnerable position that not only gets Uriah killed, but other soldiers as well.

The affair of David and Bathsheba may be romanticized by Hollywood, but it’s actually the story of one who has allowed his status to affect his judgment.

David has lost sight of the value of other people, and sees them, instead, as means to his ends.  He has come to view people as objects, and disposable ones at that.

His behavior and abuse of power is deplorable on so many levels.  Fifty shades of David, you might say.

Move 3

While we may never be a king, president or head of state, we still must pay attention to this story.

If David, who elsewhere is described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), can become so enamored with his power as to use people to serve his own ends, so can we.

Some of us have power at the office.  We have been given the responsibility of supervising coworkers.  Therefore we can choose to lead, assist and coach them to be the best they can be for the company, or we can simply see their work as a way of making us look good when the quarterly reports are due.

As parents and family we’ve been given a leadership role in the lives of our children.  God has given us the responsibility to grow them into adulthood.  But do we, instead, see their successes as our own?

Are we pressuring them to succeed, not for their own benefit, but so that we can brag to the neighbors about our honor student, athlete or musician?

Youth and children, who often feel at the bottom of the family hierarchy of power, are people who need to learn how to use their power as well.

Big brothers, big sisters, older cousin—whoever the younger ones look up to—must choose whether to build others up, or to use them for their personal goals.

The same is true of our positions in the church, our role in the PTA, our power as a member of our homeowners’ association, as a person posting to social media—We need to use the power granted us to grow others, not to use them toward our own benefit.

That’s what happened to David.  He started as a shepherd, leading people in the same loving way he watched over the sheep.  But then, at some point, the power and privilege went to his head, and the shepherd king sent his people to wars he didn’t care about, abused a woman for his own pleasure, and condemned a man to death to cover-up his sins.

Contrast this to the vision of Jesus we read of in Philippians, where the apostle Paul, writing to a church bickering over who is right and probably suffering through power struggles, encourages these early Christians to think differently about their power.

He writes, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Paul then goes on to describe how Jesus viewed his power.

“Who, though he was in the form of God, imbued with far more power than any of us will ever have access, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself …  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).

Conclusion

The story of David and Bathsheba will probably be quite steamy on the silver screen.  But at its heart is a story about the abuse of power, a temptation all of us face.

May we not get so enamored with our power that we see only our personal benefit and shirk the great responsibility we have for those whom we lead.

May we not abuse our power as King David.

Instead may we seek to build up one another as young David the shepherd, and Jesus the great shepherd, did.  Amen.

 

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.