August 5th: “The Poor Man’s Lamb”

Modern hearers have become inured to stories of sexual abuse and misuse of power. As recently as fifty years ago, such stories would have been carefully hidden and ignored. Yet, this failure of God’s chosen King of Israel, is preserved with rage and remorse.

This Week’s Passage: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday August 5th in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

11:27 — Bathsheba has become nameless property.

12:1 — Given the way prophets were/are received, Nathan needed to speak carefully.

2-4 — When might we have experienced this as the poor man and when as the rich man? Did David appreciate the poor man’s perspective from when Saul sent the love of his life from him?

5-7 — The danger of righteous anger.

8-9 — Why indeed did David lust when he had so much already? When do we lust beyond our gates?

10-12 — Oh that the LORD would always execute judgment mightily against the evil!

13a — The right sacrifice is a broken and contrite heart.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The story begins at verse 11:1 when David remained at home while other kings went into battle, opening himself to temptation, continues through his getting Bathsheba pregnant, attempting to cause Uriah to think the child she bore was his, and endangering Uriah the Hittite in battle.
  • The story concludes with David’s fasting when the child becomes ill, the child’s death, David and Bathsheba conceiving a second son, which the LORD loved, and ends with David going to battle with his soldiers. Thus the death of Bathsheba’s first son atones for David’s guilt foreshadowing Christ death atoning for our guilt.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Psalm 51 records David’s lament for the rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

2 Samuel 7 shows that Nathan was a respected prophet in David’s court.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Parable used to explain a great misdeed.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

David heard Nathan’s parable oblivious to its fiction, despite the way it is introduced. David was not left wallowing in guilt and remorse for the punishment that will be exacted, but was called to repentance and ultimately is restored through Bathsheba’s second son, Solomon.

Nathan becomes merely the mouthpiece of the LORD. But where was Nathan when David’s sin was unfolding?

The poor man under represents Uriah who was a foreign mercenary. He is powerless to stop the rich man.

Bathsheba was treated as property, the lamb stolen from the poor man of the parable or perhaps the poor man from whom Uriah was stolen. From what we see of her later, she may have been more active than the text shows in preventing Uriah from lying with her to hide her pregnancy by David.

The rich man recognizes his duty to feed a traveler, but is loath to sacrifice one of his sheep. Perhaps he had a complicated breeding program that he was loath to upset. Thus showing that David’s self-deception had been so complete that he had failed to recognize himself in this parable.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: By stepping aside from our usual perspective we can clearly see our misdeeds.
  • Emotional Center: “You are that man.”
  • Music: “Lord, When I Came Into This Life”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • David’s internal conflict over his taking Bathsheba becomes exposed.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Modern hearers have become inured to stories of sexual abuse and misuse of power. As recently as fifty years ago, such stories would have been carefully hidden and ignored. Yet, this failure of God’s chosen King of Israel, is preserved with rage and remorse.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Bruce C. Birch (“The First and Second Books of Samuel,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1998.) contrasts David’s sending to take Bathsheba with the LORD sending Nathan to speak. He hypothesizes that Nathan’s prophecy was added to explain how the Davidic line could continue given David’s sin and Absolom’s rebellion which were probably well known. He attributes David’s anger in response to the parable to the rich man’s lack of compassion. Medieval Synagogue texts left a gap in this text for the reading of Psalm 51. Birch reflects: “If the church would speak prophetically as part of its ministry, then it must be willing to speak the truth in the presence of power.” The lesson of this passage “is that righteousness and sin exist side by side even within the covenant community.” Birch concludes that we are not left wallowing following recognition of our guilt, but are called to repentance.

James D. Newsome, Jr. (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Samuel / 2 Samuel. JKP, 1982.) notes that the books of the Chronicles skips over David’s failures. He notes that David did not kill nor banish Nathan.

W. Eugene March (“David and Bathsheba,” The Presbyterian Outlook. October 9, 2000.) notes that although the movies portray the affair as romantic, as described in the text, the act may be more accurately summarized as rape. March questions the fairness of Bathsheba’s son dying for David’s sin, while noting that our actions have consequences and that all of the problems in David’s family reflect David’s sins. He asks: “Do political leaders still do such wrongs? Why? What are some of the consequences in the public domain for such sin? Do such things happen in the church? What should the church do in response?”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Righteousness and sin exist side by side in the hearts of God’s chosen people.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

What grave sins do we hide and refuse to acknowledge, thinking none can see them, perhaps not even God?

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