The opening words of the reading from 2 Samuel today reminded me of a saying I once heard that “In the spring of the year a young man’s heart turns to love, or to what the young lady’s been thinking about all year round.” Actually, “in the spring of the year” isn’t what the Hebrew text says. The meaning is “at the turning of the year”, when kings went to battle. That David is taking his afternoon nap, while his generals are out on the battle-line is, in itself, a telling fact in the story. Sauntering about on his roof, David, now in his young manhood, must’ve cast a virile figure because even as a young sheepherder the Scripture writer in 1 Samuel 16 couldn’t help but noting: “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Makes you wonder if the writer wasn’t a woman! At any rate, David can’t help but notice below in the courtyard of an adjacent villa the beautiful and probably naked body of a woman, who is bathing there, in fact, ritually purifying herself, the Scripture says, after her period. David dispatches an underling to get a profile on the woman who turns out to be Bathsheba, wife of one of his top 37 warriors, Uriah the Hittite, and granddaughter of his royal counselor, Ahithopel. David wastes no time: the Scripture notes that “he sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.” A very human situation. Husband is off at war. Woman is lonely. A studly king summons her, simply because he can. She doesn’t or can’t resist. And the rest is history.
Time passes, and Bathsheba sends the “oh-oh” message to David that she’s pregnant. No question who the father is.
As political figures in our recent experience, caught up in sexual scandals, have done, thinking they’re invincible, so too David plays “the fool”, in the words of Psalm 14, for that is really what sin is: the folly of selfishness. He figures he can spin the truth of the situation so as to veil his culpability. In a very unusual gesture he summons Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, direct from the battlefield on the pretext of seeing how Commander Joab and the army were faring. Uriah, undoubtedly, thought he was being tested for some reason. David suggests that Uriah kick back, go down home, and “wash your feet”: a familiar Jewish euphemism for having sexual intercourse with his wife. Uriah, military man that he was, resists even the king’s suggestion and sleeps on David’s doorstep with all the servants, because disciplined soldiers abstained from that sort of thing while on duty. David is informed the next day and questions Uriah who protests his loyalty to the king and to God: “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the [other soldiers] are camping in the open field...As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” So, David moves to Plan B and invites Uriah to dinner the next evening and gets him drunk so that surely now he’ll go down and sleep with his wife. But no luck: Uriah again beds down on the porch with the servants.
David is now desperate, and taking his foolishness to the next extreme -- which is really what sin is -- he writes an order for Joab, having the gall to send it by Uriah’s own hand, since he certainly trusted Uriah’s complete loyalty by now, instructing Joab to put Uriah on the frontline in the thick of combat, and then to draw back so that Uriah will most certainly be killed. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’...all are corrupt and commit abominable acts...every one has proved faithless...[they] eat up my people like bread and do not call upon the Lord...” David has, in a sense, eaten up Bathsheba, then Uriah, “like bread”. David isn’t filled with the bread, that is, the wisdom of God, but with his own self-seeking power. Today’s reading ends here, but there’s much more to the story.
“16As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 19and he instructed the messenger, ‘When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, 20then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, “Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal?* Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.” ’