Yesterday the Sunday School syllabus I use for my little class covered the story of David and Bathsheba--one of those tricky Bible stories which can give Sunday School teachers headaches when they're preparing the lesson.
I had other qualms about the story, however--ones that had nothing to do with explaining the matter-of-fact Biblical phrase 'slept with', or why the bathing beauty was so aptly named Bathsheba, or what was the logic behind Old Testament bathrooms. ('But how come they bathed on the ROOF??' I'm supposed to research on that so next week I can produce a satisfactory answer for children who, like me, have grown up in the lofty heights of apartment blocks.)
We had been studying David's life, meandering through 1 and 2 Samuel with an accompanying finger in the Psalms, and so far the lessons had been clear, simple, and helpful. We discussed Saul's fatal decline, especially his initial slide into pride, jealousy, and self-reliance. We looked at David's youth--he wasn't much older than them when he was called in one day from his everyday chores, and his life changed forever in a splash of anointing oil. His trust in God, even when he was an outlaw running for his life, even when he was wronged. We talked about similar situations in our own lives and our natural reactions, our ongoing need for grace and help beyond ourselves; and I had the honour of hearing many touching or funny little insights, generously and honestly shared the way only children can.
All along, David had come through as a hero, an encouragement and an example of what a close and personal relationship with God was like, from youth to maturity, though adversity and prosperity. And I was happy, because--with Nehemiah making a close second--wasn't David my favourite Bible character?
Kids--David, the charming shepherd boy, the Goliath-episode hero, the brave and generous Robin Hood we were cheering for, was an adulterer and murderer.
I've often wondered. Every time I come across this passage--every time the preceding line 'A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba' jerks a remembrance that my favourite Psalm 51 emerged from this ugliness.
Of all the characters in the Bible, I have always imagined David as the one most emotionally in tune with God, if that's the best way to express it. After all, he was the 'man after God's own heart.' His passion and sensitivity and conviction ring resoundingly in the Psalms. Why this ugliness? Why did God let someone He loved so much, someone who loved Him so much, so fall away in a moment of weakness into lust and murder and inexcusable abuse of power? Didn't God realize what a terrible witness David's sin was, not just to his court and people, but centuries on--to scoffing cynics, to Christians who uncomfortably skip over those chapters, to kids who think of David as the Good Guy Giant Killer?
He knew. Of course He knew.
The ugliness of David's sins, all the uglier for being the one great blot on his otherwise golden name, established him firmly in the Bible for all time as what he was: a sinner.
All the gloss, all the pedestals, all the distancing, ruined by the one word Bathsheba.
David was handsome, smart, godly, brave. He killed giants and led armies. He was a skilled leader with a born genius for relating to people, balanced by principles and a rock-firm reliance on God. He was a king. He had the Holy Spirit. He was even a great musician. Basically it looked like David had everything he needed to be a Biblical role model and an overall winner at that.
But then along comes 2 Samuel 12 and busts all those misconceptions and distractions out of the window.
That is where the similarity begins, and we can start to see that the differences aren't half so impossibly unattainable as they seem.
David was a sinner, whom God changed and used. A sinner, whose talents God developed and blessed, so that each one became one facet of a powerfully influential and useful man, whose life and thoughts remain significant today, and whose relationship with God continues to inspire and encourage others.
But at heart, a sinner who desperately needed grace and forgiveness.
we need grace and forgiveness in our brokenness and ugliness.
We have talents, but they are nothing until we see them as what they are, and use them as they were meant.
We are as much--or as less--Biblical role model material, brilliant achiever material, or 'man-after-God's-own-heart' material, as David.
We aren't that different at all.
The same two basic components are in us all: man's sin, God's grace.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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