Don’t Play with Fire
2 Samuel 11:1-15
For most of her life, a seventy-year-old cleaning woman had worked for the company. Fellow employees decided to honor her and planned a surprise party to express their appreciation. When news of the party was leaked and the woman found out about the plans, she pleaded for them not to throw the party. “That’s sweet of you,” said her boss, “but it’s not necessary for you to be so modest.”
“Modest, my foot!” she exclaimed. “I just don’t want to have to clean up all that mess!”
King David learned that sin invites us to a party and leaves us to clean up the mess it leaves in our lives. The account of David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba recorded in 2 Samuel 11 reveals three common aspects of sin to motivate us not to play with fire.
I. When You Sin, You Can Expect Public Exposure
David wanted to keep his sin a private experience. In his attempt to remain anonymous David employed others to act on his behalf. He surveyed individuals in the palace to find who the woman next door was. One person told David her name was Bathsheba (v. 3). David also sent others to bring Bathsheba to the palace.
When Bathsheba became pregnant, she sent a messenger to tell David the news. Sin can be defined as an outward expression of inward resistance or rebellion to God’s purpose. Even individual acts are known by God. David’s choice had consequences beyond his own spirituality. Bathsheba’s shame, Absalom’s and Uriah’s deaths, and preservation of the act in scripture all made a moment of private desire a public event.
II. Sin Results in Accelerated Panic
Verses 6-14 do not reflect a calm and composed response: David panicked. Immediately he sent for Uriah under false pretenses. When Uriah arrived, David tempted him with the privilege of going home to wash his feet, or rest. David also tempted him with royal advantage by catering a feast at Uriah’s house (v. 8). The pace quickened when David realized Uriah slept on the porch. Uriah was enticed to an altered state of mind through intoxication. David’s attempt was not foiled just by Uriah’s patriotism. Even intoxicated, Uriah was more pious than David.
Out of desperation the king became more aggressive. Uriah carried his own death wish as part of a well-orchestrated murder plot. David’s actions could never cover his sin. Panic only accelerated the consequences.
III. Personal Exemption: Obedience to God
Personal exemption is a third dimension of the sin event exposed by specific words throughout this text. Notice the supporting characters in this drama.
The word Bathsheba means “daughter of Sheba” or “daughter of oath.” It was David who disregarded the ritual cleansing rites. Bathsheba was so respected that as “the wife of Uriah” she is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:6.
Uriah means, “Yahweh is my light.” According to verse 11, the ark accompanied the army, implying that it was a holy war. Uriah acted with honor, and from innocence. Out of loyalty he never failed to live up to his title, the servant of David (v. 21).
When you outwardly express an inner resistance to the will of God you can expect the public exposure of your sin to result in an accelerated panic that throws life out of control. Or you can experience personal exemption from the consequences of sin by conditioning your life to obey God. (Barry J. Beames)
A Prayer for All Seasons
Is there a special prayer that has great meaning in your life? For some it might be the Lord’s Prayer. For others, the Prayer of Saint Francis has special significance. Both of these prayers are written in the first person: “Our Father, who art in heaven”; “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”
What if we’re feeling the need to pray for another person or community, but are not sure how to pray? Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Ephesians gives us a good model for such intercession, as he asks essentially three things for them: power, love, and the fullness of God.
I. We Pray for Power
Paul prays for the church to be strong (v. 16). Immediately we think of physical strength, or financial strength, or mental strength. But this prayer is for strengthening “in your inner being with power through his Spirit.” In other words, this intercession asks that the Ephesian church be strong where it really counts: deep within. As easily as we might tend to ask for other kinds of strength for another person or for a congregation, this prayer bypasses those strengths for an inner power that steadies and strengthens every other aspect of one’s life. This power—spiritual power—is the very best means of support.
II. We Pray for Love
The next phrase of Paul’s prayer asks for Christ to dwell in their hearts as they become “rooted and grounded in love” 6. 17). Notice that love is not a free-form emotion that waxes and wanes, comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Neither is it a feeling that we conjure up and tailor to our own disposition.
Love is a “groundedness,” a “rootedness,” deriving from the occupancy of Christ within the very heart. In other words, there is an objectivity about this love, having to do with the standard of self-giving set by Christ. It is Christ who is to order the heart toward love by living there; such a love should grow deeper, stronger and sturdier with time.
I remember a small Inter-Varsity booklet entitled My Heart, Christ’s Home The title speaks for itself, and in the course of the booklet various “rooms” in the person’s heart are opened up to the question of whether Christ is really welcome there. It is one thing to visit with a friend over lemonade on the front porch, and quite another to invite someone into our medicine cabinet, the family room, or the refrigerator! “May Christ dwell in your hearts,” the prayer goes, probably knowing full well how subversive and life-changing such an intercession could turn out to be.
III. We Pray for Fullness
Lastly, Paul prays for something rather peculiar. Put in other words, I would say he’s praying for the Ephesian church to be slightly overwhelmed. Here he wants them to comprehend the incomprehensible: breadth, length, height, depth, love that surpasses knowledge . . . so that “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19). It is with such a fullness that we can pray with the psalmist, “You, LORD, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands” (Ps. 16:5, GNB).
Power for faithful Christian living; hearts of love; a sense of the fullness of God in our lives. These are not things we should pray only for others; let’s ask God to make each of these things living realities in our own lives. (Paul R. Escamilla)
A Miracle of Multiplied Witness
On the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in an area where much of the ministry of Jesus occurred, there is a small church at a place called Tabgha. Built by Benedictine Fathers in 1982, this church is on the site of two earlier churches, the first built about A.D. 350 and the second about a hundred years later. The second church was destroyed in the early seventh century, and over 1,300 years passed before archaeologists excavated the site and found the remains of the two churches.
In their excavations the archaeologists found a beautiful mosaic that had formed part of the altar of the second church building. The mosaic shows a basket of loaves, with a fish on either side of the basket. Very early in the Christian community’s life, this site was apparently regarded as the place where Jesus feeding of the multitude occurred.
It is not surprising that the early Christians would have marked this particular event from the life of Jesus. This miracle story, or “sign” as John would have designated it, was very important in the early church. It is the only miracle of Jesus that is reported in all four Gospels.
After a particularly intense period of ministry, Jesus had gone off by himself. But the crowds followed him, and at the end of the day they were hungry. So Jesus had the people sit down; he took five loaves and two fish from a boy in the crowd, gave thanks to God, and distributed the food. After everyone had eaten, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of fragments. And the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, but he went off by himself.
What do you make of this experience reported by all the Gospel writers? All kinds of attempts have been made to rationalize the story: everyone who had food must have shared it; the feeding really referred to spiritual food; it was a symbolic prefiguring of Holy Communion; it was a literal miracle of multiplying food. But all these approaches seem to miss the point.
The text leaves an element of mystery in the account. It says only that the people ate what they wanted and were satisfied. It preserves the element of mystery. Halford Luccock wrote: “The story is a wonderful picture of a tremendous truth of Christian history, that Jesus does multiply above measure for human use whatever of worth is put into his hands. Whatever we give him he will enlarge for the service of human need” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, p. 743). And George Buttrick once said: “The main truth is that of alliance between man’s little and God’s abundance. Let reminder be given for our cheer that, if we do what we can in trust and consecration, God will give the increase” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, p. 432).
Is it not sufficient to say that our task as disciples is simply to do what we can in trust and consecration and leave the increase to Christ? Is it not sufficient to say that our task as disciples is to offer what we can to the causes of Christ—our efforts, energies, money, prayers, concerns, time, love—and allow Christ to take what we offer individually and make of it corporately far more that we are able?
I believe I know at least part of the reason the early Christians regarded this experience of Jesus so seriously. They had seen the attractive and expansive power of the gospel to nourish spiritual hunger and to minister to physical need. And this experience from the life of Jesus reminded them of both dimensions of the gracious and loving ministry of Christ and the church. They believed in the miracle of multiplied witness because they had both received and shared its power. (J. Lawrence McCleskey)