Uriah’s Legacy

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What does integrity look like for you?  Not just a concept or a definition, but a picture of what is happening when you act with integrity.

 

Second Samuel 15 presents a picture that is pretty rough.  It is not one of the finer chapters of King David’s life, and it easily fits into the “adult reading” category that is not featured in most Sunday School curriculums.  

 

When I was reviewing the story of David and Bathsheba and Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, I had a flashback to the first baptism I performed as a twenty-one year-old pastor in a rural church.  Shortly after my arrival at the church, I received a phone call from a woman I had not yet met, asking me to baptize her infant son.  I made a visit to her home in the woods at the end of a long road.  The woman and her husband and four year-old daughter met me at the door.  The little girl said “Hi!  My name is Urania!”  I thought to myself “that’s an odd name” and then asked the name of the new baby.  The mother beamed with pride as she proclaimed, “This is Uriah!”  She explained that they were looking for another “U” name and found one in the Bible.”  I admit I had to look it up later, and I was relieved to discover that Uriah is one of the truly good guys in the Old Testament.

 

When you are the king, everyone wants to know all about what you do and they are especially interested in your personal life.  Just ask members of the British Royalty.  In terms of popularity, David was a rock star and Uriah was a lowly nobody, which may help explain why today you know lots of “Davids” but very few people named “Uriah.”   And this, despite the fact that Uriah displayed amazing character in the events of Second Samuel.  The story is both sordid and tragic, but Uriah shines as the hero in contrast to the otherwise celebrated King David.

 

It is not unreasonable to question the historicity of this event.  There are is certainly no archaeological evidence to prove that Uriah and Bathsheba actually lived.  Beyond that, it might even be acknowledged that some historians and archaeologists question the actual prominence of David in the leadership of ancient Israel.  Some have concluded that he was likely a local ruler for the then-cow town of Jerusalem who was later embellished through story-telling in ways that supported the messianic narrative attached to his name. 

 

Others, though, point specifically to this story to support the accuracy of the biblical accounts.  In other words, why would such a terrible indictment of the exalted King David be shared in written form and not later scrubbed unless it actually happened?  Certainly, no one would make up a story that shows the king in such a bad light and live to tell about it.  And if this story is historical, then why not the rest as well?

 

It’s not uncommon to ask whether stories in the Bible are true.  Some accounts strike as exceedingly fanciful if not downright outrageous.  Did the really happen?  Well, we can claim by faith that they did, but in the end we don’t really know.  But that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true.

 

All we need to do is look at recent news to know that the story of David and Bathsheba is true.

 

King David slept with another man’s wife.  This very week it was reported that a dating website devoted to matching up people who are already married to someone else was hacked.  The privacy and identities of 37 million members are currently at risk, resulting no doubt in much panic.  The slogan of the website is “Life is short, have an affair.”  Sounds like David looking at Bathsheba and wanting her for himself.  The story of David and Bathsheba is certainly true.  For David, the panic he experienced led him to do unspeakably terrible things.

 

I’m intrigued how the story begins by explaining that it was springtime, and that it was the “time when Kings went to battle”  I didn’t realize that war was a seasonal event like cleaning the house or opening up a cottage for the summer.  It almost makes it seem like going to battle was a social expectation.  The irony is that though kings went to battle in the spring, David apparently got the war started but then stayed safe at home.

 

David’s evening stroll on the roof of the palace took a bad turn when he noticed a woman bathing down below in the town.  His voyeurism led to the command that she be brought to him.  There is no information about whether he romanced her or forced her, but the next verse says that she became pregnant.  Again, a gap in information follows.  Did he take time to consider the most honorable course of action?  Did he consult with his spiritual advisor, Nathan?  Or did he just go right to conniving a plan that would result in the least amount of personal fall-out?

 

David devised what must have seemed to be a brilliant, fool-proof scheme to cover up what I am guessing he would call his little indiscretion: He called Uriah home from active military duty.

 

David never imagined the possibility that Uriah would not cooperate with the plan.  Not once, but twice Uriah slept at David’s doorstep rather than with his own wife.  David must have been amazed and infuriated.  What we don’t know is whether he felt any remorse as he sent Uriah away and enacted a hasty “Plan B.”  Perhaps the most depraved part of this story is David slipping Uriah a note for the commander, ordering Uriah’s death on the front line of battle.  Uriah must have considered his role as a messenger to be one more honor in service of the king.

 

It’s not surprising that we don’t hear much in the story about Bathsheba herself.  What was she feeling?  Was she distraught or pleased about the pregnancy?  Was she confused and hurt that Uriah didn’t come home to her on his leave, or was she hopeful that by bearing David’s child she could become another of his many wives?  Men tend to get more press space then women in the Bible, and this is one example.

 

I think it is worth noting the power differential between Bathsheba and David.  Today we are likely to say that she was not capable of giving consent because David was the king and she was a subject in his kingdom.  In other words, he did not maintain a professional boundary.  It is certainly possible she was a willing participant.  Maybe she found him to be charming and handsome as well as very rich.  But it was his responsibility to not take personal advantage of his position.  I doubt people talked about that then, but it is part of how we protect and show regard for one another now.

 

Most sermons on this text end up focusing on David and detailing various steps avoiding temptations like his.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sermon on Uriah, but I find Uriah’s part in the story to be far more interesting than David’s.

 

Why did Uriah protect the honor of someone so dishonorable?  Of course he didn’t know what was really happening and how he was being played.  He was just doing what he understood was his duty.  Uriah trusted David, and at every point in the story he did what he believed was right.

 

For Uriah, a picture of what integrity looks like is a remarkable portrayal of loyalty.  He was loyal to the king and he was loyal to his fellow soldiers.  No matter how much opportunity was given to him to slip home and sleep with his wife and let David off the hook, he wouldn’t do it.  Almost anyone would encourage him to go home and would consider it a reasonable and well-earned break from the battlefield.  But in Uriah’s heart, he could not do so and keep faith with those around him.

 

The irony in this story is that the antagonist has no trouble taking care of his own desires to the extent of having another man put to death.  To add insult to injury for Uriah, if you could call death an injury, Bathsheba did in fact end up marrying David.  And then, as a tragic conclusion, the infant son of David and Bathsheba got sick and died. But by then, Uriah had already perished on the front lines of battle by the order of the king.

 

In the aftermath, David’s advisor Nathan told David a story about a rich man with many sheep who wanted to prepare a meal for a visitor and stole and killed the only lamb owned by a poor neighbor.  The man loved that lamb dearly.  The lamb was treated like a member of the family and drank from the man’s own cup. David was incensed when he heard the story and demanded to know who the rich man was so that he could be put to death.  Nathan answered: “You are that man.”  David was horrified by this picture of himself and after repenting deeply in sackcloth and ashes wrote Psalm 51:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  From all accounts, David began to live by a higher standard from that point forward. 

 

Uriah, however, demonstrated integrity in the midst of great challenges and even, for him, in the midst of great temptation.

 

What does integrity look like for you?  Who is in the picture?  How do you interact with them?  And how do you show loyalty and love and justice and regard in ways that will create for you, like Uriah, a legacy of faithfulness?   Amen.

 

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