2 Samuel 12:11-12, 14″This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’
14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
What kind of moral and good God would do something like this? I mean, it’s not allegory—it’s a literal event (at least as literal as you interpret the Bible). It’s not a consequence of the fall. So often, Christians dismiss[i] evil in the world as a result of the fall, a consequence of Adam. But this isn’t a natural occurrence. This is punishment, rebuke, and (by some perspectives) manslaughter; extreme violence issued, decreed, and carried out according to the word of God.
Perhaps it will get better in the context of the whole story.
These verses are the conclusion following Nathan’s confrontation of David (2 Sam 12:1-14). David had done some horrific things. For starters, he slept with a married woman, Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:4). As if that wasn’t enough, Bathsheba was the wife of one of the soldiers under his command. When King David learned he impregnated Bathsheba, he tried to trick Uriah into thinking it was his (vv6-13). When this failed, sadly, David had Uriah murdered (vv14-16).
This is a treacherous story, one that does itself no favors by setting up David’s position as a “man after God’s own heart”.
If you were to present this story to me, on its own merit, I would be forced to admit—it sickens me. The child had no fault in the story; he was a victim of consequence–an innocent victim. What is more, David prayed and fasted for 7 days, never leaving the child’s side. He wore sackcloth and was joined by elders. Even with everything else, surely the God of mercy would spare the innocent child (2 Sam 12:15-18a).
I share this story for three reasons. First, if there were any reason to doubt the heart of God this story would do it. Surely it must be included in the Bible for a reason; I share this story to hash out that reason. Two, the story brings up a theological misunderstanding; I share this story to clear some muggy waters. Third, this story has shaken the faith of my friend, and I want to show there is another perspective—even if he finds my rationale lacking.
1. Why is this story in the Bible
I can name three reasons why this story is in the Bible. Each reason gives credence to a bigger picture. First, it’s the whole of the story. What would the Bible look like if all the “God is good” verses showed up in the Bible and all the “God is bad” texts showed up outside the Bible? It would be seen as hypocritical—and rightfully so. But, because the authors of the texts, and those who compiled them together, were willing to show the hard parts, too, we can have more confidence what is written is the truth (as they understand it).
This is true for the NT disciples/apostles; they are shown to be “dim-witted, uncaring, uneducated, cowardly doubters who are rebuked by Jesus.”[ii] It’s true of patriarchal leaders like Moses and Aaron; what kind of heroic exodus from Egypt wouldn’t be complete without a complete and utter[iii] turn from the God who rescued you from captivity…within 40 days of freedom?(Do you feel the sarcasm *wink*?) How stupid, right!? Frank Turek writes it like this, “There are far too many embarrassing details about the supposed heroes of the faith to be invented.”[iv] That’s my point. Make-believe stories and myth don’t highlight the embarrassment; they sugar-coat the follies and focus on the fantastic. That’s not the case in the Davidic narrative. It’s painful, it’s awful, and tells the whole story—just like the rest of the Bible. Reason 1 why this story is included in the Bible is because we don’t need to shy away from the hard parts to understand God loves us.
Reason two: because morality isn’t black and white. Consider the humanistic appeal to never do harm. This sounds good superficially but falls apart when harm comes in the form of benefit. Vaccines, for example, are quite painful but prevent much serious illnesses and even death. If morality were simply rules–like do no harm–then there is no room for exception when the harm is beneficial. Or another example, how about the atheist that says “It’s never ok to kill a baby” and supports abortion to protect the mom?[v] I don’t write that supposing that David’s baby dying somehow justifies abortion (more on that in point 3), but I do write that to highlight the fluidity of morals. Morals aren’t a set of rules to follow, they are principals of distinction; the extent to which an action is right or wrong.
Now that I’ve said that, let me finish the thought. There are times we cross lines of morality because it brings about a greater good. In the OT, we see a lot of actions—many by God—which seem to cross an immoral landscape. However, once we get to the NT, the scenery changes. David’s son was taken as a result of David’s sin, but later God’s son was taken as a result of our sin. Let me be clear. You are free to say of the way God treated the sins of David, “That’s not how I would do it.” You have the ability to apply your own subjective standards on the narrative. But, when we arrive at the cross–the death of Jesus, you must continue to say, “That’s not how I would do it”. This time, however, the consequences are far more grievous. This time, your narrow, subjective view of morality cost far more than one life. So the second reason this story is in the Bible, it’s consistent with God’s morality being greater than our understanding. Just like the vaccine, the negative was superseded by the positive. This is difficult to understand especially when we consider loss of life, but that brings us to our next point.
Finally, number three. This story reminds us that Earth is not our home. Our souls and our eternity belong in Heaven. God is the creator. Job reminds us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21) and again in 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”. Everything belongs to God.
In this way we need acknowledge a critical difference between murder and the death of David’s son. When someone on Earth kills another human, that life is not theirs to take; it’s murder. Murder is life taken unjustly. But, when the Lord calls, his creation answers; God does not murder, he commands. That is to say, God is not subjugated to morality, God is moral. William Lane Craig says it best:
Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. (From: Reasonable Faith)
With this point, there is a sub-point worth mentioning. David prayed and fasted for 7 days hoping to save his son. On the day the boy died, his staff did not want to tell him. When they did, however, David rose and went off, showered, clothed himself, and (hear this) went and worshipped the Lord. There is a peace that is greater than our understanding when we submit to the Lord. If we only focus on the death of a child, we will only see murder and hate and anger. However, when we see the greatness of God in all things, we begin to, “consider it pure joy when you endure trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2).
2. A new theology
A quick Google search of the word sacrifice offers the most common definition used to understand religious narrative. It says, “the act of slaughtering an animal or person as an offering to God”. But there is a better definition that helps understand what sacrifice accomplishes, and I’ll summarize it in one word: Trust.
Sacrifice isn’t just an arbitrary death, it is a payment; sacrifice is something we don’t want to live without, but can trust the the one we sacrifice to. Think about it in baseball terms. A sacrifice fly is a guy who hits the ball in a way that he will be out, but another runner will score or gain a base. The team is willing to give up an out in exchange for something greater. This is true in sacrifice offerings and why God portioned the offerings based on wealth (ox, goat, 2 doves, e.g.). In this way, the payment is just as impressive as the debt and that’s where restitution and redemption collide.
In terms of David’s loss, we must imagine the debt David had tallied. The army would return and talk about Uriah’s death. The town gossip would do the math concerning Bathsheba’s pregnancy. Chaos was sure to destroy the kingdom God established. But there was a chance for redemption; a chance to even zero out the debt. The son had to die. David must live without his son so David’s strength, not his weakness, was how he would be remembered. The entire kingdom was saved at the death of a boy.
Some will object, the kingdom was in chaos. You’ll throw a red flag and say don’t forget, David’s wives were also given away in broad daylight. David’s sons would go on to be broken and scattered. The kingdom was not saved. But this, too, is near sided. Remember, Jesus was from the line of David. What kind of king is David if he is only seen as an adulterer and murderer? What kind of king is David if his strength is never has an opportunity to shine. The good here is greater than a person, even a small boy. This is a hard teaching to be sure, but perspective is critical.
3. A new hope[vi]
There is no doubt that reading verses like these are hard to process. They require more than simple definitions and only come together when the entirety of Scripture is understood. I want to close this piece by contrasting the sins and loss of David to the sins and loss of our lives. David did some really messed-up stuff. He killed the husband of his adulterous relationship. He left his troops fighting while he pompously took advantage of his kingship. He let his pride take over and sinned against God. But, he was redeemed.
I mentioned earlier that David was seen as a man after God’s own heart. That was a little fib. Yes, it’s true that he is called as such in the Bible. However, those descriptions do not come before the sin, they come after the redemption (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).
In correlation, when we see the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The depiction isn’t an arbitrary sacrifice; it’s a payment. God is essentially saying, “When you sin, I ask you for an ox, or a goat, or some doves, because that is what you must learn to live without so that you know you can trust me. But I see that you can no longer pay for your own sins—your sins are too many. Here. Here is a payment beyond measure.”
So, when you think of the Davidic narrative and other texts where God comes off as an immoral tyrant, keep in mind that he has never asked you for anything he is not willing to do himself. He is not confined by the rules you established, but is perfect and just in all his ways. I would encourage you, do not focus on the instant, the event, the solidarity of the moment. Rather, seek God. In all his ways he is good—even when it doesn’t seem that way.
Let me close with this thought. It can be argued that an all-powerful God should be able to find another way. It can be argued that a God that would allow this kind of suffering is an immoral God, one not worth serving. This is a naive view, one that focuses too much on the temporal and not enough on the eternal. Perhaps my next post will dive further into the benefits of suffering and the inconsistency of wanting a pain-free life. But for now, this post focuses on the fact that some Scripture is hard; it hurts–and that’s OK. So does God. He understands your pain because Jesus, his Son, also died–for you.
[i] This is an inappropriate word. Christians care very much for the world and are among the leaders in humanitarian efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and supply the poor. Dismiss is a word I chose because at this point in this post I am illustrating the negative perception of Christianity. Please read on with patience and love.
[ii] Eric Chabot, “The Seven E’s of Testimony in the New Testament”. Featured on Ratio Christi: http://ratiochristi.org/osu/blog/post/the-seven-es-of-testimony-in-the-new-testament#.V42OefkrLIU
[iii] See what I did there? 😉
[iv] Frank Turek, “The Bible: Embarrassing and True”. May 6, 2010. From: http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2010/05/06/the_bible_embarrassing_and_true
[v] This is a general comment. I don’t suppose all atheist support abortion or the idea that all Christians oppose it. It is meant to be taken as analogous. Thanks in advance for your comments and emails. 🙂
[vi] It’s titled that way for Gene 😉