Sunday’s sermon: The Promise Beyond the SNAFU

Text used – 2 Samuel 12:1-9, 13-15

  • A snafu. In today’s vernacular, it’s simply something that’s gone wrong – an obstacle or a glitch that keeps you from accomplishing something, an error, a situation that’s confusing and disorganized and snarled.
    • Often used today when we’re describing something as innocently annoying as getting to the store and realizing your wallet is at home
      • Game that I had as a kid (one that my kids still play with at my parents’ house now) called Snafu = maze/obstacle course game → guide a ball bearing through a series of obstacles using different knobs, levers, etc. → object: to make it all the way through the messed-up path without the ball bearing falling off the course
    • But like “radar” and “scuba” and even “taser,” the word snafu started off as an acronym.
      • Origins in the granddaddy of all acronym producers: the military
      • Born out of a colorful expression used by soldier in World War II to describe situations that were chaotic, messy, and above all, unexpectedly dangerous → expression: Situation normal, all fouled up (and yes, that’s the PG version … I’m sure y’all can figure it out.)
    • And as we wrap up our fall journey through stories about God’s covenant promises in the First Testament, it seems fitting that we end up with today’s story about King David and the prophet Nathan because truly, this is a snafu of a situation.
  • First, let’s catch up with the story → Usually, as we’re going along from one story to the next with this Narrative Lectionary, the time jump from one to the other isn’t too huge. But today, we’re taking a big jump.
    • Last week = Joshua encouraging the people to rededicate themselves to their covenant relationship with God after they’ve finally established themselves in the promised land
    • HUGE jump btwn then and today → many generations, many stories, even jumping over 3 whole books of the Bible
      • For the first period of Israel’s history in the promised land, the people were governed by various judges – those who would lead the people both in their life as a nation and in their life with God.
        • Frequent refrain from the book of Jdgs: “The Israelites did things that the Lord saw as evil, and they forgot the Lord their God.”[1] → God gives the people over to some foreign ruler → people eventually return to God in repentance and sorrow → God raises up a new leader among them: one of the judges
        • Some good judges like Deborah and Gideon
        • Lots of other bad judges → led the people into corruption, worshiping other gods, and lots and lots of war
      • Finally, the people of Israel looked around and saw that all the nations around them – the nations that kept attacking them and invading their country and trying to subjugate them – were ruled by powerful kings, so the people of Israel cried out to God to give them a king.[2]
        • God’s response = this is not a good idea because a king will also rule over you
          • He will take your sons for war
          • He will take your daughters for servants
          • He will take your best fields, your best livestock, your best harvest
        • People’s response = “We still want a king!”
      • So God instructs the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as king over Israel → doesn’t really go well
        • Saul starts off faithful to God → soon slips into anxiety and fear and paranoia
          • Result = war
          • Result = Saul’s insanity
          • Result = Saul eventually turning to other gods (the gods of some of the women that he’s married)
          • Ultimate result = God rejects Saul as king → instructs Samuel to anoint David as king instead
        • David’s kingship = better than Saul’s … but only by a small margin
          • Unites both kingdoms – Israel and Judah → rules them both from Jerusalem
          • Brings God’s holy chest back to Jerusalem with much fanfare and reverence and holy joy (incl. passage about David dancing before the Lord)
          • Dedicates himself to God and God’s purpose
          • But then we come to the story of David and Bathsheba → David’s lust overcomes his senses → makes sure Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is killed in battle → David takes Bathsheba as his own
            • Scholar: David is both a symbol of the covenant that was made with the patriarchs ([God] promised to make Abraham’s heirs kings) and a symbol of the adulterous nation, Israel, who repetitively breaches her covenant with [God]. David is the embodiment of [God’s] promise and an infidel, causing a rupture in the covenantal relationship. He covets the wife of his neighbor, commits adultery, bears false witness against his neighbor, steals, and kills. His infidelity mirrors the infidelity of the nation, and he violates not only Uriah but [God] as well.[3]
  • Today’s Scripture reading = what we could deem the aftermath of David’s overwhelming desire
    • God sends prophet Nathan to David to tell David a parable of sorts – text: “There were two men in the same city, one rich, one poor. The rich man had a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing—just one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised that lamb, and it grew up with him and his children. It would eat from his food and drink from his cup—even sleep in his arms! It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to visit the rich man, but he wasn’t willing to take anything from his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had arrived. Instead, he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the visitor.”[4]
      • Interesting: Heb. “grew up” = connotations of advancement → means growing up, yes, but also becoming great and/or wealthy[5] → So not only does this one lamb grow in size, but it also grows the hopes and dreams of the poor man who was raising her.
        • Ewe lamb = source of immediate income through sale of things like wool and milk/by-products (cheese, butter, etc.)
        • Ewe lamb = more future-oriented source of income by growing of his herd through breeding
        • Not only did the poor man’s love rest on this little ewe lamb, so did his entire future and the future for his family.
    • Understandably, David is appalled by the heartless injustice and selfishness that he hears in this story – text: David got very angry at the man, and he said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the one who did this is demonic! He must restore the ewe lamb seven times over because he did this and because he had no compassion.”[6]
      • Heb. “demonic” = tricky → word related to Heb. word for death[7]
        • Can indicate death or deadliness or the dead
        • Can indicate the place where the dead go
        • Other translation: “The man who has done this deserves to die!”[8] → David is certainly not holding back here. His anger and indignation are boiling over.
      • Interesting that David includes that last little piece – that the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb deserves judgment not just because of what he did but “because he had no compassion” → “compassion” has connotations of keeping back or sparing someone or something → It’s actually the same word that’s used to describe the rich man’s selfishness – how he wasn’t willing to spare anything from his own flock. Clearly, David is recognizing just how inwardly-focused this fictitious rich man is. He only takes compassion on himself. He only spares himself.
    • Makes Nathan’s revelation all the more startling – text: “You are that man!” Nathan told David.[9] → Nathan goes on to detail for David just how much God had blessed him and just how David threw those blessings back in God’s face by taking Bathsheba and having Uriah killed
      • Uses no uncertain terms – Nathan to David: “Why have you despised the Lord’s word by doing what is evil in his eyes? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and taken his wife as your own. You used the Ammonites to kill him.”[10]
    • And clearly, Nathan’s harsh admonishment hits home – David’s response = utter repentance
      • Tradition: Ps 51 – the psalm that we used as our prayer together this morning – was penned by King David following this encounter with Nathan [RE-READ SOME OF PS 51]
  • A snafu if ever there was one, right? David knew “the rules.” He knew what to do and what not to do to keep things “normal” – to maintain a whole and reverent covenant relationship with God … but still, he turned away. He fouled it up. He let his desire and his authority overpower him, and he turned his back on God’s commands to follow his own will instead.
    • But still, God accepted David’s repentant heart and loved him again … David may have temporarily turned his back on God, but God never turned God’s back on David → Even after such an egregious error … even after such blatant disregard for God’s commandments and Israel’s covenant relationship with God … even after such a shocking and grievous snafu … God’s promise of compassion and companionship, of protection and presence – that promise remained intact.
    • Friends, how often do we turn our backs on God, either intentionally or unintentionally?
      • Sort of like a book that Julia checked out of the library a few weeks ago → story of a little fox[11] who gets distracted by a pair of purple butterflies → fox follows the butterflies far from his family and his den → ends up following the butterflies right off a small cliff and ends up hurt at the bottom → That little fox certainly didn’t intend to run off a ledge, but he wasn’t paying attention. Something else – something pretty, something new, something interesting – drew his eyes and his mind away, and he followed. And a lot of the time, that’s how it is with us and God. We don’t intend to turn away … but something or someone or someplace distracts us, and suddenly, we find ourselves falling. Falling away.
        • Like David, even though we may turn our backs on God, God never turns away from us → That’s the beauty and incomparable blessing of salvation! Salvation isn’t contingent on perfect. Jesus makes that clear not only in his teachings but in those he spent his time with – imperfect people living imperfect lives loving God imperfectly … but still loving God. Salvation isn’t contingent on perfection BUT it also isn’t a free pass to do whatever we want. Salvation isn’t contingent on perfection but it is contingent on action and intention. The grace of God covers us no matter what, but if we are going to call ourselves followers of the One who came to deliver that salvation to humankind – Jesus, the Risen Christ – then God does ask that we follow … that we try … that we dedicate our hearts and our words and our actions and our hopes and our dreams to the work God has for us to do in this world. Because in that space where our dedicated hearts and our intentional actions meet – that’s the space where God’s promises are fulfilled, both in us and through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Jdgs 3:7a.

[2] 1 Sam 8.

[3] Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar. “October 23, 2022 – Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/david-and-bathsheba-2/commentary-on-2-samuel-111-5-26-27-121-9-psalm-511-9-2.

[4] 2 Sam 12:1b-4.

[5] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/2-samuel-111-5-26-27-121-9/.

[6] 2 Sam 12:5-6.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/2-samuel-111-5-26-27-121-9/.

[8] 2 Sam 12:5 (NRSV).

[9] 2 Sam 12:7a.

[10] 2 Sam 12:9.

[11] Edward van de Vendel, trans. David Colmer. Little Fox. (Hoboken: Levine Querido), 2020.