“A River in Egypt”

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

We aren’t the best judges of ourselves. As the old joke reminds us! “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”

Besides being a river, “Denial” is delusion about ourselves – delusion that we cling to with all our hearts. A woman believes that she’s always the life of the party. In reality, her constant craving for attention and awkward jokes make the people around her uncomfortable. Often she is the death of the party.

Now we may think that we have a treatment that will cure these delusions about ourselves. For example, we have the benefits of psychology to tell us who we really are.

The science of psychology reveals our unconscious desires and motivations. Psychotherapists can employ their subtle methods to help us unlock the secrets of our hearts and after we get therapy, we don’t pretend that we’re people that we’re not.

But sometimes denial can’t be overcome by science. Sometimes denial is a moral problem, not a medical one. Today’s Old Testament reading presents a breathtaking case. In the story, Nathan, a Hebrew prophet, functions like a psychiatrist; he helps David see himself as he really is.

The Bible’s account of David’s affair with Bathsheba extends over several chapters of the Second Book of Samuel; bits of the story have been assigned for our lessons during several recent Sunday services.

The story begins when David looks out from his palace balcony and sees a beautiful woman bathing. Being a king, he has the power to summon the woman named Bathsheba to his presence. David has her brought to his palace, and he seduces her.

Bathsheba turns out to be married. She is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, an officer in the army of Israel.

David, however, finds a way to rid himself of the inconvenient husband. He sends Uriah out into a harsh battle, having arranged beforehand for the troops around him to retreat. The Hebrew soldiers fall back, and Uriah finds himself alone and overwhelmed by the enemy. Despite his bravery, he is slain.

As today’s portion of the story begins, the period of mourning for Uriah is over and King David adds Bathsheba to his collection of wives. But God won’t let David get away with this outrage. He sends the prophet Nathan to David and Nathan tells David a story:

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.

“Now there came a traveler to visit the rich man, and the rich man was loath to take one of his own flock to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

David is furious when he hears of the rich man’s greed. He said to Nathan, “the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan replies, in unforgettable words: “You are the man!”

King David had many virtues. He was the brave conqueror of the giant Goliath and the Philistines. He was a fine musician and a brilliant composer. History regards him as the greatest of Israel’s kings. The early Church saw him as an ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah, who was known as the “Son of David.”

And yet what David did to poor Uriah is appalling. The king had access to a number of women, a power kings possessed in those days. Uriah, though had just his one cherished “lamb”—his one lovely wife. And yet David took Bathsheba away from Uriah and arranged for his death.

“You are the man.” Imagine what David felt when he heard those words. He was “the man”—whatever his virtues, he was a cruel and selfish person.

And imagine what the people of Israel thought when they heard this story. If the great David could be so blind to his failings, what about them? What about ordinary people?

This story reminds us of the dangers of submitting ourselves to supreme rulers. As one of the Psalms advises: “Put not your trust in princes.” But the story also should remind us that however wise we are, we can never be sure that we’re really behaving the way we believe we are.

Think of the excuses we come up with to justify our self-indulgence. Recall, for instance, a time when you were tempted to have a late night snack—of course, that would be a snack with miniscule nutritional value and lots of calories!

To justify the snack, you pretended to yourself that the food would make you sleep better. Or that you thought that you deserved a little treat after a long day of work. Or you told yourself that your treat wouldn’t be bad for you. A simple action—supported by a complicated web of denial!

Or think of a casual remark you made one day to a friend. Without realizing it, you hurt his feelings so he calls you on it—you respond that you didn’t mean any offense.

Only much later, days later, do you admit to yourself that you did want to insult your friend. You were jealous of his success, and you wanted to try to pull him down a little.

In the end of the story, King David confesses to the prophet Nathan: “I have sinned against the LORD.” It’s no wonder that our liturgy reminds us so often of our sinfulness. We might prefer not even to hear the word, “sin”—much less consider our actions that fall into that category. But it’s there, nevertheless.

Denial is real. Sin is real.

Yet so is confession. And so is forgiveness.

And so is freedom – the real freedom from delusion and selfishness that comes when we acknowledge our imperfections before God and accept His generous grace.

And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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