Tuesday, May 31, 2011
A Picture is Worth a Dozen Stories: Part 1 of a series based on 2 Samuel 11 & 12
I just heard another thoughtful sermon on the episode in King David’s life, recorded in 2 Samuel, in which the prophet Nathan confronted his friend, the king, accusing him of killing Uriah so he could have his wife, Bathsheba, as his own.
It is a complex story that can be viewed from many angles: from Nathan’s point of view, from David’s point of view, from either Uriah’s or Bathsheba’s point of view, from the point of view of various observers, both within David’s court and without – and of course, from God’s point of view.
Those who compiled the accounts that constitute the “David Story,” as Robert Alter has called it, had their purpose in doing so. It appears to be a typical Middle Eastern series of annals intended to record and legitimize the line and reign of the king, in this case, King David. Whatever those authors had in mind, I believe God led them, sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly, to preserve that which served His purpose: revealing the plan of salvation being working out through David and his flawed descendants.
But, like a photographer whose photo catches unintended objects and actions of interest, these stories reveal more than the specific subject the authors intended. The main object of the story of David and Bathsheba is to reveal God’s displeasure at their actions and the awful and lasting consequences that would result. However, other characters managed to get into the picture, becoming objects of our interest, examples both of noble and ignoble behavior.
In the each of the next several entries in The Cottage on the Moor I want to explore the story from a point of view that may or may not have been intended by the original story tellers. I venture to do so with some trepidation. It is not my wish to contradict or obscure the purposes of the Holy Spirit with my interpretations. I will undoubtedly step beyond a mere interpretation of the facts presented and look for motivations that are not specifically spelled out by the Biblical writers. In doing so I hope the reader will feel free to bring his or her understandings to bear on the stories. I believe such study is what is indicated by the Psalmist when he speaks of meditating – day and night – on the Word of God.
Madeline LeEngle and others have contended that the Holy Spirit works incarnationally to accomplish God’s will in the world. By that they mean – and I agree – that God speaks and acts through his creation, breathing his Spirit into it, trusting the created thus to reveal the Creator. It is an act of faith on God’s part, a compliment to his creation and particularly to mankind. He knows that distortions will occur and has plans to deal with those. For some mysterious reason He does not abandon the plan when it becomes terribly messy but, instead, continues revealing His power and majesty in “earthen vessels.”
I believe that the Holy Scriptures are a case of special inspiration. They are God’s “Top 66”, must reading for anyone wishing to more fully understand God and his purposes for mankind. But they were not dropped down from Heaven on golden tablets, or dictated to scribes bent over benches in candle-lit rooms; even in them the principal of “incarnation” is at work. The Holy Spirit chose flawed and fallible men, living in a particular time, with a particular perspective on the world, with normal strengths and weaknesses, and breathed in them, inspiring them to speak and write – in their own words, through their own understanding – words which He would sort through to select those worth preserving as the Word of God. And later still, when other men, for their own reasons (they supposed), wished to assemble a canon of authorized Scriptures, the Holy Spirit was there to guide their selection. They often acted out of mere – sometimes petty – human political motivation but God meant their work for good, and thus was born both the Old and the New Testaments. Together they give us a picture of man’s place in creation, his unique fallenness, and God’s plan for saving him.
It is with that understanding of how God works in the world that I approach my calling and pursue my work. Paul, the apostle, told the Corinthian church, “You can all prophecy.” In other words, they could all be the incarnated presence of God at any moment by their words and by their actions. It should be our goal to always and only speak clearly and honestly for God. We will fail often, sometimes spectacularly. We need not fear that our imperfections, revealed in the deficiencies of our speech and behavior, are an obstacle too great for God to overcome. He is accustomed to working in fleshly media. He once did so through His own Son, to much better effect than He will ever work in you or me. But still He persists in storing his treasures in “earthen vessels.”