Connections 07.29.2018: Will this Be on the Test?

2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 8-15

Our lesson text is familiar to many people, whether or not they attend Bible study regularly. We can’t help being fascinated by stories like David’s. A handsome, admired man with a bright future, beloved of God, giant slayer, powerful leader, conqueror of Saul, adored friend of Jonathan—David’s good qualities make him shine.

And, just like we can’t look away in our own time when someone admirable falls from grace, we can’t stop reading and wondering about David and Bathsheba. We can’t help being fascinated by stories like David’s. A cheating, lustful man who sees a beautiful woman and takes her for himself; a conspirator to the murder of that woman’s husband, who had demonstrated honor again and again as a soldier in David’s army—David’s bad qualities make him repulsive.

And yet we can’t look away. If you’re like me, you see yourself in David. You see your own capability for leadership, victory, and friendship. You also see your own capability for selfishness, dishonesty, and even cruelty.

This lesson is titled “Character Is Tested.” While I understand the intended meaning of the title, it also has negative implications. Some people believe that every time we feel tempted to do something wrong, God is testing us. I don’t know about you, but considering how frequently I am tempted each day, that belief can heavily cloud the character of God. It makes God seem vindictive, like this almighty power that is constantly shoving attractive and desirable things into our paths and seeing how we will react.

I certainly think that we face moments when our character is tested—when we must choose whether to follow through and be the people we have always claimed to be, the people we know we are, the people we desperately want to be. But I also think that, rather than putting potential obstacles before us and waiting to see what we’ll do, God is walking through life with us. God is loving us and encouraging us and rooting for us. And, when we act in ways that contradict our good character, God is there to hear our cries for forgiveness and help us move forward again—just as God did for David.

Discussion

1. Think about the tests you’ve had to take in your lifetime. What did you do to prepare? How did you feel the day of the test? How did your preparations affect the outcome?
2. Read these Scriptures: Genesis 22:1, Exodus 15:25, Deuteronomy 8:16, James 1:12. In these verses and more, God is portrayed as testing people’s faith. What is your opinion about testing? Does it come from God, or is it part of living as a human being with free will in a fallen world?
3. What do you admire most about David? What disappoints you the most about his character?
4. Why do you think biblical writers include stories of great heroes of faith making terrible decisions?
5. What can you learn from the very human characters in the Bible? What can you learn from the very human leaders around you? How can you prepare to face the temptations that will inevitably come your way?

Reference Shelf

“In the spring of the year” literally means “at the turning of the year.” This has traditionally been interpreted to mean the springtime, after the winter rains have ended, leaving dry conditions more conducive to field maneuvers. Thus, spring is “the time when kings go out to battle.” The NRSV, like most translations, glosses over the article attached to “kings” in the MT. The intended meaning could be “when the kings marched out to battle,” with the Aramean kings of chapter 10 as the intended referent (cf. 10:6; 1 Chr 19:9).

If McCarter’s contention is correct, the siege of the Ammonite capital Rabbah would have begun one year after the initial conflict, which may well have been in the spring. Of note in this particular conflict is that David did not lead his troops into the field. He is no longer the king Israel had asked for, who would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20). David had often led Israel’s armies prior to this point, but now he sends Joab to fight for him, along with “his officers and all Israel.” The MT has “his servants,” but many translators assume that the term denotes David’s personal band of mercenary soldiers as opposed to the national militia, described as “all Israel.”

The most significant statement of v. 1 rings like a bell in the reader’s mind: “But David remained in Jerusalem.” For the king to remain removed from battle was not disgraceful in itself; as David grew older, his subordinates insisted that he avoid military conflict for his own safety (2 Sam 21:15-17). The disgrace David acquires does not derive from what he did not do on the battlefield, but from what he did while away from the battlefield.

David’s decline began with an afternoon nap. The narrator’s careful location of David “on his couch” in the late afternoon implies that David is giving less attention to his work and showing more regard for his personal pleasure. The text suggests that David had a patio suite prepared on the roof of his palace, complete with a shaded bed. Rooftop rooms were common in the ancient Near East, as they tended to be cooler, catching the afternoon breeze.

When David inquired about the woman, she was identified to him as “Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” The name Bathsheba could mean “daughter of Sheba,” perhaps “daughter of an oath,” or even “daughter of seven” (born on the seventh day?). Of more importance are the other names attached to Bathsheba. She is the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

According to the list in 2 Samuel 23:34-39, both Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite and Uriah the Hittite belonged to David’s elite corps of loyal fighters known as “the thirty.” While we cannot be certain that this is the same Eliam, there is little question that Uriah was one of David’s strongest and most valiant supporters. The message is understated but clear. The adultery David is about to undertake involves not only Bathsheba herself, but also the wife and daughter of men who had devoted their lives to David’s service.

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 496-97, 498-99.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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