King David was one of the greatest heroes Israel ever had, besides that, "he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes," the Bible says. He was a fearless fighter even in his youth. He faced Goliath without so much as a single piece of armor on and brought him to the ground with a single smooth stone. We heard all about that story three Sundays ago. He went on to become a highly successful military strategist. It was he who made Jerusalem the capitol of Israel and unified the kingdom under his rule. He was a composer of psalms and talented musician. When David played his harp for King Saul, the king's black moods were soothed. The Psalm we read today, attributed to David, may have been used in connection with a procession of the ark long ago. Scripture tells us, "The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart." David had a heart for God and that has made all the difference in his life story.
This morning we hear of the joyous occasion as David gathers all the people of Israel and leads them in a glorious parade bringing the Ark of God into the city of David. There was dancing and singing and shouting, harps, tambourines, castanets, cymbals and trumpets. Sacrificial offerings were presented to the Lord with blessings said in his name. A feast of bread, meat and cakes of raisins fed the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women.
The Ark had been captured and held for many years by the Philistines. Its return was of vital importance to the worship of the Jewish people. Even though God was believed to be everywhere he was particularly present in the Ark. Bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem had huge symbolic significance for David and the Hebrew people. It was God's stamp of approval of David's kingship and his choice of Jerusalem as the capitol. Finally, now God is enshrined in the new capitol city Jerusalem with the entire nation of Israel united under David the King. What a glorious day this was!
With all his God-given talents and successes, were there any flaws in the character of this great hero? Of course there were; not all of them are included in the Sunday readings. The thing is these stories tell it like it was, they are not sanitized versions of Biblical history. Even though at David's calling, scripture says, "The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind and God mightily empowered him for the rest of his life." Did that make him forever pure and sinless? Again, no.
Did you happen to notice in the first reading that brief sentence, "As the Ark of the Lord came into the city, Michal, daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord and she despised him in her heart." There's more to this story. After the people have been fed, David returned to his home and Michal, his wife, met him at the door. She is furious with her husband. "How wonderfully the king has distinguished himself today, exposing himself like some burlesque street dancer." And David snaps back at her. "In God's presence I'll dance all I want. God made me over your father and made me prince over all God's people. Oh yes, I'll dance to God's glory and more recklessly even than this." Michal was barren the rest of her life. This day of celebration came to a disastrous, heartbreaking conclusion for Michal.
Further along in this epic story, David lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a loyal soldier in David's army. David had his way with her, she became pregnant, then he set up her husband so that he was killed in battle. Even though David confessed his sin before God and the Lord put away his sin, still his infant son died.
Michal never had a child, David's little boy became ill and died.
I believe we understand that even though God has given us total freedom to choose how we will live, God has also set boundaries on that freedom. There are moral limits we might trespass but at our own risk. We are free to keep going of course, people do it all the time, but there are consequences, and consequences are different than punishment. I do not believe God sits out there somewhere deciding when to zap a trespasser with a lightning bolt or causes illness in a child.
I do believe God in all compassion instructs us in how the world works, giving us guidelines for moral and ethical behavior and wisdom in learning there are consequences in ethical acts as well as physical acts. Drop a stone out the window, of course, it will fall to the ground. You've seen a little child sitting in a high chair lean over to drop their spoon or cup or cracker crumbs, intently watching as it drops to the floor. It is cause and effect.
Conceive a child, make its mother a widow, then the infant becomes ill and dies. Because it is the will of God? I don't believe so. We do know we live in relationship with God and one another and with all of creation. There are realities in this life which we must not go up against without sooner or later suffering for our actions. David's life went from a joyous parade into Jerusalem to intense sorrow at the death of his child. Yet through it all he never completely turned away from God and God never gave up on him. Through it all David had a heart for God.
Things were never the same for David when he buried his son. He came face to face with the serious consequences of his own choices and actions which he lived with for the rest of his life. But the point is, he lived. God took him back and gave him other opportunities. He and Bathsheba had a second son named Solomon who ruled Israel for forty years with the gift of profound wisdom. David's line lived to produce a boy named Jesus, who most likely heard this story of David and Bathsheba many times.
Was David a good king or a bad king? I think he was a bit of both, human and flawed as we are. If we remember him as a hero let us not remember him only for slaying Goliath, or singing the psalms or winning the military battles. Let us remember him for the time when in darkest sorrow and grief he saw what he had done. He recognized his sin in taking another man's wife.
Over and over again we hear the stories of the rich and famous of our nation and of those who sit in places of power. It becomes a way of life, enjoying the privileges and acclaim those positions carry. Very soon it seems one can come to feel entitled to these special privileges and acquire an attitude of being above the rules that apply to others.
David was offended at Michal's disapproval, he clearly felt as king he could celebrate in anyway he chose. He shunned his wife and she was forever childless. He desired the beautiful Bathsheba and without hesitation did away with her husband and took her for his wife.
Serious consequences resulted from those choices. I wonder if for awhile David lost sight of God. I wonder as he became more and more successful and grew more powerful in the sight of neighboring countries he forgot that it was God who had chosen him and carried him to this place.
The constant refrain running through the story of David is that the Lord blesses David but there are many signs that David was also self-serving and contriving. In other words, David's motives were not always pure and yet God is involved. David sought advice from God before going into battle, he carried on lengthy conversations with God, and he composed beautiful psalms of thanksgiving to God.
Yet at the time of those affairs with women, those conversations with God were missing. Sin is real and faith is real, often side by side in one event and one character. David was not all bad nor was he all good. Yet his relationship with God continued for David had a heart for God.
Hundreds of years later this is how Paul remembers David in his New Testament writings. On a Sabbath day he speaks to the people gathered in the synagogue and recounts events in their long history. "Men of Israel and you that fear God. God raised up David to be king, for he found in David, the son of Jesse, to be a man after God's heart who will do his will."
We remember David the giant killer, the great warrior, a gifted musician and one having a weakness for women. But there is so much more. We remember also the times he recognized his sinful behavior, repented and begged for forgiveness returning to God with a thankful heart.