Psalm 119:33–40; 2 Samuel 10,11; John 8:1–11

Originally published 10/18/2016. Revised and updated 10/18/2018.

Psalm 119:33–40: In this stanza the first four verses are a variation on the there of learning God’s laws so the psalmist can

  • keep [your statutes] it without fail” (33);
  • receive “insight that I may keep Your teaching;” (34)
  • stay “on the track of Your commands,/ for in it I delight;” (35)
  • incline “my heart to Your precepts/ and not to gain.” (36)

Statutes. Teaching. Commands. Precepts. These are the foundational synonyms for an upright Jewish education leading to an upright life as practiced by the the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Unfortunately, this intense education too often became the sole end rather than the means to build a deeper relationship with God. Nicodemus stands out in John’s gospel as one Pharisee who truly followed the path outlined here by the psalmist by never forgetting that God’s statutes/ teaching/ commands/ precepts are the way to a fulfilling and spiritually rich life that is based in the heart rather than the head.

It appears that our psalmist had some sort of preaching or lecturing duties to communicate this teaching to others as he asks,
Fulfill for Your servant Your utterance,
which is for those who fear You.
 (38)

These teachings are also the way to avoid social opprobrium:
Avert my disgrace that I feared,
for Your laws are good
.” (39)

In the end there is a subtly stated quid pro quo:
Look, I have desired Your decrees.
In Your bounty give my life.
” (40)

For the observant Jew, if the law was kept, God will give him life.

There is nothing wrong with this desire. Even though we Christians are saved by grace and not by the law, there’s no question that walking the path that Jesus lays out for us [“I came to fulfil the law”] is far better than pretending God and God’s laws do not exist and can therefore be ignored. After all, biblical precepts are the glue that has held civilization together.  As these laws are ignored or changed to suit our cultural whims, life will become far more coarse. As seems to be our present societal path—beginning with our erstwhile “leaders.”

2 Samuel 10,11: Through military power, David has established relatively peaceful relationships with surrounding nations, one of them being the Ammonites. When the Ammonite king dies and his son comes to the throne, David seeks to establish an amicable relationship and says, “I will deal loyally with Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father dealt loyally with me.” (10:2). But it’s clear that the new king is young and naive as he succumbs to the wiles of the Ammonite princes and has David’s envoys stripped and half(!) their beards cut off. David will not allow this insult to pass, he “sent Joab and all the army with the warriors.” (7)

The Ammonites hire Aramean mercenaries to defend their city placing them out in the open, while the Ammonites themselves gather around the city gate. Joab sees the implications of this two-front battle and deploys “some of the picked men of Israel, and arrayed them against the Arameans” (9) under his brother, while the main Israelite forces under Joab go against the Ammonites. The Aramean mercenaries flee and the Ammonites retreat back into their city. Joab returns to Jerusalem and David pursues the Arameans, whom he conquers, “so the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites any more.” (10:19)

Our authors continue their narrative rhythm between battle and domesticity as they turn from David the warrior to David the lover. Strolling on the roof of his house, David spies “a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.” (11:2) David has been informed that her name is Bathsheba and that she is married to one of his generals, Uriah. Depsite this knowledge, he has her brought to him and he has sex with her. Shortly thereafter she comes to him announcing she’s pregnant.

David tries a ruse to avoid knowledge among others of his paternal responsibility by bringing Uriah back into town so that he will have sex with his wife. “But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.” (9) Then he gets Uriah drunk, thinking he’ll go have intercourse with his wife. But that scheme comes to nothing as well.

Now desperate, David commands Joab to “set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (11:15) Joab obeys and “some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.” (17)

Because of this military defeat, Joab expects David to be angry when the news of this defeat and the death of Uriah is brought to the king. Quite the contrary. David’s plan to get Uriah out of the way has succeeded and he instructs the messenger to tell Joab, “‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.’” (25) In short, David is saying, ‘No big deal.’ Joab must certainly have been puzzled about this response by his king.

David brings the mourning Bathsheba into his house, doubtless explaining her to be pregnant by Uriah since her husband was not around to defend himself.  Shortly after, she bore David a son.

Our authors do not whitewash the enormity of David’s sins of deception and proxy murder. David, man of God except when he thinks with his penis rather than following God with his heart, is shortly to receive his comeuppance. Even the greatest and mightiest have fallen prey to their sexual proclivities and then conspire to hide it by any means possible, even murder. Right up to current events.

John 8:1–11: The scribes and Pharisees bring an adulterous woman to Jesus. They point out that by law she should be stoned. In order to trap Jesus “so that they might have some charge to bring against him” (6a) they ask Jesus, “Now what do you say?” (5) Rather than responding verbally, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” (6b) Alas, John does not tell us what he was writing. They continue to nag him, Jesus finally responds with the famous admonition, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (7) John tells us that Jesus bends down again and continues writing.

It really doesn’t matter what Jesus was writing in the sand. His words, accompanied by his studied indifference to the elders and Pharisees defuses the dramatic confrontation and, “when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” (9) Jesus didn’t have to tell them they were sinners; they figured it out themselves.

Soon, only Jesus and the woman are standing there and he asks her if there are any accusers still there. She replies, “No one, sir,” Jesus says,“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (11) I’m willing to bet that the woman, rescued from death, enthusiastically obeyed Jesus’ words.

The lesson here is that we cannot accuse others of sinning when we ourselves are sinners. Yet it is exactly this sort of pharisaical judgement that is rife not only in the larger culture but perhaps even more in the church since we are supposed to know better. This is not to say sins will go unpunished. Only that empty accusations and hypocritical mendacity are pointless exercises.

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