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The Rev. Dr. Ronald Peters The Rev. Dr. Ronald Peters
The Rev. Dr. Ronald Peters is president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, GA


The Uriah Factor

2 Samuel 11:1-21

Proper 12 (17) - Year B

October 09, 2011

Unless we are careful, it is easy to miss or dismiss what I call The Uriah Factor. By way of defining what I mean by The Uriah Factor, let me review the context from which it emerges in scripture: in the well-known Biblical tale of David and Bathsheba.

Because of human nature's popular fascination with the trappings of wealth, privilege, and power, whenever the biblical story of David and Bathsheba is read or discussed, most attention is quickly drawn to the Hollywood-style glamour or soap opera intrigue that surrounds the salacious, the unfettered license, and the corruption in high places that adorns this tragedy. Yet, in so doing, we miss one of the most important aspects of this rather sad tale: the significance and the importance of the man Uriah.

The usual analysis of this sordid episode in the life of ancient Israel's premier monarch, King David, the role of Uriah, a close friend and military officer of the king, is typically brushed off as no more than that of a tragic pawn or minor character. Most rehearsals of this story focus on the King's lascivious abuse of power by taking sexual advantage of his friend's wife, Bathsheba, while Uriah's back was turned while he was away on military assignment by the King. It is an ugly story. When Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, became pregnant as a result of the King's wanton behavior, the King sought to make it appear as if the expected child was Uriah's.

But, then, The Uriah factor kicked in. Because of the integrity of Uriah's faithfulness to the vows of celibacy he had taken in connection with his pledge of loyalty to God, the King, and his fellow soldiers, he became a problem for the King. Uriah made it clear to all that he would not even visit his wife until the war was over. Frustrated by Uriah's public display of such personal integrity, the King arranged to have Uriah killed in battle. In effort to protect his public image, King David then quickly married Uriah's widow, Bathsheba, so that the child could be publicly acknowledged as his own with all the appearances of ethical propriety.

Preoccupation with the exhibitions of power and privilege, and especially the abuse thereof, causes most people to easily miss the profound impact of Uriah's actions. Yet, his behavior exposed a character flaw of the King so egregious that it ultimately altered the leverage of David's dominion and the future nature of his relationship with God. You see, as a result of the Uriah factor, David's brazen and selfish disregard for the welfare of human beings, children of God, for whom he had the civil, political and military, and even religious responsibility to safeguard, was made public. In the end, David's life was forever diminished.

As social creatures, it is natural to be interested in the lives of society's power brokers. This is not a new phenomenon. History is replete with documentation of legendary figures whose personal stories we find intriguing: Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, George Washington, Napoleon, and such. Even in our sacred writings, the history of God's revelation is recorded in many books with names that candidly reveal preoccupation with the lifestyles of the economic, political, and military elite:  Judges (influential decision makers), First and Second Kings (political/military autocrats with absolute authority), or First and Second Chronicles (chronicles of Kings).

Even today, our cultural obsession with famous sports icons, celebrities in entertainment, business and financial barons, politicians, pollsters, political pundits, headliners on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, People Magazine or The Wall Street Journal, and other news venues becomes the stuff of our personal conversations and opinions in life. Our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube preoccupations can begin to reflect ideals, values, and even moral decisions of so-called trendsetters and opinion-makers. We can begin to question time-tested values that make life worth living: do unto others as you would have them do unto you; help the less fortunate than you; when someone is kind or helps you, say "thank you;" sharing, caring, and  honesty are good things.

If we are not careful, lesser values begin to seem normal or even prudent as a Darwinian survival of the fittest mentality takes hold of our thinking. Self-centeredness, "look out for number-one," and a confrontational "us" (the good guys) versus "them" (the bad guys) becomes the typical pattern of our interaction in society. These values are so prevalent, even among many we view as cultural power-brokers and trend-setters, King David-type newsmakers in society, that we come to view selfishness, insensitivity to others, or greed as normal. Often it seems that all we can do, the rest of us ordinary people or "little people" in society, is "fall in line" or "go along with the flow," although at some level deep within, we know that things ought to be different.

Well, I think the actions of Uriah suggest something different. In Hebrew, Uriah's name means "the Lord is my light." Spiritually, the man's name suggests that his very life can be understood as one who walks in God's LIGHT (and therefore becomes a light unto others).  Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word "FACTOR" as any of several "circumstances, conditions, etc., that bring about a result." In other words, a factor is one or any of a number of components, conditions, circumstances in a situation or a state of affairs that influences the end result. 

While Uriah's name in Hebrew means "the Lord is my light," it is interesting to remember that David's name in Hebrew means "beloved." As such, there is a sense in which this episode may be viewed as the story of how the actions of a man named "beloved" (David) are exposed to "God's light" (Uriah) and are found wanting. Thus, the stage is set for corrective action going forward. Sadly, the balance of David's reign and personal life were filled with stories of tragedy: rape and incest, murder, treason and attempted coups against his leadership from within his own family, and all of this in the face of his own diminished powers. Indeed, Uriah's integrity of faith made a difference in David's life and was a factor in altering the nature and legacy of his reign.

Yet, in this story, the integrity of Uriah's faith in God seems to lose out in the face of King David's power. Perhaps this is why we overlook Uriah. We do not want to be like Uriah: he died! But did he really lose?

My goal is not to be morbid. Yet, if a reference about death can help clarify the significance of faith for a believer in God, then I will do so. Two points will suffice.

First, we must acknowledge that we are all going to die. Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor, pastor emeritus of New York City's Concord Baptist Church and twentieth-century prince of the African-American pulpit, once observed that "All deaths are not the same. The death of Judas was not the same as the death of Jesus." All deaths are not equal in their social or eternal merit. Somebody who died in a drug deal gone bad trying to make a profit from the misery of others is not the same as someone who died from a firebomb in Afghanistan trying to help make life better for someone else. All deaths are not the same.

Second, since we're all going to die anyway, doesn't it make sense to die for something rather than to die for nothing? As Martin Luther King, Jr., was frequently quoted as saying, "The person who has not found something worth dying for has nothing for which to live." Either we stand for something or we fall for anything.

If we only focus on Uriah's death, we miss all that his life teaches about living. An immigrant in his adopted country, Uriah took seriously his faith in God and his allegiance to the King and his fellow citizens. We know that this outstanding soldier's life reflected an integrity and transparency of faith that made him a change-agent for God in society. If scripture teaches nothing else, it is clear that the manner in which one lives THIS LIFE has great significance beyond our earthly existence for all ETERNITY.

To suggest that Uriah lost is like saying that Moses lost because he did not get to the Promised Land or that the prophet Jeremiah lost because, because in spite of his preaching, the nation he loved fell into captivity. To suggest that Uriah lost is like saying the Apostles Peter and Paul lost because they were executed for their faith in Christ. To say that Uriah lost is like saying Phyllis Wheatley, the 18th Century poet born in slavery, lost because she did not live to see the end of slavery or that Abraham Lincoln lost because he died in his efforts to save the unity of a nation. If Uriah lost, then the great educators and institution builders like Booker T. Washington and Mary McLeod Bethune lost because they did not live to see the end of legalized segregation in our country. Did the liberator of India, Mohandas Ghandi lose, or did Martin Luther King, Jr., lose because they were assassinated because of their devotion to love and justice? Did our Lord Jesus lose because he went to Calvary's cross so that all who believed would have eternal life?

No, these are not losers! All of these names represent an innumerable list of unique personalities, great and small, who from modest and even very limited circumstances demonstrated the enormous power of God in their lives because of their integrity of faith. No matter how limited and hopeless my or your situation may sometimes appear to others, as a child of God you and I, through the integrity of our faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, are able to make a powerful contribution toward improving the quality of life for someone in society, and in turn, for all people. That's the Uriah Factor.

For believers in Jesus Christ, no matter how overwhelming the challenge may seem, the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Philippi still ring true:

"... I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me." -Philippians 4:12-13 (NRSV)

Let us pray.  Dear God, sometimes we are overwhelmed by the challenges we see, but we are thankful for the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ, that no matter what the obstacle, through faith in you, in your commitment to us, if our motives are pure, we shall overcome. Amen.

 


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