But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him. 2 Samuel 12.19-24.
This morning’s reading is the conclusion of the sad, familiar story of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba had been the wife of one of David’s soldiers, Uriah, but from his palace roof David had seen Bathsheba bathing, had lusted after her, committed adultery with her and made her pregnant, and then arranged for Uriah to be killed so that he, David, could take Bathsheba as his own wife. Not the behaviour God looked for in the king of Israel … in someone once described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14). And there would be a heavy price to pay. Through Nathan, the prophet, God tells David: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife … Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun … Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12.10-14).
David acknowledges his sin, and fasts and weeps because, as he says in this morning’s reading, it was just possible that God would relent and spare the life of the child he had fathered with Bathsheba. But it was not to be. David had to learn that even when sin has been forgiven — “Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin'” (2 Samuel 12.13) — it still has consequences. And what I love about David in this morning’s passage is that, after he has had to pay the first terrible consequence of his sin by having his son die, “he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped”. I had never noticed that when reading this story at other times.
As it happens, the popular song at the top of the British music charts this Christmas is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. (Probably the best rendition of it ever is that by Jeff Buckley which you can hear here.) Though full of strange allusions and meanings, much of it draws on the story of David and Bathsheba …
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.
But then the song goes on to talk about the Hallelujah that is not the Hallelujah of revelation or of joy but the Hallelujah of submission and surrender and pain …
It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
It’s the Hallelujah of Habbakuk 3.17-18: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” It’s the Hallelujah of Job 13.15: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”
I’m sure the Hallelujahs on my lips that have most delighted God over the years have been my “cold and broken Hallelujahs” … not the ones sung out when everything was as I wanted it to be but the ones wrung from my lips even when it seemed that everything in life had gone so wrong that it could never be made right again. That was the kind of Hallelujah on David’s lips after the death of his unnamed son; and just look what David’s “cold and broken Hallelujah” produced — “a son … called … Solomon”.
Cold and broken Hallelujahs are fruitful things. They align my will with the will of God as nothing else can, and they always (or so I have found) unlock the door to fresh hope and new blessings.