I’d like to tell you a story.
In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. (II Samuel 12)
Cuteness overload, right? A man carrying a little bundle of a lamb. The fact he nourished her got me thinking. I grew up around horses, and one of the artifacts from my childhood was a giant plastic baby bottle, about 16” high, floating around the house for feeding foals who couldn’t nurse or who needed supplements.
I share this memory because before the lamb could drink from a cup, how did the
poor man feed her? I did some research. Archeologists have found terracotta pots dating from the ancient world, round pots with a handle on one side and a small spout on the other, called ‘nursing pots’. The man would have held the baby lamb in the crook of his arm, while tilting the milk into her mouth, about every four hours, like a human baby. I go into detail here to emphasize the love the man had for this lamb, how intimately he cared for his pet. He quite literally loved her as a daughter, even nursing her as a mother would.
She toddled behind him as he did chores. She played with the poor man’s children. She brought him joy. At night, she curled into his side and slept beside him.
One day, a visitor arrived at the rich man’s estate. The rich man had flocks and herds in great number, but he seized the poor man’s lamb, slaughtered her, and fed her to his guest.
This is the parable the prophet Nathan told to King David, well, this is an accusation veiled as a parable, intended “. . . to get David to pronounce judgement on himself.”
Do you remember David’s reaction? “. . . David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!” David is outraged.
Outrage has the peculiar ability to protect us from ourselves. David expresses his dismay at the rich man’s actions and Nathan says, “David, the man is you.”
What has David done? Mesmerized by Bathsheba, David took her for himself (he was the King, and in modern parlance, Bathsheba did not have the power in this relationship). David was powerful. Bathsheba was beautiful. David exploited her sexually.
Nathan uses this parable of the lamb to illustrate the intense pain caused by sin. Sin is never just between us and God. Our sin hurts others deeply, like the rich man hurt the poor man.
I remember my reaction when I first read Nathan’s parable of the lamb in my Old Testament class. Like David, I was outraged. “Pffft!” I thought. “Rich people!” Outrage blinds us to ourselves.
“No, Misty,” the text reads, “this is you.”
There is a perverse satisfaction in outrage. It feels so good because it diverts our attention from our own culpability. Outrage is fertile ground for self-righteousness.
The poor man loved the lamb like a daughter. The rich man needed to feed his guest.
It sounds cruel. But no one meant to be cruel. At least not at the beginning.
Sin usually involves the unceremonious satisfying of our own needs and desires. The rich man wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to break this poor man’s heart and kill his pet lamb.” He was simply fulfilling the requirements of hospitality, caring for his guest while limiting his expenses. “Business is business,” as they say.
When David saw Bathsheba bathing in the water and desired her, he did not mentally carry his actions to their logical conclusion. He did not anticipate Bathsheba would get pregnant, nor did he imagine the level of deceit that would be required to hide the pregnancy from her husband, Uriah.
As David gazed at Bathsheba as she bathed, he was not plotting murder. He just NEEDED to possess beauty. Don’t we all?
How many of our sins against one another do we classify as needs? It’s not gossip; I just NEED to work out my feelings about this woman. My anger is justified! I NEED to own my feelings. My neighbor may be hungry or homeless, but I NEED a lot of matching outfits with coordinated shoes. And earrings.
David’s initial sin, accosting Bathsheba, led to her pregnancy and his need to hide his role in it. He attempted to manipulate Uriah and when that failed, David killed him. I would like to say I have never manipulated situations to get what I want, or to obfuscate something I have done. But I have.
Beyond the pain our sin inflicts on one another, our sin is an offense against God, a denial or dismissal of the good God has done for us. Nathan says as much to David,
“Thus says the Lord . . . I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. . .” It’s as if God is saying, “What else could I have done for you?”
God had blessed and anointed David, and still David sins grievously, abusing the power and authority God has given him. How do we love the Lord despite our desires for what is not ours, despite self-righteousness that blinds us to our own failings, despite the constant temptation to make an idol of beauty? How do we keep from hurting one another?
As children of a good and merciful God, we turn back to Him. Let us return to the image of the terracotta nursing pot full of milk, and reflect on these words from 1 Peter 2:1 – 3:
“Rid yourselves . . . of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk so that by it you may grow into salvation . . . .”
This spiritual milk is the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. Let us long for the Lord as a newborn longs for its mother, and nestle into the crook of God’s arm. If we cry out, He hears us. If we are hungry, He feeds us. We have been given new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who nourishes and sustains. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
 The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Augmented Third Edition, NRSV. (2007) Notes, p. 462
 2 Samuel 12:5
 2 Samuel 12:7
 1 Peter 1:3
 Psalm 34:8