Birds and Nests

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Today we’re going to learn how to keep birds from building nests in our hair.

The person who’s going to teach us is David, but not so much because of his instruction… instead, David will be our example of what NOT to do. In short, if you act like David, you’ll get a nest in your hair.

The story starts with David at home in his palace, with this noteworthy detail: it was “the time of year when kings go out to battle” (11:1). All Israel is out battling, but oddly, not their king. He has stayed behind. We don’t know why, but we might speculate: Is David lazy? Afraid? Apathetic? Not feeling in tip-top shape? We may not know the motives behind this choice, but we can sense that David is not where he should be.

The story could have stopped here, but it didn’t.

The story continues when one afternoon David is out on his rooftop. Because of the way Jerusalem’s terrain dips and rises, David’s roof gives him a clear view across a small valley and onto the roofs of neighboring houses. There, on one of those roofs, is infamous Bathsheba taking a bath. David sees her, and he likes what she sees.

The story could have stopped here, but it didn’t.

The story continues as David sends for Bathsheba. She comes to him and they do exactly what David daydreamed of doing when he first saw her. Then he sends her home. Her husband Uriah ifsoff at war, after all, so there’s no evidence that any adultery took place… Except that Bathsheba gets pregnant, and before long a baby bump is going to make for pretty clear evidence of what happened when her husband was not around. David is in hot water now.

The story could have stopped here, but it didn’t.

The story continues with a cover-up plan. David sends for Uriah to come home from battle so that this soldier will spend a night with his wife. After that, the father of this baby will be assumed to be Bathsheba’s rightful husband. Unfortunately for David, Uriah is a man of some honor. He refuses to go to Bathsheba out of solidarity for his soldiers who are still at war. He refuses to go to her even when David gets him drunk. He goes back to the front lines having never done what would result in a pregnant wife.

The story could have stopped here, but it didn’t.

The cover-up plan has failed, so David moves right along to murder. He sends Uriah back with a note holding his own death sentence, instructing the commander, Joab, to intentionally put Uriah in harm’s way. Joab is not as honorable as Uriah, apparently, because he doesn’t hesitate to put this plan into action – even at the loss of other troops. But no worry, Uriah is dead and the secret is safe. Bathsheba mourns and David takes her as his wife.

The story doesn’t end here, either – it continues with the prophet Nathan’s scathing and humiliating judgment of David’s actions – but let’s stop and retrace David’s decisions back to the beginning:

Murder that came from a cover-up that came from adultery that came from a lustful look.

David’s view of bathing Bathsheba is a fateful moment. From that moment, a series of bad decisions came tumbling down. Arguably, David shouldn’t have even been there – he should have been off at war – but he was there, and he saw her, and the thoughts that entered his head in that moment were not good thoughts. They are so “not good,” as a matter of fact, that they took a hold on David. At several points, this story could have ended – David could have fessed up and stopped what he was doing. David didn’t take advantage of any of the natural stopping points. His lust lead to adultery, deception, and death.

But, let’s be honest – David’s thoughts are normal thoughts. David is a man, and he is seeing a naked woman. It would be very difficult for any man to see what David saw and not have an immoral thought or two jump into his brain. Thoughts have a way of surprising us like this. Often they’re prompted by something we see or hear, and suddenly some idea of lust or hate, greed or vengeance will jump into our minds like they’re of some other person. Those thoughts surprise us – we think, “Where did that come from?” And we shake them off, a little embarrassed that they ever occurred to us at all.

Except that David did not shake these thoughts off.

Do you remember the lesson for today?

Karin Petross, who is soon to be an official member of our church family, shared this quote with me a couple weeks ago:

Nests“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.”

This is attributed to Martin Luther, the Catholic priest and theologian who helped start the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Here’s what Luther is trying to say:

Imagine our thoughts are like birds. Birds fly over our heads all the time. There is nothing we can do to stop them from gliding around above us – that’s so obvious, it’s ridiculous. Equally ridiculous, though, is if a bird comes to land on our heads – starts gathering twigs, starts making a home in our hair – that we resign to this and figure there’s nothing to do about that, either. There’s EVERYTHING to do about that! Run! Swing your arms! Go inside! Don’t let the bird build a nest in your hair!

Luther is telling us that the same goes for our thoughts. True, these crazy ideas come into our heads from time to time. Some of them are nice, or just kind of strange; others are actually not very nice at all. They are things we DO NOT WANT TO THINK. That seems to be part of how our minds work. It’s difficult to completely stop that.

Once those thoughts enter, though, we might be tempted to make a little space for them. We indulge in a daydream or two. We talk about them with our close friends. We make jokes about them; jokes are harmless! We think about what it might be like to act on these thoughts – just “what if,” we don’t plan on really doing anything. Right?

But what we’ve done is to invite the thoughts in to make a nest. When we should have been running away, waving our hands, retreating indoors, we’ve stood still and said, “Come on down – make a home here.”

And before long, we might find ourselves doing what we didn’t think we’d ever do. Adultery. Cover-ups.


I’ve been thinking about Dylan Roof, like a lot of people have been over the past couple weeks. Like many of you, I’ve read the story of how he murdered nine black men and women – after spending an hour with them at their church – and feel astounded and confused. How in the world does hate turn into murder? How do you hate a group of people so much that you want them dead?

I don’t know Dylan and his background any more than you do. I make no claim to read his mind or know his thoughts. But studying David’s story this week – a story where thoughts made a nest and turned into murder – makes me wonder if that’s Dylan’s story, too. A story of how the idea of racism first occurred to Dylan, and Dylan did not shoo it off. He did not run away. Over time, racism made a big, terrible nest in his mind.

We are all in possession of dangerous thoughts. Lust. Anger. Jealousy. Hate. Racism. They fly through our minds like birds over our heads. That happens. Luther says, we can’t stop that from happening. But we must stop them from making a home in our minds, or else, like Dylan and David, we’ll end up with a terrible nest in our souls.

Like David, we might be making a home for lust in our heads. We might be daydreaming and thinking “what if’s.” If so, confess that before God and run from those thoughts. Shoo them away like birds trying to make a home in your hair.

Like Dylan, we might be making a home for hate of our brothers and sisters of another race. We might tell racist jokes, and think unkind things when we see someone of a different color. If so, confess that before God and run from those thoughts. Shoo them away like birds trying to make a home in your hair.

For David, the moment of change came with confession. This came pathetically late – after cover-ups and murder – and only at the prodding of the prophet Nathan… but once David confessed, he was able to change.

Let’s learn from David. Instead of waiting until the bitter end to confess, let’s do it now – let’s confess to God the thoughts we have been welcoming into our minds.

Whatever thoughts are flying above our heads today, however shameful or embarrassing they may be, let’s turn them over to God, and may the God who loves us help us to shoo them away before they get a chance to build a nest.


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