The Story of David and Bathsheba, Biblical Text 2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:25

Today, we think of David as a great king, a powerful warrior, a devout man especially favored by God.  Whether recalling the handsome young shepherd whose zeal for the honor of the LORD emboldened him, armed only with a sling and a few small stones, to stand against the giant Goliath, or the author of psalms expressing adulation, thanksgiving, and worship, David is to us a true hero of the faith.  How then could it be that this same man, beloved of God, could commit a sin so heinous as to fill us with revulsion?  In the eleventh and twelfth chapters of Second Samuel, we are confronted by a David far more complex, and far more human than the king we learned of as a Sunday School hero and the author of the Twenty-third Psalm.

The first part of the story of David and Bathsheba is a tale of illicit lust, base treachery and betrayal, and the arrogance of power spinning out of control.  David is the all-powerful king of a country that, though small in geography, enjoys remarkable military success.  That success is attributed by the populace to David, who, though not entirely without enemies, enjoys widespread support and popularity among the Israelites.  Yet, throughout the earlier chapters describing David’s life and accomplishments, it is clear that the success he enjoys comes from the favor of the LORD, not from any intrinsic power or wisdom in David.  Indeed, David’s sole source of strength is his faith in God.  But here, as Chapter 11 opens, David seems to have forgotten who it is that is his strength.

We are told that, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army” … “But David remained in Jerusalem.”  One can only speculate why this great warrior king decided to remain in Jerusalem while his army went out to face the hardship and danger of warfare without him.  We cannot add to the Word of God, but one wonders whether David may have become too fond of the perquisites of the kingship that the LORD had so graciously bestowed upon him.  

In any case, one particular evening, rather than being encamped with is army besieging the Ammonites in Rabbah, David was taking the night air, strolling around the rooftop of the palace.  As he enjoyed the pleasant evening, he saw a woman, presumably naked, bathing on a nearby rooftop.  At this point, we may speculate that this first sight of Bathsheba bathing was inadvertent.  Though it is possible that David saw only what he was already looking for.  Again, we will not go beyond the text.  In any case, David already had several wives.  He could have immediately turned away.  He could have gone back to his bed alone.  Or he could have gone to one of his wives if he felt he needed female companionship after glimpsing the beautiful bather across the rooftops.   But he didn’t.  He gazed long enough at least to see that, “The woman was very beautiful,…”  

Now the die was cast.  David sent someone to find out who she was, and then sent messengers to bring her to him.  He had made up his mind that he would have her in his bed.  What Bathsheba thought of all this, we are not told.  However, it probably mattered little.  David was, after all, the king of Israel.  His word was law.  This part always reminds me of a paraphrase on a famous line from the musical, “Damn Yankees,” What David wants, David gets.  And Bathsheba, David wants you.  Bathsheba would have been in no position to resist David’s advances.  So David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  

In short order, we learn that Bathsheba had been impregnated by David.  If ever there was a time for repentance, it would seem that this was it.  David had sinned, and his sin had produced serious consequences.  But it seems that David’s first thought is on covering up his sin.  This part seems especially strange given David’s close relationship with God.  Did he think that God was unaware of what he had done?  David first tried to arrange for Bathsheba’s husband, one of David’s loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite, to sleep with her and so make it appear that the child was legitimate.  When Uriah failed to cooperate, David grew desperate to hide his guilt, and arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle.  It happened just as David had planned.  So now David added murder to adultery.

In due course, after the period of mourning, David had the pregnant Bathsheba brought to his house and made her is wife, and she bore a baby boy.  Now we are told, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.”  No kidding!  Here we have the king of Israel, a man chosen by God for great things, enjoying success after success, and exercising power over the entire people of God, behaving as the pagans whom God had empowered the Israelites to drive out from the Promised Land.  At this point, one wonders what was going through David’s mind.  Did he think he had gotten by with something?  After all, Uriah was dead, the beautiful Bathsheba was now sharing his bed, and he had a new son.  It was good to be the king!  But God was displeased.

God sent the prophet Nathan to show David his sin.  Nathan told a story of a wealthy man who had taken from a poor man the one little lamb that was all the poor man had.  This is a classic story of self-righteousness, as David’s anger burned hot against the rich man in Nathan’s story who had taken the most cherished possession of a poor man.  Then like an arrow piercing his heart, David heard and understood the words of Nathan, “You are the man!”  Nathan recounted all of the blessings with which the LORD had showered David, but still it hadn’t been enough to satisfy David’s sinful nature, and now the full weight of his guilt overwhelmed him, and he confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.”  And Nathan announced God’s forgiveness to David.  

Nevertheless, sin is not without consequences.  Nathan’s further pronouncements included God’s judgment on David and his house.  The son born to Bathsheba would die.  The sword would not pass from the house of David.  David’s wives would be taken from him in due course and someone close to him would lay with them in broad daylight (fulfilled in Absalom’s rebellion).  But David was still a man after God’s own heart, and God’s favor would not be withheld from him or his house forever.

So what are we to make of this king who, so blessed by God, nevertheless commits murder and adultery?  First, he is no god himself.  He is human, like you and me, a sinner from his mother’s womb.  But, second, he knows who God is, and he knows whom he has offended with his sin.  When confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan, he did not deny, he did not rationalize, and he did not further compound his guilt with prevarication.  Instead, he confessed.  Simply, honestly, and forthrightly, he stated, “I have sinned against the LORD.”  He could have claimed irresistible temptation (I can hear a lesser man exclaiming his innocence by saying, “The woman, whom you made so beautiful, bathed naked in full sight of my roof top.  It was her fault.  How was I to resist – I’m only human!”)  

David’s actions after the baby became ill, as Nathan had prophesied, was also revealing.  He spent the next seven days and nights praying to God to have mercy and let the child live.  Yet when the child died, David accepted the judgment of God.  He worshiped the LORD, accepting the justice and the will of God.  And David continued to be blessed by God.  Bathsheba conceived again, and bore a son named Solomon – who continued David’s line.  And God blessed David beyond all measure when he kept his promise that through David’s line would come the Christ, who would save the world.

Now we turn to David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ.  Like David, Jesus was beloved of the Father.  Like David, Jesus maintained faith in the Father despite all of the suffering he endured, even unto death on the cross.  But unlike David, Jesus was more than human.  While fully human, he is also fully God.  When confronted with temptation, David acting on his humanity, gave in.  Jesus, touching his divinity, resisted all temptation and remained sinless.  Though offered all power on earth when Satan tempted him in the desert, Jesus rebuked the tempter and remained sinless.

We, like David, are human.  While we are called to resist temptation always, we continually fall into sin.  Though we think that we do not commit adultery and murder as David did, the words of Jesus convict us, reminding us that if we lust in our hearts, we have broken the commandment and committed adultery.  If we hate our brother, we have broken the commandment and committed murder.  We don’t want to follow the example of David into sin, but we do want to follow his example into confession and repentance.  And what comfort beyond all understanding is ours when we know that, just as God forgave David, he forgives us as well.  

This doesn’t mean that our sins have no consequences in our lives – the alcoholic who has abused his family and driven them away from him, but who confesses and repents and puts his trust in Jesus has the certainty of forgiveness.  But he may still have to live with the pain of divorce, and the disability brought on by a damaged liver.  Nevertheless, the God who forgave David and continued to love him and bless him is also the God who will forgive us and continue to bless us in Christ Jesus, as we, like David, are saved by grace through faith.  

Even in suffering, God works to bless those who trust in him and remain faithful.  David’s life is filled with both anguish and joy.  Throughout it all, David remained faithful, and God continued to love him and care for him to the end.  Just as it is with believers today – God will never abandon those whose trust is in him.

Knowing God

When I think of God, I think of One who is…

Omnipresent – God is everywhere present, not just in part, but in the fullness of his glory.  From the farthest reaches of the universe, to the center of the tiniest particle; from the hearts of the saints of old to the hearts of believers of today; from the hearths of those who cry out against God and attempt to refute his existence and truth, to the homes of those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  There is no place where God is not.

Omniscient – God knows all that is, all that was, and all that ever shall be.  His knowledge is perfect, complete in every respect, and his judgments are always informed by his perfect knowledge and righteousness.  There is no place where we can hide an act or thought from the Lord.  He knew us before we were knit together in our mother’s wombs, and he loved us despite knowing all of our sins, betrayals, and rebellions.

Omnipotent – God is all powerful.  He rules the world according to his purposes.  While Satan and his demons may attack us for a season, for the elect of God the victory over sin, death, and the power of the Devil is already won.  God uses means to accomplish his purpose, for example, he causes rain to fall on the fields and nurture the crops.  But the means are always completely under God’s control.  At the end of time, his omnipotent will in saving those whom by his grace he has called will be revealed, and all earthly powers will pass away.  God reveals his love for me by protecting me from all manner of dangers – from accident and injury, from illness and disease, from the demonic power of Satan and his legions.  When trials and tribulations occur, God give me confidence in knowing that he is always in control.

Triune – God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but only one God.  Co-equal, co-eternal, and existing in perfect union.  The Almighty Triune God we worship is clearly taught in Holy Scripture.  The mystery of the Trinity continues, since in the limitation of our human minds we cannot fully understand or explain it.  But the fact of the Triune God is received by the Church, and properly taught in the creeds, as they rightly reflect the plain truth of Scripture.

Holy – God is holy.  In him there is no darkness at all.  Every thing he thinks, does, wills, or allows is perfect. 

The Creator – God has created me, the universe, and all that exists.  Time and space, matter and energy, and all the laws that guide their being and actions are created by God.  Further, God every moment continues to sustain all.  Without his continuous creative will, nothing would continue to exist.  The creation is not the Creator, nor is the Creator the creation.  Out of nothing God called into existence all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be.  God reveals his love for me in creating and sustaining me.

The Redeemer – When humankind fell from the state of grace in which God created us, God by his love provided a way back to fellowship and communion for us, through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  The second person of the Trinity took on himself the punishment for all our sins, and offered us salvation and eternal life with God.  God reveals his love for me in the glorious act of redemption, the victory of Jesus.

The Sanctifier – The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, calls us whom God elects to faith; through the Gospel and the Sacraments we are brought to faith and our faith is strengthened.  There is no merit in us that would lead God to give us this most precious gift, but only by his love and grace are we saved.  God reveals his love for me in calling and sanctifying me unto eternal life.

Faith – is trust in things unseen.  Faith is both an action, our trust by grace, and the object – God who is trustworthy, always faithful, who can and will do what he promises.  Throughout Scripture, God promises to care for us, and in Christ is his most excellent proof of his trustworthiness. 

If Jesus Paid for Our Sins, Why Do We Still Suffer?

Christianity clearly teaches that Jesus has paid our debt of sin for all time, for all sins, for all people.  So why does suffering still occur?   How come everything isn’t sunshine and lollipops in our lives?  Well, let’s back up a bit and remember who God is and who we are.  God is the creator of all that exists, of all things visible and invisible.  Among the invisible things are the laws of physics, of celestial mechanics, and the laws that tell us that for every action and there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Simply put, our actions (and our inactions) have consequences.  Yes, Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, but that doesn’t mean that the laws of the universe have been repealed.  When we suffer as a result of sin, we are experiencing the worldly consequences of the sinful actions (or inactions), not punishment for those sins.

Evildoers will always be among us, until the end of time.  Oftentimes, we are evildoers, too.  The evil that we or others do has consequences in this world.  When someone sins, that sin reverberates in the lives of other people.  Like a stone dropped into a still pool of water, the waves spread out and affect the entire pool.  The driver of an automobile drinks four alcoholic beverages before getting behind the wheel and, while driving drunk, slams into a pedestrian in a crosswalk, killing the pedestrian.  There is nothing inherently evil in either the alcoholic beverage or the automobile.  The evildoer isn’t these inanimate objects, but the driver of the automobile.   The ripples of this sinful act spread out to cause suffering to many other people, including the family and friends of the victim and the family and friends of the drunk driver.  This suffering is a consequence of the sin that the drunk driver committed, but it isn’t the punishment for that sin.

The drunk driver in the example above may spend years in prison as a consequence of his or her actions.  But if that driver sincerely repents and puts their trust in Jesus for forgiveness, their sin is forgiven.  The civil authorities in this world are still responsible for meting out justice according to the laws promulgated for the wellbeing of society as a whole.  The prison sentence must still be served.  The family of the dead pedestrian must still bear their grief and suffer the loss of their loved one.  However, all of those are consequences of sin, not punishment for sin.

Suffering can also be the result of natural disasters:  Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, and lightning strikes are a few examples.  Suffering can also arise from diseases, birth defects, disabilities, aging, wars, crime, and death of a loved one.  These are all consequences of living in a fallen world.  When Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disobeying him in the Garden of Eden, their sin did not only affect them, it affected all of creation, and every human being born through natural means thereafter.  The whole world has been groaning under the curse of sin ever since the Fall.  The suffering resulting from the examples above is a consequence of the Fall of humankind into sin when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, it isn’t a punishment for our sins or the sins of others.

Many false preachers and prophets point to natural disasters and diseases and seek to connect them to specific sins that people or nations are committing.  By doing so, they unwittingly are seeking to rob Jesus of his glory, and denigrating the sacrifice that he made once and for all on the cross.  Such false preachers and prophets mistakenly teach that our forgiveness is something that we must somehow earn by our good behavior.  They ignore the clear message of the Gospel, which teaches that we are saved by faith through grace and not by any works that we do.  Doing good works is a consequence of being saved and trusting in Jesus.  If we had to rely on our good works for our salvation, we would never have the assurance and peace that comes from knowing we are saved – saved because Jesus, the Son of God, has already done all that is necessary for our salvation.  Nothing we could ever do would be enough to pay for even one sin.

Sins will be committed.  Suffering will come, even into the lives of the most fervent Christians.  But thanks be to God, such suffering is only a consequence of sin, not a punishment for sin.  The punishment was born by Jesus Christ on the cross.  And nothing we do adds anything to his victory over sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

The Problem of Evil for Christianity

Christianity posits a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and always fully present everywhere.  And this is the best He can do?

We live in a real world in which children are abused and murdered in horrible ways.  We live in a real world were police, prosecutors, and politicians abuse their power and authority by destroying innocent lives, both figuratively and literally.  We live in a real world in which we are set upon by sickness, disease, disability, and ultimately death.  Again and again, those whom we love are brought to the grave, leaving us behind to mourn, until finally we, too, go down to death.  Our whole lives are spent in dying.  A God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – and this is the best that He can do?

Christianity posits a God who loves us, cares about us, and knows our every want and need before we even know them ourselves.  And this is the best that He can do?  This hardly seems to be a God whose attitude toward us is loving and caring.  This is a God who is at best indifferent, and more probably hostile toward humankind.  How are we to understand an all-knowing, all-powerful, and always present God who puts us in this world of pain and suffering to live our lives of quiet desperation?

For many Christian denominations, the only response to the problem of evil is to rule the question out of order.  Others offer more complicated and convoluted answers, but in the end, fail miserably to answer the fundamental question – is this the best He can do?  There is no real reconciliation of the reality of pain and suffering with the supposed attributes and qualities of God.  So in the end, we are left with no answer, except for the Word of God – the Holy Bible.

What is evil?  Some answer the absence of good, or a want of goodness.  So rather than being a something, evil is defined as the absence of something – in other words, instead of being some thing, it is a not thing, or more simply put, nothing.  However, defining evil as being nothing as opposed to something means that evil is without agency, without the ability to act independently, to do what it pleases, and to affect our everyday reality.  (Agency is defined in social sciences as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.)  We know, from merely being alive, that evil isn’t a nothing, for a nothing couldn’t act to hurt us.  Yet we are hurt in myriad ways continually.  So we conclude that evil is a something.  We conclude that there exists a malevolent spirit in the world that foments misery and suffering.  That malevolent spirit is Satan, the Accuser, the great enemy of God and of all of humankind.

Evil exists.  Evil is real.  Evil has a name.  Evil has agency, and Evil is our enemy from the moment of conception till we breath our last upon this Earth.  Evil is that which the Holy Bible calls Satan, the Devil, the enemy of God and of all people.  We live now in an era when many deny the reality of Satan.  (They deny the reality of God, as well, but that denial is, fundamentally, the work of Satan who desires that all people deny the existence of God.)  The Holy Bible tells us that Satan is a Created Being, just as we are Created Beings.  But we are created Human Beings.  Satan was created an Angelic Being.  But instead of serving God as he was created to do, Satan rebelled.  Satan wanted to be God, to supplant God as the Supreme Being.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  He is persuasive.  He convinced countless other angels to follow him in his attempt to overthrow God.  And for his rebellion, Satan was cast out of God’s presence.  And Hell was prepared as the place for Satan and his followers to suffer for all eternity.

But not yet.  Now Satan has agency in this world.  Satan is the accuser.  Satan is the silent whisper in the ears of humankind, telling us what we already know – that we are sinners.  That we harbor all manner of evil thoughts and desires in our hearts.  That we are altogether unloveable.  That a just God couldn’t possibly love us.  That we are enemies of God, and God is an enemy of us.  So why not eat, drink, and be merry with what little brief moment we have upon this Earth.  Why not indulge our appetites for transient pleasures and ignore God, since God knowing our hearts, will undoubtably judge us and condemn us at the end of time.  This is the lie that Satan, the Accuser, uses to turn billions away from God.  Are Satan’s accusations wrong?  No, we know in our hearts that we are guilty of everything as charged.  In a court of law, a just judge would no doubt sentence us to punishment.  However, remember that Satan is a liar.  And one of the ways he lies is to leave out the most important facts.

Yes, God is a just judge.  Yes, God must and will punish sin.  But…But…God is also a merciful judge.  And in his mercy, God has provided substitute to bear the punishment that we so richly deserve.  God himself suffered that punishment for us.  God the Son, Jesus the Christ, though without sin himself, took all of our sins unto himself.  Jesus suffered and died to pay the penalty for all of our sins.  For all of the sins of all human beings for all time.  And in him, we have forgiveness for our sins.  Not because we deserve it.  But because God is merciful.  God offers us not justice but mercy.  How do we receive this mercy, this forgiveness of sins, and escape the punishment that we deserve?

This was the question that the people of Israel asked the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost:  “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter, speaking with the authority of Jesus and the words given to him by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit answered them:  “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for  all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  The simple message of the Gospel is this:  All who believe and are baptized will be saved.  All who will not believe and be baptized are condemned.  God does not condemn them.  But they condemn themselves by their unbelief.

How can we believe this?  In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, speaking with the authority of Jesus and the words given to him by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved by faith.  And this is not your own doing.  It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God, the Holy Bible, to grant faith to those who will hear.  The answer to how can we believe is found in these words from the Apostle Paul.  God wants all people to hear his Word, and hearing, to believe.  Some will harden their hearts against God’s Word, taking delight in their rebellion and pride.  But many will hear the Word and by the gift of the Holy Spirit they will believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.

God’s answer to the problem of evil is the cross of Christ.  Yes, evil is real.  Yes, evil is with us everyday on this fallen world.  But the cross of Christ provides the means by which we can be saved from evil’s ultimate power to destroy.  Because Jesus has paid the penalty for all of our sins – past, present, and future – we are forgiven.  When God looks at us now he doesn’t see that hot mess of sin that we are, but instead sees the righteousness of Jesus that in his mercy he has given to us as our own.  The great task that God has given to every Christian is to tell others about this miracle of grace.  Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ.  We are God’s messengers so that all can hear this good news.