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.