David and Bathsheba
2 Sam. 11:1-12:25
In these 2 chapters, we see one of the most horrific episodes in the entire Bible. We know that the author of 2 Samuel finds it so terrible because of the amount of space he devotes to his story. This story does not occupy just a few verses or even one chapter. It occupies 2 long chapters in 2 Samuel.
When we come to the story of David and Bathsheba, most of us ask: “How in the world did this happen?” It seems totally incomprehensible to us that David would commit not only adultery but also murder. David was the one whom God had protected even though Saul had sought high and low to destroy him. David was the one God had exalted to the position of ruler over all Israel. God had blessed David with wives, concubines, and children. He had defeated David’s enemies on all sides of Israel. Why did this happen?
I believe there are 3 reasons this happened. Whereas many women may scoff at this and some men may deny it, the truth is that most men between the ages of 40 and 60 go through a type of mid-life crisis. The change in their bodies triggers this crisis. They used to be strong and virile; now all of a sudden they have a belly they can’t quite seem to get rid of. Young girls used to think them attractive; now these young women call them “Pops” or “Old Man.” They have also achieved nearly everything they wanted in life—the pretty wife, the nice home, the great kids, success in business, etc., and yet they have found that all they sought for and attained does not quite satisfy them like they thought it would. They are like the dog which one day catches the bumper on the car they’ve been chasing. Once they catch it, they don’t quite know what to do with it. Men are very vulnerable during these times, and their wives should be alert to it. The women who scoff at this are probably staring at the failure of their marriage in the face.
During this time in my father’s life, my mother paid especially close attention to him and their marriage. Don’t get me wrong—she liked football. When she was a little girl, she would report to her dad play-by-play the Texas Longhorn Football games she would listen to on the radio. However, what my mom did with my dad went far beyond football. They attended the Dallas Cowboy games regularly during the early 70’s to the mid 80’s. She would scream just as hard for Roger Staubach as my dad did. She would even go further than this though. My dad was an avid deer hunter. He said that he loved God, family, Texas Longhorns, and deer hunting. During this period in their marriage, she started going deer hunting with him. She would climb up the deer stands with him. One deer stand was so risky getting in and out of that she wondered if she was ever going to be able to get back down. There was my mom, sitting in the freezing wind, not caring one whit about shooting a deer, spending time with my dad. In a period when marriages are breaking up left and right, their marriage thrived. David was in such a time as this. By the time this episode occurs, he has achieved his dreams. The question then becomes whether his dreams were all that he had hoped for.
Next, his best friend had died. I’m sure that after David became king that a lot of men claimed to be his best friend; however, David was probably a little suspicious of men who were not his friends before he became king. I’m sure he could never be quite sure of their motives in desiring to be his friend after he became king. Jonathan, on the other hand, had no such motives in befriending David. In fact, he had every reason not to be David’s friend because David’s existence threatened his ascension to the throne. Men need accountability, and not just from their wives. They need male friends with whom they can pal around with and who will hold them accountable. Haversham, who edited My Utmost for His Highest, claims that David would have never committed these heinous sins if Jonathan had been around. Or at least he would have sinned to the extent he did sin.
The third element which contributed to David’s demise was David’s own temperament. David was a man of great emotion and feelings. Read the psalms he wrote and you will not see a mild-mannered man. You will see one full of great passion. When they brought the ark into Jerusalem, he led the way in dancing before the Lord. He had few if any inhibitions and most likely few boundaries also. This had not been a problem before because the lack of those boundaries had never been tested. I believe that all 3 of these together and David’s improper response to them brought about his downfall. If Jonathan had been alive, this would not have happened; if he had been younger, this would not have happened; if he had been a much more passive man, this would not have happened. He was not destined to failure; this could have been prevented. God does not let David off easily because these elements were operating; however, all the elements were there for it to happen.
THE SIN (11:1-5)
The author of 2 Samuel informs us that this episode occurred at the time when kings go to war. The time to launch campaigns in the Middle East is Spring after the rainy season is over and the floods in the wadis (riverbeds which are dry most of the year but which flood during the rainy season) have subsided. Joab, his officers (servants) and the conscripted men of Israel have returned to Ammon in order to finish off what they had left undone in chapter 10. They lay siege to Rabah-Ammon, the capital city of Ammon. David, though, remains in Jerusalem.
Whereas the last detail may not seem all that significant to us since our presidents are never anywhere close to the scene of the battle, in the ancient world one of the primary responsibilities and privileges of the kings was to lead their armies into battle. If their armies were to lose the war, then it was only fitting that they too should die in battle. The stories of Ahab and Josiah provide examples of this. David, though, does not go this time. By this time, he may have tired of waging campaigns.
Moreover, David apparently is bored. The author of 2 Samuel writes that David rose from his bed when evening fell. Whereas it is customary for people around the Mediterranean to take siestas, it is not normal for these siestas to last until evening. In Italy today, the shop owners close their shops during the early afternoon to sleep off their lunch. Even the churches close from noon until 2 in the afternoon. David, though, has taken an extended nap. He is definitely bored.
When he rises from his nap, David walks on top of the roof of his palace. As he surveys the surroundings, he notices a beautiful young woman bathing on top of the roof of her home. She is beautiful. Notice several problems with his. First, when David saw the woman, he should have immediately turned his head and respected her privacy. He, though, began to leer at the woman. We know this first because upon closer inspection he saw that she was beautiful and second because he sends to discover her identity. Normally, all the shame for this incident falls upon David. Whereas the primary burden for all this falls upon him, the truth is that Bathsheba is not the model of modesty and decency. The lady is bathing in full view of all those rooftops which towered above hers. She may have well known that David would have been able to see her from his rooftop. She is not quite the innocent victim that she has been portrayed by most.
David receives word that she is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. This news alone should have put a stop to the whole affair. This was not just somebody off the street, a consenting young adult. This lady was some man’s daughter, some man’s wife. David for just a moment should have projected himself into the shoes of Eliam and Uriah. How would he have felt if his daughter Tamar engaged in a one-night stand with a married man while she was married to another? How would David have felt if his beloved wife Abigail had committed adultery with another man? If we don’t want these things to happen to us, then we should not be the reason they happen to other men. David, though, does not project himself into their shoes. Instead, he invites Bathsheba secretly to his place where they have sexual relations. There is no hint at all that she resists and puts up a fight. She is probably titillated by the prospect of having sex with David; after all, he was the king. She succumbs to his entreaty. After purifying herself from her uncleanness, she returns home.
There are several explanations for her purification from uncleanness. Some claim that she was finishing her menstrual cycle and needed to purify herself from this. This may also explain why she was willing to have relations with another man. If she was in the midst of this cycle, then quite possibly she thought she could not get pregnant. (Babies, though, have been born even with a pill in their hands.) Whatever the precise meaning of uncleanness, the author probably wants us to know that what she and David did was an unclean act, that they had sinned.
THE COVER-UP (11:6-27)
After a short period of time, David receives word from Bathsheba that she is pregnant. What David does next is despicable; however, some other responses would have even been worse. He could have gotten onto national TV and disgraced her by calling her a liar and claiming, “I never had sex with that woman!” Instead, he decides to try to cover up his sin with Bathsheba’s assistance. David sends a courier to Joab to inform him to send Uriah home. When Uriah arrives, David asks for new from the front. All this is a ruse. Although he might care about the state of the battle, he is primarily interested in saving his own skin; therefore, he acts interested in the news. After receiving the news, David instructs Uriah to return home and “wash his feet.” By “wash his feet,” David probably is implying that he needs to go home and jump into bed with Bathsheba. Washing one’s feet would be like taking one’s sox off before going to bed.
Uriah leaves the king’s chambers. David sends a gift after him, probably to soothe his guilty conscience and also to alleviate any suspicion Uriah might have concerning David’s actions.
The next day, David receives the unwelcome news that Uriah has not gone home but has actually slept outside the king’s palace with the rest of the king’s servants. He is like a loyal puppy to David. David sends for Uriah: “Why did you not go home? You poor thing. You have been involved in war and deserve the comforts of home.”
Uriah replies with words which must have stung David as he heard them: “The ark and Joab and the armies of Israel (as opposed to David) are camped out in the open field, far away from the luxuries here in Jerusalem. I simply would feel too guilty to experience the comforts of home (like you are enjoying) knowing that my comrades are suffering. It wouldn’t be right.” Although Uriah did not say the words in parentheses, David most likely felt those words like a sting. Uriah concludes: “I will die before I do such a thing.” Little does he realize how prophetic his words were. David then instructs Uriah to remain another day in the city before he returns to the battlefront.
David then devises a dirty trick. If Uriah will not voluntarily comply with David’s instructions, maybe he will comply when under the influence of strong drink. David invites Uriah to sup with him the next evening at which time David makes sure the win flows freely. After Uriah is tipsy, David sends him home thinking that the wine will have removed all his inhibitions and that he will gladly go home to be with Bathsheba. David figures wrongly though because once more Uriah spends the night outside of David’s own home with the rest of the servants. Loyal to the end.
Since David now has no other choice, he must dispense with Uriah. He tried to cover up the deed in a harmless way, but nooooooo, Uriah proved stubborn. If word got out what David had done, it could undermine his moral authority over the rest of Israel. If Uriah found out what David and done, he might indeed try to assassinate David who was so important to the stability and security of Israel! I’m sure that David found numerous reasons why Uriah had to be dispensed with.
In one of the most chilling deeds in the entire Bible, David—a man after God’s own heart—sends a note by the hand of Uriah ordering Joab to place Uriah in a position in the battle which will result in his death. Uriah most likely thought he was just simply carrying some dispatches to the frontlines. Little did he realize he was carrying his own death warrant. David has betrayed to the highest levels Uriah’s trust in him. This deed more than any other reveals the blackness of David’s heart.
Uriah, like the dutiful and trusting servant he is, carries the letter unopened to Joab. Joab reads it. Not knowing why David has ordered Uriah’s death and apparently not caring what the reason is (his action too is despicable ), he arranges for Uriah’s death in such a manner that it will not look like Uriah was targeted. He sends several men including Uriah to fight he Ammonites close to the city walls. This was certain death because of the archers shooting from the top of the wall. Not only does Joab’s strategy work in that Uriah dies, several others from the Israelite army are destroyed as well. Joab then sends news of this back to David. He informs the messenger that whenever David hears about the death of this force that he also inform David that Uriah was one of those killed. When David receives the news of the death of all the soldiers including Uriah, he sends back a message which basically says, “Don’t’ worry about it, Joab. You did the best you could. These kinds of things just happen in warfare.”
Note how the Bible describes Bathsheba’s response to the news about Uriah. It does not say that she mourned for Uriah; neither does it say that “Bathsheba” mourned for her husband. Instead, it says that “the wife of Uriah mourned for her husband.” The Bible cannot stress enough times the fact that Bathsheba did not belong to David but to Uriah.
After the period of mourning is over, David sends for Bathsheba and marries her. What a magnanimous person this king is who cares for the widow and baby of a slain warrior of Israel, the spin machine in Jerusalem must have promoted. David now looks honorable as a result of his crimes. It looks like David has gotten away with this; however, at the end of chapter 1 is the most chilling verse in the entire Bible: “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” It may not sound that bad to you; however, turn the phrase around to say, “But the thing that Carey had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” or _______ had one” and supply your own name. As surely as there is a God in heaven, what goes around, comes around. “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord. David is about the discover the truth of this maxim. The divine wheels of justice may grind slowly, but they do grind, unrelentingly.
THE JUDGMENT (12:1-25)
Some time following this incident, David receives Nathan the prophet into his court. Nathan approaches David with the story of a great injustice that has been committed in David’s kingdom, an injustice which David the king of that country is responsible to right. The incident basically involves a man with power victimizing another man with no power, victimizing him in a manner which would have done serious damage to the powerless man and his family.
According to Nathan, in David’s kingdom resided a man who was wealthy, owning a large flock of sheep. Next to him lived another man who was poor, owning only one little ewe lamb (a female sheep). Now this little ewe was precious to the poorer man and his family. The poorer man raised up the little ewe and treated her just like she was a daughter to him. In fact, just like a woman would lay her head upon his chest, so that little ewe would lay her head upon the man’s chest. Well one day the rich man received a visitor whom he wanted to impress. He wanted to prepare a feast for him; however, he did not want to take from his own flock to feed the man; instead, he overpowered the weaker man, took away the man’s little ewe, and killed the lamb in order to serve it to his guest. [Notice that in this story the ewe herself is a victim. Any woman who is naturally weaker than the king is abused, even if she voluntarily yields to him.]
David is incensed. He cries out that this man deserves to die. He doesn’t say that he will die, only that he deserves to die. Once he discovers the identity of the man which he assumes Nathan will give him, he will have the rich man to recompense the weaker man 4-fold for the little ewe. [These words will come back to haunt David for the rest of his life.]
One OT commentator says that what happens next is the most dramatic moment in the entire Bible. Nathan wheels around and cries out: “YOU are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these. You could have named almost anything and I would have given them to you. Five times the Lord says, “I…I…I…I…I…” In other words, this is not between you and Uriah or between you and Bathsheba. This is between you and ME! How could you have done this to Me in light of all that I had done for you?” David acknowledges this when he cries out, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4).
Nathan continues: “Instead, why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. You have broken 3 of My commandments: #6, murder; #7, adultery; and #10, covetousness. Now, therefore, here is the judgment. The sword will never depart from your house because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he shall be with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed, you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and under the sun.”
David’s judgment upon the rich man is coming to pass upon himself. He said that the rich man would have to repay the poor man 4-fold. Well, David killed Uriah, and he was going to have to pay back 4 times for this death: the death of the child Bathsheba is carrying, the death of the 2 sons (Ammon and Absalom in the next few chapters), and finally the execution of another son, Adonijah. All 4 sons die because of the curse David had visited upon his family.
David cried out: “I have sinned against the Lord!”
Nathan replies: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” That does not mean, though, there will be no consequences for David. David does not get away with this. “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.”
God is not going to allow David to enrich his life with the birth of this child. The child will die within 7 days after it is born. Furthermore, David probably thought that everything he had done was in secret. It is most likely that the servants of David's household had a strong suspicion whose child Bathsheba was carrying. They knew that Uriah’s death was a little out of the ordinary. They could connect the dots. It all led to David being a murderer. News would travel fast throughout that part of the world that God’s man was an adulterer and a murderer. Moreover, David gave the Ammonites cause to rejoice because these pagans had killed one of God’s servants, Uriah. They could now glorify their pagan gods who they claimed gave Uriah into their hands.
Some of us recoil in horror at God’s judgment upon David. Doesn’t God forgive and forget? Once more this is another trite theological principle we have watered down to fit our neat indulgent lifestyles. When I sin, I do damage to my soul. While God does forgive me, He also has to deal with the damage I do to myself. We understand this in the physical arena. If I cut off my left hand, God may forgive me; however, I still don’t have a left hand. If I don’t have a left hand, I am going to have a hard time playing catch. We cut off our left hands spiritually and then want to play catch. Well, it doesn’t happen that way. We’ve got o get a prosthetic hand and learn how to use it. The pain comes in realizing we don’t have our hand any more, in putting on the prosthetic hand, and in learning how to use it! Yes, we’re forgiven; however, we’ve still got to deal with reality.
Nathan’s words come to fulfillment quickly. The baby is born and immediately becomes death ill. David begins to fast and pray that the Lord will relent and spare the life of the child. He refuses to eat the food of mourners because he hopes against hope that the baby will be spared. God’s judgment, though, is swift and final because within 7 days, the baby is dead.
At this point the servants are afraid. If David has acted so hysterically while the child was alive, then how would he act once he discovers that the child has died? They refrain from telling him the news; David, however, notices a change in their demeanor. He suspects the worst: “Is the child dead?” When they respond positively, David surprises them with his actions. He rises from the ground, puts on the clothes of everyday wear, and sits down to a good meal. When they question him as to why he is acting in this way, he responds that while the child was alive, he fasted and prayed because he felt there was still hope for the child. Just maybe the Lord might relent and spare the life of the child. Now that the child is dead, though, he has no further reason to mourn. In a great affirmation of faith in eternal life, David says that whereas the child will never be able to come to him, he one day will go to the child.
Bathsheba once more enters into a period of mourning. Whereas David is the primary culprit in this sordid episode, the fact is also that Bathsheba shared somewhat in the guilt. She suffered terribly by the loss of her husband and child for what she had done. David then comforts Bathsheba and lies with her again. Once more a child is conceived. At this point we see the awesome grace of God because the child born to them is Solomon, the one God will use to fulfill His promise to David.
Before we leap to the conclusion that “OK, well, David sinned but God used it in a good way,” the truth is that David and Bathsheba paid royally for what they had done. Death and destruction surrounded this couple. What is so wonderful about God is that He took their devastation and created something wonderful out of it. Many times we reduce God’s sovereignty to His controlling all things. I believe that is a misunderstanding of God’s power. God’s power is seen in the fact that it is so great that it can take the worst than man does and use it for something wonderful—the cross being the ultimate example. Who would have ever thought that Solomon would have come from a relationship which had been based upon adultery and murder? And yet that is exactly what God did. This does not take lightly what David and Bathsheba had done. Instead it magnifies God’s grace. In truth, God’s grace can only be fully appreciated when we’ve seen His wrath in action.