2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Adultery, cover-up, murder, abuse of authority . . . It sounds like the story of a modern-day dictator, or a plot of a modern-day movie. And yet all these ingredients (and more) or included in the pages of the Old Testament. And, specifically, they are included in the story of the champions of the faith: King David himself.
Now the very fact that the story of David and Bathsheba exists in the Bible has long aroused both dismay and astonishment. Dismay, that King David, with all his manifest piety, could stoop so low; and astonishment, that the Bible narrates it with unrelenting openness.
However, the fact that it exists for us to read, demonstrates: the openness by which God’s people saw life; the acknowledgment that these sorts of failings so easily become public knowledge; that nothing can be hidden, particularly from God; that even the mistakes of the past can be powerful tools in teaching others; and that there is the need not only to have the right intellectual faith but to put it into practice as well.
As a consequence, even though we may remain wondering how a great man of God could stoop so low. There are still lessons we can learn from his mistakes—of which there were several.
B. THE EXAMPLE OF DAVID
1. A Lesson in Immorality (2 Samuel 11:2-25)
Now the story begins during a time of conflict between the Israelites and the neighbouring Ammonites—a war that was being pressed home in the capital of the Ammonites whilst David remained in Jerusalem. It was a hot summer’s day, and in the palace where David lived there was an upper room, which overlooked the city, and which caught a cool afternoon breeze, where David spent his afternoons.
It was late afternoon, the temperature was dropping, and David came out onto the flat roof of the palace. And as he looked around, what did he see? On the roof top of a house close by—in full view of the palace—Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most prominent army officers, Uriah the Hittite, was having a bath.
(Now it must be said here that Bathsheba was not entirely innocent in this whole affair. After all, what was she doing on the roof of her house, having a bath, knowing full well that the palace overlooked her house, and knowing where David was likely to be on such a hot day.)
But in the story, the guilt of Bathsheba gets forgotten. Of interest to the storyteller are only David’s sins. Because what happened next was that David, having his desires aroused—having seen Bathsheba in a state of undress—sent a servant to bring Bathsheba to him.
(Now, again, we’re told nothing of Bathsheba’s feelings. Whether she was conscious of the danger that having an adulterous relationship placed her in, or whether it was outweighed by the realization of the honour of having attracted the king.) Nevertheless, Bathsheba became pregnant—and David was the father. And we know that because Bathsheba’s husband was still miles away at the front, fighting the war.
And only at this stage, did David seem to consider the dilemma. The affair had had not been without danger to him; even he was not above the law. So he decided to embark on a series of events to cover up his mistake—to give the pretence that nothing untoward had happened.
He got Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, recalled from the front line, on the pretence that he wanted to know about the progress of the war. But in reality, it was to enable Uriah to spend a night with his wife Bathsheba, so that when the baby was born it would look as though Uriah was the father, not David. But Uriah wouldn’t sleep with his wife, whilst the rest of the troops were out fighting.
So David tried again, and this time he tried to get Uriah so drunk that Uriah wouldn’t even be able to think about what the rest of the troops were doing. However, may be with the support of some friends but definitely with his commitment to the ‘holy war’ being so strong, no matter how drunk he became, Uriah still refused to spend the night with his wife.
And as a consequence, this left David with quite a dilemma. Indeed, David became so desperate to cover up the whole affair that he came up with a plan to eliminate Uriah from the picture—to eliminate the only person who could say that the baby that Bathsheba was carrying was not his child. So he concocted a scheme where Uriah was sent back to the front and given a mission where he would be exposed to the enemy and would guarantee the loss of his life. And that’s exactly what happened.
2. The Repercussions – The Judgement (2 Samuel 11:26-12:7a)
Of course, at that point David might well have thought all his problems were over—his mistakes had been covered up. And when he arranged for Bathsheba to move in to the palace—after the necessary period of mourning—it may have appeared to many, who knew nothing about the affair, as though David may have been acting with compassion on the expectant widow.
However, it is doubtful to whether all the servants in the palace were totally ignorant of what had gone on. And it is also doubtful whether there weren’t some of Uriah’s friends who were totally ignorant either—to say nothing of the gossip which may have been generally around. But the one person whose silence just couldn’t be bought—and who knew about the whole sordid affair—was God himself.
David, the man of God, had broken several commandments: he had coveted his neighbour’s property (i.e. Bathsheba); he had committed adultery; and he had effectively committed murder. In addition, he had brought his position of king—ordained and given to him by God—into disrepute. And with that, he had brought God’s name into disrepute as well.
So, the climax to the story, was not David getting away with his despicable deeds. Rather the climax had to be the judgement and condemnation of David by God.
A climax to which Nathan, a trusted advisor to the King, was sent by God to David. And he told him a tale of injustice and woe that David couldn’t help condemning the man in the story. But in doing so, he effectively condemned himself. And as a consequence, David recognised that, whether he was king or not, he deserved nothing less than the death penalty for what he had done.
3. The Repercussions – The Sentence (2 Samuel 12:7b-13a)
To which God, speaking through Nathan, agreed.
Because after all that God had given David, including the kingdom itself, that was how he had repaid the generosity of God. And as a consequence sentence was passed.
Regarding the death penalty, however, that was commuted. David knew he was guilty; he knew he deserved punishment. He’d confessed that much to Nathan, and he’d finally confessed it to God. And presumably it was commuted on the Old Testament principle that God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).
However, that did not mean that David should get off scot-free. Regarding the crime of murder, the sentence was, that just as Uriah had been killed by the sword, so too the blood-stained sword would appear again and again throughout the history of the house of David. And that’s exactly what happened. David had a far from trouble free existence for the rest of his life. And many of the kings that followed David suffered unnatural deaths.
And to the crime of adultery . . . Well David was told that his own wives would at some stage be taken from him. And whereas David had conducted the affair with Bathsheba in secret, the taking of his wives would be done in broad daylight, for everyone to see. And that’s exactly what happened too—towards the end of his life—and by one of his own sons.
And so ends a grubby, but not so minor, episode in the life of a man more noted for his faith in God, rather than for his failings.
But doesn’t that story describe to a ‘T’ the antics of some people in power even in the world today? And isn’t it the kind of story that some would make into a popular movie as well?
Nevertheless, it is as story that has much to tell. Indeed, it has much to offer us as a reminder of how to live our lives.
1. Nothing is Hidden from God
Because the first thing about the story, is that it’s a reminder that no matter what we do, no matter how careful we are, that someone will always find us out.
As I said earlier, it is doubtful whether what transpired in the palace was hidden from all the palace servants. Indeed, some of Uriah’s friends may also have been in the know. However, regardless of that, the one person who is guaranteed to know what we do, and every moment of the day, is God himself. We can’t hide from him, we can’t buy him off, and it’s pointless to ask him to look away. He knows what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and all the possible repercussions of everything that we do.
So what was going through a man like David’s mind, then, thinking that he could get away with what he did, with no repercussions whatsoever? I don’t know. But what I do know is that whether we are doing good or bad, nothing is hidden from God. And just as David was made to face up to his mistakes, so we too will be held to account for our actions too.
2. Christian Living: Faith And Action
The second thing about this story, is that how we live our lives is just as important as what we intellectually believe. Indeed you can’t separate the two. Belief is not just an intellectual thing which is then separated by our actions in the world. The two are very much intertwined.
As a consequence, how David saw that his actions were compatible with his professed faith is, to me, quite a mystery. We all make mistakes, but in David’s case, he compounded his original mistake of lust for Bathsheba, with a series of other mistakes also incompatible with his professed faith. And for that he was punished.
As a consequence, we are reminded that we should not profess undying love and obedience to God in one moment, and then involve ourselves in some very dubious activities in the next—thinking that two can be kept quite separate. Indeed, we cannot separate the thought from the deed at all. What we believe should shape everything that we do. And what we do should be consistent with what we believe.
3. Power has Responsibilities
The third thing about this story, is that we are reminded of the responsibilities that go with positions of power. Indeed, the story tells us that we should not abuse any privilege with which we are entrusted.
Because even though Bathsheba may not have been totally innocent in the whole affair, there was still no excuse for David to use his royal power to summons her to his presence. David should not have used his power in an attempt to cover up the affair. And David should not have given an order knowing that it would result in Uriah’s death.
Power brings responsibility, and is not something that should be used to our own advantage. But equally responsibility is not something we can ignore because we don’t consider ourselves to be in positions of power either. Because we all have power to some degree.
David’s position of power should have meant that he used it for the benefit of others, not for his own advantage. And the same is true of the power that we wield today too.
4. Ethical Issues
The fourth thing about this story, is that we need to make a stand on ethical issues.
Now David was aware of where he should have stood regarding adultery, otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to cover it up. And David obviously knew murder was wrong, otherwise he wouldn’t have manipulated the situation, in such a way to make it look like Uriah was killed in the heat of battle. The importance of fidelity in marriage and the sanctity of life were things that David knew deep down were very important. Indeed, they were things that he should have upheld. And the same is true for us today too.
Unfortunately, for us things have become a lot more complicated than they were in the time of David. And issues like the sanctity of life are no longer so straight forward.
We now have the IVF programme with the fertilizing of more than one egg at a time, which leaves the question of what happens to those unused frozen embryos. We have current procedures regarding stem cell research and cloning. We have the problem of overseas wars—and whether Australia’s involvement fits in with the idea of the sanctity of human life or not. And of course there are many other ethical issues today that have made things a lot more complicated.
However, complicated or not—and we may sometimes get it wrong—this story indicates that we still need to make a stand.
5. The ‘Solomon’ Dilemma
And fifthly, there is an issue that is related to this story, about the nature of God, and the consequence of forgiveness. Because, despite all the intrigue, the deception, and the downright sin involved in David and Bathsheba getting together in the first place; despite the fact that David had plenty of other wives—and he had other sons, the second child of David and Bathsheba—Solomon—succeeded David as king.
Now you might think, with all that had gone on, that Solomon would be the last one to be appointed king. However, as the story goes, Solomon was not just David’s choice as successor, but he was God’s choice too.
Now that doesn’t mean that God secretly approved of their original tete-a-tete, or the things that happened as a consequence. But David having confessed his sins, and sentence having been passed by God, the fact is that God forgave David and put the matter behind them—effectively wiping the issue from the slate. And he consequently used the relationship of David and Bathsheba to maintain the Davidic line.
When we make mistakes then, God may pass sentence on the things we have done. And yes, we may still have to live with the consequences. But as far as God is concerned, that doesn’t mean that he won’t use that new situation for his own benefit and for the benefit of the extension of his kingdom.
That doesn’t make our original mistake right. But it does mean that God does not hang on to past sins. He doesn’t keep on bringing up the past—to things that we have confessed about and have been otherwise been dealt with. There’s a conclusion in our dealings with God, after which we are free to move on.
The story of David and Bathsheba, then, makes some very interesting reading. Not least of all for the lessons we can learn from the mistakes of David.
Indeed, there are at least five important principles that come out of the story, that we would all do well to remember: And they are, firstly, whatever we do, nothing is hidden from God. And we are accountable for him for our every action. Secondly, what we say and do are very much entwined. And what we shouldn’t be doing is professing one thing to God, and then going out and doing something completely different. Thirdly, that having power brings responsibilities. And we are not to abuse that position, but to use it for the benefit of all. Fourthly, Christian living involves decisions regarding a number of ethical issues. And they are issues that we cannot ignore because they are inconvenient or just too hard. And, fifthly, despite our failings, when God has dealt with the issue, then the slate is wiped clean. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have ongoing repercussions in this world. But as far as the situation between God and ourselves, the matter is over and it’s time to move on.
Five important principles—a lesson in morality—for which, we have the very poor example of David, to thank.
Posted: 30th July 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a