King David's terrible decisions result in a tarnished reputation and familial dysfunction.
We’re going to wrap up our series on the life of David today. It’s not going to take us quite to the very end of his life, but we’re going to cover one of the last major story arcs of 2 Samuel.
So far, we’ve mostly focused on David’s strengths, and how he was a great example in so many ways. But I’ve mentioned a few times that he still messed up, and that his story culminates in a rather tragic decline towards the end.
So, this week, we’re going to read about one of the major ways David sinned while he was king, and the consequences of that.
We’re going to pick up the story in 2 Samuel chapter 11, if you’d like to go ahead and find your place there. At this point, David’s throne is well established, he is incredibly accomplished, and riding the wave of victory after victory.
And in chapter 11 we get this introduction to the narrative that’s about to take place:
1 In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.
So, it’s spring/war season, the cold and rain would be subsiding, crops would be growing, it was an optimal time to send troops out on a military expedition, a mission.
But it’s interesting how it specifies that it’s a time when kings normally go out to war, but David sent Joab and stayed behind. This tells us first that David trusted Joab to get the job done.
But it might (and this is not 100% clear) but it’s certainly possible that this is intended as a bit of a hint that something is amiss. It seems to imply some irresponsibility on David’s part as a leader, that he would stay behind and let everyone else fight his battles.
Again, there is not a scholarly consensus as to whether or not this verse should be read as a critique of David’s character, BUT regardless, we only have to read a little further to find that David’s heart was in fact NOT in a good place at this time.
2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. 5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”
So, David’s army is out laying siege to the Ammonite’s capital city, and in the very next verse we find David taking an afternoon nap, then a leisurely stroll around the roof of his palace. Now, whether or not David staying behind was in itself wrong, it certainly seems to have left him with not a lot to keep him busy.
The saying “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” comes to mind. That’s not a phrase you’ll find directly in scripture, but I do think the principle is certainly in line with biblical wisdom. The Bible does not advocate that anyone should be a workaholic, or a busybody, in fact it places a great deal of importance and value on rest, but it is also clear in warning against idleness and laziness. That is, not doing anything when you should be doing something.
Anyway, David is having a leisurely old time, strolling on his rooftop. Generally, the rooftops there would have been flat, and it was normal to use that space as part of your living space. David, being in the palace, would have most likely had the highest roof in the whole city, giving him a great view overlooking Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom. This is just speculation, but I have to imagine him walking around with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and ownership.
And as he’s looking out, he lays eyes on this incredibly attractive woman taking a bath, and he thinks: “I want her.” And the fact that he just sent out some messengers and summoned her to him so he could sleep with her reveals just how far he is in this moment from the humble and God-honoring man who didn’t even consider himself worthy to marry the king’s daughter after earning the right to do so through his victory over the Philistines.
All the sudden, it’s like he just feels entitled to possessing anything his eyes desire. Of course, that pattern of sin traces all the way back to the garden…the pattern of humans seeing something, wanting it, and taking it for themselves, with no regard to what God has commanded, or the consequences that follow.
We’re not told anything about Bathsheba’s role in this, whether she was complicit or a victim, or what any of her emotions or possible motives would have been. Instead, the focus is really on David, and the fact that as the king, he made the decision to have an affair with another man’s wife. The only response we see recorded from Bathsheba is the fact that she sent word to David that she became pregnant.
Sidenote: In the NLT, it specifically says she was purifying herself because of her menstrual cycle, which was just part of Jewish ritual law. That isn’t actually specified in the original text, it just says she was purifying herself. But many have come to the assumption that this detail was included because it makes it clear that Uriah could not have possibly been the father of the child when she became pregnant. So that does make a lot of sense, but I wanted to point out that this translation is taking some liberties there.
Anyway, after David gets this news, he’s going to start turning one bad decision into more bad decisions. Let’s read on, beginning in verse 6:
6 Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” [Uriah being Bathsheba’s husband] So Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.
10 When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”
11 Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.”
12 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.
Basically, David thinks he can cover up his sin by getting Uriah to sleep with his wife while he’s home on leave from the battlefield. But twice Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home while his commander and fellow men are out in the field, out of a sense of duty and honor. This paints a contrasting picture of Uriah’s character vs. David’s in this moment.
And…it gets even worse:
14 So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.”
David has Uriah literally deliver his own death sentence to Joab. How cold is that? David’s actions have really become quite villainous at this point!
16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.
So, Joab, who we know to be a very accomplished general and strategist, had to make a really stupid move, tactically speaking. And it ended up killing more than just Uriah, several other soldiers were killed. Yet Joab didn’t question David, and his soldiers didn’t question Joab. There had to be some questioning, at least in Joab’s mind, as to what Uriah did to deserve this fate! And I just wonder how difficult that would have been to knowingly send those men to their deaths, just trusting that the king had a good reason for it.
18 Then Joab sent a battle report to David. 19 He told his messenger, “Report all the news of the battle to the king. 20 But he might get angry and ask, ‘Why did the troops go so close to the city? Didn’t they know there would be shooting from the walls? 21 Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.’ ”
22 So the messenger went to Jerusalem and gave a complete report to David. 23 “The enemy came out against us in the open fields,” he said. “And as we chased them back to the city gate, 24 the archers on the wall shot arrows at us. Some of the king’s men were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.”
25 “Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,” David said. “The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!”
WOW! That is a chilling response! It’s like he has no compassion, no empathy, no remorse. As long as he gets what he wants and keeps his sin hidden, he’s completely callous to the death and sorrow he’s caused.
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.
The Lord was displeased. A more literal translation is “But the thing which David had done was evil in the eyes of Yahweh.” That word “evil” in Hebrew is not the ambiguous “Ra” that we talked about a few weeks ago, that just means “bad.” This is an unambiguous indictment of wicked, evil, destructive, harmful behavior.
So, God’s going to confront this through a prophet. Let’s continue reading into chapter 12:
1 So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. 2 The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. 3 The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. 4 One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”
This prophet Nathan tells David a parable—a story of a terrible injustice inflicted by a rich man taking selfishly from a poor man. What’s David’s response?
5 David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! 6 He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.”
David clearly is so blind to his own sin that he doesn’t even recognize that the parable is about him! He has pity for this poor man and the sheep in the story, but had no pity for Uriah or Bathsheba, or the other soldiers who died because of him. So, Nathan had to break it to him:
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. 9 Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. 10 From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.
11 “This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. 12 You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”
Whew! In no uncertain terms, God has charged David with murder, and promised some serious fallout consequently.
I can just imagine the realization suddenly hitting David. Hearing that story and feeling the outrage towards the rich man, then seeing that rich man morph into his own self-reflection. He was that man who did such a terrible thing, and far worse even. And we see that turn David immediately to repentance:
13 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. 14 Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the word of the Lord by doing this, your child will die.”
So David finally kind of wakes up and confesses his sin. In fact, there’s an entire prayer found in the book of Psalms that directly relates to this event. Psalm 51 (turn there) is a prayer of repentance and a plea for mercy. A lot of the Psalms written by David do relate directly to different events or seasons of his life, but we don’t, or at least I don’t, often read the psalms in conjunction with the various parts of his story that they correspond to. So I want to take the opportunity to actually read through this prayer, keeping in mind this context of having just been approached by Nathan, and realizing how badly he’s messed up. This is David’s prayer:
1 Be gracious to me, God,
according to your faithful love;
according to your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.|
2 Completely wash away my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you—you alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in your sight.
So you are right when you pass sentence;
you are blameless when you judge.
5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire integrity in the inner self,
and you teach me wisdom deep within.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Turn your face away from my sins
and blot out all my guilt.
10 God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore the joy of your salvation to me,
and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach the rebellious your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God—
God of my salvation—
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
you are not pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.
18 In your good pleasure, cause Zion to prosper;
build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
In that prayer we can see so much more of David’s heart than in that one sentence of 2 Samuel. It’s a heart of true repentance and brokenness and remorse, and submission before God. That is always the proper response to conviction.
But all that said, he was confessing to some very serious offenses! He had violated at least 3 of God’s commands: He coveted his neighbor’s wife. He then committed adultery. And then he topped it off with straight up murder.
According to God’s law, as we can see in Leviticus, the penalty for adultery was death. The penalty for murder was death. So God saying “you won’t die for this sin” was an act of grace and mercy. David didn’t offer anything to earn God’s forgiveness, not even a ritual sacrifice, just confession and repentance.
This tells us something about God’s character, and his desire to continue to use David despite his failures. And of course, we know that he’s extended that same grace to us, through Christ.
However, God didn’t take away all the physical consequences for David’s sin, did he?
As we read through the rest of the chapter, we see that the baby does in fact die, despite David’s fasting and praying desperately for God to change his mind.
Once it was final though, David accepted the consequence of his actions and was able to move on. In verse 24 we read that he comforted Bathsheba, who for the first time is actually called David’s wife. God’s grace allowed David and Bathsheba to have a relationship even after the mess that David created, and he blessed them with another son, Solomon, who of course is a very important figure later in the story.
That said, there were still other consequences suffered by David’s family, and in turn really all of Israel. In the chapters that follow we see a downward spiral of disfunction and broken relationships.
To just briefly summarize several chapters of drama:
First of all, one of David’s sons, Amnon, becomes infatuated with his half-sister, Tamar, and rapes her, then discards her, and she lives the rest of her life as a desolate woman. David hears about this, and is angry, but doesn’t do anything.
Meanwhile Tamar’s brother, Absalom, just festers in hatred, and two years later orchestrates revenge by having Amnon killed.
Shortly after all that, Absalom led a revolt against David and usurped the throne! Eventually, Absalom was killed, and David was restored to the throne, but it was as a broken man, in mourning for his son.
The remainder of David’s life continued to be rather tumultuous, however he did not lose sight of God’s promise to him, and God continued to use him and bless Israel through him.
There are a few more interesting bits to David’s life, but for today, I’d like to wrap up by looking at a few (4) things we can learn specifically from the story of David & Bathsheba.
First of all, it’s a great reminder to be careful when we think we’re strong, when we think we’ve got it all together, that’s often when we’re actually most vulnerable to the attacks and deception of the enemy. We see this warning in 1st Corinthians 10:12
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:12, NLT)
And also Proverbs 16:18
Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18, CSB)
David allowed his success, power and status to cloud his judgement. We need to be careful not to do the same—not to let our guard down, or forget that everything we have and do is because of God.
Secondly, maybe most obvious takeaway is just how dangerous a pitfall lust can be. It’s a pitfall that turned a man who seemed to be able to do everything right into someone almost unrecognizable and completely blind to his own sin and cruelty.
God placed a great deal of importance on sexual morality in his law. That was one way he wanted his people to be set apart from the cultures surrounding them. One of the ten commandments of course forbids adultery. But Jesus took it a step further, saying:
...that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
I think it almost goes without saying that the issue of lust and sexual immorality is very prevalent in our society today. It takes hold of so many men and women, in the form of unhealthy addictions, destructive affairs, and broken relationships. Our culture and technology make it increasingly difficult to avoid, and we need to be conscious of that and intentional to avoid potential traps.
However, at the same time, this story is a reminder that culture and technology are not ultimately to blame for adultery and covetousness and lust. What we experience today is the same corruption of desire that ensnared David, and Amnon, thousands of years ago. Yes, our culture is different now, but I tell you God’s people were still surrounded with temptation during the time of Abraham, the time of David, and in the time of Jesus, and the time of Paul.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, Paul writes:
3 For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4 that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God.
This is just one of many New Testament passages calling us to be set apart in sexual purity.
And yet, this brings me back to the incredible grace of God, who is willing to forgive even the most terrible and tragic decisions. By confessing our sin, and trusting in the redemptive power of Christ, we can repent and receive that grace.
But, as we also see demonstrated in this story, that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t experience any consequences for our actions. Sin can result in physical, emotional, and relational fallout, not only for the person sinning, but for those around them. We need to recognize that as the reality of sin, and while we can receive forgiveness, realize that doesn’t mean life will necessarily revert back to the way it was.
So just as an obvious example: if you murder someone, can God forgive you? Well, obviously as we saw in David’s story, yes, God can forgive a murderer! However, you’ll probably also go to prison for a very long time.
Forgiveness doesn’t equal no consequences, and this part of David’s life is a perfect example of that.
And, finally, I think it’s also a great example of how God can choose to use someone like David in the midst of all that. No matter how bad we mess up, or how self-destructive our decisions may be at times, God, in his grace, will still partner with us in accomplishing his mission. That’s incredible!
That should be a great hope and assurance for anyone who’s been through some big mistakes in the past. There’s nothing too bad or too big that you’ve done, that God can’t handle. If you have confessed and repented and received God’s grace, then it’s time to move on. While there may be repercussions that follow, and you have to accept that, you don’t need to live under a burden of guilt or shame, because Jesus carried that burden for you.
Let me say that again: if you have received God’s grace, you must not live under a burden of guilt or shame, because Jesus carried that burden for you.
Looking back over the life of David, we can learn a lot from his story: in the examples that he set, both the good and the bad.
And, perhaps more importantly, we can observe a lot about God’s character: who he is, and how he chooses to work in and through his people.
Opposing the proud, while exalting the humble.
Accomplishing his will, despite human evil.
And of course, his provision of the ultimate savior and king, Jesus Christ.