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David & Bathsheba

David sees Bathsheba

by Dennis Pollock

Mention the names David and Bathsheba, and almost everybody knows the circumstances that led to their becoming a couple. Certainly all who know the Bible know the story, and huge numbers of people who don't know the Bible well at all can tell you the basic facts. David's adultery with Bathsheba and his subsequent disposal of her husband is the one major blemish in an otherwise amazing life of a man who loved God and was used by God to lead the nation of Israel into their golden age, the most prosperous and blessed season of their tumultuous history.

It takes just two chapters for the Biblical writer to tell the story, but by the time the tale is told, the great king David is revealed to have feet of clay, and his life would never be the same again. The curse for King David's disobedience, placed upon him by God through Nathan the prophet, was fulfilled with fearful and exact precision. David would have a long time to regret the hasty action and the illicit evening which affected his life, his kingdom, his family, and his reputation. Never was that old saying more perfectly demonstrated, which says, "Act in haste; repent in leisure."

For many people, the story of David and Bathsheba makes an interesting read, but they see little relativity to their own lives. In truth it is packed with insights which are both powerful and relevant to God's people of all generations. The Holy Spirit did not include this story in the holy word of God merely for us to cluck our tongues and think what a naughty boy David was. As with all the rest of God's word this story is "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." We can learn much from a careful, thoughtful, and prayerful study of the fall, repentance, chastening, and restoration of a godly man.

David Stayed Back

The story is told in Second Samuel, chapters 11 and 12, and it begins in a disapproving tone by the author. We read these words:

It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)

It was springtime, and after a long winter of inactivity, the armies of Israel and its neighbors were gearing up for renewed battles and conquests. Kings, in those days, were normally found going out with their armies. Unless they were young and particularly aggressive they wouldn't do much fighting themselves, but they would lead their armies and serve as an inspiration to the men who did fight. When the Israelites demanded that the prophet Samuel provide them with a king, they gave him this reason for their request: "…that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:20).

This year, however, David decides to take a break. It certainly wasn't cowardice. David had proved himself a brave man again and again in terribly fearful and stressful situations. Perhaps David was simply tired of it all. Perhaps he had seen so much success and the favor of God on Israel's armies that he felt his physical presence was unnecessary. For whatever reason, David stayed home this time. It would cost him dearly. All that followed: the adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, the severe chastening hand of God, and the blemish which would forever mar his reputation could have been avoided if, on that day when the armies of Israel began marching out toward their first engagement of the year, David had been among them, encouraging the troops and taking his rightful place at that time "when kings go out to battle."

Lead us not into Temptation

Our Lord Jesus has told us that one of the smartest things we can do is simply avoid temptation, encouraging us to ask the Father, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." From this David and Bathsheba incident it becomes clear that a major aspect of avoiding temptation is fulfilling our responsibilities. Who knows how many temptations are avoided, sins are not committed, and disciplining judgments are never experienced when we simply do what we're supposed to do when we're supposed to do it? Sin has a terrible snowballing effect: one sin leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to still another. Avoid the first one, and all the other sins evaporate. Men and women were meant to stay busy, to work long and hard in God-ordained tasks, and when we are obedient to God's calling, many disasters will be avoided. Perhaps when we get to heaven we'll find out all sorts of terrible calamities which were avoided as a result of us faithfully doing the work God had placed before us.

David first notices Bathsheba after he awakes from a late afternoon nap. This also is indicative of David's tendency to slack off. There are no naps for men on the battlefield, but David is chilling out these days. His ungodly cousin Joab is leading the army, and there is plenty of time for David to take naps whenever he feels the urge. After getting up, the idle king is a bit restless and goes for a brief walk on the roof of his house. As he looks over the beautiful city of Jerusalem, he sees another beautiful sight: Bathsheba is bathing on the top of her house, which was situated lower than the king's house. The woman is gorgeous and David is… a man. He may be a man of God but he is still a man, with all the hormones and testosterone and urges that go along with that. Despite the fact that he has numerous wives at this point, and can have as much sex as he can handle, he is immediately stimulated romantically and sexually. John D. Rockefeller was once asked, "How much money is enough?" and answered, "Just a little bit more." It would seem that David, and later his son Solomon, felt the same way about women.

At this point David has not sinned. He has simply experienced feelings and urges which were built into men by their Creator.  And those feelings and urges are necessary in order to insure that young men aggressively seek wives, marry them, enjoy an intimate relationship with them, and produce children which will repopulate the species. Because multiple wives were not specifically prohibited in those days, it was not necessarily wrong for him to send messengers to find out who this lovely lady was. If she was unmarried, he probably intended to add her to his "collection." When the messengers returned, their reply changed the situation entirely, however. David was told, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"

Point of No Return

David & BathshebaThis is the critical point in the whole story. This was where the battle would be won or lost. Unmarried women are "fair game" for single men to pursue, flirt with, flatter, date, propose to, and marry. When I was single and praying for a wife, the first thing I did when I met an attractive lady was look at her left hand. If there was a wedding ring on it, there was nothing to be done. She was spoken for. But if that special finger was bare, well that was another matter! Had David, upon hearing that Bathsheba was married, immediately turned his attention elsewhere, the story would have had a far better ending. He could easily have gone to one of his many wives, found affection with her that evening, and moved on with his life and his reign.

Instead David literally made the mistake of his life. He ordered men to bring her to him. At this point it was not a matter of gaining a wife; it was simply a night of pleasure with a new, intriguing, beautiful woman. Bathsheba apparently did not protest too much. You simply did not say no to a king. Did David's conscience bother him as he indulged his lust? Not enough. He had gone past the point of no return, and there was nothing left for him than to enjoy the illicit sex and hope that YHWH, the God of Israel, didn't mind too awfully much. After all, he was God's favorite, the anointed psalmist of Israel, the man chosen to replace that wicked king Saul. He could always ask God for forgiveness later.

David was truly an exceptional and chosen man of God, but chosen does not exempt men and women from following the same commands and precepts of God which the more common folks are required to keep. When Bathsheba learned she was pregnant, she sent the king a note, and David knew he was in trouble. A little fooling around wouldn't have been such a big deal in most other kingdoms, but he represented the "Holy One of Israel," the God who commanded, "Be ye holy, for I, the LORD your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). It would have been a public relations disaster for it to be revealed that the king of Israel had been involved in adultery. There was only one thing to do. David quickly ordered Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, back from the battlefront, on the pretext of bringing him news. David talked with him, ate with him, and then sent him home. He figured Uriah would surely make love to his wife, and then assume when the baby was born that it was his own.

Plotting Murder

Uriah turned out to have more honor than David in this business. It seemed wrong for him to be at home enjoying his wife, while all the soldiers of Israel were living in tents, suffering privations and difficulties. Uriah slept in the servants' quarters and refused to go home. David tried the same thing the next night, giving him plenty of wine, but still Uriah would not go home. The pressure on David became intense. Without Uriah sleeping with his wife, the sordid affair would be known as soon as Bathsheba’s pregnancy became evident, and David would be exposed as a hypocrite and a lawless man. David had become so used to being Israel's golden boy, the righteous favorite of God, that it was unthinkable for him to be seen as an adulterer. Rather than face the ridicule and condemnation of his people, he went on to a higher level of sin. Godly king David became a murderer.

He sent a note by Uriah to the army commander, telling him to place Uriah in a dangerous place in a battle and then have the other soldiers draw back so that Uriah would be killed. With Uriah out of the way David could quickly wed Bathsheba and they might just be able to keep this whole business under wraps. It must have been quite a shock to Joab, who was a murderous man in his own right, but who would never have expected such a thing from David. He must have said to himself, "So the king is not so different from the rest of us after all!" Joab did as instructed and Uriah was killed by the enemy according to David's plan. A wedding was hastily arranged, and all the complications arising from David's sin seemed resolved. Now the worried monarch could get back to the business of governing Israel, with this nasty ordeal covered over and put behind him.

It wasn't going to be that easy, although it seemed that way for a while. As Bathsheba grew larger there was no rebuke from the Lord, no fearful dream, and if anyone suspected anything, nobody dared talk. Consciences have a way of hardening and becoming calloused over time, and the man who had written such beautiful poetry about the Lord being His Shepherd began to suppose that he could live by different rules than everyone else. In due time the baby was born. As he grew from baby into a child, David delighted in his new son. Surely God's blessing had not departed from his life. However, the reader of this story is at this point given a simple but profound insight which David did not yet have: "But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD" (2 Samuel 11:27).

"You are the Man!"

We don't know how long this went on before God rebuked His servant, but apparently God took His time. By the time of David's rebuke, the offspring is referred to as a child and not a baby. In God's perfect time, the prophet Nathan is given a word for David. It is hardly the message any man would want to deliver to a king, but Nathan is faithful. He goes to the monarch and tells him the story of a wealthy man who steals the beloved, little lamb of a poor neighbor. What should be done with such a man? David is outraged at this injustice, and declares that this selfish wretch deserves to die.

Nathan accuses DavidThe words that come from the mouth of Nathan at this point are some of the most courageous words ever spoken to a king. We don't know how he said them. Some picture Nathan dramatically making a pointing gesture and saying in Elizabethan English, "Thou art the man!" Others picture him nervous and almost shaking. I personally doubt both scenarios. Prophets usually didn't get all that nervous condemning sinners when the Spirit of God was on them. After all, the ability to boldly and forcibly condemn sin is a major part of their job description. But I doubt he was overly dramatic either. David was his friend and loved God just as he did, and Nathan was probably saddened to see his friend fallen to such a level.

Nathan does more than simply tell David he is guilty of sin. He spells it out so clearly and specifically that David couldn't possibly miss it:

Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. (2 Samuel 12:9)

We do not know how Nathan came up with this information. Many assume that God simply revealed it to the prophet, and this could be the case. But it could also be that there had been whisperings among the people about the affair, and that Joab had told a few men about David's note, ordering Uriah's death. In any case Nathan came to David with a word from the Lord. And it didn't stop with condemnation. He also declared a curse upon the king: the sword would never depart from David's house, and there would be a rebellion against David from within his own family.

From the moment David made the decision to stay back in Jerusalem while the armies of Israel went out to battle, it had all been downhill. Neglect of duty had led to adultery, and adultery had led to murder. Once again he was at a critical point. Would he kill this prophet who dared speak in such a manner to the king of Israel? Perhaps just one more murder, and he could finally be rid of this dreadful business. With Nathan out of the way, the matter would surely be ended, once and for all. Who else would dare challenge him?

Repentance and Forgiveness

To David's credit, he never even considered it. Behind the voice of the prophet he heard the voice of his God, the One who had been his good Shepherd in those beautiful seasons of his life when there was no cloud of sin between him and his Creator. David's reaction was immediate, and reflected the kind of man he had been before and could be again: "I have sinned against the LORD." It does not take much imagination to suppose that his head was down, and tears had quickly formed in his eyes. Nathan was quickly ready with a response: "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:13,14).

Many Christians have suggested that in the eyes of God all sin is exactly the same; no sin is any more grievous in God's eyes than any other. The story of David and Bathsheba surely shatters that myth. David had not been a perfect man before his sin with Bathsheba. Like everybody else in the human race he had made his mistakes, lost his temper, lost his patience, showed irritation in his voice, complained when things hadn't gone as he hoped, and so forth. But this sin, or rather conglomeration of sins was different. David had gone too far this time. He had flagrantly flaunted the laws of the God he represented as king over Israel. He had given "great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme," and God was not about to let this get white-washed. He would forgive his errant servant, but there would be serious consequences.

David repentsDavid learned to live with those consequences. He prayed and fasted for the Lord to spare his son, but to no avail. The child died just as Nathan had prophesied. The rest of his life was not an easy one. He faced frequent challenges to his reign, and just as God had declared, "the sword never left his house." His own son led in a mutinous rebellion which ousted him for a season. Most of the remaining chapters which cover David's life describe wars, travails, and challenges. David learned that forgiveness does not always negate consequences. His relationship with God was perfectly restored, but he paid dearly over the span of decades for the sins which he had so hastily committed in a couple of months.

Lessons Learned

If the story of David and Bathsheba teaches us anything, it is that good men (and women) can fall. They don't have to fall, but they surely can. There is no such thing as an automatic pilot mode in the Christian life. Just because things have been going smoothly for the last ten or twenty or thirty years, just because you have had sweet fellowship with the Lord for decades, just because you read the Bible and pray and go to church and tithe and watch Christian television and listen to worship CDs and wear T-shirts that say "Praise the Lord" and have shared your testimony on Christian television and you have a library filled with books by all the major Christian authors, and each book has been read and re-read, and has yellow highlighter marks throughout, still you are susceptible to big time spiritual failure. If David could fail, so can you!

It is especially difficult for men and women who have achieved consistent, significant success in their lives to retain that humility which protects them from the snares and temptations of the evil one, and keeps them in a state of watchfulness and godly caution. With success often comes the illusion of infallibility and invincibility. "I have known nothing but success for many years – surely I am beyond major failure by this point." The stronger this thinking prevails in our hearts, the more likely it is that failure lies just around the corner. Satan is crafty and skillful in designing the perfect snare, uniquely suited to your personality, blindsiding you just when you thought you were secure for the rest of your days.

The Remedy

The good news is that we who are in Christ have a resource of which king David was ignorant. In his psalm of repentance over this episode, David prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). But David did not know the only effective basis for a clean heart, which is the forgiveness and righteousness that Jesus Christ brings when He enters our lives. David did know that it would take more than animal sacrifices to restore right relationship with God and wrote, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart --- these, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

But as good as contrition and brokenness of spirit are in repenting of sin, they will never be enough. There must also be faith in the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for the remission of our sins. We must do more than merely feel bad about what we have done; we must repent with our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, the One whose shed blood "cleanses us from all sin."

Not only does Jesus forgive; He is able to keep us from stumbling in the first place. Paul writes in the book of Romans: "…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans 6:6). Later he declares: "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). No, we will not be perfect, but through Jesus we can avoid those flagrant sins that give the enemies of God material for their jokes, and bring discipline and judgment upon our heads.

With our eyes upon Jesus, let us acknowledge Him to be the Keeper of our souls, let us remain at our posts gladly doing His work, and let us be ever watchful for those sudden temptations and traps which have the potential to bring ruin and devastation to our lives. As we abide in Jesus, He will alert us to those stumblingblocks before we can trip and fall, and give us the grace to go around them, jump over them, or flee from them. He is able to preserve us until that Day.

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24).

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