Other than the victory over Goliath, David’s affair with Bathsheba probably gets more attention than any other part of his life—and with good reason. David’s actions were sinful and grotesquely out of bounds for a man of his character and relationship with the Lord. Before the shameful episode, David had been moved by the Lord from the position of a lowly unknown shepherd to soldier to general to outlaw to king. He had complete victory over the House of Saul, the king who pursued and tried to kill him. The ark had been returned, and David was experiencing military success on every side. The Lord had even promised that David’s house and dynasty would last beyond him and that his son would build the Lord’s temple.
“Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:11-13, ESV).
Everything was going right for David after years of wilderness, war, and hardship. Why would he sin now and risk his relationship with the Lord? That’s one of the ironies of the human condition. When we are in need of God’s help and favor, we draw close to our heavenly Father, but when life is good, temptation seems to gain a foothold. Have you ever seen someone’s massive defeat come on the heels of their greatest victory or a time of peace in their lives? It happened over and over in the Bible: Noah, Elijah, and Peter are just a few. Maybe the time to look for the snare of the enemy is not when we are fighting but when everything is tranquil and triumphant.
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant” (2 Sam. 11:1-5, ESV).
Sometimes the Lord lets us know things in His word in just a passing phrase. The whole sordid affair with Bathsheba and Uriah began because David was not where he was supposed to be. The king should have been leading his troops in the field, but David sent his commander and general Joab to lead in his place. David was idle and not doing the task for which he had been anointed. The warriors were away, and the city was full of lonely, married women.
Uriah the Hittite is listed as one of David’s thirty-seven mighty men (2 Sam. 28:39). The mighty men were akin to a combination of special forces and personal bodyguards. Most of them were probably close friends of the king, having joined him during the time of his life while he was fleeing from Saul. That is why Uriah’s house was in the line of sight of the king’s palace. Just as those men had slept and camped near their leader and king for all of those years, apparently David gave them houses near his palace as well.
The story is simple in terms of lust and sin. David sees Bathsheba, an apparently beautiful woman, naked and bathing while her husband is away at war. He brings her to the palace, has sex with her, and sends her home. David is the king and thinks he will get away with it. The problem is that Bathsheba conceives, and with her husband gone, the baby cannot be covered up by simply saying it was her husband’s child.
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (2 Sam. 11:11, ESV).
David devises a rather ingenious and simple plan. As a trusted mighty man of the king, David sends for a personal report from the front from Uriah. David gets the report and sends Uriah home with food; think of it almost like catering a party as a gift from the king for his service in bringing the message. Uriah refuses to go home to his wife while his brothers in arms are camped in a warzone. So David calls him back a second time the next night and gets him drunk, but Uriah still will not go home.
Are you starting to see something about both Uriah and the Lord from this story? The Lord was not going to let David get away with this private betrayal. And Uriah, a Hittite—not even a Hebrew but somebody who followed David and the Lord by choice—was acting more righteously than the king. At this point, David should have realized that nothing good was going to come from this sin and come clean in repentance before the Lord, but he did not. So the story gets worse as sin tends to compound.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die” (2 Sam. 11:14-15, ESV).
David instructs Joab to retreat from the hottest part of the battle after placing Uriah there. Joab, ever the man of violence, does just as he is instructed and has Uriah killed in battle. David thinks he has gotten away with it. There would be another wife added to the palace, and he lost a trusted warrior. It seemed like his cover-up would work. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27, NIV).
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-7, ESV).
Certain people in the Bible come and go in the lives and stories of others without much personal background. Nathan the prophet is one of those. He is assigned by God to go rebuke King David who is guilty of an affair and murder. You have to like the prophet’s style. He tells David a parable where the guilt of the villain is obvious for even a small child.
Can you see this happening in the middle of the court? He gets David lathered up at the injustice so much so that the king demands the thief’s life and a four-fold restoration of the wrong. Then he announces ‘You are the man!’ Then Nathan goes on to pronounce the Lord’s judgment on David and his house. There is just something so brazen and courageous as the Lord’s prophet stood before the mighty king and called him down.
A Note on Bathsheba
The Bible does not directly address Bathsheba’s guilt (or not) in the affair. I have heard sermons preached with accusations of her role being everything from sensually entrapping the king to suffering as a victim of rape. The Bible does not speak to her personal willingness in the affair, but I do want to point some things out to you to make your own decision.
- David was the unquestioned authority as king, and there were no ‘individual rights’ in ancient Israel other than in the Mosaic law—which David was already violating. In other words, Bathsheba had no civil recourse against the king’s advances. David sent men to get her and bring her to him (2 Sam. 11:4).
- Bathsheba goes along with the plan to lie to her husband and does not tell Uriah of either an affair or sexual violation (2 Sam. 11:6-13). She could have done this as a co-conspirator with David or because she feared the king, who obviously was willing to put Uriah to death.
- Bathsheba mourned for her husband and married David when the time for mourning was over (2 Sam. 11:26-27). She was pregnant and a widow.
- Nathan describes the roles of David and Bathsheba in a parable to the king. David is described as a rich man who mercilessly steals from his neighbor, and Bathsheba is described as a lamb or the stolen object (2 Sam. 12:1-12).
- The son born from the affair dies after a seven-day illness as decreed by Nathan the prophet for the sin of David (2 Sam. 12:13-19). The prophet does not address Bathsheba or her role at all other than calling her the ewe lamb in the parable.
- Bathsheba becomes the queen of Israel as the mother of Solomon even though David had more than a dozen wives before her (The Israelite kings did not observe the Western tradition of primogeniture or oldest son reigning, so in a multiple wife situation, the mother of the heir was the queen). She later serves her son after the death of David in the role of Queen mother.
- Bathsheba proves herself to be a smart, bold, and capable leader when her son’s place in the succession is threatened (I Kings 1).
I would be careful in assigning too much blame to Bathsheba since Nathan the prophet seems to put the entire fault on King David.
Although the story of David, Bathsheba, Uriah, and Nathan is a sordid tale of the lowest point of the king’s life, it gives me hope. David was a “man after God’s own heart,” and if he could mess his life up so badly, then maybe there is hope for the rest of us struggling from day to day. In the future installment of the David series, I will write about the consequences of David’s action because every seed sown has fruit, and God’s word is immutable, even when He decrees judgment. However, David returned in repentance to the Lord to be the man after God’s own heart even after such a tragic fall. Our Lord is merciful.
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