9. David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4)
When my Grandmother Palmer was alive, she lived on a farm outside of Shelton, Washington. At the entrance to her driveway was a small lot, where a small mobile home was parked. As I recall, the woman who lived in the trailer and her husband were estranged. The husband, who had served time in prison, was prone to violence. When the husband came to the mobile home to see his wife, another man was there. An argument resulted, and blows were exchanged. Ultimately, the woman's visitor brandished a weapon and demanded that the husband leave. He left, but only while uttering threats about what he was yet to do.
A few hours later, my uncle came by to visit my grandmother. He was just entering the driveway, very near the little mobile home where the altercation occurred earlier. Unfortunately, my uncle was driving a car which looked similar to the one driven by the estranged husband's adversary parked outside the trailer earlier in the day. Gunshots rang out as the enraged husband fulfilled his vow. The rifle easily penetrated the windshield, and my uncle was instantly killed -- by mistake. The angry husband had killed my uncle, falsely assuming that he was his adversary.
Many tragic incidents occur as the unexpected outcome of a sequence of events. Certainly that is the case with King David. A little vacation from war leads to a day spent in bed, followed by a stroll along the roof of his palace as night begins to fall on Jerusalem. By chance, David sees a woman bathing herself, a sight which David fixes upon, and then follows up on with an investigation as to her identity. The woman is shortly summoned to the palace and then to his bedroom, where David sleeps with her, even though he has discovered she is the wife of Uriah, a warrior who is fighting for the army of Israel. The woman becomes pregnant, and so David calls Uriah home, hoping it will be thought that he has gotten his wife pregnant. When this does not work, David gives orders to Joab, the commander of the army, which arranges for Uriah's death in battle. It looks like the perfect crime, but David's sin is discovered and dealt with by Nathan, the prophet of God.
This sequence of events and its accompanying tragedies is the subject of chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel. I have chosen to expound these chapters in three lessons. This first lesson will deal with “David and Bathsheba,” as described in 11:1-4. In the following lesson, we will address the subject of “David and Uriah,” as told by our author in 11:5-27. The third lesson will focus on “David and Nathan,” as this confrontation is put forth in chapter 12. Our text has much to say about the sins of adultery and murder, but rest assured that it addresses much more than this. It is a text we all need to hear and to heed, for if a “man after God's own heart” can fall so quickly and so far, surely we are capable of similar failures. May the Spirit of God take this portion of the Word of God and illuminate it to each of us as we come to this study.
Before we begin to look carefully at verses 1-4 of chapter 11, allow me to make a couple of comments about this event as portrayed in these two chapters of 2 Samuel. First, I want you to notice the “law of proportion” in this text. Only three verses describe David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Second, the author pulls no punches in describing the wickedness of this sin. History is not written in a way that makes David look good. Third, the sin of David and Bathsheba is dealt with historically, but not in a Hollywood fashion. Hollywood filmmakers would perform a remake of this account to dwell on the sensual elements. Nothing in this text is intended to inspire unclean thoughts or actions. Indeed, this story is written in a way that causes us to shudder at the thought of such things.
David Stays in Jerusalem
Israel is at war with none other than the Ammonites (verse 1), which may come as a surprise to you as it did to me. I thought the Ammonites had been defeated in chapter 10. I was wrong. The author is very clear on this matter. In chapter 8, the author tells how David began to engage his enemies in battle, ending the strangle-hold these surrounding nations had on Israel. David subjected the Philistines (8:1), then the Moabites (8:2), and then he took on the king of Zobah (8:3ff.). In the process, other nations became involved and found Israel too formidable an enemy to oppose again.
In chapter 10, we find David and the men of Israel deliberately insulted by Hanun, the king of the Ammonites. David had become friends with Nahash, the former king. When he died, David sent a delegation of officials to express David's respect for Nahash and his grief over this king's death. The Ammonites do not seem to wish to continue this peaceful relationship with David and Israel, so they humiliate the men whom David sent. This leads to a war between the Israelites and the Ammonites. The Ammonites recruit the Syrians as their allies against David. In their first conflict, the Syrians flee, forcing the Ammonites to retreat to “the city” (10:14; which must be Rabbah -- see 12:26ff.). The Syrians are not content with their defeat and attempt a rematch, but once again they are defeated. This causes them to give up any thought of backing up the Ammonites in their war with Israel in the future.
So you see, the Ammonites were not subjected to Israel in chapter 10, but they were deprived of Syrian assistance. Now they are on their own. The Israelites make the most of this. They ravage the land of the Ammonites and then besiege the capital (royal) city of Rabbah (11:1; see 1 Chronicles 20:1). This city of Rabbah, incidentally, is now the city of Amman, Jordan. It is not until after David's sin is rebuked by Nathan that the Israelites actually take the city (2 Samuel 12:26-31).
The author of our text informs us that it is spring, the time when kings go to war (11:1). Weather has always affected warfare. Battles have been won and lost due to the season. Winter time is not favorable to war. It is cold and wet, and camping out in the open field (as those who are besieging the city of Rabbah have to do -- see 11:11) hardly is feasible. The wheels of chariots get stuck in the mud, among other problems. And so kings usually sit it out for the winter, resuming their warfare in the spring. It is spring, Israel is still at war with the Ammonites, and it is time to finish the task of subduing them. The army assembles, under the command of Joab and his officers, and “all Israel.” They all go off to complete their victory over the Ammonites, who seem to retreat in their capital and fortress city of Rabbah.
Every man who is able to fight goes to war, except one -- David. David, we are told, “stayed in Jerusalem” (11:1). David's decision to stay at home in Jerusalem becomes a devastating one. The author of Samuel does not include this fact, but the Chronicler does. In 1 Chronicles 20, we read these words:
1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that Joab led out the army and ravaged the land of the sons of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. And Joab struck Rabbah and overthrew it (1 Chronicles 20:1).
We know from the details of this text in Chronicles that it is the same time and the same war. This decision on David's part precedes a serious sin of another kind in 1 Chronicles 21:
1 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.” 3 Joab said, “May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” 4 Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5 Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword (1 Chronicles 21:1-5).
Joab urges David not to number the Israelites, and through the prophet Gad, God rebukes David for doing so, giving him a choice of one of three chastenings. It is a grave sin with great consequences for the nation Israel. Out of this sin, God brings about blessing for Israel, because it is on the plot of ground where David offers sacrifices to God that the temple will be built.
What I am pointing out here is that the decision on David's part -- to remain in Jerusalem -- is the beginning of woes for both David and the nation Israel. Why is it wrong for David to stay home while the rest of the men of Israel go to war against the Ammonites? First, leading the nation in war is one of the main tasks of the king:
19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
The Israelites were wrong in demanding a king, but they were not too far off in expecting that their “king” would lead them in war. The judges God had raised up for them earlier were usually men like Barak or Gideon, who would lead the nation in battle against their enemies. When God designated Saul as Israel's first king, this military role was clearly indicated:
15 Now a day before Saul's coming, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel saying, 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me” (1 Samuel 9:15-16).
Saul shrunk back from pursuing the enemies of Israel at times, and it was sometimes David who stood in Saul's shoes, leading the nation in battle. This was the case, for example, when David fought Goliath, a battle that should have been fought by Saul, Israel's giant (see 1 Samuel 9:2). Up until now, David has been leading his men in battle, but in chapter 11, David suddenly steps back, sending others to fight for him. In 2 Samuel 12:26-31, the author makes it clear that David may not have been planning to be present for the formal surrender of Rabbah. Joab sends David a message, urging him to come and at least give the appearance of leading his army. If David does not come, Joab warns, David will not receive the glory, and it may go to Joab. Joab knows that David knows this is not the way it was meant to be. And so it is that David makes a formal appearance to be the “official” leader at the time of the surrender of the city of Rabbah.
David is wrong in yet another way, a way he would hardly have realized at the time. David is a prototype of the Messiah who was yet to come as God's King. When Messiah comes, it is He who brings about the deliverance of His people. It is He who will come to subdue His enemies and to establish His throne. How can David represent Messiah as he reigns by staying at home and refusing to enter the battle with the enemies of God and the enemies of God's people? Messiah will come (the second time) as a mighty warrior. If David would portray Him, then he must be a mighty warrior.
What keeps David home in Jerusalem? Why doesn’t David go to the battle? I fear there are perhaps several reasons. The first is David's arrogance. God has been with David in all of his military encounters and given him victory over all his foes. God has given David a great name. David has begun to believe his own press clippings. He begins to feel he is invincible. David seems to have come to the place where he believes his abilities are so great he can lead Israel into victory, even though he is not with his men in battle.
This seems consistent with David's other great sin, which also follows his decision to stay at home. When David instructs Joab to number the Israelite warriors, Joab protests. This is something David should not do. Perhaps this is because David would find too much confidence in the number of his men, rather than in God. It certainly is a far cry from Gideon's army, pared down to a meager 300 men.
A second reason may be boredom. It is one thing to fight battles in which the enemy is quickly overcome. But the besieging of Rabbah is a whole different kind of war. This battle will not be won so quickly. It will take time to starve the Ammonites to the point that they surrender. It is not a very exciting kind of war to wage. And while they wait, the Israelite soldiers (which includes David) have to pitch their tents outside the city, living in the open field. This is no picnic, and David knows it. David's attitude seems reflected in the advertising slogan of a major hamburger chain, “You deserve a break today.”
A third reason -- and I am hesitant to suggest it -- is that David may be getting soft. Let's face it, David had some very difficult days when he was fleeing from Saul. I am sure there were hot days and cold nights. There were certainly days when his food was either limited or lousy, or both. Army food has never been known as a work of culinary artistry. Now, David has moved up in the world, from barren wilderness, which Saul and his army would avoid if possible, to the hills of Jerusalem. His accommodations are better, too. He no longer lives in a tent (if he was fortunate enough to have one in those days); he lives in a palace. Why would David want to stay in a tent in the open field, outside of Rabbah, if he can stay in his own bed, in his own palace, inside Jerusalem?37
David is starting to become Saul-like, in that he is willing to let others go out and fight his battles for him. Among those David is willing to send in his place are Joab and Abishai. This Joab, we should recall, is a violent man. Joab was not the commander of the army of Israel by David's choice. David had distanced himself from Joab and Abishai because of the death of Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-30). Joab had become the commander of Israel's armed forces because he was the first to accept David's challenge to attack Jebus (1 Chronicles 11:4-6). Suddenly, David is willing to stay at home and leave the whole of Israel's armed forces under Joab's command. I do not think David is motivated by trust in Joab as much as he is his disdain for the hardship of the campaign to take Rabbah.
Like my uncle to whom I referred earlier, David is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is in Jerusalem when he should be at Rabbah. Unlike my uncle, David is in the wrong place at the wrong time because of a wrong decision. David is like the simpleton in Proverbs 7, who was foolishly and yet deliberately in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something almost had to go wrong, and it surely did!
David Stays in Bed
As I read these verses in 2 Samuel, I am reminded of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window.” If my memory is correct, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly star in this thriller about a photographer who is recovering from an injury and confined to his apartment. From out of his “rear window,” Stewart watches his neighbors through their windows. Eventually he uncovers a murder and is almost killed himself, along with his girlfriend.
King David makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem, rather than fighting the Ammonites with his army. He does not stay home to meditate on the Law of Moses or to write another psalm or two; he seems to stay home to stay in bed. We know Uriah went to bed when it was evening (that is, when it got dark), and it is very likely that he got up at first light (see 11:13). With David, it is very different. David does not get up until evening, that is, until it is time for a soldier to go to bed. (As a friend of mine pointed out, this is probably a habit developed over days and not just a one-time event.) It is very unlikely that David is doing any “kingly work” in the wee hours of the night. From all appearances, David is simply indulging himself.
Finally, David can stand his bed no longer. Getting up, he goes for a stroll around the roof of his palace. Most certainly, David's palace was built on the highest ground possible, so that it would afford him a commanding view of the city and the surrounding country. Virtually every other residence and building would be below David's penthouse apartment, and thus he would be able to see much that was out of sight for others. (A friend remarked after this message that a truck driver had told him a whole lot can be seen from an 18-wheeler that people in cars don't see.)
I am not suggesting that David purposed to see something he should not. More than likely he is walking about, almost absent-mindedly, when suddenly his eyes fix on something that rivets his attention on a woman bathing herself. The text does not really tell us where this woman is bathing. We only know that she is within sight of David's penthouse (rooftop). David notes her beauty. He does not know who she is or whether she is married. We cannot be certain how much David sees, and thus we do not know for certain whether he has yet sinned. If David saw more of this woman than he should (a fact still in question), then he surely should have diverted his eyes. It was not necessarily evil for him to discretely inquire about her. If she were unmarried and eligible, he could have taken her for his wife. His inquiry would make this clear.
Word comes back to David about this woman's identity:
3b And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2 Samuel 11:3b)
The answer comes to David in the form of a question. I take it that no one else actually saw this woman, but only David. The identification of this woman depends then upon David's description of her age, appearance, and location, and no one could be absolutely certain whether this is the woman or not -- except for David, of course, who would recognize her.
The information David receives should be sufficient for him to end the matter. If this woman is married, he has no business going any further. No matter how great his position and power, nothing gives him the right to take another man's wife. The pattern for David's actions is clearly outlined by Joseph, who was hotly pursued by his master's wife:
7 It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9).
The report David is given concerning Bathsheba gives him all the information he needs, and more, if he is intent upon doing what is right. He knows Bathsheba is married and thus out of the question. He also knows Bathsheba is married to Uriah the Hittite. This is no nameless husband, someone David has never heard of before. David has to know Uriah, even if he does not know his wife. In 2 Samuel 23:39, “Uriah the Hittite” is named as one of David's mighty men, known for his bravery and courage as a soldier. If he does not know it, surely someone there among his servants would inform him.
My fear is that David chose to ignore Uriah's military record and to fix his attention upon his racial origins. It is obvious and noteworthy that David refers to Uriah as “Uriah the Hittite,” while the author of Samuel refers to him only as “Uriah.” The expression, “Uriah the Hittite” is a term of derision, I believe, based solely upon the fact that he is of Hittite stock. Never mind that David has Moabite blood in his veins. Let us briefly review the place of the Hittites in Old Testament history.
As early as Genesis 15:18-21, God promised Abram (Abraham) that his descendants would inherit the land of the Hittites (along with that of other peoples as well; see also Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 23:23, 28, 32; 33:21; 34:11; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 1:4; 3:10). Ephron, the man from whom Abraham bought a burial plot for his family, was a Hittite (see Genesis 23:10; 25:9; etc.). Jacob's brother Esau married several Hittite wives (Genesis 26:34-35; 36:2). The Israelites were commanded to utterly destroy the Hittites (Deuteronomy 20:17). The Hittites opposed Israel's entrance into the promised land (see Numbers 13:29; Joshua 9:1: 11;1-5), and the Israelites had some victories over them (Joshua 24;11). Nevertheless, they did not totally remove them and came to live among them (Judges 3:5). When David was fleeing from Saul, he learned that the king was camped nearby. He asked two of his men who would go with him to Saul's camp. One of the two, Abishai, volunteered to go with David, the other man did not. This man was Ahimelech, the Hittite (1 Samuel 26:6).
It is obvious that Uriah had forsaken his own people and their gods to live in Israel, marry an Israelite woman, and fight in David's army. He is no pagan, to be put to death. He is a proselyte. In spite of all this, I believe David looks down upon him. David has grown accustomed to having the finest of everything. His palace is the finest around. His furnishings, his food, his help, are all the finest. Now, he looks from his penthouse and sees a woman whom he regards as “fine.” How can a woman so “fine” belong to this Hittite? She is fit for a king. And this king intends to have her.
And so David sends messengers to her, who take her and bring her to him. When she arrives, David sleeps with her, and when she is purified from her uncleanness,38 she returns to her house. That is that. If she had not become pregnant, I have little doubt she would never have darkened the door of David's house again. David does not seek a wife in Bathsheba. He does not even seek an affair. He wants one night of sex with this woman, and then he will let Uriah have her.
The sequence of events, so far as David is concerned, can be viewed in this way: (1) David stays in Jerusalem; (2) David stays in bed; (3) David sees Bathsheba bathing herself as he walks on his roof; (4) David sends and inquires about this woman; (5) David learns her identity and that she is married to a military hero; (6) David sends messengers to take her and bring her to him; (7) David lays with her; (8) Bathsheba goes back to her home after she purifies herself. This same sequence can be seen in a number of other texts, none of which is commendable. Shechem “saw, took, and lay with” Dinah, the daughter of Jacob in Genesis 34:2. Judah “saw, took, and went in to” the Canaanite woman he made his wife in Genesis 38:2-3. Achan “saw, coveted, and took” the forbidden spoils of war in Joshua 7:21. Samson did virtually the same in Judges 14. Let us not forget that a similar sequence occurred at the first sin when Eve “saw, desired, and took” the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.
Does Bathsheba Share David's Guilt?
It is clear from the words of our text that David sinned. It is clear from the actions of David which follow that he sinned. It is clear from the words of God through Nathan that David sinned in a grievous manner. The problem is that many wish to view the text in a way that forces Bathsheba to share David's guilt by assuming that she somehow seduced him. I would like to pursue this matter, because I believe there is absolutely no evidence to support such a conclusion.
The inference is often drawn that Bathsheba should not have been exposing herself as she did, and that it was her indiscretion which started this whole sequence of events. Some think her actions may have been deliberate (She knew David was there and could see. . . .), while others would be more gracious and assume it was simply poor judgment. Let me point out several things from the text. First and foremost, when Nathan pronounces divine judgment upon David for his sin, Bathsheba and Uriah are depicted as the victims, not the villains. When Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically indicted Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and each received their just curse. This is simply not the case with Bathsheba. Nowhere in the Bible is she indicted for this sin. It may be that the author did not choose to focus upon Bathsheba, but even in this case, the Law would clearly require us to consider her innocent until proven guilty.
It is very clear in Samuel that the tragedies which take place in David's household are the consequence of his sin, just as Nathan indicates (12:10-12). Thus, when Amnon rapes Tamar, the sister of Absalom, it is a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.” Note that it is at David's command or summons that Tamar is called to the palace, and then to Amnon's bedside. There is not so much as a hint that when Tamar is raped, it is all of Amnon's doing. Should this not strongly indicate that the same is true in Bathsheba's case, of which this second incident is a kind of mirror image?
When we read of this incident, we do so through Western eyes. We live in a day when a woman has the legal right to say “No” at any point in a romantic relationship. If the man refuses to stop, that is regarded as a violation of her rights; it is regarded as rape. It didn't work that way for women in the ancient Near East. Lot could offer his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom, to protect strangers who were his guests, and there was not one word of protest from his daughters when he did so (Genesis 19:7-8). These virgins were expected to obey their father, who was in authority over them. Michal was first given to David as his wife, and then Saul took her back and gave her to another man. And then David took her back (1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:13-16). Apparently Michal had no say in this whole sequence of events.
To approach this same issue from the opposite perspective, think with me about the Book of Esther. When the king summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear (perhaps in a way that would inappropriately display her to the king's guests), she refused. She was removed (see Esther 1:1-22). She did not lose her life, but she was at least replaced. Then, we read later in this same book that no one could approach the king unless he summoned them. If any approached the king and he did not raise his scepter, they were put to death (Esther 4:10-11). Does this not portray the way of eastern kings? Does this not explain why Bathsheba went to the king's palace when summoned? Does this help to explain why she seems to have given in to the king's lustful acts? (We do not know what protests -- like Tamar's in chapter 13 -- she may have uttered, but we do have some sense of the powerlessness of a woman in those days, especially when given orders by the king.
Now, having looked at the big picture, let's concentrate on a few details. The text informs us that David sees this woman bathing and notes that she is very beautiful. It is sometimes thought that David saw Bathsheba unclothed as she bathed herself publicly, and that the sight of her (unclothed/partially) body prompted David to act as he did. Virtually the identical words employed in our text (“very beautiful in appearance”) are found in Genesis 24:16 of Rebekah, as she came to the well with a water jug on her shoulder. She was neither naked nor partially clothed. Similar (though not identical) descriptions are found, where no exposure of the woman is indicated at all (see Genesis 12:11; 26:7; 29:17; Esther 1:1). I believe one of the reasons David summons Bathsheba to his palace is that he has not seen all that he wishes.
Let's pursue this matter a little more. Bathsheba is bathing herself. We tend to assume that this means she is disrobed, at least partially. I believe Bathsheba is bathing herself in some place normally used for such purposes. Only David, with his penthouse vantage, would be able to see her, and a whole lot of other folks if he chose. The poor do not have the same privacy privileges as the rich. I have seen any number of people bathing themselves on the sidewalks of India, because this is their home. The word for bathing employed here is often used to describe the washing of a guest's hands or feet and for the ceremonial washings of the priests. Abigail used this term when she spoke of washing the feet of David's servants (1 Samuel 25:41). Such washings could be done, with decency, without total privacy. We assume far too much if we assume Abigail is walking about unclothed, in full sight of onlookers.
Incidentally, Bathsheba is washing herself in Jerusalem, from which all the men of fighting age have gone to war. Remember the words of verse 1:
1 Then it happened in the spring, 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 sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem (emphasis mine).
It is not as if Bathsheba is acting in an unbecoming manner, knowing that men are around. She has every right to assume they are not. David is around, but he should not be. On top of this, she is not bathing herself at high noon; she is bathing in the evening. This is when the law prescribed (for ceremonial cleansing), and it is when the sun is setting. In other words, it is nearly dark when Bathsheba sets out to wash herself. David has to work to see what he does. I believe Bathsheba makes every effort to assure her modesty, but the king's vantage point is too high, and he is looking with too much zeal. I am suggesting that David is much more of a peeping Tom than Bathsheba is an exhibitionist. I believe the text bears me out on this.
If I am right in what I have been saying, David's sin becomes that much more wicked. In some instances a woman may purposely or unwittingly encourage the one who assaults her. In this case, there is not so much as a hint that this takes place. In fact, if I am reading the story accurately, David's “sighting” of Bathsheba is the result of her keeping the law, while David is failing his responsibilities as king.
This passage, even though we have made our way through the first four verses of it, has much to teach us. Let me seek to summarize some of its lessons.
First, the root of David's sin is not low self-esteem; it is arrogance. I am getting quite weary of hearing that the root of all evils is low self-esteem. I wonder why we see nothing of this in the Bible. David's problem is just the opposite. He has become puffed up and arrogant because of his success and status as Israel's king. He has come to see himself as different/better than the rest of the Israelites. They need to go to war; he does not. They need to sleep in the open field; he needs to get his rest in his own bed, in his palace. They can have a wife; he can have whatever woman he wants.
Second, the nature of David's sin is the abuse of power. Power corrupts, we are told, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. David has come to power. In the previous chapters, David employed his God-given power to defeat the enemies of God and of Israel. He used his power as Israel's king to fulfill his covenant with David and his promise to Saul by restoring to Mephibosheth his family property and by making him a son at his table. Now, David, drunk with his power, uses it to indulge himself at the expense of others. I want you to notice the repetition of the word “send” or “sent” in this chapter. It is a king like David who can send all the men to war but stay home himself (verse 1). It is a king like David who can send people to inquire about Bathsheba, and then to send messengers to “take” her and bring her to his palace (verses 3-4). It is a king like David who can “send” for Uriah and “send” orders to Joab to have him killed. David has the power, and he certainly knows how to use it, only now he is using that power for his own benefit, at the expense of others. This is not servant leadership.
Sexual abuse and sexual harassment are two of the ways people abuse their power. Parents begin to think they own their children, and that they can use their children to satisfy themselves, so they engage in various forms of abuse, often sexual in nature. Bosses get used to being in control and telling people what to do, and it should not be surprising to learn that they sometimes abuse their power over employees and subordinates to sexually satisfy themselves. This sin is no different from that of David.
I must press the point a little further. Of course it is wrong for David to use his power to have sex with another man's wife. But it is not right to abuse power even when sex is permissible. A husband should not abuse his power in order to have sex with his wife. And a wife should not abuse her power (of saying “No,” for example) to punish or put off her husband. Within marriage, sex is simply another area of serving our mate. It is not the opportunity to lord it over our mate.
Third, prosperity is as dangerous -- and sometimes more dangerous -- than poverty and adversity. We all get weary of the adversities of life. We all yearn for the time when we can kick back and put up our feet and relax a bit. We all tire of agonizing over the bills and not having quite enough money to go around. David certainly looked forward to the time when he could stop fleeing from Saul and begin to reign as king. But let me point out that from a spiritual point of view, David never did better than he did in adversity and weakness. Conversely, David never did worse than he did in prosperity and power. How many psalms do you think David wrote from his palatial bed and from his penthouse? How much meditation on the law took place while David was in Jerusalem, rather than on the battlefield? We are not to be masochists, wanting more and more suffering, but on the other hand we should recognize that success is often a greater test than adversity. Often when it appears “everything's goin' my way” we are in the greatest danger.
Fourth, sin is sequential. Sin “happens,” but it seldom “just happens.” Sin does not come out of nowhere. We see this sequence in the Book of James:
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:13-15).
David's sin did not just suddenly appear in a moment of time. David set himself up for this fall. We know he disengaged himself from the battle, choosing instead a life of comfort and ease. You and I may make the same decision, though in a slightly different way. We may choose to ease up in our pursuit of becoming a disciple of our Lord, of the disciplined life which causes us to bring our bodies under our control (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We may weary of taking up our cross and begin to take up ourselves as our highest cause. We may back off in the area of separation, having become weary of being laughed at for our Christian principles. We may keep quiet, rather than bear witness to our faith, lest we be rejected by our peers. We may hold off from rebuking a fellow-believer, who is falling into sin, because the last time we tried it was very messy. When we retreat from the battle, a fall is not far away.
Sins of commission are often the result of sins of omission. David committed sin by his adultery with Bathsheba and later by the murder of her husband, but these sins were borne out of David's omissions which came to pass when he stayed home, rather than go to war. These sins of omission are often difficult to recognize in ourselves or others, but they are there. And after a while, they incline us to more open sins, as we see in David.
Within those of you who are reading this message, I know there are some who have already fallen in a similar way to David. You have already committed adultery. To you, I would say: “Stop now!” How much better it would have been if David had confessed to his sin with Bathsheba before he went on to murder Uriah. Sin is like a cancer: the sooner it is cut out, the better; the longer it is left, the more it grows. If you have fallen as David did (or in some other way), forsake your sin, confess it, find God's forgiveness, and move on.
Some of you have not yet sinned as David did, but you are already on your way. You are like David when he chose to stay in Jerusalem, and when he chose to stay in bed. You have not yet sinned in a dramatic fashion, but you are laying the groundwork for it. It's only a matter of time and opportunity. My question to you is not whether you are actively committing sin, but whether you are actively committed to Christ, serving Him as you serve others, using the power (spiritual gifts) God has given you to benefit others? Let us learn from David's omissions, rather than learn (experientially) from his commissions.
The apostle John put it this way:
7 But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:7-9).
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:4-9).
37 I don’t think I’m exaggerating here. The interaction between David and Uriah seems to indicate that David was puzzled as to why Uriah would not enjoy the good life in Jerusalem if he had the opportunity to do so. Uriah, on the other hand, chose to live as he would have on the battlefield.
38 This reference to Bathsheba’s “purification” is interesting and perplexing. The King James Version reads, “and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house” at verse 4. The New King James Version is slightly different: “and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house” (note the change from a semi-colon to a comma, and from a colon to a semi-colon). The NIV reads, “and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.)” The NRSV reads, “and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.).” There are two questions, which the text does not clearly seem to answer: (1) From what was Bathsheba purifying herself -- from her menstrual uncleanness, or from her uncleanness due to sexual intercourse? Both are dealt with in Leviticus 15. (2) When did this cleansing occur, and when was it completed? Was Bathsheba’s bathing which David witnessed part of her ceremonial cleansing? If so, there may have had to be a delay before the Law permitted intercourse. Otherwise, David would have caused her to violate the Law pertaining to cleansing, since it may not have been complete. The translations which make her cleansing a past, (continued) completed event seem to be suggesting that she was now legally able to engage in intercourse, though certainly not with David. If she was still in the process of her cleansing, David’s sin of adultery is compounded because it was committed at the wrong time, while cleansing was still in process. It is also possible to read the text (as does the NASB) to say that Bathsheba waited at David’s house until she was ceremonially clean from her evening with David. It is interesting that nothing is said of David waiting until he was cleansed. The inference I take from this “cleansing” reference is that Bathsheba was still concerned about keeping the Law of Moses, even if David was not.