6. Caught in the Tempter’s Trap—The Story of David and Bathsheba
If the Bible were a human book, written to magnify man, the story we are about to study would have been carefully edited or completely eliminated. But the Bible is a divine book, written to glorify God, and as surprising as the fact may be to some, this story exalts the Lord. That is why we cannot overlook it in our study of marriage relationships in the Bible.
The story concerns David, the greatest hero of Hebrew history, and by God’s testimony, a man after His own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). But men have weaknesses, even men after God’s own heart. And God is not ashamed to share with us the weaknesses of His greatest saints. We learn some indispensable lessons from their mistakes, such as the utter vileness of our hearts, the horrible consequences of our sin, and the unfathomable depths of God’s forgiving grace. So let us learn from David.
David first gained national prominence as a teenager. When a teenaged boy kills a giant of a man who has every brave Israelite soldier cowering in fear, people are going to notice. Women all over Israel were singing his praises: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). In addition to that, the Bible indicates that he was extremely good looking, an extraordinary athlete, an accomplished musician, and a brilliant poet. And word had it that he would be the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:13). Talk about teenage matinee idols—I would imagine every teenaged girl in Israel had a crush on David. In fact, Scripture says, “All Israel and Judah loved David” (1 Sam. 18:16).
And who should land him but Saul’s daughter, Michal. She had the inside track all along. After all, she was the king’s daughter, and David was spending a lot of time around the palace. And besides that, Michal had let it be known that she was in love with David (1 Sam. 18:20). But Scripture implies that David married her more on a dare than out of genuine love. On one occasion after their marriage, Michal helped David escape from the wrath of her father (1 Sam. 19:11-17). She obviously could not go along with him under those distressing circumstances, so Saul took advantage of the situation and gave her to another man (1 Sam. 25:44). David’s teenage marriage ended in failure. Too many do. Getting married before we are fully ready to assume the responsibilities of adult life has too high a risk factor to make good sense. There is never any harm in waiting awhile to be sure.
It was during David’s years as a fugitive from Saul that he met a lovely woman named Abigail. The Bible says, “And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance” (1 Sam. 25:3). Her wisdom, maturity, beauty, and gracious charm completely disarmed David, and when God removed her ignorant and uncouth husband, Nabal, David lost no time in proposing marriage (1 Sam. 25:39). It was a good choice. And now that Michal was another man’s wife through no fault of his, many would feet that it was acceptable to the Lord.
But the next thing we read in Scripture was clearly not acceptable. “David had also taken Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both became his wives” (1 Sam. 25:43). David knew God had chosen him to be the next king over Israel, and he also knew what God had said about Israel’s kings. Before the people ever entered the land, God warned them that someday they would want a king like the nations around them. He would allow them to appoint one of their countrymen whom he would choose, but he had to be careful not to multiply wives for himself lest they turn his heart away from the Lord (Deut. 17:14-17). Yet we learn very soon in the biblical record that David took four more wives: Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah (2 Sam. 3:2-5). And we can hardly believe our eyes when shortly after that we read, “Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 5:13).
It was not that David’s physical desires were so very different from any other normal man’s; it’s just that most other oriental kings had harems to display their wealth and power, and David let the philosophy of the world supersede the revealed will of God. But it does reaffirm for us that David was very, very human, and it does expose to us one of his major areas of weakness.
He was somewhere in his forties now, the vulnerable age, they tell us. He had accomplished some remarkable military feats, extending the borders of Israel and securing them against every major surrounding nation. He owed himself a rest, or so he thought, and that is where our story begins. Look first at the hollow pleasures of sin. “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” (2 Sam. 11:1).
Kings went out to battle in spring because the winter months curtailed the movement of troops. This Ammonite campaign was a mop-up affair, left over from the previous fighting season. Israel had already defeated the Syrians whom the Ammonites had hired against them, so David probably figured that finishing the job with the Ammonites themselves would be a pushover. While his proper place was providing leadership for his men on the field of battle, he let spring fever get the best of him and he stayed at home, shirking his duty. After all, he was the king. He could do anything he pleased.
Evading responsibility is often the first step to spiritual decline. I sense a growing feeling, particularly among young people, that we can do pretty much whatever we want to do. And we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do. This is the era of doing your own thing. It is true that we can do whatever we please, but not without paying the price spiritually. God has a plan for our lives. He has laid certain responsibilities upon us, and when we avoid them with excuses or rationalizations, we open a Pandora’s box of assorted temptations that weaken our will to walk with God.
That seems to be right where David is when this scene opens. “Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house” (2 Sam. 11:2). Do you get the picture? It was evening, and David was just getting out of bed. If we had any doubt about why he stayed home, it is all gone now. And it was not to catch up on his paper work. David was goofing off! “And from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance” (2 Sam. 11:2). If he had used his head, he would have gotten off of that rooftop patio pronto. But he lingered, and let his eyes feast on every inch of Bathsheba’s fleshly charms, until he could think of nothing but having her for himself.
Being tempted is no sin. But lingering over it, toying with it, flirting with it—that is inexcusable, as we saw in the case of Eve. We can tantalize ourselves to such a degree that resisting the sin is no longer considered to be a possible option. The only question that remains is how we are going to do it. God says we should flee temptation (2 Tim. 2:22). And he will help us handle it if we obey. But if we dawdle and dally over it, we are doomed. When a man finds himself attracted to a woman, for example, and either one of them is married, he needs to get himself out of that situation quickly. The longer he nurtures the relationship, the harder it will be to break it off, until ultimately he will hear himself saying stupid things like, “But I just can’t live without her.” And before he realizes the implications of what he is saying, his life and family will be in shambles.
Bathsheba is not guiltless either. She may not have purposely enticed David, but she was immodest and indiscreet. To disrobe and bathe in an open courtyard in full view of any number of rooftop patios in the neighborhood was asking for trouble. She could easily have bathed indoors. Even so in our day, some women do not seem to realize what the sight of their flesh can do to a man. They allow themselves to be pushed into the fashion mold of the world and wear revealing clothes, or nearly nothing; then they wonder why the men they meet cannot think of anything but sex. We must not fail to instruct our younger girls in these matters, particularly as they enter their teen years. Christian parents should teach their daughters facts about the nature of man and the meaning of modesty, then agree on standards for their dress.
David found out who the beautiful bather was, sent for her, and the thought became the deed. There is no evidence that this was a forcible rape. Bathsheba seems to have been a willing partner. Her husband was off to war and she was lonely. The glamour of being desired by the attractive king meant more to her than her commitment to her husband and her dedication to God. They probably cherished those moments together; maybe they even assured themselves that it was a tender and beautiful experience. Most do! But in God’s sight, it was hideous and ugly. Satan had baited his trap and they were now in his clutches.
The inevitable happened, and Bathsheba sent word to David that she was pregnant. This was a crisis in that culture, for it would have meant death by stoning according to the Law of Moses (cf. Lev. 20:10). No crisis had ever shaken David before, and he was certainly not going to let this one destroy him. His plan was to bring Bathsheba’s husband home from the battle for a few days; then nobody would ever know whose child she was carrying. But Uriah was too patriotic to enjoy his wife while his countrymen were endangering their lives on the battlefield, so he slept in the barracks with the king’s servants. Then David had to put Plan B into operation. He calmly wrote Uriah’s death warrant, sealed it, and sent it to Captain Joab on the front lines, delivered by Uriah’s own hand. It ordered Joab to put Uriah in the fiercest part of the battle, then retreat from him. And David added murder to his adultery. After a short period of mourning, Bathsheba entered David’s house and became his wife, and the two lovers finally had each other to enjoy freely and uninterruptedly … except for one thing: “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27).
That brings us to another point: the heavy hand of discipline. David knew he had sinned. We usually do, deep down inside. But he tried to ignore it, tried to go on living as though nothing had happened. If his conscience got too heavy, he could always rationalize by saying things like, “I’m the king, I can do as I please. It was really Bathsheba’s fault, anyway. Besides, who am I hurting? Some men have to die in battle, why not Uriah?” The possibilities available to help us excuse our sin are endless. But there was something gnawing at David in the pit of his stomach, an emptiness he could not describe, accompanied by periods of extreme depression.
He later wrote three psalms describing those months out of fellowship with God: Psalms 32, 38 and 51. Listen to his plaintive cry: “I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long … I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart” (Psa. 38:6, 8). David loved his Lord and tried to worship him, but he found a barrier there; it was the barrier of his own sin. God seemed far away. “Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me!” (Psa. 38:21). His friends sensed his irritability and avoided him. “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; and my kinsmen stand afar off” (Psa. 38:11). David lived that way for nearly a year. He had his precious Bathsheba, but he had no rest of soul.
Then one day God sent the prophet Nathan to David with a very interesting story. “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished, and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (2 Sam. 12:1-4). When David heard the story he was furious at the rich man’s selfish insensitivity and insisted that he deserved to die.
Guilt does that to us. We usually lash out most harshly and severely at the sins of others when we have the most to hide ourselves. Our subconscious anger with ourselves erupts against them.
It was with fear and trembling that Nathan uttered his next words. Other men had lost their heads for saying less than this to kings, but he was bound by his calling to deliver the message of God to the erring king. He pointed his convicting finger at David and said, “You are the man!” Then he delivered God’s personal message to David: “It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon” (2 Sam. 12:7-9). And the conviction of God’s Spirit penetrated the depths of David’s soul.
Sin usually brings unhappy consequences, and God does not always see fit to eliminate them. He knows that experiencing the effects of our sin will help us become more sensitive to His will. The consequences of David’s sin would be far-reaching and long-lasting. First, the sword would never depart from his house (2 Sam. 12:10). The people in the palace knew what was going on. They could count the months, and they realized that Uriah was not at home when the baby was conceived. It had to be David’s child. Then they thought about Uriah’s death, and the whole thing was much too coincidental. David’s son Absalom knew it. And when he killed his half-brother Amnon for raping his sister (2 Sam. 13:28), he probably justified his actions by thinking, “Dad did it. Why can’t I?” Captain Joab knew it. He was the one who carried out David’s sinister command concerning Uriah. And he probably used it to excuse himself when he murdered Absalom (2 Sam. 18:14), and later Absalom’s captain, Amasa (2 Sam. 20:9, 10). The sword never did depart from David’s house. Our sin affects those closest to us most of all.
The second consequence of David’s sin was that the Lord would raise up evil against him out of his own house (2 Sam. 12:11). Read the story of David’s life and see the fulfillment of this promise for yourself: Amnon’s rape of Tamar, Absalom’s murder of Amnon, Absalom’s rebellion against David, Adonijah’s attempt to seize the throne when David was old. There was certainly evil in David’s house.
Third, David’s wives would be taken before his eyes and given to someone else who would be with them in broad daylight (2 Sam. 12:11). David took another man’s wife secretly; now his own wives would be taken publicly. During Absalom’s rebellion, his followers pitched a tent on the palace roof, and Absalom had relations with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel, fulfilling this prediction (2 Sam. 16:22).
Fourth, the child born of David’s illicit union with Bathsheba would die (2 Sam. 12:14). That baby would give the enemies of God cause to blaspheme, so God graciously took the child home to Himself. We grieve with David for the loss of his son, but we are grateful for this assurance of what happens to babies when they die. David says he will go to be with the child, assuring us that babies enter the presence of God (2 Sam. 12:23).
Did you notice why God took the baby, however? That point needs to be reemphasized. It was because by David’s deed he had “given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” Now we understand one important reason for divine discipline. It is administered so the enemies of God will know that He is infinitely holy and righteous, that He will deal with sin even in His children. Were He to wink at it with a “Boys will be boys” attitude, he would become the laughingstock of the unbelieving world. David had to bear the consequences of his sin, and so must we. That burden can be heavy, but the time to think about that is before we yield.
That brings us finally to the happy certainty of forgiveness. Nathan’s penetrating exposure of David’s sin and his powerful exposition of God’s righteousness brings David to his knees, acknowledging his sin: “I have sinned against the Lord,” he cried (2 Sam. 12:13). These were the words God wanted to hear. David’s spirit was broken; his heart was contrite (cf. Psa. 51:17). And as a result, he heard the sweetest, most beautiful, most reassuring and encouraging words known to man: “The Lord also has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). As David put it in the Psalms, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (Psa. 32:5).
Scripture does not tell us, but I am confident that Bathsheba acknowledged her sin also and God forgave them both. While they could not erase the consequences, they could live in the full assurance of God’s complete forgiveness. It was a great blot on David’s life, the only major blot (cf. 1 Kgs. 15:5). But neither he nor Bathsheba let it ruin the rest of their lives. God forgave them, they forgave themselves, and they went on to live productive lives that glorified the Lord. That is exactly what God wants us to do. He does not want us to torture ourselves with the guilt of our sin. He wants us to confess it, forsake it, and forget it.
Bathsheba seems to have assumed the most prominent place among David’s wives. There is no record that he ever took another wife after her. As an indication of God’s forgiveness, he gave them another son whom they named Solomon, which means “peace.” The Prophet Nathan called him Jedidiah, which means “Beloved of the Lord.” And God assured David that Solomon, son of Bathsheba, would reign in his place and build the Temple (1 Chron. 22:9, 10). As added evidence of God’s grace, Bathsheba was chosen to be one of the four women referred to in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:6).
The hymn writer put it like this: “Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?” That great God of grace stands ready to pardon you. Listen to the Prophet Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6, 7). Listen to the Apostle John: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It matters not how grievous your sin may have been. God stands ready to blot it out. Acknowledge it to him, then accept his gracious forgiveness.
Let’s talk it over
1. Why do you think David is called a man after God’s own heart in view of his dreadful sin?
2. What areas of responsibility might you be avoiding that could have a spiritually detrimental effect in the future?
3. How can you help each other avoid temptations relating to the opposite sex?
4. For wives: Is your dress consistent with God’s standards or do you merely dress as the world dictates?
5. What is the meaning of modesty? How should you apply it to your life? As parents, how can you teach your daughters proper standards of dress?
6. Can you think of times when you have been especially irritable with each other because of your own burden of guilt? Honestly acknowledge those occasions to each other.
7. Did some of your own past sins come to your mind as you read this chapter, sins that you have been trying to ignore? Why not confess them to God, claim the forgiveness he promised in 1 John 1:9, then put them out of your mind once and for all?