Even in this dark time of selfish passion, betrayal, conspiracy and murder, God shows us that he is never far, that his love is constant and always available.
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2 Samuel #12 . 2 Samuel Chapter 11
Unfortunately for David, this is the second most well-known incident in his life. Most of us know how he killed the giant when he was a boy. And most of us know how he committed adultery as a middle-aged man. Hopefully we have learned there is so much more to him than those two things, but there is no doubt that 2 Samuel chapter 11 records a very dark time in David’s spiritual life.
Since we’ve been going through the book sequentially, we can set in its context. Chapter 10 records a war started by the Ammonites. For perhaps a year, David’s army fought the Arameans – allies of the Ammonites. After they were defeated, David sent his military commander, Joab, after the Ammonites themselves. Many preachers have made a big deal out of the fact that David didn’t go with the army this time. I’m not sure how important that was. He did not go out with them the year before this either, at least, not at first (2 Samuel 10:7 & 17). David was maybe around fifty years old at this point, and it would be natural for campaigns to start to get physically more demanding for him. Not only that, but as king of a growing nation, he certainly had responsibilities other than war. In any case, when the army went off to war, David stayed in Jerusalem. I think the main reason this is significant is because of what happened to Bathsheba’s husband later.
One evening, walking on the roof of the palace, David observes a beautiful woman bathing in a nearby dwelling.
Bathsheba’s identity is interesting. She was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was one of David’s “thirty mighty men,” among the most famous and honorable warriors in Israel, part of the faithful band that fought alongside David and did great deeds. “The thirty” (there were actually 31) are listed in 2 Samuel 23 and again in 1 Chronicles 11. Bathsheba is also the daughter of Eliam. That name appears elsewhere only as another one of the thirty. Not all of them survived as long as David, and it seems that perhaps not all of them had been with David since his days in hiding – some might have become part of “the thirty” later on. So the picture we get is that Bathsheba was the daughter of one of David’s elite warriors, probably one from the very beginning. When she grew up, she married another one of that elite band (who may have been considerably younger than both David and her father). She had might have met David when she was a child, but if so, he probably had not seen her since she grew up and got married. In any case, her family life had probably been bound up with David as long as she could remember.
When David finds out who she is, he sends for her. In his own mind, he may have fooled himself into thinking he only wanted to greet her and remember her father with her – we don’t really know. But when she came to the palace, he slept with her.
It’s hard to know what part Bathsheba played in all this. There are some scholars who believe that this was basically rape. He sent for her, and she came and was forced to do his bidding. Certainly, his proposal would have put her in a very difficult position in those days it was a pretty big deal to defy your king. In addition, given her identity, David would have been the bright star in her sky all of her life – both the life of her father and her husband had been intimately bound to him. So she may have been a little star-struck. And there is no doubt that David was the initiator of the sin. It would not have happened without him pursuing it.
But on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a woman bathing naked (as she probably was) without checking all angles to make sure no one could see her. So she may have let David see her. In addition, there is no record of her protesting. Knowing David, if Bathsheba had reminded him of the right thing to do, as Abigail once had (1 Samuel 25:26-31), it is likely that David would have repented of his intentions and praised her righteousness, as he did in the case of Abigail (1 Samuel 25:32-34). We also know that none of the Old Testament writers, including the one who wrote 2 Samuel, were shy about calling rape what it was (cf. 2 Samuel 13:14). However, that is not what they called this. My conclusion is that they both sinned deliberately, but that David was the one who really made it happen.
Now David compounded the sexual sin with several others, and I want to talk about those things. But I don’t want to gloss over the first sin here. One of the reasons the church is now on the ropes in our culture, barely able to continue to maintain that homosexual behavior is sinful, is that decades ago, we quit publicly emphasizing that sex was made for marriage, and marriage alone. Adultery is a sin. Sex between umarried people is also a sin, according to the bible. The New Testament calls it “porneia.” Old English translations write is “fornication” and newer ones call it “sexual immorality.” In some ways “sexual immorality” is a better translation, because the word really means “any sexual activity that is not between a man and the woman he is married to.”
So “porneia” includes lust, sex before marriage, adultery, homosexual sex and all shades of those things. Jesus said it was evil in Mark 7:21-23. Some of the other verse that condemn porneia as sinful are: Romans 13:3, 1 Corinthians 6:9-18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:5 and many more. You have heard it here, if nowhere else: the bible teaches that God created sex, and that it is good. Also, and very important, it was created for marriage, and any kind of sex outside of marriage is sinful. You may disagree with that idea, but that is what the Bible actually says. Sex in marriage is good. Sex outside of marriage, in any form, is sinful. So don’t listen to anyone who says David’s main sin was lying, covering up and then the murder. Those were sins too. But the first sin, just as bad as all the rest, was sex with someone he was not married to.
As I pointed out, David didn’t stop there. After the deed was done, Bathsheba sent him word that she was pregnant. Now it wasn’t just a problem of sinning against God, Bathsheba and her husband. It was a problem of other people finding out about it. I think this attitude is very revealing. It is utterly unlike David for most of his life, but in this case, he is far more concerned about what others think than he is about what God thinks. God already knew about the sin, but David didn’t seem worried until he realized that others would find out.
Now, there was something very serious about others finding out. The penalty for adultery in ancient Israel was supposed to be death. Both David and Bathsheba were supposed to be stoned to death, according to the laws of Moses. (Deuteronomy 22:22). So in David’s mind, their own lives were at stake.
Everything that happened after Bathsheba got pregnant was the result of David trying to handle the situation himself, with his own resources. He tried to correct the situation without admitting his guilt or seeking forgiveness.
So his first attempt is essentially to try and undo what he did. He brings Uriah home to be with his wife, so everyone will think the baby is legitimate. It an almost childish effort to make things right. You can picture David thinking (but not saying) “I slept with your wife. But it should have been you, so now you do it.” But unfortunately for everyone, Uriah had apparently taken vows that were common for elite soldiers in those days. Such warriors sometimes pledged to not sleep with their wives until the war was won, and the whole army was home again. This cut back on desertions (because they’d be breaking a vow if they went home and resumed normal relations with their wives), motivated soldiers to fight, and contributed to a sense of camaraderie. Uriah was a man of great integrity, committed to keeping his vows. David even enticed into getting drunk (thus causing him to sin in that way); but even in his drunken state, he would not go home.
Notice the difference here. Uriah knows that if he goes home and sees his wife, he is very likely to give in to temptation. So he doesn’t even go there. David, on the other hand, in a premeditated act, brought the woman into his home. Temptation is easiest to resist on the very front end. If you take a spoonful of ice-cream, it is much harder to resist having a big bowl. It’s easier to refrain if you don’t even taste it.
So David’s first plan didn’t work. Instead of confessing and repenting, he keeps trying to fix it on his own. No doubt, certain thoughts had probably crossed his mind. If only Uriah were killed in battle, then I could marry Bathsheba and the baby would be legitimate. He is a soldier, after all. These things do happen. From that sort of thinking, it isn’t such a stretch to move to actually giving some orders to make that more likely. It was a cruel irony that David trusted Uriah himself to carry the orders for his own death to Joab, the commander of the army.
It is uncertain how much Joab knew. He knew Uriah had been recalled to Jerusalem. So when he got the orders, he probably assumed that Uriah had displeased David in some way, but that David preferred him to die in battle, rather than to dishonor one of the thirty through public execution. Afterwards, of course, Joab had to have figured out what happened. But in this way David tricked Joab into being an accomplice in murder. Joab did as David asked, and put Uriah in a difficult place in the battle, where he was killed. Unfortunately, Uriah didn’t die alone, but other soldiers died alongside him, unnecessarily.
So David committed adultery, got Uriah to sin by becoming drunk, got Joab to sin as an accomplice to murder, and then got Uriah and several others killed to cover it all up. As the final verse of the chapter says:
However, the LORD considered what David had done to be evil. (2 Samuel 11:27)
So, what does all this mean for us today?
One thing, as I have said, is that it is a reminder of God’s standard for sexual morality. It doesn’t matter what the culture says. Sex was made by God, to be celebrated in marriage between one man and one woman. Anything other than that is sin. Period. That really is what the bible says. If you doubt me, look up the verses I referenced earlier, or email me or comment, and I’ll show you even more. As Christians, we need to hold to that standard. Our failure to do so is part of what is wrong with our culture today.
Something else we might get out of this, is a strategy for dealing with temptation. David first looked. Then he investigated. Then he brought Bathsheba closer, and then he sinned. If, as soon as he saw her, he had turned away, perhaps spent some time with one of his many wives, he probably would not have done all the evil that he did. It is easier to resist temptation at the very beginning. Don’t play with the idea of doing something you know is wrong – it will burn you.
There is another thing I noticed here. It is interesting to realize when this happens. It isn’t when David is afraid for his life. It isn’t when people are betraying him, or when after twenty years, he finds himself back in a cave again. No, David’s failure was during time of prosperity and security. We almost always look on struggle as bad and lack of struggle as good. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the same way. I like it when everything is going my way without a bump in the road. But the truth is, times of prosperity and security can be the most dangerous spiritual times of all. Jospeh Excell, a bible commentator of the nineteenth century, said it like this:
“The likelihood is that the great prosperity that was now flowing in upon David in every direction had had an unfavourable effect upon his soul.”
Sometimes, we think the goal is to get to a place where everything is smooth and there are no struggles. But maybe that’s like thinking how safe we would be if only we could get to the very edge of a cliff and sleep there. Physical prosperity and ease are not always good for the soul.
How about this: where is Jesus in this passage? In some ways, that isn’t quite a fair question, because the story is longer than just chapter 11. The whole passage goes on. But we can see Jesus quite clearly here too. However, this time, it isn’t in David. That’s important. David was not the Messiah. God often used him to show the world what the Messiah was like, but God was not dependent upon David alone. In this passage, he shows us Jesus through the good man, Uriah.
Uriah did not do anything wrong. In fact, it was both David and Bathsheba who wronged Uriah. By the law of Moses, they were supposed to die for the sin they committed against him. But instead, he died for them. He did no wrong, even when he was tempted. He was obedient, and carried the orders for his own execution with him. When ordered by Joab, he went into battle, to his death, in order to save those who had sinned against him.
This is exactly what Jesus did for us. We have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We deserve death and hell as penalty for our sin (Romans 6:23). Jesus came to earth in obedience to the Father, carrying the orders for his own execution(Philippians 2:8). When he was tempted he did no wrong (Hebrews 4:15). And yet Jesus died instead of us, so that we could live eternally (Romans 3:25; 1 Timothy 2:6; John 3:16).
Jesus is constantly calling to us, reminding us who he is, and how much he cares for us. Even in this awful story of betrayal and murder, Jesus is calling to us, saying “See how I love you! See what I was willing to do for you, even in face of the worst evil you could conceive.” No evil can overcome that kind of grace and good. That grace is ours if we simply confess we need it, turn way from our sins, and receive it.