David, the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite, is destined to become Israel’s second king. As a national hero, Israel has always loved and revered David. Today his star is at the center of Israel’s national flag. But at the pinnacle of his career, at about fifty years of age, David falls from a great height. In the first book of Samuel, we see David rise from obscurity to great honor. But in the second book of Samuel, we watch him descend into degradation. As a shepherd boy David conquered Goliath, but as a king he is conquered by his own lusts (Jas. 1:14-15).
When we see David in bed with Bathsheba, we see something that disturbs us. While we stand in awe of David’s accomplishments, we must look closely at the circumstances which marked the beginning of his downward spiral in leadership. After successfully reigning in Jerusalem for twelve years, we are suddenly confronted with a story of adultery, deception, temptation, cruelty, treachery and murder.
At this point in David’s reign, the might of the Hebrew army has reached the pinnacle of power. Only the Ammonites remain unconquered. David sends Joab to defeat the Ammonites while he stays safely in Jerusalem (II Sam. 11:1). In early spring, when kings make ready for battle, David shirks his duties. Prior to this time, it was his habit to march at the head of his troops. When he should have been with his soldiers preparing to resume his campaign against the Ammonites, David is waking from a late-afternoon siesta (11:2). He is putting on his robe and slippers when he should have been putting on his armor.
David is walking on the flat roof of his palace, enjoying the cool evening breeze. It is inappropriate for a neighbor in the East to look over his battlement into the court of a neighbor. His actions are deliberate. He sees a very beautiful woman bathing on her rooftop and immediately becomes infatuated with her. He then makes inquiries concerning her (11:3). After discovering she is married to one of his top soldiers, he takes her anyway (11:4). David already has numerous wives, for the royal harem is included in the royal inheritance. Three of his most famous sons, who are young men by this time, were each birthed by different mothers. Ahinoam gave birth to Amnon (II Sam. 3:2), Maacah gave birth to Absalom (II Sam. 3:3) and Haggith gave birth to Adonijah (II Sam. 3:4). The fact David has ample marital companionship makes his crime all the more heinous.
Bathsheba is the daughter of Eliam, who was the son of Ahithophel (II Sam. 23:34). Ahithophel is David’s counselor, a man of rank and stature in David’s service (II Sam. 15:12). She is Ahithophel’s granddaughter. Her husband, Uriah, is in the field, fighting the Ammonites. This beautiful soldier’s wife is dutifully anticipating and awaiting her husband’s safe return, bathing on her rooftop in the cool of the evening.
There is no suggestion that David deceives Bathsheba or has her brought to him forcibly. She comes without hesitation at his request and offers no resistance. Bathsheba apparently goes home unrepentant (II Sam. 11:4). “I am with child” is her only comment (v. 15). She leaves the results and repercussions of her pregnancy in the hands of the king. She never divulges the secret of their adultery.
The resulting pregnancy destroys any hope of keeping the affair a secret. Should her sin be discovered, she has good reason to fear the wrath of her husband. By refusing to enjoy the comforts of his home in a time of war, Uriah proves himself to be a man of honor. With this in mind, it is probable he would have denounced Bathsheba for her sin and exposed David’s ignominy to Israel. The law clearly states the penalty for adultery is death for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Lev. 20:10).
Bathsheba will ultimately give David four sons, including Solomon. She retains a powerful influence over him throughout the rest of his life (I Chron. 3:5 & 1 Kgs.1:15-21).
Uriah the Hittite stands before us as a man of extreme integrity. He is one of David’s elite troops (gibborim) consisting of thirty-seven mighty men (II Sam. 23:39). Twice David prompts Uriah to sleep with his wife Bathsheba, hoping he will believe he is the father of the child to come. If Uriah has sex with Bathsheba, David will not be suspected regarding paternity. Uriah refuses, insisting on maintaining his military discipline (11:11). He is honoring a guideline for soldiers David himself had earlier established which forbade intercourse for warriors consecrated for battle (I Sam. 21:4-5). Uriah expresses incredulity at David’s suggestion, caring more about the honor of the Ark, the army and the King than the pleasures of his own home. What Uriah says and does fails to awaken David’s conscience. His noble statements should have prompted David to repent, but he does not. Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, will later write, “He that covers his sins will not prosper” (Prov. 28:13).
David then dishonors Uriah by getting him drunk, hoping he will return home and sleep with Bathsheba (II Sam.11:13). David makes every attempt to make it appear Uriah has fathered this child. Although Uriah and Bathsheba’s home is near to the palace, Uriah is determined to retain self-discipline and his integrity. He sleeps in the guard room again (11:9 & 13). Having now exhausted all his options and desperate to cover his shame, David’s final ploy is to eliminate him. In exasperation, David arranges circumstances to ensure Uriah dies in battle (v. 15).
David sends Uriah back to the army with a letter that is, in effect, his own death warrant. It is hard to imagine the man who pens the sweet psalms of Israel also pens this terrible letter. Uriah’s commander, Joab, is to place Uriah in the most dangerous position in a battle, virtually assuring he will become a casualty of war. In fact, it will even appear honorable Uriah died by the hand of the enemy. It is hard to imagine how David, who did not dare kill Saul his persecutor when he had the opportunity, can now stoop to kill an innocent man. He who bravely killed Goliath publicly now cowardly slays Uriah secretly (Deut. 27:24).
Having decided to eliminate Uriah, David must find a man to execute his murderous plot. Joab is ideal for the task. This is not the first time David let an evil deed “rest on the head of Joab” (II Sam. 3:29). Although David has formerly berated Joab for his cruelty and callousness, he now uses these same attributes to accomplish his sinister purpose. This places David’s commander in chief in an awkward position. If Uriah is the only fatality in an attack upon the Ammonites, it might cast suspicion on David’s true motives. Joab plans to besiege the city of Rabbah, the Ammonite capital. He places Uriah at the front of this assault. The numerous soldiers who also die in this attack are additional innocent victims of the scheme. When David receives Joab’s report, he is unconcerned that other men are also sacrificed to cover his personal sins (11:25). When the news of her husband’s death reaches Bathsheba, she mourns for him (11:26). But Bathsheba is not the only widow who mourns the loss of a husband that day.
David is successful in this terrible endeavor. Uriah is dead and Bathsheba becomes David’s wife. His subjects are ignorant of the true facts. But although he can hide the truth from others, he cannot hide it from God. David may have been pleased with himself, but “the thing David did displeased the Lord” (11:27).
David’s initial sin caused him to break many of God’s laws:
He coveted his neighbor’s wife (Ex. 20:17).
He committed adultery (Ex. 20:14).
He made Uriah drunken (Hab. 2:15-16).
He attempted to deceive him (Ps. 101:7).
He committed murder (Ex. 20:13).
He manipulated Joab (Pv. 3:29).
He caused other soldiers to die needlessly (Lam. 2:21).
When David receives the news from Joab that a number of his men have died with Uriah, he dismisses the report with a flippant remark (II Sam. 11:25). David shows no sign of repentance. He recognizes the potential loss of his title, power and position if his sins are exposed.
Nearly a year passes before God sends the prophet Nathan to David. Soon after the child is born, Nathan comes to him with a parable. He tells the story as if it were a factual account. An injustice has been done to an innocent man by a tyrant. A rich man who has plenty of sheep stole another man’s only sheep. The little lamb slept in his arms with the same affection a man expresses for the wife who sleeps by his side (II Sam. 12:3). The care the poor man lavished upon his lamb corresponds to the love Uriah had for his wife.
While Nathan’s parable makes no direct reference to adultery or murder, it sets forth the callousness of the strong that oppress the weak. The meaning of the parable is clear: David is the rich man with many “sheep” (wives) and Uriah is the poor man with only one “lamb” (Bathsheba). David abused his royal authority and took advantage of this married couple.
As the parable ends, David’s strong sense of justice manifests. He becomes infuriated and indignant against the rich man in the parable. When David listens to Nathan, he gets mad at sin in others. He declares such a man deserves to die (II Sam. 12:5). Any man who will not judge himself is apt to judge others more severely (Mt. 18:28). According to law, the man must restore the lamb fourfold (Ex. 22:1 & Lk. 19:8). David is indignant and says the rich man must pay because he had no pity. What pity did he have on Bathsheba or Uriah?
When Nathan sees David’s fury at the injustice set forth in the story, he interrupts his tirade with the words, “Thou art the man” (II Sam. 12:7). Nathan does not hesitate to point to David as the evil man depicted in his parable. The one who tells of an injustice done to a poor man now becomes a spokesman for God. Nathan’s mission is to rebuke David and he does not fear the king’s wrath (Heb. 11:27). His parabolic accusation melts away the fog of David’s self-deception. Nathan’s parable is the mirror in which David is forced to look at himself.
David recognizes Nathan’s story as a parable and immediately applies it to his own life. When he learns he is the evil man in Nathan’s narrative, he is convicted of his sins. The rich man in Nathan’s parable took the poor man’s lamb, just as David took Bathsheba from Uriah. King David judged others every day, but not himself. It takes Nathan’s direct accusation to cause David to repent.
Nathan reminds David of God’s mercy in blessing his kingdom. He brings to his remembrance his deliverance from Saul and of the many wives David now possesses. Polygamy allowed the king to take any unmarried woman in the nation for his harem, yet David had taken a married woman. This serves as proof that polygamy does not diminish a man’s appetite for adultery. David’s actions demeaned the sanctity of marriage in the most horrific way possible. To despise God’s laws is to despise God Himself (12:9). As punishment, evil will continually infect the house of David.
David is made to see his sin clearly before he is forgiven. Because David condemns himself, he is now in a position to receive God’s forgiveness. By pronouncing sentence on the rich man in Nathan’s parable, David has pronounced judgment upon himself. He has signed his own death warrant as surely as he had signed Uriah’s. But David makes no excuses. He does not attempt to diminish his sins, seek to evade punishment or look for a loophole. If a man deserves to die for stealing his neighbor’s only lamb, how much more the man who steals his neighbor’s only wife?
In words David will later write, he offers to God the sacrifice of a broken spirit and knows God will not despise it (Ps. 51:17). Nathan tells David God forgives him, but his sins will claim more innocent victims. He proceeds to spell out David’s punishment. The guilty parents will live, but their innocent child will die (II Sam. 12:14). David comforts Bathsheba, who first lost her husband and now her baby. Although David fasts, cries and prays for seven days for God to spare the child, he dies at the end of this period. His servants fear to tell David, for they know his grief will be great (v. 18). But contrary to their expectations, upon hearing of the child’s death, he rises, anoints himself, puts on clean clothes, and goes to the tabernacle to worship. He explains he does not act from indifference, but in submission to the will of God. David accepts God’s punishment and expresses the hope of reunion with his child in the future life (12:22-23).
David’s transgressions mark the pivotal point in his regal career. There is little that is noteworthy in his life from this point on. His sins took place within his own palace and their consequences are numerous and far reaching. Until the end of his life, his house will be the scene of horrific crimes committed by his own children. David’s “four-fold restitution” will be the death of four of his sons: Bathsheba’s baby, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah. As the first part of David’s life was full of celebration, the latter part will be filled with lamentation.
David’s self-deceit set in motion a series of events in his personal life that diminish his integrity as a father and a leader.
<> David can say little to Amnon after he rapes Tamar, for David was also guilty of sexual sin with Bathsheba (II Sam. 13:1-14). David is angry, but does nothing (v. 21).
<> David can say little to Absalom when he deceives Amnon, for David was guilty of deceiving Uriah (II Sam. 13:26-27). After thousands of men die during his son’s rebellion, Absalom is ultimately slain.
<> David can say little to Absalom when he gets Amnon drunk, for David also got Uriah drunk (II Sam. 13:28).
<> David can say little to Absalom when he kills Amnon for the rape of his sister, for David was also guilty of the murder of Uriah (II Sam. 13:28-29).
<> David can say little to Adonijah when he seeks to usurp his throne, for David’s sins weakened his leadership and influence. Adonijah is later killed by Solomon for his ambitions (I Kgs. 2:24-25).
Not every Bible story has a happy ending. Even the greatest hero of Israel was not exempt from temptation, sin and punishment. In his penitential Psalms, David later expresses the restlessness of a soul burdened with the desire for reconciliation with Jehovah:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee”
1. Where was David and what was he doing when he first saw Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:1-2)?
2. David did not know Bathsheba was a married woman. True or False (11:4)?
3. David fathered several sons. Name the mothers of Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah, and Solomon (II Sam. 3:2-4 & 12:24)
4. Name Bathsheba’s grandfather (II Sam. 15:13 & 23:34).
5. What was Bathsheba’s only remark regarding the adulterous affair (II Sam. 11:15)?
6. Paraphrase the law regarding adultery (Lev. 20:10).
7. What did Uriah refuse to do (II Sam. 11:9 & 13)?
8. Who else was murdered in the attempt to cover David’s sin (II Sam. 11:25)?
9. What was God’s attitude regarding David’s sins (II Sam. 11:27)?
10. Paraphrase and give the interpretation of Nathan’s parable (II Sam. 12:1-4).
11. What does David say regarding the rich man in Nathan’s parable (II Sam. 12:5)?
12. What does the law declair regarding sheep stealing (Ex. 21:1)?
13. What happened to the first child born to Bathsheba (II Sam. 12:14)?
14. Who raped Tamar (II Sam. 13:1-14)?
15. Who deceived Amnon, got him drunk, and caused his death (II Sam. 13:26-29)?
16. Who killed Absolom (II Sam. 18:14)?
17. In your own words, summarize the story of Bathsheba and David.