SCRIPTURE – 2 Sam. 11:1-15, 26-27 and 12:1-13
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain 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 such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
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, so that he may be struck down and die.” When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, 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. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 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! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
The Killer King Sermon Series
#4 – David and Bathsheba
July 6, 2014
We continue our look at the life of King David today. So far we’ve seen him anointed as the next king of Israel; we’ve watched him defeat the giant Goliath; and we’ve followed him into the wilderness as he was chased by the current king, Saul. Eventually Saul dies and David takes over as the king of Israel. He sets up Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and settles into his prosperous reign. But although he is a popular and successful king, he is by no means perfect.
Aside from the original sin of Adam and Eve, probably no sin in the Bible is more well-known than David and Bathsheba. That’s not necessarily something you want to be well-known for; that’s like getting on TV – in an episode of “Cops.” This doesn’t make David any worse of a person than you and me; we’re talking about one of the greatest kings in history, not some wild man or social deviant. The only difference between our sins and his is that his were published in the best-selling book of all time. Really, he’s no different than us.
Up to this point in his reign, King David had nothing but success. He restored the nation of Israel to peace and has built a formidable military power. His authority stretched throughout the land, and because his army was so powerful, he was king over many nations. He was king of Judah, of Israel, of the Philistines, the Moabites, the Hittites, the Edomites, the Stalagtites, the Stalagmites, and the Gesundtites. He has it all.
But it wasn’t enough for him. How could a man who had everything possibly want more? David would be about 50 now, so maybe he was hitting a mid-life crisis. He’s started using Rogaine, had a treadmill installed in the royal workout room, eating a lot more bran. Maybe he needed something to help him feel young again. When we stop being happy with what God gave us, we become vulnerable to thinking we need something more.
We should know David’s in trouble with the very first verse of this passage. It tells us that spring is the time when kings go off to war, yet David is sending his general Joab to lead the army instead of doing it himself. David, who was created by God to be a great warrior, decides to stop doing what God called him to do. He’s neglecting his duties. He’s got too much time on his hands. And, as the saying goes, idle hands do the Devil’s work.
So instead of leading his army into battle, David is walking around on his roof one night and sees a woman bathing herself. Now, David was a passionate man – passionate about serving God, passionate about leading the kingdom, and passionate about his passions. David is the king, he can have anything he wants, and at this moment, staring right into the face of temptation, David decides to not look away. Just because David was a faithful man of God doesn’t make him immune to temptation. When we make the decision to not turn away, we have to be prepared to face whatever comes of it.
So he asks a servant about this woman, and the servant says, “This is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah.” You hear what the servant is doing, right? He knows that David is thinking about more than baking a loaf of bread for this neighbor, so he tactfully tries to snap David back to reality. “Yes, King David, that’s Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. Uriah is her husband. She’s married. To Uriah. He’s her husband.” But David doesn’t hear him. He’s already decided to not turn away.
So David brings Bathsheba to the palace and sleeps with her, and she conceives. Now some guys in this situation might panic. But not David. Notice the narrative doesn’t pause for an instant. David is a man of action, a problem-solver. He didn’t get to where he was without dealing with a few messes. And this situation, this matter of adultery and an unborn child, was merely another problem to be solved. So the cover-up begins.
That’s usually our first reaction when we do something wrong; we try to cover it up and hope that no one will notice. I once ran my dad’s car off the road because I was driving too fast to impress my date, and I damaged the car’s front end. I spent the next three days trying to keep my dad from looking at the front of his car; he was amazed at how much help I needed putting things in the trunk. Then one morning when I woke up my dad said, “Boy, what did you do to my car?” And in a moment of panic I said, “Uh, I hit a bucket!” As if there are buckets just lying around the roads of Southern Indiana. To this day, I think Dad still believes I hit a bucket.
That’s what sin does to us: the guilt of our wrongdoing causes us to try and cover it up, heaping lie on top of lie until we’ve dug a hole out of which we can’t escape. David’s cover-up is especially insidious. If he can get Uriah and Bathsheba to spend a romantic weekend together, Uriah might believe the child was his own. The only problem was that Uriah was out fighting a battle and was sworn to celibacy until the fight was over. David orders him back to Jerusalem and tells him two different times to go show his wife how much he has missed her, but Uriah, being a loyal soldier, refuses to sleep with her. Finally, David resorts to killing Uriah. He sends him back to the battlefront with a note for Joab to put Uriah on the front lines and then draw away from him, assuring his death.
You see what has happened here? David didn’t start out to be a murderer. But his neglecting of his kingly duties led to idleness which led to temptation which led to adultery which led to deceit which led to murder. James 1:14-15 says, “One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” Most problems don’t start all at once; they start a little at a time, and each time we choose not to turn away, they grow to be much more deadly.
Once, at a committee meeting, someone had provided some snacks, including a big bowl of grapes, which was placed very close to me. This is not a good thing. I love grapes. As the meeting started, I ate eat one, then another, then another. And about halfway through the meeting, I reached for a grape, and they were gone! I had sat there and ate the whole bowl. So I took my napkin and placed it over the bowl – my own version of a cover-up. Someone asked, “What happened to all the grapes?” And I said, “Someone must have eaten them all!” I didn’t plan on eating the whole bowl; I thought I could just eat a few and then stop.
The problem with little sins is that we think they are manageable; we think we can rationalize our way through them. But to rationalize is simply to tell rational lies. “This is such a little thing, it won’t hurt anyone, no one will know, it will only be this once.” But the reality is that every time we choose not to be honest with God about a sin, every time we choose not to turn away, we commit more sins to try and cover it up, furthering our dishonesty, until before we know it, we’ve sat there and at the whole bowl of grapes. We didn’t plan on it, it just happened that way, and we couldn’t stop it.
David finally does break his cycle of sin, thanks to the brave actions of the prophet Nathan, who realizes that for this deception to end, David has to be held accountable. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed by the Nazis, once said, “Nothing is more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sins.” The apostle Paul talks about speaking the truth in love to each other. Telling people what they want to hear is not love. When people are engaged in destructive, soul-threatening behavior, they need a mirror. No one sets out to become an adulterer or murderer or absent parent or closet alcoholic. No one plans these things. But they happen every day. Why? Partly because we have no one in our lives whom we’ve invited to tell the truth.
We all need someone to hold us accountable. Who is that person for you? And are you that person for someone else? This is delicate, because we have to both speak the truth and speak it in love. John Ortberg says there’s a theological distinction between being a prophet and being a jerk. And yet, if we see someone in trouble, and we don’t speak the truth, what could happen? James writes, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save him from death.”
So Nathan holds up a mirror to David in the form of a parable, and David falls for it hook, line, and sinker. David sticks his head right into the noose and Nathan gives it a pull: “You are the man!” I wonder what went through David’s mind at that point. I guess the weight of what he had done finally hit him, and he responds with the words that I believe save his life: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Those are not easy words to say. It’s a lot easier to make excuses, to deflect the blame, to write it off by saying, “It just happened.” But you can’t un-ring a bell. To say these words means admitting that we’re wrong. It means admitting than we’ve messed up and fallen short. It means swallowing our pride and acknowledging that we have hurt someone else and hurt God. And yet the only way we accept the forgiveness offered by God is by acknowledging our need for it. No words can bring more healing and reconciliation than those words. “I have sinned against the Lord.”
David showed great maturity, albeit too late. There are still consequences of his sin that he will have to face. Had David been obedient to the will of God on the rooftop, he wouldn’t have been disobedient in the bedroom. But, with the help of Nathan, he is finally honest with God. The moment we know we need God’s help and say so out loud, God can hear us and find us and bring us home.
There are many reasons we remember David as heroic, but I think this is the greatest reason of all. David was a hero because of this moment of honesty, when he stopped covering up an instead uncovered his heart, when he acknowledged who he was and what he had done, when he turned away from his sins and turned toward God. That’s what heroes do.