A Failed King
“People never just sin. Sin is always the culmination of several ungodly thoughts rallied together to turn something that is actually terrible into something that is enticing – and then we take it.” Discuss.
David is the king over Israel as God had decreed. He was chosen by God and carried from the shepherd fields to the battlefield for the sake of God’s Name. He was a legendary warrior who God delivered time and time again. More than that, God promised to David that his kingdom would stand forever. So far, in this book, we have watched David demonstrate the kindness, mercy, righteousness and justice of the Kingdom of God. He has demonstrated what good prayer looks like, what trust in the LORD looks like and has shown us the virtues of gentleness and humility.
While we have noticed hints of David’s broken nature, such as the many wives, we come now to a new lesson from David. We will see just how broken he was. This story is almost as famous as his battle against Goliath and yet it teaches us something completely different.
Read 2 Samuel 11
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’ ”
22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
What did you see? (Observation)
- Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)
- Problem: Our king did not go (1)
- Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)
- One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)
- The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)
- Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)
- Joab is dragged into the mess (18-24)
- Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)
- End: Or so it looks… (27)
Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)
“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” To my ears, this sounds very ‘Monty Python’ and I can imagine all the kings speaking like proper Brits and striding off to slaughter something somewhere. The reality is that the season brings better conditions for fighting and you lose men to the sword and not to the weather. See 1 Kings 20:22, 26.
“…David sent Joab out with the king’s men…they destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.” This is only the beginning of the story where the scene is set. David’s kingdom is in good shape where his men can be sent off, with a successful commander (Joab) and win battles. The kingdom is being protected. Rabbah is mentioned as being under siege. It seems likely that this is the same city that is under siege later in the story. This will add to the sadness of this narrative even more.
Problem: Our king did not go (1)
“But David remained in Jerusalem.” The problem of this story is not that a war is on but that David, the warrior king, has stayed at home. It’s not the first time since we saw in Chapter 10 that he stayed behind while others went to battle and that was fine then. His staying behind is not wrong by definition. But the story has opened up for us to expect that something is wrong: it’s the season when kings go off to war, but our king, who is not a stranger to battles, stayed in Jerusalem. Will this result in something good?
Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)
The main content is in the middle of the story. We flesh out what takes place when our hero stays at home. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” is what I remember my mother saying. We’ll look at Verses 2-24 in the 4 stages of how things went wrong and how David tried to cover it all up.
One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)
“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.” It’s evening and David was in bed. He has already retired for the night. What time this is, we don’t know, but the day is done for him. He has arisen in order to wander. There is no threat to his world right now. Even the business of the kingdom is being taken care of by others. So, his mind is active when he ought to be getting rest. The bible both commends sleep and rest because we put our trust in God and it condemns oversleep when there is work to be done. David has no work that is pressing and ought to enjoy the peace that God has brought him. Proverbs 3:21-26 (esp 24).
“From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…” He didn’t go onto the roof in order to perve. But there he sees a beautiful woman bathing. David may already have mischief in his mind when he got up from his bed – that is uncertain – but now he has a decision to make. He has not acted in sin yet – although he has looked long enough to observe that the woman was beautiful. So he has gazed for too long. Martin Luther once said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” You cannot keep temptation from coming across you but you can stop it from giving birth to sin. See James 1:13-18 on the movement from temptation to death.
“…and David sent someone to find out about her.” Wrong move. What could David have done right then and there? I suggest that running back inside and sitting before the LORD and talking to Him about this test. The problem, though, is that David is not giving any indication that his mind is on godly things. When we feel little need for God because of prosperity and calm, we are less inclined to lean on Him for help. The folly is in thinking that we are ever at peace with the evil one. Mark 13:33, Galatians 6:1, Colossians 4:2 1 Peter 4:7, 5:8 and Job 31:1 to do with watchfulness, sober mindedness and prayerfulness. Note also that David is moving slowly toward making this sin fully mature but there is still time for him to repent and stop his investigation. But he is standing too close to the fire. “It won’t hurt to just ask questions about her.”
“She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So now David knows that she is not just a beautiful object on a roof but that she has a name and a father and she is married. Great. Time to go back to bed. Walk away and live.
“David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” While sleeping with her was the final act of sin – we must see how many steps leading to this that David took. When the Apostle Paul writes to Christians and tells them to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col 3:5) he doesn’t mean to stand at arms reach from these sins but to put them to death. David puts fuel on the fire when he sends for Bathsheba. His imagination of what could happen is inflamed when she is standing in the same room as him. “…and he slept with her…” is not a statement that shocks us because, as sinners, we can see it coming in the story. Sin never just happens. It comes to fulfillment when we imagine something that is really quite terrible to be something that we desire and really need. I believe this is why Paul calls it idolatry. We believe that we absolutely need this when the only thing we need is trust in God.
“Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” Her bath on the roof should not be taken as her trying to seduce the king but that she was following the Levitical law about her monthly period (Leviticus 15:25-30). Perhaps she bathed at night so as to be discreet?
“The woman conceived…” Bathsheba’s name is not used. Perhaps we are returned to the initial status of her in the story: she was just a beautiful woman on a roof to David and now she is a woman her has conceived. A night of passion is now to become a scandal. Her monthly period mentioned in the last verse means that this must be David’s child. There were consequences to this sin. He had looked and taken and thought that there would be no consequences but he was wrong.
The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)
“So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David.” The second problem in the story is now, ‘what will David do about his obvious sin?’ His options are to come clean, to cover up, or to simply ignore his actions and call this wrong a right, this evil as good. He is in need of repenting before God and offering a sacrifice of atonement (with the real hope of avoiding the penalty of Deut 22:22). He is also in need of repenting to the husband. He summons Uriah from the battle to return to Jerusalem and before David.
“David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.” We have the privilege of knowing what David has done and that this man ought to be angry at David. But they are able to catch up on how things are going. They talk business rather than talk about the wrong that has taken place. The greatest concern to Uriah is the events of the battle and he is led to believe that this is David’s concern also. But the greatest concern to David is his own reputation. The first part of David’s plan to avoid repercussion is to make Uriah believe that he has acted as a messenger of the king.
“Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Rather than being instructed to go back off to the frontline, he is invited to make himself at home back with his wife. The king has given Uriah some R&R.
“…and a gift from the king was sent after him.” Presumably some money or such to help Uriah feel comfortable and without worry. David is orchestrating an environment for Uriah much like David’s own status at the beginning of the Chapter. No worries and every reason to relax with your wife.
“But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace…” David’s plan fails when Uriah does not actually go home but sleeps in the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants. He would have been the only servant returning to his house – with a gift. David’s first interaction with Uriah was smooth but failed. He now confronts Uriah again.
“How could I…?” Uriah cannot fathom sleeping in comfort with his wife when the king’s men and the ark are all out on a war mission. Without knowing it, Uriah is rebuking David for his evil. What’s worse than going home and making love to your wife is making love to someone else’s! How could he!?
“As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” How ironic is this! How could David sleep with another man’s wife. David should have had this mantra in his head all along: as long as YOU/Uriah live, I will not sleep with Bathsheba. But it is Uriah who speaks of never betraying the king’s men. He serves his lord and will not act so selfishly. Uriah is representing righteousness in this Chapter. But this level of righteousness does still not provoke David to repentance. David has another crack at covering up his sin.
“…and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah…did not go home.” If Uriah is so level headed about doing what is right then David organises for Uriah to be not so level headed! The drunkenness ought to lower his inhibitions. But Uriah’s conscience, even in a drunken state, did not allow him to go home. Unless, of course, he was too drunk to find the front door! But I think that it was his deep down conviction that kept him from going home again. The real distinction between Uriah here and David in the passage is the line that Uriah draws for himself. We are not even talking about a sin for Uriah to go home to his wife. It is more that his conviction is that he must be alert and on duty even while at home. David, on the other hand, walked to easily across any line of dignity in this story. And yet, he still goes further into darkness yet!
Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)
“In the morning David wrote…’Put Uriah out in front…then withdraw from him so he will…die.’” We can see how far David would go to cover up his own guilt and sin. The bible has done us a real service in presenting David so highly in our minds with all of his endeavours for the kingdom of God and then to show us that even a man as godly as David can go so deep into the heart of darkness. The first sin of sexual immorality was bad enough. Pride and power have brought David to murder. He has drawn Joab into the problem too. Joab has been a questionable character. He did the wrong thing in Chapter 3 and was cursed by David. He gave us a demonstration of loyalty to David and God in Chapter 10. Joab will do what David asks of him. Well, someone once said, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Adultery and now murder. But he has also misused all the blessings that God has given him to do these things. The power that he has is only because God gave it to him.
“So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were.” Let me point out how ridiculous this is. In Joab’s campaign, there was no place where the fighting was fiercest. There was a fortified city that was currently under siege. The strategy of Joab at this point was only to continue doing nothing outside the city while the inhabitants got tired or hungry etc. But, in order to fulfill David’s command, he sends troups to where the city was being defended the best. As mentioned in Verse 1, this is likely Rabbah. David is so engaged with his own personal warfare that he really is not in tuned with what is happening in the real battle.
“…some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.” To cover up his sin, he has drawn other people into his schemes and everybody around him is getting hurt. One night of pleasure has snowballed into this massive cover-up.
How men will report what has happened (18-24)
“Joab sent David a full account of the battle…” Verses 18 to 21 report what Joab planned to say to David and it was all the truth. He wanted everything conveyed and, when he pre-empted what David might say, he wanted the truth be known to David that Uriah was dead. This suggests that Joab knew what was really important for David and that everything else will become white noise to him.
“Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth?” The little example that Joab gives of Abimelek points to Judges 9:50-54. (Jerub-Besheth is also known as Jerub-Baal who we know as Gideon). Now, this story has two layers to it. The first layer is the obvious one: Joab illustrates from Scripture that going so close to a fortified wall during battle is stupid. The story of Abimelek is the story of a dumb way to die. The second layer is more interesting: it is a little parable against David (unbeknownst to Joab) that he should never have gone so close to sin (literally on the roof of his palace) to be destroyed by a woman. He should never have gone there. When someone asks you: why did you sleep with that woman!? You can answer, I did an Abimelek. I don’t wish to make this point humorous but it explains why Joab and the writer of 2 Samuel included that speech on Abimelek. Who brought down the reputation of David? It was a woman and it is completely David’s fault.
“The messenger said to David…” What we are told in Verses 23 and 24 is a slight but important variant on the message that Joab sent the messenger to report. Although we’re told in Verse 22 that the messenger told David everything Joab had sent him to say, there was a slight spin on the retelling. Namely, a little back-story that explains why they found themselves at the bottom of the wall. From Joab, the reason was quite clear – it allowed Uriah to be killed. But from the messenger’s mouth, the story was a little more nuanced and people might believe that it was inevitable for the battle to go down that way. It is a small cover-up by the messenger to help the army save face but follows the theme of the Chapter on cover-ups. We are now at the end of the quest. We saw what David did and the events that followed to cover up what he did. The story only needs to wrap up and everybody lives happily ever after…
Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)
“David told the messenger…the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.” David has only learned to be cold during this episode. He is satisfied to move on as if nothing has happened and wants to encourage Joab and others to keep pressing on. His secret is safe and he has an allie in Joab. His advice to Joab is not to stay back and wait longer in the siege but to get on the front foot and end this conflict. This is not a good side of David.
“Say this to encourage Joab.” Far from the king rebuking Joab for ordering a stupid attack that ended in deaths, David wishes to give a gentle message of courage to Joab as if to say: don’t think of what has happened as evil because your king does not see it as evil. David’s conscience has been seared. He lamented over the death of Saul but has no care for the death of Uriah. He calls evil good (Isaiah 5:20).
“David had [Uriah’s wife] brought to his house, and she became his wife…” Bethsheba is not named because what is important to the story is that she is Uriah’s wife. She has lost her husband. Her husband was taken away from her – not by the hand of God but by the hand of her lord. The shepherd king has torn apart her marriage. David may want the world to not remember Uriah but the bible does not want us to forget. In Matthew 1:6 we are reminded that Solomon was the son of David by…Uriah’s wife!
“…and bore him a son.” While David would have hoped that everyone once thought this would be Uriah’s son growing up with Bathsheba and Uriah, he now hopes that the world will see it as his son, conceived after the death of Uriah. 1 Chronicles 3:5 lists the four sons of David by Bathsheba as Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. This list is not by birth order since Solomon is the second child born to David by Bathsheba. That list in Chronicles is listed to emphasise Solomon, who everybody knew, as a child of Bathsheba, by putting his name last. We don’t know which of the remaining three was born in 2 Sam 11, but we know that the son dies (2 Sam 12:18). One of the sons of Bathsheba, however, is Solomon who will become the next king – the son of the king and of a kingdom that is promised will never fail! We will read of the consequences of sin in the next chapter.
End: Or so it looks… (27)
“But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.” David may have managed to cover up his sin for the rest of the world to know about, but as David was watching Bathsheba bathing from his rooftop, the LORD was watching David. As David summoned Uriah and drank with the man whose wife he took, God was watching. As David instructed Joab to send men to their death, God was watching. Nothing is hidden from God.
The Good Shepherd who would come a millenia later is sent by God to be the true ruler and eternal king of Israel. It is a kingdom, not leveraged off the greatness of men, but established by the only true God our Saviour who died so that everything that displeases Him can be paid for by the blood of the Messiah. In other words, the kingdom of God is a gracious and merciful kingdom established only by the righteousness of God and not by the righteousness of people. David, one of mankind’s best, was a sinner. We may shake our heads at David like we would shake our heads at the news of a murderer on TV but David, has portrayed what a good man of God looks like – mostly – until we get to this Chapter.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
Sin does not simply pop in and out of our lives. It begins with a seed of wandering thoughts that are not watchful, grows into an attractive fruit that looks delicious and appears harmless. It then bites us and the sinful man or woman will proceed to cover up their sin as if it is not that bad. We adjust our expectations and consider how we can manage the situation – to contain the damage. We are fooled to believe that if everybody else thinks things are normal then we can take courage and believe that evil is ok. But none of this pleases the LORD.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: Standing too close to the wall. David had a number of chances to walk away from temptation but he chose to wander, to ponder and to squander his freedom with sin. As the little analogy of Joab went: he stood too close to the wall and we all know that is a foolish thing to do. Are you standing too close to something that is likely to end in sin? Have you created boundaries for yourself to be careful around dangerous situations? David’s situation did not give anybody else reason to worry for him. He was simply being kingly. David is to blame for putting himself into danger. Bathsheba didn’t cause him to sin. Neither did Uriah. David stood too close to the wall. Where are you standing? Colossians 3:1-14 directs our paths to ponder heavenly things and so walk well away from danger.
Topic B: Sexual sin as an example of lust and lust as something broader than sexual sin. Colossians 3:5 tells us to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. It lists sexual immorality first and then continues with other areas of human desire. Many of the items in the list sound related to sexual immorality: impurity, lust and evil desires. But then is listed greed and calls it idolatry. Or is it calling everything in that list idolatry and greed is related to everything else as part of our earthly nature!? Lust craves to have something in greater amounts than what is needed or is allowed. Sex is not sinful but sexual immorality craves to take more than belongs to you. Living in your means is perfectly acceptable and praised by God and so money plays a part of that but greed is the lust for money and things. Jesus said that you cannot – you cannot – serve both God and money. Yet many of us fool ourselves to think that we can. This Chapter in 2 Samual leads us to look sin in the face and be serious about how we deal with it. After all, Paul tells us to PUT IT TO DEATH.
Topic C: A seared conscience. By the end of 2 Samual 10, David had made peace with his sin by normalising it. He had covered over the effects of it and, as far as he was concerned, life could go on. He failed to take ownership of his own wrong and instructed Joab and others (such as Bathsheba) to make peace with it too. He had not listened to his conscience when sleeping with Bathsheba nor lying to Uriah nor orchestrating Uriah’s death. He failed to hear any inner voice warn him against his actions. And now his conscience was seared. It is quite easy to move the lines of our own moral compass to allow ungodly things to seem ok. After all, if nobody knows about it, is it really a problem? Sexual sin, ungodly uses of our mouth (gossip, slander, lies) and the sins of envy, pride and covetousness are all easily covered over when nobody else can see what is going on. But God is displeased. Ephesians 5:10 is a good project to overcome a seared conscience: “find out what pleases the Lord.”
One last but important note: It is easy to exit a study like this an do one of two things: to not take sin seriously as if this was David’s problem and it has no real relation to me and my sin or secondly, to be overwhelmed by our sin which has been brought up in this study and feel despair because of it. I want to suggest that both are problems in the highest degree. The middle ground is to confess that we all need the LORD’s help and give thanks and praise with rejoicing that Christ has paid for our sin – as dark and nasty as that sin may be. It could be helpful to close your group time with ‘the grace’ “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14
Also read the following verses of assurance: Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:1