David is one of my favorite characters in all of Scripture. He has been (and will continue to be) someone of great interest to those who consider themselves faithful. Hundreds of books and thousands of sermons have been dedicated to his deeds, his words, and his example. Not that long ago, I was compelled to write over seven thousand words about his epic defeat of Goliath in the Valley of Elah, and I still don’t feel I did the story justice. David’s deeds are moments worthy of epic poems and grand masterpieces. They are exceptional pieces of history still poignant and relevant thousands of years later.
He was such an extraordinary man that it’s not difficult to find a reason to respect him. Even modest students of the Bible can confidently say he was a great soldier, a great writer, and even a great king. In fact, scripture points to his quality before we even meet him personally. God introduced him to the world in 1 Samuel 13:14 with these few short words to King Saul, “your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart.” At that moment, a young man still tending his father’s sheep was the one God knew would become the man we revere so much. He was already the man after God’s own heart.
The David we value and respect was a champion of God’s people, a leader of God’s nation, and a forefather to our very own Savior. He was a king whose throne endured for generations. His impact was so great upon Israel, that he was the standard by which future kings were measured generations later (see 2 Chronicles 17:3; 34:2). He is a man immortalized in history because of his connection to God and his powerful words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” (Psalm 23:1). Scripture gives us a glowing picture of a man and king who was righteous and faithful (see 1 Samuel 26:23), kind and good (see 2 Samuel 2:6; 9:3; 10:2), as well as successful in all he did (see 2 Samuel 8:15). The goodness and the success of David was inseparable because David was God’s king, and David’s kingdom was God’s kingdom.¹
In a tragic turn of events, he is also the man behind the events of 2 Samuel 11. In those moments, he became an adulterer, a murderer, and a liar. He was guilty of egregious sin and the cold-blooded assassination of his own soldier.² He was the living embodiment of James 1:14-15 which says,
Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
At many points in life, I’ve found myself conflicted because of the behavior of someone I respect. This scene is one that bothers me profoundly. Because it’s hard to respect someone so much and be so equally appalled and disgusted at the same person. When discussing this story, one author describes David as a person who’s “not merely treacherous and ignoble, but villainous in this melodrama. He is an adventure-story schemer that presents the reader with a badness so consistent, so needlessly exaggerated and spelled out, that it defies ordinary prudence or common sense.”³
Let me make this clear, we must avoid the mistake some scholars make by showing our prejudice and excusing his actions. We must call them what they are. They are criminal, sinful, and the worst form of abuse. He abused his power, his people, his position, and even his Lord because he wanted something that wasn’t his. He broke his oath to Uriah, to Israel, and to God. He deserved to die but instead, orchestrated the murder of a loyal soldier. He killed a faithful man, corrupted a general of Israel’s army, raped a woman under his protection, and openly mocked the Law of Moses in front of God’s children. His actions are utterly reprehensible. We must not excuse them or water them down.
Sure, there are accomplices to this crime, but David is the only one guilty of orchestrating the cover-up. I can’t help but feel slimy as I read the story. It’s full of such great comparisons when we examine the actions and devotion of its characters. It has heroes, villains, and a genuine right versus wrong narrative. And in the end, it has God standing where He always has, He was David’s shepherd, still leading his stupid sheep to a place of purpose and peace. In the ensuing chapters, we see David and his family are scared for life due to this story. The fallout that comes is swift and lasting. It is a faithful reminder of a simple idea shared (ironically) by David’s own son in Ecclesiastes 12:14: “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
As we begin this study, there is much to learn. First of all, this story should encourage us to readily admit that even the best men and women in the biblical record had their faults and failures, and yet the Lord, in His sovereign grace, was able to use them to accomplish His purposes.4 Secondly, it should motivate us to be faithful like Uriah, brave like Nathan, and sorrowful like David when we the truth smacks us in the face. Thirdly, it must help us understand that many of God’s stories have deep theological undertones and wisdom. We should come to realize the depth of application found in these moments and these words. It would be a mistake if we only see the impetuous king and his wrongdoing and skip over so much truth by examing the smaller, finer details. If we see the heinousness of David’s sin – and leave it at that – it’s just not enough. If we see the mercy of God (and all it implies), then we will have learned something truly tremendous.5 Finally, slowing down and examining these moments will give us the opportunity to see them for what they were – the turning point of David and his kingdom, for after his affair with Bathsheba, things were never the same again.6
The story of David and Bathsheba is one of great importance. It is an affair that we must examine, define, and study with all our might.
¹ John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 282.
² David Wolpe, David: The Divided Heart, (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2014), 87.
³ Robert Pinsky, The Life of David, (New York: Schocken, 2005), 105-106.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Restored, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2002), 81.
5 Alan Redpath, The Making of a Man of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1990), 235.
6 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 283.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.