When David, a man after God’s own heart, stayed in Jerusalem instead of heading to war, he set the table for a series of unfortunate events unlike any other in all of Scripture. In the Prologue to this series, we spoke about the unfortunate reality of David the King and David the sinner. As we now dive into the deep end, I feel the need to remind you of David’s quality.
He was a man who searched for God and a king worthy of praise and honor. He was a great warrior, a model of strength, valor, and bravery, while also being a poet who wrote dozens of Psalms that speak so eloquently about God and His ways that they still elicit an emotional response thousands of years later. He was a man’s man. Someone who was the center of attention without having to be the life of the party. He was respected, loved, and men followed him to their death without a shadow of doubt in their chosen leader. He was everything a man can be, both good and bad.
2 Samuel 11:1 tells us the Army of Israel went out to besiege the Ammonites in the “spring of the year.” There’s nothing unusual about the passage until it says, “but David remained in Jerusalem” That phrase hints at the upheaval to come and while the Bible does not say “David sent Joab to fight and then sat smugly in Jerusalem,” it might as well.¹ We could incessantly debate why David stayed, but that seems unnecessary. In the end, it may be as simple as David sitting on his throne and thinking, “life is good, why not enjoy it?” The very next verse, 2 Samuel 11:2 says:
It happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
We should notice how his circumstances make a stark contrast to the circumstances of his troops. As they were engaged in a life-and-death struggle, he was taking a nap.² On a day like any other, he woke from an afternoon nap and went for a stroll. While on the stroll, he stumbled upon (or sought out intentionally, the text doesn’t differentiate), a woman bathing from the elevated view of his palace roof. At that moment, David had a choice, and his reaction to her should have been simple, he should have looked away. Instead, he gazed. I feel the need to state the obvious at this moment. She was beautiful and she was naked and who was going to tell him he couldn’t look. After all, he was the king. Even though power itself isn’t sinful, giving a man absolute power has proven to incubate sinful behavior. Why would we expect David to be any different? I feel there is a great parallel between this moment and Genesis 3:6 which says:
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.
David’s sin was not seeing Bathsheba naked; his sin was when he kept on looking.³
One question we must ask is fairly obvious, why was she bathing in a place visible to the king? Scripture implies she was bathing to “cleanse herself from her impurity” (11:4). While the roof (tradition’s assumption of her bathing place) or any public place seems odd to us, it wouldn’t have been for those living in Jerusalem at that time. Wherever she was bathing was a private place, perhaps the most private in her entire house and it’s entirely possible that the palace was the only residence in all of Jerusalem that had a view of what went on there. I want to be clear, nothing in the text implies she was showing off or flaunting herself in hopes of David’s wandering eye and illicit intentions, despite the best interests of those who try to defend David.
After seeing her, David sent for a servant, and asked, “who is she?” The servant’s response, “that’s Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah and the daughter of Eliam,” in 2 Samuel 11:4 is telling. The servant spoke not just of Bathsheba’s husband, but also her father. That double identification reinforced how much she cannot belong to David. She was a woman with both a husband and a father. She was under the care and protection of others. Hands off. 4
What David should have done next was clear. God’s Law was unambiguous: Exodus 20:17 says, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and Exodus 20:14 says, “you shall not commit adultery.” 5 What more has to be said? It seems appropriate to anticipate, from all we have learned of David’s character up to this point, that this moment and its choice will prove his worth all over again. After all, he had just recently been exceptionally good and kind to Mephibosheth. Might he do the same towards Bathseba? 6 As I read this story, I find myself wishing David had made any other choice. I wish he could have found the courage and self-control to say “no!” I wish he could have been better.
There is something more about this passage I feel the need to examine. When the servant mentions Eliam is her father and Uriah her husband, he distinguishes her in a way that should bother us once we know the full story. You see, both her father and husband were listed among David’s Mighty Men in 2 Samuel 23. Eliam’s ancestry is furthered expounded when we learn he was the son of Ahithophel. That man is called one of David’s counselors in 2 Samuel 15:12. In retrospect, we must believe he knew her and depending upon the age of his servants, she could have been a generation younger than the king. Once we understand that context and his relationship with her, his actions appear even more disgusting. They are the work of a dirty old man, a peeping tom, a sexual predator preying on an innocent young lady and they are unbefitting the King of Israel, let alone a “man after God’s own Heart.” 7
Much like his fight with Goliath, this was a moment for David to make a choice. Would he do what was best for God or best for David? Would he hold himself accountable alongside the men and women he led (and served)? Would he do what’s right or what he wanted? In a different world, when he heard she was spoken for, his physical interest in her should have escaped even his wildest imaginations. However, I feel the need to remind you once more, she was beautiful and he was the king.
In a moment of madness, the king “sent messengers” (11:4) to her door with a simple message, the king is calling. Many people have asked me the question, why didn’t she just say no? I’d like to think it was that easy, but let me ask you a question, do you believe people told David “no?” This was a man who defeated enemies with ease. A man who outlasted Saul. A man who killed the Philistine giant. A man who “made himself a name when he returned from killing 18,000 Syrians in the Valley of Salt,” (2 Samuel 8:13). Do you really believe she had any recourse to tell him “no?” Do you believe anyone would have believed her if she accused him of rape? Do you believe she’d be the one the masses endorsed in spite of their king? By sending those messengers to bring her to him, the adultery cannot realistically be a secret in his house and among his servants. 8 He is so brash and so confident that he doesn’t seem to care who knows in his house that he gets what he wants. Can there be a corruption of his position more despicable than that? His actions seem doubly despicable when you see in 11:4, “she came to him, and he lay with her, and she returned to her house.” The extraordinary brevity of the account is brutal: “he sent, he took, she came, he lay.” We hear of no conversation between them, no expression of affection. We are told nothing about the emotions or the thoughts of either person. All we see are the despicable acts. 9
It seems reasonable to ask, why did this happen? Was David under a lot of pressure? Unhappy in his marital relationships? Had he seen her before and pledged to have her? Had he stayed home for this very purpose? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to those questions. All we know is what we see. He took what wasn’t his, violated his relationship with God, Uriah, Bathsheba, and Israel and disqualified himself from ruling over them in one moment of passion. He committed a crime worthy of capital punishment according to the Law (see Leviticus 20:10).
When we sit back and reflect on the actions of David, I find myself dumbfounded by the man I see. He is nothing like the one I’ve come to respect. Nothing like the man “after God’s own heart.” He is nothing like the young boy running head-first into battle facing a giant all alone. This man is human. This man is sinful. This man is a king like other kings. He’s not fitting to be the king of God’s people.
That’s the great lesson we learn from David in this part of the story. We all possess the ability to be who God wants and what God hates. We can be His, wholeheartedly devoted to the right cause and we can be ours, devoted only to what we want when we want it. There is much more to learn about David while we explore Bathsheba and Uriah’s relationship to the man and these moments. At the end of the day, what I want you to know is simple. David, the King of Israel sinned by being where he shouldn’t have been, wanting what wasn’t his, and taking what belonged to another.
¹ David Wolpe, David: The Divided Heart, (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2014), 76.
² John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, (Wheaton: IL: Crossway, 2015), 285
³ Tim Chester, 2 Samuel For You, (The Good Book Company, 2017), 93
4 Wolpe, David: The Divided Heart, 77
5 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 287
6 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 286
7 Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 239
8 Robert Alter, The David Story, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), 251
9 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 288
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.
Photo by Adil Alimbetov from Pexels
Originally published on May 10, 2018. Written by Neal Mathis.