We have before us today the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. It’s a familiar story, but it’s a shocking story, isn’t it? It’s a shocking story, because nearly everything we have read about David in the past has impressed us. Yes, we know that he’s an ordinary man, and from time to time he’s done things which have caused us to raise an eyebrow, because what he did didn’t seem quite right. But those occasions have been few and far-between. And in general we’ve been impressed by David.
We were impressed by his faith when he faced Goliath. Everyone else was afraid, but David trusted the Lord to help him. He said to Saul:
The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from this hand of this Philistine.
And he said to Goliath:
You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty….
And so, we were impressed by his faith. And we were impressed by his patient faithfulness and his refusal to harm Saul who was the Lord’s Anointed King. So, when David’s men were urging him to kill Saul, David refused to harm Saul, though it would have been easy for him to do so and it would have made his life a lot easier. And whereas Saul disregarded the word of the Lord, David was often seen consulting the Lord for guidance; and many of the things he did, he did in obedience to the Lord. And in the last two chapters we’ve studied, we’ve been impressed by David’s kindness. There was his kindness to Mephibosheth. David was under no obligation to Mephibosheth, but he was prepared to show him kindness by returning to him his family inheritance in the Promised Land and by giving him a seat at the king’s table. And then there was David’s kindness to Hanun, the son of King Nahash, who had died. David sent a delegation to Hanun to express his sympathy on the death of his father. Chapter 9 and chapter 10 of 2 Samuel were about David’s kindness. So, we’ve been impressed by David and we’ve seen how he foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ. David was Israel’s greatest king and he pointed forward to the Great King who was coming into the world.
And so it shocks us to read this chapter and to read about David’s fall into sin. In fact, David committed multiple sins in this chapter and they are serious sins. And so it’s a shocking story, because here we read how one of the greatest servants of the Lord fell so deeply into sin. And yet this shocking story leads us to the Saviour, because our Saviour gave up his life to pay for our sins so that when we fall into sin, we can rest in the knowledge that the blood of Christ our Saviour covers our sin and shame entirely so that though we deserve to be condemned, we are not condemned but have peace with God.
Verses 1 to 5
The opening verse tells us that it was spring time, when kings go off to war. Now, it makes sense for kings to go off to war in the spring time. After all, who wants to go out to war in the winter when it’s cold and wet and when the ground it soft and muddy so that there’s no grip for your feet when you’re trying to stand up and fight your enemy. So, you’d wait for the better weather. So, it’s spring time, the time when kings go off to war. Which kings is the narrator referring to?
We tend to think he’s referring to kings in general. In other words, it was the custom in those days for all kings to go out to war in the springtime. However, it’s perhaps more likely that the narrator is referring to the kings we read about in the previous chapter. So, those kings tended to go out to war in the spring time. They were always trying to get the better of one another and to enlarge their kingdom by defeating their enemies and by taking over their land and possessions. And so, just as David had done at the beginning of chapter 10, he once again sent out Joab, his commander-in-chief, to lead the Israelite army in war to defend the nation of Israel from assault.
When I was growing up, a heard lots of sermons and talks on his passage, and the preacher or Sunday School teacher made a big deal about this. Why did David stay at home? Why didn’t he lead his army out? Was he resting on his laurels? Had he become lazy and self-satisfied? Had he become complacent? I’m sure you’ve heard that kind of thing as well. However, the narrator doesn’t comment on David’s decision to remain in Jerusalem. He’s doesn’t criticise David for staying at home. He’s simply reporting the fact that David was in Jerusalem while his army was away. And that’s important, because it means that Bathsheba’s husband was also away.
So, David was in Jerusalem. And we’re told in verse 2 that one evening, he got up from his bed. Again, preachers sometimes criticise David for being in bed in the afternoon. Why was he being so idle and lazy? However, it was customary for people in those days to rest in the afternoon. After all, it was spring time and the weather was hot. So, David got up from his afternoon rest and he was walking around on the roof of the palace. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. And from that vantage point, he was able to see over the city. And on this occasion, he saw this woman who was bathing.
The word ‘bathing’ makes us think of taking a bath, doesn’t it? And so, we imagine this woman having a bath. And it seems to us that she must have been naked. Either she’s in her bathroom and David can see through an open window; or she’s taking a bath on the roof. And, of course, when I was a small boy is seemed to me to be a wonderful coincidence that this woman who was taking a bath was called Bathsheba. It made it easy to remember her name. However, the word translated ‘bathing’ really means ‘washing’. And in verse 4 we’re told that she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness. In other words, she was performing the ceremonial washing which women were required to do in those days after their monthly period. This was a ceremonial washing, probably using a basin of water. So, she probably wasn’t naked and no one should think she was being immodest or indecent.
David saw her. And he saw she was beautiful. In fact, she was very beautiful. And what did David do next? Well, he sent someone to find out about her. One of the words which is repeated throughout this chapter is the word ‘sent’. David the king had the power and authority to send people to do his bidding. And on this occasion, he sent someone to find out more about this very beautiful woman. And his servant returns with the news that this is Bathsheba and he tells David the name of her father and he tells David the name of her husband. And having been told that Bathsheba was married, David should have stopped right there. She was a married woman and off-limits to him. He should have nothing to do with her and he certainly shouldn’t send for her and take her for himself. But that’s exactly what he did. He sent messengers to get her. And she came to him. What else could she do? The king had summoned her. And he slept with her.
So, he sent for her and he slept with her. In other words, he took her for himself. Years before, the Israelites said they wanted a king like the nations had. And Samuel warned them that a king like the nations had would only take from them. He will take your sons and your daughters and yours fields and vineyards and olive groves and your grain and wine and your menservants and maidservants and your cattle and donkeys and your flocks. And he’ll take you and make you his slaves. A king like the nations have will take and take and take. The one thing Samuel did not mention was ‘your wives’. The kings of the nations would take everything apart from your wives. But David had taken Uriah’s wife.
And the little note about her uncleanness in verse 4 not only explains why she was washing herself, but it makes clear that Bathsheba was not pregnant when David first saw her. And so, when she conceived and sent word to David that she was pregnant, it was clear that David was the one who made her pregnant.
Verses 6 to 13
In verses 6 to 13 we have David’s plan A and plan B to cover up what he had done by getting Uriah to sleep with his wife so that everyone would think Uriah was the child’s father. First he put plan A into action. He sent word to Joab to send Uriah to see David. When he arrived from the battlefield, David made some quick inquiries about how the war was going. And then he suggested to Uriah that he should go home and wash his feet. The commentators think that the expression ‘wash your feet’ was a kind of ‘wink wink’ saying between men which meant go and sleep with your wife. And according to the end of verse 8, David even sent them a gift. Perhaps it was something to get them both in the mood.
But instead of going home to see his wife, Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all the king’s servants. When David found out, he wanted to know why Uriah hadn’t gone home. And Uriah explained that he wouldn’t dream of going home and sleeping with his wife when the rest of Israel’s army was at war. He was saying:
How could I go home and eat and drink and lie with my wife when my fellow soldiers are on the battlefield?
It wouldn’t be right.
So, David’s plan A failed. Plan B was pretty much the same as plan A, but with the addition that David wanted to get Uriah drunk first. If Uriah had too much to drink, he might abandon his scruples and go home and sleep with Bathsheba. But that didn’t work. According to verse 13, Uriah once more went out to sleep on his mat among the servants. He didn’t go home. He didn’t sleep with his wife. David’s cunning plan had failed again.
Verses 14 to 25
And so, we come to plan C. And what we read here is hard to believe. It was hard to believe that David would take another man’s wife. But here we find David plotting to take the man’s life. This is David who years before had refused to take Saul’s life. This is David who had recently shown kindness to Mephibosheth. This same David was now working out a scheme to have one of his own men killed.
He wrote a letter to Joab, his commander-in-chief. And in the letter, he told Joab to put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then get the rest of the men around Uriah to withdraw, leaving him hopelessly exposed so that he will be struck down by the enemy and die. And David sent this letter to Joab by the hand of Uriah so that Uriah was — in effect — carrying his own death sentence.
According to verses 16 and 17 Joab carried out David’s instructions, but with some modification. Perhaps he understood why David was doing this. And perhaps he thought to himself that it would look too suspicious if he did what David had said and left Uriah so exposed. And so, he changed David’s plan. It reminds me of a movie I saw some years ago, when a killer had been hired to kill one person, but in order to cover up what he was going, he didn’t kill just one person, but he killed several people all at once. By killing several people all at once, the police thought he was just a crazy killer who was killing people randomly; and they wouldn’t realise he had been hired to kill one person in particular. And that’s what Joab was doing for David. To prevent people from realising that David was out to get Uriah, he made sure a number of his men died in a kind of suicide mission.
And sure enough, Uriah died. Joab sent word to David and he was careful to instruct the messenger to make sure that David heard that Uriah had been killed so that David would not be angry with Joab for sending his men on a suicide mission. And look at verse 25, because David comes across as callous and hard-hearted:
Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you’.
That is: Don’t be upset that several of your men died. What do you expect? The sword devours one as well as another. In other words: That’s what happens in war. People die.
And in the final two verses we have the aftermath. Bathsheba mourned for her husband. Then David sent for her and brought her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.
It had all worked out for David, hadn’t it? At least, that’s the way it seemed. But then we read in verse 27 that the thing David had done displeased the Lord. Literally it says that this thing was evil in his sight. David thought he had gotten away with it, but the Lord had seen it all and it was evil in God’s sight.
This is a shocking story. It shocks us that one of the Lord’s greatest servants could fall so deeply into sin. This is the king who foreshadowed Christ who was coming into the world. But, of course, while he foreshadowed Christ, he was not himself the Christ. He was a great king, but he was not the sinless Son of God who was coming into the world to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us the hope of everlasting life. David may have foreshadowed Christ, but he was not the Christ, but he was only a sinner like us. And the good news of the gospel is that the one David foreshadowed has come and he laid down his life to pay for your sins so that by believing in him you can be forgiven everything you have ever done wrong.
You may never have done what David did, but nevertheless all of us are sinners and whether we sin against him in big ways or in little ways, every sin is an offence to God and deserves his wrath and curse. Our church’s Shorter Catechism puts it like this. After explaining the duties which the Ten Commandments require of us, it asks whether any person is able to keep the commandments perfectly. And the answer is that no mere human person is able to keep them perfectly in this life, but breaks them daily in thought and word and deed. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. And then the Catechism asks:
Are all transgressions of the law equally sinful?
Are all sins equally bad? And here’s the answer:
Some sins, because of their nature and the circumstances, are more sinful in the sight of God than others.
What David did was more sinful in the sight of God than other sins, because he was the king, who was to set an example to the people of obedience to God; and though God had shown him kindness by making him king, he abused the position and power and authority which God had given him. Instead of being a good shepherd of the people, caring for them and providing for them, he took advantage of Bathsheba for his own pleasure and he took away Uriah’s life.
David’s sins were terrible sins. However, the Catechism goes on to ask:
What does every sin deserve?
So, some sins are worse than other sins. You may have not done what David did. But you have sinned in other ways. What does every sin deserve? And here’s the answer:
Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and the life that is to come.
Some of us sin a lot and some of us sin only a little. Some of us have committed big sins and some of us have committed only small sins. But every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse. That’s what we all deserve, because all of us are sinners who have broken God’s commandments in one way or another. We have rebelled against the God who made us for his glory and who has given us life and breath and everything else. But the good news of the gospel is that the one David foreshadowed has come and he laid down his life to pay for your sins so that by believing in him you can be forgiven everything you have ever done wrong. Whereas David took Uriah’s wife and Uriah’s life, the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to give his life for sinners. He gave his life as the ransom price to pay for all that you have done wrong, so that no matter what you have done wrong, no matter what you have done wrong, so long as you trust in Christ as the only Saviour and rely on him and his precious blood for peace with God, then you are pardoned by God and accepted in his sight. Though you may have done everything wrong, God will treat you as if you’ve done everything right for the sake of Christ the King. And so, if you trust in him, God will pardon you for all your former sins; and he will pardon you for all your future sins. He promises to remove your sins from you as far as the east is from the west and to remember them no more. He is the God of mercy and for the sake of Christ the King he will show you mercy.
And so, is there some sin which even now is bothering you? Something you have done and maybe, like David, you were able to cover it up so that no one knows about it? But nevertheless, it’s on your mind and it’s weighing on your conscience. It’s like a burden on your back and you can’t believe you were so foolish and so sinful and you did this thing which is so wrong. And it makes you feel sick when you think about it and you dread the day when your sin is exposed and other people will discover what you have done. Well, believe the good news. Believe the good news that Christ the King gave up his life for sinners. And so, if you believe in him, he will not treat you as your sins deserve. He will not repay for according to your iniquities. Instead he will treat you according to his mercy and will forgive you for the sake of Christ the King who gave his life for sinners. The devil may accuse you. Your conscience may accuse you. Other people may accuse you. But God our Father and Jesus Christ his Son promise to pardon you.
‘When I kept silent,’ David said in Psalm 32, ‘my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.’ He was suffering the pangs of guilt and God’s hand was against him. But then, he said:
I acknowledged by guilt to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
What’s on your conscience? Something you did in the past? Something you said? Your own shameful thoughts and desires? As we’ll discover next time, God sent a preacher to David to convict him of his sin so that David would confess it, and turn to God and receive God’s forgiveness. And God comes to you today in the preaching of his word to remind you of your sin, so that you will confess it to him, and turn to God and receive his forgiveness too.