David at His Worst
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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 11-12
The older I get, the more aware I become of the fact that we are all just one bad decision away from wrecking our lives. And it could be something small or something that seems insignificant at the time, but it has the potential to snowball into life altering chaos. There are a lot of television shows in the last several years that follow a similar plot line. And we watch those shows because we kind of enjoy watching people’s lives fall apart.
That’s probably the reason why the story of David and Bathsheba is so famous. Last week, we saw David at his best. Today, he will crash and burn. It all starts with an afternoon nap.
11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
Already, we see a problem. Where should David be? He should be with his army on the battlefield.
2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.
What should David do in this situation? Look away. Walk away. How often does a problem begin with our eyes?
3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
Her names means “daughter of the oath”. I also think it is important to notice that the writer mentions her father and her husband. She’s not only someone else’s wife. She is someone’s daughter. She’s a daughter of the oath. In other words, she is spoken for. She has a purpose and a place and family. She’s not an object.
4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.
Notice how impersonal this verse is compared to the previous verse. David “took” her… like an object. No conversation is recorded. He doesn’t speak to her or mention her name in the story. He uses her and then discards her.
David is clearly taking advantage of this woman, using his position as king. So, it’s hard to imagine this as a consensual thing and that makes this more than just adultery.
In David’s eyes, she’s an object. Then, she’s a problem. Or at least the baby is a problem.
5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
Do you see the snowball effect? This started with a lingering glance. And I want to pause briefly and mention that so far, this story is comparable to the fall of Adam. Genesis 3 said the fruit was good to the eyes. What did Adam say to God? “The woman made me do it.”
It’s also comparable to the fall of Saul. What did Samuel say the king would do? He would take, take, take. And what is David doing? Taking someone who doesn’t belong to him.
After this, David brings Uriah back from the battle and tries to get him to sleep with his wife thinking it will cover up his adultery. He even gets the man drunk, but Uriah refuses to go home because the army is still at war. Israelite soldiers made a vow of holiness before battle – something David also should have done. So, his plan fails, but David was desperate to cover up his adultery.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.”
Pause and let it sink in that David sent this man back with his own death sentence. How low can you go? Joab realizes this is actually a dumb plan that would quickly expose David’s intentions. Instead, Joab sends Uriah’s unit closer to the walls of the city where many of them die. It was a terrible military decision, but it got Uriah killed and protected David.
Several commentaries make an important application at this point. Sin makes us stupid. It distorts our ability to reason. You can see this clearly in David. You can sense his frustration and his anxiety over being exposed.
Psychology tells us that we don’t reason very well when we are experiencing anger or anxiety. In our frantic attempts to fix the problems that we created; we usually just make them worse. Sin literally makes us stupid.
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27 And 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.
Before we move into chapter 12, I just want us to consider how destructive sin can be. David was at his best immediately before his greatest failure. And that’s an important lesson for us.
It is tempting to let our guard down when things are going well for us. We watch someone else fail and we think, “I would never do that!” But that is such a dangerous place for our hearts to be.
We have an enemy on the inside. He can’t do much with our humility, but he can destroy us with our pride. If you think you’re immune to the sins of David, then you are in a very dangerous place.
It was John Owen who famously said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”
12:1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David.
God sent Nathan to David. That alone was a mercy. We may succeed in our sinful plans, but God in His mercy will still come after His people.
He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.
And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.
4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!
Those words had to hit David like a punch to the face. And now, as David realizes the truth, God strips him bear.
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
9 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.
10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of 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 sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”
God said to David, “I gave and I gave and I gave and still you took!” David ruined people’s lives. This is not the king of justice and equity we read about last week. This is David as his worst.
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Understatement of the year, right? David’s apology is literally two words in Hebrew… three syllables. That’s it. But do you know what? The writer wants us to view this little apology as genuine repentance.
And that’s thoroughly Biblical. Repentance in the Bible always looks simple and humble – like the tax collector in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Five words in Greek…
And what more can we really say? What more can we do? What can we offer God in this moment except humility? David would later reflect on this moment and write Psalm 51, and the theme of the Psalm is exactly that – we have nothing to offer God that He wants except a broken heart and a humble spirit. He has to make us clean.
All God wants is for us to submit to His Word. He exposes us and waits for our answer. All we can do is submit to the accusation.
And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”
And that’s the story that follows. Bathsheba’s first son gets sick and dies.
There’s an obvious tension here. God is obviously showing David grace, in the sense that David deserved death but was allowed to live. He was also allowed to keep the kingdom.
And part of me thinks Saul must have been rolling over in his grave! Why is God letting David off the hook when his sin is arguably worse than Saul’s?
But is God letting David off the hook? Any good father, if presented with the choice between their own life or the life of their child would pick what? The life of their child!
That’s one of the most common statements I hear from new fathers. They hold their baby for the first time, and they say, “I would die for this kid.”
But God’s decision was to show grace to David and instead take the life of David’s son. Does that feel like grace to the father? Probably not.
This is nothing less than a substitutionary death. The baby dies in David’s place.
This is gut wrenching. The baby is not guilty of adultery and murder. And David pleads with God not to take the baby. He fasted and prayed day and night until the child died.
The servants were afraid to tell David, thinking he might hurt himself. But do you know what David did when he heard the news? He went to church. He worshipped God. And that’s how we are supposed to know that his repentance was genuine.
I want to show you something. The structure of this text is striking:
A – Joab goes to battle, David stays home.
B – David sleeps with Bathsheba and she gets pregnant.
C – David arranges for Uriah’s death
D – Bathsheba mourns for Uriah
E – Nathan confronts David and David repents
D’ – David mourns for his son
C’ – David’s son dies
B’ – David sleeps with Bathsheba and she gets pregnant
A’ – David goes to battle and returns home
This is known as a chiastic story, which is very common in the Bible and especially in Samuel. I don’t usually show you the structure, but this is important. What do you see in the middle?
The call to repentance is at the center of the story on purpose. I can’t preach this story without begging the question, how will you respond?
If we are honest, this is a difficult story. David commits adultery and murder. God forgives David but takes his son instead. Tragic. Heart wrenching. But it is a call to repentance for all of us.
The first lesson is that God takes our sin very seriously. He does not actually let the guilty walk away unpunished. That’s not love. That’s not how God deals with sinners. Sin equals death. Someone always dies. And if what God does here offends you, then you don’t understand sin.
The second lesson is that we need a substitute. In fact, a “Son of David” has become OUR substitute.
There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. – Romans 3:22-25
Some of you may think you’re at your worst right now and God could never forgive you for what you’ve done. Others may think you’re at your best and don’t need forgiveness. And God’s answer to both sides is this: don’t underestimate the pain and damage your sin causes, but also, don’t underestimate my love for sinners.
There’s a table spread before all of us that we don’t deserve to eat. The Son of God died to make us sons and daughters. Like Mephibosheth, he invites us to the table of the King – adulterers, murderers, gossips, and all manner of sinners – washed in the blood of Jesus.