II Samuel 11:1-15
1 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.”
Forty-one and a half chapters of I and II Samuel and I Kings are devoted to the story of David’s life. It is sad that only eight chapters (II Sam 3-10) are required to tell the story of David’s successful kingdom years. This shortest part of David’s life was spent in wonderful victories and could have continued. The training and preparation period, beginning with I Sam 16, taught us much. Now with this lesson we enter his later difficult years with a sword in his family. We learn important lessons from all of David’s life, but it remains lamentable that Israel’s most loved and successful king served in righteousness and victory for only a relatively short time. The woes of his later years were brought on by the incident we look at in this lesson. We must learn some hard lessons if we want to be successful over the long term.
1. The Affair of David and Bathsheba 1-5
Verse one has one glorious feature—the success of Joab on the battlefield, and a very inglorious one—David neglected a duty of leadership. “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.” To God’s glory, Joab and the army further pursued the war against the Ammonites recorded in II Samuel 10 for we see it continued in II Samuel 11:1. David had defeated the army of the Ammonites and soon he sent more forces to more completely waste the Ammonites; to further avenge the injustice done to his ambassadors. Rabbah was a large city and while Joab and the army was laying siege to it David remained in Jerusalem.
Our joy and celebration of the victory against the Ammonites is short-lived; it is ruined because back home in Jerusalem, David is defeated by another enemy. After a great victory on the field showing David’s wisdom and bravery publicly, back at Jerusalem in the privacy of the bedroom of the palace his foolishness and cowardly behavior brings great shame to himself and the whole kingdom.
When David heard of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths on Gilboah, he grieved and said, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon.” We, today as we read this sad report, about David’s behavior could say that same thing with perhaps even more grief and sorrow than David ever felt. In this chapter we read of adultery and murder—secret sins shamefully executed—both committed by that same David. We may wish we could cover this story, that it might never be told or known. This incident is so inconsistent with the virtuous and God-loving David we have been reading about that we shudder to think that he actually did this.
Shall we overlook it.? No, it cannot, it must not, be concealed. One of the reasons we love the Bible as we do is that the Bible is true. It tells things the way they were. The Scripture relates the faults even of its great heroes. The Bible’s Author always tells us the truth. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” And I Corinthians 10:11-12 says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
II Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” The stories are there for us. The experiences of other’s sins may be our warnings. Some never learn from their mistakes and go on and on making the same ones. Others are more clever; they learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them. But the wisest type are able to learn from other’s mistakes; they don’t have to make them themselves. If there ever was an instance to which we may best apply this principle, this would be the story. David’s life was not ruined, he still served his people for many more years, but the heartache and difficulties he experienced for the rest of his life, apparently due in large part to this mistake or these mistakes—if you include the murder of Uriah—changed his history. We have been looking at eight chapters from II Samuel that document the best years of David’s life. They were his victorious years. Before them as recorded in I Samuel he was in training under the rigors of Saul his difficult taskmaster. From II Samuel chapter 11 to the end of his life we read of tragedy after tragedy. David’s best years come to a crashing end with the Bathsheba incident.
Quite possibly some have felt David’s experience gives them license to do the same thing; they are calloused by this story to follow David’s bad example. But the better reaction and response is to allow it to be a sobering warning to us, to put a strong guard over ourselves, and be constantly watchful against this sin. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and then because he knew this sin was terrible, he tried to cover it up. He tried to make it appear that the child was Uriah’s. When that project failed, he plotted the death of Uriah by the sword of Ammon, carried out that evil plan and then married Uriah’s widow.
It is to David’s shame that he was conquered and captivated by his own lust. Job 31:9-11 says, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, . . . . For that would have been wicked, a sin to be judged.” Not long before this event, David himself had gone with his army against Ammon then Syria. If now he had gone with his army to continue the fight against the Ammonites he would not have been walking on his rooftop. When we stay busy in our line of duty we can avoid the temptations that come to the idle. David had a wandering eye. He had wives enough in his own palace and need not have been watching a neighbor woman bathing. Were we to make a comparison, or rather a contrast, with Job, we would note that Job made a covenant with his eyes. Job 31:1 says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” David either did not make such an agreement with his eyes or if he had he forgot it now.
David apparently immediately felt lust for her and sent to inquire about her. Verse 3 says, “David sent someone to find out about her.” Maybe he did not know if she were married or not. Perhaps he could take her as another legitimate wife. Then even after having found out who she was and whose wife she was, he took the next step, “Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her” (v 4). He may not have intended take her to bed, maybe he only hoped to enjoy her company for a while. Sin does not always appear to be sin at first, but when we take steps that put us into temptation we have already begun down a slippery path.
We could ask why she bathed in view of the king’s palace or why she accepted the invitation to visit him or why she accepted another invitation to go to bed with him. She appears to have too easily consented, perhaps because David was a great man and famous for his goodness. Sin is down-hill and it is not easy to reverse direction once started. It is wise to avoid even the possibility of such a temptation.
David may have been about fifty years old at this time and was no longer a young man. He had many wives and concubines of his own. Uriah, who served faithfully in the war with the Ammonites risking his life for his country and his king, to whom David did a grave injustice was one of his own thirty mighty men. Bathsheba, whom he violated, we might assume, was a lady of good reputation. Yet these questions remain, why did she bathe in view of the palace, why did she go to the palace and why did she go to bed with the king? Later when she received news of her husbands death, why was she not angry with David? How innocent was she? We don’t know, but we do know that she apparently consented and later kept the secret until Nathan the prophet exposed the whole thing. At any rate, David prevailed either against or with her.
The adulterer wrongs and ruins his own soul, and also that of another. David was a king responsible to bring justice, entrusted with the sword of justice and the execution of the law against criminals, especially adulterers, who were, to be put to death. If he himself is guilty, how can he enforce the law against others? He became a pattern for the evil-doer instead of a judge. Jeremiah 5:8 says, “They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife.” David might not have been as bad as that, but when left once to himself he showed he was not as good as his reputation. God gave Hezekiah a test too and he also failed. II Chron 32:31 says, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.” Hezekiah became proud and proved to be more concerned about his own peace and safety than Jerusalem’s benefit. The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray is direct and wise: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” After praying that prayer we should also watch, that we enter not into it.
2.The Cover-Up Begins 6-9
Uriah had been absent from home for some weeks occupied with the Ammonite campaign. When he returned home had he known the truth of what had happened he could have exposed his wife and demanded that she be stoned for adultery. Bathsheba knew this and may have had some anxiety over it, but nevertheless waited at home for her husband to come to her and make love to her so the baby that would be born could appear to be his own. She also probably knew the crossculturally universal truth of the typical jealousy of the wronged husband as recorded in Proverbs 6:34 “For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.”
We don’t know the nature of any agreement David may have had with Bathsheba. Possibly he had agreed he would be responsible to arrange things so that Uriah would not take revengeful action. But, judging from the nature of the relationship of consent and then informing David she was pregnant, we may suppose there was a plan. So the plan now in place was ready to be implemented.
Uriah came home from the army thinking he was bringing the war’s progress report; how the siege of Rabbah was developing. “So David sent this word to Joab: ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going” (vs 7). After David competed his conference with Uriah he sent him home along with also a gift, possibly food he and Bathsheba could enjoy together, “and a gift from the king was sent after him” (v 8).
3. The Cover-Up Failed and Escalates 10-13
That project failed the first night since the virtuous Uriah, weary from war and his journey, wanted sleep more than food. And being unwilling to enjoy being at home with his wife when his fellow soldiers were still in the war zone slept in the guard house, not his comfortable bedroom. David had misjudged Uriah. He took a more extreme measure; next he made Uriah drunk and sent him home again. “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” (v 13). In other parts of this book we have contrasted David’ virtuous character with Saul’s wicked behavior. Now we contrast David’s cunning, plotting and selfish behavior with Uriah’s nobility. This is a sad day in the life of David. He was not at his best. He is not a good example for anyone, much less for someone who aspires to become a godly and praise-worthy leader in the work of the Lord.
Habakkuk 2:15-16 says, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies! You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.” David made him drunk. God will place a cup of shame into the hands of those who put the cup of drunkenness into the hands of others. Robbing a man of his sensibilities is worse than stealing his money. Leaders are to do angels work and prevent the progress of evil if they can, but to further its cause is to do the devils work.
The evil plan of David with his accomplice wife Bathsheba failed both nights. Uriah’s resolution to not lie in his own comfortable bed was firm. This in spite of the invitation that Bathsheba herself also probably gave to Uriah. Again the second night “in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.”
Uriah gave David a noble reason for his strange behavior. “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!” While the army was encamped in the field, he would not lie at ease in his own house. This showed Uriah to be a generous man more concerned for the public good than for his own pleasures; a bold and hardy man indeed! When others are paying a price to promote the common good should the leaders be at ease? We leaders too should be willing to endure hardship when the church endures it.
We might be surprised that such nobility as expressed by Uriah did not appear to stimulate the same spirit in David. Neither David’s conscience nor heart seemed to be moved by it. He had basely abused such a brave man as Uriah who was so unlike himself. David sought illegitimate pleasures at the expense of others, while Uriah, out of consideration for others, was unwilling to experience even legitimate pleasures. In most matters of life there are normal behavioral rules. In this case, Uriah rose above the normal rule of a legitimate pleasure at home with his wife while David violated the normal rule with illegitimate pleasures with another man’s wife. He should have been on the battlefield with his men. Uriah outdid that law, but David violated it. Is this the man after God’s own heart? How is his behavior changed! How has this gold lost it beauty! To what depths even good men can stoop when God leaves them to themselves!
4. The Cover-Up Becomes an Even Bigger Sin 14-15
“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 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.”
Uriah carried his own death warrant to the executioner. David’s letter to Joab was carried by Uriah himself. Clearly David was not thinking clearly. The problem with sin is a big enough difficulty, but it multiplies and compounds itself when we try to cover it up; the cover-up itself is sin, the sin of un-repentance, lying and deceit. Jeremiah’s attitude toward his faults is so practical and refreshingly different than David’s. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah did not trust his own heart. And Jeremiah 10:24 says, “Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing.” Jeremiah had the wisdom and courage to ask God to discipline him. If David had had the attitude of Jeremiah, David could have been saved from a lot of grief.
How could David have done the terrible things he did? He was deceived. He did not fully realize what he was doing. The power, authority, prestige, honor and respect that well-intentioned people give to Christian leaders deceives us. It truly deceives us. The sin of adultery is devastating to the public ministry of a Christian leader. Careful steps, however, can be taken to prevent it. Consider this short and simple list of four:
- Be accountable to your spouse with as many conversations on the subject as are necessary. Talk about your temptations and pray together about them.
- Make yourself accountable. If you find yourself thinking a lot about “the other one,” face the situation, talk and pray with your spouse.
- Don’t hint or admit to the “other one” that you are being tempted. It can only make the problem worse for both of you. He or she may then deliberately try to seduce you and make the temptation all the more difficult for you to resist. Keep this problem to yourself, your spouse and God.
- Remember that sin is ultimately against God. Remember what Joseph said to Potiphar’s wife as recorded in Genesis 39:9: “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Satan wants to destroy you, pastor, evangelist, missionary, Christian teacher and Christian leader. Please carefully take the lesson of this chapter to heart. I say this, not because I doubt you, but because I love you.