When is the last time you said to yourself, “Hmm, I think I’ll strip down and take a bath on the roof?” Never? Me neither! I have also never committed adultery nor murdered anyone. But the familiar tale of David and Bathsheba reveals to all of us the nature of sin—how it cascades from “small” sins into greater ones, how we excuse sin to ourselves, and how the consequences are not only profound but generational.
The first sin in David’s story wasn’t actually lusting after Bathsheba. David was a war leader, a general/king. From the days when the women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten-thousands,” David could not be defeated (1 Sam. 18:7). Yet this year when spring dawns and the kings go out to battle, David doesn’t go. The Ark of the Covenant goes. The army of Israel goes. But David? He’s lounging about at home. Not only is David avoiding his clear responsibility, but he sends the Ark. What laziness and blasphemous arrogance to send the Ark of the presence of God and stay at home himself (2 Sam. 11:1,11)!
Although “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” in David’s case Satan uses his idle eyes. In peeping Tom fashion from his roof-top perch, he sees Bathsheba bathing (2 Sam. 11:2). I have heard much speculation on Bathsheba’s character. Was she trying to seduce the king by showing off her assets for the world to see? No. Leviticus 12 and 15 suggest that customarily women bathed after their periods (2Samuel 11:4 lends support to this idea). This bath served as a reminder of a single woman’s virtue. Each month she had a way to say to the community, “I am innocent.” For the married woman this bath provided a clear way to show the community that she was not bearing her husband a child this month. Bathsheba’s bath follows both custom and law.
So far David has been guilty of three sins: laziness, arrogance, and lust. The detail, “Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite” adds a fourth—gross betrayal. Uriah had been one of his mighty men, a trusted companion and loyal soldier since David fled Saul in the wilderness (2 Sam. 23:39). Knowing full well who she was, David took his friend’s wife to bed (2 Sam. 11:3).
When Bathsheba comes to tell David she is expecting his child, he has a problem. There is no chance to pass this baby off as Uriah’s; Bathsheba has had her ceremonial monthly bath and Uriah is away. So David calls for Uriah to come home. Uriah condemns David with his honor. The warrior won’t go take his ease at home with his wife while the army and the ark are out in the field (2 Sam. 11:6-11). So David tries again. If Uriah is drunk, surely he’ll stumble home to be seduced by his wife. No. Uriah sleeps again at the king’s gate (2 Sam. 11:12-13). When trickery won’t work, David sends him back to the front to die of deliberately poor strategy.
Let’s review. The sweet singer of Israel, the man after God’s own heart, has been lazy, arrogant, gawking, lustful, disloyal, adulterous, sneaky, and a murderer who drags a subordinate into murder with him. Sin piled upon sin.
How did David justify it to himself? What was going through his mind? We can only imagine.
Laziness — “I deserve a break.”
Arrogance — “The army will be successful if I send God with them.”
Lust — “I’m just looking.”
Adultery — “It’s just once.”
Betrayal — “Uriah will never know.”
Guile — “I made this mess; I have to fix it!”
Murderer — “No one can know. Why won’t Uriah cooperate? It’s his fault. If he weren’t so ‘honorable,’ he’d go home like I told him! Soldiers die in battle all the time. He knows the danger.”
What can break David out of this cycle of self-delusion? A metaphor.
Nathan the prophet, always a loyal friend to the house of David, comes with a story. Once a very poor man had a beloved pet lamb. A rich neighbor had an unexpected guest and slaughtered his neighbor’s pet for dinner (2 Sam. 12:2-3).
David is enraged. He can’t see the parallel to his own sin, but he can’t miss the evil of the story. It’s not just theft; something precious has been destroyed by someone who has much more than he needs, someone without pity. Though the rich man deserves to die, David mercifully declares that he must pay back four times what was taken. Thus David declares his own doom because as Nathan said, he is the man (2 Samuel 12:7).
While I am happy to report that neither murder nor adultery are on my conscience. I can easily find parallels to David’s story especially his excuses.
“I deserve a break.” Sometimes I get sucked into Facebook, Netflix, Pinterest, an online game, a novel or a nap when I really should be working. Is there something wrong with rest? No, rest is fantastic. So good that holy rest made it into the Ten Commandments. Yet there is a difference between true rest and neglecting our responsibilities. If dinner is late and the kids are screaming because we’ve been binge-watching Gilmore Girls, perhaps we weren’t “resting” after all.
“I’m just looking.” For women the temptation is different. Perhaps we are not as tempted to ogle a co-worker in his well-cut Wranglers as our spouses might be, but that does not exclude us from “looking.” Women are especially vulnerable to friendships that go too far. We might reconnect with an old flame on Facebook, or have intimate talks with a co-worker who seems kinder or more patient than our husband. Then there is that handsome dad from soccer who always comments on how nice we look. We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re just looking…
“Just this once.” Satan has sunk all our battleships with this lie. It won’t hurt to take this, touch him, wear those, drink that, go there, watch that, read this, say that—just this once. This episode in David’s life is a lesson in the swamping consequences of “just this once.”
“No one will ever know.” None of us are as successful at hiding our sin as we pretend to be. Our sin is often an open secret. Are we hiding our envy? No, our friends are rolling their eyes behind our backs. No one noticed the extra attention we pay our married co-worker, did they? Yes, the whole office is gossiping. But let’s suppose somehow we managed to actually hide our crimes. Our Father sees in secret (Is. 29:15). No sin is hidden from His face. Nor will it be hidden on the last day when we all stand before Him to be judged for our deeds (Rev. 20:12). And don’t forget the closely related lie, “No one will get hurt.” People do. In David’s case, lots of people.
“I have to fix it.” The urge to “fix” our mistakes is deadly. Everything about taking responsibility, confessing, repenting, and reconciliation is good. But “fixing it” values solutions over confessions. And frequently those solutions take the form of more sin. David murdered a friend to “solve” the problem of Bathsheba’s baby. What sins in our life have we tried to “solve” with more sin? One lie turns into ten. We are feeling lazy, lie to our boss about being sick, miss crucial time at work, blame a coworker when our project isn’t finished, and then at the last minute desperately steal someone else’s work.
David’s punishment for these sins was profound. When he declares that the man should repay four times what he had stolen, he announces his own destruction. David had stolen a wife and all of Uriah’s future sons. Thus it was in the currency of wives and sons that David paid (2 Sam. 12: 1-14).
Did David repent? Indeed he did. Faced with Nathan’s story, he humbled himself and begged for God’s forgiveness. And he received it. But that did not stop the rush of consequences. Bathsheba’s first child, the baby that he had tried everything to hide, dies (2 Sam. 12: 15-33). Then Amnon, David’s son, rapes Tamar, David’s daughter. What could be more devastating to a father? Revenge served cold. Two years later her brother Absalom has Amnon murdered. David has lost an infant, an adult son, a daughter to a life broken in her brother’s home, and now Absalom flees to spend 3 years in exile (2 Sam. 13).
David is only half done. Two sons down, two to go. Absalom finally returns from exile, but soon he begins to plot to overthrow his father (2 Sam. 14-15). When the palace coup begins, David is forced to flee with all his servants for his life. Absalom has a tent pitched on the roof and takes his father’s wives “in the sight of all Israel”—a direct fulfillment of God’s promise that David’s wives would be taken openly like he took Bathsheba secretly (2 Sam. 16). Still David wants those seeking Absalom to protect the young prince. Joab, general and long-time friend to Absalom, kills him anyway (2 Sam. 18). In this late grief, David is exorbitant as before. He mourns, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Sam. 18:33).
The fourth doomed son, Adonijah, has himself crowned before David died. Although he was not killed for this during David’s life, when he seeks the virgin who warmed David’s bed for a wife, Solomon has him killed (1 Kings 1-2).
The details of David’s sin seem to come back to haunt him. David sent for Bathsheba but the text does not indicate that she was forced into his bed. Yet Amnon takes David’s sin a step further. Seeing a woman he wants, Amnon doesn’t just “take” her; he rapes her. David’s wives are dishonored on the roof of his palace. David betrays a loyal soldier. He is betrayed by not only his servants but his sons (Adonijah, Absalom, Ahitophel). David’s idleness becomes princes with no proper work to do; they are not soldiers or leaders but just hangers-on. With time on their hands they don’t just murder a friend; they tear their nation in half.
David has learned much. He never takes the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the presence of God, for granted again. When Absalom’s advance drives him from Jerusalem, he sends the Ark back. He acknowledges that God will decide if he will return to his place as king or not (2 Sam. 15:24-29) No longer does he imagine that he is in charge of God. When the people go out to fight for him, despite his age, he volunteers to lead them (2 Sam. 18:1-5) When faced with his sin (in numbering the people), he immediately repents (2 Sam. 24).
There are lessons for us in the end of David’s story, a final terrifying parallel to our own lives. Sin is generational. Children SEE their parents sin. Of all the people we can imagine we can hide from, our children are the least likely. Plus, the sin they see is the sin they are most tempted to do or take a step further. The worst part of David’s punishment had to be watching his mistakes played out again and again in the idleness, violence, immorality, and betrayal of his own sons. We should not imagine that our children are not the same. Our sins echo down into their lives. Even sins we repent of can come roaring back in the next generation.
David and Bathsheba teach us about the profoundness of sin. It compiles, humiliates, devastates, and echoes. No matter what we do, we cannot hide it from the world, God, or our children. David reminds us all that the wages of sin are truly death.
Tassie and her husband were missionaries in China for almost 9 years.