If the life of David were a movie, the lighting and the background music would change dramatically for the events of 2 Samuel 11. Up to this point, the former shepherd had experienced dark seasons, but this darkness was different. David’s enemies had been Goliath, the Philistines, the Amalekites, Saul, and others. Now, David’s enemy is himself.
The first verse of 2 Samuel hints that something was awry: “In the time when the kings go out to battle,” David stayed home. Joab was in Rabbah besieging the Ammonites, and David was absent. While ancient kings sometimes stayed home for good reason, there’s no indication that was the case with David, and Joab’s words to David at the end of Chapter 12 hint otherwise.
Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have revealed a “Stepped Stone Structure” that was over 50 feet high and dates to before the time of David. Perhaps this structure was the same one that David stood on high above the rest of the city when he spotted a beautiful woman bathing. Upon hearing her name, David would have known exactly who Bathsheba was. Her grandfather was his trusted advisor, Ahithophel — and her father and husband were both two of David’s best soldiers: Eliakim and Uriah (2 Samuel 23:34, 39). This fact didn’t stop David. After coveting her, he committed adultery. The reason that she had been bathing may have been because she had finished her purification (2 Samuel 11:4), which meant that (a) Uriah couldn’t have been the father of the baby (Leviticus 15:19-24) and (b) David’s moral impurity overcame her ceremonial purity.
When David heard about Bathsheba’s pregnancy, his primary goal was to hide his sin. He tried to do so in three increasingly drastic ways. First, he called Uriah back from Rabbah hoping that Uriah would be with his wife. When Uriah refused, David utilized plenty of alcohol to weaken Uriah’s moral commitment. Uriah still refused to lie with his own wife, even though David had been fine lying with another’s wife. David then resorted to murder when he incited Joab to make a reckless move on Rabbah (unnecessarily attacking a besieged city) and ensuring Uriah’s death, which Joab obediently did. David then married Bathsheba.
The Lord then sent the prophet Nathan to David. Through his vivid description of a heartless rich man and innocent poor man, Nathan completely disarmed David’s guard of respectability. David was ready to bear down the full force of the law on the rich man when Nathan famously replied, “You are the man!”
One theme I’ve tried to communicate repeatedly in these columns is the way 1 and 2 Samuel point to our utter need for Christ. I’m not sure that any other story in these books communicates that truth more clearly. David was God’s man, and he was guilty of coveting, adultery, and murder. We need a king who will resist temptation. We need Jesus (Matthew 4:1ff).
Three other lessons from this text are inescapable. We will look at one next month as we think about the later chapters of 2 Samuel. In the meantime, we must remember that we are never above temptation in this life. David had been faithful for years, yet he sinned so grievously that people died. We also must remember that our response to God’s conviction can make or break us spiritually. Both Saul and David sinned grievously. Both Saul and David heard God’s judgment through prophets. But only one repented and, therefore, received God’s forgiveness. If God was willing to forgive David, He’ll forgive us. But we must repent. Like David, we must say, “I have sinned,” when Nathan comes to us.