David and Bathsheba

The story of King David in the book of 2 Samuel tells us that God does not revoke or throw away his covenant with sinners. David was favored by God from the time that David was a child. As a mere boy, he slew Goliath in front of Saul’s army. He avoided attempts on his life by Saul, and he remained loyal to Saul even after Saul tried to kill him. David possessed God’s favor. So much so, that God made a promise to David, recorded in 2 Samuel 7:11-15,

The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. And if he does wrong, I will correct him with the rod of men and with human chastisements; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul, whom I removed from my presence.

Today’s reading is from 2 Samuel 11.  It is an account of King David’s own fall from grace.  In this story, David spies the attractive Bathsheba. Though she is married, David has relations with Bathsheba.   She then sends word that she is with child, and David tries to resolve the problem by sending for Bathsheba’s husband, a soldier:

“Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When he came, David questioned him about Joab, the soldiers,
and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well. David then said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.”

Scholars suggest that David was using polite language to inform Uriah that his wife was pregnant and that he should go home.  Unfortunately for David, Uriah is a loyal soldier and does not leave his assignment.  David is now in a quandary: a woman is pregnant with his child, and the soldier-husband will not take a hint and go home to tend to the two.  David tries a second time to get Uriah drunk, so that he will leave his post and go home.  Uriah does not.  So David orders Uriah’s commander to leave Uriah to fend for himself in the next battle, and he is slain.  Subsequently, David takes Bathsheba for his wife, and we are given this deadpan line from verse 11:27, : But the LORD was displeased with what David had done.

Later, Nathan chastises David for his betrayal, and David responds,

“I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. 
But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.”

Unfortunately, David harmed that relationship with God first by exploiting Uriah’s wife, and secondly by ordering the death of Uriah. David’s reconciliation with God does not mitigate the need for justice. Though David admitted before Nathan that he had done wrong, and though God accepted David’s apology, David still paid a price for what he had done: he lost the child Bathsheba had borne, as Nathan had predicted. Bathsheba bore David a second son, Solomon, who eventually became king of Israel. Solomon was the last of the three kings of the “united monarchy,” Saul, David, and Solomon. The country subsequently fell victim to civil war, which divided Israel into a northern and southern kingdom.

Nevertheless, what struck me about the story of David and Bathsheba is that God remains true to his word, and faithful to his chosen, even when they turn away from God in very dramatic fashion. I hardly endorse David’s conduct, but he is certainly fortunate that God did not, rhetorically speaking, simply pack up and take his covenant elsewhere. I also think, in this modern age, that we should be mindful that God works through sinners like us. God did not write off David because of his betrayal of the marriage covenant of Uriah and Bathsheba (or worse, his order to have Uriah lost in battle). By the same token, we should keep in mind that God may choose to work through those who are, ethically speaking, sinners as much as David.

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