David and Bathsheba

Reading: 2 Samuel 11.1-27
Some years ago now, I recall hearing about a factory mass-producing small transistor radios. The components were dropped onto the circuit-board and a soldering machine connected them into place. At the end of the line they were tested with a battery. If they failed to operate properly, they were simply scrapped - it was too expensive to "trouble-shoot" and rectify the problem.

The story of watch-makers was a little different. Reportedly, if a digital watch-module failed the stringent tests of the top-name brands, they were sold off and in fact - so we were told - were incorporated into the cheap brands.

I wonder, is it really so? Is there a measure of truth in either of these stories?

One day I had cause to go to K-Mart the day after Boxing Day. People were queued four deep all round the service desk. Christmas gifts - many quite expensive - were being handed in. Some were classed "unsuitable" and people were simply seeking an exchange. But again and again the attendant wrote, "wonít work". Already by 9.30 or 10 in the morning, the pile of returns was getting quite high.

Godís Expectation

What kind of standard do you think the Creator of this world intended? Listen to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount - "You must be perfect - just as your Father in heaven is perfect!" (Mt. 5.48) Thatís a bit steep - a bit beyond anyone, surely! Yet that is what God is always looking for. Paul didnít write, "The wages of the big sins is death." No, he put it in absolute terms, "For sin pays its wage - death..." (Rom. 6.23a).

Paul describes his own life as a Christian in these words, "I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my brothers and sisters, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is Godís call through Christ Jesus to the life above" (Phil. 3.12-14).

Samuel was concerned when Saul turned bad. So the Lord has rejected Saul as king over Israel. Get some olive oil and anoint one of the sons of Jesse... This is the one - anoint him! Samuel said to Saul, "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lordís command" (1 Sam. 13.13-14, NIV).

David was a man after Godís own heart. In so many ways he was the ideal king. For Israel the "shepherd-king" became the model of kingship. And when they were looking forward to the Messiah that God would send, they expected "a king like my servant David" (as Ezek. 34.23).

Temptation and Sin

But no king except Jesus Christ himself would ever be perfect or follow the Lord perfectly. Jesus is described as the one who "was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin" (Heb. 4.15). The "saints" of both Old and New Testaments are all described with a frankness that doesnít seek to hide their weaknesses, failures and sins. The Biblical writers donít wallow in sin and failure as a modern writer might do. But there is a frankness that is unmatched by any of the chroniclers of the surrounding nations.

David was secure in his rule - and rather too comfortable and complacent for his own good. His army was out fighting the Ammonites, but David was back home in Jerusalem. When Uriah the Hittite was brought in from the battle-line, David wanted him to go home and sleep with his wife. We hear Uriah saying, "The men of Israel and Judah are away at the war, and the Covenant Box is with them; my commander Joab and his officers are camping out in the open. How could I go home, eat and drink, and sleep with my wife? By all thatís sacred, I swear that I could never do such a thing!" (2 Sam. 11.11).

Yet that is exactly what David had been doing, and in his idleness he succumbed to the attraction of Uriahís beautiful wife Bathsheba. Legally, the penalty for adultery was the death for both parties. David compounded his sin by organising the death of Uriah, in the course of which a number of other officers also died. Adultery... deception... murder... And after Bathsheba had mourned her husbandís death, "David sent for her to come to the palace; she became his wife and bore him a son. But the Lord was not pleased with what David had done" (v. 27).

Of course, the Lord is never pleased with sin. But he is particularly grieved when "a man after his own heart" falls into sin, and it becomes a very serious issue when this person is a leader and example to the whole nation of people who are supposed to belong to the Lord. Temptation need never lead to sin. As Paul wrote, "Every test (temptation) that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out" (1 Cor. 10.13). The old hymn said truly,

Repentance and Forgiveness

What can we say about "a man after Godís heart" who does such things? The same as needs to be said about any of us - whether sinners "big" or "small". For both Saul and David there is equally the possibility of grace. The difference between the two is in their response to grace.

Nathan the prophet comes to David. He tells David a story about a rich man who takes the poor manís lamb to cook a meal for a visitor (12.1-4).

David is furious - the rich man "ought to die" and at least "for having done such a cruel thing, he must pay back four times as much as he took" (vv. 5-6) - the regular penalty for the common thief (as Ex. 22.1).

"You are that man"(v. 7), says Nathan. The Lord who has been caring for you says, "Why have you disobeyed my commands? Why did you do this evil thing? You had Uriah killed in battle; you let the Ammonites kill him, and then you took his wife!" (vv. 9-10). Yes, David, there will be nasty consequences in the life of your family because of this secret sin of yours.

"I have sinned against the Lord." Here is the word of hope - Davidís admission of guilt, not simply against Uriah, but against the Lord. "The Lord forgives you; you will not die. But because you have shown such contempt for the Lord in doing this, your child will die" (vv. 13-14).

In his response to Nathanís story about the poor manís lamb, David had passed sentence on himself. However, his rule will not come to an end - he is forgiven, though there will be trouble in his family. Yes, David is remembered as a great king who "had never disobeyed any of [the Lordís] commands, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kings 15.5). But David repented and was forgiven, though there were consequences still flowing from his sinful actions.

We remember David as "a man after Godís own heart", not because he never sinned, but because he acknowledged his sin and received forgiveness.

Psalm 51 has the Hebrew title, "A Psalm of David after the prophet Nathan had spoken to him about his adultery with Bathsheba" -

If, as Paul wrote, "everyone has sinned and is far away from Godís saving presence" (Rom. 3.23), there is only one way to be a person after Godís own heart. It is by having "a humble and repentant heart." Each and every one of us needs to depend on the grace of the loving God poured out for us and upon us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

There it stands in the genealogy of Jesus - "David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriahís wife" (Mt. 1.6b NIV).

But there, in Jesus, is the line of Godís grace for each one of us, even as it was for David.


© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 1 August 1999
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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