2 Samuel 12:1—14
The story behind 2 Samuel 12 takes place in the preceding chapter. David, it seems, was the kind of person who had to learn life’s lessons the hard way. He learned how to show due reverence to the holy things of God, but that lesson cost another man his life. In 2 Samuel 11, David learns the price a man pays for an adulterous affair; another man dies, as does a baby.
The sad story of David’s dalliance with Bathsheba reminds us of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12—
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
One of the many lessons we learn from the story of David and Bathsheba is that backsliding never begins with an overt act of sin, but always in the secret thoughts of the heart. Another very comforting lesson is that Christians, like David, may backslide and fall out of fellowship and favor with God, but they don’t cease to be His children any more than the prodigal son ceased to be his father’s son, despite his sin.
One can’t help but compare how God dealt with Saul with His treatment of David. Both men sinned and both men were at least complicit in the deaths of others, yet Saul was stripped of his kingdom and his sanity while David was forgiven. Here is another powerful lesson; a man may sin and sin grievously; against both his God and his fellow man, yet if he humbles himself and asks for forgiveness, he will receive it.
1. Anatomy of a fall from grace, chapter 11
After his prolonged romp with the Philistines, one would think that David had learned his lesson about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet he is about to make the same mistake again. With this one single sin, David shatters three commandments:
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife—David did covet Bathsheba
- You shall not commit adultery—David committed adultery with Bathsheba
- You shall not commit murder—David had Bathsheba’s husband killed.
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. (11:1)
When the time had come to fight, David stayed home in ease while he sent others to do his fighting for him. At ease and luxury and in indolence, David fell easily into sin, as was the case when he sought rest among the Philistines. By now, the King was no longer living in faith, rather, he was selfishly living for himself.
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, 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.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (11:2—4a)
In contrast to his soldiers off on the field of battle, David was in bed taking a siesta! Literally, this incident probably occurred in the late afternoon, which explains why David could see this beautiful woman so clearly. God’s anointed, overcome with passion completely forgot to heed the warning which he should have known so well—
[R]emember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. (Numbers 15:39)
Many generations later, David’s virgin-born Descendant would condemn this kind of voyeurism for the sin that it really is—
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
David saw her, he wanted her and he got her. Before the king sent for Bathsheba in 11:4, he had his men get all the information about her, including her marital status; David knew full well this woman was married, but that didn’t stop him from having her brought to him and sleeping with her.
Evil begets evil, one sin leads to another, and Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child. The king, in a panic to cover up his sin, eventually had Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. While he didn’t personally kill Uriah, David is as guilty of murder as surely as if he was the one who did the deed. What makes this incident so sad is that Uriah was a Hittite, not a Jew, and yet he was almost certainly a devoted follower of Jehovah, for his name means, “Jehovah is my light.” Sir Walter Scott, wrote these words in 1808, that perfectly describe this whole sordid mess:
O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
When Bathsheba heard of her husband’s death, she observed the traditional period of mourning, which was a period of seven days, and immediately after that David did the “honorable” thing and took her into his harem. The man, who was content to be given his kingdom, thought he must seize by force another wife.
Lest you get the idea that Bathsheba was somehow snookered into this, it is highly likely David did exactly what she wanted; Bathsheba seems to have been a very ambitious woman indeed, and was a willing partner in the king’s guilt. She would control David’s life in many ways until the end of his life (1 Kings 1:11—31).
These two despicable sins stained Israel’s anointed king, but apparently did nothing to his conscience at all. This whole affair might have gone unnoticed, except for one inescapable fact:
But the thing David had done displeased the LORD. (11:27b)
David is about to learn another painful fact of life: sins accumulate and they never go unnoticed.
2. The fruit of David’s sin, 12:14
But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.
The marrying of Bathsheba was a vain attempt to make right his sin in the sight of God. It serves to this day as a classic example of how man tries to correct his mistakes his own way, foolishly hoping God will honor the attempt. We learn from chapter 12 in very graphic fashion the truth of these words:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
God had to break David’s spirit, and here is how He did it:
- God exposed the secret sin, verse 7. The minute Nathan the prophet said those fateful words, “You are the man,” David knew the jig was up. Just as Christ was pierced with our sins, so we must be pierced with conviction, and the fastest way to get convicted of sin is to have that sin exposed. Make no mistake, sin cannot be covered up indefinitely; the truth will come out.
- God forgave the sin, verse 13, 14. David fessed up and confessed to the sin, although he had no real choice. He confessed, the Lord accepted the confession and He forgave David. His repentance was immediate and complete; David neither excused the sin nor did he try to justify it or cover it up. For the first time, David saw his sins the way God did, and that broke the king’s spirit. The divine and just penalty for his sins was remitted and Nathan the prophet assured David that he would not die.
- God allowed drastic consequences despite His forgiveness, verse 14. Even though David was forgiven, there was a terrible consequence that would follow: the child born of adultery would die. Some people see this as such a harsh judgment; the child had done nothing wrong, after all. However, we need to understand the gravity of David’s sin. It was not adultery and it was not murder. Note verse 14 carefully as it appears in the KJV—
But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”
That was the real sin. This is the greatest sin of all; when the conduct of a believer causes unbelievers to mock and deride and blaspheme God. The death of the child would forever point to a sin-avenging, just and holy God. The death of David and Bathsheba’s son occurred a year or so after the sin was committed, so some time had elapsed before Nathan confronted David and exposed his sin.
3. Lingering consequences
It may be that during the year or so that elapsed between David’s sin and his judgment he thought his indiscretion was overlooked by God. Maybe his marriage to Bathsheba was enough. Unfortunately, God cannot be mocked, and His word is final. God keeps His promises; all of them. Promises of blessings and also promises judgment will come to pass.
After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. (verse 15)
The child became sick. Had David learned his lesson this time? Apparently so; David fasted and prayed for the boy’s recovery. Night and day he hoped and prayed, but to no avail; sin must always be atoned for. When the boy died, the servants were amazed at the change in David—
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (verses 22, 23)
Indeed David learned his lesson, but even more than that, here is we see why David was treated so differently than his predecessor, Saul. That last sentence shows the kind of faith David had. Despite his sin and failings, David still had faith in God because the Holy Spirit still resided in Him. How else could a father resign himself to the death of his son? David knew the boy went to be with God, and he knew that one day he would see his son in glory. If there was every any doubt where the spirit of a child goes upon their death, let that doubt be gone! David knew, and so should we.
The consequences of David’s one night of illicit passion, however, extended well past the death of his boy. His sin haunted him all the days of his life—
Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’
The awful aftermath of sin is now revealed. Because David had used the sword of the Ammonites to kill Uriah, violence would forever be a part of the house of David. Because he had secretly taken another man’s wife, his own wives would be taken from him publicly. And these lingering consequences would be all the worse because they would come, not from strangers and enemies, but from his own family.
Sin against others is always sin against God.
What happened to David should cause all of us to fall to our knees and thank God for Jesus Christ! He bore the judgment of all our sins. We will never be judged for our sins, in this world or the next, like David was, because of Christ’s sacrificial, atoning, and substitutionary death on the Cross. Yet, when we willfully cross the line and knowingly transgress the will and commands of God, we will face the natural consequences of our acts. God is gracious and merciful to forgive us, but the awfulness of sin must be seen and experienced so that we, like David, may learn the true cost of living for ourselves.