Summary: Here we discover, once again, the two central elements in the way God deals with his people. Here we find God’s justice and mercy going hand in hand as he deals with a failed leader.
Someone asked me the other day, "Why do we have to have all these stories from the Old Testament. They’re so gruesome!" Well, the reason we have to hear these stories is because they’ve been put here to tell us about God. You see, these aren’t just stories about David, or Saul, or Samuel. They’re always and primarily stories about God. And here today we discover, once again, the two central elements in the way God deals with his people. Here we find God’s justice and mercy going hand in hand as he deals with a failed leader.
But we also find here lessons about ourselves. For example we discover that even someone as close to God’s heart as David can fail. Even the most godly have their weaknesses and can fail at critical moments. This is a warning to us to keep watch because we too could fail if we’re not careful. You may remember when we were going through 1 Corinthians we came across these words in 1 Cor 10:11-12: "These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall."
So let’s see what lessons we can learn as we go through this passage, first about God and his justice and mercy, and second about how we might avoid the pitfalls that David stumbled into.
The story begins with the statement that it was spring, the time when kings go out to battle. But what’s David doing? Not going out to battle. He’s done his fighting it would seem. He sends Joab off to do battle, while he stays at home in his palace, in Jerusalem. And what happens? Well, as the saying goes, the Devil finds work for idle hands to do. David has nothing better to do, so he goes for a walk up on the roof top late one day. And as he looks down into the courtyards of the surrounding houses he sees a woman bathing; not just any woman, mind you, a very beautiful woman. And what does he do? Does he immediately turn around and walk away from temptation? No, he stops and takes in the view. He admires her beauty. He checks out which house it is so he can inquire as to her identity.
In Genesis 3 we get a similar picture of the way temptation so often comes upon us. There we read that the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, and so she ate. You see, the temptation itself is not the problem. It’s the way it’s dealt with. Eve checks out the fruit. She dwells on it’s desirability. So too, here, David stops to admire this woman’s beauty. He thinks how desirable she is. He sends to find out who she is. But even then his situation remains reversible. Until he sends for her. Had he accepted that she was a married woman nothing more would have been heard about it. But no, he flexes his royal muscles and she comes and he takes her to his bed, despite the fact that we’re told she’s still in the process of being purified after her period. His desire for her by now is so strong that even her ritual impurity isn’t a deterrent. Then he sends her home. And there again, the matter might have ended except for one thing. Bathsheba discovers a month later that she’s pregnant. God isn’t going to let David get away with this clear act of rebellion on his part. David thinks his sin has been done in secret, but the secret is shaping up to become public.
So what is he to do? He could own up to it and seek to make reparation. That would be the godly way to behave. Or he could seek to cover it up. That’s the politic way to behave and sadly, with kingship, it seems, comes the need to be politically astute in the way you behave. Certainly that’s something that David has learnt well. He’s a past master at turning difficult situations to his own advantage. So he sends for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. He’s been at the battle front so David thinks this will solve his problem. Uriah will be given a few days furlough, he’ll go home to his wife, make love to her and the pregnancy will appear perfectly normal.
Except that Uriah shows himself to be a man of more integrity at this moment than David is. As much as he’d love to go home to his beautiful wife, he’s part of an army at war. It may even have been one of David’s own rules that an army at war refrained from sexual encounters while the battle raged. Or this rule may have come out of the same purity laws that David had ignored in his encounter with Bathsheba. In any case he stays with the priests who are tending the ark. Now remember that Uriah is a foreigner, a Hittite, yet he shows far greater concern for the Lord’s name than David has, even when David gets him drunk in an effort to break down his self control.