“In the whole of the Old Testament literature there is no chapter more tragic or full of solemn and searching warning than this.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. David’s adultery.
1. (1) David stays home from the war against the Ammonites.
It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
a. In the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle: In that part of the world, wars were not normally fought during the winter months because rains and cold weather made travel and campaigning difficult. Fighting resumed in the spring.
b. David sent Joab…. But David remained at Jerusalem: David should have been out at the battle, but he remained behind. In 2 Samuel 10 Joab and the army of the mighty men were preserved against the Syrians and the Ammonites, but they did not win a decisive victory. The decisive victory came when David led the battle at the end of 2 Samuel 10. Both through custom and experience God told David, “You need to be at the battle.” But David remained at Jerusalem.
i. The principle of Galatians 5:16 rings true: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. If David’s attention had been where God wanted it, he would never have put it where God didn’t want it. “While Joab is busy in laying siege to Rabbah, Satan is to David, and far sooner prevailed.” (Trapp)
ii. Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that this began the chain of events David followed all the way down to adultery and murder. David showed his disregard of God’s plan for marriage many years before when he took more than one wife (1 Samuel 25:42-43, 2 Samuel 3:2-5). David’s practice of adding wives showed a lack of sexual restraint and an indulgence of his passions. This corrupt seed, sown long ago, grew unchecked long enough and would bear bitter fruit.
iii. “As I think of what happened, of this I am sure, that it did not happen all at once. This matter of Bathsheba was simply the climax of something that had been going on in his life for twenty years.” (Redpath)
iv. Therefore, staying home from the battle merely provided an opportunity for the long-standing lack of sexual restraint and indulgence of passion to display itself.
2. (2) David encounters temptation.
Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
a. David arose from his bed and walked on the roof: The Hebrew verb form of walked suggests that David paced back and forth on the roof. He couldn’t sleep and was uneasy – uneasy because he wasn’t where God wanted him to be.
b. He saw a woman bathing: It may be that this woman (later called by the name Bathsheba) acted immodestly. Though it was evening and apparently the time when most people were asleep, it is possible (even likely) that she knew that her bath was visible from the roof of the palace. Any possible immodesty on Bathsheba’s part did not excuse David’s sin in any way, but if she was immodest, she was still responsible for her wrong.
i. We must never be an occasion for sin to others, even in how we dress. Paul’s word in 1 Timothy 2:9 is relevant here: the women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.
c. He saw a woman bathing: David’s sin was not in seeing Bathsheba. It was unlikely that he expected or planned to see her. David’s sin was in choosing to keep his eyes on an alluring image after the sight came before his eyes.
i. Christians – men, especially – must learn to never let their eyes (or their mind) rest on alluring images except for what God has given to them in marriage. Our eyes must not remain on alluring images that come into sight.
ii. David’s many wives did not satisfy his lust. This was because you can’t satisfy lusts of the flesh. They are primarily rebellious assertions of self. It wasn’t so much that David wanted Bathsheba, it was that he would not be satisfied with what God gave him.
iii. The principle would be illustrated in an exaggerated way in the life of Solomon, David’s son. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. David and Solomon show us that if one woman isn’t enough, 1000 women aren’t enough.
d. The woman was very beautiful to behold: Bathsheba’s great beauty made the sight tempting. But the real strength of temptation often does not lie in the quality of the tempting object, but in the state of heart and mind of the one being tempted. David was carefully “prepared” to fail at this very point. Even so, this temptation was not too strong for David, no matter how beautiful Bathsheba was.
i. For example, Joseph was more severely tempted to commit sexual immorality than David was here, but he fled that temptation.
ii. David looked at Bathsheba and said “beauty” but God saw this as ugly. The hoped-for pleasures of sin deceive us like the bait hides the hook. We must call it what God calls it – sin. We want to say “affair” but God says “adultery.” We want to say “love” but God says “lust.” We want to say “sexy” but God says “sin.” We want to say “romantic” but God says “ruin.” We want to say “destiny” but God says “destruction.”
3. (3) David pursues the temptation.
So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
a. So David sent and inquired: David could have ended the temptation by leaving the scene at that time, even after entertaining the temptation for a while. Instead, David put himself into a more tempting situation.
b. Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam: From this, David learned that the woman came from a notable family. She was from the upper classes. Her father was Eliam, one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:34). Her grandfather was Ahithophel – one of David’s chief counselors (2 Samuel 23:34, 2 Samuel 15:12).
c. The wife of Uriah the Hittite: From this, David learned that Bathsheba was married, and the wife of another of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8, 39). He also learned that this woman’s husband was away because the mighty men were away in battle against the Ammonites. This knowledge made the situation far more tempting. David began to think, “I could get away with this.”
i. David committed adultery in his heart up on the roof. Now he knew that he had an opportunity to commit adultery in practice. Adultery in the heart and mind is bad; adultery in practice is far worse.
ii. David should have received the news of the woman’s identity as a warning. He learned that this woman was related to men close to him. In taking Bathsheba, David sinned against Uriah, Eliam, and Ahithophel – each man was close and important to David.
4. (4) David embraces the temptation.
Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.
a. Then David sent messengers, and took her: In this the man after God’s heart went against his own heart, following through on a lustful impulse. David ignored every warning and way of escape God set before him. In doing this, David took her – he “took” Bathsheba, someone who did not belong to him through the covenant of marriage.
i. “In the expression he took her, and she came to him there is no intimation whatever that David brought Bathsheba into his palace through craft or violence, but rather that she came at his request without any hesitation, and offered no resistance to his desires. Consequently Bathsheba is not to be regarded as free from blame.” (Keil and Delitzsch)
ii. “We hear nothing of her reluctance, and there is no evidence that she was taken by force.” (Clarke)
b. He lay with her: David knew this was wrong, yet he did it. It’s hard to explain David’s thinking here because he wasn’t thinking. He acted on feeling and impulse instead of thinking.
i. If David had thought about all this, he would have seen the cost was so much greater than he wanted to consider at the time. If David had only known that this illicit pursuit of pleasure would directly or indirectly result in:
· An unwanted pregnancy.
· The murder of a trusted friend.
· A dead baby.
· A daughter raped by his son.
· One son murdered by another son.
· A civil war led by one of his sons.
· A son who imitates David’s lack of self-control, leading him and much of Israel away from God.
ii. At this moment David agreed with the world’s understanding of the purpose of sex, seeing it primarily as the pursuit of a pleasurable experience. With his many wives, David may have never really understood God’s purpose for sex: to be the “cement” that helps bond together a one-flesh relationship.
c. She was cleansed from her impurity: This confirms that Bathsheba had recently had her menstrual period and was not already pregnant when David committed adultery with her.
i. It seemed as though David “got away” with this sin. But David could only think this if he believed that his sin was something good that God did not want for David. In truth, David did something harmful and destructive to himself and others, and great harm and destruction would come of it. Just because David wasn’t caught at the moment doesn’t mean that he got away with anything.
ii. The phrase she was cleansed from her impurity leads some people to believe that bathing of verse 2 was Bathsheba’s ceremonial cleansing at the conclusion of her menstrual period.
5. (5) Bathsheba’s message to David.
And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”
a. And the woman conceived: David didn’t plan on this. This pregnancy must have alarmed both David and Bathsheba. This meant that David’s sin would be found out.
b. So she sent and told David: Her message “involved an appeal to him to take the necessary steps to avert the evil consequences of the sin, inasmuch as the law required that both the adulterer and adulteress should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10).” (Keil and Delitzsch)
B. David murders Uriah.
1. (6-11) David attempts to cover his sin.
Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah departed from the king’s house, and a gift of food from the king followed him. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. So when they told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” And Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”
a. Send me Uriah the Hittite: When David heard the disastrous news of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, he should have used it as a prompting to repent. Instead, David did what most unrepentant sinners do: he tried to hide his sin. He wanted to draw Uriah back home to have relations with Bathsheba to give a reason for her pregnancy.
i. The whole concept of hiding our sin is deceptive. Our sin is never hidden before God and only hidden with difficulty from our conscience. Our hidden sin hinders our fellowship with God and others and is a barrier to spiritual life and power.
ii. “The real question for us all is: Are we prepared to face sin? Not to discuss someone else’s sin, but to face our own.” (Redpath)
iii. The answer to hidden sin is confession and repentance. To whom should we confess? The answer is in the question, “Whom have we sinned against?” “If you sin secretly, confess secretly, admitting publicly that you need the victory but keeping details to yourself. If you sin openly confess openly to remove stumbling blocks from those whom you have hindered. If you have sinned spiritually (prayerlessness, lovelessness, and unbelief as well as their offspring, criticism, etc.) then confess to the church that you have been a hindrance.” (J. Edwin Orr)
iv. “As soon as ever we are conscious of sin, the right thing is not to begin to reason with the sin, or to wait until we have brought ourselves into a proper state of heart about it, but to go at once and confess the transgression unto the Lord, there and then.” (Spurgeon)
b. David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered: This was David’s awkward attempt to pretend that nothing happened. David gave every appearance that things were normal when before God nothing was normal or right.
i. Go down to your house: “David’s design was that he should go and lie with his wife, that the child now conceived should pass for his, the honour of Bath-sheba be screened, and his own crime concealed. At this time he had no design of the murder of Uriah, nor of taking Bath-sheba to wife.” (Clarke)
c. The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents: This shows that Uriah had a passion for the glory of God, even though he was a Hittite and not a native Jew.
d. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? This shows Uriah as a man of great integrity. He was a willing to sacrifice his own desires and ease, and he did not want to enjoy the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers endured hardship on the field of battle.
i. “David had expected and hoped that Uriah would prove to be like himself; instead he proved to be a man of integrity, whose first loyalty was to the king’s interests rather than to his own pleasure.” (Baldwin)
2. (12-13) David’s second attempt to cover his sin fails.
Then David said to Uriah, “Wait here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. Now when David called him, he ate and drank before him; and he made him drunk. And at evening he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
a. Wait here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart: David lied to Uriah, knowing that he wanted to get back to the battlefront as soon as possible. He hoped that Uriah would treat the coming evening as his last before returning to battle, and be with Bathsheba.
b. When David called him, he ate and drank before him: David hoped that getting Uriah drunk would weaken his resolve to identify with his fellow troops. Yet Uriah did not go down to his house, refusing to enjoy what his fellow soldiers could not while the battle still raged.
i. Uriah is a good example of how Christians should conduct themselves as fellow-soldiers in the spiritual battle. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. (Romans 12:15-16)
ii. David was drunk with lust when he slept with Bathsheba; he hoped making Uriah drunk with wine would bring the same result.
c. But he did not go down to his house: Some commentators believe that Uriah suspected some infidelity in Bathsheba and avoided her out of jealousy. “It is like he smelt something.” (Trapp)
3. (14-17) David sends Uriah to battle with his own death sentence in hand.
In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.” So it was, while Joab besieged the city, that he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew there were valiant men. Then the men of the city came out and fought with Joab. And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also.
a. David wrote a letter to Joab: Meyer imagines Joab saying, “This master of mine can sing psalms with the best; but when he wants a piece of dirty work done, he must come to me.”
b. Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle: Having failed to cover his sin, David wanted Uriah dead. Many adulterers secretly wish death would free them to marry the object of their adultery. This is the very heart of murder even if the deed is not done. David had the power to act on his wish.
c. And sent it by the hand of Uriah: David trusted the integrity of Uriah so much that he made him the unwitting messenger of his own death sentence.
i. “This was the sum of treachery and villainy. He made this most noble man the carrier of letters which prescribed the mode in which he was to be murdered.” (Clarke)
d. That he may be struck down and die: David commanded Joab to arrange Uriah’s death. Though it was hidden by the raging battle, Uriah was murdered just as surely as if David killed him in his own home.
i. “If a child was to be born, Uriah’s lips, at least, should not be able to disown it.” (Meyer)
ii. “David was better while a servant than when a king; for being a servant, he feared to kill Saul his adversary, but becoming a king, he basely slew his most faithful friend and dutiful subject.” (Trapp)
iii. “Though we mourn over David’s sin, yet we thank God that it was permitted, for if he had not so fallen he had not been able to help us when we are conscious of transgression. He could not have so minutely described our griefs if he had not felt the same. David lived, in this respect, for others as well as for himself.” (Spurgeon)
e. Uriah the Hittite died also: Joab did exactly what David commanded. He knew it was wrong but simply followed orders and murdered Uriah at David’s direction.
i. If not immediately confronted, one sin can take a wretched course. David indulged his sensual lusts for years and ignored God’s warnings and ways of escape. He allowed temptation to turn into lust and lust to turn into adultery. When the consequences of his adultery threatened to expose his sin, he covered it first with deception and then with murder. Satan could never tempt David with the entire package at once, but he deceived him with it piece by piece.
4. (18-25) Joab sends word of Uriah’s death back to David.
Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, and charged the messenger, saying, “When you have finished telling the matters of the war to the king, if it happens that the king’s wrath rises, and he says to you: ‘Why did you approach so near to the city when you fought? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?’; then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’” So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent by him. And the messenger said to David, “Surely the men prevailed against us and came out to us in the field; then we drove them back as far as the entrance of the gate. The archers shot from the wall at your servants; and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” Then David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab: ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Strengthen your attack against the city, and overthrow it.’ So encourage him.”
a. Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? This is a reference to Judges 9:50-57, where Abimelech was killed by coming too close to the walls of a city under siege. The idea is that Joab knew it was a bad military move to get so close to the walls, but he did it anyway on the command of David.
b. Uriah the Hittite is dead also: David heard these words with relief. He thought that now he could marry Bathsheba and give a plausible explanation for her pregnancy.
c. The sword devours one as well as another: This was a proverb regarding fortunes of war. It was a way of saying, “These things happen.” David said it to his own guilty conscience as much as he said it to Joab.
5. (26-27) David marries Bathsheba.
When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.
a. When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead: We have no reason to believe that Bathsheba knew that David arranged the death of her husband. It is likely that David concealed all this from Bathsheba. Yet Bathsheba may have been partly relieved, knowing that the crisis of her pregnancy from David was now averted.
i. “There is little doubt to be made but that she was inwardly glad, considering her danger of being punished for an adulteress, and her hopes of being now made a queen.” (Trapp)
b. And she became his wife: This was nothing new for David. He had added wives before, so now he simply added another.
i. “David is sort of a hero now, in the eyes of the people. He has taken into his harem, the poor, pregnant wife, the widow of one of his fallen captains, so that the people say, “My look at the way he stands behind his men! He takes care of their widows when they are killed in battle. My what a marvelous king!” (Smith)
c. The thing that David had done displeased the LORD: This is the first mention of God in the chapter. God witnessed every event and read the intent of every heart, but His displeasure was only implied until this specific statement.
i. David’s state of heart in the intervening year is reflected in Psalm 32:1-5: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
ii. Psalm 32 shows that David was under intense conviction during this time and that all the joy in his life evaporated away. David knew the stress and agony of living a double, false life. He found no relief until he repented and got right with God again. “The better the man the dearer the price he pays for a short season of sinful pleasure.” (Meyer)
iii. David was in that terrible place where he had too much sin in him to be happy in God, but he had too much of God in him to be happy in sin. Because David was a man after God’s heart, God drew David to repentance and restoration.
iv. “When there is the most necessity for confession, there is often the greatest tardiness in making it. It was so in David’s case…. I think I can see why he could not have gone straight away from the sin to confession, for the sin prevented the confession-the sin blinded the eye, stultified the conscience, and stupefied the entire spiritual nature of David.” (Spurgeon)