David and Bathsheba

Warning: The story of David and Bathsheba deals with abuse of power, rape, and murder. This is pretty intense stuff for Middle School Sunday School but important. So just be appropriately warned.

Last week we talked about David as king of Israel. We talked about how he was an amazing military leader who led Israel to many victories. We also talked about how he was a good person, who wanted to do right by the promise he made Jonathan, so he brought Jonathan’s son into his house. It was easy to see why God would choose David for the leader of his people, and why in 1 Samuel 13:14 David is called “a man after God’s own heart.” David didn’t just pursue power, he pursued God, and led the people of Israel where God wanted them to go.

But David was still human. And the story we’re going to study today we’re not just talking about a “little” sin like lying. We’re talking about gross abuses of power, betrayal, rape, and murder. So please open your Bibles to 2 Samuel 11:1. Someone read just that one verse please.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

This one verse sets up this entire section. It’s spring and the verse specifically says it’s the time when kings go out to battle. We’ve already seen in last week’s lesson that David wasn’t afraid of battle, and he was on the forefront of many battle fields! David wasn’t the sort of the king to sit back in his castle and let other people die. David was a king who joined his men on the front lines. Until now. Why? Why did David stay home? We don’t know, we can’t say, but we can say that from the verse pointing out that kings are supposed to go to battle, that the writer is condemning the fact that David stayed home. He should have gone out with men.

Instead, for whatever reason he stays home.

There is an old saying, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” It’s a saying that means bored people are more likely to get up to mischief, and this is the exact sort of situation that phrase is referring to. David is bored—by his own doing, he could have gone out to battle—and as such, he gets himself into trouble.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 11:2-4.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.

One afternoon, David is lounging about, bored, so he goes to his roof. Now David has a palace, so his roof is going to be higher than anyone else in Jerusalem’s roofs. So from his roof, he can see everyone else’s roofs. From his roof he sees this beautiful woman, Bathsheba bathing on her roof.

Why is Bathsheba bathing on her roof? Well the Bible explains it right there. “She was purifying herself after her period.” There are actually Mosaic laws about what a woman can and cannot do while she is on her period. During Old Testament times and even still today in Orthodox Judaism, a woman was considered “unclean” while she was on her period. This meant she couldn’t touch other people or else she would make them unclean too. Now that seems crazy to us, but there are logical reasons for this. Back then they didn’t have the same sort of hygiene products we have. Literally all they could for any sort of bleeding was press bandages to it. They didn’t have band-aids, ace bandages, pads, or tampons. So if a woman was on her period, back in the time when people live in tents, she would go hang out in a special women’s tent. I’m not sure what exactly they did in David’s time, but Bathsheba probably didn’t leave her house while she was on her period.

In Biblical law, a woman was considered unclean for up to seven days *after* her period. And then to symbolize she was clean, she had to go through a bathing ritual. So that is what Bathsheba is doing. She is not on her roof, bathing naked to tempt men—the thought wouldn’t have even crossed her mind. No one else would be able to see her roof except from the palace and it’s not like she would think the king is out spying on her.

She is on her roof bathing because she is following Biblical law. This is what we know of Bathsheba. She is a married woman, cleaning herself so she can be considered Biblically clean again.

Unbeknownst to her David sees her and she’s beautiful. So he asks about her. “Who is this beautiful woman?” And he is told, she is the wife of Uriah. He is told: she is married. 

Instead of being like “bummer. Guess I can’t ask her to be my wife then.” David sends messengers to her house.

Now Bathsheba is married to Uriah, a man who we later learn is a soldier for David. A man who is currently at war on David’s behest. Imagine, your husband is at war in your king’s army, and suddenly your king sends messengers to your door. What are you thinking? You might be thinking, “My husband is dead, and the king is sending for me so he can tell me himself.” We don’t know what the messengers told her, but regardless, back then if your king called for you to come to the palace, you would come. You wouldn’t defy him. That could be dangerous not just for her but her husband. So when the king calls you to the palace, you come to the palace.

So David has Bathsheba brought to the palace and David rapes her.

For a long time in church history that statement “David raped Bathsheba” would be considered controversial. There was a long time in church history when this story was basically taught as a warning about seducing women, leading men astray, but I want to be clear that is not what this story is about. Bathsheba did not bathe on her roof so David would see her. She bathed on her roof to meet Biblical mandates about cleanliness. Bathsheba was a married woman who the Bible makes clear later was innocent. She was commanded to come to the palace by her king. She obeyed her king, as is expected of a woman in her time.

This story is about David’s abuse of power. Let’s not forget, David has multiple wives. If he wanted to have sex with someone, he has many women he can choose from. Why did he choose Bathsheba? Because he saw her and he wanted to her and he was king so no one could stop him.

And Bathsheba? What choice did she have? She was brought to the palace, probably fearing the worst, that she was about to be told her husband was dead, and instead her king makes advances on her. She is a woman with absolutely no power in this situation. She is in David’s house—you can’t just leave the king’s presence. She may not even know the way out. We don’t know what happened behind those closed doors. Did Bathsheba go along with it so that it would be easier? Did she refuse and David attacked her? We don’t know. But as we will see later, the Bible makes it clear that in this scenario, Bathsheba did nothing wrong.

It is David who betrays the trust of his subject and abuses his power for nothing but a temporary pleasure.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 11:5-8

5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.

Bathsheba gets pregnant, and David is the only possible option for the father, because her husband is at war. So she sends message to David because she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do. It’s his child. She didn’t ask for this situation.

Now David instead of taking responsibility, he connives a plan. He has Joab—his commander—send Uriah home. He does it under the guise of being a good king who is asking how the war is going and what Uriah thinks. And then he sends Uriah home. He doesn’t tell Uriah that he raped his wife. He doesn’t tell Uriah that his wife is pregnant. Instead he wants Uriah to go home and sleep with Bathsheba so that Uriah will think that Bathsheba’s child is his child.

David is trying to cover up his sin with deception and deceit.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 11:9-13.

9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths;[a] and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

But David underestimates Uriah. Instead of going to his home, Uriah sleeps at the entrance of the palace. And when David finds out he’s like “Why didn’t you go home?” And Uriah says he didn’t because how can he sleep in comfort when all of his men are camping in the fields?” Uriah is a good person, a loyal person, a person who trusts his leader, and is a good leader himself.

David then tries to get him drunk and send him home so he will sleep with his wife, but he gets Uriah too drunk and instead Uriah sleeps it off at the palace.

Uriah unknowingly thwarts David’s deceitful plans twice.

So what is David to do? Fess up? That would be the right thing to do. But David isn’t going to do the right thing here.

Someone reason 2 Samuel 11:14-15.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

David’s plan to deceive Uriah fails, and his backup plan? His backup plan is just to have Uriah killed. His backup plan is one of the most despicable things a general can do. Betray his soldier. Now this isn’t a scenario where a general knows a mission might lead to his men’s death, but he is honest with his men, and they all go in with their eyes open to the risk. This is a scenario where the general specifically sends a man into a dangerous situation with no purpose other than to kill him.

Yet another example of David’s extreme abuse of power.

Someone read 2 Samuel 11:16-18.

16 As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17 The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting;

So out in the war, at the battlefront, Joab is besieging a city and he sends Uriah to the most dangerous part of the battle for no other purpose for him to die. And Uriah being a loyal trusting soldier who trusts his commanders, he goes and he fights.

And he dies.

Joab sends the news back to David, that the battle didn’t go as expected. He tells the messenger that if David gets mad about how many men were killed or how the battle went just to say, “Well Uriah died.”

Someone please read 2 Samuel 11:22-25.

22 So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24 Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 25 David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

The messenger delivers the news to David about how the enemy gained advantage over them and many people died—including Uriah. And David tells the messenger to tell Joab “Don’t worry about it. Be encouraged. You got this.”

Basically David doesn’t mind how many of his own people died, because well at least Uriah died!

This is despicable. He threw men away like pawns just to kill one man who did nothing wrong.

Someone read 2 Samuel 11:26-27.

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the 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,

Bathsheba hears her husband is dead and she is devastated. She loved Uriah, and now he is dead. So she goes into mourning. Back then there were “mourning periods” that is the acceptable amount of time a person should mourn and everyone should be respectful of them mourning. You can’t do things like get re-married during a mourning period.

So David waits until her mourning period is over, and then is basically like “You’re my wife now.”

Bathsheba had very little choice in this matter. If she didn’t marry David, everyone would know her child is illegitimate. They might kill her for having committed adultery. At the very least, as a widow with a child, she would probably end up in poverty. So marrying the man who raped her and killed her husband is really her only choice.

Not that she could say no to the king anyway.

So let’s tally what David did here. Not only did he commit adultery, but it wasn’t consensual adultery, meaning he raped her. Then to cover up his sin he tried to deceive Uriah, and when that didn’t work he had Uriah murdered. And then he basically made the woman he raped marry him.

Do we think God is happy with this course of action?

No. No he’s not. And he’s not just going to let David’s sin go.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 12:1-6.

12 1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

God sends Nathan—who you will remember is the current prophet of God—to talk to David. Nathan shows up and he doesn’t just go in full guns blazing, demanding David repent, because he knows David is so deep in his sin that he doesn’t even really realize what he did was wrong. So instead Nathan tells him a story about these two men—a rich man and a poor man.

This rich guy he says has many flocks and herds, so all sorts of sheep and animals and is very well off. While the poor man has one little lamb that he loves, that he is completely devoted to.

One day a stranger shows up and the rich man needs to prepare a meal for him and he doesn’t want to kill one of his own animals so he steals the poor man’s lamb and slaughters it.

David hears about this gross injustice and is incised. He recognizes this story about lambs as the injustice it is. So David is like “The rich man should die for what he has done but at the very least he shall give that man for lambs back since he stole the one!”

Someone please read 2 Samuel 12:7-12.

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

Nathan responds to David with “You are the rich man in this story, dude! You are the one who has done this! You had all this wealth and wives, given to you by God, and instead you felt the need to steal the one wife of your servant! And because of this, you will be punished! There will be trouble in your family. You will lose your wives and everyone will be able to see it. Because while you do things secretly, David, I am God, and everyone will see your punishment.”

Now there are a couple of things I want to pause and point out here. Earlier I mentioned that historically many people have read this story of David and Bathsheba as a story where Bathsheba seduces David. However, it is clear here in the metaphor that Nathan told about the lambs, that neither God nor Nathan blame Bathsheba for what has happened. She is compared to an innocent lamb. Adultery is not something God takes lightly. Adultery, if you remember, is a fancy word for married people cheating on their spouses. But here and nowhere in the text does Nathan or God yell at Bathsheba for committing adultery. Instead it compares her to an innocent lamb who has no choice in the matter. This reinforces that Bathsheba was raped is the appropriate interpretation of the text. Bathsheba had NO CHOICE. She was just a lamb stolen from her master.

Another thing I want to point out is that by comparing Bathsheba to a lamb, Nathan is also basically saying Bathsheba is property. And this entire punishment is very male centric. We’ve talked about before how the Bible was written during very patriarchal times. Patriarchal means men are in charge and women are viewed as less than and property. We can even see that in how this story is written. Never once does the writer consider how Bathsheba might be feeling, other than when it points out she mourned her husband. If a modern person, or a woman, had written this text, they might dwell more on how an actual crime was committed against Bathsheba, and not just Uriah.

Patriarchy is the culture of the time, it is the backdrop of the Old Testament. But I do not want us to every interpret that as “God thinks women are less and doesn’t care about them.” We will see stories over and over again that counter that. And the fact that this time period is so incredibly patriarchal only serves to underscore the ways in which God subverts the patriarchy.

What do I mean by that? Well in patriarchal cultures, there is this tendency to blame women when things like rape happen to them. Women are more likely to be punished for sexual sin, in patriarchal cultures, then the man they committed the sexual sin here. But God subverts that understanding here by not blaming Bathsheba at all, and by solely laying the blame at David’s feet.

It is David who grossly abused his power. It is David who will be punished.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 12:13-15.

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord,[a] the child that is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.

Finally David realizes what he has done is wrong, and he admits his wrongdoing before God and Nathan. Nathan says because David realized his sin here, his punishment will not be death. However, his actions have “utterly scorned the Lord,” basically meaning he has shown completely disrespect and disregard for God and his laws. And because of that this curse of family strife will still be on David and the first part of that is the child born to him will die.

Now this may seem like it’s also a punishment for Bathsheba and maybe it is. Maybe she wanted this baby and she will mourn the loss. But also maybe her entire life she would have resented the baby for what it represented it: her rape and Uriah’s murder.  Unfortunately a side effect of the male centric view of the Bible is that we will never know how Bathsheba felt about this. But the baby does die.

However, God did not completely forget Bathsheba or make her suffer more than she already had. Skip forward and someone please read 2 Samuel 12:24-25.

24 Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he named him Solomon. The Lord loved him, 25 and sent a message by the prophet Nathan; so he named him Jedidiah,[a] because of the Lord.

After the baby dies, David goes to Bathsheba and gets her pregnant again, with a son named Solomon. It also says the prophet called him “Jedidiah.” If you look at the footnote in your Bible it will say that Jedidiah means “Beloved of the Lord.”

So God remembers Bathsheba and gives her another son, a son he loves, and not just any son. But we’ll later see that Solomon comes to be David’s heir, the king after David.

I think this is God remembering Bathsheba and giving her something, a counter to all the terrible suffering she went through. David was always going to have an heir. There was always going to be a king after him. But he had many wives, and Bathsheba was far from his first. Solomon was not his oldest kid by any means. And we’ll see later how Solomon ends up being king. But I think part of God having Bathsheba being the mother of the heir is to show to her love and raise her up, despite the fact that David tried to pull her down.

This whole sequence in the Bible is one sin after another. David commits adultery and rape. He murders Uriah. He abuses his power asking again and again. These are all sins I hope no one in this room ever commits, sins so great that in modern society you would go to jail for them.

And yet despite all of this, David is still considered the greatest king Israel has ever had and is considered a man after God’s own heart. Why?

Well we all sin. And yes your lie may not be as bad as David’s murder on a societal scale and how it hurts other people, but it still separates you from God. And when we recognize our sins and ask forgiveness, like David, God forgives us and doesn’t hold it against us. Yes there will be consequences for our actions, but God doesn’t let our sins stop him from loving us, and we don’t have to let our sins stop us from pursuing him.