Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-15
One of the pieces of evidence in favour of the trustworthiness of the Bible is the remarkable honesty with which it tells us about its heroes: Abraham, Moses, Peter, Paul – the portrait of each and every saint is painted warts and all. We are told of their failures as well as their triumphs. So it is with David, shepherd, giant-killer, poet, soldier, and king: here is a very great man; here is ‘a man after God’s own heart’. But at the same time that David’s army is winning a military battle on foreign soil, Scripture records that he is losing a moral battle at home.
This story of David’s moral failure is a vivid illustration of a principle taught in James 1:13-15. The principle is this: sin is not just a one-off event, it is part of a process. Sin has, as it were, a ‘domino effect’. Evil desire leads to sin, and sin leads to death. In other words, there are triggers, and there are consequences. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. The trigger was an unguarded moment. Vv 1-5. It was spring-time, the time when kings go off to war. David had sent his army, under its commander, Joab, to besiege the city of Rabbah,. But David stayed at home in Jerusalem, relaxing. He could afford to. This was a time of military strength, of material prosperity, of personal leisure. This was the unguarded moment.
No doubt, when he decided to stay at home, when he went for his afternoon siesta, when he went up to the palace roof for a stroll in the cool of the evening, even when he took that first glance at the beautiful woman who was bathing in the courtyard below, the thought of adultery had not crossed David’s mind. But calamity was close at hand, in this his unguarded moment.
He allows the casual glance to become a lustful gaze. He sends a servant to find out who the woman is. Her name is Bathsheba, and she’s the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah is away with Joab, fighting David’s battle for him. “She’s already married!” thinks David. “But after all,” he says to himself, “I am a king; she is fit for a king; why did she have to marry that foreigner in the first place; he’s away from home; and no-one need ever know; and it’s just this once; and I’ll never do it again; and well, I feel so strongly about her that it could almost be love (and love, of course, changes everything)…” Thus David might have reasoned with himself in his unguarded moment. And thus temptation presents itself, clothing itself with any number of plausible excuses.
‘We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colours, saying, “I am your deadly enemy, and I want to ruin you for ever in hell.” Oh, no! sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss; and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve; yet it cast her out of Eden. The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David; yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation.’ (Ryle)
We too need to beware the unguarded moment. The words of Paul in 1 Co 10:12 drive the point home: ‘If you think you’re standing firm, be careful you don’t fall!’
2. The consequence was a web of deceit. Verses 6-15. David had sent for Bathsheba; he had slept with her, and she has returned home. But she sends word back that she has become pregnant. David panics. He must at all costs cover up his adultery. So he starts to weave his web of deceit.
He tries PLAN A, verses 6-11. This involves calling Uriah back from the battle-field and trying to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. That way, of course, everyone can think that it was Uriah, not David, who has made Bathsheba pregnant. David receives Uriah at the palace. “Uriah, I was just wondering. How’s Joab? And the rest of the soldiers? How’s the war going? Uriah, how would you like to take the night off? I’m sure your wife has been missing you. Why don’t you go home, and freshen yourself up? I’ll send some food down to your house and you can both enjoy a nice supper. Soft lights – relaxing music: you know the kind of thing. And then who can tell what might happen?” David has started to spin his web of deceit.
But, unfortunately for David, Uriah doesn’t seem think that spending the night tucked up in bed with his wife is a very soldierly thing to do. Instead, Uriah sleeps at the entrance to the palace with David’s servants. Uriah didn’t go home to his wife, and everyone knew that he hadn’t gone home to her.
So David tries PLAN B, verses 12f. This involves getting Uriah to do when drunk what he had refused to do when sober. David invites Uriah to a banquet at the palace. David makes him drunk, and then tells him to go home and sleep it off, in his own bed, with his own wife, of course. So David spins yet more deceit. But Uriah still won’t go home. Even when drunk, Uriah’s resolve doesn’t weaken.
In desperation, David hits upon PLAN C, verses 14f. He writes a letter, and instructs Uriah to deliver it to Joab on the battle-field. Little did Uriah realise that he was being made to carry his own death warrant! In the letter, David tells Joab that Uriah must be sent to the front line of the battle. Then the soldiers around him are to retreat, leaving Uriah a simple target for the enemy.
This plan worked a treat. Uriah was duly killed in battle. Bathsheba was now free to marry David. Joab could be relied on to keep quiet. It seemed like the perfect crime. From now on, David could pretend to all around him, and perhaps even to himself, that everything was back to normal.
But there was, of course, one great flaw in David’s attempted cover-up. He might be able to deceive others. He might even be able to deceive himself. But he could not deceive the Lord, v27: ‘But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.’ God knew what David had done, and sooner or later God would call him to account.
There is another universal truth here that applies to each one of us, as well as to David. Our own sin can lead so easily to a web of deceit. In attempting to cover it up we lie to others, and we may deceive ourselves, but God sees us, and sees into us, and sees through us. As David himself once confessed, ‘O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.’ As Heb 4:13 reminds us, ‘nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’ What peace of mind, what joy of forgiveness is quickly experienced by those who have stopped pretending!
We noted how honest the Bible is in dealing with its heroes. How remarkable and how wonderful, therefore, that those same Scriptures tell us that there is One who, though tempted just like us, never sinned. He is able to sympathise with our weakness. He is able to help us in our time of need. Through him, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. He will never let us down. He is, of course, our Redeemer, the man Christ Jesus, ‘great David’s greater son’:-
Heb 4:15f ‘We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’