Is it possible to erase a lifetime of usefulness in one moment of weakness? That seemed to have been the case with David. He lived an exemplary life that pointed forward to Jesus—until his sordid affair with Bathsheba. As Alistair Begg recounts the defining moment of the king’s moral collapse, he points out dangers to avoid and warnings to heed. Yet as we seek to deal with temptation in its infancy, we must also trust that God overcomes sin and shame, never abandons His people, and never loses control of His purposes.
Sermon Transcript: Print
And having sung of the Word of God, I invite you to turn now to it and to 2 Samuel and to chapter 11, and to follow along as I read from the first verse. Two Samuel 11:1:
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Gracious God, we come now to the Bible, and as always, we come in need of the divine work of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to listen together, helping me as I seek to speak, and taking up this offering, as it were, to be used according to your eternal purpose. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
These words in relationship to King Uzziah fit, I think, very much with the passage of Scripture to which we begin to turn this morning; and the Chronicler said of him, “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped”—“marvelously helped [until] he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God.” Now, I say to you that that was written concerning King Uzziah. You know King Uzziah. You know Isaiah 6: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” That’s the Uzziah. But this is not Uzziah we’re considering. This is the great king of Israel. This is this man of exemplary character thus far, this one to whom we have been looking over a period of weeks and months. And we find ourselves coming to material that for many of us is familiar, but nevertheless coming to it and saying to ourselves, “What are we to make of this collapse? What are we to make of this?” Because we have followed David from shepherd boy to God’s anointed king.
And it’s safe to say that recently, at least, things have been going very, very well for him. He has built a magnificent reputation. We have found him triumphing over the enemies of God; showing kindness to those who are undeserving of it; ruling with justice and with equity, or with righteousness; in chapter 9, extending the hesed love of God to the descendants of his archenemy Saul; in chapter 10, doing the same on a foreign basis, reaching out with kindness to Hanun on the strength of his father, Nahash. And in all of this we have found ourselves able to say, “Here we have it: the promise of God to King David. Look at David, and look at how he points us forward to none other than his great greater Son—namely, Jesus Christ himself.”
But now this. Here he is at the pinnacle of his power. He is able to command and to control everyone and everything, it would seem—everyone and everything, of course, except himself. The adjectives concerning David that we’ve been employing are routine for us now. He was good. He was brave. He was kind. He was faithful. He was generous. He was righteous. But now the adjectives have to change. Now, the words are bad, willful, cowardly, corrupt.
This is surely one of the most embarrassing pieces of Old Testament history, because it is an account—an unalloyed account—of lust, adultery, treachery, and murder. Frankly, we would prefer not to discuss it. Actually, it would be good if we could have cast a veil of silence over it and been done with it and moved on somewhere else, but here we have it. The Bible has recorded for us the whole sorry, sordid affair. And I’ve been living with this now for some time, delaying to come to it, as you would have noticed, by two weeks, to try and pluck up sufficient courage. Because the narrative provides us with more than we want to know about David and far more than we want to face about ourselves.
Aye, there’s the rub: Is it possible—is it actually possible—to erase a life of usefulness in the space of an afternoon? For that’s what happens here. Here in this incident, a defining moment, a dark shadow is cast over his life. No matter what anybody said about him from that point on, they could never actually say it without mentioning this. So, for example, the Chronicler, the one who keeps the chronicles and the records of the kings, in 1 [Kings] 15, this is what it says: “David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that [the Lord had] commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” A dark blot, a defining moment.
So, to the text. In verse 1 we have the context. Actually, in verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2 we have the context: “In the spring of the year…” “In the spring of the year…” Winter is over, the rainy season has passed, it’s not time for harvest, and this is the time when battle would be resumed. It is, if you like, in the words of Ecclesiastes, “a time for war.” And as we’ve already noted, the Ammonite war, or the war against Ammon, has set the bigger context in which this incident is found. And the Ammonites have already had a pounding, but it hasn’t been enough to silence them or to send them home entirely.
Back in 10:14, I think you will remember that Joab, after he had led the troops, returned from fighting against the Ammonites, and he came to Jerusalem. By the end of that chapter, the Syrians had had enough. They were mercenaries in any case, and they decided to leave the Ammonites on their own. The Ammonites then shored themselves up in their capital city of Rabbah, which is contemporary Ammon, and they represented still a threat. So, we’re told, “in the spring of the year, the time when [the] kings go out to battle, David sent Joab.” Joab was one of his mighty men. He sent him with his team, the tough fellows, who were then the leaders of the army of Israel. And we’re told that they “ravaged the Ammonites” and they besieged the city of Rabbah.
Now, that is, if you like, looking through the long lens. That is the long lens and looking and seeing what’s going on in the big picture. In the beginning of verse 2, the context is more focused for us. Now we have a closeup. The long lens gives us a picture of a military battle: a battle that was being waged by the armies of Israel, and a battle that was successful. Now the camera changes and brings us up close to another battle, but not a military battle; a moral battle. And in this battle, the king is about to collapse.
Now, it’s customary when we read this to make much of the fact that it says that David remained at Jerusalem in the time that kings go out to war. And I think it is put in this way in order that we might be forced to say to ourselves as we’re reading it, “I wonder, is that going to prove significant?” Even in English, the way it’s translated and given to us there: the Ammonites were besieged at Rabbah, “but David remained at Jerusalem.” But we need to say as well that this wasn’t the first occasion in which David had not gone out to battle. It was entirely legitimate for him to be able to do what he did. After all, he was the king; he had a lot on his plate and so on. And so, to make more of it than that, I think, is probably somewhat irrelevant.
But we need to recognize that the picture that we are given here is of the king who is the chosen of God—the one, remember, way back in 1 Samuel , where “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” That’s him. It wasn’t that his heart was so full of God; it was that God’s heart was so full of David. Samuel had been sent by God: “I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
Now, David knew this. He knew this. He knew exactly that God had reached into his life and had taken hold of him. If you’re turning pages, you can just look at what I’m telling you in 7:8, where “Now, therefore, thus [shall you] say to my servant David,” and then Nathan’s oracle to David reinforces these things: “I took you from the pasture—you were a shepherd—that you should be the prince over my people.” Verse 9: “And I’ve been with you wherever you went. I’ve gone before you. I’ve come behind you. I’ve provided for you. I will make of you a great name like the name of the great ones of the earth. David, you’re gonna be one of the most famous people in the entire history of the world.” That’s what he’s saying. “Because I have set my heart upon you. And I have chosen you to be my king.”
Now, when you follow on in that chapter, where you have David’s prayer of gratitude in chapter 7, where he responds to God, then you realize that he understood this. And so, “David went in,” 2 Samuel 7:18: “King David went in and sat before the Lord.” And as he sat there, he said, “Who am I? Who am I? What is my house, that you’ve brought me thus far? What more can I say to you? You know your servant, Lord God.”
And then this: “It happened, late one afternoon…”
So let’s keep this in mind: that this is God’s designated king, through whom the promises have been given and through whom the purposes of God for his people are being set forward. And I say to you again: Is it really possible that God’s purpose in history can be set forward with this man, now so unlike Jesus and so much like us?
Now, it’s important to think this out. Because throughout the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, in Hebrews, where you have the hall of fame, or the “hall of faith,” in Hebrews 11, when you read those names, you’re not reading the names of the squeaky clean. You’re not reading the names of the people who had a perfect background, did it perfectly, and were always the top of their class. No, in actual fact, it’s a motley crew—starting with Abraham, “the man of faith.” Remember Abraham, “the man of faith,” who passed his wife off as his sister because he was chicken? And we’re supposed to emulate the faith of Abraham? What about Jacob? What a conniving rascal he was! Rahab, a Jericho prostitute. Samson, a meathead—with long hair!—and a lecher.
This is what John Bright says of this—and I found this so wonderfully helpful; that’s why I’m quoting it for you: “If we[’re] going to take the [Bible] witness at all seriously, we must [acknowledge] that it was in this history, and through these very human and often clay-footed [characters], that God worked his redemptive history; and it was to this history, and to no other, that he sent his Christ. And in this history ambiguous David played an essential part.” “In this history,” the “ambiguous David played a central part.”
Now, let’s just look at this briefly, because it doesn’t really need elaboration, does it? Any child here can see what’s going on. They may want to talk about it at lunchtime, and I do pray that my words will be sufficiently sensible and guarded as to prevent any undue considerations of parental matters. You will notice that this—if we might say, this regrettable incident—is recorded in a rather matter-of-fact way, isn’t it? “It happened, late one afternoon, when [he] arose from his couch…” He’s allowed to take a siesta; so are you. He’s been relaxing; that’s legitimate. Perhaps up there on the roof he’s saying to himself, “Life is good.” It was. “I’m so glad that I’ve got such a great team. Joab is a tough man. He’ll take care of things down in Rabbah.”
Now, what is interesting, when you read this narrative, is that there is no editorial on the part of the writer. There is no explanation given by the writer. It’s just the straightforward facts. He doesn’t allow us to go behind the scenes in the way that almost inevitably we do. I’ve already alluded to that by beginning with King Uzziah. Because I think it is at least legitimate for us to say or to ask: Is it possible—is it possible—that David’s undeserved success, his prosperity and his position, his position as king of the hill, was actually beginning to go to his head? After all, it would be pretty hard for him not to be at least a little bit intoxicated by this—all those songs sung about him, all these military battles, all the word that is out concerning him. And after all, here he is!
Now, as I say to you, there is no background provided by the writer, just the unvarnished verbs. He is “walking on the roof” of his house—flat-roofed house, clearly, in case the children are going, “How do you do that, Dad?” “Well, don’t go up there. It’s like this.” No, it was flat.
Now, you’ll forgive me for this, won’t you?
When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face,
I climb way up to the top of the stairs,
And all my cares just drift right into space.
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be,
And there the world below can’t bother me.
Let me tell you now ….
On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so.
… Let’s go up on the roof.
At night the stars put on a show for free,
And darling, you can share it all with me. …
Right smack dab in the middle of [the] town
I found a paradise that’s trouble-proof,
Up on the roof.
That’s Carole King. The Drifters had a hit with it; James Taylor sings it as well. He didn’t know anything about that song. But it’s “up on the roof.”
Here’s a question: Where was his wife? One of his wives, at least! Surely he could have had one with him? Uh-uh. Apparently not. So his vantage proves to be his great disadvantage. He’s safe from the street, but he’s not safe from himself. Look at the verbs: “saw,” “sent,” “took,” “lay.” Look at how Bathsheba’s described: “the woman.” “The woman.” There’s almost an objective perspective in the way it is unfolded for us.
And the progression is a downward spiral. First of all, “he saw.” “He saw.” Well, he had this vantage point. “He saw from the roof a woman bathing.” And we’re told that she “was very beautiful.” There’s a number of times in the Old Testament where somebody, a lady, is described in that way, and two of them you would know. One is Rebecca, in Genesis, and the other, some of you will remember, who were in the honors class, is Esther. And remember that the king couldn’t believe his… I was gonna say his luck, but, I mean, he just couldn’t believe it, because Esther “had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at.” And so was this lady.
Now, it would appear that David knew nothing about a covenant with his eyes. You remember Job? Job 31:1: “I have made a covenant with my eyes so that I don’t get myself in a major problem.” Apparently, he didn’t know anything about that. He couldn’t help seeing her, but he could prevent himself from staring at her. It wasn’t a problem that he caught a glimpse; the problem was when he started to gaze. I’m not gonna expand on this right now, but let’s just state facts as facts: Men are sexually attracted and stimulated by the female body. Fact. If you doubt that, then just pay attention to the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry, which bears testimony to that reality. God has made us as he’s made us. And so it is that in this case, the eye is the point of entry through which temptation comes, as it is so often for us—hence legitimate concerns in terms of our lives, our viewing, our reading, our gazing, our children, our children’s viewing, our cell phones, our iPads, our everything. Facts are facts. “He saw.”
He “sent.” He “sent.” You see, again, he’s powerful. He doesn’t have to go down himself. He gets somebody else to do this for him: “I’d like you to inquire about her.”
You see, you sow a thought, you reap an action. It all starts in your head. He saw her and began to think about it. He could have put it away at that point. No, he says, “I’ve gotta just see who she is.” Really? “Well, who is this woman?” And then the report comes back, and he finds out that her name is Bathsheba, that she actually is married to somebody who is a very close part of his life. And he realizes, as we discover, that her husband is out of town.
Now, that should have been enough, shouldn’t it? “I was just wondering… I saw a lady down there. Could you just check out who she is?” The guy comes by and he says, “Yeah. That’s Uriah’s wife.” Well, that should be the end of the conversation. Why? Because David knew the commandments of God. You don’t commit adultery. You don’t covet your neighbor’s wife. God made it in such a way—Genesis 2:24—that it would be one man, one woman, together, forever, “till death do us part.” David knew all of that! So what in the world is he doing? Well, you see, it’s what happens, isn’t it? You see, when lust gets you, conscience goes. When lust gets you, reason is obliterated. And you can see it here. The temptation has been presented; a way of escape is there for him in the discovery that she is someone else’s wife. But he doesn’t stop. And so he “took her.”
Well, it actually says, doesn’t it—verse 4—that again he sent the messengers to take her? “And she came.” Now, I’m not gonna get caught up on this, but it’s a conversation for some of you later on, if you choose. You know, who is culpable in this? Is it just David, or has she got a little bit of the action as well? We’re not gonna have a conversation about it, okay? The commentators vary. Calvin is pretty well down on her, as you might expect. He says she would know that you shouldn’t be standing around in a situation like that with all your clothes off, because it would be obvious to her that anybody could see her, and therefore, that would be an indication of the fact that either she thought she was really good looking or that she didn’t care if anybody saw her. And he said that’s not a very wholesome way to approach life. Somebody else says, “Oh, leave her alone. She was just doing what she normally does, and David, he was climbing up a lamppost” or whatever it might be.
The fact of the matter is, neither of them should be viewed as victims of circumstance. Neither. There is a willfulness about the sending, there is a willfulness about the taking, there is a willfulness about the coming.
I mean, what did he say to his friends, to his messengers? “Could you bring her here?”
“Well, I thought I might like to have coffee with her. I mean, she… She looked like an interesting person.”
“What? Give me a break!” None of his messengers would have bought that.
And what about her? What was she doing? “Oh,” you say, “well, he’s the king. If the king sends, you have to go.” Women are a lot stronger than that. They’re a lot smarter than that. So is it really that she fancied a fling with a king? Or did she say, “What’s to be a problem having coffee? I mean, it’s not a problem.” No, it’s never a problem, is it? Not when you’re on track to disaster.
The fourth verb is there: “And he lay with her.” “He lay with her.” And “then she returned to her house.” He saw, he sent, he took, he slept, she left. It’s horrible, isn’t it? “The woman.” “The woman” is gone.
You read C. S. Lewis on the monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside the framework of marriage, and it will help you immensely. I’m not going to quote it now. But as a child of the ’60s, where sexual incontinence became absolutely rampant and the boundaries were broken apart—and I was a teenager at the time, and some of you were too—and the poets and the songwriters, certainly in the UK, were very, very quick to fasten on this, and in certain cases to describe it in a way that made it wonderfully appealing, and in other cases, as in the one I’m about to quote for you now, to point out the absolute, horrible emptiness of the entire thing. And this is Roger McGough, who was one of the Liverpool poets. And he wrote a poem that goes as follows:
The Act of Love lies somewhere
between the belly and the mind
I lost the love sometime ago
Now I’ve only the act to grind.
Brought her home from a party
don’t bother swapping names
identity’s not needed
when you’re only playing games.
High on [the] bedroom darkness
we endure the pantomime
ships that go bang in the night
run aground on the [sand] of time.
Saved in the nick of [time]
it’s cornflakes then goodbye
another notch on the headboard
another day wondering why.
The Act of Love lies somewhere
between the belly and the mind
[And] I lost the love sometime ago
Now I’ve only the act to grind.
David had a problem with women. We’ve tried to point it out as we’re going along. Michal was number one. Abigail, Ahinoam. Go to chapter 3 and see the list that is there. What did he think he was doing? Did he think that somehow or another God was only interested in everybody else except him? He knew in Deuteronomy the great concern about the establishing of a kingdom and a king: that the king should not be always taking to himself, and certainly not taking to himself many wives. Actually, it’s a mystery, isn’t it, that so soon after Genesis 2—“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” and so on, right—almost immediately after that, it goes into polygamy. It goes into multiple wives.
God somehow or another permits this, presumably to show the absolute disaster that is represented when anybody steps out of the perfect framework that he has given for marital love, for sexual fulfillment, and so on. What other reason could there be? It’s not there to attract us. And David, if you like, was part of that milieu, in the same way that we are part of a contemporary milieu that pays scant attention to the law of God, to the idea of marriage itself, to the sense of sexual continence and so on. And if we have been marinated in that kind of thinking, it won’t be very difficult for us to find ourselves on this downward spiral to disaster.
“Well,” you say, “we should stop.” Yeah, we will stop now.
The problem is, you see, that David is not saved in the nick of time. No, the word comes, sent back to him: “I’m pregnant.”
Now, we’ll pick it up, but let me make just a couple of points of connection as we close. Because here is the question: How, then, are we to make application of this and all that is about to follow to our lives?
Well, there’s two immediate dangers in this passage. There’s many, but these two I want to point out. And that is—and I hear this frequently—the danger of using this incident as a shelter behind which men and women seek to hide, to excuse our offenses. And it’s most horrible prospectively, when you meet with somebody and you say to them, “You must not do this. She is not your territory. He is beyond your program.” And in a warped way, it comes back like this: “Well, David did it, and he was okay in the end.” That’s the one wrong way. And the other way is to find in this incident the accusations of the Evil One to the point that we find ourselves completely perplexed and bewildered and upset. Because the Evil One comes to us when we study a passage like this, and he says, “Now, let me just remind you of something.” And he wants you to rummage around in the garbage can of sin that has been long forgiven, that has been cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness. So, on the one hand, we’re not gonna use it as a mechanism to excuse ourselves. On the other hand, we’re not gonna allow the Evil One to use it as a tool to uncover that which has already been covered.
Secondly, we need to see it as illustrating horribly the fact that the heart of an individual is “deceitful above all things.” “Deceitful above all things.” That’s why we have to learn to be skeptical. Not cynical, but skeptical! Skeptical about ourselves, first of all. Why do you want to meet her? I tell the guys on my pastoral team, “If you’ve got a lady coming to see you for counseling in some context, and you’re looking forward to it, and she’s not your wife or your daughter, then ask somebody else to see her. Why would you be looking forward to this? What, did you catch her perfume in the hallway when she asked if she could see you?” The heart is deceitful above all things. It is so deceitful that we don’t know how deceived we are.
Thirdly, to see this as a solemn warning—a solemn warning about saying to ourselves, “Hey, I’ve done pretty well. I’m doing pretty good. I like it up here on the roof. This is nice! I’ve got people who can do this for me. They can go.” Look out! Look out. So often, success becomes the occasion of collapse.
And then to recognize in this the necessity of making sure that we deal with sin in its infancy, that we learn to heed the warnings, that we don’t try and jump the hedges. To recognize, too, how hard our heart becomes when we ignore the stirrings of our conscience, when we find ourselves saying, “Well, this must be very useful for somebody else, but not me.”
And then finally—finally—to recognize that God, in the mystery of his providence, overcomes the effects of sin and shame, that he never abandons his people, that he never loses control of his purposes. That was the question, wasn’t it? Is it possible that God, who made these promises to this man, would yet fulfill his promises through this man? And the answer, of course, as we’re going to see, is yes. “Well,” you say to yourself, “that’s amazing!” This is amazing grace. This is amazing grace.
Listen to this as we close: “Since then [in Jesus] we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, … the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do[n’t] have a high priest who[’s] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Well, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
So, we heed the warning: “Let him or her, she, who thinks she stands take heed lest she falls.” And then, when we find ourselves saying, “I wonder if I’m ever going to make it to the end,” we hear this benediction: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
 2 Chronicles 26:15–16 (ESV).
 Isaiah 6:1 (ESV).
 1 Kings 15:5 (ESV).
 Ecclesiastes 3:8 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 13:14 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 16:1 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 7:8–9 (paraphrased).
 2 Samuel 7:18, 20 (paraphrased).
 Galatians 3:9 (ESV).
 John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), 232.
 Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Up on the Roof” (1962).
 Esther 2:7 (ESV).
 Job 31:1 (paraphrased).
 Robert McGough, “The Act of Love,” in Selected Poems (New York: Penguin 2006), 26.
 See Deuteronomy 17:17.
 Genesis 2:24 (paraphrased).
 Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV).
 Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV).
 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).
 Jude 24–25 (ESV).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.