The ripple effects of sin—even forgiven sin—often extend far beyond the original offense. Examining the consequences of David’s transgression with Bathsheba, Alistair Begg explains that the king’s story illustrates what happens when we resist God’s rule in our quest for moral autonomy. Thankfully, though, no one is beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace and love. By confessing our sin, we can rejoice in God’s provision of a Savior and confidently proceed with our lives in light of His mercy.
Sermon Transcript: Print
First Chronicles 20:1.
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, Joab led out the army and ravaged the country of the Ammonites and came and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. AndJoab struck down Rabbah and overthrew it.And David took the crown of their king from his head. He found that it weighed a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone. And it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount.And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and axes. And thus David did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”
Well, I do invite you to turn to 2 Samuel and to chapter 12, where we left things off in the fifteenth verse. And we’ll pick up from there again now.
Father, we bow down in order that we might sit underneath the tutelage of your Word. We recognize that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Thank you that you’ve given us the Bible, that you have preserved it in order that we might learn from it and in order that we might meet you in it. So help us to this end, we pray, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
If you were asked to write a biography of David, how many pages would you devote to the incident involving himself and Bathsheba? Would you be tempted to elaborate on the extent to which, in what he did, he incurred God’s displeasure? Do you think that you might scarcely even be tempted to add a little color to the description? And if, as I suspect, the answer from many of us would be yes, then you will be struck, as I was struck, when a friend pointed out to me that the Chronicler—and we’ve just read the record of the Chronicler—that when the Chronicler records the events, he doesn’t even mention chapter 11 and chapter 12. It’s not that he doesn’t include the details, but it is that he passes over the incident entirely. And you can turn this up again, and you will see it there. It starts off, “This is what happened, and then David went to Jerusalem.” If you look down at the final verse of chapter 12: “Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”
Now, don’t you find that quite astonishing? Especially in light of the fact that we have been here, in chapter 11 and 12, for a considerable time—not because we’re trying to go slowly but in order that we might take seriously what the Bible tells us. And yet the Chronicler tells the story without a word concerning Bathsheba and Uriah and David. Says my friend, “I like to think that the Chronicler took so seriously the fact that the Lord had taken away David’s sin that he could tell the story of David’s life without even mentioning it.” And then my friend said to me, “I would like the Chronicler to be my biographer.”
You think about that: “Your sin has been put away, David.” Well then, why would we continue to mention it? Surely it’s only the Evil One who comes encouraging you and me to ferret around in the garbage cans of sins long forgiven and past. But here, what a wonderful reminder.
Now, we thought last time—some of us, at least—about the way in which David repented and God forgave him. But we also ended the day by acknowledging the fact (quoting Alec Motyer) that repentance is like fetching back a stone one has just thrown into a pool: the stone can be fetched back, but the ripples are spreading. And what we were faced with, and especially in light of what I’m just saying by way of introduction, is that God in his mercy movingly, marvelously accepted David’s repentance, put away his sin so that the Chronicler could write as he did. But he chose also in his mercy not to stop the ripples.
And what we’re going to discover as we read on in our studies in 2 Samuel is that the transgression of David in this incident brought with it a bitter legacy. It cast, if you like, a dark cloud over the entire remainder of his reign. Forgiven, restored, yes, and nevertheless facing these things. If you like, to change the metaphor, the divine surgery is complete, but the scars remain. Because consequences are inevitable. And I always say to young people, teenagers, “Keep your story simple. Keep your story simple. Don’t find an attraction with the weaving and wandering and futile stupidity that is represented by others around you. Keep your story simple.” And in the providence of God, God will honor that prayer.
Now, there we have it, in 15a: “Nathan went to his house”—just the role of the prophet. He was sent, and he went, and when he had finished doing what he was doing, then he went home, the way in which I go home at the end of a Sunday. Not that I’m a prophet, but I am a teacher of the Bible. And Nathan leaves David to face the fulfillment of the word that he had given, which is there in verse 14: “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord”—or “You have utterly brought scorn on the name of the Lord. The people on the outside look at you and say, ‘If you’re a great king and you serve a great God, what in the world do you think you’re doing?’ There is no question about that. And because of this, the child who is born to you shall die.”
Now, I spent a long time trying to work my way through this, and I eventually decided that there was no way that I could do it except just keep walking. And so I wrote down as headings—and I’ll tell you what they are so that you can figure out whether we’re progressing or not—first of all, that we notice that the Lord afflicted the child; secondly, that David sought God; thirdly, that the child died; fourthly, that Bathsheba bore a son, and fifthly, that David returned to Jerusalem. Okay? There’s no great skill in that. It’s all there in the text; I hope you can see it.
So first of all, then, the Lord afflicted the child: “And the Lord afflicted the child,” notice, “that Uriah’s wife bore to David.” The teller of this story is very, very clear, all the way through, to draw the line between what had happened—something that shouldn’t have happened—and the implications of it. An undeniable link between David’s sin and the child’s sickness.
Now, with that said, we recognize that the Bible warns against seeking, from the outside, to try and tie a line between sin and sickness. All sickness is ultimately as a result of the fact that we live in a fallen world. But you’ll remember, for example, in the encounter where Jesus is dealing with the man who was born blind, and they came to him, and they said, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” And Jesus says, “No, you’ve got that entirely wrong. This actually is on account of the fact that God has a purpose in this, so that he might be glorified.”
Now, I say that so that we don’t immediately go wrong. But when the Bible categorically says something, as it does here, then there is no way to hide from the reality of it. Look at this: the guilty parent lives, and the guiltless child dies. What, then, are we to say in response to this? How do we deal with this?
Well, we deal with it, if you like, head-on. Some of you who’ve got good memories will perhaps recall that we dealt a little bit with this when, back in chapter 25 of 1 Samuel, we read the fact that “the Lord struck Nabal, and he died”—direct correlation between the activity of God and the death of Nabal. But on that occasion, of course, we were able to say, “But Nabal was a bad fellow.” And we were able to say to ourselves, “His character was poor, his actions were poor,” and so on.
But what, then, of this child? Guiltless, but not sinless. Remember in Psalm 51: “I was sinful,” says David, “from the time of my conception.” You say, “Well, why don’t you just move on from this?” Well, because we need somehow or another to learn how to deal with something like this when we’re studying the Bible. And as we often say to one another, this is a time to stand back, as it were, from the painting—to stand back from it and to remind ourselves that it is not ours to contend with God.
I remember… In fact, I went looking for the book. I couldn’t find it. But I remember going into church a long time ago, in the ’70s, when I was studying the Bible at college. And I had a book with me, and the book had the title Arguing with God. And I had it under my arm. And as I walked in, and then the pastor saw me, and he says, “That’s the problem with you Bible college students. You’re always arguing with God. You shouldn’t be arguing with God.”
Well, why? Well, first of all, because he’s God. And Job 38:
“Who is [it] that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation[s] of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.”
In other words, let’s just acknowledge the fact that God is the Creator, that God is the Sovereign One, that God is sustaining everything by the power of his might, and that we are his creation. All the way through the final sections of Job, this comes again and again, and the reminder to Job that he actually just needs to be quiet. Just be quiet! Christopher Ash, in his little book on Job, entitled Out of the Storm, imagines God saying to Job, “My dear Job, thank you for all your twenty chapters’ worth of letters telling me how to run the world and suggesting I could do it better than I am. A period of silence from you would be most welcome.”
Well, there you have it. God is too wise to make a mistake, he is too kind ever to be cruel, and he presides far above all of our conjectures and all of our opinions—even when his actions may be against all our human expectations, even when his actions run counter to our natural sense. All of us have faced this, in loss—certainly if you have lost someone who, in the scheme of things, one would be tempted to say, “This has happened way long before it ever should. They should still be here.” You may be here this morning, and you find yourself still saying that from time to time: “If only… It would have seemed so much better. It would have been right. We would like them still to be here.” And perhaps you’ve been helped, as I was helped, in Isaiah 57, when the prophet says,
The righteous … [perish],
and no one lays it to heart;
Devout men [and women] are taken away,
[and] no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace.
Now, that may not answer all of our questions. But it is a reminder that this child, if it had lived, would have been a continual reminder of David’s sin. Eventually, I just put my pen down, and in the words of Cowper, I simply wrote,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
“And the Lord afflicted the child.”
Secondly, “[And] David … sought God.” He sought God. And you might say, “Yeah, and how he sought God!” You see there in verses 16 and 17, he now begins to pray desperately to God for the little boy. He chooses not to eat. He says, “I will forgo my food. I’m not going to go out. I will not go about my business.” He sleeps on the floor. The elders come around to try and encourage him, to try and get him up off the floor, to eat, and he won’t budge, and he refuses all of their offers. Verses 16 and 17 are a picture of devastation, are a picture of absolute humiliation. There is nothing casual about this at all. In fact, it is the entire collapse, if you like, of David in this respect. He is not about to go on with life as usual, so long as the child’s life hangs in the balance.
Now, let’s not forget that he had tried desperately to pawn this child off on Uriah. That’s what he was trying to do. He was basically saying, “No! This is not mine. No!” He wanted to cover it up. And he did his best, until God in his mercy uncovered him, so that he then made the discovery that what he was unable to do, God in his mercy graciously did. And suddenly, things are different.
Now, I found myself imagining in the midst of all of this David saying something like this: “God, if you will preserve his little life, I will take him with me everywhere. And his presence by my side will be an opportunity for me to let people know that I am a great sinner and that you, God, are the only one who puts away my sin.” Surely David would have been happy to declare with the hymn writer,
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time he wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow
Were lustered [by] his love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned.
Now, I think one day we can check whether that’s accurate.
“The Lord afflicted the child.” “David … sought God.” On what basis would he come and seek God, unless God was the one who softens his heart, unless God was the one who uncovers him, not to reduce him to a helpless condition but to make him brand-new from the inside out? This is what God does.
But wait! Verse 18: thirdly, “The child died.” “The child died.” There you have it: “On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead.” I imagine one said to the other, “You know, you should probably go and speak to him.” They said, “I’m not gonna go and speak to him. Do you really expect him to listen now? In fact, I’d be very, very careful in saying anything at all. Who knows what he might do? Who knows what he might do to himself—or, for that matter, to any one of us?”
And incidentally, here you have another direct link to these pivotal verses back in chapter 11. “He may do himself some harm.” The root there is the same word as evil, which we have in our translation, “Make sure that the thing does not displease you”: “Do not let this matter displease you.” Right? And we said when we studied that at the end of chapter 11, it actually more literally would be “Do not let this thing be evil to you.” And then, in 27, “And this thing was the source of the Lord’s displeasure,” or “This thing was evil in the sight of the Lord.” And so they’re actually saying to one another, “How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” He may actually do evil. Well, it makes sense. Because it was because he did something that was evil that he now faces this dreadful reality.
And so, what has happened? Well, his prayers have been answered. You say, “Well, they weren’t answered. He wanted the child to live.” Yes, they were answered. They weren’t answered in the way that he hoped. In fact, his prayers were answered in a similar way to the prayers being responded to by the Father when “great David’s greater Son” prayed in the garden of Gethsemane: “Lord, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me.” But of course, he still went to the cross. “Lord, if you are willing, give me this boy.” And the child died.
Now, you notice it says that these men, verse 19, “his servants were [all] whispering” in the passageway. You can see them out in the corridors. “David understood that the child was dead,” we’re told. “And David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’” And they confirmed it: “Yes.” Verse 19: “He is dead.”
And then what happens is, first of all, you see such a strange reaction. A strange reaction. There you have it in the text: “Then David arose from the earth.” He stood up, he cleaned up, and “he went into the house of the Lord.” What a thought, huh? The one who was hiding from God goes to meet God. The one who’s the cover-up expert has now been uncovered, and it doesn’t mean that he’s now gonna be still, as it were, at arm’s length from God. No, “I will go and meet the God that I have sought, the God to whom I have prayed.”
God is sovereign over all these things. That’s essentially what is being said. Actually, the whole of our studies in 1 Samuel began in this way. And it says that Hannah would go up to the house of the Lord: “This man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts,” and Hannah “went up to the house of the Lord.” And this is what he does.
What sacrifice did he take into the house of the Lord? Now, you know that the sacrifices that were to be taken were always to be without blemish, right? You couldn’t bring some old, half-bitten lamb. No, no, it had to be a nice one, a perfect one, pointing to the perfect Lamb of God. Fascinatingly, he takes into the house of God the only damaged object that it is legitimate to bring. What is that? A broken and a contrite heart. That’s why in 51, when he’s reflecting on this, he says, “You know, you weren’t really concerned about sacrifices.” What he means by that is not that God was setting aside his plans for the sacrifices but, in contrast, “the real thing would be that I come to you with a broken and a contrite heart.”
And so, returning to his own house—verse 20—he told them, “And by the way, I’ll take one of those Meals on Wheels that you were offering to me last week.” He went into his house. “And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.” What a strange reaction! And what an obvious question. You’ll find it there: “Then his servants said to him,” verse 21, “‘What is this thing that you[’ve] done?’” This isn’t normal! Because it would be normal for the mourning to begin at this point. But in actual fact, the mourning has come to an end.
And so he gives them the explanation. He says to them in verse 22, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and [I] wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me …?’” So he doesn’t pray on the strength of a sure promise of God. He doesn’t know. Who knows? Some of us would be well served by reminding ourselves of that when we go to God in prayer. He says, “I had cherished the hope that God, who has put away my sin, would restore the boy to health. And so I said to myself, ‘Well, who knows?’ But now that we know, there’s no reason to fast. I cannot bring him back. Where he has gone I will eventually go.”
There’s no reason to pray for the dead. Do you understand that? Now, some of you come from a background where you do pray for the dead. Every so often I get a text from some of you that seems to suggest that you have not actually freed yourself from the notion. I conducted a service out of state a few weeks ago when I was caught blindsided by the vicar with whom I shared, who went on to pray for the one that we had just laid to rest. I said, “Wait a minute. There’s no reason to do that. It won’t alter anything at all.” And that’s what he’s saying. There was a time to pray, but now is not the time to pray.
You see, he contents himself, as Job did, in the reality of the fact that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Or we might reverse it and say that the Lord who takes away is also the Lord who gives. Because that’s the fourth thing we realize—namely, that Bathsheba “bore a son.”
This is quite wonderful, isn’t it? Emerging, as it were, from the valley of the shadow of death, there is this great, bright sunlight. We’ve had this a few times, haven’t we, where all of a sudden, in the last few days… In fact, one of my grandchildren were with me in the last couple of days. He kept saying, “Why is it so dark? It’s not the night. Why is it so dark?” I said, “Well, that’s my question as well. Yes. I agree entirely. But the light will come. Oh look, it’s coming!” And that’s exactly what you see here in verse 24. A light shines.
And notice: “Then David comforted his wife.” His wife! Now she’s no longer the wife of Uriah. She’s “his wife, Bathsheba.” And he “went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son.” Here, I suggest to you, is beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness. Bathsheba, “his wife.”
You say, “Well, that makes perfect sense. After all, let bygones be bygones. Let’s move on.” Do you really think that about David? Past history wouldn’t suggest it. You remember when Michal, his wife, the daughter of Saul, really ticked him off when he came dancing into town? And she despised him, and she said, “You know, you’re just dancing out there in front of all those servant girls,” and she probably had a pretty good point. But how does that section end? It says that he turned away from her and she “had no child to the day of her death.” The inference is clear: it was over. It was over. Tit for tat: “You’re gonna abuse me like that, despise me like that? Let me show you how this works. Have a great life.” Only grace will save us from that. Surely this is grace.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if in this incident he had actually come to hate she who was the object of his forbidden affection. That’s not unusual. It’s not unusual. That which was the all-consuming desire—“If I might have this, if I might get this”—suddenly turns like clay in your mouth. You want now nothing to do with it at all. But no, he “comforted his wife.” Spare a thought for Bathsheba! Wow!
Did he tell her at this point? I don’t know. Did he just sit down with her and come clean about the whole rotten business? Did he say to her, “You know, I’m not the man. I’m not the man of the afternoon siesta. I am that man, but I am not that man. I am a broken man. I am a forgiven man. I am a new man.”
Loved ones, this is what grace does. “She bore a son.” God essentially sanctifies their marriage. Sanctifies their marriage.
When through the deep waters he calls thee to go,
The rivers of grief shall not thee overflow;
For he will be with thee in sorrow to bless
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
You see, this is the story of grace for a broken world. Not “Join us, the happy gang. Join us, the people-who’ve-got-everything-right crowd.” “Join us, the cover-up kids who’ve been uncovered by God and covered by the same God who has uncovered us.”
And Bathsheba bore a son. They called him Solomon. Solomon, like shalom, “peace.” And Nathan got a quick call and was dispatched over to the house: “Nathan, I’ve got another one for you. Get over there, and let him know that we’re gonna add to the name Jedediah, because I love this boy.” “And the Lord loved him”—Yahweh loved him!—and he “sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedediah, because of the Lord.” What a wonder! What a wonder, you see. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. No one is beyond the reach of his steadfast love, of his abundant mercy. It’s all on display here. God is the God who restores the years that the locusts have eaten.
Fifthly and finally, David returned to Jerusalem. You say, “Well, you jumped a whole section.” Well, I did, kind of, yes. Chapter 11, verse 1, David did not go out to battle. The whole event is framed by the Ammonite war. That is the context. While all of that is taking place over a period of time, these events that we have had recorded for us are unfolding. And now he has gone out at the invitation of his second-in-command, Joab, who, as we’ve seen, is quite a character, and there is more of this character to come. Joab realizes that if things proceed in this way, the victory will be given to him. So people will say, “Look at what Joab did.” And so Joab sends for David, and he says, “David, you should get out in front of this.” There’s a lesson in that that we’ll pass over. Verse 30: “He took the crown”—big, heavy crown, big stone—put it on his head. Verse 31: he subdued his enemies. And he “and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”
Well, we have just a moment for me to make a couple of points by way of application. And they’re these.
First of all, if we take the totality of what we’ve been studying, this is not simply a story of sexual sin. It’s not even a story of that. It’s not even ultimately a story about our futile attempts to cover things up. But it is actually a life-sized illustration—a life-sized illustration—of what happens when we resist the rule of God in a quest for moral autonomy. True of an individual, true of a church, true of a nation, true of the world. When we say, “No, we’re not gonna do what God says, we are autonomous!” This is a graphic illustration of it.
Secondly, it is also a picture of someone who finds himself trapped in an immoral morass of his own making, and of his entire inability to extricate himself, and of the amazing discovery that what he cannot do, God in his mercy does.
It is also a clear statement—going all the way back to chapter 11, again, and these verses that we have referred to again and again—it’s a clear statement about how the real issue in our lives is not about what fails to bother us but about how we must understand what bothers God. You remember: “Say to Joab, ‘Don’t let this matter bother you. Uriah’s dead. People die. Doesn’t matter. Let’s move on.’” That’s what some of us are saying: “Hey, it’s life. These things happen. Doesn’t matter. Everyone does it. It’s going on all the time.” No, you see, the real issue is not whether it bothers us. The real issue is that it displeases God.
And finally, in the totality of this section, including in it our homework chapters of Psalm 32 and of Psalm 51, it provides us with what I’ve been referring to—and I wrote it down in my notes—it’s a graphic illustration of the wonder of CRP. CRP. “Oh,” you say, “no, you’ve got that wrong. You mean cardiopulmonary resuscitation?” No, I can spell! No. Not CPR. CRP. Read the Psalms for your homework, and you’ll find it. C: confess your sin to the Lord. R: rejoice in the provision that he has made in the person of his Son. P: proceed with life on that basis. CRP: “I come to you today to confess my sin before you. Lord, I rejoice that you have made provision for me and have put away my sin. And now I will proceed on the pathway of life.”
Oh, if only 2 Samuel ended here! But this, as we will see, is the calm before the storm.
Gracious God, write your Word in our hearts. Grant that what we need to know, we will know; what we need to do, we will do. Thank you that David went out, fought the battle, subdued his enemies, and wore the crown. Oh, thank you that Jesus has done the very same on behalf of us: subdued the enemies of sin and death and hell. Crowned. Crowned. Turn our gaze to Christ, we pray. In his name. Amen.
 See Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4.
 2 Samuel 12:13 (paraphrased).
 Alec Motyer, Treasures of the King: Psalms from the Life of David (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007), chap. 13.
 1 Samuel 12:14 (paraphrased).
 John 9:2–3 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 25:38 (ESV).
 Psalm 51:5 (paraphrased).
 Job 38:2–4 (ESV).
 Isaiah 57:1–2 (ESV).
 William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).
 Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).
 2 Samuel 11:25 (ESV).
 2 Samuel 11:27 (paraphrased).
 James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).
 Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 1:3 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 1:7 (ESV).
 Psalm 51:16 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 51:17 (paraphrased).
 See Job 1:21.
 See Isaiah 61:3.
 See 2 Samuel 6:16–22.
 2 Samuel 6:23 (ESV).
 “How Firm a Foundation.” Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Joel 2:25.
 2 Samuel 11:25 (paraphrased).
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.