David’s Fall and Deception (2 Samuel 11:1-15)

2 Samuel 11:1–15

David’s Fall and Deception

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

July 29, 2018

 

For the past six weeks we’ve seen how David, from the time of his youth, exemplified the many ways in which he was indeed a man after God’s own heart.[1] This is why the LORD chose him to be king upon ripping the kingship from Saul due to his disobedience. We can consider the height of David’s stature before God and man to be found in the passage we looked at last week in which God promised to make a house—a dynasty—for him after letting him know that he would not be the one to build a house—a temple—for God. And in the chapters between last week’s passage in chapter 7 in 2 Samuel and this week’s in chapter 11, David’s pure heart before the LORD remain the focus:

Chapter 8 opens with David defeating and subduing both the Philistines (verse 1) and the Moabites (verse 2) among many others.[2] In these victories he even dedicated to God all of the articles of silver, gold, and bronze that he had obtained in battle.[3] And lest the reader miss it, verse 15 of chapter 8 tells how “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.”;

Chapter 9 opens with David asking, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Though in life Saul had considered David his enemy, in life and death David viewed Saul as God’s anointed. He desired to do right by Saul and his son, Jonathan, with whom he’d had a close relationship, even after they were gone. Therefore when David learned that Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan’s lame in both feet was alive, David sent for and said to him, “Don’t be afraid…for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (verse 7). Whereas the practice at this time would have been to do away with any potential challengers to the throne, David instead chose to extend kindness to the grandson of his predecessor as king. And so we read in verse 13 of chapter 9, “Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table….” In other words, Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson lived as the king did;

Chapter 10 leading up to our chapter tells how David and Joab defeated the Ammonites—along with the Arameans they sent to for reinforcements[4]—after the Ammonites had turned on him when David expressed sympathy to the king’s son upon his father’s death;

The point is that in all of these chapters, David’s behavior remained consistent with the young man we first saw taking on Goliath in the name of and for the glory of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. David, God’s chosen king, continues to be portrayed as a victorious warrior and a wise and compassionate king, as he fulfills his call from God to care for and protect the LORD’s chosen people, Israel, from their enemies.

But all of that is about to change. Chapter 11 of 2 Samuel opens with the well-known and infamous story of David and Bathsheba and we’ll be looking at the first half of this tragic account this morning and the remainder next week. In re-visiting this narrative I was reminded about how, when I first came to a saving knowledge and faith in Christ at age 18, my pastor at the time often noted that one indication as to the truth of the Bible is that it doesn’t pull back from showing the short-comings of its key personages. Had David died before the events in 2 Samuel 11 took place, he would have died an epic hero with a spotless record. Instead we David’s fall and deception recorded in painstaking and excruciating detail. There isn’t a person present this morning who would want our darkest and most shameful behavior recorded so boldly for all to see. For what David did with Bathsheba cannot be excused—and isn’t presented as excusable in the Scriptural account.

Well as the chapter opens we’re told that David chose to remain in Jerusalem, Israel’s political and spiritual capital, during the spring when kings normally went off to war given spring’s preferable weather conditions and since the time of harvest had not yet begun. So right off the bat, in this brief opening we notice an oddity. David, who was king and who had never in his life backed away from battle, chose not to go off to war as was the custom of kings in the spring. Instead of going out himself, he sent Joab, the commander of his army[5] who, along with the king’s men had “destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah”—Rabbah being the capital city of Ammon.[6] Though David and Joab had previously defeated the Ammonites and Arameans as recorded in chapter 10, the Ammonites were not yet completely subjugated. So as David’s men were at war, David himself chose to remain home.

Then one evening as he got out of bed “and walked around on the roof of the palace” he saw a woman, described as “very beautiful,” bathing (verse 2). Roofs were flat at this time and provided cool relief from the heat in the evening so neither the woman nor David’s actions would have been unusual. Upon noticing this beautiful woman David “sent someone to find out about her.” He learned not only her name but also that she was Eliam’s daughter and Uriah the Hittite’s wife (verse 3). Uriah was one of the Thirty later named who comprised David’s royal guard, the best of his warriors, and it’s possible that Eliam was part of this mighty grouping as well.[7]

Now the next thing that David did was unthinkable. To be clear, what he did wouldn’t have been unthinkable for other kings in David’s day for in general kings could do as they desired with their subjects. But it was unthinkable for the king ruling in the name of the one, true, God to do for David had pledged himself to live and rule according to God’s ways. In short, after noticing and inquiring after the beautiful woman he had seen, David, as stated in verse 4, “sent messengers to get” Bathsheba and he then “slept with her.”

At this point I need to note that I’m parting from what I believe are some common misconceptions of David and Bathsheba’s relationship. Though some have assumed that Bathsheba was at fault in what follows—that surely she must have somehow sought to attract and lure and tempt David—there is nothing stated in the text that would necessarily lead us to this conclusion. In fact, I believe it’s almost certain that Bathsheba played no active part. Among my reasons for stating this are that, as noted in verse 4, David sent an escort of messengers to get her. She wasn’t asked if she wanted to come. She was summoned and brought to David at his initiating. It’s unlikely that saying “no” would have been an option for her given his power and position as king. Further, the parenthetical note stating that “she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness” is perhaps an indication that this is why she was bathing herself. She had just ceremonially purified herself from having had her monthly period as the law required.[8] So this rite of purification—rather than attempting to seduce the king—may have been the purpose of her bathing in the first place.

Now the fact that Bathsheba was purifying herself further tells us that she hadn’t been pregnant prior to David’s sleeping with her. This is why when she later conceived, verse 5, she “sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant.’” As a woman whose husband had been away at war, her pregnancy would have brought shame—and possibly death—upon her. If she was complicit in sleeping with David, the law required death for parties;[9] if she was innocent, only David’s death would have been required by law.[10] Regardless David’s one-night stand had serious repercussions for Jewish law prescribed the death penalty for such a violation of its holiness code. And given that Uriah was away at war, how was Bathsheba to explain her pregnancy?

Therefore upon learning of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David took action. As stated in verse 6, he first “sent this word to Joab: ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’” After Uriah had come to him and updated David about how things were going in the war in which he was engaged, David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet” and he even sent a gift after him (verse 8). David’s purpose in this was to provide a possible way of escape for himself for if he could get Uriah to have intimate relations with Bathsheba, the child conceived by David could be passed off as belonging to Uriah. But Uriah, who in this brief account comes off as being a noble and loyal soldier, didn’t return home as David had told him to but instead “slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants” (verse 9). When later questioned by David as to why he hadn’t gone home, given that David had, in effect, rewarded him for having returned “from a military campaign” (verse 10), Uriah responded as recorded in verse 11, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” During this time sexual intercourse was understood as a source of ritual impurity[11] and therefore was avoided during military campaigns. Uriah was clearly a man of principle. Though a Hittite, the fact that he was serving David suggests he had adopted the Israelite faith—and incidentally Uriah’s name even means “The LORD is my light.”[12] Though he wasn’t on the battle field at that moment, Uriah—unlike David, the king— nonetheless considered himself to still be on duty. He acted in solidarity with his brothers on the field.

So David made a second attempt to get Uriah to return home to his beautiful wife. He told Uriah to stay in Jerusalem for a few days and then invited him to eat and drink with him to the point that David got him drunk. But drunk or not Uriah, verse 13, yet again slept “on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.” Even a drunk Uriah remained loyal to his fellow soldiers.

Having failed at encouraging Uriah to return home to have intimate relations with his wife, David tried a different—and more serious—tack of deceit and betrayal. In his own mind, his only way out now would be to have Uriah killed and then take Bathsheba as his wife. There’s no indication that this was his plan all along since he had attempted—twice—to encourage Uriah to have relations with her. But when plans “A” and “B” didn’t work out as planned, David went on to plan “C” as he tried to cover up his sin evidenced in Bathsheba’s pregnancy. As recorded in verses 14 and 15, “14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.’” Now if you’re having a sense of déjà vu in hearing this, it may be because David’s plan is similar to how Saul had attempted to deal with David when he felt threatened by David’s successes when he was but a soldier serving under him. Recall that Saul offered his daughters, Merab (whom David turned down) and then Michal, to David in exchange for a hundred Philistine foreskins. But Saul’s real plan had been “to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.”[13] Had David fallen in battle, how could Saul be blamed for his death? Such was the case here for if Uriah died in battle then David couldn’t be blamed for his death.

And yet in what follows, it’s clear that what David had ordered Joab to do—and which Joab dutifully obeyed—would have been recognized as being foolhardy by any warrior. After Uriah was killed in battle, note how carefully detailed were the instructions that Joab provided for the messenger he sent to report to David. Beginning in verse 19, “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall?”—and I’ll interrupt here to point out again that of course Joab or any soldier would have known that this plan was a dangerous fool’s errand. Notice how Joab then provided a well-known example from Israel’s own history of someone who died—by the hand of a woman, no less—due to being too close to a battle wall: “21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth?[14] Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez?[15] Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’” Now Joab added this last point because though he may not have known why David wanted Uriah placed near the wall, he had made clear that he wanted Uriah to “be struck down and die.” And because of David’s desperate act not only Uriah died but so, too, did “some of the [other] men in David’s army” (verse 17). Such was David’s desperation willing to risk.

So, again, this well-known account from Israel’s history of Abimelek dying for having drawn too near a wall of battle exposed the foolishness of David’s orders to Joab. Therefore upon receiving this report from Joab’s messenger, had David not been the one to give these orders in the first place, he should have been incensed at the foolhardy thing that Joab had done. But instead, verse 25, David replied to the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.” Because David knew that he was the one who had ordered this plan of action, he sent Joab reassurances that there would be no repercussions for his having obeyed.

So what are we to make now of David, the man after God’s own heart? For by the end of this chapter the very David who had made a point of bringing the ark of the LORD to Jerusalem that Zion might be not only its political but also its spiritual capital had now, as one commentator notes, broken “…the sixth, seventh and tenth commandments,”[16] that is, the commands, again contained inside the ark of the LORD, stating, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” respectively. How great was David’s fall; how great was his deception.

So, again, what are we to make of David who, up until now, had exemplified in so many ways how we are called to live out God’s instruction and will in our lives? Well, I’d like to offer a few suggestions of what we might learn from David’s life.

First, David’s story is a poignant reminder that living a holy life, living our lives as God intended for us to flourish, requires constant diligence. If even prior to the Fall there was a foe in the garden to draw Adam and Eve away from their first love, their Creator who had made them in his very own image, how much more is diligence required after the Fall when we are lured not only by this roaring lion who is ever seeking someone to devour[17] but also by our fallen natures. This side of heaven, we will never completely arrive at a holiness that is beyond temptation so we must ever be alert and vigilant.

Second, the fact that David succumbed to this initial temptation—and the string of temptations and sins that followed—doesn’t mean that we should view his entire life as being a fraud. This succession of sins doesn’t undo all of the good in the life that preceded for David was indeed a man after God’s own heart before this incident and, as we’ll see next week, he continued to be a man after God’s own heart even after these tragic events.

Third, David’s story should be a humbling reminder to us that no one is above being tempted. And perhaps more importantly, no one is above succumbing to temptation. So the story of David should be a reminder to us not only of our life-long and ongoing need for God who made us for himself but it should also point us to God’s love and compassion for us. To this end, I want to close with the words of the author of Hebrews, who at the end of chapter 4 reminds and exhorts us concerning our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who himself was tempted by—but resisted succumbing—to sin:

14 Therefore, [brothers and sisters,] since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

[1] As the LORD first told Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 13:13–1413 You have done a foolish thing,… You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” This is confirmed by Paul in summarizing Israel’s history to those in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:20b–22: “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’”

[2] Verse 3: Moreover, David defeated Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, when he went to restore his monument at the Euphrates River.; Verse 5: When the Arameans of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down twenty-two thousand of them.;

[3] 2 Samuel 8:11–12: 11 King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued: 12 Edom and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. He also dedicated the plunder taken from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

[4] 2 Samuel 10:6: When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.

[5] 2 Samuel 8:14–16a:15 David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people. 16 Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army.” See also 2 Samuel 20:23: 1 Chronicles 11:6: “David had said, ‘Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.’ Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command.” See also 1 Chronicles 18:15, 27:34. Joab, incidentally, was also David’s nephew. See 1 Chronicles 2:13–17: 13 Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, 14 the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, 15 the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. 16 Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab and Asahel. 17 Abigail was the mother of Amasa, whose father was Jether the Ishmaelite.

[6] Modern day Amman, Jordan.

[7] See 2 Samuel 23:24a, 34, 39: 24 Among the Thirty were:… 34 Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maakathite,

Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,… 39 and Uriah the Hittite.

[8] See Leviticus 15:19: When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.

[9] Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”

[10] Deuteronomy 22:25–27:25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.”

[11] Exodus 19:15: Then [Moses] said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations. An example of this may be found in 1 Samuel 21:5: David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual wheneve I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!”

[12] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note.

[13] 1 Samuel 18:25.

[14] Or Jerub-Baal another name for Gideon. Judges 8:29, 32: 29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live…. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

[15] Judges 9:52–54: 52 Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. 54 Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died.

[16] Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes on 1 Samuel 11:4.

[17] 1 Peter 5:8–9: 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

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