David and Bathsheba

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“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof,
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight over-threw you.”
(Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah)

David was famously a man after the LORD’s heart.  He was the second King, succeeding where Israel’s first King, Saul, had failed.  He was messiah – christ – an anointed king.  And he reigned over a united Israel, bringing peace and extending blessing and grace.  Maybe this was it.  Maybe David was the true and eternal Christ.  Maybe he was the Promised Seed come to set the world to rights.

But then comes 2 Samuel 11:

“At the time when kings go forth to battle… David tarried still at Jerusalem.  And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.”  (v1-3)

What’s the first tell-tale sign that this messiah is not the Messiah?  His heart.  His heart wanders from his true bride.  He desires to have another.  No, David is not the eternal Christ.  Jesus’ heart burns fiercely and uniquely for His bride, the church.

But David’s looking turns to lusting and all in a hurry we read that this woman, Bathsheba, is brought to David.  We are never told whether she is willing.  And it’s certainly very doubtful whether she would have felt the liberty to object to the king.

After everything we’ve read of David, this comes as an enormous shock.  But it gets worse.

Bathsheba falls pregnant and David, eager to cover up the adultery, brings back her husband from war hoping he’ll sleep with her.  But Uriah proves such a loyal soldier to David that he refuses to go to his wife while his men are at war.   Night after night,

Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house. (v9)

Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. (v11)

The righteousness of Uriah not only contrasts with David’s wickedness, but it provokes more of it.  With David unable to cover his tracks he turns to murder.  David writes in a letter to his commander in chief, saying,

Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.  (v15)

It’s adultery (at the very least) and murder.  It’s appalling.  And it proves that David is a mere man, just like us.  In fact a wicked man, just like us.  Because we need to be honest with ourselves.  We too are guilty of David’s sins if Jesus’ definition is ours.  He said:

whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)

And

whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  (Matthew 5:22)

We are adulterers and murderers at heart.  And this is how our whole sinful nature operates.  We desire things we shouldn’t.  We go after them no matter the cost.  And if anyone stands in our way, we kill.  We are lusters and loathers and guilty before God as surely as David was.

What is our hope?

Well Nathan, the prophet, confronts David imaginatively to convict him of his sin (2 Samuel 12).  And this produces one of the most famous prayers in all the bible, Psalm 51.

One of the interesting things about David’s prayer is that he unites absolute confidence in God’s forgiveness with complete honesty about the horrors of his sin.

He begins the prayer assured of the “mercy”, “lovingkindness” and “tender mercies” of God.  And he continues, not by minimizing his transgressions but even says this:

I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  (v5)

David confesses that the person he was when committing adultery and murder, is the person he’s always been.

This is so surprising.  We usually minimize our confidence in God’s mercy and minimize our acknowledgement of wrongdoing.  David maximizes both.  Because his confidence is somewhere else.

In verse 7 he says

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:

Hyssop was a spindly plant which doubled as a paintbrush at Passover.  It was used to daub the blood of the lamb on the door-posts so that judgement could pass over.  David seems to think God has hyssop.  Does that mean God has a Lamb?  Does that mean there is blood that can cleanse even David’s sins away?

Yes indeed.  And it’s the only way to put together both the grandeur of God’s grace and the depths of our depravity.

We all lust, covet and steal.  And when we can’t have our way we hate, hurt and kill.  But

the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7)

David was not the Christ.  His heart was wayward and his life followed.  But Jesus – His Lord and Lamb and future Descendant – has a redeeming love that’s bigger still.  The final word is not David’s – or your – adultery and killing.  The final word is Christ’s faithfulness and death.  Through it, even the gravest sins can be put right.

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