To err is human—am I right? We as human beings, we often do things wrong. We mess up. We sin. And when we sin, when we mess up, we usually have a few options.
We can own it—which may be the least popular way of going about facing what we did wrong—we can blame others, or we could seek to hide it. I know for me, when I was in middle school I usually went the route of seeking to hide what I did.
There is one particular instance I remember I had locked myself out of my parents’ house. I went over to a friend’s house, I forgot my key. Now, when I came back home I had a few options. I could have called my parents and told them what I did, but this wasn’t the first time I locked myself out of the house and rightfully so they would be annoyed or frustrated. So instead I decided I was going to problem solve the only way a middle schooler could. I had noticed I had left my second-story bedroom window open, and I knew that there was a ladder in the backyard so I went and grabbed the ladder, climbed up to the second story window, but there was a screen there, a window screen, and I had to remove it in order to get in. Well, I ended up bending the frame to a point where it couldn’t be repaired. So in trying to fix my first issue of being locked out, I ended up breaking something on the house.
At that point, I could have owned what I did or I could have kept trying to hide it. I kept trying to hide it. I figured it was a Tuesday and I knew our trash day was on a Wednesday, so I would stuff it down in the trash. I’m the one responsible for taking out the trash, my parents probably wouldn’t have noticed it in there. But my dad, he would take out the trash too, so he might have noticed it in there, but I knew my dad had allergies and conveniently the grass needed to be cut. So I went to cut the grass, dumped the clippings on top, hoping that nobody would notice.
Why was there a sense of urgency with all this is? I had a baseball game that night and my uniform and my equipment were in the house. I needed to get ready. I needed to be on time for the carpool to get to the game.
I go to the game, my parents are there, they don’t seem to know what happened—I think I’m in the clear. I rode home with friends because I was in middle school, riding home with your parents is embarrassing, and I walk into my house. There’s a long hallway that leads to the dining room and the dining room table. My dad was there and he was being super casual, like he was sorting through something and my mom was on the other side in the kitchen. So I walk down the hallway and I round the corner, and on the ground was the bent window screen. My mom sees that I’m home, and my mom has this way of doing this thing where she runs her tongue on the inside of her lips when she’s really mad, and she says something like this: “Well …”
I was in trouble. I had been caught. I had tried to hide what I did wrong, but I only compounded it by essentially lying and being conniving and trying to hide it. When we do something wrong, we have options. Like I said, I tried to hide it, and today we’re going to look at another person who tried to hide what they did wrong.
(Read 2 Samuel 11:1)
Now, there are some important contextual facts to consider. David was the king of the Israelites and we know from when Saul was appointed as king the Israelites they wanted someone who would go out and fight their battles for them. But David’s not doing that here. Instead David is sending Joab in his place. Even when David, an able-bodied king, should have been the one going out and leading the war efforts. Another factor I want you all to pay attention to is how often the word “sent” is used in this passage. Here we have it for the first time. He sent Joab to fight the war with the Ammonites.
(Read 2 Samuel 11:2-5)
Again, lots of things to unpack here, such as why was David on the roof? Well, we can’t know for sure. However, we see in 1 Samuel 9 that David has a meeting with King Saul on the roof of the palace, so it seems likely that the roof, especially of the palace, was a meeting place for people. Being that it was a meeting place, it could have had furniture.
I just finished taking a class with Knut Heim, who loves to talk about the context and idioms and all that stuff in Hebrew text, and he says if you’ve been to Jerusalem in the springtime you know how hot it is, and the best thing to do when it’s hot is to take a nap. So according to Dr. Heim, it’s very likely that David could have been on the roof taking a nap on one of his pieces of furniture.
Another thing to consider is that the palace would have likely been built on a very tall hill. So we have this grand building on a tall hill, and David wakes up and he walks around the roof, and he has a view likely as far as the eye can see. He is probably really proud of himself as he is looking over his domain and looking at everything he helped establish.
But then something catches his eye—a beautiful woman who is “bathing.” I do “bathing” in quotation marks because the word that is used here in the Hebrew, is also a word for washing. A challenge that we face here is that as 21st-century believers, we have an idea of what it means to bathe in our own head. When we think of bathing, we think of stripping down to nakedness and washing our body from head to toe. But do we really think that Bathsheba in about 1000 BC has the exact same cultural practice of bathing or washing? It doesn’t seem super likely.
David Gunn, a notable Hebrew scholar, published an article called “Bathsheba Goes Bathing in Hollywood.” It sounds funny, but his whole premise is that he looks at the historical way that this specific scene is depicted, either through movies or through pieces of art, and he shows that there is by no means any consensus as to what it looked like for Bathsheba to be bathing. So Gunn’s premise is that in this effort to be more literal with what they were doing, they interpreted washing not as nakedness and bathing, but instead she was clothed and washing one particular part of her body. Then we look at the fact that Gunn talks about stripping down to nakedness and bathing privately is a 17th-century European construct. So again, we are talking about Bathsheba in the 1000s BC. There is an argument to be made that Bathsheba was not naked, that she was washing.
Then we get David who is allured by her, and he sends for more information about her. Here is King David wielding his power. He sends Joab to go and fight, then he sends someone to find out information about Bathsheba. Then he sends servants to have her brought to him. Bathsheba comes to him, he takes her, has sex with her, and Bathsheba departs.
Now, I don’t know what translations you all are using, but from what I’ve found in the translations that I’ve seen, you may have noticed I added a phrase in there. It’s in the Hebrew text. The fact that David took her is often missed in our translations.
Some people think maybe that’s not that important, but this word is usually used in the sense of a human being taking an object. You take something into your hand; you take something from one place to another. Or it could be used relationally. You take someone in marriage, but it also can be used to indicate force. You besiege a place, you destroy it, and then you take the plunder. This is the word that is used when David takes Bathsheba, yet somehow conveniently we often miss that in our English texts.
So Bathsheba comes to him; David takes her and sleeps with her. Ladies and gentlemen, what I humbly submit to you is that we are not talking about an affair between David and Bathsheba. Instead, we are talking about the raping of Bathsheba by David.
Now, I want to be clear: The word rape is not in this text, the way it is in Deuteronomy and Leviticus when it talks about the different laws regarding rape. But I ask you, do we need it to be, given the context?
David sees someone washing. He objectifies her. He sends for her, she comes to him, he takes her, and he sleeps with her. A taking of something or someone and then a sexual act with them. That sounds like rape to me. So do we really need the Hebrew word for rape to be present in order for us to consider this rape?
After this unfortunate occurrence, Bathsheba departs. Then we get this note that says she had cleansed herself from her religious impurity, which likely means that she had just had her period and so she is in a fertile window, which makes sense because then the next thing we hear she is pregnant. She sends this message to David, and we don’t know what David’s immediate response was, this life-changing, earth-shattering, altering news for not only him but the kingdom of Israel. But we do know in verse 6 that he starts scheming.
(Read 2 Samuel 11:6-13)
His plan is to send a message to Joab that says, “Send me Uriah the Hittite,” and apparently it was under the guise of wanting a field report because then once Uriah gets there, he asks him three questions: How is Joab doing, how are the warriors doing, how is the war going?
The word he uses here is shalom. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard lots of talk about the word shalom. It means “peace” or even “wholeness.” And it’s horribly and painfully ironic because David’s actions and his intent have nothing to do with shalom. He receives this report from Uriah, and David says to him, “Go home, wash your feet, relax.” Uriah decides not to go home but rather to sleep at the entrance of the palace. David is annoyed by this. He says, “You’ve just come a great distance, why didn’t you go home?” And Uriah says, “As surely as you live, I’m not going to go home and enjoy the comforts of my house. I’m not going to eat. I’m not to drink. I’m not going to have sex with my wife. The Ark of the Covenant is in the tent, the people of Israel and Judah are in tents, why should I get that luxury?”
But question for you: Uriah makes the statement, “I’m not going to go home and have sex with my wife.” Where did that come in to play? Nobody mentioned anything about sex, did they? Well, actually, David did through a euphemism of washing your feet. Now, I had planned to explain this euphemism in as much detail as I could, but my wife wisely told me you may want to refrain from breaking down a euphemism because there is hand gestures and she said it wasn’t a good idea, so I’m very thankful for the wisdom of my wife so I’m not going to do that. But this is a euphemism for sex. David is saying, “Go home, have sex with your wife.” And more importantly, Uriah understands it that way because in his response he says, “I’m not going to go home and do those things.”
So what’s David trying to accomplish here? Well, obviously he’s trying to pass off paternity onto Uriah. Well, then also you look at Deuteronomy 23. There’s a code in there that says warriors during war time were supposed to abstain from sex. Furthermore, this is something we know for a fact David knew because in 1 Samuel 21 he has an exchange with somebody else where they ask him, “Have you been sexually active recently?” and he says no, whether it’s on this mission or a secret mission, we abstain from sex because we’re not supposed to do that when we’re at war.
David knows full well what he’s doing. He’s trying to get Uriah to break the Torah. There is going to be a punishment for it—at what level, we don’t know. Some believe that this may have been a capital offense. So David may have been trying to pass off Uriah and the fact that David needed Uriah to die unto the Torah, and he was trying to pass off paternity onto Uriah. But again, Uriah refuses.
So what does David do? He thinks, I’ll get him drunk. But even as a drunk man, Uriah’s morality was stronger at this specific moment in time than David’s because Uriah wouldn’t go home drunk and sleep with his wife.
So David is running out of options. He says, “Give me one more day. Hang out one more day.” Uriah obliges and then he writes a note that says, “Put Uriah at the front lines where the fighting is the most intense.” He hands this letter over to Uriah, Uriah delivers his death note to his commander, and Joab carries it out. Uriah dies by the sword of the Ammonites. When David receives the report that Uriah had died, he essentially responds with, “Well, what are you going to do, that’s the nature of war.” As if he hadn’t planned it out that way. And then consider again what Bathsheba is going through. Her husband dies, is murdered. She probably doesn’t know that he was murdered, that it was a plot by David.
Now, you get to the end of Chapter 11 and we see in verse 27 that it says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” So why is this specific story in 2 Samuel? Why did we get this editorial note at the end? Well, it’s because the editors—the authors of 2 Samuel—knew what David did was horrible. They knew he had committed an egregious sin and they didn’t want it to be lost to history, so they recorded it. But it’s interesting in other historical books that recount some of the same information from 1 or 2 Samuel, we don’t hear about this story of David and Bathsheba. Why is that? Maybe they just didn’t think it was relevant, or maybe they’re trying to protect David’s name, trying to protect his honor.
So I ask you, how do we go about protecting David’s honor? Do we do that? And to answer that question, you specifically have to answer how you have taught this text. Do we teach that David did something wrong here besides just being lustful, or is there something greater? The Bible itself notes that David really messed up here, so why can’t we admit that? Why are we unwilling to? Why do we leave out of our translation that David took Bathsheba?
I’ve heard the story preached in one of two ways in my ten years as a Christian. One is David had a momentary lapse of judgment. Okay, momentary lapse of judgment. A momentary lapse of judgment is me thinking I could hide a broken window screen in the trash from my parents. A momentary lapse of judgment, maybe you could consider it David looking at the woman and not averting his eyes. Okay, we can maybe go there as a momentary lapse of judgment. Then you look at what he did—he sends for information about Bathsheba, he sends to have her brought to him. He takes her and has sex with her. Furthermore, he then plots to have Uriah murdered. It seems like more than one momentary lapse of judgment.
I’ve also heard it taught that Bathsheba was the great temptress of David. Really? Because if we believe that the cultural customs were different from bathing at the time there is an argument to be made that Bathsheba was clothed and only washing one part of her body. Maybe there was some nakedness, but David didn’t have to stare at her. So what we’re saying is David was seduced by someone who was washing. Is that fair to Bathsheba? Of course not.
Then you look at the fact that 2 Samuel 12 talks about the judgment that comes down upon David, and it’s only on David. Bathsheba is not mentioned in the judgment. The prophet Nathan, who comes to rebuke David, doesn’t mention Bathsheba. I think he probably would have if she had done something wrong. Great temptress, Bathsheba—no.
We broaden this out and we ask ourselves: How do we deal with sexual impropriety in our current age and stage? If it’s anything like what we do with David, we defend him, we omit what actually happened, or we blame other people. Bathsheba the great temptress, it’s her fault. Accusers, they’re lying—all of them. We talk about how in order to defend people we say, “Hey, that’s just locker room talk.” Or we say, “Hey, everybody gets a little rambunctious in college.” We excuse the prevailing mindset that allows sexual sin to become rampant among us today.
So how do we deal with sexual impropriety in the church, sexual abuse? And that’s a question only you can answer in your specific context, but I will say this: Chances are you probably need to do a better job with it. And how do we do that? We put things in place, we put actual boards in place that have enough power and enough objectivity to listen to people when they come forward and not just dismiss them off-hand, and punish people when they do something wrong. We hold them accountable. Starting with the person in the mirror. We deal with our own sin, and then we look around us and we say, “Where can we be better?” We don’t defend it; we don’t blame other people; we don’t omit it.
Because when we defend sin, what we are really doing is we deface God’s grace. Why if we truly believe as Christians that God’s grace is this miraculous thing that he imparts on us as simple people who repent, why does he need our help, why do we need to excuse other people’s actions? God’s grace is so powerful and so beautiful that it could stand on its own. We don’t need to get involved by making excuses and defending sin. So why do we do it? Why do we deface God’s grace? Why can’t we let it stand on its own? Because God’s grace, his forgiveness, is between him and the people who commit sin. Put things in place that will hold people accountable, hold yourself accountable. Have people like the prophet Nathan in your life who will tell you when and where you’ve gone wrong. Be willing to admit to yourself how sinful we can be.
The other part that I don’t understand about all this is how we cheapen the testimony that happens with individuals when we excuse sin. God’s grace is so big and beautiful and so powerful, when we ignore the depravity that people fall to, we’re jumping to the conclusions and celebrating, “Hey, it’s great that David was reestablished,” and we focus on that aspect of the story.
Yes, it’s amazing that David was restored, but why can’t we talk about how far he had fallen? Because in how far he had fallen, God’s grace is made all that more impressive and beautiful when you talk about how bad things had become, to point where he could have raped somebody or he could have tried to hide it, tried to use the Torah to get someone else in trouble and then plot their murder. That’s pretty bad. And this is the man after God’s own heart.
I understand that he is a great hero of the faith and we may want to protect him, but do we need to? No, we don’t. Admit to your depravity, admit to your sin, and accept the full measure of God’s grace by not making excuses for it. And in God’s great and beautiful power, let him be perfected and celebrated and glorified through our weakness.
Vincent Crespin II is a recent graduate of Denver Seminary. He is headed to Duke to work on a ThM. Then, Lord willing, he will head to another institute of higher eduction to work on a PhD in Homiletics.