The Shame of King David

The Shame of King David

The Shame of King David.

There were four main characters in the biblical drama of David’s shame and restoration:

David (1040-970 BC) was totally unique in Scripture. Raised a shepherd boy, the last of eight boys, the one everyone seemed to overlook, he became a renowned musician, a legendary poet, a fierce warrior, and the most beloved King in the history of Israel. He was a faithful worshiper of Yahweh, and, the highest accolade one could receive, he was “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14). Was he a prophet? Yes. His psalms prove that. Was he a priest? Well, he led worship and offered sacrifices when the ark was brought to Jerusalem, wearing a priestly garment at the time. Was he a king? Unquestionably, the greatest king of Israel. David’s life certainly hinted at his distant relative, the Messiah Jesus, who was the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King.

Bathsheba was the beautiful Jewish wife of Uriah the Hittite. She was innocently obeying Jewish Law one day as she gave herself a purifying bath in her courtyard roof. Leviticus 15 provides all the details on how women were to engage in the purification rites according to the Law. She was not seducing David, she was merely obeying Scripture. She had to obey the king as he beckoned for her presence in his palace. Those who didn’t obey the king were punished one way or the other. She became pregnant by David because of their late-afternoon tryst, a surprise development, and she ended up losing her husband who was placed murderously by David on the front lines of battle. She then became David’s eighth wife, and had a major role in the palace as the queen. She and David lost their first child as punishment for the affair, and she eventually produced a boy, Solomon, who later became a great king. The line of ancestry ran directly from David and Bathsheba clear through to Jesus. So after all she suffered early on, she was honored by becoming a direct descendent of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Uriah the Hittite was the loyal husband of Bathsheba. His name in Hebrew means, “Yahweh is my light.” He was either a convert to Judaism, or he was born Jewish but settled in a Hittite community that was cooperative with Israel. He was not considered a Gentile, or he wouldn’t have been able to marry the Jewish Bathsheba. Uriah was an elite warrior under King David, and considered one of his thirty “Mighty Men.” (2 Samuel 23:39). Thus Uriah was known for his valiant exploits on the battlefield. Because of his high stature as one of David’s select warriors, Uriah probably had a close personal relationship with David. Uriah was terribly betrayed by David, who seduced his wife and then had him killed unnecessarily. Uriah held steadfastly to his warrior code of honor after pressure to compromise by David’s cover-up. There is no doubt Uriah was a man of sterling character and faithfulness.

Nathan was a classic prophet, and one of the luckiest. He was tutored by the prophet Samuel in an elite academy for mystics, and Jewish tradition holds that he wrote the conclusion to the book of Samuel. Held in high esteem throughout his life as prophet and historian, the announcer of David’s covenant in 2 Samuel 7, and the official conscience of the King, in his case the King was David himself. And thankfully for Nathan, David responded to Nathan’s confrontation with humility and contrition. For it was Nathan who had the dicey task of confronting David about his affair with Bathsheba and his having her husband killed on the front lines. 2 Samuel 12:1 reports that “the Lord sent Nathan to David.” We don’t know if Nathan was shaking in his boots or not. He didn’t know how David would respond. Nathan seems to be quite confident at this command performance, though. He boldly approaches the King, creatively tells David a parable that goes straight to the heart, and concluded by laying down the law, God’s law, pointing directly at David and challenging him, saying, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12).

That word of judgment from Nathan was one thing. But what came next had to be painful for Nathan to utter. Nathan told David that Bathsheba’s pregnancy will result in the child’s death as punishment for David’s evil deeds. After that difficult word, Scripture simply says that Nathan walked out of the palace and returned home. Just like that. Mission accomplished.

One step at a time, King David had descended into a long and painful episode of deeply sinful behavior:

(1.) He didn’t go out to lead his troops in battle in the spring like he was supposed to (2 Samuel 11:1). Rather than fulfilling his role of commander of the army, he decided to stay behind in Jerusalem. If he had done what he was obligated to do, he never would have seen Bathsheba, which started his descent, step-by-step.

(2.)  After his afternoon nap, he was restless and walked on the roof of his palace just for something to do. He was not conducting the business of his reign, he was not engaged in anything productive. Rooftops of homes in Jerusalem were typically flat, and were the place where residents relaxed in the cool of the day and occasionally bathed. David placed himself in a position of temptation. Like the old proverb says, “Idle hands make the devils’ workshop.”

(3.) He didn’t walk away when he first saw Bathsheba on the roof bathing. He entertained his lust by looking with great interest. He allowed his desire to control his actions.

(4.) He sent a servant to find out who she was, instead of turning the other way and avoiding the temptation. He didn’t have to take this step, which would have ended his descent.

(5.) He discovered she was married to Uriah, yet he continued his pursuit of Bathsheba. He didn’t care if she remained faithful to her husband, he only cared about satisfying his lust.

(6.) He intentionally committed adultery with Bathsheba in his palace. She was put into a difficult position, because people had to think twice about disobeying the king. He had his way with her because of his authority over her.

(7.) He tried to cover up his adultery after being told she was pregnant. He called Uriah to the palace, and encouraged him to go home and be with his wife. That way, it’s obvious that she was made pregnant by her husband.

(8.) When that bit of deceit failed because of Uriah’s honor, David tried the same strategy again. He called to Uriah, and encouraged him to go home to his wife.

(9.) When that ploy failed again because of Uriah’s commitment to abstinence during battle, David invited Uriah to the palace and got him drunk, hoping that then maybe he would finally have a weak moment and go home to his wife. Uriah remained loyal to his code even then, and once again David failed in covering up her pregnancy.

(10.)  Finally David asked his commander in the field of battle to put Uriah on the front lines where the fighting was most fierce, and have all his other troops retreat, leaving Uriah vulnerable to the enemy. Sure enough, Uriah died as David had wanted, essentially murdering Uriah by arranging his death in battle.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” (Sir Walter Scott).

So David’s descent went deeper and deeper, from laziness to lust to adultery to murder. David stole Uriah’s wife, who then became David’s eighth wife. Bathsheba, though, only had one husband, and she grieved when she learned of his death in battle. Did Bathsheba find that coincidence unsettling, that her husband would happen to die right after she was made pregnant by David?

There were dire consequences to David’s web of sin. The punishments foretold by his prophet Nathan all came true… murder would be a constant threat to his family; his own household would betray him; his wives would be given to other men; the baby born to Bathsheba would die. David had to find out the hard way that “you reap what you sow.”

Being a man after God’s own heart, David deeply repented of his sin. He was shamed and guilt-ridden. He confessed his sin, he repented of his wrongdoings, and he felt that only God’s cleansing process could make him whole again. David just as deeply grieved at his rebellion against God, of how his primary sin was being offensive to God. He was ashamed that God had seen him at his worst. In a sense, he felt himself to be morally an unclean leper, and asked that the Lord sprinkle him with hyssop. Hyssop was a bushy plant used for sprinkling blood on a healed leper to ceremonially cleanse him for the worship of God in the Temple. David’s profound, mournful repentance resulted in a cleansed heart, a forgiven spirit. To show his removal of shame, 2 Samuel 12:20-24 reported that, after his period of grieving for his dead son, “David got up off the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord and worshipped, and then, after a period of fasting, he finally ate some food.” David then felt strong enough to comfort his wife Bathsheba after the death of their son. David was deeply shamed, but he was just as deeply forgiven after his heart-felt confession and repentance. God’s forgiveness of David enabled him to disregard his shame and move forward a changed man.

His confession is recorded in Psalm 51, and has been a prayer for penitents ever since. David wrote about this very private moment in his life, this shameful wrongdoing, and made it public for all the world to see. It is a song that has been sung or recited for ages.

“God, give me mercy from your fountain of forgiveness! I know your abundant love is enough to wash away my guilt. Because your compassion is so great, take away this shameful guilt of sin.

Forgive the full extent of my rebellious ways, and erase this deep stain on my conscience. For I’m so ashamed, I feel such pain and anguish within me. I can’t get away from the sting of my sin against you, Lord! Everything I did, I did right in front of you, for you saw it all. Against you, and you above all, have I sinned.

Everything you say to me is infallibly true and your judgment conquers me. Lord, I have been a sinner from birth, from the moment my mother conceived me. I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit. So come into the hidden places of my heart and teach me wisdom. 

Sprinkle me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be white as snow. Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return. The places within me you have crushed will rejoice in your healing touch. Hide my sins from your face, erase all my guilt by your saving grace. 

Create in me a new, clean heart. Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you. Renew a reliable spirit in my inner being. May you never reject me! May you never take from me your sacred Spirit! 

Let my passion for life be restored, tasting joy in every breakthrough you bring to me. Hold me close to you with a willing spirit that obeys whatever you say. Then I can show to other guilty ones how loving and merciful you are. They will find their way back home to you, knowing that you will forgive them. 

O God, my saving God, deliver me fully from every sin, even the sin that brought blood guilt. Then my heart will once again be thrilled to sing the passionate songs of joy and deliverance! 

Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips, and I will overcome with my joyous praise! For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance or the sacrifices I might offer to you. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit, you won’t reject a broken, repentant heart, O God.”

(Psalm 51:1-17, The Passion Translation).