We grew up hearing in Sunday School the stories of David and Goliath. We learned that David was a shepherd that played the harp and composed many Psalms. At some point in our lives, we’ve all become familiar with Psalm 23.
We’ve heard of how David danced like a slave before the Lord, as he was bringing into Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant that contained the 10 commandments. In the Bible, David is called “a man after God’s own heart.”
But then, at some point in our lives, all the divine qualities that we have come to admire in David are shattered, especially when we hear the story of David and Bathsheba. Everything that we admire about David, is shattered before our feet, and we never see him again quite the same as when we were children in Sunday School.
When the majority of Christian commentaries talk about the David and Bathsheba incident, they focus on 2 external things: the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah- while completely disregarding the complex, internal reasons that led to those incidents.
Many Christian commentators talk about David outside of the context of his life, and without realizing it, they turn him into a bored Narcissist who was a blood-lusting, sexual predator. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is true… King David committed serious sins. There is no excuse for the terrible things that David did. It is also true that God would oftentimes discipline David severely. Still, we call him “a man according to God’s own heart.”
When we think about having a heart according to God’s heart, we oftentimes assume that that designation means that David was perfect and sinless, and yet the contrary is true. David is described in those terms because although he oftentimes committed dumb sins, he never acted in pride and rebellion towards God. In fact, Psalm 51 expresses the sentiment of his heart and his own self-realization when he says: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Unlike many of us, David was not a self-deluded person who believed a false concept about himself. David knew himself, and God loved that.
David’s sins were not the result of pleasure seeking.
David did not commit adultery with Bathsheba because he needed a rendezvous. David did not have her husband killed because he wanted Bathsheba. David did not fall into adultery and murder because he was a narcissist. Sorry to burst your bubble.
David committed those 2 terrible sins mainly because of 2 reasons:
1. David had a great need to see justice carried out- and sometimes this extreme hunger for setting things right- would lead him to make some extremely rash, emotional decisions.
2. David had a great need for lovingkindness and intimacy.
When David says in Psalm 51: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me…” he is not expressing empty words like the ones we express by rote during penitential seasons. David was expressing a view of himself that transcended the Bathsheba incident…
According to the ancient Rabbis of Israel, David was expressing the feelings of self-loathing and self deprecation that were instilled in him when he was a child- while seeking all of his life to break away from the dysfunctions that he inherited by seeking the love of God and trying to catch His attention.
Listen to the words that God sent to David by means of the prophet Nathan- as they are found in 1 Samuel 7:8-9
This is what the LORD ALMIGHTY says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the great men on the earth.
Notice what God says to David: “I took you from the pasture and from FOLLOWING the flock…” At that time Shepherds walked AHEAD of the sheep, not behind them. The Shepherds would call on the sheep, and the sheep would follow. Jesus says in John 10:27:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they FOLLOW ME.”
But when David’s father sent him to work with the Sheep, Jesse did not trust him to administer the sheep… Instead, Jesse treated his youngest son like a slave. David was not THE shepherd (as he should’ve been), but rather, “the help” of the shepherds, behind the flock. He was treated worse than the hired shepherds. David was “the help” that had a rich father who didn’t trust him. And it was during those days that David, (who’s name means “beloved”) felt unwanted and unloved by his father and his big, burly brothers who always looked down on him for being a sensitive, highly emotional, musical, godly, and in some ways even a feminine boy by the common standards of the day.
As a result of his pain, David the “beloved” adopted the 2 virtues that he needed and sought for all his life: Justice and Lovingkindness.
These two virtues made him a great King, but they also were the cross he had to bare all of his life. It was not perversion that led David to commit adultery with Bathsheba and to murder her husband Uriah. It was his unbridled and unbalanced virtues… his obsession with justice and lovingkindness. Justice and lovingkindness were his anti-depressants.
On the evening in which David was walking on the roof and saw Bathsheba bathing… this wasn’t a peeping-tom incident.
David had other wives…and he had concubines… All of David’s sexual and physical needs were taken care of.
Its true that he saw an extremely, beautiful woman bathing… But he noticed something more than that. Bathsheba was washing herself in such a way that indicated that she had been done with her monthly cycle.
The Bible commanded that when women were done with their monthly cycle, that they had to wait 7 days before the ritual bath. Then after the ritual bath, they would be ready for their husbands in order to make babies and build a home. (Lev. 15:28-29)
He didn’t just see a beautiful, naked woman… he saw a beautiful, young, lonely, woman- who was obviously married, and who had a house, but who really was not given a HOME by her husband.
Remember that David had married women who had been treated unfairly by other men, such as Abigail (1Sam. 25).He rescued them in the best way that powerful men knew at the time: MARRIAGE.
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam- who was one of David’s personal counselors. She was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was one of David’s “mighty men,” his original warriors. This means that David was acquainted with Bathsheba- and that in his eyes, she was a princess of Jerusalem. Also, it seems that Bathsheba and Uriah were most likely newly weds. The Bible exempted men from war for a whole year after marriage so they could build a home and give a child to their wives.
Deuteronomy 24:5 says-
If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
This is why David called Bathsheba over to talk. He wanted to inquire as to what is going on in her house… And obviously she told him… David saw before him a beautiful, sensitive, deeply caring woman who deserved a home filled with children. Instead, her husband preferred to go out to build fame for himself by fighting in war games that had nothing to do with national defense (which is why David stayed home).
In today’s world, it would be as if Uriah preferred to go watch the football game with his buddies rather than to stay home, and give that gorgeous, intelligent, deep and fragile woman the children and the home that she deserved. We are usually quick to judge David because we do not see the tears that moved him to console Bathsheba that evening… Rather than dehumanize them, we should realize that as David sought to console her, that one spiraled into another… It was a passionate desire to console and to give justice that led Bathsheba to David’s bed.
As if David’s unbridled lovingkindness wasn’t bad enough, now that she became pregnant, he wanted to save her honor. Oftentimes when the floodgates of our best virtues are opened, the rest of our virtues also become unconfined, flooding our lives and the lives of others with unintended evils. Blinded by an unbridled sense of justice, David sent for Uriah from the playing field and engaged him in a conversation that went something like this:
“Well, now that you’re back, go down to your house, bathe and make love to your wife.” (2Samuel 11:8)
David even sent Uriah and Bathsheba food from the royal kitchen so they could continue their honeymoon… the honeymoon that Uriah had interrupted for war games. But instead of Uriah performing his Biblical and moral duty to his young wife, he preferred to look good before the other warriors, opting to sleep in the barracks with the servants, rather than with his wife. This of course, was an affront to the King’s orders.
When David found out what Uriah had done, he called him and inquired as to why he was disobeying him. Uriah’s ambition for glory in the eyes of his co-warriors led him to concoct the “perfect” excuse.
“The Ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to EAT, AND DRINK, AND LIE with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
Anyone that would hear those words would be convinced that Uriah was an incredibly honorable and selfless man. But actually, Uriah was a self-seeking, ambitious man, who cared more about the opinion of the other men, than what his wife thought about him, or even about giving her the home that she deserved.
So this is what David did… David invited Uriah to feast with him. Interestingly, what Uriah was unwilling to do with Bathsheba, he did with David and the other soldiers. Remember how Uriah said: “How can I go and eat, and drink and lie with my wife?”
But 2 Samuel 11:13 says that Uriah stayed at David’s invitation and that he ate, and drank with David. He got drunk…and then slept with the other servants, instead of going home, and sleeping with his wife. In David’s eyes, Uriah despised his young and beautiful Princess-Wife.
This infuriated David since it confirmed everything he suspected about Uriah. Uriah preferred to hang out with a bunch of guys that would pat his back, than to go to that beautiful woman, and give her a child. So David’s sense of justice went wild, leading him to do what he knew how to do best as an old warrior- he had Uriah killed deceptively by placing him on the front lines of the battle.
When the prophet Nathan confronted David by reasoning with him through a parable, David realized the great evils that he had committed and repented with his whole heart. That repentance resulted in the expressed words of contrition in Psalm 51.
Why did God love David’s heart? Well, it certainly wasn’t because David was sinless! God loved David because even his sins were the failed attempts of skewed virtues that were meant to glorify God. David’s sins were the results of a misguided love for the divine. His sins were never the result of intended rebellions, but rather, the failed results of trying to fulfill the righteousness of God through the powerlessness of human weakness.
Through his experiences, God taught David 3 things:
1. That we cannot bring the justice of God by ungodly means.
2. That the lovingkindness that we all crave…the love that we need, cannot be fulfilled by ANY HUMAN BEING nor anything in this world. Only the eternal love of God can fill the unmeasurable void of our hearts.
3. That God’s love is so wonderful- that even when we are unfaithful to Him, His divine love never fails.
David was not a pervert. David was a man of God and a warrior who tried with his whole might to live a life that was pleasing to God. He was human…and as a human being his good intentions oftentimes failed miserably.
God sees beyond our miserly and failed efforts to please Him. He judges the heart, and not only our actions. He knows that your heart transcends all your failed intentions. For God, the intention of the heart is more important than the timing or the perfection of our actions.
1 Samuel 16:7b- The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”