Article by David Winfield
Author’s note: the original inspiration for this article came from R. Kent Hughes’ book “Disciplines of a Godly Man”, in which Hughes makes mention of the “progressive desensitization to sin”1 leading up to David’s interaction with Bathsheba.
King David is a heavyweight when it comes to Bible characters. From the day the unexpected king was anointed by God, to his triumph over Goliath and many subsequent battles won, to writing half the book of Psalms, David managed a lot in his life.
David is even described in Acts 13:22 as a “man after [God’s] heart, who will do all [God’s] will.”
But amidst all these notable things David did, there was undoubtedly sin.
In 2 Samuel 6 we read the account of David arranging for the Ark to be moved, and because of David’s decision not to obey the proper protocol (Ex 25:12-14; Num 7:9) we read of the resulting death of Uzzah.
In 2 Samuel 24 we read of David’s improper census, kindling the anger of the LORD and leading to the subsequent judgement and pestilence killing 70,000.
But perhaps the most infamous account of David’s sin in the Bible is the story of him and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, in which we see a monumental sin followed by a disastrous attempt at a clean-up plan.
In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul teaches that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. So, what can we learn from this messy, sin-filled story of David and Bathsheba? And how can we apply what we learn to our lives as we seek to be men and women of God, “complete [and] equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17 ESV).
In an effort to better understand the multiplying sin we find in the account of David and Bathsheba, we need to look back to the “lesser”, seemingly “inconsequential” sins that led to this moment, starting with the account of David and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25.
When we think of David, we tend to think of his trust in the LORD. He was known for consulting God before battles (1 Sam 23:2–6; 9–13; 2 Sam 5:22-23) and showed a posture of complete trust in God during Saul’s pursuit of him, even refusing to take Saul’s life into his own hands when given the opportunity (1 Sam 24:6).
But David’s life wasn’t free of exceptions. In 1 Samuel 25 we get a glimpse of David on the precipice, narrowly avoiding a fall into sin after the rich man Nabal refused to give David and his men any share after they protected his flocks and men for weeks in the wilderness.
When David heard this, he commanded his men to “strap on [their] sword[s]!” (1 Sam 25:13b ESV) and even strapped on his own sword with a plan to take revenge on the ungrateful Nabal. Fortunately for both men, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intercepted David and his men with food, supplies, and even an apology on Nabal’s behalf, to which David replied:
32 …“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! (1 Sam 25:32b-33 ESV)
Truly it was God’s grace as He sent Abigail on Nabal’s behalf, ultimately preventing David from wrongly taking matters into his own hand, an act that David rightly acknowledges as God’s blessing.
What we see in this interaction is a moment of clarity for David, who—if not by the grace of God—would otherwise have given into his anger and rash thinking. David is showing indication that he’s not immune from the temptation of sin. We see in his immediate response to his anger a sign that David’s heart posture may not be entirely directed towards God.
By the end of 1 Samuel 25 we see that God had a plan for Nabal all along, and that David’s desire to seek revenge on his own truly was unnecessary, as God strikes Nabal, putting him to death. David rejoices.
But his decision at the end of verse 39 suggests again that David’s nurturing a divergent heart. Look at what David does:
39…Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife. (1 Sam 25:39d ESV)
At this point in his life, David is already married to Michal, Saul’s youngest daughter. Now, granted, Saul has taken Michal and given her to another man, Palti, after Michal helped David escape when Saul was trying to have him killed. Still, the fact that David takes both Abigail and another woman, Ahinoam of Jezreel, to be his wives before the end of the chapter (1 Sam 25:43-44) suggests that he’s allowing the desires of his heart to take precedence over the desires of God.
More and more as we read through 1 and 2 Samuel do we see David drifting the way of the world around him. As God’s anointed king, David is supposed to behave differently than the kings of other cultures. He’s supposed to be set apart; holy. He should be looking to God’s Law in his decision-making; to laws designed for kings, like “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” from Deuteronomy 17:17.
But when we drop in to various passages, particularly during times of increasing power and control, we see David as the king who takes what he wants.
Take 2 Samuel 2 and the Battle of Gibeon, for example. David’s army fought against the army of Abner, commander of Saul’s army, a battle in which they struck down 360 of Abner’s men and lost only 19 of their own. We read right after this account that David is growing stronger and stronger (2 Sam 3:1), followed by this unsettling development in the life of David:
2 And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; 3 and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; 4 and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron. (2 Sam 3:2-5 ESV)
Only a short number of years has passed since David took Abigail and Ahinoam to be his (second and third) wives. But now we read that he’s up to six new wives (not counting Michal), all bearing children for him.
Not only that, but as Abner defects and agrees to join David, conceding all of Israel to him, David demands that his first wife Michal be returned to him (despite a gut-wrenching description of the response of her current husband, the devastated Paltiel):
14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” 15 And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned. (2 Sam 3:14-16 ESV)
It seems that with more and more strength, David is exercising more and more control, and seeking the desires of his heart more and more. Don’t believe me yet? Skip ahead two chapters to 2 Samuel 5 and you’ll read this:
13 And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. (2 Sam 5:13 ESV)
It’s clear that at this stage in his life, David’s heart does not belong fully to God. He is human and, like any other human, prone to sin. His heart is divided. It seems that Abner may have even had insight to the state of David’s heart, as when he departs from their meeting he says this:
21…“I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (2 Sam 3:21b ESV, emphasis mine)
Abner offers David what his heart desires. Not what God desires for him. I’m not certain, but perhaps even Abner observed in David a bent toward self-indulgence.
Either way, by now the stage is set. The writing, at least in hindsight to us as readers, is clearly on the wall. David has been nurturing a divided heart. Certainly, in many ways David has been faithful to God by this point—seeking His counsel and instruction, patiently awaiting God’s perfect timing for his kingship over Israel—but in other ways, as we’ve seen, David has sought comfort and worldly pleasures. At times he’s even used his power to get them.
The Danger of Time Alone
So, now we’re primed to turn our attention to the account of David and Bathsheba. The infamous sin of David’s life. Let’s begin with verses 1 and 2:
1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. (2 Sam 11:1-2 ESV)
Right away we can draw out some important details. It’s a particular time of year—spring—with a particular call for kings—that they go out to battle. But king David has chosen not to go to battle. Instead, Joab and his army have gone on without him.
And what’s David doing? Well, he’s essentially killing time, laying on the couch and wandering around his palace.
Ask any biblical counsellor worth their salt and they’ll tell you that idle time—especially idle time alone—is dangerous territory for the Christian struggling with sin. In fact, former Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) Dr. Heath Lambert put it this way in his book “Finally Free”: “…you must limit the time you spend alone—especially in the early phases of the struggle against [sexual sin]. Be honest with your accountability partner about typical times when you are alone and find yourself tempted. Make plans to spend those times with others. You can study together, take a walk, play sports, read the Bible and pray, or watch a movie…Cut back as much as possible on the times when you are alone and tempted to indulge in [sexual sin].”2
It’s clear to us readers that this is advice king David could have benefitted from. Let’s continue reading:
3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” (2 Sam 11:3-5 ESV)
This is representative of the power David has. First, he sends and inquires as to who this beautiful woman is. Without hesitation, the messenger informs David that she’s married, but that doesn’t mean much to the king.
At this point, he’s already decided he wants her, and so he sends for her. David, the king who has grown increasingly strong and increasingly powerful, the reigning king over all of Israel chooses to take what he desires. He lays with her. The result? She’s pregnant.
What David decides to do next is, aside from other things, deceitful, malicious, and wicked.
While David’s lounging around the palace, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is hard at battle—the battle David should be at—and is called to return home to meet with David. As Uriah has been away for some time, and has not seen his wife, David assumes that commanding him home will be enough for Uriah to go into his wife, thus convincing him that he is the one who’s impregnated her. But the plan doesn’t work.
Uriah is a far more noble man than David at this time in his life, and he opts to sleep at the door of the king’s house with his servants rather than return home to see his wife. When David inquires as to why he wouldn’t visit Bathsheba, Uriah answers:
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” (2 Sam 11:11 ESV)
Unlike David, Uriah hasn’t given up his dignity.
So, David tries harder. This time, he invites Uriah to eat and drink with him, intentionally getting him drunk. Surely the lowered inhibitions will be enough for Uriah to return home and lay with his wife! But alas, they’re not.
With each new development you can see David’s sinful progression. This time around he goes drastic. If he can’t convince Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, he’ll simply have to get rid of him altogether:
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” 16 And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. 17 And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. (2 Sam 11:14-17 ESV)
As if having him killed isn’t bad enough, David handed the written order to Uriah to deliver himself. Do you see the audacity of making the one delivering the death sentence to be the very one set to die? David has fallen to new depths.
And Uriah’s not even the only one to die! As a result of the written order, verse 17 says that some of the other servants of David died, too. Multiple lives lost in an awful cover up attempt by a self-interested king.
The account ends with David marrying Bathsheba after giving her a period of mourning. On the surface, it may seem like things worked out for David: he got the woman he wanted, he avoided being found out by her husband, and it seems like any fear of consequence may be gone for good now that Uriah is dead.
But David’s forgotten a crucial truth under the weight of his sin and false security of his earthly power and control: the One with true control, the One whom all are subject to reigns ever more powerfully. And He’s “displeased” (2 Sam 11:27 ESV) with what David’s done.
David’s actions, it turns out, are not free from consequence. The progressive sin of David’s life to this point has borne the rotten fruit of its’ kind. The child born to David and Bathsheba is inflicted by God with sickness, and ultimately dies (2 Sam 12). The fractured family created by David and his many wives and concubines breeds contempt among kin and leads to several atrocities like the rape of Tamar by Amnon (2 Sam 13), the subsequent murder of Amnon arranged by Absalom (2 Sam 13), and the conspiracy by Absalom against David (2 Sam 15), ultimately ending in the murder of Absalom by Joab, commander of David’s army (2 Sam 18). All these—and more—the result of generational sin.
Author Tim Challies says this of sin in his book “Sexual Detox”: “Sin is always progressive, and Sheol is never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20). It always wants more. It always seeks to break out beyond its current boundaries. If you give it an inch, it soon seeks to take a mile.”3
When we look at David’s life story, we see this kind of progressive sin. What begins as a seemingly harmless adaptation to the culture around him (taking multiple wives and concubines) soon seems to nurture a heart filled with passionate desire, only fueled by his increasing power and control as king. It isn’t long before the culturally acceptable (and legal) practice of adding to his wives leads him to a level of infidelity, perhaps even beyond the cultural norms of his day. And that development only multiplies and amplifies David’s sin, leading him to greater acts of sin as he struggles to protect himself.
I think what we can learn from David’s life is to be diligent and vigilant when it comes to identifying and repenting of sin in our lives. We must be careful not to give in to seemingly “inconsequential” sin, so as not to create a habit or harden our hearts to greater sin.
We must be careful that idle time does not turn into “idol time”. We must seek God and pray that He continues to grow and mature us in Christ, so that our perception of sin would ultimately align with His.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans:
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:13 ESV)
Let us seek diligently the will of God, putting an end to the desires of our flesh. Let us refrain from giving an inch to what soon may steal a mile.
We also need the church! Again, time alone is dangerous territory. Jesus has united us under Himself as Head, and He’s given us community as His Body—the church. The Apostle Paul speaks of the Body of Christ as having a responsibility to one another. We are to love one another seeking peace and unity (Eph 4:2-3). We are to build each other up to maturity in Christ (Eph 4:12-13). We need one another (1 Cor 12:21-25). Paul says:
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:26 ESV)
It’s clear, then, that we have both a responsibility to help our brother and sister in need, as well as to communicate our own needs to our brother and sister. If they suffer, we suffer. If we suffer, they suffer. How much greater to serve one another in times of need that we may rejoice together!
One way you can actively engage as the Body of Christ right now is by joining a Community Group, where you’ll walk alongside the members of your group, learning together and growing together as you “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33 ESV).
Along with the Body, we have the Head—Jesus. For believers, in place of our hardened heart He has already given us one of flesh. He has reconciled us to God and given us assurance of our inheritance, as guaranteed by His Spirit (Eph 1:13-14). He’s given us the gift and ministry of prayer. He’s equipped us to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6). Take heart; we are not alone in this battle. He will surely help us.
1 R. Kent Hughes, “Discipline of Purity,” in Disciplines of a Godly Man, 10th Anniversary Edition, Revised Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 21-32.
2 Heath Lambert, “Using Radical Measures to Fight Pornography,” in Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 59-74.
3 Tim Challies, “Reality,” in Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys who are Sick of Porn, (Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2010), 9-22.