Previous Chapters: Creation. The Fall. The Flood. Abraham. The Destruction of Sodom. Abraham and Isaac. Jacob and Esau. Moses is Called. The Ten Plagues. The Ten Commandments. Samson. David and Goliath. David and Jonathan.
DAVID AND BATHSHEBA
Once God had withdrawn his blessing from Saul and bestowed it on David, the writing was on the wall, legibly albeit anachronistically: Saul’s days as king were numbered. With two spear-chucking incidents on record, he was diagnosed as bi-polar. It remained for the Philistines to deliver the coup de grâce, decapitating Saul, as well as his son Jonathan, after routing the Israelite army at Mount Gilboa. Thus, David, with the blessing of God, rose to the throne of Israel.
As king, David continued to make war against the Philistines…as well as the Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, Amalekites, and occasionally, just to keep them on their toes, the Gadites of his own kingdom (which is the source of the contemporary expression of shock and alarm, “Egad!”). Sometimes he led his armies into battle, but other times he remained at his palace in Jerusalem. It was during one of his stays in Jerusalem that David woke up from a restless dream and walked around on the roof of the palace. He noticed, below the palace walls, a woman bathing. She was very beautiful, and David sent a servant to find out about her. The servant reported back that the woman was called Bathsheba, and that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
David sent his messengers to bring her to the palace. She came to him, and he had sex with her. Afterward, she went home. But she conceived and thereafter sent word to David that she was pregnant.
So David sent for Uriah, who was off fighting the Ammonites. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how the war was going. Uriah reported that it was a difficult war, but he felt certain, with God’s help, that David’s armies would prevail. Then David said, “Go to your house and wash your feet.” For he believed that Uriah would do more than wash his feet once he got home, which would provide David and Bathsheba with cover for her pregnancy.
Uriah, however, was not one for euphemisms, so he replied, “But my feet are not dirty; I washed them only last month.”
Then David stared him down and said, “Uriah…”
Thus, Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But he slept at the entrance to the palace and did not go down to his house.
When David was told that Uriah did not go home, he summoned him again and asked, “Haven’t you just come from a hard military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah answered, “My commander and fellow soldiers are camped in the open country, about to engage the Ammonites. How could I return to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife when they are in the heat of battle? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
David rolled his eyes at this but said, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back to battle.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day…and the next…and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David got him drunk. But each evening, Uriah went out to sleep on his mat outside the walls of the palace; he would not go home and be with his wife.
Finally, out of desperation, David wrote a letter to Joab, Uriah’s commander in battle: “Put Uriah in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw suddenly when he isn’t looking so that he will be struck down and die.”
So Joab ordered Uriah to a place where he was sure to encounter the fiercest Ammonite soldiers. During the ensuing battle, Uriah the Hittite was killed.
When Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. As soon as the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased God.
So God sent his prophet Nathan to speak with David. When he came to David, Nathan said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and one poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised the ewe lamb, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms. It was like a member of his family. Now a traveler came to the house of the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for his guest. Instead, he took the one ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David immediately sensed the injustice and said to Nathan, “Get that poor guy another ewe lamb!”
“You’re missing the point….” Nathan said.
“No,” David insisted. “The poor guy only had one ewe lamb, and now he’s got none. I feel for him. I used to be a shepherd myself! You can take the ewe lamb from one of my brothers’ flocks.”
“What about the rich man? Doesn’t he deserve to be punished?”
“Well, you know, he was in a tough situation. He had to provide a meal for his guest….”
“Yes,” Nathan said. “And he could easily have provided such a meal with one of his own sheep. He did not have to take the poor man’s only ewe lamb.”
“Now that you mention it, that was a pretty crappy thing to do.”
“Do you allow such injustices to go unpunished in your kingdom?”
“Ah, now I see,” David said.
“Take a ewe lamb from the rich guy and give it to the poor guy!”
“You’re right,” David said. “Take four ewe lambs from the rich guy—”
“Do you think the rich man will miss five ewe lambs?” Nathan said.
Then, at last, a look of recognition came to David’s eyes. “As surely as God lives, the rich man must die! He must pay because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
“You are the man who did this thing!”
“That’s crazy talk,” David said. “I haven’t laid a finger on anyone’s ewe lamb in years. Plus, I was a kid the last time. You know how kids are. Experimenting. What do you want me to say?”
Nathan slapped his forehead: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel and delivered you from the hand of Saul, your master. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives to your arms. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite and took his wife as your own. You killed him using the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah to be your own.’”
“Hear, again, the words of the Lord,” Nathan continued: “‘Out of your own household I will bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes, I’ll take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will make them his own in broad daylight. What you did in secret, I will do in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
David fell to his knees. “I have sinned against the Lord!”
To which Nathan replied, “You yourself will not die. But because you have shown contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day, however, the child died.
Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her, and she gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon, whom God loved.
As for David’s other children: His firstborn son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar, after which he was killed by David’s third son, Absalom—who was Tamar’s full-brother. Absalom was himself killed by one of David’s general after Absalom slept with David’s concubines, then attempted to overthrow his father and claim the throne. David’s fourth son, Adonijah, also claimed the throne during David’s life and was executed by Solomon after David’s death. Thus did God mete out the prophesied punishments to David’s sons.