His Fearful Fall
2 Samuel 11
A difficult and most unwelcome task now confronts us: to contemplate and comment upon the darkest blot of all in the fair character of David. But who are we, so full of sin in ourselves, unworthy to unloose his shoes, to take it upon us to sit in judgment upon the sweet Psalmist of Israel. Certainly we would not select this subject from personal choice, for it affords us no pleasure to gaze upon an eminent saint of God befouling himself in the mire of evil. O that we may be enabled to approach it with true humility, in tear and trembling, remembering that "as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." Only then may we hope to derive any profit from our perusal; the same applies to the reader. Before proceeding further, let each of us ask God to awe our hearts by the solemn scene which is to be before us.
It must be for God’s glory and our profit that the Holy Spirit has placed on record this account of David’s fearful fall, otherwise it would not have been given a permanent place on the imperishable pages of Holy Writ. But in order to derive any good from it for our souls, it is surely necessary that we approach this sad incident with a sober mind and in a spirit of meekness, "considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted’ (Gal. 6:1). This inspired record is to be regarded as a divine beacon, warning us of the rocks upon which David’s life was wrecked; as a danger signal, bidding us be on our guard, lest we, through unwatchfulness, experience a similar calamity. Viewed thus, there are valuable lessons to be learned, instruction which will stand us in good stead if it be humbly appropriated.
The fearful fall of David supplies a concrete exemplification of many solemn statements of Scripture concerning the nature and character of fallen man. Its teaching in regard to human depravity is very pointed and unpalatable, and often has it been made a subject of unholy jest by godless scoffers. Such declarations as, "the imagination of mans heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21), "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9), "in my flesh dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18), are highly objectionable to human pride, yet the truth of them cannot be gainsaid. Fearful and forbidding as are such descriptions of fallen man, nevertheless their accuracy is illustrated and demonstrated again and again in the lives of Bible characters, as well as in the world today.
Rightly has it been said that, "One of the most astounding demonstrations of the truth of the Bible is its unhesitating revelation and denunciation of sin, in the professed follower at God. It conceals nothing; on the contrary, it pulls aside the veil and discloses all. It condones nothing; instead, it either utters the terrible wrath of God against the guilty one, or records His judgments as they fall upon the unhappy sinner, even to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 34:7).
"It exalts Noah as a preacher of righteousness in an evil and violent generation; with equal faithfulness it records his drunkenness and shame (Gen. 9:20, 21). Abraham is set before us as a man of faith. In the hour of famine, instead of waiting in quietness upon God, he goes down into Egypt. Once there, he persuades has wife to misrepresent her relationship to him, and through the acted falsehood imperils his peace and her own (Gen. 12:12, 13). Lot falls away after his deliverance from Sodom, and through love of wine is subjected to the lust of his wanton daughters. Aaron and Miriam are filled with jealousy and speak evilly against Moses, their brother. Moses speaks unadvisedly with his lips, and is shut out from the land of promise. The white light of truth flashes on every page, and the faults, the follies, the sins and inexcusable iniquities of those who call themselves the people and servants of God, are seen in all their repulsive forms" (I. M. H.).
Thus it was in the tragic case now before us. The fearful conduct of David reveals to us with terrible vividness that not only is the natural man a fallen and depraved creature, but also that the redeemed and regenerated man is liable to fall into the most heinous evil; yea, that unless God is pleased to sovereignly interpose, unwatchfulness on the part of the believer is certain to issue in consequences highly dishonoring to the Lord and fearfully injurious to himself. This it is which above all else makes our present portion so unspeakably solemn: here we behold the lusts of the flesh allowed full sway not by a man of the world, but by a member of the household of faith; here we behold a saint, eminent in holiness, in a unguarded moment, surprised, seduced and led captive by the devil. The "flesh" in the believer is no different and no better than the flesh in an unbeliever!
Yes, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, who had enjoyed such long and close communion with God, still had the "flesh" within him, and because he failed to mortify its lusts, he now flung away the joys of divine fellowship, defiled his conscience, ruined his soul’s prosperity, brought down upon himself (for all his remaining years) a storm of calamities, and made his name and religion a target for the arrows of sarcasm and blasphemy of each succeeding generation. Every claim that God had upon him, every obligation of his high office, all the fences which divine mercy had provided, were ruthlessly trampled under foot by the fiery lust now burning in him. He who in the day of his distress cried, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42:2) now lusted after a forbidden object. Alas, what is man? Truly "man at his best estate is altogether vanity" (Ps. 39:5).
But how are we to account for David’s fearful fall? Why was it that he succumbed so readily in the presence of temptation? What was it that led up to and occasioned his heinous sin? These questions are capable of a twofold answer, according as we view them in the light of the high sovereignty of God or the responsibility of man; for the present we shall consider them from the latter viewpoint. And it is here we should derive the most practical help for our own souls; it is in tracing the relation between God’s chastisements and what occasions them, between men’s sins and what leads up to them, that we discover what is most essential for us to lay to heart. The reasons why Abraham "went down to Egypt" are revealed in the context. Peter’s denial of Christ may be traced back to his self-confidence in following his Master "afar off." And, we shall see, the divine record enables us to trace David’s fall back to the springs which occasioned it.
"And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem. And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house" (2 Sam. 11:1-4). We cannot do better than seek to fill in the outline of Matthew Henry on these verses: first, the occasions of this sin; second, the steps of the sin; third, the aggravations of the sin.
The occasions of or what led up to David’s fearful fall are plainly intimated in the above verses. We begin by noticing the rime mark here mentioned: "And it came to pass after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle" (v. 1), which signifies, at the season of spring, after the winter is over. Following the period of enforced inactivity, upon the return of favorable weather, the military activities against the Ammonites were resumed: Joab and the army went forth, "But David tarried still at Jerusalem." Ominous "But," noting the Spirit’s disapproval at the king’s conduct. Here is the first key which explains what follows, and we do well to weigh it attentively, for it is recorded "for our learning" and warning Reduced to its simplest terms, that which is here signified is David’s failure to follow the path of duty.
It is obvious that at this time the king’s place—his accustomed one hitherto (see 10:17)—was at the head of his fighting men, leading them to the overthrow of Israel’s enemies. Had he been out fighting the battles of the Lord, he had not been subject to the temptation which soon confronted him. It may appear a trifling matter in our eyes that the king should tarry at Jerusalem: if so, it shows we sadly fail to view things in their proper perspective—it is never a trifling matter to forsake the post of obligation, be that post the most menial one. The fact is that we cannot count upon divine protection when we forsake the path of duty. That was the force of our Saviours reply when the devil bade Him cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; that pinnacle lay not in the path of His duty, hence His "thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
David relaxed when he should have girded on the sword: he preferred the luxuries of the palace to the hardships of the battlefield. Ah, it is so easy to follow the line of least resistance. It requires grace (diligently sought) to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). Alas that David had failed to profit from a previous failure along this same line: when he had sought rest among the Philistines at an earlier date, he fell readily into sin (1 Sam. 21:13); so it was now, when he sought ease in Jerusalem. The important principle here for the Christian to lay to heart is, David had taken off his armor, and therefore he was without protection when the enemy assailed him. Ah, my reader, this world is no place to rest in; rather is it the arena where faith has to wage its fight, and that fight is certain to be a losing one if we disregard that exhortation "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11).
"And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house." Here is the second thing for us to observe: not only had David shunned the post of duty, but he was guilty of slothfulness. It was not the slumbers of nighttime which the Spirit here takes notice of, for it was eveningtide when he "arose"—it was the afternoon which he had wasted in self-luxuriation. David had failed to redeem the time: he was not engaged either in seeking to be of use to others, or in improving himself. Laziness gives great advantage to the tempter: it was "while men slept" that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat" (Matthew 13:29). It is written, "The hand of the diligent shall bear rule (in measure, over his lusts): but the slothful shall be under tribute" (Prov. 12:24).
What a word is this: "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down" (Prov. 24:30, 31). Does not the reader perceive the spiritual meaning of this: the "field" is his life, open before all; the vineyard" (private property) is his heart. And what a state they are in: through idle neglect, filled with that which is obnoxious to God and worthless to men. "Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction" (v. 32). Do we? Do we lay it to heart and profit therefrom when we behold so many wrecked and fruitless lives around us—ruined by spiritual indolence. "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man" (vv. 33, 34)—are not those verses a solemn commentary on 2 Samuel 11:2!
"And from the roof he saw a woman washing herself, and the woman was very beautiful to look upon." Here is the third thing: a wandering eye. In Isaiah 33:15 and 16 we are told concerning the one that "shutteth his eyes from seeing evil, he shall dwell on the heights, his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks." Alas, this is what David did not do: instead, he suffered his eyes to dwell upon an alluring but prohibited object. Among his prayers was this petition, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity" (Ps. 119:37), but we cannot expect God to answer us if we deliberately spy upon the privacy of others. We turn now to consider the actual steps in this fall.
"And David sent and enquired after the woman." He purposed now to satisfy his lust. He who had once boasted "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt Thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person" (Ps. 101:2-4), now determined to commit adultery. Note the repeated "I will" in the above passage, and learn therefrom how much the "will" of man is worth!
"And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Here was calm deliberation and premeditation on the part of David. Here too was a merciful interposition on the part of God, for one of the kings servants dared to remind his royal master that the woman he was inquiring about was the wife of another. How often does the Lord in his grace and faithfulness place some obstacle across our path, when we are planning something which is evil in His sight! It is this which renders our sin far worse, when we defiantly break through any hedge which the providence of God places about us. O that we may draw back with a shudder when such obstacles confront us, and not rush blindly like an ox to the slaughter.
"And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her." The order is very solemn: first "he saw" (v. 2), then he "sent and inquired" (v. 3), and now "he lay with her." Yet that does not give us the complete picture: we need to go back to verse 1 in order to take in the entire scene, and as we do so, we obtain a vivid and solemn illustration of what is declared in James 1:14, 15. First, David was "drawn away of his lust"—of fleshly ease and indolence; second, he was then "enticed"—by the sight of a beautiful woman; third, "then when lust had conceived it brought forth sin"—that of premeditated adultery; and, as the terrible sequel shows, "sin when it was finished brought forth death"—the murder of Uriah her husband.
The aggravations of his sin were marked and many. First, David was no longer a hot-blooded youth, but a man some fifty years of age. Second, he was not a single man, but one who already had several wives of his own—this is emphasized in chapter 12:8, when God sent the prophet to charge him with his wickedness. Third, he had sons who had almost reached the age of manhood: what a fearful example for a father to set before them! Fourth, he was the king of Israel, and therefore under binding obligation to set before his subjects a pattern of righteousness. Fifth, Uriah, the man whom he so grievously wronged, was even then hazarding his life in the king’s service. And above all, he was a child of God, and as such, under bonds to honor and glorify His name.