His Terrible Sin
2 Samuel 11
In the Psalms of David two very different characters come before us again and again. In some of those Psalms there is expressed the sorrows of one who is consciously righteous, suffering the reproaches of the wicked, yet assured of strength in God, and looking forward to that fulness of joy which is at His right hand. In other Psalms we hear the sobbings of a convicted conscience, a heart deeply exercised over personal transgression, seeking after divine mercy, and being granted a blessed sense of the infinite sufficiency of divine grace to meet his deep need. Now, those two characters in the Psalms correspond to the two principal stages in David’s life as portrayed, respectively, in the first and second books of Samuel. In 1 Samuel we see him brought from obscurity unto honor and peace, upheld by God in righteousness amid the persecution of the wicked. In the latter we behold him descending from honor, through sin, into degradation and turmoil, yet there learning the amazing riches of divine grace to bear with and pardon one who fell into such deep mire.
Solemn indeed is the contrast presented of David in the two books of Samuel: in the former he is conqueror of the mighty Goliath: in the latter he is mastered by his own lusts. Now the sins of God’s servants are recorded for our instruction: not for us to shelter behind and use for palliating our own offences, but for us to lay to heart and seek with all our might to avoid. The most effectual means against our repeating their sins is to keep from those things which lead up to or occasion them. In the preceding chapter we pointed out that David’s fearful fall was preceded by three things: the laying aside of his armor at the very time it was his duty to gird on the sword; the indulging in slothful ease in the palace, when he should have been enduring hardness as a soldier on the battlefield; the allowing of a wandering eye to dwell upon an unlawful object, when he should have turned it away from beholding vanity.
"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Prayer of itself is not sufficient: we have not fully discharged our duty when we have asked God to lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We must "watch," be on the alert, noting the direction of our desires, the character of our motives, the tendency of things which may be lawful in themselves, the influence of our associations. It is our inner man which we most need to watch: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). Then, if we are faithful and diligent in "watching," out of a sense of our personal weakness and insufficiency, it is in order to "pray," counting on the help of our gracious God to undertake for us. To "pray" without "watching" is only to mock God, by seeking to shelve our responsibility.
Prayer was never designed by God as a substitute for personal effort and diligence, but rather as an adjunct thereto—to seek divine grace for enabling us to be dutiful and faithful. "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2). Not only does God require us to "watch" before we pray, but we are also to "watch" immediately after. And again we say, that which we most need to watch is ourselves. There is a traitor within our own breast, ever ready and desirous of betraying us if allowed the opportunity of so doing. Who had thought that such an one as David would ever experience such a fearful fall as he had! Ah, my reader, not even a close walk with God, or a long life of eminent piety, will eradicate or even change the sinful nature which still abides in the saint. So long as we are in this world we are never beyond the reach of temptation, and nought but watchfulness and prayer will safeguard us from it.
Nor is it easy to say how low a real child of God may fall, nor how deeply he may sink into the mire, once he allows the lusts of the flesh their free play. Sin is insatiable: it is never satisfied. Its nature is to drag us lower and lower, getting more and more daring in its opposition to God: and but for His recovering grace it would carry us down to hell itself. Took at Israel: unbelieving at the Red Sea, murmuring in the wilderness, setting up the idolatrous calf at Sinai. Look at the course of Christendom as outlined in Revelation 2 and 3: beginning by leaving her first love, ending by becoming so mixed up with the world that Christ threatened to spew her out of His mouth. Thus it was with David: from laying on his bed to allowing his eves to wander, from gazing on Bathsheba to committing adultery with her, from adultery to murder, and then sinking into such spiritual deadness that for a whole year he remained impenitent, till an express messenger from God was needed to arouse him from his torpor.
"And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said. I am with child" (2 Sam. 11:5). Sooner or later the man or the woman who deliberately defies God and tramples His laws underfoot finds from painful experience that "the way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15). It is true that the final punishment of the wicked is in the next world, and it is true that for years some daring rebels appear to mock God with impugnity; nevertheless, His government is such that, even in this life, they are usually made to reap as they have sown. The pleasures of sin Are but "For a season" (Heb. 11:25), and a very brief one at that: nevertheless "at the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder" (Prov. 23:32). Make no mistake on that point, dear reader: "Be sure your sins will find you out" (Num. 32:23). It did so with David and Bathsheba, for now the day of reckoning had to be faced.
The penalty for adultery was death: "And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 20:10). Bathsheba now had good cause to fear the righteous wrath of her husband, and the enforcing of the dread sentence of the law. David, too, was faced with serious trouble: the one with whom he had had illicit intercourse was pregnant, and her own husband had been away from home for some time. The hidden works of darkness must soon be forced into the light for when Uriah returned the unfaithfulness of his wife would be discovered. This would give him the right to have her stoned, and though David, by virtue of his high position as king, might escape a similar fate, yet it was likely that his guilt would be proclaimed abroad and a general revolt be stirred up against him. But sad as was the predicament in which David now found himself, still sadder was the measure he resorted to in seeking to extricate himself.
Before taking up the doleful details in the inspired narrative, let us first seek to obtain a general idea of what follows—asking the reader to go over 2 Samuel 11:6-21 ere continuing with our comments. There was no thirsting for Uriah’s blood on the part of David: it was only after all his carnal efforts had failed to use Uriah in covering his own sin, that the king resorted to extreme measures. Another before us has pointed out the awful parallel which here obtains between David and Pilate. The Roman governor thirsted not for the blood of the Saviour, rather did he resort to one expedient after another so as to preserve His life; and only after those had failed, did he give his official sanction to the crucifying of the Lord Jesus. Alas that the sweet Psalmist of Israel should here find himself in the same class with Pilate, but the flesh in the believer is no different from the flesh in the unbeliever, and when allowed its way it issues in the same works in both.
But the analogy between David and Pilate is even closer. What was it that caused David to sacrifice Uriah in order to shield himself? It was his love of the world, his determination to preserve his place and reputation among men at all costs. Love of his Fair name in the world, resolved that under no circumstances would he be branded as an adulterer, so whatever stood in the way must be removed. He contrived various expedients to preserve his character, but these were baffled; so just as the lust of the eye led him to adultery with Bathsheba, now the pride of life goaded him to the murder of her husband. And was it not the same with Pilate? He had no murderous designs against Christ, but he put his own credit in the eyes of men before everything else: he was Caesar’s friend—the world’s friend—and rather than risk any breach in that friendship Jesus must die.
"And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David" (v. 6). It was not unto the Lord that David now turned: He seems not to have been in his thoughts at all. Nor is He when sin has gained the ascendancy over the saint. Alas that we are so slow, so reluctant, to put things right with God—by sincere repentance and humble confession—when we have displeased and dishonored Him. No, David was far more anxious to conceal his crime and escape the temporal consequences of it, than he was to seek the forgiveness of the Lord his God. This, too, is recorded for our instruction. It is written, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Prov. 28:13), and there is no exception to that rule —O that divine grace would cause each of us to lay it to heart and act upon it. Only God knows how many of His own people are now under His chastening rod, are lean in their souls and joyless in their hearts, because of failure at this very point.
Refusal to put things right with God and our fellows, by confessing our sins to the One and (so far as lies in our power) making restitution to the other, gives Satan a great advantage over us. A guilty conscience estranges the heart from God, so that it is no longer able to count upon His protection; the Spirit is grieved and withholds His grace, so that the understanding is unable to see things in His light. The soul is then in such a state that Satan’s lies are acceptable to it, and then the whole course of conduct is more or less regulated by him. Carnal scheming takes the place of seeking wisdom from on high, stealth and trickery supplant openness and honesty, and self-interests absorb all the energies instead of seeking the glory of God and the good of others. This comes out plainly in the deplorable sequel here: all of David’s actions now show that he was actuated by Satan rather than dominated by the Holy Spirit.
"And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered" (v. 7). Having been summoned back from the scene of fighting, Uriah was given an audience with David under the pretense of supplying his royal master with an accurate account of how the hostilities were proceeding. In reality, those inquiries of the king were merely a blind to cover his real desire in having sent for Bathsheba’s husband. Seemingly, David wished to convey to Uriah the impression that he had more confidence in his word concerning the progress of the war than that of any one else in Israel. But it is quite clear from what follows that David had called Uriah home for a very different purpose. How little we know the motives of those who ask us questions, and how it behooves us to heed that exhortation "put not your confidence in princes" (Ps. 146:3).
"And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet" (v. 8). This makes clearer the secret design of the king in summoning Uriah to Jerusalem. David was determined to spare himself the shame of its becoming known that he was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba, and the only way in which that could be avoided was by getting her husband back to spend a night or two at home, so that the child might be fathered on him. "And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king" (v. 8). David was anxious that the one whom he designed to act as a cloak for his own sin should feel free to enjoy to the full the brief furlough now granted him. Again we say, how ignorant we often are of the subtle designs of some who may express good will toward us by their presents.
"But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house" (v. 9). How often the best-laid schemes of men meet with disappointment. It was so with Abraham’s attempt in getting Sarah to pose as his sister; it was so with Jonah’s efforts to avoid preaching to the Ninevites; it was so here. David was balked: he had failed to estimate aright the sterling qualities of the man with whom he was dealing. Uriah was not the one to give way to self-indulgence while his brethren were enduring the hardships of a military, campaign. And should not this speak loudly to our hearts? Are the days in which we are living such that Christians are justified in seeking ease and fleshly gratification?
"And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? Why then didst thou not go down into thine house?" (v. 10). Instead of commending Uriah for his noble unselfishness, the king half reproved him. But David could not approve Uriah’s conduct without condemning his own. Ah, my reader, they who criticize those who live as "strangers and pilgrims" in this scene (and they are few in number in this degenerate generation), calling them "strict," "straight-laced," "extremists," "puritanic," do but give themselves away. They who practice self-denial are thorns in the sides of those who wish to "make the most of both worlds" by pandering to their carnal desires.
"And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?—as thou livest, and thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing" (v. 11). What a rebuke was this! The Lord and His people in the open fields, engaging the foes of Israel; David at home in his palace, enjoying his ease and indulging the desires of nature. How those noble words of Uriah should have melted David’s heart! How they should have smitten his conscience for having yielded so vilely to his sinful passions and for so grievously wronging, in his absence, such a loyal subject! But alas, where the heart is no longer concerned for God’s glory, it is incapable of receiving correction or rebuke from a fellow creature. David was filled with pride of reputation and the fear of man, and was determined to make Uriah serve for him as a screen from the public eye.
"And David said to Uriah, Tarry here today also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow" (v. 12). When the heart is fully set upon doing evil, it refuses to be daunted by difficulties: if one method of obtaining the coveted end fails, it will try another. Alas that the same persistent determination does not characterize us when we are seeking that which is good: how easily we are discouraged then! Patience is a virtue, but it is prostituted to a base end when used in an evil course. Thus it was now: David refused to admit defeat, and hoped that by keeping Uriah in Jerusalem a little longer, his base desire might be realized.
"And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk" (v. 13). To what awful lengths can sin carry a saint once he enters upon the downward path. The plan which David now resorted to was horrible indeed, deliberately endeavoring to make the faithful Uriah break his vow in verse 11. How sad to now see David the tempter of Uriah unto drunkenness—hoping that while his blood was heated, he would go home to his wife. But again he failed: "And at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house" (v. 13). How this baffling of his plans should have aroused David’s sleeping conscience, for, manifestly, God’s providences were working against him. Worse was yet to follow: this we must leave for our next chapter.