David: Man After God’s Own Heart, Part VII, “The Adulterer”

A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
July 29, 2012

from 2 Samuel 11 

Usually, when we get to this part in the worship service, I step behind the pulpit to preach a sermon. And usually, I preach from one of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Usually, I wear a suit and a tie.

But in the summertime I usually do something different, just to change things up a bit. And this summer instead of standing behind the pulpit and talking about Jesus, I’ve been standing in front of you and talking about David, the greatest King who ever lived in Israel, a man after God’s own heart. 

In six sessions, we have covered more than 35 chapters of the Biblical narrative from First and Second Samuel. I haven’t told you everything.  I have skipped a few parts.  But I have even gone back to the book of Exodus to bring in some historical background. 

Thirty five chapters of the Bible; that’s a lot of scripture. 

In Isaiah 55:11, God himself says that his word will not return to him void, but will accomplish the purpose for which he sends it out.  I believe that applies to all of the Bible, even these sometimes scandalous stories about David.  And with that confidence, I have been scattering the seed of God’s word in large generous handfuls, hoping that some of it will land on the fertile soil of your heart and take root there and bear fruit. 

So today, as I prepare to tell another story of David, perhaps you could prepare the soil of your heart to receive the word of the Lord.

David, as you may recall, had been crowned king over all of Israel and Judah.  He had gone up to Jerusalem and captured it from the Jebusites to make it his capital city.  He had filled up his new palace with wives and concubines, sons and daughters.  He had brought up the Ark of the Covenant in a grand and glorious parade.  He had beat back his enemies all about until Israel enjoyed an unprecedented peace and prosperity. 

The story could have ended right there.  And maybe it should have, with everybody living happily ever after. But this is no fairy tale.  This is the Bible.  It is as real as your life or mine. 

It was the spring of the year, the Bible says, the time when Kings go out to battle.  David sent Joab, his general, and all his officers and the entire army of Israel, out to fight against the Ammonites.  They ravaged Ammon and laid siege to the city of Raba, but David remained in Jerusalem. 

Did you hear that?

It was the spring of the year, it was the time when kings go out to battle.  King David stayed at home in Jerusalem. 

Now, we don’t know why.  Maybe he was recovering from an old war wound.  Maybe his personal physician had said, “David, I know how you like to mix it up in battle, but just this once, you should probably stay home.  Get some rest.  Recover.”  Who knows?  The Bible doesn’t tell us.  It simply says, “David remained at Jerusalem.” 

This is a lesson even before the story begins about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The very next words in the story are the words, “It happened.”  Boy, did it happen! 

One afternoon when David got up from his couch after his afternoon nap, the Bible doesn’t give many details at this point but I can picture David yawning, stretching, standing there in his Egyptian cotton pajamas, trying to wake up after a long, delicious slumber. 

You know how it is after an especially long nap that sometimes you feel a little groggy.  And David may have gone and soaked in the tub for awhile to see if he could bring himself back to life again.  Gotten out, put on his robe, poured himself a drink, we don’t know.  The Bible doesn’t say.  But it does say that he walked out on the flat roof of his palace in late afternoon. 

It’s that time of day in Jerusalem when things are especially beautiful, the sun is sinking down over the western hills and the light is golden.  It turns the white limestone of those buildings a beautiful dusky golden color. 

David was standing there at the parapet, looking out over the rooftops of Jerusalem when he saw her, this woman taking a bath.  And when he saw her, because there was no one there to tell him not to, he looked at her and the more he looked, the more he liked what he saw. 

He watched her scooping up water and pouring it over her long black hair, watched it spilling over her smooth brown shoulders.  The way it glistened in the afternoon sunlight was beautiful.  She was beautiful, the Bible says, and when David looked at her, he wanted her. 

When he went downstairs, he asked as discreetly as possible, “Who is that woman who lives just down the hill from the palace, third door on the left?  Who is that anyway?

And someone said, “Oh, I think that’s, that’s Bathsheba, yes Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 

“Bathsheba,” David said, tasting her name on his lips.  Liking the taste of it. 

“Bathsheba, how appropriate.” 

And before he could change his mind, he sent for her and some of his servants went to fetch her.  They had to go.  David was the King.  Everybody had to do what David said. 

So when they got to her door and knocked, when she came down and opened the door, they said, “The King wants to see you.  You have to come.”  She did have to come.  Everybody had to do what the King said do. 

She had already taken her bath.  It was a simple thing really to fix her hair, to put on her face, to accessorize ever so slightly, a beautiful simple dress, a dab of perfume, and she was ready to go.  She went with those servants back to the palace.  She knocked on the door of David’s bed chamber.  And when the door was opened, there she stood in that dress with the light from the hallway spilling in behind her, silhouetting her body in a way that made her seem especially beautiful. 

David invited her in and when she stepped into the lamplight of his bed chamber, it nearly took his breath away.  The Bible says she was very beautiful. 

After that, the Bible doesn’t provide much detail.  This is not a love story, after all.  It simply says that David took her and lay with her and when he was finished with her, he sent her home. 

And for the next few weeks, he didn’t give her another thought.  She was out of his mind completely. 

Until he got a note from her, written in her own hand, those three little words,  “I am pregnant.”  And suddenly, Bathsheba was at the center of David’s attention once again. 

What could he do?  How could he cover the tracks of his sin?  He remembered that she was married to Uriah, the Hittite. That’s what they had told him the beginning. 

Uriah, the Hittite, was over there fighting with Joab against the Ammonites.  David sent for him and when Joab got the message, “Send me Uriah, the Hittite,” Joab had to do it.  Everybody had to do what the King said do. 

And so he sent for Uriah.  It was a good two days’ journey from Raba to Jerusalem, down one long hill and up another, two good days even if you were walking quickly, which Uriah was.  When he came into the King’s presence, it was late afternoon on the second day. He drew himself up to attention, he clicked his heels together, snapped off a sharp salute, just as any good soldier would do, and Uriah was a very good soldier. 

David said, “Good to see you, Uriah.  Tell me all about the war.  How are things going over there in Ammon?” 

And so Uriah told him.  Told him how they had ravaged Ammon and laid siege to the city of Rabbah; how they were just about to break through its walls and take control of that city. He went on and on, filling in all the gaps in David’s information.  And when he was finished, David said, “Thank you, Uriah, for that good report.  Why don’t you go on down to your house?  You’ve had a long journey.  Look at you.  Go down to your house, Uriah, wash your feet.”

Now you need to know that phrase “wash your feet” was a euphemism.  It was a way of saying one thing when you meant another. 

“Wash your feet, Uriah,” David said with a good bit of winking and nudging, and Uriah knew exactly what he meant.  David wanted him to go down to his house and enjoy the comforts of home, all the comforts of home.  David wanted him to sleep with his wife, Bathsheba.  And you know why, don’t you?  If Uriah would do that, if he would sleep with Bathsheba, then when she turned up pregnant sometime later, he would assume that it was his own child. 

But if he didn’t do it, if he didn’t go down to his house and wash his feet, if he wouldn’t sleep with his wife, then when she turned up pregnant,  he might come to another conclusion altogether. 

“So,” said David, “go down to your house, Uriah.   Wash your feet.”  (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) 

But Uriah didn’t do it.  When he went out of the palace, he stopped right there where the palace guard was stationed and that night, he slept where they were. 

The next morning, when David heard about it, he could hardly believe his ears.  He came to Uriah and said, “Why didn’t you go down to your house?  You’ve just come in from this long journey, you must be exhausted.  Why didn’t you go down to your house, enjoy the comforts of home, why didn’t you eat and drink and wash your feet?” 

And Uriah said, “The ark of the Lord and the army of Israel is on the battlefield.  Joab and all his officers and all the enlisted men are sleeping in tents on the battlefield.  How could I go down to my house and enjoy all the comforts of home while they are sleeping in tents on the battlefield?  As you live, my Lord, and as your soul lives, I will do no such thing.” 

And David was surprised to find all that virtue in the man.  It reminded him of someone, maybe himself in his younger years. 

But he said, “Uriah, let me send you back to the battlefield tomorrow since that’s where you want to go. But before you go, come and have dinner with me.  Let’s talk together, and eat and drink and remember the good old days.”

Uriah, the Hittite was one of David’s mighty men.  They had fought together numerous times.  They had stories to tell.

And so Uriah consented and that night, he came to the palace.  He sat there at a table with David.  They ate, they drank, and David kept filling up Uriah’s cup with wine every time it got empty.  He was trying to get Uriah drunk.  And he succeeded.  By the time the meal was over, Uriah staggered to his feet and David caught him and said, “Whoa,  steady there, big fella.  Listen.  You’ve had a little too much to drink. Maybe you should go down to your house and sleep it off.  Maybe you should rest, relax, wash your feet.” 

But this time it didn’t sound so much like a suggestion as a command. 

Still, Uriah didn’t do it.  He went out again, wobbled out of the palace, and stayed that night with the palace guard where they stayed. 

And the next morning, David felt that he had no recourse but to send Uriah back to the battle.  He sent him with this message for Joab, his General.  “The next time you attack the city, put Uriah on the front lines where the fighting is heaviest and in the heat of the battle, draw back from him so that he may be struck down and killed.” 

He gave the message to Uriah and Uriah went back to the battlefield, carrying his own death sentence.  The next time Joab attacked the city, he put Uriah on the front line.  He had to.  The king had told him to and he had to do what the King said.  Everybody did what the King said. 

Everybody except Uriah.  And he paid for it. 

He went into the front line of the battle and there he was struck down and killed, just as David had hoped. 

Joab sent a messenger to carry the news to David and he said tell him this, “Tell him that the Ammonites came out against us on the battlefield.  And the fighting was fierce but we finally chased them back into the city of Rabbah and we followed them and gave pursuit and when we got close to the wall, their archers shot down on us from the wall and killed many of our best and bravest warriers.  Uriah, the Hittite, was also killed.” 

He sent the messenger and said to him, “If the King becomes angry, if he says to you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city wall? Don’t you know the story?  Don’t you know how Abimelich, the son of Jerub-Besheth, was killed because he got too close to the wall?  Because a woman threw down an upper millstone on him and crushed his head?  Why did you come so close to the wall?’  If he gets angry, Joab said, simply tell him, ‘Your servant Uriah was also killed.’” 

And so the messenger went to David and told him the news, all the news of the battle.  And when he was finished, he said, “Your servant Uriah was also killed.” 

David took the news remarkably well.  And he said, “You go and tell Joab not to be discouraged.  This is now it is in battle.  The sword devours first one and then another.  Tell him not to be discouraged, but to renew his attack on the city.  This time, I’m sure he’ll take it.” 

When Bathsheba heard the news about her husband, Uriah, she entered into a period of mourning.  And when her time was finished, David sent for her and took her as his wife.  In due time, some would say a couple of months before “due time”, she bore him a son. 

There are many lessons that could be learned from this story.  But probably the simplest and easiest of these is the lesson that one sin can and often does lead to another. 

When David stepped out on the roof of his palace, he wasn’t planning to sin.  He didn’t know that he would see a woman bathing, but he did. 

Some people have tried to pin this sin on Bathsheba, saying she shouldn’t have been out there in the first place.  If she wasn’t taking a bath on the roof of her house, David wouldn’t have been tempted to sin. 

Now, I’m no attorney and I’m certainly not Bathsheba’s attorney, but if I were, I might site Second Samuel 11:1, that says, “It was the spring of the year.  It was the time when kings to out to battle.”  Where was David?  Not out there battling against the Ammonites but at home in Jerusalem.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Bathsheba could have easily assumed, that so many of the women in Jerusalem could have assumed, that all their men had gone off to fight. It was the perfect time of year for taking a bath on the rooftop.  The spring of the year. 

David saw her and when he saw her, he looked. 

Do you hear the difference in the verbs?  Seeing is passive while looking is active.  You might see a bird fly past out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn your head and look at it, you make it the focus of your attention.

This is what David did.  With Bathsheba, he saw her and then he looked at her and when he looked at her, he lusted after her.  And so, broke one of the Ten Commandments.  Thou shalt not covet, the Lord had said.  Not thy neighbor’s house, nor thy neighbor’s wife, nor any of thy neighbor’s possessions, and yet David had done that very thing.  He looked upon his neighbor’s wife and wanted her for his own.  And because he could, because he was the King, he sent for her and took her. 

Some people might ask, “Why did Bathsheba come?  Why didn’t she just tell the servants of David, ‘No, thank you, I’m a married woman?’”

You have to understand that she was overpowered, not physically, but politically, she was overpowered as surely as any woman who has ever been raped.  She came to David because she had to come.  Had to. 

And when she did, David broke another of the Commandments, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the Lord said.  But David did. 

Do you remember what Samuel told the people when they first asked for a king?  He said, “A King will not be a giver; he will be a taker.  He will take your sons and daughters.  He will take your land and your livestock.”  In the Hebrew version of this story, it simply says, “David took Bathsheba.” 

And then when his sin was discovered, he broke yet another commandment.  He sent a message to Joab, saying “Put Uriah on the front lines where he will be killed.” 

David murdered Uriah as certainly as anyone ever has who contracted with a hit man for the murder of his enemy.  

Thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not murder.  David had broken three of the big Ten Commandments. 

Maybe he didn’t mean to.  Maybe when he stepped out on the roof of his palace, he had no intention of sinning.  But if there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it is that one sin leads to another. 

The distance between looking at a woman taking a bath and having her husband murdered is not so great a distance as you might imagine.

For this reason, when we first encounter temptation, before it takes hold of us, we must turn away, look away, walk away.   

—Jim Somerville 2012

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