And it came to pass in an evening tide, 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 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.
And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
To the accusers of the woman taken in adultery Jesus answered, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Thereupon we read that the accusers left her “beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.” In former years Rev. Gerrit Vos used to reflect upon this passage by observing that the reason why the eldest left first was that older men are more sinful than are young. It is a proposition against which young men, aware of their own impulsive sinfulness, are inclined to argue, but one against which old men in their depth of experience are silent. Surely, when we examine the life of King David, it would appear to bear this out.
David undoubtedly stands upon the pages of Scripture as one of the most impressive and appealing men in the history of the church of God, a wonderful mixture of gentleness and courage, humility and authority, joined together in the power of a firm and unwavering faith. One can not help but be drawn to him even in spite of the centuries and centuries of time that have intervened. The thing is though, that when one thinks of him in this way, it is of him in his youth and not in his adulthood, of him as a courageous young shepherd and warrior, not as the great king. The reason is, perhaps, because across the face of his adulthood life there rests a great scar, an event one wishes could be forgotten, a great and terrible sin. The atheist loves to reflect upon it and throw it in the believer’s face. Here is the proof that the children of God are no better than anyone else. And they think that they have gained a point, because what they say is really true. And because of this we can be thankful for the complete honesty with which the Scriptures record the lives of the saints. There is no effort to gloss them over and make them appear better than they really are. The fact is that the people of God are not better than others, the Scriptures leave this without question. It is just that we in God’s grace are brought to see our sin and confess it, just as David did. It is that which makes the difference.
Of this we may be sure, the fall of David into sin is not something that came about in a moment. Outwardly it might appear that way. There was after all that moment when he thought to lust after her in sinful desire, that moment when he gave way to his carnal desire to have her in adultery. The thing is though that there were many other times in David’s life when these same inclinations would have been adamantly resisted and the very thought would have aroused him to shame. But the time had come when the spiritual strength of David’s life was no longer increasing; rather it had fallen into a serious decline until he no longer retained the strength to resist even his basest desire. It was a spiritual decline so great that only one thing would be able to stir him, and that was to be led into temptation so that at his own fall he might come to see how truly helpless he was without the sustaining grace of God. That was how it happened.
In a way, perhaps, it was a natural result of coming into the position of king over Israel. David found himself eventually the victim of his own success and prosperity. As long as he had been young, alone, and oppressed by forces greater than his own, his complete dependence upon God had been a day by day reality with his obligations to God always before his mind. Even after he first became king, the vast numbers and power of his enemies brought him in prayer before God again and again while the weight of his new and heavy responsibilities reminded him always of his own weakness in life. But at last the time came when his armies had proved themselves to be the indisputable rulers of the world as they knew it. Wherever they went they conquered, and no one was able to resist their power. It made of David the acclaimed hero of the world that no one dared to speak against. To him there poured in from all corners of the world a new wealth such as the world had never seen before, some of it the booty of battle, some of it tribute forced by his armies, some of it willing bribes from those who thought to win his favor—but a wealth beyond measure nonetheless. For David, however, it was more of a temptation than a blessing, and a temptation which he was incapable of resisting. The time came when it appeared that his army was well enough trained that it seemed quite capable of functioning without him. With a man like Joab to lead it, David saw no reason why he should not allow the army to go out by itself while he remained behind to rest, relax, and enjoy some of the prosperity which he had brought to his country. So it was that when once again that season came about in which kings were accustomed to go out to battle, David sent his army without him to lead it while he remained in Jerusalem to enjoy himself and seek some leisure.
This, however, was not the only aspect entering into David’s fall. His was a day in which rulers and kings commonly demonstrated their greatness, power and wealth by the number of wives which they kept. The greater the number of such wives, the more beautiful their appearance, and the higher their birth, the more highly respected the king was supposed to be. It was a very evil tendency with many serious implications. It was a danger against which the law of God had warned those who were to be kings in Israel, Deuteronomy 17:17, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away.” But it was a warning to which neither David nor his son gave heed, and for both of them it was their downfall.
The weakness of David had appeared already at his first marriage to Michal the daughter of Saul. It was a marriage of expediency by which David was joined to the royal family; but it was not in the end a happy marriage and brought into the home of David a great deal of grief. Michal did not follow David into his banishment, with the result that when Abigail, the widow of Nabal, struck his fancy he married her also. Not long after this he married another wife also, and as time went on he married still more. David fell into the evil habit which was customary to all the great men of his age, whenever a young woman would strike his fancy, he would use his power and authority to take her and make her his wife. It only meant in the end, though, that David had no true wife, no woman with whom he could share his life and love completely as a reflection of God’s love and faithfulness to His church. David, by willfully following his every inclination and using his authority to satisfy his carnal desires, was depriving himself of the greatest means of human support and encouragement that a man can have. Having many, David in effect had no wife with whom he could truly share his life, so that he was left in loneliness.
It was perhaps this loneliness that overwhelmed David in those days after his army had departed. His usual companions were gone, and those who remained behind were not such as could fill his life. Accustomed to having him gone on the battlefield, the government of the land somehow went on without needing his attention. David had little more to do than to sleep and follow his passing whims. So it was that one evening David arose from a long afternoon nap and went up to the roof of the palace overlooking the city. It was by far the most delightful part of the day with the cool evening breezes passing over the city and particularly across the roof of the palace that rose in dominance above everything else. From his vantage point David looked down upon and about the city, when suddenly his eyes fell upon a neighbor woman he had never seen before. Thinking herself safely hidden behind the walls of her garden, she was washing herself and had undressed partially or wholly to do so. She was a beautiful woman and in these unusual circumstances quickly aroused the feelings and entreats of the king in her. All through the night the king could not forget this attractive woman he had looked upon, and the next morning he sent out an inquiry as to who she might be.
The answer was no doubt disappointing, for the woman was not, as he had hoped, a single woman who could be taken into his harem, but a married woman, the wife of one Uriah a Hittite and member of the royal army. Still David could not forget the woman whose name he now knew to be Bathsheba. Possibly she was lonely as he was, her husband being away with the army; and what harm could come from offering a few hours of entertainment, a meal and some quiet conversation. David may well have thought his purposes quite pure when he sent out the invitation to Bathsheba to come to him in the palace, a mere matter of kindness and hospitality to the wife of one of his faithful soldiers.
As far as Bathsheba was concerned, the invitation from David must have come totally unexpected. Neither was it one, coming as it did from the king himself, that could lightly be refused. Only after she had come to the palace, perhaps, did she discover that the purposes were purely social and not legal. Left as she was alone with another man, she must have felt her first feelings of guilt and uneasiness. It was not a place for her, a married woman, to be; and it would have been better to have excused herself. But this was the king; and besides, David was by every measure a gracious host and an attractive person. To be sure such close association between people of the opposite sex and not married to each other was quite contrary to the customs of the day; and both must have felt the precariousness of what they were doing. But both were interesting and gracious people so that very soon they found themselves completely engrossed in each other. But the course of nature had been set in motion, and before long their intimacies had become greater than either could resist. What followed was not any longer what could be explained away as innocent and both knew it. What had appeared a pleasure for a moment left them at their departure overshadowed with a deep and dismaying cloud of guilt resting upon their souls. Theirs was the anguish of guilt and of shame which only those who have followed adultery can ever know.
Neither was God, who alone with David and Bathsheba knew the darkness of that hour, about to let it be forgotten. First there were those hours and days in which each, both the man and the woman, struggled in loneliness with their own minds trying to explain away what they had done, trying to relieve that terrible oppression of guilt. Then came the weeks of fear and dawning awareness, and that secret message to David. There was to be no forgetting, no escape; Bathsheba had conceived. Their sin, the sin of David the great king was about to be exposed for all to see.
David was indeed the favored of the Lord. He had lived before the face of his God and had been blessed. But to him it must also become evident as well as to everyone else, and to us too; David’s greatness was not because he was better, not because he was in any way free from the power of sin; but only a matter of sovereign good-pleasure and grace.