(17) Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” – 2 Samuel 12:13

The Bible gives us an honest, ‘warts and all’ portrait of its main characters. We read of their faults and failures alongside their faith and achievements. David is no exception. After all his achievements as king, and the repeated demonstration of his faith, we read of his faults, which lead to a disastrous failure, in 2 Samuel 11.

David’s adultery with Bathsheba is recorded in detail. It starts with David, “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war” (2 Samuel 11:1), walking on the roof of his palace. There he sees a beautiful women bathing in the garden next door and, even though he knows that she is the wife of one of his leading military men, he invites her round for dinner and sleeps with her.

It was to be a one night stand but she becomes pregnant so David sends for her husband, Uriah, who is on the battlefield where David ought to be, to come and brief him on the war. He hopes that Uriah will spend a romantic evening at home so that he will be seen as the father of Bathsheba’s child. But Uriah is seen to be an upright and loyal man who, despite David getting him drunk, spends the night with the servants in the palace rather than enjoying the luxury of a night at home while his fellow soldiers are sleeping in tents on the battlefield. David sends him back with sealed orders for Joab, the army commander, to arrange for Uriah’s death on the battlefield. Once Uriah is dead, David takes Bathsheba as his wife. In due time the child is born, and David thinks that he has got away with it.

But God has noticed and he calls on the services of Nathan the prophet again. Previously Nathan had the honour of telling David that his throne would last forever; this time he has the uncomfortable and dangerous role of confronting David with his sin. Kings at this time were absolute dictators so it was a risk. David has broken at least four of the ten commandments – coveting, adultery, murder and lying – and when Nathan faces him with what he has done he immediately acknowledges that, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). Nathan tells David that the child will die and that he will see disasters in his own household.

David wrote a psalm of confession at this time which is instructive for us. He does not attempt to play down the enormity of what he has done but he has full confidence that God can and will forgive him. He asks, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love … Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” and  “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Psalm 51:1,2,9). But simply having the slate washed clean is not enough and David asks God to “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:10-11). If God can forgive David, then he can forgive us too, whatever we have done.

But although we can be forgiven, the things that we do have consequences and we see this principle worked out in David’s life. The account of his family life from this time on is devastating. One of his sons rapes his half sister and, when David does nothing about it, her brother Absalom murders him in retaliation. After years in exile Absalom returns and proclaims himself king forcing David to flee over the Jordan for his safety. In the ensuing battle Absalom is killed and David mourns his loss.

However, out of this mess comes one ray of hope. David and Bathsheba have a second son, Solomon, and he is the one that David appoints as his successor.

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