This is a provocative question. Some might read it and react strongly one way or another – no, of course not! Or, yes, I’ve seen it happen. What muddies the water on questions like this is stories like the one I want to look at today – David and Bathsheba.
The crux of the story is in 2 Samuel 11. David is God’s chosen king. He is ruling from Jerusalem and did indeed found a dynasty. Three inscriptions have been found that point to this. The first is an engraving from the temple of Karnak in Egypt by Pharaoh Shoshenq I which mentions a victory on the “heights of David”. The second is an inscription from Tell Dan in northern Israel. The third was found in Moab (now Jordan). Both of these inscriptions date to about 150 years after David’s death and mention kings from “the house of David”. So what is clear in the Bible and outside the pages of scripture is that King David was a great and important man.
But then in 2 Samuel 11, he sees Bathsheba bathing as he is walking on his palace roof. He sends his men to get her, he has sex with her and she becomes pregnant. Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah the Hittite who is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 as one of David’s “mighty men”. To cover up the infidelity, David sends Uriah home to sleep with his wife. But Uriah doesn’t. So David sends Uriah back to the battle front and instructs his commander to put him in the thick of battle so he will die.
Everything about this is awful. Some historically have believed that Bathsheba enticed David. That is possible but not indicated in the text. On the other hand, David is the king. He sends men to get her. Bathsheba has little to no choice in what is happening. Whether willing or not, David is certainly abusing his power by taking her. Then he employs trickery against Uriah – and when that doesn’t work, murder.
What becomes difficult to read (apart from the story itself) is then the constant adoration of David in the pages of scripture – even apparently by himself. In 2 Samuel 22:21-25, David says he has kept the ways of the Lord, that he has not turned from the Lord’s decrees and that he has been blameless, nd has kept himself from sin. Throughout the book of Kings, there are references to kings following the Lord as David had done. God himself communicates with Solomon in 1 Kings 9:4-5 that God will establish his throne forever if Solomon will walk before God “in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did.” Even Jesus is called “Son of David” multiple times in the gospels.
In an age where we fare-too-frequently hear about men abusing their power, this is hard for us to read, and can impact our trust in scripture. Is the word of God a safe space for us? Is God a safe place for us? When we read this story, it all sounds like what David did didn’t matter.
But it did. It did matter.
There is immediate punishment from God and a clear statement that what David had done displeased the Lord (2 Sam. 11:27). God then sends Nathan to David to confront him with his sin. God strikes at the child born to David and Bathsheba and God tells David that the sword will never depart from David’s house.
So why the adoration afterwards?
The song of David 2 Samuel 22 may not have actually occurred sequentially in time after the Bathsheba incident. And is likely not to have been. It is unlikely that David would describe himself as sinless when we have Psalm 51 that relates directly and specifically to this incident. When Nathan confronts David, David acknowledges that he sinned against God (2 Sam. 12:13). In Psalm 51 David begs for mercy “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. sin is ever before me.” (You can take a deeper dive in a separate blog here).
What we also need to remember is that righteous does not mean perfect, and blameless does not mean sinless. Righteousness is being right with God. Many people in the Old Testament were righteous but far from perfect. And blameless means acknowledging sin and repenting (ie the process of being forgiven, or having ones blame dealt with). Walk with God. Acknowledge sin. Repent. This is what David did. And he didn’t get a free pass. His judgement was serious.
We don’t get a free pass. Our judgement is serious. But Jesus takes it for us – all we need to do is accept the gift. In other words, if we acknowledge and repent.
That can be a tricky concept for non-Christians because it can feel like what we’re saying is that people can do terrible things as long as they say sorry afterwards (before they inevitably do it again). But thats not what God requires of us. If we acknowledge our sin, it means we truly and humbly understand the thing we did. And repentance is a promise not to do it again. It is our responsibility to not keep sinning – and certainly to be self-aware enough to recognize that its not a one-off sin but that we have a pattern of sinful behavior. We not only beg forgiveness, but ask for help to change our hearts. Because no, the Bible does not allow any of us to do whatever we want, sin against others and just get away with it. And of course nothing in all this replaces the law of the land. Repentance changes our hearts in this world, and forgiveness changes our eternity, but if there are legal consequences and judgements to be faced, they must still be faced.
The point about David and the later positive epitaphs relate to several factors. First, there is a passage in Acts that says that David died and was buried “after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation Acts.” (Acts 13:36). As terrible as the things that happened were, they all had a purpose in the long plan of salvation. God used these events to bring about his will.
Second, the other kings did or didn’t follow the Lord as David had done because they did not walk in God’s ways and did not acknowledge or repent of their sin. Not because David was amazing.
Finally, he was God’s chosen – it was from his line that the messiah would come. Thats why Jesus is not hailed as son of David because David was perfect, but because it acknowledges the fulfillment of prophecy.
These are hard passages to read and they can really shake our faith, or force us to skip over passages of scripture because we fear what they might say. But this story is not about the exaltation of king who has been corrupted by power and gets to abuse it. This is the story of terrible events, judgement, repentance, and ultimately, God’s use of these events to bring about his purposes. This story shows us that power corrupts fragile humans. It shows us that we should and must repent. And it points us from a broken king who is punished directly by God, to the perfect King who takes our punishment for us.
This blog is one of a series on passages that are troublesome. Others in the series include Jephthah’s daughter in Judges, trial by ordeal or women and whether the Bible makes a woman marry her rapist. You can read them all here: Troublesome Bible passages series.