Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/13/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 11
“But the Thing That David Had Done Displeased the LORD”
What a shocking, startling, chapter. After so many chapters where we’ve seen David on this wonderful, positive, upward spiral, there is now a major turning point in this book. Sadly, we begin what in general will be a downward spiral for King David throughout the rest of this book. To be sure, David will know the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God during this downward spiral. But he will nonetheless have many troubles and trials, so much of which is a result of his sin. And so this is all so shocking because this is David, the king who was supposed to be the man after God’s own heart. And yet he does make some major failures, especially beginning here with the Bathsheba incident. And what is also so shocking about all this, is how we can each relate. David is someone who knows the Lord and yet does what he does here. And we who know the Lord realize that we are not immune from such failings as well. Let us then learn what we are to learn from this shocking passage.
So our first and main point to see for today is how bad David’s sin is. Actually, we should use the plural. David has not just one sin here, but multiple sins. This chapter represents such a major moral failing on King David’s part. It begins in verse 1. “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel.” We’re reminded, by the way, of the context here. Last chapter we saw the conflict David was having with the Ammonites. After shaming God’s people, they hired the Syrians to help fight off the Israelites. But the Syrians were defeated, and the Ammonites retreated back into their fortified stronghold of Rabbah. This story actually brackets the entire Bathsheba incident. The Bathsheba incident ends next chapter, and immediately follows with the final victory over the Ammonites. But I digress, because at verse 1, the point is that while David as King should have been out on the battlefield leading the troops, he was not. He stayed in the comfort and safety of Jerusalem while the Ark and the Army of Israel are on the battlefield in tents. This not only provides the stage for David’s sin with Bathsheba, but this passage suggests that it in itself, was already a failing of David. I think of how the Westminster Larger Catechism comments on the 5th Commandment, the one about honoring your parents. It extrapolates that commandment to apply it to all situations with leaders and followers. And it says that leaders sin when they neglect the duties required of them. That seems to be the point of this chapter in terms of David not being on the battlefield. So that’s the first sin of David here.
But then it gets worse. He then breaks the 10th commandment. He covets another man’s wife. This is verses 2-4. It’s very clear that when David enquires about the woman, that he’s told it is someone else’s wife. That’s when he should have stopped his pursuit of her. But he does not. He calls for her to come over and she comes. And that’s when he commits the next sin. He commits adultery with her. So he breaks the 7th commandment.
Well David probably had expected his sin with Bathsheba to have ended there. But it did not. For we read verse 5. From this one night of sin, Bathsheba becomes pregnant. We were told an important detail in verse 4, that Bathsheba had just ended her period of cleansing before she committed adultery with David. And so that made it abundantly clear, that this child in the womb was David’s and not her husband Uriah’s. And so what would David do? Would he at this point confess his sin and face the consequences? The ordinary consequences of course would be death. Adultery under the old covenant incurred the death penalty of stoning. Presumably Bathsheba would also be put to death, per Deuteronomy 22, since there is no record of her trying to resist this adultery. But David does not confess his sin at this point. Instead he plots to cover it up.
And so he calls Uriah back home from the battlefield. He attempts to have Uriah lie with his wife which is attempted lying on David’s part. In other words, here David breaks the 9th commandment by attempting to bear false witness. He’s trying to make this baby in the womb of Bathsheba look like it’s Uriah’s baby. But Uriah won’t go home to his wife. He acts as a foil here to David, because he wouldn’t go home to his wife while the Ark and the army of the LORD are in tents on the battlefield. That only rubs in more David’s neglect of his own duty in that regard.
And then David’s attempt to lie and cover this up gets worse. He has Uriah stay a second day and gets him drunk. David obviously hopes Uriah’s drunkenness will get him to go home and be with his wife. There is irony here if you remember the context of the Ammonite conflict. You see, David’s attempt here has a strange similarity with how the Ammonites came into existence originally. The daughters of Lot got their father drunk and seduced him, resulting in the Moabites and the Ammonites. That shameful thing is recorded in Genesis 19. And so David’s cover up actually uses a similar strategy, one that is hard to miss given the conflict going on with the Ammonites at that very moment. Well, in Uriah’s commendable character, even this attempt at cover up fails. Uriah still sleeps with the servants at David’s palace. He won’t go home to his wife.
And so David has a third and final plan to cover this up. He decides to have Uriah murdered so he can take his wife for himself. In great audacity, he sends back Uriah to the battlefront, with a message to Joab, carrying his own death warrant, unbeknownst to himself. And so now we can add murder to the list of David’s sin, a breaking of the 6th commandment. And it’s not just Uriah who dies in this attempted cover up, but as Joab implements David’s orders it results in several soldiers of Israel getting killed. And as we think about this murder, we can also add stealing to the list, a breaking of the 8th commandment, because David uses this murder to take what is not his. In fact, Nathan the prophet will next chapter describe this sin in terms of stealing.
And so I hope you see how royally David sinned here. He broken every commandment in the Ten Commandments that deal with how you are to love your neighbor. And then think of some of the ways that he especially broke these commandments regarding your neighbor. Not only did he break them, but he broken them in some especially bad ways. I’ll point out two aspects of how egregious this was. The first is the family that he was doing this to. Notice what we learn about Bathsheba. Not only is she the wife of Uriah, she’s the daughter of Eliam, which also means she was the granddaughter of Ahithophel per 2 Samuel 23:34. Who were these three people I just mentioned? Well, the grandfather Ahithophel was David’s royal counselor, per 2 Samuel 15:2. And Eliam and Uriah are both listed in the list of David’s thirty-seven mighty men in 2 Samuel 23. In other words, they were national war heroes, and the most loyal, famous, military men of King David. Uriah and Eliam were not just random soldiers in David’s army. They were the most decorated and trusted soldiers. They were people to be commended by the King, not disgraced by doing this to Eliam’s daughter and Uriah’s wife. How greatly shameful of David. How ungrateful of David for all their service. What betrayal of David to their loyalty! I mean I put this up there along with the kind of thing that Judas Iscariot did in his betrayal; yes, not as bad as that, but pretty bad!
A second reason why all these sins against David’s neighbors was so wrong, is because of in light of how much David already had. This is a theme to be developed more next chapter. But let’s say it here too. David had numerous wives already. Why would he need to have this man’s wife too? Not to mention everything else God had given David; think of chapter 7 particularly with the covenant God made with David to establish an eternal kingdom through his offspring. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6 that godliness with contentment is great gain. After all what God had given David, how could he sin like this? What comes to mind in this is what Deuteronomy 17 said that the king of Israel should do. It said in Deuteronomy 17:19 that the king must be very careful to obey all God’s laws. And not only that, it goes on to say that the king must not lift his heart above his brethren, so as to turn aside from God’s commandments. You see, this is a problem for leaders. They can falsely start thinking that they are better than everyone else; that the rules for everyone else don’t apply to them. David had really everything anyone could want, but then so blatantly ignored all God’s commandments about how to treat your neighbor. Surely it was the pride of leadership that contributed to this, and why it was so egregious.
Because at the end of the day, it meant that David’s sin was not ultimately against his neighbors, but against God. He did not obey the many commands of God. In Psalm 51, which David wrote after Nathan the prophet in next chapter confronts him for his sin, David would admit this. Psalm 51:4, David wrote to God, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.” And that is what we see here in this passage. It’s the final verse. God was displeased. David tried to cover this up. Ironically, David at the end of this chapter probably thought he got away with it. Since Uriah was a Hittite, an immigrant, he may not have had any relatives around to be a kinsman redeemer for Bathsheba. So, when David married Bathsheba, he might have even looked like a noble hero stepping in and taking her under his care on behalf of his fallen hero-servant. David might have thought he got away with this all, and maybe that he even looked like a hero himself. But God knew. Verse 27, “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.”
What then do we do with this passage? Well my next brief point for today is to say that this makes us look for a better king. And yet it’s interesting to think of how this works itself out. Remember King Saul. He failed royally, and was rejected by God. That made them look for God to provide another king. And so God did. He provided David. David was supposed to be a man after God’s own heart. And in many ways, he was. But here we see that he is still a human flawed with the effects of sin. David was a great king. But he was not the Great King God yet had in store for his people. This passage, and frankly the rest of this book of 2 Samuel, has such an important message for us. After all the great things we’ve seen of David, we are left at the end realizing that we should look for another. Remember, that is what John the Baptist asked Jesus. In a momentary weakness of faith, John asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Well, starting in this chapter of 2 Samuel we have that question answered with regard to David. As much as David was a type of the Christ to come, he shows in chapters like this that he wasn’t the Christ to come. Whenever we see types of Christ in the Bible, we should recognize this. That there are ways that they look like the Christ who would come. But there are also ways in which they don’t look like the Christ to come. David’s identify is confirmed here. He wasn’t the promised one. He wasn’t the one that God spoke to Adam and Eve about. Yes, he was a type of that one to come; but he wasn’t the one. The people of God would have to keep looking.
And yet to turn then quickly to our third point, isn’t it nonetheless amazing that God would show mercy to this type of Christ, for the sake of Christ? What do I mean? I mean that we’ll see that David doesn’t get put to death for all his sins here. That’s what his crimes deserved. But God shows him grace. He also doesn’t reject David’s kingdom and his offspring because of this. Again, remember that when Saul greatly sinned, that’s exactly what God did. Why did God reject Saul’s kingdom but show grace to David and establish his kingdom? In other words, why David, and not Saul? Of course, we could ask that question about a lot of similar comparisons in the Bible. Why Jacob and not Esau? Why Abraham and not Lot? Why would God work through the line of Abraham and Jacob and David? Was it because those men were so righteous that they earned God’s special promise through their line? Abraham who twice handed his wife over to another man, not acknowledging her as his own wife; Abraham who did not trust God’s promise enough but went into Hagar his maidservant to try to accomplish God’s promised that way? Or what about Jacob? Jacob who ruthlessly sold his own brother soup in his hour of desperation? Jacob who deceived his own dying father and lied in the name of the Lord? More could be said about these men. You see, when we ask why David or why Abraham or why Jacob we have to keep coming back to one answer. Only for the grace of God. Only for the grace of God according to his good pleasure did he choose to use these men as part of his line of promise in order to ultimately bring forth Jesus, the Christ.
Of course, then finally, it is clear. Why Jesus, and not anyone else? Why was Jesus rightly set as the Messiah, the chosen one of the Lord, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? For he is the righteous one of the Lord, having been tempted in every way, yet without sin. And he even sacrificed his own self, to the cursed death of the cross, and to experience the wrath of God as an atonement for sin, in order to purchase a people for himself. And Jesus then is the answer for our passage again for today. Why could David be forgiven? Why could David receive mercy from God? Why was his kingdom allowed to continue? Why would God still use his lineage to even bring forth Jesus? Because Jesus died on the cross for David’s sin. David tried unsuccessfully to hide his sin. But one from David’s own line would be able to hide David’s sin. He would hide it by atoning for it. And that is the case for us as well. For all who have turned and put their faith in Jesus. He has atoned even for all our sins.
Brothers and sisters, isn’t this wonderful news today? Because I want you to pause for a moment and think of all your heinous sins. And I’m not talking about all the ones before you became a Christian. I mean all the ones that you’ve done after becoming a Christian. Think of how horrible those sins are, especially because you are a Christian. You’ve known the grace of God. He’s made you who were not his people his people. He’s redeemed you and reconciled you all for his mercy and grace. He chose you, and didn’t choose others to know this grace. And yet think of all those evil sins you’ve done since then. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” If you can’t think of some heinous sins you’ve done since you’ve become a Christian, don’t take pride in that. Rather be all the more on guard.
My point is to pause for a moment and think of how greatly displeasing it is to God when his saved people sin like this. It’s shocking when someone like King David would do this. And how often professing Christians today shock the world by some of their heinous sins that get exposed. Such sin is so opposed to the holiness to which we’ve been called. We should indeed hate such sins and not take them lightly. Even if you’ve been able to keep them from being exposed to the public eye, we should lament them and repent of them. Nor should we mock the grace of God by taking our sins too lightly.
And yet, that all being the case, we should nonetheless be encouraged and refreshed in the amazing grace of God in such matters. I remember how Pastor Miller likes to remind the people in the midst of difficult times in life that Romans 8:28 is still in effect. That’s especially encouraging when the providential happenings in your life seem so difficult and hard to explain. But for David in this passage, it wasn’t so much that he needed to be reminded that Romans 8:28 was still in effect. For David in a situation like this, he would need to be reminded that 2 Samuel 7 was still in effect. Remember, that was when God promised to establish his kingdom forever. That’s when God said that even if his descendants sinned, that God would not take this promise away from them, but would rather chastise them as a father. God would do this so that he would bring about the promise of 2 Samuel 7 through David’s line. And so after all the evil that David did in this passage, 2 Samuel 7 was still in effect.
And because it was still in effect, this is the encouragement that comes to us Christians who have royally sinned after becoming a Christian. Jesus Christ’s grace is sufficient even for those sins. His grace is greater than all our sins! Saint, do you still struggle in actually believing in such grace? Are you constantly riddled by guilt? Flee to the cross afresh again today. May David’s sins cause him and us to look to that greater Son of David, his Lord and ours, Jesus the Christ. Turn again from looking at your sin, to looking at Jesus and the cross. And then seek to put on new obedience by his grace. How great is the grace that we have known in him! Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.