At this point in the life of David, one might think Israel’s king a prime example of covenant faithfulness—indestructible from without and within. Yet the latter portions of David’s life were marked by moral failure. While David would have to endure the consequences of adultery and murder, 2 Samuel 11-12 demonstrates that when those in covenant with God have repented, they can enjoy fellowship with Him through atonement of their sins.
Although many have taken the author’s statement, “In the spring when kings march out to war, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel…but David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Sam 11:1) as an indictment against David, it may simply be a marker for the historical situation of Joab’s strength and the king’s age. Israel’s army may not have needed David for that battle. David did not initially go out against the Ammonite-Aramean coalition either (see 2 Sam 10:6-8, 17-19). Thus, the initial phrases of 2 Samuel 11 were not intended to condemn the king because he failed to go to battle, but because David saw Bathsheba bathing and sent messengers to get her from himself (2 Sam 11:2, 4a). David’s sin was not military laziness but moral license. The author was concerned only with the essential elements of the story. Bathsheba went home and later informed David that she was pregnant (2 Sam 11:4b-5). The lie of immorality is that “stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten secretly is tasty!” (Prov 9:17).
The bulk of 2 Samuel 11 records that after the affair with Bathsheba, David further shamed his legacy. The king tried to cover his tracks by arranging for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to come home from battle. David hoped the husband and wife would become intimate and all, except he and Bathsheba, would think the child a product of marriage (2 Sam 11:6-13). But Uriah was too loyal to David and to Israel’s army to spend the night with his wife. So, David arranged for Joab to be killed in battle (2 Sam 11:15). David brought Bathsheba to the king’s palace and married her, covering his sin. But “the LORD considered what David had done to be evil” (2 Sam 11:27).
The prophet Nathan confronted David by telling the king a parable of a greedy rich man who took the only possession of a poor subject. Upon hearing the story, David was furious, saying, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” (2 Sam 12:5). Nathan’s reply, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7), pierced David’s soul. The author devotes several verses to Nathan’s condemnation of the king, concluding with the consequences the Lord would bring upon him (2 Sam 12:10-14). After the death of the child, David and Bathsheba consummated their marriage and Solomon was born (2 Sam 12:24-25).
In the storyline of Scripture, David’s sin with Bathsheba is remarkable for what it teaches about God’s justice. In Ps 51:4, David confessed that he had sinned and done evil in God’s sight saying, “So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.” In Rom 3:1-8, Paul employed David’s confession to advance his argument that in salvation history God dealt justly with Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul’s concern was to establish God’s truthfulness despite Israel’s historical failure. In salvation history, Jews had a considerable advantage in that they received God’s instruction in the law. But, because of their fleshly nature, they disobeyed and were unfaithful, like David. Paul confronted any sarcastic opponents in his audience who might suggest that Israel’s failure had itself nullified the faithfulness of God. “Absolutely not!” Paul responded, “God must be true, but everyone is a liar, as it is written: That You may be justified in Your words and triumph when You judge” (Rom 3:4). Paul’s use of Ps 51:4 in Rom 3:4 implicitly places David as an exemplar of Israel and in so doing offers great hope for any who rely upon the trustworthiness of God. The Lord called David into a covenant and David failed. David had to endure the consequences of his failure, but David also knew of God’s mercy. Israel too failed—and in the remainder of Romans, Paul detailed God’s mercy in Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike.