David and Bathsheba: a tale of guilt and grace

David is one of the Bible’s stand-out figures. King. Psalmist. Ancestor of Messiah. Man after God’s own heart. However the Bible does not airbrush his failures. His carelessness in the manner of transporting the Ark of the Covenant. His ill-advised census.

And Bathsheba.

Adultery.

And murder.

Here is the story in five parts.

  1. Circumstances. An unguarded moment of leisure proved to be the moment of David’s undoing.
  2. Choice. Kenneth Bailey has offered the view that Bathsheba knew exactly what she was doing by bathing in view of the palace. Whether that is true or not (and the text doesn’t say that it is), God holds David responsible: David committed adultery because he chose to, and not simply because Bathsheba was bathing in his line of sight.
  3. Cover-up. The details of the cover-up make for shocking reading. Once David could not make use of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, as part of the cover-up, he decided to have him killed in battle. What David had done could not escape God’s attention.
  4. Confrontation. It is Nathan who is sent with the responsibility of ‘speaking truth to power.’ His story about the lamb provokes a strong reaction in David: Nathan has him where he needs him to be and pronounces the words: You are the man.
  5. Confession. When David has nowhere left to run, he admits his sin. In addition to the simple ‘I have sinned’ in the narrative of 2 Samuel 12, he wrote Psalm 51 – a Psalm for anyone who has ever been in need of God’s mercy. David discovered that mercy could make him clean when he had been soiled, it could restore joy when he had been broken and it could renew his heart when he had fallen.

Guilt and grace:

The guilt described in Nathan’s ‘you are the man’, spoken to David is finally answered in Pilate’s ‘behold the man’, spoken of Jesus.

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