Well-known and tragic events in King David’s life are recorded here in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12, and the consequences of them are going to last a lifetime. These two chapters spell the end of David’s triumphs and the beginning of David’s tragedies.
The narrative slips into slow motion as these two chapters rehearse less than one year in David’s life. God obviously wants us to learn some important lessons from this brief, sad period.
David had just won a decisive victory over the Syrians and Ammonites in chapter 10. All that remained was to take the Ammonite capital city of Rabbah. Although it was springtime, when kings typically accompanied their armies into battle, David remained in Jerusalem and sent his commander Joab to wrap things up (2 Samuel 11:1).
His general was happy with that, by the way, because nobody wanted David in any danger. But David is about to face a far greater danger than enemy armies.
One afternoon, he takes a walk out on the flat roof of his palace and from that vantage point sees a woman bathing. Instead of turning away, he lingers. Then he asks who she is and is told in verse 3 that this is “Bathsheba . . . the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
That’s a loaded answer by the way. First, Bathsheba is married, so case closed. And second, she is married to Uriah, one of David’s most faithful soldiers (2 Samuel 23:39). But none of that seems to matter now, and David has Bathsheba brought to him. Verse 4 says David “lay with her . . . and the woman conceived.”
Deuteronomy 17 lists three prohibitions for Israel’s kings: they were not to multiply horses, acquire excessive wealth, or multiply wives—these were all characteristic of pagan kings. David obeyed the first two but had repeatedly disobeyed the third.
David first married Michal, then Abigail, and then Ahinoam. When he moved to Hebron, he married four more women. Then he began his reign in Jerusalem and added even more wives and a harem filled with concubines. Or as one little boy misread it, “cucumber vines.” And let me tell you, David is about to get tangled up here. While Bathsheba is not entirely innocent, David is the king, and kings aren’t typically turned down.
The problem here is that this one-night stand gets complicated when Bathsheba sends David a note that she is expecting. And with that, David has a decision to make: confess his sin or cover it up.
He decides to cover it up by having Uriah brought home from the battlefield. But despite David’s best efforts to get Uriah to go home to his wife, he refuses, saying in verse 11:
“My lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife?”
Frankly, Uriah has more character than David! With that, David sends Uriah back into battle with a message for General Joab. David tells Joab to expose Uriah to the fiercest fighting and then withdraw support from him. The message is clear: Let’s make sure Uriah never comes home again.
Verse 17 records: “The men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died.” David has added murder to his adultery!
Sometime after the funeral, verse 27 tells us David took Bathsheba into his house as his wife. From all appearances, it looks like David is going to get away with it. But Psalm 32 is a poem David composes during this period of time when he is hiding his sin. He writes there, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (verses 3-4). David is under deep conviction from God.
Finally, the Lord sends Nathan the prophet to confront David. Chapter 12 begins with Nathan telling David a story about a rich man who didn’t want to barbecue one of his own sheep to serve a special guest, so he took the only lamb of his poor neighbor and fed it to his guest.
Now David assumes Nathan is giving an actual account, and he explodes with anger here in verse 5: “The man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing.” David thinks this man should die for stealing a lamb, when he has stolen another man’s wife, as well as the man’s life!
Nathan probably pauses before he says to David here in verse 7, “You are the man!” The truth suddenly hits David with incredible conviction.
He doesn’t argue or interrupt as Nathan lays out the consequences. In verse 11 Nathan prophesies that there will be trouble and turmoil in David’s house from then on:
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor.’”
And let me tell you ahead of time, the following chapters will demonstrate the truth of Nathan’s words.
David responds in verse 13, saying simply, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In the Hebrew language, this sentence is only two words. But these two words say it all. This is true confession and genuine repentance. And with that, Nathan informs David that God has heard his confession and has forgiven his sin.
And just like David, beloved, we can be forgiven on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death for us when we confess our sin to the Lord. PQ But even though our sins are forgiven, there might be long-lasting consequences.
In fact, Nathan gives David one more immediate consequence of his sin in verse 14: “Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”
Now why did David and Bathsheba’s innocent baby have to die? Well, we are simply not told—other than the fact that this baby was connected to their sin together. But let me tell you that this child will be spared intrigue and future bloodshed by being taken so early to heaven.
But there is more here. This child’s death has given us one of the greatest and most comforting promises regarding babies and children who die.
When David and Bathsheba’s baby died, we are told that David “went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (verse 20). The palace officials and staff members are shocked that David would begin eating again, and he seemed contented in the Lord. David explains in verse 23, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David effectively says, “I know that one day I will go to live with my God; and when I do, I will be reunited with my baby boy again.”
Beloved, the gospel has not yet reached every part of this world. Billions still have never heard of Jesus. But if you have ever wondered how there can be citizens of heaven from every language, people group, tribe, and nation standing before the Lamb, singing praise to God (Revelation 7:9), this is part of the answer. Babies who die—aborted babies, miscarried babies, stillborn babies, children who die young—from every family group, tribe, language, and nation go immediately to be with the Lord, safe and sound and satisfied in the presence of God.
Chapter 12 concludes with mention of a later child born to David and Bathsheba, a son named Solomon, and notes the final conquest of the city of Rabbah—more reminders of God’s grace.