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- Faithfulness and Frailty

- Right Livelihood


David and Bathsheba

Written By Susan Hanson

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.
—2 Samuel 11: 2-4

Political cover-ups are nothing new—and King David’s is one of the best.

Now in middle age, David is at home, far from the battle’s front lines. Possibly restless or bored or just tired of sitting around, he takes a walk on his roof one afternoon. While there, he spots a beautiful woman bathing outside the house next door and sends for her. She is married to one of his soldiers, but that’s of no consequence to David—he claims her anyway.

Quite a lot seems to have been left out of the story, because in the very next sentence, we read that “the woman” (she hasn’t been named yet) has sent word to David that she’s pregnant. The king wastes no time in figuring out how to make the problem go away: If Bathsheba announces her pregnancy after her husband, Uriah, has been home on leave, no one will suspect that he is not the father. David orders Uriah’s return.

Instead of going to his wife, however, Uriah camps out at David’s house. After all, he says, how would it look if he enjoyed the comforts of home while his men had to sleep in the field? Stymied, David goes to plan two: He will send the man back to the war and tell his commander to put Uriah “in the forefront of the hardest fighting,” where he is certain to be killed. This time, the plot works. After observing a time of mourning, David marries Bathsheba, but as 2 Samuel points out, “[T]he thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” What follows is a series of personal catastrophes, ranging from the death of his newborn son to the murder of one of his sons by another.

To his credit, however, when the prophet Nathan points out his wrongdoing, David confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” What makes this moment possible, says theologian William Willimon, is neither David’s “realization of some self-evident moral law” nor “a possibly neurotic exercise in self-scrutiny.”

It is, rather, “a clash of narratives, a narratively induced awareness of a horrible disjuncture between David's personal account of his life as king and the prophet's account of David's life as gift.” David can repent only because he sees the disconnect between potential and reality, between the self he has become and the self that God created him to be.

O God, help us to see our wrongdoing not merely as the breaching of this or that law, but as a failure of vision, blindness to the richness of your many gifts.