David Seduction of Bathsheba
King David had an illicit interaction with Bathsheba, wife of a soldier under his authority. He tried unsuccessfully to conceal the affair through her husband, ordered him killed in desperation, and re-married his wife thereafter. Prophet Nathan confronted David about the affair, pronounced his punishment, but also announced he had been forgiven because he repented. However, the promise of punishment appeared fulfilled despite forgiveness. We discuss an understanding of David’s sin and punishment in the context of a difference between human and eternal consequences of sin.
The biblical account of David-Bathsheba relationship includes events that occurred before and after their marriage. We divide the relationship into two parts as pre-marriage and post-marriage to understand that David’s actions during the first part displeased God and brought him severe punishment. In contrast, his experience regarding the second part of the relationship provides an understanding that God’s promise of blessing can coexist with, but does not nullify, his promise of punishment. This bible study focuses on the first part.
David could not resist a beautiful woman that he saw from a lookout vantage of the king’s palace. He had the woman brought to him and shared an illicit interaction with her. The woman became pregnant as a result. David tried unsuccessfully to conceal the affair by tricking the woman’s husband, a soldier under his authority, but the man did not fall for the trick. In desperation, David ordered him killed by over-exposure in battle and married his wife after her mourning.
God sent Prophet Nathan to confront David regarding his interactions with Bathsheba. The prophet pronounced punishment on David: the child of the affair will die, a person close to David will sleep with his wives in broad daylight, and calamity will befall him from his household. In addition, Prophet Nathan responded to David’s expression of repentance by telling him as follows [2 Samuel 12:13–14]: “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
The son of the illicit affair died soon after. Furthermore, the two other promises of punishment also apparently were fulfilled through the rebellion of Absalom. Therefore, David was not absolved in full from the consequences of his illicit premarital interactions with Bathsheba despite being forgiven of his sin as Prophet Nathan announced to him. To understand David’s punishment despite forgiveness, we examine his sin and punishment in the context of a possible difference between human and eternal consequences of sin.
In Premarital Interactions with Bathsheba
David committed several sins in the premarital interactions with Bathsheba: seduction, adultery, murder, and covetousness. He lured Bathsheba into the affair using his advantages as king and maybe personal charm. He and Bathsheba committed adultery. Then David murdered Bathsheba’s husband Uriah “…with the sword of the Ammonites” [2 Samuel 12:9]. On the whole, he was covetous in taking Uriah’s wife because he could and so-desired. We focus on seduction and covetousness to understand their broad implications.
Seduction implies causing someone to sin. A person can seduce another because of having a leadership role, authority, or other advantage; or just being able to charm or convince. The David-Bathsheba example relates to a specific kind of seduction, that is luring a person to share an illicit sexual act. Christ admonished against seduction [Matthew 18:6–7]: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” David committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, but in addition, used his authority and advantage to lure her into the adultery. He seduced Bathsheba.
Several generations later, Christ admonished us against seduction. He explained the consequences for seduction are so severe that a person would be better of dying than staying alive to cause conditions that induce others to sin. He described the target of seduction as “one of these little ones—those who believe in me.” He had introduced a child to his disciples as a personification of humility and declared that “whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 18:4]. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Value of Humility, humility conveys Godliness, a person predisposed to appreciate others and appreciate and seek God in everything. A person predisposed to stay away from sin. Causing such a person to sin requires taking action to influence. That is seduction. God promises severe consequences for the seducer.
Prophet Nathan defined covetousness in his interaction with David as the taking of another person’s possession because you can and so-desire. That is, usurping ownership of another person’s possession.
He told David a story about a rich man and poor man in a certain town. The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle but took and slaughtered the poor man’s single ewe lamb for a meal: because he desired and could take the poor man’s lamb. The phrase “could take” means the rich man had the means to impose his will on the poor man. King David was dismayed and declared with his own mouth: “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die” [2 Samuel 12:5]. Then Nathan said to David [2 Samuel 12:7]: “You are the man!”
David had his own wives and could marry almost anyone he wanted. When he found himself attracted to the wife of one of his fighting men, he should have stopped and sought another way to assuage his desire. He had sent an attendant to find out who the woman was that he saw from his palace lookout. The attendant told him that “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite” [2 Samuel 11:3]. David knew Uriah was one of his servants, a fighting man in active battle at the time under David’s commander Joab against the Ammonites. David lured the woman into adultery. The resulting pregnancy triggered a sequence of events that culminated in the death of Uriah and marriage of David and Bathsheba. He desired Bathsheba and used his kingly power to impose his will.
Covetousness is imposing your will to usurp ownership of another person’s possession that you desire: taking something that doesn’t belong to you just because you can and so-desire. Covetousness potentially applies to a broad range of human interactions. A few examples: If you impose your will to take property that doesn’t belong to you, then “you are the man (or woman)” as Prophet Nathan would say. If you use your authority to make laws that further enrich the rich and impoverish the poor to gain political or economic advantage for yourself, then “you are the man (or woman).” If you use your authority to deny basic rights to people in order to gain political advantage for yourself, then “you are the man (or woman).” The intention here is not to compile an exhaustive list but to provide a few examples that may help identify the flavor to enhance understanding. Covetousness in whatever shape or form displeases God.
Repentance, Forgiveness, and Punishment
David’s experience regarding David-Bathsheba-Uriah interactions appear to suggest that forgiveness from sin does not always mean being fully absolved from the human consequences. Prophet Nathan pronounced three promises of punishment on David: the child of the illicit affair with Bathsheba will die, a person close to him will sleep with his wives in broad daylight, and calamity will befall him from his household. David repented and asked for forgiveness ([Psalm 51] and [2 Samuel 12:13]). After David’s expression of repentance, Prophet Nathan said [2 Samuel 12:13–14]: “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
This means that David’s punishment would have included his death but he was absolved of that specific consequence because he repented. But the other promises of punishment will be fulfilled. And they were.
First, the child of the affair died: “After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill” [2 Samuel 12:15]. David prayed and fasted but the child died on the seventh day.
Second, David’s third son Absalom led a rebellion against his father as king and drove him out of Jerusalem. On arriving in Jerusalem to assume the throne vacated by his father, Absalom accepted counsel to “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace,” so that “all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute” [2 Samuel 16:21]. So he slept with his father’s concubines in broad daylight before all Israel.
Third, Absalom led Israel in a battle against David. The Israeli side lost the battle and sustained heavy casualty [2 Samuel 18:6–8]: “David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men.” Also, David’s son Absalom was killed: “And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him” [2 Samuel 18:15]. Absalom’s death was very painful to David as he showed through weeping and mourning [2 Samuel 18:33]: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Meaning of Forgiveness
The promises of human punishment that Prophet Nathan pronounced on David were fulfilled despite David being forgiven of his sins. This experience appears to suggest a difference between the human consequence and eternal punishment for sin. God may forgive the eternal punishment but still allow some or all of the human consequence, maybe to enhance our understanding of how our sins may impact other human beings.
Suffering through the human consequences of his sin likely helped David to better understand the bitterness that his actions brought to others. More important, we are able to understand that sin has consequences even if we are forgiven. If you usurp ownership of another’s possession, eternal forgiveness of your sin may not absolve you from the earthly consequences. Also, if you seduce another into committing sin (such as adultery), eternal forgiveness of your sin may not absolve you from the earthly consequences.
David learned the hard way but we now have opportunities to benefit from his experience: focus on positive human interactions and stay away from sin.
Summary of What We Learned
The human consequence of sin differs from the eternal punishment. God may forgive the eternal punishment but still allow some or all of the human consequence.
King David had an illicit interaction with Bathsheba, wife of a soldier under his authority. He tried unsuccessfully to conceal the affair through her husband, ordered him killed in desperation, and re-married his wife thereafter. Prophet Nathan confronted David about the affair, pronounced his punishment, but also announced he had been forgiven because he repented. However, the promise of punishment appeared fulfilled despite forgiveness.