When we read the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel in the Old Testament, we discover a story of an incredible yet ordinary man whose life doesn’t portray a polished ideal but an earthy individual whom most of us can identify with in one way or another.
There are several places in the story that are most remembered. The first is the heroic scene when he faces the giant, Goliath, as he is taunting the Israelites who are at a standstill in the battle with the Philistines. This shepherd boy who was just bringing lunch to his brothers at the front battle lines is shocked that no one is standing up to him and King Saul is also impotent as he taunts.
David is aghast that they have allowed God’s army to be humiliated by Goliath and he selects some smooth stones and with one exacting swing of his sling takes down the giant and becomes the one lauded from the battle. That is the start of the jealousy that turns King Saul from the one who wants to hear David sing to the one he wants to murder.
The story continues with David honoring God’s anointing of King Saul despite all his efforts to kill him. Within that part of the story is the indelible story of his covenant friendship with Jonathan that stands even when they must part and Jonathan is killed with King Saul in battle. We see his life for the decade of his twenties spent in the wilderness as he is tracked and hunted where David chooses not to respond to King Saul’s threats and kill him when he has the chance prior to the king’s death in battle. And then David’s ascent to the throne as king as Samuel had said when he anointed him so many years before.
But then as things seem to be going along so well, we come to the second most remembered part of David’s story – Bathsheba. This and the scene with Goliath reveal things about David’s heart as a young man and later as King David. We would likely want to rewrite the story with Bathsheba that shows us David’s sin and yet we have much to learn from this part of his story as well as we wonder what changed or what we missed about him.
We watch as Nathan tells David a story that results in David recognizing his sin, but still wonder how David came to this tragic set of choices. None of us can fully know what is in someone else’s heart even looking back in history at one whose life was written about extensively, but in Leap over a Wall by Eugene Peterson on David’s life he gives us a possible clue to consider from 2 Samuel 11:
“The passage begins with the curt phrase “David sent Joab” … it picks up momentum when “David sent” to inquire about Bathsheba…; the plot thickens when “David sent” and got Bathsheba…That these “sendings” constitute a ruthless exercise of power becomes clear in the cluster of sends in 2 Samuel 11:6: “So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.” After he had accomplished his cover-up, “David sent” for Bathsheba again and married her…”Eugene Peterson
Only a king exercising his royal authority could send for someone as is pointed out in this quote from Peterson. And most of us would know when a king sends for someone, it is not a request but a command that is not to be refused.
But this story is a part of the God story of the Bible to help us see so much more than we might otherwise as we see David misuse his power, fall prey to sin, and then enter the fateful scene of Nathan narrating a story that reveals to David that he is the sinner in need of owning his failure before God.
“This is the gospel focus: you are the man; you are the woman. The gospel is never about somebody else; it’s always about you, about me. The gospel is never a truth in general; it’s always a truth in specific. The gospel is never a commentary on ideas or culture or conditions; it’s always about actual persons, actual pain, actual trouble, actual sin: you, me; who you are and what you’ve done; who I am and what I’ve done.”Eugene Peterson
And why is this so important for us not to miss?
“Only when I recognize and confess my sin am I in a position to recognize and respond to the God who saves me from my sin.
In the Christian life our primary task isn’t to avoid sin, which is impossible anyway, but to recognize sin.”Eugene Peterson
And that is the key principle to recognize in this failure of David. He didn’t respond to God about his sin until Nathan showed him the actual specific reality of it. Sometimes (if we are honest), that is what we need God to do in our lives as well. We, like David, need to acknowledge when we sin that we have not only sinned against a person but also God. David did so, repented and found God waiting for him there to offer grace despite living with the consequences of the death of the child he and Bathsheba conceived.
“David’s sin, enormous as it was, was wildly outdone by God’s grace. David’s sin cannot, must not, be minimized, but it’s minuscule compared to God’s salvation from it. It’s always a mistake to concentrate attention on our sins; it’s God’s work on our sins that’s the main event.”Eugene Peterson
And the great news about that is when we receive that extravagant grace, He changes us!