David was walking on the roof of his palace enjoying the cool of the evening. Looking out over his city he saw a woman bathing; he was impressed with her beauty. She must have lived very close to the palace, where the nobles and those closest to the king would live. David made inquiries who she was. He found out that she was the daughter of Eliam, one of The Thirty, an elite group of his soldiers, and granddaughter of his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel; she was also wife of another of his famous soldiers, Uriah, another member of The Thirty. I guess he figured she was his. He sent for her, she came, they slept together, and she became pregnant with David’s child.
No problem, David could fix this. He ordered Uriah to return from the Ammonite city of Rabbah (modern Amman, Jordan) where the army was besieging the city. When Uriah reported to him, David asked him a few questions about how the army was doing, and then told him to go home. Any child born to Bathsheba would now be understood to have been conceived during Uriah’s brief visit from the battlefield. But Uriah didn’t go home. Problems at home?
The next day David was informed that Uriah hadn’t gone home. He tried once again. This time he and Uriah partied together, Uriah got drunk, and David was sure he would now go home. But Uriah didn’t.
So David wrote a letter to his commander, Joab. He ordered Joab to put Uriah in battle where the fighting would be fiercest, and then withdraw the other men and leave Uriah to be killed by the enemy. And this is what happened. Now Uriah wouldn’t be around to accuse Bathsheba of unfaithfulness; everyone else would simply assume the child had been fathered by Uriah during his visit.
After Bathsheba’s time of mourning was over, David married her, and, in due time “Uriah’s” son was born.
The Bible says that what David had done displeased the Lord. God sent the prophet Nathan to David with a message. Nathan said:
“’There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.’
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’
Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Sam. 12: 1-7)
David promptly acknowledged his guilt. But he had also pronounced judgment on the man, himself. He sin would have consequences. Nathan tells him what these would be. The first was that his newly born son would die. The second was someone is his household would revolt against him, and take his wives and lie with them in broad daylight as a sign that he was now king. This was fulfilled when this is exactly what David’s son Absalom did several years later. And the person advising Absalom to do this was none other than David’s most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, perhaps paying David back for how David had treated his granddaughter.
David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan had visited him. In this psalm David outlines the steps of repentance.
1. Acknowledge guilt: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Ps. 51:3)
2. Identify who the sin is against: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Ps. 51:4) Like Joseph many years before, David recognized that sin is primarily against God.
3. Ask for forgiveness: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” (Ps. 51:7, 9)
4. Ask for the power to be kept from sins in the future: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
5. Witness to others what God has done for you: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” (Ps. 51:13)
Psalm 32 may also have been written about this period of David’s life. He writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps. 32:1-5)
David was a lover who made a mistake, who sinned, a pretty willful sin, but when convicted of guilt, he turned to God in obedience. This must be why God called him a man after his own heart.