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6. David

6.4 David And Bathsheba

6-4-1 David Our Example

The ample detail recorded concerning this incident shows that it must be God's will for us to reflect upon it in some detail. It is not a question of hanging out another man's dirty washing; there is good reason for thinking that we are intended to see in David's sin the epitome of all our failures (1). His repentance and subsequent closeness to God therefore exemplifies the intensity of repentance and knowledge of God's ways which we too can come to.

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments” (Ps. 119:176) was likely written by David with his mind on his follies relating to Bathsheba; and yet it is the taken by the Lord and used as the basis for the parable of the lost sheep, whereby all who have sinned go through the David experience. David found his sins associated with Bathsheba " as an heavy burden...too heavy for me...I am (thereby) bowed down greatly" (Ps. 32:4,6). Surely our Lord was thinking back to David when he invited all of us: " Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden (with sins), and I will give you rest...for my...burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). Bathsheba was " very beautiful to look upon" (2 Sam. 11:2). And David did just that. Our Lord surely had his eye on that passage when he spoke about him that " looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already" (Mt. 5:28). But it is not just in that specific sin that we can share David's experience; James 1:14,15 speaks of the process of temptation and sin, in any matter, as looking lustfully upon a woman, with the inevitable result of actually committing the sin. In this he may be interpreting David’s sin as an epitome of all failure. David is our example. Likewise the Lord’s list of the 12 evil things that come out of the heart: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness, evil thoughts…all seem to describe the completeness of David’s sin with Bathsheba. As we will suggest later, it incorporated all these things, and was not just a one time, lustful failure of the moment.  

David And Us

Truly David is our example. David was very much involved in Israel his people. He saw himself as their representative. "The God of my rock is my shield... he is a shield to all them that trust in him" (2 Sam. 22:3,31). “I am in a great strait; let us fall now into the hand of the Lord” (2 Sam. 24:14) reflects this. When he sung Psalms, he invited them to come and sing along with him (Ps. 105:2; 107:22; 111:1). And many of these Psalms of praise seem to have their origin in his experience of forgiveness regarding Bathsheba. The Lord based His parables of the lost sheep and the man finding the treasure of the Gospel in a field on the statements of David (Ps. 119:162,176), as if He saw David as representative of all those who would truly come to Him. " Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven" (Ps. 32:1), David wrote, after experiencing God's mercy in the matter of Bathsheba. But Paul sees this verse as David describing " the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:6). Each of us are in need of a like justification; therefore we find ourselves in David's position. The Spirit changes Ps. 32:1 (" Blessed is he  whose transgression is forgiven" ) to " Blessed are they " (Rom. 4:7) to make the same point. " Blessed is the man (e.g. David, or any sinner- David is our example) unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (Ps. 32:2) is alluded to in 2 Cor. 5:19: " God was in Christ...not imputing (the world's) trespasses unto them" . Through being justified, any repentant sinner will then have the characteristics of Christ, in God's sight. In Christ there was no guile (1 Pet. 2:22), as there was not in David (or any other believer) after the justification of forgiveness (Ps. 32:2). " Blessed is the whose spirit is no guile" (Ps. 32:2) is picked up in Rev.14:5: " In their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God" . The picture of forgiven David in Ps. 32 is what we will each be like after acceptance " before the throne of God" . Yet David's experience can also be ours here and now; in those moments of true contrition, we surely are experiencing salvation in prospect. David speaks of being bold in his prayer of praise for the promises made to him (2 Sam. 7:27 RVmg.). Yet Heb. 4:16 encourages us to be bold in prayer. He was our pattern in prayer. Another link between  David and us is in Ps. 140:9,10, which speaks of burning coals falling on the head of David's enemies; yet those words are effectively quoted in Rom. 12:20 concerning all believers. David sets himself up in the Psalms as our pattern. He speaks of himself and then applies the point to all of his readers. In other words, we really are to see David as representative of ourselves; we need to change our minds and lives so this really is the case. Yet on a negative note, it is difficult to read Rom. 2:1 without seeing an allusion to David's condemnation of the man who killed his neighbour's only sheep: " Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art  that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself" . Surely Paul so saying that David's massive self-deception and hypocrisy over Bathsheba can all too easily be replicated in our experience. 

" Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven" is a soliloquy; but Paul says that David consciously spoke them with reference to all those who were to go through the experience of justification with God outside the system of legalistic righteousness. Because God granted him forgiveness, David had inspired confidence that " for this (forgiveness) shall every one that is Godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found" (Ps.32:6). Note how he describes those who would sin as grievously as he had done, as " Godly" , even in the moments before their prayer of repentance. In those moments of contrition immediately prior to uttering a prayer of penitence, we reach pinnacles of Godliness. 

There is another connection with Romans in Ps. 51:4, where David recognizes " Against thee...have I sinned...that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest" . He recognized that God works through our sinfulness- he is effectively saying 'I sinned so that You might be justified...'. These words are quoted in Rom. 3:4,5 in the context of Paul's exultation that " our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God" - in just the same way as David's did! Because God displays His righteousness every time He justifies a repentant sinner, He is in a sense making Himself yet more righteous. We must see things from God's perspective, from the standpoint of giving glory to God's righteous attributes. If we do this, then we can see through the ugliness of sin, and come to terms with our transgressions the more effectively. And Paul quotes David's sin with Bathsheba as our supreme example in this. We along with all the righteous ought to “shout for joy” that David really was forgiven (Ps. 32:11)- for there is such hope for us now. David is our example. And yet the intensity of David’s repentance must be ours. He hung his head as one in whose mouth there were no more arguments, hoping only in the Lord’s grace (Ps. 38:14 RVmg.). Notice too how Ps. 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God…” is quoted by the publican in Lk. 18:13. He felt that David’s prayer and situation was to be his. And he is held up as the example for each of us. 

In several of his Psalms, David shows an awareness that he represents all God’s people, that David was our example. “The righteous cried, and the Lord heard”, he could write, with easy reference to his crying to God when with Abimelech [see Psalm title]; but he goes straight on to say that God delivers all the righteous out of all their troubles (Ps. 34:4,6,17 RV).  

Solomon inserts parts of his father’s Bathsheba psalms in his prayers for how all Israel could be forgiven if they “confess thy name...when thou afflictest them...saying, We have sinned...forgive thy people...and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed” (1 Kings 8:35,47,50 = Ps. 32:5 etc.). On the basis of David’s pattern, all God’s people can find forgiveness, if they make a like confession. Indeed, this has long been recognized by Jewish commentators; and many of the Psalms understood by them as relevant to the Nazi holocaust are Bathsheba Psalms. “Out of the depths” they cried like David; and at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen it stands written: “My sorrow is continually before me” (Ps. 38:17), in recognition of having received punishment for sin [note how these kind of plaques contain no trace of hatred or calling for Divine retribution upon the persecutors] (1).  

It could be that David, realizing he was seen by God as a representative of his people [see David And Jesus], prayed for forgiveness in that he realized that he was thereby a pattern for all the wayward people of God. “For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Ps. 25:11) is an undoubted reference to Moses praying for Israel’s forgiveness relating to the golden calf (Ex. 32:30,31). He saw himself as both Moses in prayer and also guilty Israel. He saw Bathsheba had been his golden calf idol, mixing as it had done sexual abandon with an appearance of Yahweh worship. There was nobody to pray for him apart from himself. He saw himself as all Israel, savable only by pure grace and the sincere prayer of a mediator- even if the mediator himself was guilty. It is noteworthy that Peter appeals to Israel to repent and be converted “that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19)- quoting the words of Ps. 51:1, where the sin of David with Bathsheba is ‘blotted out’ after his repentance and conversion. Each sinner who repents and is baptized and leads the life of ongoing conversion is therefore living out the pattern of David’s repentance. 

There are an interesting set of allusions to David’s sin with Bathsheba in Micah 7, almost leading us to wonder whether Micah too had a femme fatale in his life- whom he speaks of in Mic. 7:10 as “she that is mine enemy…shame shall cover her”. He says that “I have sinned against the Lord” (Mic. 7:9), using the very same words as David does in 2 Sam. 12:13; and he marvels how God ‘passes by’ transgression (Mic. 7:18), using the very same Hebrew word as is found in 2 Sam. 12:13 to describe how God “put away” David’s sin. And there are many references throughout Micah 7 to David’s Psalms of penitence. Could it be that David’s sin and repentance served as a personal inspiration to Micah, as well as being held up as the inspiration to all God’s people to repent and experience the sure mercies which David did? 

Ps. 38:1 is another Bathsheba Psalm: “Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me”. But it is quoted in Heb. 12:5,6 about all of God’s children, who have to go through David’s basic experience in order to become the accepted sons of God. We do all have to be rebuked and chastened, even if like children, like David, we so fear it.


What David learnt from the Bathsheba failure is in essence what we all have to learn. Psalm 26 was surely written before he sinned with her. He speaks of how he had walked in integrity before God “without wavering” (Ps. 26:1 RV), and how his foot did not slip (Ps. 26:12). What else does this evidently pre-Bathsheba Psalm indicate about David’s attitude, and what changed after Bathsheba? He speaks in Ps. 26:5 of how he refuses to sit at table with sinners. Yet the Lord rejoiced to do just this. He contrasts his righteousness with the sinfulness of the wicked (Ps. 26:10,11)- a far cry from Paul’s insistence in Romans that we have sinned just as much as the world has, in the sense that we desperately need salvation by grace. When David asks for forgiveness in Ps. 26:11 (“redeem me, and be merciful unto me”), he therefore was apparently asking for mercy in an almost technical way, perhaps seeing the only mercy he required as a resurrection from the dead.  All these attitudes changed radically after his Bathsheba experience. He could look back and reflect how “As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved” (Ps. 30:6), perhaps looking back to Ps. 26:10, where he had felt confident his foot had never been moved. And he speaks of how he only stands strong because of God’s gracious favour (Ps. 30:7). God works through sin and failure- to bring us to know His grace. We follow the same learning curve as David, if we are truly God’s man or woman. The soliloquy of David is commented upon in Rom. 4:6: “David pronounceth blessing upon the man [i.e. any man, each of us] unto whom God reckoneth righteousness…” (RV). Rom. 4:9 RV likewise speaks of David in the soliloquy of Ps. 32 pronouncing blessing upon us.


Finding God

For every sinner, for whom David is our example, now is the time when God may be " found" in the sense of experiencing His forgiveness. God is love towards men, He is forgiveness. To experience this and respond back to it is therefore to find the knowledge of God. This " time when thou (i.e. God's forgiveness, which is God) mayest be found" which David speaks of is that of 2 Cor.6:2: " Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" . Paul was speaking of how all sinners, baptized or not, need to realize this; we are all in David's position. Some complain that they did not experience a very great upsurge in finding and knowing God at the point of baptism. This may be due to an insufficient emphasis on the need for repentance and appreciating the seriousness of sin before baptism. We must not think that we know God because we believe a Statement of Faith and have been baptized. " Now is the accepted time" , Paul wrote to the baptized Corinthians, to truly take on board the marvel of God's forgiveness, to know it and respond to it for ourselves, and thereby to come to a dynamic, two-way relationship with God.  

As David " found" God through experiencing His forgiveness, so can " every one that is Godly" today. It is quite possible that " seek and ye shall find" (Mt.7:7) was uttered by the Lord with his mind on Ps. 32:6 and David's experience. After all, we cannot expect this to be a blank cheque offer, that whatever we seek for we must receive. But if these words are an allusion to David's seeking and finding forgiveness in Ps. 32:6, then the promise is more realistic. If we seek for forgiveness and a living relationship with God, then we have this unconditional promise that we will find this. Yet in a sense, the time when we will ultimately find God will be at the judgment: we will " find mercy of the Lord in that day" (2 Tim. 1:18), so that " ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Pet. 3:14). We will find God, as He will find us, in that great moment of consummation; " for then shall (we) know (God), even as also (we) are known" by Him (1 Cor. 13:12; ). Then we will " be found in him...that I may (then) know him" (Phil. 3:9,10). Yet David says that after forgiveness, we can find and know God. It is as if whenever we sin, we in a sense face our judgment seat. And the knowledge and 'finding' of God which we will then enjoy should be prefigured in our present experience of forgiveness. Should we not therefore pray for forgiveness with the intensity with which we would at the judgment, if we were then offered the chance to do so?  

Sorrows Of Sin

Reflection on the record enables us to enter a little into the nature and tragedy of David's sorrow; remembering always that David is our example. His love for Abigail, with marriage to her so wondrously arranged, would have been cruelly mocked by his falling for Bathsheba. His abuse of Uriah's loyalty (when almost certainly Uriah knew exactly what David was playing at) would have created a sadness that can only be described as ineffable. David in his early years described himself as a " poor man" , indicating his humility; yet the very same word is used by Nathan in the parable about Uriah, as if to bring home to David that he had slain a man who had the humble loyalty which he had had in those early, spiritually formative years (1 Sam.18:23 cp. 2 Sam.12:1,3,4). 

Another New Testament allusion to David's penitence may be found in 2 Cor.7:7-11: " Ye were made sorrowed to were made sorry after a Godly manner (cp. " every one that is Godly..." , Ps.32:6)...for Godly sorrow worketh repentance to sorrowed after a Godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation (cp. David's in 2 Sam.12:5)...what zeal...your mourning, your fervent mind" . Allusion after allusion to David is being piled up here. The eight references to their " sorrow" in four verses is surely a signpost back to David's intense sorrow for his sin with Bathsheba: " My sin is ever before me (Ps.51:3) sorrow is continually before me...I will be sorry for my sin...many sorrows shall be to the wicked" who, unlike David, refused to repent (Ps.38:17,18; 32:10). This association between sin and sorrow is a common one (Job 9:28; 1 Tim.6:10; Ex.4:31; Is.35:10. The last two references show how Israel's sorrowing in Egypt was on account of their sinfulness). We must pause to ask whether our consciousness of sin leads us to a like sorrowing, whether our repentance features a similar depth of remorse.  

It would appear that Paul is likening Corinth to David. They too were guilty of sexual " uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness" (2 Cor.12:21). We have seen that in the same way as David's repentance was made in a " day of salvation" , so in 2 Cor.6:2 Paul told Corinth that they were in a similar position to him; they too had the chance of repentance. Those who had heeded this call earlier had experienced the zeal and clear conscience which David did on his repentance (2 Cor.7:9-11). In this case, Paul would be likening himself to Nathan the prophet. This zeal which was seen in both David and Corinth is a sure sign of clear conscience and a joyful openness with God. Again, we ask how much of our zeal is motivated by this, or is it just a continuation of a level of service which we set ourselves in more spiritual days, which we now struggle to maintain for appearances sake? 

Prodigal David

David was very conscious that his sin had been " in thy (God's) sight" (Ps.51:4). The psalms of repentance have several examples of him talking like this. It may be to this Davidic theme that the parable of the prodigal son (i.e. each of us) refers: " I have thy sight" (Lk.15:18,21). It is significant that our Lord's supreme parable of repentance refers back to that of David. It has been observed that there are many connections between the Psalms related to the Bathsheba incident, and those which are especially prophetic of Christ's crucifixion. David's intense suffering on account of sin was therefore prophetic of our Lord's mental and physical suffering for the same reason. It is because of this link that Christ is able to sympathize with the traumas of spiritual guilt which accompany our repentance. It is truly breathtaking to discern how God works through our sins, to the extent that through the struggle for repentance which they engender, they can associate us with the sufferings of His sinless Son. 

David came to know the marvel of this. And David is our example. His response was to eagerly desire to spread the knowledge of God which he acquired through his experience of God's forgiveness. " I will instruct thee and teach thee" he exalts in Ps.32:8. He knew that as God " shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance" on forgiveness (Ps.32:7), so " he (anyone) that trusteth in the Lord (as David did), mercy shall compass him about" (Ps.32:10). " Then will I teach transgressors thy ways" (Ps.51:13) is another example. Likewise, Peter (Lk.5:8-10), Isaiah (Is.6:5-9) and Paul (Eph.3:8) all received preaching commissions straight after their experience of forgiveness. Our knowledge of God through receiving it should be a powerful stimulus to our personal witnessing. There is every reason why some of our witnessing should include personal testimony of what the Lord has done for us.

The more we look for it, the more we see other examples of where material relevant to David is applied directly to all believers in the New Testament, thus setting him up as our example and realistic pattern. Joab's comment about the way David loved his enemies (2 Sam. 19:6) was thus verbatim picked up by the Lord and set up as the example for each of us. And yet David only came to be so kind and forgiving because of his experience of God's forgiveness to him over the Bathsheba incident. Thus in the same way as God did not impute iniquity to David (Ps. 32:2), so David did not 'impute iniquity' to Shimei for cursing him, and did not carry out a rightful death sentence against that man (2 Sam. 19:19,21). Note how Shimei uses the very same wording which David used in his repentance: "I have sinned" (2 Sam. 19:20). It makes a good homework to now look through the New Testament, looking for David allusions.



(1) That David's sin is indeed an epitome of all our sins is proved by the way in which the record of it is framed in the language of the fall. The connections between the falls of Adam and David have been commented upon in Andrew Perry, The Doctrine Of Salvation, Vol.1 p.197. The following is a summary of the links:

Adam (Gen. 2 and 3)         David (2 Samuel)

2:8                                   12:5

2:17                                 12:5

2:17                                 12:9

6:2                                   12:9

3:17                                 12:10

3:7                                   12:11

3:8                                   12:12

3:8                                   11:24

3:21                                 12:13

3:17                                 16:11

3:19                                 16:13

It should also be noted that David/Bathsheba language is used to describe Israel's spiritually fallen state (e.g. Ps.38:7=Is.1:6; Ps.51:7=Is.1:18; Ps.65:2=Is.40:15). David recognized this in Ps.51:17, where he likens his own state to that of Zion, which also needed to be revived by God's mercy. As David's sin is likened to the killing of a lamb (2 Sam.12:4), so the Jews killed Jesus. The troubles which therefore came upon his kingdom have certain similarities with the events of AD67-70.   They were also repeated in the Nazi Holocaust, and will yet be. Israel are yet to fully repent after the pattern of David.