In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
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. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 2 Samuel 11:1-15.
The story of David and Bathsheba offers us an insight into our nature and the abuse of power. Moreover, it offers us an insight into the nature of sin and the things that separate us from the Living God. It illustrates a theory I have about the nature of sin.
I think many of us find, as David found, that sin operates much like an exit wound in the forensic sciences. Often, when one is shot with a firearm, the exit wounds are much larger than the entrance wounds. That happens because as the round moves through the body of the victim it slows down and explodes within the tissue and surrounding muscle. I think sin works much the same way.
The story begins with David remaining behind while his armies are at war. He sees a beautiful woman, which leads to lust and envy, which this leads to an adulterous encounter, which leads to rape, which leads to an embarrassing pregnancy, which leads to deception and ultimately to the intent to have Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) killed. So, that one glance off from the rooftop spiralled out of control, tearing through the spiritual lives of three people and ultimately, a kingdom.
I think we miss the point if we simply conclude “David was a really bad guy” or “Look what a pickle he got himself into.” I don’t think sin operates any differently in your life, or mine, that it did in David’s. Yes, David exploited and abused his power. Yes, I have, too. While we might for a moment get a chuckle at what a damn fool David was, it will fade quickly when we take a look at some of the foolish things we’ve done ourselves.
While we may not intend the consequences, or even foresee them, we can pretty much rest assured that sin will leave a much larger hole going out than it did on the way in. And although we’d like to think that the guilty, and only the guilty will suffer the consequences, we know that’s just not true. In the story of David, as in many of our own stories, lots of innocent people get hurt, get their hearts broken, and are destroyed.
On occasion, Scripture doesn’t leave us any room for pretense, doesn’t leave us any room for the little self-justifying illusions to which we become so accustomed. Sometimes, as in today’s Old Testament reading Scripture gives us a box of darkness. It takes a good long while, sometimes a lifetime, to recognize that this, too, is a gift.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis