David and Bathsheba: Sending, Taking, Laying
David and Bathsheba: The Sin
When David commits adultery with Bathsheba the reader looks in vain for any psychological insight into what David and Bathsheba are thinking or what motivates their actions. Unlike the following story describing Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13), words of emotion (lust, desire, love, anger, hate) are totally absent from the description of the deed committed by David and Bathsheba. Three words–all words of action–control the description of David’s sin. We are told, “Then David sent messengers and took her; and she came to him and he lay with her…” (2 Sam. 11:4). These 3 words not only leave the encounter between David and Bathsheba surrounded in ambiguity (why did David send for her?, why did she come?, etc.), they become the keywords which provide the movement of the story from sin, to judgment, and, finally, to forgiveness. In other words, through the recurring words “send,” “take,” and “lay,” the reader is able to follow the fate of David and Bathsheba. Furthermore, with each new context, these words experience a transformation of meaning giving deeper insight into how God is able to deal with David and Bathsheba’s sin by bringing judgment that ultimately results in redemption.
David and Bathsheba: The Judgment
Following David’s adultery where he “sent” for Bathsheba, we are told that “she sent and told David and said ‘I am with child'” (2 Sam. 11:5). Ironically, David’s sending results in Bathsheba’s sending. But while the first sending was, presumably, for pleasure, the second brings news of a serious nature. As I state in my book Family Portraits, “David’s sending resulted in the planting of a seed which was now growing in the womb of Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s sending teaches us that David now reaps what he has sown” (p. 236). Sadly, this news only prompts more sending on David’s part as he “sends” for Uriah (2 Sam. 11:6), hoping to induce him to sleep with his wife. When this tactic fails, David “sends” a letter with Uriah to Joab–a death warrant that seals Uriah’s fate (1 Sam. 11:14-15). All of this sending finally culminates in the Lord’s judgment on David when we are told: “Then the Lord sent Nathan to David” (2 Sam. 12:1). Although we have been following the significance of the word “send,” at this point in the story all 3 keywords reappear. In Nathan’s story about the rich man and the poor man (told to convict David of his sin), he uses the word “lay” to describe the action of the ewe lamb (representing Bathsheba–2 Sam. 12:3), while employing the verb “take” twice in 2 Samuel 12:4 in describing the transgression of the rich man. Once Nathan confronts David as the man he is indicting (“You are the man!”–2 Sam. 12:7), he describes David’s sin as “you have taken his wife to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:9, 10). As a result, Nathan says the Lord will “take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun” (2 Sam. 12:11). The word “lay” also occurs in the sad scene of David pleading for the life of the child born to this adulterous relationship. We are told that “David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Sam. 12:16). Note that Nathan uses 2 of the 3 keywords in describing the consequences that David will face, plus David’s “laying all night on the ground” presents a vivid picture of the consequences of his sin. Thus all 3 words come together in this scene where the Lord, through his prophet Nathan, “sends” and convicts David of his sin. In this scene, the keywords, “send,” “take,” and “lay” take on a nuance they did not previously have in the story. Although they still describe David’s sin, they also now describe his judgment. By using the same 3 words, the author shows that David has indeed reaped what he has sowed.
David and Bathsheba: Forgiveness
Thankfully the Bible teaches that in spite of the worst kind of sin (even adultery and murder), God’s purpose in punishment is not to destroy, but to redeem. This truth is evident in the conclusion of the story. After the death of David and Bathsheba’s child we are told, “Then David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her and lay with her.” The result is the birth of Solomon. The birth of a child is one way in which the Old Testament demonstrates God’s blessing. This blessing is emphasized by the statement, “Now the Lord loved him and He sent word by the hand of Nathan the prophet: So he called his name Jedidiah [beloved of the Lord], because of the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:24-25). In this scene, 2 of the keywords reappear, but here the context is one of grace and acceptance. The word “lay” which once characterized David’s sin and judgment, now leads to the birth of a beloved child. Notice also that the Lord once again “sends” Nathan, but this time it is with a word of grace, stating his love for the child and even giving Solomon a nickname meaning “beloved.” It should also be noted that the word “comfort” suggests an act of kindness on David’s part, the first time we have seen David treat Bathsheba with any kind of compassion. But what of the third keyword? It actually occurs in the final scene of this story. The context of David and Bathsheba’s adultery is the war with Ammon (2 Sam. 10), which finally comes to a climax in 2 Samuel 12:26-31. It should be recalled that the event which precipitated David and Bathsheba’s sin was David staying in Jerusalem, rather than going with the army to besiege Rabbah (2 Sam. 11:1). In the final scene, Joab “sends” for David (2 Sam. 12:27). After David’s arrival at the battle front, we are informed, “So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah, fought against it, and took it” (2 Sam. 12:29). Following his victory we are told that David then “took their king’s crown from his head” (2 Sam. 12:30). This scene demonstrates that God gives David victory in spite of his sin. Once again, the picture is one of forgiveness and restoration and 2 of the three keywords appear in this final scene. Including the scene with the birth of Solomon, all 3 words occur in the context of grace and forgiveness at the end of the story. The repetition of these same 3 keywords at the end of the story emphasizes that God is able to take the worst situation and redeem it. The words that once characterized David’s sin and God’s judgment, in the end characterize his forgiveness!