The Fall: 2 Samuel 11

2 Samuel 12  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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When reading this chapter, a feeling of deep humiliation fills the heart of every child of God. These events took place more than three thousand years ago, but the fact that three thousand years have passed do not change the fact that God was dishonored by one of His servants. It has been possible to blot out the sin but the shame brought upon God remains.
The sin is all the more serious in that it occurs in the life of this man who despite more than one weakness had received the testimony that evil had not been found in him all his days (1 Sam. 25:2828I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. (1 Samuel 25:28)). And yet in the midst of his career this servant of God becomes an adulterer, a hypocrite, and a murderer! Oh, if we have any zeal at all for the Lord's glory, any affection for His redeemed, let us weep to see David in contradiction of his entire past trampling upon the Lord's holiness—David who ought to have been the representative of His holiness before the world! How humbling to think that David, the beloved, could compromise the Lord's name which he bore: David who had been favored by such special nearness to God and upon whom such marvelous grace had been heaped!
The lives of believers present very different features all at the same time: We see believers, Christians, beginning their career poorly, but learning to judge themselves under God's disciplinary hand they finish their course well and sometimes even gloriously. This was the case with Jacob whose days were "few and evil" but whose life ended with a full vision of glory.
More frequently we see believers who begin their career well and finish it poorly. Such is the history of Lot who, not having Abraham's faith, nevertheless followed in his footsteps. His life then becomes morally weaker and weaker due to his love of earthly goods and it ends in a most shameful manner. Such is the history of Gideon, humble and distrustful of himself, courageous in cleansing his house of false gods, then leader of Israel and the victor over Midian—but at the very end he causes his house and all the people to sin through an ephod which he had made an idol. Lastly, such is the history of Solomon. He had everything: wisdom, practical righteousness, forgetfulness of self, understanding in the thoughts of God, the desire to glorify Him, and power. God uses him to communicate wisdom's sayings to future generations. But Solomon finishes badly. He loved many strange wives who turned his heart away after their false gods. The servant of the true God became an idolater!
Between these two paths we see the path of a believer who from beginning to end walks faithfully without faltering in a spirit of personal holiness and separation from the world. Such was the case with Abraham whose faith and dependence only rarely were in contradiction and who judged his walk whenever it troubled his communion with God. But such was, above all, the path of Christ, the uniform path of the perfect Servant as we see in Psa. 16. There we find not a single imperfection, but rather: absolute confidence, complete obedience, perfect dependence, flawless practical righteousness, divine holiness in a Man, unshakable faith, unlimited love, unfaltering hope. When we consider such a path we can only worship. But we can also follow Him, and He gives us the capacity and the power to do so. Between ourselves and Him there will always be the difference between the imperfect and the perfect, the finite and the infinite, but as long as our eyes are fixed on Him we will find the secret of a walk that glorifies Him to the end in this world.
David's case is rare but not unique in Scripture. David began well and finished well, but in the middle of his career there was a moral downfall. We could also cite the account of the apostle Peter, but we will not go into this.
Why did God allow this fall on part of David? The answer is full of instruction and in one sense is very valuable for us. Just as Abraham is a model of faith, so David in 1 Samuel is a model of grace. On every hand grace flourishes in him and governs his ways. He always manifests grace, whether it be toward his enemies, his friends, or all those who surround him. His heart is full of God's love and is permeated with unspeakable tenderness. The tears that he shed over Saul, his persecutor, are sincere; he has forgotten everything and there is no room in his heart for anything but grace. Yet nevertheless it was sufficient that such a man be given up to himself only a moment for him to sink into darkness so that every trace of what had previously filled his heart was wiped out.
We need examples like this in order to come to know the flesh in ourselves: "In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:1818For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Romans 7:18) KJV). There is no culture, no cleansing, no improvement possible for this flesh; the only fitting place for it is to be nailed to the cross.
After this sin is confessed to God this fall that was so rapid is followed by a long and painful work of recovery. Peter shed bitter tears when he went out of the courtyard that had witnessed his denial, but he did not regain fellowship with the Lord at that time. In the same way only later could David celebrate grace with a perfectly free heart. It was not enough that he had shown himself to be more or less faithful in his career; God wanted to show him His own grace, full and complete, in circumstances that had made a murderer out of David. David is a miserable object of judgment who becomes the man in whom God exalts and glorifies His triumphant grace.
But how could a man of God ever have fallen from such heights? The Lord had entrusted him with authority and responsibility. He was to use these in incessant activity of faith to serve the Lord and His people. What did David do? He rested. He rested at the season when the kings of the earth go forth to battle; for men of the world often deploy greater activity to successfully accomplish their purposes than Christians do to serve Christ. Believers think that they can rest for a moment and sit down by the side of the road. But we have not been engaged as servants in order to be lazy slaves.
"And it came to pass... that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel." The lesson he had learned at the end of 2 Sam. 10 ought to have again set him at the head of his army. Such is the beginning, often so insignificant, of a fall. Once and again God reproves His servant; he fails and God restores him; he falls again and God allows him to follow his own path. David remains behind at Jerusalem; a little idleness detaches him from the interests of the war. A passer-by appears on the scene: this traveler is lust. The king's gaze is attracted by an object that seems desirable to him; his flesh is conquered; the authority at his disposition becomes servant to his desire; the evil is consummated; the Lord's anointed is an adulterer!
How long did the satisfying of his flesh last? Hardly has the fault been committed but it bears its fruits—a pregnancy. The situation is serious and the king is full of apprehension. His character is compromised; his sin will be revealed; he must hide it. We always behave in this way when we have lost the appreciation of God's presence. David is caught in these circumstances; he struggles, wants to handle them, and in his blindness fails to see that God is directing them.
He has Urijah brought from the camp and hypocritically asks him about Joab, the people, and the war (2 Sam. 11:77And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered. (2 Samuel 11:7)). Did he really care? Were not all his thoughts directed toward the single object of hiding his sin? Urijah, whom the king sent to his wife, instead slept with all the king's other servants at the palace door. "Why," asks the king, "didst thou not go down to thy house?" What a beautiful answer Urijah gives: "The ark, and Israel, and Judah abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields: shall I then go into my house!" (2 Sam. 11:1111And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. (2 Samuel 11:11)). He had learned this devotion in the school of David himself. In 2 Sam. 7:22That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. (2 Samuel 7:2) did not David say to Nathan: "See now, I dwell in a house of cedars, and the ark of God dwells under curtains"? This godly desire and this testimony on David's part had been received and had borne fruit among his attendants. Urijah speaks like the David of earlier days. What an unwitting reproach he addresses to his respected master! The man is simple and noble in heart. He says, God is calling me to perform a service, an activity for Himself, and as long as He does not rest I cannot rest.
David pays no attention to these earnest words; he is solely preoccupied with pushing Urijah to the act that will allow the king to cover up his sin. He gets his servant drunk, but in spite of this Urijah remains firm in his decision. Like a caged bird David struggles without resource against the hand that has shut him up. Satan suggests to him the only means of escaping public exposure of his fault; he becomes Urijah's murderer, responsible for the same sin that his people would later commit by putting to death "the just" who did not resist (James 5:66Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. (James 5:6)). The same David who had said: "Let [the blood of Abner] fall on the head of Joab" (2 Sam. 3:28-2928And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner: 29Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread. (2 Samuel 3:28‑29)) now takes this Joab, a murderer himself, as his accomplice and so becomes the slave of the man who had every interest in bringing him into bondage.
On receiving news of the death of Urijah, killed close to the wall of Rabbah along with certain of the "mighty men," David sends this message to Joab: "Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devours one as well as another" (2 Sam. 11:2525Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him. (2 Samuel 11:25)). Having achieved his purpose, David reassures his accomplice and then takes Bathsheba into his house, and she becomes his wife and bears him a son.
The story, instead of ending, only is beginning at this point. At the end of this chapter, so full of corruption and shame, we find a little expression, the only thing David had not thought of and the only one he ought to have remembered: "But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of Jehovah."
Let us take heed to our ways. It takes only an instant to fall, but to avoid falling we must constantly be on the alert in all that precedes the incident. Yes, we must watch daily to avoid walking in "any grievous way" so that we may be led "in the way everlasting" (Psa. 139:2424And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:24)). In this path all is peace for our souls; this is the path of life that leads to unclouded rejoicing in God's presence: "Thy countenance is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psa. 16:1111Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)).