August 8, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The story of David and Bathsheba

John F. Fink(Thirty-first in a series of columns)

The Old Testament is not afraid to detail the human failings of the man chosen by God to be Israel’s greatest king. However, it also tells us of David’s repentance and God’s punishment for his sins.

Chapters 11 and 12 of the Second Book of Samuel give us the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. An idle king saw a beautiful woman bathing and, using his kingly power, sent men to take her to the palace, where he slept with her, knowing full well that she was married to Uriah the Hittite. We are told nothing about Bathsheba’s feelings about the affair.

Bathsheba became pregnant and let David know. David tried to make it appear that the child was Uriah’s by making it possible for him to sleep with his wife. Failing that, he ordered his general, Joab, to make sure that Uriah was killed in battle. Then David took Bathsheba as his wife. The last sentence in Chapter 11 is, “But the Lord was displeased with what David had done” (2 Sm 11:27).

So God sent the prophet Nathan to indict David for his sins. He told David that the sword would never depart from his house, that his sons would rebel against him, and that one of them would lie with his wives in broad daylight.

David repented and God accepted the repentance. However, as punishment to David, he said that Bathsheba’s son would die. David tried to change the Lord’s mind through fasting and other penances, but the punishment remained. Afterward, David comforted Bathsheba and she bore another son, Solomon, who would succeed David as king.

The stories that follow show how Nathan’s prophecy that the sword would not depart from David’s house was fulfilled. First, in Chapter 13, is the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by Amnon, David’s oldest son. The narrator of the story goes into detail about the lust that Amnon felt for Tamar, how he lured her into his bedroom, and how he raped her.

David learned of the rape and was angry, but did nothing since Amnon was his first-born. But David’s son Absalom, filled with hatred for Amnon for what he did, was determined to take revenge on behalf of his sister. The opportunity came two years later, and he successfully carried out his plan. Amnon was killed.

Fearing retribution, Absalom fled to Geshur, where he stayed for three years while David was torn between his mourning over Amnon’s death and his longing for Absalom. Chapter 14 tells the story of a woman of Tekoa, who convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem. However, David decreed that Absalom was not to appear before him.

That continued for two years until Absalom begged to be allowed to appear before David. Finally David relented and he and Absalom were reconciled.

But not for long. Amnon’s death put Absalom next in line for the throne, and he was impatient to have that throne. I’ll write about his rebellion next week. †

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