2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51
The fall of King David is one of the saddest stories in all the scriptures. Yet, it is instructive for what it teaches regarding enduring to the end. David’s earlier life epitomizes the wearing of the armor of God. This armor is designed to help protect us from succumbing to the temptations of the devil and to strengthen us in doing the work of God. For example, the shield of faith helped David defeat Goliath. The armor of truth, righteousness, and salvation shielded him from revenge when falsely accused by King Saul.
The armor protected him from exalting himself when he was elevated to the status of king, as demonstrated when David brought the ark of the covenant, representing Jehovah, to Jerusalem, thus recognizing Jehovah as the true king of Israel (2 Sam. 6). But later in David’s life, he became careless. He was not as diligent in wearing the armor of God as he had been earlier. Consequently, he was not fully protected against the fiery darts of the adversary. The righteous acts of his earlier life were negated by serious sins committed later in life.
The opening verse of the story of David’s fall is revealing: “And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem” (11:1). One of the responsibilities David had as king was to subdue Israel’s enemies. In fulfilling this duty, it had been his practice to personally lead Israel in battle. Because of the rainy weather during the winter months, war was normally employed in the summer months. Our account reads that at the beginning of the new year (i.e., spring), David sent his army to Rabbah (modern Ammon, Jordan) to besiege the Ammonites. But David, himself, remained in Jerusalem!
No explanation is given as to why David did not personally lead his armies. But it is clear that the way this verse is written, the reader is to take David’s inactivity in a negative way. The reason becomes obvious after reading the chapter: David’s fall is tied directly to his careless manner in performing his kingly duties. Had he been on the battlefront, he would not have been home where the seduction of ease and complacency beguiled him.
With the battle front a great distance away, David must have felt at ease in the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, where he had everything he needed. It is human nature, however, that when we feel that “all is well in Zion,” we becomes careless and lax in the things of righteousness. Nephi warned against this condition in these words: “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Ne. 28: 21). Of this, Harold B. Lee, taught: “It is frightening to observe that in places where there is the greater prosperity, there is the unmistakable evidence that, like the peoples of other dispensations, when the people prosper they forget God” (Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975], p. 82.). Sensing little danger, it is easy to remove the armor of God for a brief season. Our relationship with God becomes more casual and less intense. Yet sadly, when the armor of God is removed, we open ourselves to the “fiery darts of the adversary.” Thus, it was with David.
The First Sin
Our story continues. “And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house” (11:2). David was restless; he could not sleep well. He went out onto the balcony where, according to the Hebrew text, he began to idly walk around. David’s palace was located in the upper part of Jerusalem. The houses of the villagers were located below his palace. From his balcony, he could literally look over all the housetops of Jerusalem. The roofs of the village houses were typically flat and were often utilized by household members.
While pacing his balcony, “he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (11:2). David should have immediately turned away from this sight. But with his helmet of salvation on the closest shelf, he was not “considering the end of [his] salvation” (D&C 46:7). His glance became a gaze. His mind wandered into forbidden paths.
“And David sent and enquired after the woman” (11:3). He had no business doing that! What concern was it of his? One of his servants responded: “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (11:3) The Hebrew names of Bathsheba and Uriah should have wakened David from his trance. Bathsheba means “daughter of the covenant” while Uriah means “Jehovah is my light.” Hearing those words, David’s mind should have been lifted to a higher plan. But his casualness in righteous things had dulled his spiritual senses.
His spiritual man having become weakened by his casualness in gospel living, David gave into the urges of lust. “And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house” (11:4).
The parenthetical statement that Bathsheba had been “purified from her uncleaness” is intended to let the reader know of Bathsheba’s condition at the time. According to the law of Moses, after a woman’s monthly menstrual period was complete, she was required to become ritually clean (Lev. 15:28-30). Thus it is clear to the reader that at the time of their adulterous act, Bathsheba was NOT pregnant by her husband, who was on the battle front.
The Second Sin
Things went from bad to worse. “And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child” (11:5). Instead of confessing his sin and repenting of his action, David attempted to cover his wickedness. He had Uriah recalled from the battle front and invited to spend time at home resting.
David hoped that with Uriah home he would sleep with his wife, Bathsheba. When it became known that Bathsheba was pregnant, everyone, including Uriah, would think it was his child. But Uriah did not feel right about his unexpected leave while all the rest of the army remained on the battle front. So Uriah “slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house” (11:9).
Frustrated, David sent Uriah back to the front line. In league with his general, Joab, David had Uriah placed at the hottest part of the battle. On a signal, Joab had the rest of the Israelite soldiers withdraw from where Uriah was fighting, leaving him exposed to the brunt of the Ammonite army. Uriah was killed.
“And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.” With Uriah out of the way, David was free to marry Bathsheba and claim the child his. “And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son” (11:26-27). For David, all seemed well again. His sin was hidden. Or was it?
David’s Sins Exposed
“But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). The Lord sent Nathan, the prophet to David. Nathan said: “There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him” (12:2-4).
The story angered David who sought for a just retribution for the poor man. He said to Nathan, ” As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (12:5-6).
Nathan looked squarely at David and exclaimed, “Thou art the man.”
Continuing, he said: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” He then prophesied: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (12:7-12).
His sin exposed, David was shocked and horrified. He cried out to Nathan: “I have sinned against the LORD” (12:13). Nathan responded: “The Lord also hath not put away thy sin that thou shalt not die” (JST 12:13). The death referred to should be interpreted as spiritual death. He would not be put to death as the law required. The law required two or three witnesses to any crime punishable by death. There was probably no one who was willing to speak out against the king in such a manner. But his sin would not be without mortal consequences as well. David was given a worse punishment than death. As Nathan had prophesied, he lived to see many of his wives and sons turn against him and much of his household turn to infighting and blood.
Further, Nathan prophesied that the child born to David and Bathsheba would die. Shortly after Nathan left David’s presence, “the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.” Though David “besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth” the child died after seven days (12:15-18).
As David began to realize the extent of his sins, he turned humbly to the Lord to ask for forgiveness. Psalm 51 is a Hebrew poem set to music reflecting his pleading for forgiveness. A portion is given here in proper Hebrew parallels.
Have mercy upon me, O God,
according to thy lovingkindness:
according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions:
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done this evil in thy sight:
that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest,
and be clear when thou judgest.
. . .
Purge me with hyssop,
and I shall be clean:
and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness;
that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence;
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Forgiveness for David?
David’s contrition was sincere. But his sins were grievous. Joseph Smith said: “A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness. David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears, for the murder of Uriah; but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Press, 1938], p. 339).
Regarding David’s sin, the Lord has said: “David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord” (D&C 132:39).
In another Psalm, we are told that David’s suffering for his sins would eventually come to an end: “For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell” (Ps. 86:13). Because David had not committed the unpardonable sin, his sincere repentance will open the way for him to be delivered from the full force of the eternal consequences of his sin. He will not be doomed to the lowest hell, outer darkness. But rather he will eventually receive a telestial kingdom of glory. Boyd K. Packer declared: “Forgiveness will come eventually to all repentant souls who have not committed the unpardonable sin (see Matt. 12:31). Forgiveness does not, however, necessarily assure exaltation, as is the case with David” (Ensign, Nov. 1985, p. 15, note 15). In the LDS Bible Dictionary regarding David, we are told: “Like Saul he was guilty of grave crimes; but unlike Saul, he was capable of true contrition and was therefore able to find forgiveness, except in the murder of Uriah. As a consequence David is still unforgiven, but he received a promise that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell. He will be resurrected at the end of the Millennium.”
President Kimball once stated: “We learn the lessons of life more readily and surely if we see the results of wickedness and righteousness in the lives of others. . . All through the scriptures every weakness and strength of man has been portrayed, and rewards and punishments have been recorded. One would surely be blind who could not learn to live life properly by such reading” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball. Compiled by Edward L. Kimball. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], pp. 131-133). The life of David clearly portrays the necessity to remain constant and vigilant with regard to the things of righteousness.
We are in a constant battle between good and evil. President Harold B. Lee taught: “Preachers of other dispensations, not unlike the preachers of our day, saw and spoke of life as a continuing conflict between opposing forces. The prophet Isaiah tells of a “grievous” vision that came to him in which the Lord directed him to set a watchman to report what he could see from his watchtower. As the watchman in the vision obediently reported hour after hour the coming of horsemen, chariots, lions, etc., the voice of the Lord came again to Isaiah, saying, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman what of the night”? (Isaiah 21:11.) Thus, the suggestion that even more to be feared than the enemies we can see are the “enemies of the night” not perceived by physical sight” (Stand Ye in Holy Places, p. 328).
Paul spoke of invisible enemies that we should constantly be aware of: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” He then warned that to protect ourselves against these forces, we should take upon ourselves “the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:12-13).
In a time of casualness, David unwittingly removed his armor of God and exposed himself to the fiery darts of the adversary. Having unconsciously laid himself open to Satan, he was bombarded by a series of temptations which overpowered him. As a result, he lost his chance for exaltation. In its place he has reaped thousands of years of heartache and suffering.
We have been told that “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” But with that promise are these important words: “but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor.
10:13). Some misuse this verse and believe they will be protected by God in all ways. President Ezra Taft Benson warned against such thinking. “‘Don’t worry,’ says the devil; ‘the Lord will protect you, and besides, the world is so corrupt and heading toward destruction at such a pace that you can’t stop it, so why try?’ Well, to begin with, the Lord will not protect us unless we do our part. This devilish tactic of persuading people not to get concerned because the Lord will protect them no matter what they do is exposed by the Book of Mormon. Referring to the devil, it says: ‘And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell’ (2 Nephi 28:21)” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], p. 660).
We must continually be on the look out for the ways God has provided to escape the temptation. Regarding this, Neal A. Maxwell has given this counsel: “As to our circumstances, the Lord has promised He will either make a way to escape or a way to bear adversity (1 Corinthians 10:13). As to temptation, most of the time there is an obvious way to escape, but prevention–not being enticed in the first place–is more sure and is part of having sufficient faith” (Not My Will, But Thine [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988 ], p.75).
Casualness in the gospel places one in temptation’s way. It must be avoided at all costs. President Kimball spoke against casualness in these terms: “Some become casual in their church activity and estrange themselves from the refining and protective influences of the Church. The gospel seems to take second place to their personal interests. They miss their meetings, permitting school work, social life, or business or professions to crowd out the important church activities and the gospel until their feelings toward the Church and its standards are somewhat anesthetized” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972], p.162). Such casualness leads us away from God and his righteousness. President Kimball said: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away.” He then spoke of things that bring greater intensity in gospel living. “If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.135).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell asserted that “Only greater consecration will cure ambivalence and casualness in any of us!” (“Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 66). Likewise President Benson taught: “It is not going to be enough just to accept the teachings, standards, and ideals of the Church passively. It will require real activity, real dedication to the principles of righteousness if we are to face the future unafraid.” He then said: “But if we have the courage, sound judgment, and the faith so to do, then no matter what happens we will be able to face any situation with courage and with faith and with the assurance that God will sustain us.” Continuing, he counseled: “I know that now is the time probably more than any other time in our lives to live the gospel. We should not be lulled away into false security as Nephi said many would be in the last days. We should not be pacified and feel in our hearts that we can sin a little, that we can attend to our meetings part of the time, that we can pay a token tithing, that we can live the gospel when it is convenient, and all will be well.” He then declared: “We must not be ‘at ease in Zion’ and say ‘Zion prospers, all is well’ (2 Nephi 28:21, 24). But we must live the gospel plan in its fulness every day of our lives. Therein is safety. Therein will come a satisfaction which comes from righteous living which will enter our hearts, give us the courage and the strength that we need. There is no security in unrighteousness. The sinful always live in despair” (see Moroni 10:22)” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.337-338).