2 Samuel 11 marks a tectonic shift in David’s life. Bible teachers observe that David was a different man after his fall with Bathsheba. Beforehand, God seemed to bless everything David did. But after his fall, it seemed like turmoil and opposition filled his life.
Most of the time, we look at this passage as a guide for how to respond when you’ve fallen into sin. But I want to look at this passage from a different angle. I’m interested in looking at this passage from the standpoint of Dangers Leaders Face. Let take a moment to read verses 1-18:
1 In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites…David stayed behind in Jerusalem.
2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home.
5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” 6 Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David.
7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. 10 When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?” 11 Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.” 12 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.
14 So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. 18 Then Joab sent a battle report to David.
In verse 1, the author of 2 Samuel says, “In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war.” Spring time represented the ideal time for military campaigns since summer was too hot and autumn was harvest time. But due to his military success, David became overconfident, “David stayed behind in Jerusalem (v 1).” Trouble started when David grew complacent and started delegating his responsibility Joab. By this time, God united Israel, he expanded its borders and the country was prospering. And God firmly established David upon Israel’s throne. But David failed to fulfill the role to which God called him.
David failed to play his role (as king) by lead Israel’s army into battle. When Samuel warns the people about the consequences of dethroning God as their king and choosing a human king, we’re told,
The people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” So Samuel repeated to the Lord what the people had said, and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” (1 Samuel 8:19-22)
While others were on the field of battle getting killed, David was “killing time” at the palace.
Danger #1: Vacating Our Leadership Role
We open ourselves to temptation when we aren’t fulfilling our role. If you aren’t passionately pursuing God’s call, you’ll direct that passion elsewhere. Some people naturally direct it toward their career. Others obsess over hobbies. In David’s case, he directed his passion toward another woman. If we aren’t giving our heart fully to what God calls us, we’re walking on unstable ground.
After one of David’s afternoon naps, David stumbles upon a beautiful woman bathing. Commentator Kenneth Chafin says,
David now had leisure he was not equipped to enjoy. He was a man of action with a bit of time on his hands, a warrior who now took naps in the afternoon, and he may have felt the need for some excitement, for a new interest, or for an escape.
But David’s desire didn’t end at fantasy. As the most powerful man in Israel, he was used to getting whatever he wanted.
First he sent a messenger to inquire about her. But that wasn’t enough. David was intoxicated with lust. He fantasized about her. He convinced himself that having her was the only thing that would satisfy him. So he commanded his messengers to bring her to the palace and he slept with her.
Can you imagine the horror David must’ve felt after he slept with her? Panic must’ve set in right after he slept with her. He probably said to himself, “What did I do? How could this happen? My life’s over!"
In retrospect, you can often trace the small steps of compromise that led to a major fall. We face these opportunities to compromise each day. We use money our roommates gave us for bills to make personal purchases. We exchange text messages with a coworker who has been flirting with us. Or we overturn the Spirit’s conviction to curb our spending and splurge on a new item. Each successive compromise makes it easier to give up more moral ground.
All of this leaves you wondering, where was David’s family when all of this happened? He was married at this time and had several children. We know that David had friction with his first wife Michal (2 Sam. 6). Back in 2 Samuel 6, she confronts him for twerking before the Ark.
He must’ve warehoused his wives and children in a harem somewhere. David vacated his leadership role at home. And his disengagement became more apparent when his children were older.
Danger #2: Draw Affirmation from the Wrong Places
Failure to draw appropriate affection makes us susceptible to temptation. Since David wasn’t drawing affirmation from his wife and children, it made him vulnerable to temptation. In Ajith Fernando’s excellent book The Family Life of a Christian Leader, he talks about drawing appropriate affection from your spouse and children as a way to ward off extra-marital affairs. He says,
There is something wonderfully affirming in a relationship that has been forged through the hard work of applying agapē love in the home...The affirmation of family members is a great medicine for insecurity. After all, all of us have insecurities to a greater or lesser extent. Affirming spouses, parents, and children can be great agents of God’s grace in combating these insecurities. These are the most important people in our lives. What better place is there to be affirmed than the home?
In other words, God provides us affection through our spouse and our children to curb the desire to find it elsewhere. When your wife or husband expresses their appreciation for you, that’s God giving you the affirmation you need. When you son or daughter climbs onto the couch and curls up next to you, that’s God providing you the warmth and love you need. And when you aren’t getting that at home, you seek it elsewhere.
For those of us who aren’t married, God provides us affirmation through our friends and the people with whom we live. And if we fail to draw affirmation from them, we may seek that from someone we meet at work or school.
In verses 4-5, the author of 2 Samuel adds this detail: “She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.” Ever wonder why 2 Samuel adds this parenthetical statement? It’s to let the readers know two things. One, it demonstrates that Uriah wasn’t the father since he was away fighting. Two, David was the father since she was ovulating.
David quickly responded by trying to cover things up. He recalls Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, from the front lines of battle. When Uriah enters David’s court, David instructs him, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet (v 8).” Some commentators see David’s command as euphemism for having “sexual relations” with one’s spouse. Others take it simply take it to mean, “Go home and relax.” Either way, David’s intention was clear: he wanted Uriah to sleep with his wife so that he could cover what happened. But David’s plan backfires.
Uriah’s devotion to God, to his country, and to his king, David, prevented him from indulging his personal desires. David’s effort to manipulate his faithful servant Uriah provides us a truly sad picture. This highlights Uriah’s unshakable loyalty to God, Joab, and the one who secretly defrauded him, David. What motivated Uriah’s stubborn refusal to go home to his wife? Turns out, Uriah learned it from David. When David was on the run from Saul, he asked a priest for some food.
“We don’t have any regular bread,” the priest replied. “But there is the holy bread, which you can have if your young men have not slept with any women recently.” “Don’t worry,” David replied. “I never allow my men to be with women when we are on a campaign…” (1 Samuel 21:4-5)
With Uriah’s refusal to go home to his wife, David redoubles his effort to cover up his. This time, David includes Joab in his conspiracy to cover up his adulterous affair.
Danger #3: Creating a Culture of Compromise
David used his power, his influence and his role to manipulate those around him to compromise. He ordered his messengers to bring Bathsheba to his palace. He made Joab complicit in his cover up. And he sought to get Uriah to violate the very standard David set!
Those ensnared in compromise often create a culture of compromise. They do this to camouflage their own compromise. When people raise questions, they call them “legalistic.” Or the compromised leader will persuade people it’s not a big deal.
David orders Uriah to the front lines where the battle was fiercest and an enemy soldier struck him down. Bathsheba mourned for her fallen husband. But after the period of mourning ended, David took Bathsheba as his wife and she gave birth to their son.
Combating a Culture of Compromise
Reading this account makes you wonder: how do you to prevent a culture of compromise taking root in your group?
1. Bring your struggles into the light. Things can always get worse. It’s better to admit your sin now before you have a catastrophic fall.
2. If something doesn’t sit right with you, raise questions. Don’t ignore them. It may be the Holy Spirit uncovering manipulation, abuse or compromise.
3. Consult with people outside of your small group. Often it’s difficult to identify a problem when it’s right in front of you. Outsiders will give you an objective point of view.
Sometime later, God sends Nathan to confront David (2 Samuel 12). Nathan steps into David’s court and tells David a story. “There are two men in a city: one was rich and the other poor. The rich man possessed abundant livestock. The poor man possessed one young female lamb, which he loved and cared for. Sometime later, guests came to stay at the rich man’s house. Instead of taking an animal from his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb, killed it and prepared it for his guests.”
When David heard this, he burned with anger, “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” (12:5) David’s sin blinded him from his own hypocrisy. And yet, God used David’s inflamed sense of self-righteousness to condemn him.
'Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man!"' (12:7)
When you read through David’s attempt to cover things up, it leaves you wondering: Who did David have in his life that was willing to speak truth? – Nathan wasn’t around. God sent him to expose David’s sin. Joab was complicit in the cover up. And his court contained people who simply carried out his will.
He appears cut off from anyone who would keep him accountable. As you grow in your leadership competence, it becomes more challenging to maintain peer friendships. Often God calls you and your peer friends to greater responsibility, especially in a rapidly growing ministry. And all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by younger leaders or Christian workers who feel reluctant to question or challenge you. This puts us in a particularly vulnerable situation.
David seemed different after Jonathan died. Jonathan offered David needed encouragement and correction while on the run from Saul. And during this time, David maintained his integrity. But it appears his moral fabric deteriorated once Jonathan died. He lost one of the few people who would say something to him.
Danger #4: Grow Isolated from Peers
We grow isolated from peers who show willingness to speak truth to us. Over the last few years, I’ve seen numerous good leaders lose it because they lacked peer friends. They insisted on their autonomy. They refused to lead with people who challenged their thinking. When they co-led with strong peer leaders, their ministry thrived. But once, they cut themselves off from peer friendship, they fell into compromise.
As leaders we need to surround ourselves with people who show a willingness to speak truth to us. Who are the people in your life who challenge your views or question your decisions? Aside from your spouse? Often, your spouse may resist talking to people about your problems because they feel embarrassed by what people might think. Or our spouse may try to manage things behind closed doors.
If no one comes to mind, you’re vulnerable. You need to pursue trustworthy people who will say something if you start drifting.
We don’t have to suffer David’s fate. We can learn from his mistakes. We don’t need to fall victim to disqualifying sin. 1 Corinthians 10:10-12 says, “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”
Take preventative measures. Draw appropriate affirmation from your spouse and your family. Commit to maintaining peer friendships. Admit your struggles before it’s too late. Reach out to your peers from whom you’ve drifted.