The life of David most certainly has positives and negatives. The low-light for King David comes when he had sent out Joab and the army to do battle with and ultimately defeat the Ammonites. It is then that David enters in to his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who was one of David’s trusted servants and soldiers. The story is familiar, so it needs only a brief recapitulation before we examine it in relation to our overall project so as to connect it with exile and exodus and the all-encompassing faithfulness of God.
David does not go out to battle, but rather, stays back in Jerusalem. There, he sees Bathsheba and determines that he must have her for himself, at least temporarily. He summons her to him during her period of ovulation (of which she is well aware), they engage in intimate activity, she returns home, she finds that she is pregnant, and she sends words of such to David. So as to cover up his regrettable actions, and perhaps also to spare Bathsheba from the shame of accusations of harlotry, David summons her husband home from the battle, so that he and his wife might engage in the activity in which married couples generally engage after long periods of separation from each other. Naturally, this would then be able to account for her pregnancy. As we know, Uriah, strangely enough (though he does offer up what appear to be legitimate and honorable reasons) did not act as David expected, even after David’s repeated attempts to get him to do so. At this point, David feels as if he has no choice but to make arrangements to have Uriah killed in battle, which is precisely what occurs.
After Bathsheba goes through a requisite period of grieving for her husband “David had her brought to his palace. She became his wife and she bore him a son” (2 Samuel 11:27b). Now, even though we are informed that Uriah had “not gone down to his house” (11:10b), and that, rather, “in the evening he went out to sleep on his bed with the servants of his lord” (11:13b), we could posit the possibility of a relative disbelief amongst anybody that knew that he had returned to Jerusalem, that he did not engage in any type of sexual relations with his wife. After all, his house was near David’s residence. Furthermore, the fact that his wife was pregnant would have been clear evidence to a relatively disengaged and disinterested observer that he had in fact visited her. So when he is killed, Bathsheba now gains sympathy from the surrounding community, rather than scorn and shame. David, by taking the pregnant widow of a deceased warrior into his royal harem, is viewed by the people as something of a savior for Bathsheba and her child, as well as being the king who desires to honor the fallen dead. The epithet to this marriage, however, is that “what David had done had upset the Lord” (11:27c).
Such an interesting statement. David “had upset the Lord.” What was it that upset the Lord? As we glance through the Biblical record, what do we find in David’s behavior that would have upset the Lord? Was it not going out to battle? Lust? Adultery? Betrayal? Pre-mediated murder? As the story is presented, we have quite the list from which to choose. Beyond the surface of the text, there is, quite possibly, pride and hubris on the part of David, as he may very well have enjoyed a bit of basking in the adulation of his people, through taking in the pregnant widow and offering to raise the son of his servant as the son of the king. So what upset the Lord? Naturally, it was all of those things. More importantly though, it was what all of those things represented, which was oppression and injustice.
When the prophet Nathan comes to David, he tells him a story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, while the poor man had only a single lamb, for which he provided a tender and loving care. Nathan goes on to tell David a story of oppression, in which the rich man, in need of food to provide hospitality to a visitor, takes the one and only lamb of the poor man, and provides it as food to his guest. David, as he had been in the case of the abusive treatment of his men at the hands of the king of Ammon, is rightly indignant. He expresses outrage at this act of oppression and exclaims “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” (12:5) David referred to the actions of the rich man in the story as a “cold-hearted crime” (12:6). Nathan responds to this correct and insightful declaration by the king by informing him that “You are that man!” (12:7b).
Following this assertion, Nathan recounts God’s faithful actions towards David, beginning with his being chosen as king (evocative of Israel’s being chosen by God), and his rescue from Saul (evocative of Israel’s rescue from Egypt). To that, Nathan adds talk of David being given his master’s house and wives and the “house of Israel and Judah” (12:8). This is not at all dissimilar to what the Lord had done for Israel as a whole, bringing them into the promised land, with fields that they did not plant, and houses that they did not build. What’s more, says Nathan, as we are clearly now ensconced in a mindful polemic against Israel for which David is a proxy (though he is most assuredly guilty), “And if all that somehow seems insignificant, I would have given you so much more as well! Why have you shown contempt for the word of the Lord by doing evil in My sight?” (12:8b-9a) Yes, this is what God effectively asks of Israel, as this is the story of Israel, as they waver between exile and exodus, inexplicably choosing exile and its curses over exodus and its blessings on a regular basis. This story is now being embodied by David, which is appropriate, as the king of Israel does stand as the representative for the people. David is choosing the path of exile. Though he is embodying the larger story of Israel, he is also embodying Egypt, the oppressor of God’s people. Though we are dealing with a specific instance related to a specific individual, we are being reminded of the grand framework and plan of God.