Chapter 3

David: Overcoming Moral Failure

I keep seeing my friends fall. I wonder why they do it. What causes a man to trash his marriage and all he’s worked for, for a transient affair? Take David, for example—Israel’s greatest king, the “man after God’s own heart.” He fell for Uriah’s pretty, young wife, Bathsheba.

It happened “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war” (2 Sam. 11:1). That spring, however, in fatal lethargy, David’s energies became focused elsewhere. “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace” (v.2).

From there, he had a commanding view of Jerusalem and could look down into neighboring courtyards. As he surveyed his city, his eyes fell upon a young woman taking a bath. The text says she was very beautiful (v.2).

If the woman seems immodest, you must remember there was no indoor plumbing in those days. Baths were normally taken outdoors in enclosed courtyards.

David was entranced! He sent someone “to find out about her” (v.3), whereupon, one of his friends tried to discourage him. “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (v.3) he asked. She was a married woman— married in fact to Uriah, one of David’s mighty men, a member of David’s exclusive bodyguard (23:39).

David, however, would not be denied. He “sent messengers to get her.” One wrong thing led to another and “he slept with her. . . . Then she went back home.” Later, we’re told, She “sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant’” (11:4-5).

David knew he was in big trouble! Bathsheba’s husband was engaged in the siege of the Ammonite city of Rabbah and would be away for several months. Anyone could count to nine. In other lands kings were the law, but not in Israel. No one was above God’s Word. Adultery was serious sin.

But David, always a man of action, devised a plan to avert the consequences of his affair. He sent word to Joab to release Uriah from his command and send him to Jerusalem, ostensibly to report on the war, but in reality to bring him home to Bathsheba. When the old warrior arrived, David listened to his briefing and then dismissed Uriah to his home: “Go down to your house and wash your feet” (v.8), he said with a twinkle in his eye.

But Uriah “slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house” (v.9). When David asked why he did not go home, Uriah explained, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” (v.11).

David replied, “‘Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home” (11:12-13).

Uriah would not go home while those under his command were separated from their wives and families. Despite David’s repeated efforts to persuade Uriah, the stern old Hittite refused. Even getting him drunk failed. Each evening Uriah rolled out his sleeping bag on the floor of the palace guardroom and slept with the rest of the troops.

Time was running out. In desperation David put a contract on his life, ordering General Joab to “put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die” (v.15).

Joab, who was no fool, refused to follow David’s directive. The plan was so obviously treacherous that he altered it: “While Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died” (vv.16-17).

Joab then sent a runner to David with a report on the battle. He knew David would be critical of his tactics and the resultant loss of life, but he hastened to report that Uriah had been killed (vv.18- 22). David didn’t want Joab to be upset so he said, “The sword devours one as well as another” (v.25).

When Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When her brief period of mourning was over, David “had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son” (vv.26-27).

David moved with inappropriate haste, but marriage put a legal and final end to the sordid affair—or so David thought. But God knew, and “the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (v.27).

A year passed, during which time David deteriorated physically and emotionally. He later described his feelings:

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer (Ps. 32:3-4).

His gnawing conscience kept him restless and melancholy. Every waking moment was filled with misery. At night he tossed and turned. Anxiety sapped his energy. His depression deepened with every passing day.

Eventually, David had to face the facts. To be more precise, he had to face the prophet Nathan, who knew the truth. Nathan trapped the shepherd-king with a story about a rich man who had vast flocks of sheep but who seized another man’s pet lamb to serve to a traveling stranger (2 Sam. 12:4).

David was enraged, and at first he overreacted out of moral outrage: “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” But sheepnapping was not a capital offense in Israel. According to Exodus 22:1, a thief was only required to make fourfold restitution to the victim. David then said, “He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (v.5).

Nathan drove his verdict home. “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?” (12:7-9).

When he was brought face to face with his corruption, David’s defenses crumbled. Burying his face in his hands, he cried, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (v.13).

To David’s credit, he did not try to justify himself. He acknowledged his sin, and God immediately canceled the handwriting that was against him. David could lift up his head. As he later wrote:

I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”—and You forgave the guilt of my sin (Ps. 32:5).

As the apostle John promised, “If we confess [acknowledge] our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Happiness is knowing that our sins have been forgiven.

Blessed [happy] is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed [happy] is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit (Ps. 32:1-2).

David bore terrible consequences for his sin. Nathan predicted that he would suffer:

The sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. This is what the Lord says: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel. . . . Because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die” (2 Sam. 12:10-12,14).

David paid dearly for his few moments of pleasure. His family life and political career came apart at the seams from that time on. All that Nathan had predicted came true.

God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Gal. 6:7).

 But David could rise from his fall to walk with God. “No amount of falls will really undo us,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “if we keep picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. . . . The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give up.”


Reading David’s story and watching my friends fall has led me to one conclusion: Moral collapse is rarely a blowout; it’s more like a slow leak—the result of a thousand small indulgences. Very few people plan an adulterous affair; they transition into it.

It begins with attraction. It’s not lust as much as infatuation that brings us down. We’re drawn to someone sensitive and understanding, someone who listens and seems to care. We’re seduced by that attraction and led on by subtle degrees.

Attraction becomes fantasy: We imagine ourselves with that person and the feeling is good. Fictionalized affairs always seem so right. That’s their fundamental deception.

The fantasies soften us,and our convictions erode. We’re then in a frame of mind to listen to our longings, and having listened we have no will to resist. We cannot escape the realization of our predominant thoughts.

Then there are the meetings and the sharing of inner conflict, marital disappointment, and other deep hurts. And with that sharing, the relationship begins to shift. We’re suddenly two lonely people in need of one another’s love.

Then comes the inevitable yielding, and with that yielding the need to justify the affair. We can’t live with the dissonance. We have to rationalize our behavior by blaming someone or something else—the pressures of our business or the limitations of our spouses. Others’ wrongdoing becomes our reason. Everything must be made to look good.

But our hearts know. There are moments when our wills soften and we long to set things right. If we do not then listen to our hearts, there comes a metallic hardening, and then corruption. Our wrongdoing mutates, altering its form and quality, evolving into dark narcissism and horrifying cruelty. We don’t care who gets hurt as long as we get what we want.

And finally there is inevitable disclosure. First we deny: “There’s no one else!” Then we dissemble: “It’s only platonic.” And finally our deception is shouted from the housetops. There’s no place to hide from the light.

When our seams have been opened and our evil deeds have been exposed, God reminds us of His cross, His forgiveness, and His incomparable grace. Then He begins to make us new. But there’s only one way to know that forgiveness: acknowledgment of the awfulness of one’s sin and that old-fashioned word, repentance. We must hate what we’ve done, and turn from it in disgust.

That’s what Paul calls “godly sorrow [that] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). Ungodly sorrow is the sorrow of being found out, or of suffering the consequences of being found out. The result is intensified guilt, anxiety, and hopelessness. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is sorrow over sin itself and the harm that it’s done to others. Godly sorrow asserts itself to set things right.

Here’s the way Paul put it: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness [to obey], what eagerness to clear yourselves [of wrongdoing], what indignation [against evil], what alarm [that we might fall into sin again], what longing [for purity], what concern [for all those damaged by our sin], what readiness to see justice [righteousness] done” (2 Cor. 7:11).

As David himself learned, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). God discerns the possibilities even in our defilement, forgives our sins, counteracts our mistakes, and sets out to make us better than we’ve ever been before.

Therefore, rather than mourn our humiliation, we must move on. Sin may have consequences with which we must live for the rest of our natural lives, but sin repented of can only work for ultimate good. God takes the worst that we can do and makes it part of the good He has promised. He’s the God of fools and failures and the God of another chance.