In today’s story, we’ll see King David make a small mistake, and, with careful, diligent and applied effort, create a huge mess that will cost a man his life.
We see this small mistake in the very first verse of the passage: It’s spring, kings are off to battle, but David’s hanging around the house. He’s a king, so we know where he should be and what he should be doing: Leading his armies in battle. In David’s case, that’s especially true, because it was his skill at strategy and his own fighting abilities that first won him fame when he was one of Saul’s commanders and then kept him safe when Saul chased him around trying to kill him. Soldiering is David’s thing, but he’s ignoring his responsibility. Had he been where he shoulda been, none of this would have happened.
Since he’s not where he shoulda been, he chances to spy one Bathsheba bathing on her roof. Rather than look away from a woman to whom he is not married, he watches, and he watches long enough to take decisive action. He sends for her and sleeps with her, even though he knows she is the wife of one of his soldiers. No harm, no foul, right? Victimless crime, nobody got hurt, consenting adults can do what they want and all that.
Except a little while later Bathsheba sends a note to David saying, basically, “Oops!” Now David’s got troubles. Even if Bathsheba’s the only one targeted as committing adultery, she can name her partner and there are people who know David had a liaison with her. He’ll be found out as well.
But David, the master tactician, has a plan. He’ll call Uriah home from battle and then send him home to Bathsheba, and so on and so forth, and everybody will be safe and nobody will wonder that Uriah Junior showed up a little early because sometimes those things happen.
Except that Uriah has more integrity than his king and refuses to enjoy his house or his wife’s bed while his fellow soldiers are in the field. Even drunk he won’t waver. David rewards his subject’s integrity and loyalty by planning to have him killed.
The part of the story after this shows how David took Bathsheba into his own household after Uriah was killed in battle, and again everything seemed fine until Nathan the prophet shows up talking about lambs.
Imagine, if you will, how different things might have been if David had told the truth. Yes, adultery was a capital crime in ancient Israel, but it’s very doubtful either he or Bathsheba he would have faced that punishment. Yes, his reputation would have been tarnished and he would have lost a lot of respect in the eyes of his people. But they would also have noticed how he faced up to his own mistakes and that would have laid the groundwork for rebuilding that respect.
Since David’s a political leader, we may automatically think of how frequently politicians twist themselves and their words into Möbius strips of doubletalk to avoid saying they were wrong or that they goofed on even the smallest things, when a simple “My bad” might end the matter and move forward. And they do make good – or maybe bad? – examples of just that sort of thing.
I have to confess, though, that I will sometimes do the same thing in order to keep an error from being found out. I’ll try to cover the mistake or misdirect attention or maybe even flat-out fib in order to hide something I don’t want other people to know about.
But truth, for all its virtues, has one shortcoming: It stinks at hiding. Whether we cover up intentionally or unintentionally, truth is eventually left standing in the middle of the field with no trees, rocks or shrubs around to give it cover.
The reality of God is similar. Most of us who are active with our faith got that way because at some point we realized a couple of truths. One, we couldn’t hide the truth of God’s existence behind increasingly elaborate justifications we built to help us ignore him. And two, we couldn’t hide that, as much as we might want to connect with God, we were unable to do so on our own and we needed God to connect to us first.
And of course, the greatest Truth of all is that he did just that.