David's successes and failures as king (2 Samuel 1-24) (2023)

The Bible regards David as the model king of Israel, and the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles describe his many accomplishments. Yet even David, “a man after God's own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), abuses his power and sometimes acts unfaithfully. He thrives most when he doesn't take himself too seriously, but runs into serious trouble when power gets to his head—for example, when he takes a census against God's command. (2 Sam. 24:10-17) or when he sexually exploits Bathsheba and orders the assassination of her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:2-17). Despite David's faults, God fulfills his covenant with David and treats him with mercy.

David's Rape of Bathsheba and Murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11-12)

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People in power have covered up cases of sexual abuse for millennia, but the Bible boldly reveals instances of abuse against Sarah, Hagar, Dinah, two Tamars, and Bathsheba, the subject of this passage. Bathsheba's abuse seems to be the most shocking of all because it came from none other than Jesus' most famous ancestor, King David. The story is ancient, but the theme remains as relevant as ever. In recent years, a wave of sexual abuse stories has spawned a #metoo movement that has brought together titans from entertainment (Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, Charlie Rose), politics (Al Franken, Patrick Meehan, John Conyers), Economics (Steve Wynn, Travis Kalanick), Sports (Larry Nassar), Music (R. Kelly) and Religion (Bill Hybels, Andy Savage, Paige Patterson). These names are from the US, but the problem is worldwide.

The story is a well-known one. From his roof, David notices his attractive neighbor Bathsheba washing. He sends his men to take her back to the palace, he has sex with her and she becomes pregnant. In an attempt to cover up the pregnancy, David remembers Bathsheba's husband Uriah from the siege of Rabbah, but Uriah has too much integrity to sleep with his wife while the rest of the army and ark camp in tents. After orchestrating Uriah's death in battle, David assumes the disaster has been averted. But David ignores God.

Throughout history, this encounter between David and Bathsheba has often been referred to as adultery, implying mutual consent. However, when we examine the details, we see that it is indeed a matter of sexual abuse of power, in other words, rape. Neither the text nor the context suggest that it was an affair between two consenting adults. People who think Bathsheba seduced David by bathing in front of his window may not be familiar with the Hebrew verbredemptions, used here for Bathsheba's action (2 Samuel 11:2), literally means "to wash," as translated elsewhere in this narrative (2 Sam. 11:8; 12:20). There is no reason to suppose that Bathsheba was naked, or that she was aware that the king, who should have been with his army, was watching from his roof like a peeper (2 Sam. 11:1-2).

People who think that she agreed to come willingly to the palace do not understand that when an ancient ruler called a subject to the palace, the subject had no choice but to comply. (See, for example, Esther 2:14, 3:12, and 8:9.) And David sent not one but several messengers to ensure Bathsheba's obedience (2 Sam. 11:4). Remember, the only person who refuses to follow David's instructions in this story, Uriah, is killed (2 Sam. 11:14-18). The text does not say that Bathsheba realized that she was being taken to the palace to have sex with the king. More likely she would have assumed that she was called there to be informed of her husband's death, which happened essentially later (2 Sam. 11:26-27).

The text refers to the action as a one-way street from David. "He lay with her," not "they lay together" (2 Sam. 11:4). The language used here to describe their encounter suggests rape, not adultery. David "took" (laqach) Bathsheba and "lie" (shakav) with her. The verbshakavcan only mean intercourse, but is used in most incidents of rape in the Hebrew Bible. The verbslaqachandshakavoccur only in connection with rape (Genesis 34:2; 2 Sam. 12:11; 16:22).

We cannot blame Bathsheba for acquiescing when she was placed in the chamber of a man of great power and a history of violence. As the story progresses, everyone blames David, and none blames Bathsheba. God blames David. "What David had done displeased the Lord" (2 Sam. 11:27). The prophet Nathan accused David by telling a parable in which a rich man (representing David) "takes" a precious sheep (Bathsheba) from a poor man (Uriah). After hearing Nathan's parable, even David accuses David: "The man who did this deserves death" (2 Sam. 12:5). Just in case it wasn't clear, Nathan replies, "You are the man!" (2 Sam. 12:7). According to the rape and adultery laws in Deuteronomy 22:22-29 what took place was not adultery but rape when only the man deserves death.

When we call this incident adultery or challenge Bathsheba's actions, we are not only ignoring the text, we are essentially blaming the victim. However, when we call it rape and focus on David's actions, we not only take the text seriously, we also validate the stories of other victims of sexual abuse. Just as God saw what David did to Bathsheba, so God sees what perpetrators are doing to victims of sexual abuse today.

David's crime was an abuse of power in the form of sexual violence. As sovereign over Israel's largest empire, David arguably had more power than any other Israelite in the Old Testament. Before David took the throne, he used his power to serve others, perhaps most notably the defenseless cities of Keilah and Ziklag (1 Samuel 23:1-14; 30:1-31), but it was with Bathsheba that he abused his power first , to serve his lust, and then uphold his reputation.

While few of us have as much authority as David, many of us have power in smaller areas in family or professional contexts, either because of our gender, race, position, wealth, or other status traits, or simply as we age. Gain experience and take on more responsibility. It's tempting to exploit our power and privilege when we think we've worked hard for those perks (better offices, dedicated parking, higher salaries) when those with less power don't share them.

Conversely, many of us are vulnerable to those in power for the same reasons, despite being on the other side of the balance of power. It may be tempting to think that those in vulnerable positions should try to defend themselves, as many have thought regarding Bathsheba. There is no evidence in the text that she attempted to reject David's sexual proposition, so - by that way of thinking - she must have been a willing participant. As we have seen, the Bible rejects this way of thinking. The victim of a crime is always the victim of the crime, no matter how much or little resistance they tried.

David threw himself into this crime after forgetting that God had given him his position of power and that God cared what he did with it. Shepherds should tend the sheep in their flock, not eat them (Ezekiel 34). Jesus the Good Shepherd used His power to feed, minister, heal, and bless those under His authority, and He commanded His followers to do the same (Mark 9:35; 10:42-45).

David's sovereign power enabled him to avoid unpleasant aspects of his responsibilities, particularly leading his army to war, despite being a military hero, defeating Goliath and "thousands" in battle (1 Sam. 17; 18:7 ; 21:11; 29:5). A consequence of his decision to stay home and take naps was that he had few responsibilities as his closest friends (his "powerful men") fought. There were many people who knew what David was doing, but they were servants, and not surprisingly none of them spoke up. People who rise to power usually pay a cost.

But that did not stop Abigail, the wise wife of foolish Nabal, from risking herself to prevent the not-yet-ruler David from raging bloodily (1 Sam. 25). If one of David's servants had spoken a word of warning as early as Abigail did, perhaps the raping of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah could have been avoided. After the crimes were committed, the prophet Nathan was summoned by God to confront the king, who, fortunately for his soul, listened to the message (2 Sam. 12). Note that Abigail and Nathan themselves were not the intended victims of David's abuse of power. They were in positions of less power than the perpetrator, but somehow recognized that they might be able to intervene and were willing to take the risk to do so. Do their actions indicate that those of us who are aware of the abuse have a responsibility to prevent or report it, even if it poses a risk to us or our reputation?

Most of us do not find ourselves in situations where confronting a boss or manager would risk our life, but speaking in such contexts can mean losing our status, a promotion, or a job. But as this story and many others like it in Scripture show, God calls His people to act as prophets in our churches, schools, businesses, and wherever we work and live. The examples of Abigail and Nathan—in addition to Jesus' instructions at Matthew 18:15-17—suggest that ideally we should speak face-to-face with the perpetrator. (Romans 13:1-7, however, implies that Christians may use other means of due process that do not require personal confrontation with the perpetrator.)

For those of us who avoid conflict, learning to speak the truth with authority figures can be developed gradually over time, like physical therapy for a weak or injured muscle. We cultivate confrontational skills by starting with small steps, asking questions or pointing out minor problems. We can then move on to more important issues by offering alternative perspectives that may not be popular. Over time, we can become bolder so that when we become aware of a significant moral failing, such as sexual abuse by a colleague or supervisor, we can hopefully speak the truth in a wise and gracious way. On the other side of the equation, smart leaders make it easy for their subordinates to hold them accountable and address issues. When you act as a leader, what do you do to welcome or solicit negative feedback from others?

David accepts Nathan's severe negative feedback and regrets it. Nonetheless, Nathan advises David that his individual repentance and forgiveness alone will not end the consequences that David's sin will have on others:

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan said to David: “Now the Lord has taken away your sin; you shall not die. But because in this act you have utterly despised the Lord, the child that will be born to you will die” (2 Sam. 12:13-14).

Although David repents personally, he does not erase the culture of exploitation that reigns under his leadership. Nathan tells David that the penalty for his sin will be severe and that the rest of David's reign will be one of turmoil (2 Sam. 13-2, 1 Kings 1). In fact, David's son Ammon commits the same crime (rape), but in an even more reprehensible manner, against his own sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-19). David himself is complicit, albeit perhaps unknowingly. Even when this is brought to David's attention, he does nothing to cope with the situation. Eventually, David's son Absalom decides to do something himself. He kills Ammon and starts a war in David's own household (2 Sam. 13) that escalates into civil war and a cascade of tragedies across Israel.

A culture that tolerates abuse is very difficult to eradicate, much harder than its leaders realize. If David thought that his personal repentance would be enough to restore the integrity of his household, he was tragically mistaken. Unfortunately, that kind of complacency and willing disregard for tolerating a culture of abuse lingers to this day. How many churches, corporations, universities, governments and organizations have promised to root out a culture of sexual abuse after an incident is exposed, only to immediately revert to the same old ways and commit more abuse?

However, this episode does not end in despair. Sexual abuse is one of the gravest sins, yet there is hope for justice and restoration. From the examples of David, Nathan, and Bathsheba, can we be encouraged to admit and repent (when we are the perpetrator), face up (when we are aware of the crime), or recover (when we are the victim) ? In any case, the first step is to stop the abuse. It is only when this happens that we can speak of repentance, including guilt, punishment and, if possible, reparation. In the lineage of David's most famous descendant, Jesus, Matthew reminds us of David's rape. Matthew counts Bathsheba among the four mothers he mentions, calling her not David's wife but the wife of Uriah, the man whom David murdered (Matthew 1:6). This reference at the beginning of the Gospels reminds us that God is both a God of righteousness and a God of restoration. In this one facet we can indeed see David as a role model worth emulating. This man of power, when confronted with evidence of his own wrongdoing, repents and demands justice, knowing it may well lead to his downfall. He receives mercy, not through his own power or the power of his cronies, but by submitting to an authority he cannot manipulate.

David's dysfunctional handling of family conflicts leads to civil war (2 Samuel 13-19)

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Most people are uncomfortable in conflict situations, so we tend to avoid conflict, whether it's at home or at work. But conflicts are like diseases. Smaller ones can resolve even if we ignore them, but larger ones will dig deeper and more catastrophic into our systems if we don't address them. That goes for David's family. David allows conflicts between some of his sons to plunge his family into tragedy. His eldest son Amnon then rapes and shames his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-19). Tamar's full brother, Absalom, hates Amnon for this crime but does not speak to him about it. David knows about the matter but chooses to ignore the situation (2 Sam. 13:21). For more information on children disappointing their parents, see "When children disappoint (1 Samuel 8:1-3)."

Everything seems fine for two years, but unresolved conflicts of this magnitude never subside. When Amnon and Absalom travel to the country together, Absalom showers his half-brother with wine and then has his servants murder him (2 Sam. 13:28-29). The conflict attracts more of David's family, the nobles, and the army until the entire nation has descended into civil war. The devastation caused by avoiding the conflict is orders of magnitude worse than the inconvenience that could result from handling the issues when they first arose.

Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky describe how leaders must “orchestrate conflict” or it will erupt, thwarting their goals and endangering their organizations.[1]Likewise, Jim Collins cites the example of Alan Iverson, who was CEO of Nucor Steel at a time when there were deep divisions over whether the company should diversify into steel scrap recycling. Iverson brought the divisions to light by allowing everyone to voice their opinions and shielding them from reprisals from others who might disagree. The “raging debates” that followed were uncomfortable for everyone. "People were screaming. They waved their arms and banged on tables. Faces turned red and veins bulged.” But acknowledging the conflict and coming to terms with it openly prevented it from going underground and later exploding. In addition, by generating a variety of facts and opinions, it led to better group decisions. "Colleagues would march into Iverson's office and yell and yell at each other, but then come out with a conclusion.... The company's strategy 'evolved through many agonizing arguments and struggles'.”[2]Well-orchestrated conflict can actually be a source of creativity.

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky,Leading the Line: Staying alive through the perils of leading(Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 101-122.

Jim Collins,Good to great(HarperBusiness, 2001), 76.

David learns he needs God's guidance on how to do his work (1 Chronicles 13)

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In 1 Chronicles 13, David faces a challenge in his work as king and has a good start in solving it. He believes that the Ark of God should be brought back from Kiriath-Jearim where it was left under Saul's rule. Nonetheless, instead of going off on his own, he consults with all his leaders and wins their approval. Together they pray to God for wisdom and come to the conclusion that they actually need to bring back the Ark of the Covenant. It is easy for a leader to make the mistake of going out alone, without counsel from God or others. David does well to recognize the need for both human and divine counsel. He gets a clear "go" for his project.

But disaster strikes. Uzza, who is helping move the ark, puts his hand on it to steady it, and God kills him (1 Chron. 13:9-10). This makes David both angry at (1 Chronicles 13:9-11) and fearful of God (1 Chronicles 13:12), leading David to abandon the project. What begins as confirmation from God and trusted colleagues to carry out a project suddenly turns into a dramatic failure. The same is happening today. Eventually, almost all of us experience a painful setback in our work. It can be deeply discouraging and even tempting us to give up the work that God has called us to do.

In what appears to be a brace, David pulls off two successful fights. He always asks the Lord if he should continue, and both times God sends him out successfully. But God's guidance for the second mission contains a special instruction. God says, “You shall not go after them; Go around and get on them across from the balm trees.” God wanted David to walk, but he wanted him to walk a certain way.

After these accomplishments, David reflects on this experience and commands that no one but the Levites should carry the ark of God because the Lord has chosen them for this task (1 Chronicles 15:2). This was written in the Book of the Law (Numbers 4:15) but was forgotten or neglected. After gathering the Levites to complete the ark, David says of the previous failure: “Because you [priests and Levites] did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not have given it proper care” (1 Chronicles 15:13). The second time the ark was moved successfully because they followed the procedure required by law.

This story reminds us of our own work. It is important to consult God and seek advice from trusted peoplewaswe are busy. But that's not enough. God takes care of that toohowWe do the work. As David's failed campaign shows when he neglected Numbers 4:15, doing things God's way requires a working knowledge of Scripture.

David's disobedience to God causes a national plague (1 Chronicles 21:1-17)

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David also suffers another failure that may seem strange to us in the 21st century. He conducts a census of the people of Israel. Although this seems wise, the biblical text tells us that Satan instigated David to do this against the advice of David's general, Joab. Moreover, "God was displeased with this matter, and he smote Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:6).

David acknowledges his sin by taking a census against God's will. He has three choices, each of which would harm many in the kingdom: (1) three years of famine, or (2) three months of desolation by the sword of his enemies, or (3) three days of plague in the land. David chooses the third option and 70,000 die when an angel of death sweeps the land. Then David cried out to God: "Didn't I give the command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and acted very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Lord my God be against me and against my father's house; but let not your people be afflicted” (1Chr. 21:17).

Like David, we probably have a hard time understanding why God would punish 70,000 other people for David's sin. The text gives no answer. However, we can observe that the transgressions of leaders inevitably harm their people. When business leaders make poor product development decisions, employees in their organization lose their jobs as revenue plummets. When a restaurant manager doesn't enforce hygiene rules, diners get sick. When a teacher gives high marks for poor performance, students fail or fall behind in the next level of education. Those in positions of leadership cannot escape responsibility for the impact of their actions on others.

David's patronage of the musical arts (1 Chronicles 25)

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1 Chronicles adds a detail not found in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. David forms a corps of musicians "to make music in the house of the Lord."

They were all under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres for the ministry of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the king's command. She and her relatives, who were practiced in singing to the Lord, and who were all skillful, numbered two hundred and eighty-eight. (1 Chronicles 25:6,7)

Maintaining an ensemble the size of two modern symphony orchestras would be in an emerging country of the 10th centurythcentury BC However, David does not consider it a luxury, but a necessity. In fact, in his role as commander-in-chief of the army, he commands it with the consent of the other commanders (1 Chron. 25:1).

Many military personnel today entertain bands and choirs, but few other types of jobs do so unless they are themselvesaremusical organizations. Yet there is something about music and the other arts that is essential to work of all kinds. God's creation—the source of human economic activity—is not only productive, it is beautiful (e.g. Genesis 3:6; Psalm 96:6; Ezekiel 31:7-9), and God loves beautiful handwork (e.g .Isaiah 60:13). How important is beauty in your work? Would you or your organization, or the people who use your work, benefit if your work creates more beauty? What does it even mean that working in your profession is nice?


What were King David's faults? ›

David was under the displeasure of the Almighty, for his adultery with Bath-sheba, and his murder of Uriah; and God let his enemies loose against him.

What challenges did David face? ›

What obstacles did David face to become the king he was anointed to be? He had to face the obstacle of his family struggling to accept Him as future King. We see at his anointing by Samuel, he was the youngest son and the one looking after sheep, while his brothers were to Samuel obvious candidates for King.

What were the two big mistakes that David made in 2 Samuel? ›

What were the two big mistakes that David made in 2 Samuel? Murder of Uriah. Affair with Bathsheba.

What was David's sin in 2 Samuel 24? ›

David's sin was in taking credit for Israel's success.In the last part of 2 Samuel 24, David bought a threshing floor from a man. On that threshing floor David offered sacrifice to the Lord for his sins.

What was David weakness as a leader? ›

David had grown as a leader to be patient. He grew in his personal relationship with God to wait upon the Lord. One of David's temperaments greatest weaknesses is in the area of thought life (Personal Temperament Test: Profile, 2008). This can be seen in the situation with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11.

Why was David so successful? ›

His greatness was due to a combination of factors, namely: providence, courage, divine anointing, his leadership skills, his exploits as a warrior, his psalms that re-echoes humanities emotional struggles, his unparalleled quest for God and his statesmanship as a king.

What are three qualities of David? ›

5 Amazing Characteristics of David in the Bible
  • 1) Willingness to acknowledge his mistakes.
  • 2) Humility to recognize that he was weak.
  • 3) Courage to step up in challenging situations.
Jan 19, 2022

What is the lesson of 2 Samuel 1? ›

The following truths were identified in this lesson: If we inquire of the Lord and follow His direction, then He can guide us and help us succeed in our righteous endeavors. Those who attempt to direct God's work without His authority bring spiritual death upon themselves.

What are David's 2 big accomplishments? ›

He conquered Jerusalem, which he made Israel's political and religious centre. He defeated the Philistines so thoroughly that they never seriously threatened the Israelites' security again, and he annexed the coastal region. He went on to become the overlord of many small kingdoms bordering Israel.

What was one of David's greatest successes in 2 Samuel? ›

In 2 Samuel 8, 10 is a description of how David continued to conquer the land promised by God to the Israelites. The Lord commanded the Israelites to conquer people in the land promised them from the time of Joshua, but David was the one who finally fulfilled the command most fully.

What were two of David's greatest weaknesses? ›

He committed adultery with Uriah's wife. He plotted for Uriah's murder. He coveted his neighbor's wife.

What can we learn from 1 Samuel 24? ›

Let the LORD judge between you and me: David didn't need to do anything more to defend himself before Saul; he referred the matter to the LORD. David would let God plead his case and be his judge. David didn't just say, “My hand shall not be against you,” he proved it by not killing Saul when he had the opportunity.

What is the commentary of 2 Samuel 24 1? ›

Commentary on 2 Samuel 24:1-9

The pride of David's heart, was his sin in numbering of the people. He thought thereby to appear the more formidable, trusting in an arm of flesh more than he should have done, and though he had written so much of trusting in God only. God judges not of sin as we do.

What was the sin that David committed? ›

David committed adultery with a married woman called Bathsheba.

What are the strengths of David in Second Samuel? ›

Strengths. David was courageous and strong in battle, trusting in God for protection. He remained loyal to King Saul, despite Saul's crazed pursuit. Throughout his entire life, David loved God deeply and passionately.

What was the greatest battle that David won? ›

Battle of the Wood of Ephraim.

What is the most important message of David? ›

David won the battle through his faith in God, his boldness to step out and his courage to believe that God would use him. There was no doubt or fear in his heart or mind. He believed that God would give him the victory that day and it happened.

What are the great qualities of David? ›

David is a strong but unassuming shepherd who becomes God's choice to replace Saul as king of Israel. He is humble yet self-possessed, readily dismissing human opinion. His humility becomes clear early in his youth, when he kills the giant Goliath with a sling stone, declining the opportunity to use Saul's royal armor.

What are 4 talents of King David? ›

A former shepherd, David was renowned for his passion for God, his touching psalms and musical abilities, his inspiring courage and expertise in warfare, his good looks and illicit relationship with Bathsheba, and his ancestral connections to Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament.

What made David a hero? ›

In 1 Samuel, David is the most courageous hero because he follows commands without a doubt and sacrifices himself for the good of others; those traits are audacious because his strength and size are not an advantage to him compared to his competitor, and instead, he uses his faith in God to assist him with defeating ...

What is the main subject of 2 Samuel? ›

The book of 2 Samuel chronicles David's anointing and reign as king of Israel. David is remembered as the greatest king in Israel's history. Because of David's faithfulness, the Lord blessed and honored David.

What is the purpose of Samuel 2? ›

Why is Second Samuel so important? First Samuel introduces the monarchy of Israel, and 2 Samuel chronicles the establishment of the Davidic dynasty and the expansion of Israel under God's chosen leader.

What does the story of Samuel teach us? ›

If we honor the Lord, He honors us. Students learned about the Israelites putting their trust in the ark of God rather than in God Himself. They identified that in order to receive the Lord's help, we must place our faith in Him and keep His commandments.

What trials did King David face? ›

King David, the second monarch of the Israelites and a hero of the Bible, was defiant during his trial in a Northwest Baltimore courtroom. Wearing a golden crown and facing charges of adultery, murder and coveting another man's wife, he maintained his innocence on all counts.

What did David fight with? ›

David ran toward Goliath. He quickly threw a stone with his sling. The stone hit Goliath in the forehead, and the giant man fell to the ground. The Lord helped David defeat Goliath without a sword or armor.

What was David fighting for? ›

“When David hears Goliath's challenge, he is incensed by the Philistine's defiance of Israel's God and offers to fight the Philistine” (187).


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