Making good choices: A king shows how not to do it
“Make good choices.”
That’s what my wife tells our teenagers when they leave the house.
It’s good advice, and it also speaks to our tendency, as humans, to sin.
I was reflecting on that recently when the story of David and Bathsheba came up in the daily readings.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers an online video reflection on the day’s readings, and I’ve found these to be a great start to my day. I usually listen as I’m getting dressed and receive some additional food for thought before I go to Mass.
The video reflection on the story of David and Bathsheba from the Second Book of Samuel really resonated with me. The priest giving the reflection noted that there were at least 13 (13!) points at which David could have made a decision that would have resulted in a different outcome.
Here’s how the author of Second Samuel tells the story in Chapter 11. I’ve inserted my count of the points at which David could have decided to make different choices and avoid sin.
At the turn of the year,* the time when kings go to war, David sent out Joab along with his officers and all Israel, and they laid waste the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David himself remained in Jerusalem.a
Choice #1: David, for reasons not explained here, did not go out with his troops on campaign. If he had, he most likely would have avoided his sin.
One evening David rose from his bed [some translations say “siesta”] and strolled about on the roof of the king’s house.
Choice #2: Hey, I appreciate a good nap as much as (maybe more than) anyone, so I took offense when I heard this passage interpreted as David being lazy. In hindsight, however, I see that this verse could be interpreted that David, not being on campaign, was bored and looking for trouble. He found it.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing; she was very beautiful.
Choice #3: Stop. Look away. Do not let your gaze linger. Do not feast your eyes on her beauty. Find something to distract yourself, such as, say, your gratitude for everything that God has already done for you.
David sent people to inquire about the woman and was told, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite, Joab’s armor-bearer.”b
Choice #4: Okay, he looked. That was bad, but he didn’t need to act on it. Instead of merely admiring, he made the conscious effort to inquire.
Then David sent messengers and took her.
Choice #5: The passage doesn’t specify the time frame, but, presumably, David had time to think before sending the messengers. Rather than obsessing on her beauty and his desire, he should have been considering her status as the wife of one of his loyal soldiers, and what a betrayal taking her would be.
When she came to him, he took her to bed, at a time when she was just purified after her period; and she returned to her house.c
Choice #6: Even after sending for her, David could have stopped before things went too far.
But the woman had become pregnant; she sent a message to inform David, “I am pregnant.”
Choice #7. David could have owned up to his sin at this point. Instead, he tries to cover it up, and, as is so often the case, the cover up is worse than the crime.
So David sent a message to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” Joab sent Uriah to David.
And when he came, David asked him how Joab was, how the army was, and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well.
David then said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.” Uriah left the king’s house, and a portion from the king’s table was sent after him.
Choice #8: In David’s first attempt to cover up his sin, he tries to entice Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife.
But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down to his own house.
David was told, “Uriah has not gone down to his house.” So he said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why, then, did you not go down to your house?”
Uriah answered David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my lord Joab and my lord’s servants are encamped in the open field. Can I go home to eat and to drink and to sleep with my wife? As the LORD lives and as you live, I will do no such thing.”d
Then David said to Uriah, “Stay here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. On the following day,
David summoned him, and he ate and drank with David, who got him drunk. But in the evening he went out to sleep on his bed among his lord’s servants, and did not go down to his house.
Choice #9: The first attempt didn’t work, so David tried again by getting Uriah drunk. Note Uriah’s honorable response in verse 11 sharply contrasts with David’s sin.
The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab which he sent by Uriah.
Choice #10: The second attempt didn’t work, so David takes a more extreme approach, a permanent solution.
This is what he wrote in the letter: “Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.”
So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew the defenders were strong.
When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab, some officers of David’s army fell, and Uriah the Hittite also died.
Okay, I only came up with ten points at which David could have made different choices in order to avoid sin or to keep from compounding his sin. Still, that’s a lot! And if you go back and read carefully, you might be able to come up with more than ten.
Obviously, this isn’t the end of the story. David later convicts himself before God during a conversation with Nathan the prophet. God forgives David, but this sin sets in motion a sequence of events that result in the sword never leaving David’s house. One of David’s sons rapes one of his daughters, and this crime engenders resentment in another son, Absalom, who ends up rebelling against David.
On the other hand, David’s relationship with Bathsheba results in yet another son, Solomon, who becomes David’s heir to the throne. God brings good from a bad situation; Bathsheba and Uriah are even referenced in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
So if you want to get a sense of sin and its ripple effects, read 2 Samuel 11, and apply it to your own life.
If David, ancestor of the Messiah who is generally held up as the model king of Israel, can screw up ten times (or more) in this one episode (the books of Samuel chronicle other failures, as well), there’s certainly hope for us! Plus, we have something David didn’t have: the Sacrament of Reconciliation, with its assurance of Christ’s mercy.
Make good choices. Always solid advice. But if we make a bad choice, we shouldn’t hide it, we shouldn’t avoid it, we shouldn’t make it worse by covering it up. We should own up to it and seek forgiveness by proceeding, as quickly as possible, to a confessional.