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What was David’s sin?

The sermon at church tonight was on 2 Samuel 11-12 – you know, the story about David up to no good with Bathsheba and then the prophet Nathan tells David a story which helps him to see his sin and repent. As I was looking at the passage, though, I was wondering, what is David’s sin?

I’ve generally thought that it was adultery, or murder, or covering up sin, or all of the above. But looking again at the story Nathan tells, I this there’s more to it than this. One of the points the preacher, Megan, made, was that David’s sin was against God (12:9) so in what way did he sin against God? Was it just by breaking his commandment to not murder or not commit adultery?

I reckon that Nathan’s story sheds light on this. His story is about a wealthy man who has a lot of sheep who steals to one sheep his poor neighbour has in order to feed his traveler. The story is about greed and treading on others to get what you want. This was initially what got me thinking about the passage. Adultery and murder are strikingly absent from the story.

But Nathan’s word from God sheds more light on this as well. He speaks of how God gave David the kingdom and would have given him more (12:8). Yet, David’s response is to do evil in the eyes of the Lord and it’s at this point that the murder of Uriah and David’s adultery with Bathsheba is brought up. I think this story is about the turn in David’s heart, to greed, to building his own empire and to pride. His methods (adultery, murder, lying, etc) are certainly deplorable, but the focus is on greed and his self-reliance.

When we studied this in OT this year, our lecturer mentioned how 11:2 speaks of David walking on the roof and wondered whether he is surveying his kingdom and his own greatness. It’s just a hint, but combined with Nathan’s story and explanation, it contributes to the idea that this passage is about power building and the state of David’s heart, not just his moral infidelity. Looking at Nathan’s story sharpened the meaning of this passage for me. What do you find when you read it?

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

4 replies

  1. Ah… that makes so much sense! So the story is not only a warning against adultery, but the preceding sin – pride leads us into other sins from which we might have thought we were safe. It’s an important message for those in leadership positions, as David was…

  2. Here’s my comment on Luke’s blog:

    As far as I can figure out, my argument basically boils down to David’s greed, of which adultery is a part, and yours boils down to David’s adultery, of which greed is a part. So this could be a chicken or an egg thing.

    The thing that I found so striking about Nathan’s story, though was the focus on the wrong done to the man who had only one sheep i.e. Uzziah. It got me thinking about what’s going on in adultery. I think our Western post-Romantic, post-Enlightenment tendency is to see it as betrayal, sexual, etc but this was absent from Nathan’s story. I was struck by how much more than ‘between the sheets’ is on view in this story, so I agree on that point, but I think that led me to seeing a bigger idea behind the adultery, rather than the adultery itself.

  3. Hey Tamie,

    Interesting thoughts, thanks. I always wonder whether we’re too quick to reduce the OT experience of law into legal statements. It seems that much of the law seems to be more interested in preserving the rights of the various tribes, clans, families and individuals enjoying the blessings of God in the land. For example the sin in moving boundary stones is less about wanting more land, but in that it deprives your neighbour of the inheritance God gave him. Hence passages like Numbers 36, and the determination that the land should remain within the tribe to which God gave it. I wonder if that’s something of what Nathan has in mind – the whole drive for David’s campaign against Uriah comes after Bathsheba announces her pregnancy – not only has David committed all the things that we see as sin, he’s also in some way robbed Uriah of the enjoyment of his inheritance by producing children with Uriah’s wife, when David already has other wives and children.

    I suspect the theme is incomplete and falls down at many points, but seems to me to reflect in some way the worldview of the period.

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