David is one such hero. He was Israel’s most beloved king, a military leader without equal, a shepherd boy who fearlessly took on a lion, a bear and a giant, author of dozens of the Psalms and a man after God’s own heart.
But he was also a sinner. And not just a typical sinner, but a man of God who descended into adultery and murderer.
It’s one of the most striking stories in the Bible. David had been chosen king of Israel and had conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. Loyally standing by him during his struggles to consolidate his kingdom and defend it from its enemies were his “mighty men,” a group of hardened warriors who would do anything for their leader. You can read about them in 2 Samuel 23.
One of them was named Uriah. Curiously, he wasn’t even an Israelite, but a Hittite, a foreigner. But Uriah was drawn to David early on, probably recognizing in him a fellow fighter unafraid of anything.
Uriah was a proud warrior and, as we learn from the story, a man of uncompromising loyalty and character. When we come to the key part of the story, Uriah was faithfully fighting for David and Israel against the neighboring Ammonite kingdom in what is today Jordan.
Uriah had a problem, but he didn’t know it. He had a very beautiful wife, Bathsheba, and a king who had drifted from God—a king who was no longer as faithful to Uriah as Uriah remained to him.
A king takes a mighty fall
We read the story in 2 Samuel 11. David’s army, including Uriah, was battling the Ammonites several days’ march to the east. David was in his palace in Jerusalem, and one night he couldn’t sleep and took a walk on the roof of his palace. Nearby he saw a woman bathing at her own house, perhaps thinking no one would see her since it was nighttime.
In any case, David saw her and, captivated by her beauty, sent men to bring her to him. As king, he had grown used to getting anything he wanted—including a number of wives. And again, he had obviously drifted from God, because he felt he could take this woman with impunity. The Bible tells us that David “lay with her . . . and the woman conceived” (2 Samuel 11:4-5).
To compound the tragic circumstances, David knew she was Uriah’s wife. To try to cover up his sin, David sent a message to have Uriah return from battle to his wife, assuming they would have marital relations and Uriah would think the child was his. But it didn’t work out that way. Although Uriah returned to Jerusalem, he was much too honorable a man and chose to sleep outside like his fellow soldiers rather than in his own bed at home with his wife.
David’s plan was foiled by Uriah’s honor. Now he had to resort to desperate measures. He sent sealed orders to his commander to have Uriah placed where the fighting was fiercest and then have the other soldiers retreat and leave Uriah to die in battle. Uriah unknowingly carried his own death warrant with him as he returned to the scene of the fighting. The order was carried out in a different way that put even more lives in jeopardy.
David’s scheme to cover up his sin with even worse sin seemed to have worked. Bathsheba mourned for her slain husband, “and when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son” (2 Samuel 11:27).
The story doesn’t end there
The story could’ve ended there, but it didn’t. If it had, David’s story would’ve been that of just one more greedy, abusive, corrupt king, one of thousands who have stained the pages of human history.
The story didn’t end there because of God’s grace. Although David had obviously drifted far from God, God wasn’t far from him. He didn’t give up on David.
God sent the prophet Nathan to David with a story about a poor man who had only a single lamb that he loved as if it were one of his own children. But a rich man who had plenty of lambs of his own took the poor man’s lamb, killed it and served it as dinner to a guest.
David was understandably outraged at hearing the story. “The man who has done this shall surely die!” David raged (2 Samuel 12:5). He knew what a gross injustice this was, and that such a callous, cold-hearted person surely deserved death.
But David wasn’t expecting Nathan’s response. “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:7).
Nathan, speaking for God, said that God had given David everything, and that the king already had multiple wives. But like the evil man in the story, that wasn’t enough. David wanted more—taking the only wife of an innocent man, and then secretly ordering him to be killed.
David was cornered. He had no excuses. He knew he was condemned by the very death sentence he had just pronounced. He could only admit his heinous sin before God—and he did. Nathan then revealed that in God’s mercy David would not die for this sin, though there would be consequences.
The child recently born to him and Bathsheba would die. What follows is one of the most heartbreaking stories of the Bible. The child became ill, and “David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16). His advisors tried to encourage him and get him to eat, but he refused. This continued for seven days until the child died.
Told that the child was dead, “David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped,” then ate. When his servants asked him why he was now eating rather than mourning, David gave this heartbreaking response: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).
This child died because of what David had done. The loss cut him deep and hard. But David needed to be shaken. He had become complacent and callous, and had drifted from God to the point that he had fallen prey to deadly serious sins. A gracious God knew that David needed to learn a painful lesson for his own spiritual well-being. And through a painful loss David gained something much greater—restoration of his relationship to God. This was also an important lesson for the nation at the time—and for all of us to this day.
David would write a very moving and heartfelt reflection, Psalm 51, as a result of this experience. For 3,000 years it has stood in the Bible as a model of what a truly repentant heart and attitude should look like.
Now restored, David would go on to bigger and better things. But none is more important to us today than this story of the grace of God bringing a fallen king to repentance and restoration to a right relationship with Him!