January 15, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Samuel 11:26-12:1 (NRSV)
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David.
King David was “a man after God’s own heart.” But even such a man can do wrong, and in 2 Samuel 11 David lets his lust and power take over, doing things that are horrible even to imagine. Though he planned to move on with his life as if nothing terrible had happened, God had other plans, sending the prophet Nathan to confront David. In the end, David admits that he sinned against the Lord. This story prepares us to dig into Psalm 51, which reveals the inner work David does of dealing honestly with himself and his sin.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
When we do things in life that are terribly wrong, we have a choice. We can go on with life as if nothing bad had happened, living in denial and rationalization. Or we can acknowledge what we have done, not only confessing our sin but also examining our hearts to discover what motivated us to do something so wrong. Leaders of integrity will choose the latter course, even though it can be painful and humbling. Lesser leaders will avoid the unseemly truth, though sometimes God acts with grace so that the truth cannot be denied. God’s mercy can compel us to do the inner work required if we are to grow into wholeness and holiness and become wise leaders.
This is exactly what happened to King David in 2 Samuel 11-12. David, as you may recall, was chosen by God to be the King of Israel. According to the prophet Samuel, God selected David because he was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). High praise, indeed!
But David did not always live up to God’s standards or reflect God’s heart. We encounter an egregious example of David’s failures in 2 Samuel 11. During a time when Israel’s army was doing battle against the Ammonites, David, who was safe at home, spied a “very beautiful” woman as she was taking a bath (11:2). Though he discovered that this woman, Bathsheba, was married to one of his soldiers, a man named Uriah, nevertheless David ordered the woman to come to him so he could take advantage of her sexually. Several weeks later she let David know that she was pregnant with his child.
Now if that was the end of the story, it would be bad enough. David used his royal authority to coerce a woman to be sexually intimate with him. He did so knowing that this woman was married to another man. This is, indeed, a horrific example of sexual harassment, assault, and adultery. But David added to the offense by attempting to shower Bathsheba’s husband Uriah with various pleasures. Uriah, who had been fighting in David’s army and who was a man of exceptional integrity, refused David’s temptations. So David sent Uriah back to battle with instructions that he be placed at the very front of the battle lines. As David had hoped, Uriah was killed in battle. Bathsheba grieved for her husband for a season, after which David took her as his wife.
The multiple horrors of this story are shocking. It’s hard to imagine any decent human being doing as David did, not to mention someone who was once “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet, not only did David act in a dreadfully evil way, but it appears that he intended to move on without dealing with what he had done and what had gone so wrong in his formerly God-honoring heart. David had no plans to do the inner work that might enable him to grow as a leader and, indeed, as a human being.
But God wasn’t going to let David get away scot-free. Because “the thing David had done displeased the LORD . . . the LORD sent [the prophet] Nathan to David.” Nathan told David a story about a rich man who used his power to devastate a poor man economically and emotionally. When David heard this, he was angry and declared that such a man deserved to die. Nathan responded with these familiar, fateful words, “You are the man!” Or as it says in the King James Version, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam 12:7). Nathan goes on to confront David concerning his treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah. Finally, David is able to say, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13).
2 Samuel continues the story by focusing on David’s pleading with God to preserve the life of the child he had fathered by way of Bathsheba. We do not at this point see much evidence of David doing the inner work he should have been doing, not only by repenting but also by examining his own heart. However, we are given a powerful glimpse of this inner work in Psalm 51. The superscription (title) of this psalm reads, “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This inspired prayer models for us a particular kind of inner work, the inner work that follows from moral failure.
In the next few Life for Leaders devotions I’ll be examining Psalm 51, discovering what we can learn about inner work from this stirring prayer. You may want to read ahead and begin reflecting on Psalm 51 now. Or you can wait for tomorrow to begin. At any rate, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.
Can you think of a time in your life when you did something morally wrong and then were willing to look inside yourself to see what had been going on with you? What happened in this experience? What did you learn?
Have you ever sensed that God was calling upon you to confront some moral failure in your life? If so, what happened?
Do you have a “Nathan” in your life, someone who will speak the truth to you even when it is painful and awkward? How do you respond to your “Nathan”?
As you think about your life and leadership, are there things you need to explore, things you need to talk honestly with God about? If so, why not take some time to do what’s needed?
Gracious God, today I thank you for the blunt honesty of Scripture. It would be so easy for the biblical writers to overlook something like David’s horrible treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah. Yet his story is there for all to read. Thank you for the truthfulness of your word.
Thank you also for the way David’s story encourages me to be honest about my own life. I suppose I could try and excuse myself by saying I’ve never done anything as egregiously wrong as David. But there’s no doubt that I have sinned. I have done things that “displease the Lord.” Help me, I pray, to deal truthfully with the sin in my life. Guide me to do the inner work that will help me to grow to be a better leader, a better disciple, and a better human being. Amen.
Banner image by Pro Church Media on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: David’s Rape of Bathsheba and Murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11-12).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.