We can see the truth of Lord Acton's dictum, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," in the life of King David. The story of David and Bathsheba's liaison starts in an unexpected way, "In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem." David and his people have come to view spring as "war season." Battles have become so common, it seems that every spring David is sending "all of Israel" out to fight someone somewhere. This fulfills the warning God gave to the Israelites back in 1 Samuel when they begged Samuel for a king other than God so they could be just like every other nation. Samuel shared with them the words of the Lord about what a king would do, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots." Now the people are noticing that God and Samuel were right. Having a king isn't all it was cracked up to be. David, it seems, has fully transformed from shepherd and servant to a king like all the others.
To further illustrate the point, we are shown his "relationship" with Bathsheba. This is a story about a man of privilege taking advantage -- because he can. David sees Bathsheba on the roof of her house. Filled with lust and drunk with power, David sends for her so that he can have his way with her. When David sends his servant "to get" her, the Hebrew word is actually better translated "to take" her. Bathsheba, a woman married to a foreigner, certainly did not have the power in that culture to refuse the advances of the king.
When David is done with her, she returns to her home, and that appears to be that. Until, that is, Bathsheba utters the only three words she says in the entire story, "I am pregnant." Now, David has a problem. His solution is a cover-up that spirals out of control. Abusing his power again, David calls Bathsheba's husband home from battle. He hopes they will spend a night together, alleviating suspicion when Bathsheba has a child eight or nine months later. What David doesn't count on, though, is that Uriah the Hittite, a foreigner fighting in David's army, is far more loyal and moral than the warrior king of Israel. Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home while his platoon is out on the battlefield.
David abuses his power once more, giving orders that are certain to have Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, killed in battle. Uriah is killed by the Ammonites just as David planned. David doesn't do this for love; he does it because he's in trouble. This murder is a cover-up. David does all of these machinations so that he may hide his sin and maintain his reputation and power.
David, the former shepherd, is now King David. He sends his people into a battle he doesn't deem important enough to attend himself. He uses Bathsheba for his pleasure and sends her away when he is through. Eventually, he uses his commanders to put Uriah in a vulnerable position that gets Uriah killed. The affair of David and Bathsheba is the story of one who has allowed his status to affect his judgment. David has lost sight of the value of other people, and sees them, instead, as means to his ends. He has come to view people as objects, and disposable ones at that.
While we may never be a king, president or head of state, we, too, must to pay attention to this story. If David, who elsewhere is described as a man after God's own heart, can become so enamored with his power as to use people to serve his own ends, so can we. But if we can learn from David's negative example, we can learn even more from Christ. Contrast King David to the vision of Jesus we read of in Philippians. The apostle Paul, writing to a church bickering over who is right and probably suffering through power struggles, encourages these early Christians to think differently about their power.
"Let each of you look not to your own interests," he writes, "but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." He then goes on to describe how Jesus viewed his power. "Who, though he was in the form of God," imbued with far more power than any of us will ever have, "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself ... he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:4-8).
The story of David and Bathsheba at its heart is a story about the abuse of power, a temptation all of us face. May we not get so enamored with our power that we see only our personal benefit and shirk the great responsibility we have for those whom we lead. May we not abuse our status as King David does at this time in his life. May we instead build up one another as young David the shepherd and Jesus the great shepherd did.