Maybe we’re not ruddy and handsome. Likely we’re not kings or queens who command armies. Nonetheless, simply because we are human, my sense is that we have something in common with King David.
King David, scripture tells us, was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). This, of course, doesn’t mean that at any given moment he knew God’s intent. Nor does it mean that he followed the will of God’s heart at all times. David was fallible, just like the rest of us, and sinned, sometimes boldly.
David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12 and 13) is the stuff of which legends are made – a king, a (married) beautiful woman, the male libido, an abuse of power, an unplanned pregnancy, failed coercion, murder, and a quick marriage to ward off the objections of those who can do prenatal math. God saw it all, and was highly displeased.
Through the prophet Nathan God called David on the carpet and informed him of the consequences of his multiple sins. Because he brought the sword upon another family, God would bring the sword within David’s; because David took another man’s wife into his bed, God would give David’s wives to his neighbor to lie with them; and because David sinned in secret, God would cause these things to pass “before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:12).
The only consolation came after David confessed his sin to Nathan: God forgave David and spared his life. However, because by his deeds David “utterly scorned the Lord,” the life of the child he and Bathsheba conceived in adultery was lost before he was born (2 Samuel 12:14). The baby would be born alive, but he would not survive his infancy.
What happens next is unclear. All the text says is that God struck the child that Bathsheba bore David, and he became ill. The baby could have been born early and had any of the myriad of complications that coincide with premature birth. Or, he could have been full-term and born healthy, only to be hit suddenly with a divinely sent malady. We’ll never know, and the specific facts don’t really matter.
Then there is another hole in the text that I, for one, wish would have been filled. We don’t know how David and Bathsheba handled this news. Did they grieve? Was Bathsheba incensed over her and her child’s victimhood? Did she cry out to God about the unfairness of it all? Did David and Bathsheba need marriage counseling? Did they even have anything like marriage counseling in ancient Israel, where a third-party could help couples work through their troubles? Would the king have been caught dead engaging himself in marriage counseling? We’ll never know any of this, either. But we can gather from what follows that David, at least, was not completely resigned to the child’s fate.
Despite the word of the Lord that came to David regarding the doomed plight of his child, David pleaded to God for his life. David “prayed desperately” for his son. “He fasted, wouldn’t go out, and slept all night on the floor. The elders in his family came in and tried to get him off the floor, but he wouldn’t budge. Nor could they get him to eat anything” (2 Samuel 12:16-17, The Message).
When the child died on the seventh day, David’s servants were afraid to tell him, frightened of how he might respond. David saw them whispering and figures it out. He asked them if his son died, and they confirmed the bad news.
David’s next moves confused his servants. He did not wail, tear his clothes, or put on sackcloth and ashes, the customary signs of mourning in his culture. On the contrary, he got up, washed himself, went to worship the Lord, returned home, and ate. The servants asked David about his strange behavior: “What’s going on with you? While the child was alive you fasted and wept and stayed up all night. Now that he’s dead, you get up and eat” (2 Samuel 12:21).
David’s servants thought his actions were backwards. Who mourns while someone is alive? Yet it seems to me that they were misinterpreting both his behavior and his intent. As far as I can tell, David was not grieving (or at least only partly); instead, he was bargaining with God. David hoped to please and appease the deity.
Here’s how David responded and explained his actions:
“While the child was alive,” he said, “I fasted and wept, thinking God might have mercy on me and the child would live. But now that he’s dead, why fast? Can I bring him back now? I can go to him, but he can’t come to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).
Maybe if I don’t eat…maybe if I pray and plead with God constantly…maybe if I lie here on the floor…maybe, just maybe God will relent from the prophecy and change God’s mind…maybe my child will live. I have to try, at least.
We’ll never know if David was thinking these things as he hoped and appealed against God’s decree, and implored for the life of his child. As someone who has done just that, I’d say that the odds are pretty good that this is indeed what he was doing
I had committed no sin, and there was no prophet Nathan in my life or community. Yet still I felt as if a divine pronouncement had been given to me. My first-conceived child would never see the light of day; and this was part of my journey as a pastor. It would happen so that I could relate and minister to people. I knew this in my bones before I became pregnant. God spoke it to my soul. Nevertheless, as soon as I saw the positive sign on the at-home pregnancy test, I launched into King David mode.
Maybe, just maybe…I thought.
I prayed fervently. I took my prenatal vitamins daily. I cut the caffeine, alcohol, and soft cheeses out of my diet. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting daily, as if it were a new translation of the Bible that I’d just added to my library. I rubbed my flat tummy and talked to my baby. I asked daily for others to pray for baby and me. I did everything I possibly could to hold on to my pregnancy.
Maybe, just maybe…perhaps the Lord will have mercy on me and my child will live.
It was, of course, not meant to be. When my baby died, I got up off of the proverbial floor. Like it or not, it was time for me to grieve and feel the pain I’d been trying to sidestep.
How about you? Do you relate to King David’s and my efforts to stave off God’s will?