2 Samuel 11,12—”How can the Bible say that the Prophet David committed adultery against Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and then covered it up?”
Interestingly, part of this story is found in the Qur’an (38:21-24, 30), and the best Muslim interpreters tell us that David wrongfully taking Uriah’s wife is the correct interpretation of those Qur’anic verses. For example Ibn Abbas writes about Sura 38:23-24 and 26:
(one ewe) i.e. one wife; (and he said: Entrust it to me, and he conquered me in speech) this is a similitude which they struck for David in order for him to understand what he did to Uriah. (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; source)
Tafsir Jalalayn concurs that this was about David wrongly marrying another’s wife:
…These two were angels who had come in the form of two disputants, between whom there occurred the situation mentioned —only hypothetically — in order to alert David, peace be upon him, to what he had done: he had ninety nine women but desired the woman of a man who had only her and no other. He [David] had married her and consummated the marriage. ( source)
And from Tabari:
He saw a woman bathing herself on her roof, one of the most beautiful women in form. She happened to turn around, and she saw him. She let down her hair, covering herself with it. That only increased his desire for her. He asked about her and was told that she had a husband who was absent at such-and-such a garrison. He sent to the garrison commander an order to send Uriah [Sam- Arabic, Ahriya/Awriya] against such-and-such an enemy. He therefore sent him, and [the enemy] was conquered by him. The commander wrote back to David about the victory, and David wrote to him again, saying, “Send him against such-and-such an enemy, who is even stronger than they.” So he sent him, and they again were conquered by him, and he wrote to David about the second victory. David wrote to him, “Send him to such-and-such an enemy.” So he sent him, and on the third time, Uriah was slain.
David married Uriah’s wife. When she came to him, she had been with him only a short time when God sent two angels, in human form, who requested admission to his presence. But they found that this was his day of worship, and the guards prevented them from entering. So the two scaled the wall of his private apartment to reach him. He was not aware of [their arrival] while he was praying, but suddenly the two were sitting in front of him. He was startled, but they said, “Do not be afraid. We are two litigants, one of whom has wronged the other, therefore judge aright between us; be not unjust”– meaning, do not act wrongfully- “and show us the fair way, to just judgment.” David said, “Tell me your story.” One of them said: “Lo! This brother of mine has ninety-nine ewes while I have one ewe. He wants to take my ewe to round out his to one hundred.”
David then said to the other one, “What do you have to say?” The other replied, “I have ninety-nine ewes, and this brother of mine has one ewe, and I want to take it from him to complete my ewes to one hundred.” David said, “Even though he is unwilling?” He replied, “Even though he is unwilling!” David said, “Then we cannot let you do that!” He replied, “But you are unable to [prevent] that.” David said, “If you try that, then we will hit you on this and that” which Asbat interprets as “the tip of the nose and the forehead.” Then he said, “O David! You deserve more to be hit on this and this, since you have ninety-nine wives while Uriah had only one wife. But you did not stop exposing him to slaughter until he was slain, and you married his wife.” (The History of Al-Tabari, Volume III, The Children of Israel, [State University of NY Press, Alban 1991], pp. 144-146)
And here is what the Qur’anic passage says
He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have (but) one: Yet he says, ‘commit her to my care,’ and is (moreover) harsh to me in speech.” (David) said: “He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?”… and David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down, bowing (in prostration), and turned (to Allah in repentance) …
Althought this incident was clearly a terrible sin, God used David’s repentance to bring us some of the most beautiful Biblical passages expressing true repentance and remorse:
A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me…
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 1
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you
Among the prophets, only Jesus is the perfectly sinless example that we should imitate ( read more here) — the other prophets are not examples of perfect living, but rather we can learn from their true repentance when they fail. We should imitate their humble repentance.
- much of this is drawn from Sam Shamoun’s article here.