Has there ever been a more popular era for police procedurals? On Bones, Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic pathologist, uses her brilliant scientific mind to solve murders. On iZombie, a crime-solving zombie eats victims’ brains and absorbs their memories. Lie to Me’s Cal Lightman expertly reads body language; on shows like NCIS and CSI the teams use a mixture of forensics and good old police work to always catch the criminal. Naturally, watching perps make stupid mistakes every week leads to an obvious question, one that’s even been dramatized by its own show: namely, How to Get Away with Murder.
Numerous reddit threads discuss this question: how could you kill someone and not get caught? Poison is always a popular option, as is making it look like an accident. Perhaps the most creative suggestion I encountered - though somewhat silly - was to stab someone with an icicle: a weapon that melts away when the deed is done, leaving no evidence.
Nevertheless, the general consensus is almost always that there is no perfect murder. By magically increasing the resolution on grainy surveillance footage, tracing a single thread found on the victim back to you, or even eating a few brains, those crime-solving heroes might still track you down. As Numbers 32:23 warns, “your sin will find you out” (NIV).
2 Samuel 11-12, we find the story of someone who tried to enact a classic “make it look like an accident.” Last time we saw David, he was a fresh-faced young boy slaying giants and listening to God. Now he’s king – powerful, proud, and used to getting whatever he wants, when he wants it. What he wants today is Bathsheba: a beautiful woman he saw bathing on the roof of her house. A woman who, inconveniently, is already married to Uriah, a soldier in the Israelite army and one of David’s famously brave and talented “Mighty Men.” Conveniently for David, Uriah is off fighting his wars while he hangs out in the palace, so David has Bathsheba come to the palace, and then he has sex with her. We don’t know how Bathsheba felt about this – the text doesn’t say that David raped her, but consent wasn’t a well-rounded concept, especially in a time when kings had absolute rights. Regardless, they have sex, and a little while later David gets a chilling message: Bathsheba is pregnant.
Are you keeping track? That’s consequence number one.
At this point, David has two options. He can come clean, confess his adultery to Uriah, and hope that his friend will forgive him and accept the child. Or he can try to cover things up. David chooses option two. He calls Uriah back from the war, asks for a report, and then encourages Uriah to go home and enjoy some time with his wife. Uriah refuses. “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,” he protests, “and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife?” Joab spends that night sleeping on the floor of the palace, and David’s plan to make him think the baby is his fails. So he gets him drunk, and tries again. And again, Uriah refuses to enjoy something his men can’t. Uriah, it turns out, is a better man drunk than David is sober.
So then David jumps to the next logical step: murder. He gives his commander Joab orders that seem particularly cruel: place Uriah at the front lines, where David knows he will fight bravely, and then when he is in grave danger, have all the other soldiers pull back so that he dies alone.
It works. Uriah dies in battle: consequence number two. David brings Bathsheba to the palace, and she gives birth to a son. It appears that David has gotten away with murder. As is always the case, however, he’s made one crucial mistake: hubris. As king, David is proud enough to think that he is above the law. He’s consumed by hubris – which literally means 'pride and defiance of the gods'. And, as the text notes, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27 NIV).
Now things move swiftly, and with substantial irony. The prophet Nathan arrives, tells a parable that forces David to confront what he’s done, and delivers the Lord’s judgment: the son conceived in David and Bathsheba’s tryst will die. David confesses, weeps, and prays for mercy, but the baby dies anyway. Consequence number three. Three innocents whose lives were destroyed by David’s sin.
As John Mark Green writes, “People at war with themselves will always cause collateral damage in the lives of those around them.” David sins once, and then to cover it up he sins again and again, leaving a broken family and multiple bodies in his wake. To the question, "how do you get away with murder?" we now have an answer: you don't.
David, who was not only a King but also a poet and musician, goes on to compose Psalm 51 - one of the most crushingly broken songs in the entire Bible. In this song, he pours out his remorse to God, begging for forgiveness and to not be cast away from God's presence or Spirit. While David does still have to face the consequences of his actions, God is willing to forgive his sin and remain in relationship with him.
It is a dark story, but it provides hope for all kinds of sinners who may fear that they have gone "too far." God has seen the very worst of humankind, and he has been seeing it for thousands of years. He is not too frail or sensitive to deal with our real issues, and he is not so cruel as to withhold the forgiveness that he sacrificed his own life for in the person of Jesus.
Related texts or passages to consider: Galatians 6:7-8; Proverbs 25:26
• Read 2 Samuel 12:1-12. What do you notice about this story that is interesting? What does David's reaction to Nathan's parable tell you about how guilty people react to moral outrages? Is it possible to be very guilty and still have moral outrage at an obviously wrong action?
• How do you feel about the kind of punishment that came for David's actions? Do you think it was fair? What issues does it raise for you? Do you think that people in a collectivistic culture might view this differently than people in an individualistic culture?
• Read 2 Samuel 12:13-14. What does this tell you about how forgiveness works? When did the Lord decide to forgive David? What do the continuing consequences tell us about the nature of forgiveness?
• Read 2 Samuel 11:14-27. How many people were complicit in the killing of Uriah? How many people either helped carry out the murder or told lies to cover it up? Do you think they share some of the guilt in this story?
• Why do some people seem to get away with sinning? Is God not taking action? Or do some sins lead to their own punishment as natural consequences? What do you think?
• Read the rest of the David and Bathsheba story in 2 Samuel 12:13-25. How do you feel about the story overall? What themes do you see throughout the whole story? Does it seem like there was some resolution or redemption. If so, is it ok for someone like David to go on having some happiness after all that he did?