As king, David has grown satisfied and been blessed. When he sees Batsheba bathing on a roof, he acts as if he is a law unto himself. He summons and sleeps with this woman who belongs to another man. She becomes pregnant, and David cannot induce her patriotic husband, Uriah, to sleep with her when his fellow troops are risking their lives in battle. David arranges to have Uriah killed. It is probably the most cynical act of cruelty in the Bible.
The prophet Nathan approaches David and tells him of a rich man who, with herds of his own, took the one beloved sheep of a poor man to slaughter. David is outraged. “Such a man deserves death,” the king grandly exclaims.
Nathan steps into the silence: “You are the man.”
David recognizes that he is subject to a law greater than kings. He does not attack Nathan, or justify himself. He cries out to God in sorrow and repentance. For all that he has done — and indeed will do — at this crucial moment David’s humbling himself saves his soul.
The Bible is both our family diary, and a treasure house of moral drama. Its wisdom sustained our ancestors and can illuminate our lives.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.