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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

David’s adultery with Bathsheba 11:1-5

While Joab was continuing to subdue the Ammonites the following spring by besieging Rabbah ("the great one," modern Amman, the capital of Jordan; cf. 2 Samuel 10:7), David was residing in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1). By mentioning the fact that normally kings led their armies into battle in the spring, the writer implied that David was not acting responsibly by staying in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Samuel 14:1-2).

". . . leading his troops into battle was expected to be the major external activity of an ancient Near Eastern ruler . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 928. Cf. 1 Samuel 8:5-6, 20.]

"Our most difficult times are not when things are going hard. Hard times create dependent people. You don’t get proud when you’re dependent on God. Survival keeps you humble. Pride happens when everything is swinging in your direction. When you’ve just received that promotion, when you look back and you can see an almost spotless record in the last number of months or years, when you’re growing in prestige and fame and significance, that’s the time to watch out . . . especially if you’re unaccountable. . . .

"Our greatest battles don’t usually come when we’re working hard; they come when we have some leisure, when we’ve got time on our hands, when we’re bored." [Note: Swindoll, p. 183.]

David’s temptation followed an age-old pattern: he saw, he desired, and he took (cf. Genesis 3:6; James 1:14-15). He could not help seeing, but he could have stopped watching, lusting, sending for Bathsheba, and lying with her. "Very beautiful" translates a Hebrew phrase that describes people of striking physical appearance (cf. Genesis 24:16; Genesis 26:7 [Rebekah]; Esther 1:11 [Vashti]; Esther 2:7 [Esther]; 1 Samuel 16:12 [where a cognate expression describes David]). Perhaps Bathsheba was not totally innocent, but that does not vitiate David’s guilt. It seems reasonable to assume that she could have shielded herself from view if she had wanted to do so. Yet the writer never explicitly blamed Bathsheba for what happened, only David.

"The bathing itself may have been for the purpose of ritual purification and would therefore not only advertise Bathsheba’s charms but would serve as a notice to the king that she was available to him." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "2 Samuel," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 467.]

Bathsheba’s father, Eliam (2 Samuel 11:3), was apparently the son of Ahithophel, David’s counselor (cf. 2 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 23:34). [Note: See Hayim Tadmor, "Traditional Institutions and the Monarchy: Social and Political Tensions in the Time of David and Solomon," in Studies in the Period of David and Solomon and Other Essays, p. 247.] If so, this may throw light on Ahithophel’s later decision to abandon David and support Absalom when Absalom tried to overthrow David. Uriah may have been a mercenary from one of the Syro-Hittite states to Israel’s north. Alternatively he may have been the son of Hittites who had immigrated to Israel when the Hittite Empire was crumbling. [Note: Richard H. Beal, "The Hittites After the Empire’s Fall," Biblical Illustrator 10:1 (Fall 1983):81.] Probably he was a member of the native Canaanite tribe of Hittites that inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest (cf. Genesis 23:3-15; Numbers 13:29; et al.).

David then "took" Bathsheba-we could translate the Hebrew word "he collected" her-and so abused his royal power. Evidently this was a "one night stand;" David and Bathsheba appear to have had sex only on this one occasion before their marriage. In the Hebrew text it is clear that Bathsheba purified herself before having sex with David. The Hebrew clause is disjunctive and could be put in parentheses: "(Now at that time she was purifying herself from her [menstrual] uncleanness.)" Having just completed her menstrual cycle, the reason for her purification, Bathsheba was physically ready to conceive. Thus Uriah, who was away at war, could not have been the father of the child she conceived.

"The only recorded speech of Bathsheba, brief though it is ["I am pregnant," 2 Samuel 11:5], sets in motion a course of action which ultimately results in her husband’s death." [Note: Lawlor, p. 197.]

Why did Bathsheba inform David that she was pregnant? Could she not have told her husband alone? Was she hoping that David would acknowledge her child and that the child would then enjoy royal privileges? The writer left us to guess. I think she told David because she hoped he would do something to help her. If she had told Uriah, he could have figured out that the child was not his.

About five years later David’s oldest son, Amnon ("faithful"), followed in his father’s footsteps (2 Samuel 13:14). Since David was born in 1041 B.C. and this incident took place about 992 B.C., David was close to 49 years old when he committed adultery.

"The king who is content to be given the kingdom (2 Samuel 2-4) nevertheless seizes with violence the woman of his desire. The theme of seizure then erupts in the rape of Tamar, the taking of Amnon’s life and (in political form) the major incident of the rebellion of Absalom." [Note: Gunn, "David and . . .," p. 35.]

"This king who took another man’s wife already had a harem full of women. The simple fact is that the passion of sex is not satisfied by a full harem of women; it is increased. Having many women does not reduce a man’s libido, it excites it . . . it stimulates it. . . . One of the lies of our secular society is that if you just satisfy this drive, then it’ll be abated." [Note: Swindoll, p. 182.]

Verses 6-25

David’s murder of Uriah 11:6-25

David compounded his sin by trying to cover it up rather than confessing it. He tried three cover-ups: a "clean" one (2 Samuel 11:6-11), a "dirty" one (2 Samuel 11:12-13), and a "criminal" one (2 Samuel 11:14-17). [Note: Walter Vogels, "David’s Greatness in His Sin and Repentance," The Way 15:4 (1975):246.]

David’s suggestion that Uriah go home and "wash his feet" (2 Samuel 11:8) may have been an encouragement to enjoy his wife sexually since "feet" in the Old Testament is sometimes a euphemistic reference to the genitals (cf. Exodus 4:25; Deuteronomy 28:57; Isaiah 7:20). [Note: Gale A. Yee, "’Fraught With Background’: Literary Ambiguity in 2 Samuel 11," Interpretation 42:3 (July 1988):245; Uriel Simon, "The Poor Man’s Ewe-Lamb," Biblica 48 (1967):214.] Whatever David intended, his hypocrisy is clear. Note the present that David sent home with Uriah. David was setting up this soldier to cover his own sin. However, the king underestimated faithful Uriah’s commitment to David, for whom Uriah had been fighting in Ammon. Though Bathsheba’s husband was a Hittite, he appears to have been a godly believer in Yahweh as well as a dedicated warrior. He was one of David’s best soldiers, one of his "mighty men" (cf. 2 Samuel 23:39).

"Uriah’s name ["Yahweh is my light"] turns out to be Yahwist, after all. In the heart of the imperial phalanges we find an orthodox Israelite, quietly observing the wartime soldier’s ban against conjugal relations (cf. 1 Samuel 21:4-7)." [Note: Joel Rosenberg, King and Kin: Political Allegory in the Hebrew Bible, p. 132.]

Uriah’s reference to the ark being in a temporary shelter (2 Samuel 11:11) probably refers to its location at Kiriath-jearim. However, some interpreters believe that "tents" should be left untranslated and that the reference is to Succoth. [Note: Youngblood, p. 934.]

"Astonishingly, this Hittite mentions the covenant symbol before everything else that has influenced his behaviour. He is aware also of his solidarity with the fighting men at the front, over whom he will not steal an advantage. Both of these considerations applied even more forcibly to the king, who had final responsibility for the war, and had laid much stress on covenant loyalty himself, but now a foreigner is showing him to be despicably lax." [Note: Baldwin, p. 233.]

David’s next plan was to get Uriah drunk hoping that in that condition he would return home to sleep with his wife (2 Samuel 11:13). But again David underestimated Uriah.

"The despicableness of the king’s behaviour contrasts with the noble figure of the wronged Uriah, several times referred to as ’the Hittite’ (2 Samuel 11:3; 2 Samuel 11:6; 2 Samuel 11:17; 2 Samuel 11:24), as if to emphasize that, whereas the king of Israel was so obviously lacking in principle, the same could not be said of this foreigner." [Note: Gordon, pp. 253-54.]

David’s brazen rebellion against God’s will comes out clearly in his third plan. He ordered Uriah to carry his own death warrant to Joab (2 Samuel 11:14-15). Compare wicked Queen Jezebel’s similar action in 1 Kings 21:9-11. Joab’s reply (2 Samuel 11:19-21) mimicked David’s instructions (2 Samuel 11:15).

"David, God’s anointed and a great king, is otherwise poles apart from a petty thug like Abimelech [cf. 2 Samuel 11:21; Judges 9:50-54]. . . . [But] that David is likened to Abimelech has-because of the very distance between them-the effect of diminishing his image. The more so since Abimelech fell at a woman’s hands while at the head of his army: David falls at a woman’s hands precisely because he plays truant from war." [Note: Sternberg, pp. 221-22.]

About seven years later David’s son, Absalom, ordered his followers to strike down his brother, Amnon, for raping Absalom’s sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:28).

"It was ironic that David, the protector of justice, would so pervert justice in the Uriah-Bathsheba incident." [Note: Heater, p. 120.]

Some other innocent soldiers beside Uriah died because of David’s orders concerning the battle strategy (2 Samuel 11:24). David was really responsible for their deaths, too.

David’s response to his sins 11:26-12:15a

At first, David piously tried to salve Joab’s conscience for his complicity in Uriah’s death (2 Samuel 11:25). The Hebrew word translated "displease" literally means "be evil in your sight." David was calling what was sin something other than sin (cf. 1 John 1:9). What David had done was not only evil in Joab’s eyes, but, of infinitely greater importance, it was evil in God’s eyes. David further hardened his heart and covered up his sin by marrying Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:27).

"The Hebrew phrase translated ’had her brought [NIV]’ (2 Samuel 11:27) is literally ’sent and collected her’ and emphasizes the abuse of royal power that David is increasingly willing to exercise. . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 938.]

The same phrase appears in 1 Samuel 14:52 where it describes Saul’s method of recruiting soldiers.

"How could a man-a man after God’s own heart-fall to such a level? If you are honest about your own heart, it’s not hard to understand." [Note: Swindoll, p. 194.]

Here are some suggestions for guarding oneself against similar sexual sin. First, realize that there is nothing that will guarantee you immunity from sinning in this way. We face the choice to yield to sexual temptation over and over again, and overcoming it once or many times is no guarantee that we will always overcome it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12). Second, cultivate your daily commitment to the Lord. We cannot afford to live one day out of fellowship with Him. We can strengthen our hearts against temptation that may assail us during the day by recommitting ourselves to pleasing Him and obeying Him daily in prayer before we encounter the temptations of that day (cf. Romans 6:12-13). Third, cultivate intimacy with your spouse, if you are married. Covetousness is less of a problem, though it will always be a problem, if you are content with the person whom God has given you. Contentment is something that we learn (cf. Philippians 4:11). Fourth, cultivate accountability with your mate, if you are married. Voluntarily tell your spouse where you have been, what you have been doing, and who you have been with. Do not wait for your mate to ask you these questions, but volunteer this information. If you do this regularly and know that you are going to have to do it, because you have made a commitment to yourself to do it, it will affect what you do. Fifth, anticipate temptation and avoid it. If you know that a particular individual attracts you strongly, do not spend too much time with him or her. Furthermore, refrain from saying anything to such a person that you would not say if your spouse, or that person’s spouse, were standing there with you.

About one year passed between the events of chapter 11 and those of chapter 12. This seems clear from the fact that God struck David and Bathsheba’s child shortly after Nathan confronted David with his sin (2 Samuel 12:15). God graciously gave David months to confess his sin, but when he did not, the Lord sent Nathan to confront him. These must have been months of inner turmoil for David (cf. Psalms 32:3-4).

"David wasn’t relaxing and taking life easy, sipping lemonade on his patio, during the aftermath of his adultery. Count on it . . . he had sleepless nights. He could see his sin written across the ceiling of his room as he tossed and turned in bed. He saw it written across the walls. He saw it on the plate where he tried to choke down his meals. He saw it on the faces of his counselors. He was a miserable husband, an irritable father, a poor leader, and a songless composer. He lived a lie but he couldn’t escape the truth.

"He had no joy. (’Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation’ Psalms 51:12.) He was unstable. He felt inferior and insecure. (’Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ Psalms 51:10.) Sin does that to you. It’s part of the wages that sin inevitably demands. A carnal Christian will dance all around and try to tell you, ’Everything’s fine. Don’t press me. I’m really free . . . really having fun . . . I’m doing well. You just haven’t any idea.’ But down inside it’s there. Everything is empty, hollow, joyless, pointless. A true Christian cannot deny that. True guilt is there. Oppressively there. Constantly there." [Note: Ibid., p. 199.]

Finally the Lord sent His prophet to confront the king. This required considerable courage on Nathan’s part since David could have hardened his heart and had the prophet executed, as he had executed Uriah.

"In confronting someone in his sin, the timing is as important as the wording. Simply to tighten your belt, grab your Bible and, at your convenience, confront a person who is in sin is unwise. Most importantly, you need to be sure that you’re sent by God. Nathan was." [Note: Ibid., p. 200.]

Nathan’s parable (cf. 2 Samuel 14:1-20; 1 Kings 20:35-42; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 3:1-5) appealed to David’s compassion as a shepherd and drew an emotional response from the king (2 Samuel 12:5). [Note: See Simon, pp. 207-42; and Peter W. Coxon, "A Note on ’Bathsheba’ in 2 Samuel 12, 1-6," Biblica 62:2 (1981):247-50.] Just like the man in the parable, David deserved to die, but David deserved to die for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and murder (Leviticus 24:17). Hypocritically David ordered the man in Nathan’s story to make restitution, appealing to the Mosaic Law (Exodus 22:1) that he himself had disregarded. The man in the parable was not under a death sentence according to the Mosaic Law. [Note: See Anthony Phillips, "The Interpretation of 2 Samuel xii 5-6," Vetus Testamentum 16 (1966):242-44.] David was reacting emotionally. He seems to have been trying to get rid of his own guilty conscience by condemning someone else while subconsciously passing judgment on himself. [Note: Baldwin, p. 236. See J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, vol. 1: King David, p. 77.] It is interesting that four of David’s sons died, perhaps as a divine fulfillment of the fourfold restitution that David ordered. They were David’s first child by Bathsheba (Acts 11:18), Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29), Absalom (2 Samuel 18:14-15), and Adonijah (1 Kings 2:23-25). [Note: Jones, p. 103.]

"You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7) is certainly one of the most dramatic sentences in the Bible. Since several months had passed since David had committed his gross sins, they were probably not in the forefront of his thinking when Nathan entered his presence and told his story. We see a prophet exercising authority over a king here. This was always the case in Israel’s monarchy, as we shall see repeatedly in the Books of Kings. [Note: See William Sanford LaSor, "The Prophets during the Monarchy: Turning Points in Israel’s Decline," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration, pp. 59-70.] David had abused the great blessings that God had given him. Notice that the Lord said that He had done five great things for David (2 Samuel 12:8), but David had done four sinful things in spite of God’s goodness (2 Samuel 12:9). He had despised God by disobeying His Word as though he were superior to it. David had seen what had happened to Saul for rejecting God’s word.

David’s punishment would be twofold (cf. Galatians 6:7): his own fertility (children) would be the source of his discipline, and God would remove the sources of his fertility (children) from him (2 Samuel 12:11). The executions of these sentences follow in the text (2 Samuel 13:11-14; 2 Samuel 13:38-39; 2 Samuel 16:22; 2 Samuel 18:15). Acts 11:9-10 of the twelfth chapter have been called "the literary, historical, and theological crux and center of 2 Samuel as a whole." [Note: Youngblood, p. 944. ] Compare David’s earlier curse of Joab’s house in 2 Samuel 3:29 where "never" also is in view.

"As David ’took’ Uriah’s wife (2 Samuel 11:9-10), so the Lord will ’take’ David’s wives (2 Samuel 11:11). As the Lord ’gave’ Saul’s property and Israel’s kingdom to David (2 Samuel 11:8), so he says that he will now ’give’ David’s wives to someone else, to ’one who is close to you’ (2 Samuel 11:11)-ironically, an expression earlier used of David himself in similar circumstances (see 1 Samuel 15:28; 1 Samuel 28:17 . . .)." [Note: Ibid., p. 945.]

"Just as David willfully takes Bathsheba for himself (2 Samuel 11:2-4), so Amnon forces Tamar (2 Samuel 13:8-14), Absalom enters the royal harem (2 Samuel 16:22), and Adonijah tries to claim his deceased father’s concubine (1 Kings 2:13-17)." [Note: P. Kyle McCarter Jr., "’Plots, True or False’: The Succession Narrative as Court Apologetic," Interpretation 35:4 (October 1981):359.]

"We need to remember that, like many sins, David’s were carried out secretly-at least for a while [2 Samuel 12:12]. One of the things that accompanies the promotion of individuals to higher positions of authority is an increase in privacy. This closed-door policy maintained by those in high office brings great temptation for things to be done in secret. Unaccountability is common among those in command. So it was with David." [Note: Swindoll, p. 196.]

Psalms 32:3-4 probably records David’s misery during the time between his sinning and his confessing. This psalm, and especially Psalms 51, gives further insight into David’s feelings when he confessed his sins. God spared David’s life by pure grace; normally David would have died for his sins (Leviticus 20:10; Leviticus 24:17). His pardon came as a special revelation from God through Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13). David’s confession was genuine. He called his sin what it was rather than trying to cover it up or explain it away, which was Saul’s typical response. Moreover he acknowledged that his sin was primarily against Yahweh, not just against Bathsheba and Uriah.

"Repentance has its reward (cf. 1 Samuel 7:3)." [Note: Gordon, p. 258.]

"This was the turning-point in the life of David, and the clearest indication that he was different from Saul in the most essential relationship of all, that of submission to the Lord God. For that reason he found forgiveness, whereas Saul never accepted his guilt or the rejection that followed from it." [Note: Baldwin, p. 239.]

Whereas the Lord removed the guilt of David’s sin (forgiveness) he did not remove the consequences of it (discipline). Someone observed that after you hammer a nail in a board you may remove the nail, but the hole remains.

"Just as judges today sometimes commute a sentence, so too God has the right and the power to modify or even cancel his own decisions in the light of the human response. In this case David’s immediate signs of remorse allowed immediate forgiveness; but the deed itself could not be undone, and some consequences were inevitable." [Note: Payne, p. 209.]

"David’s voyeurism in 2 Samuel 11:2 and Nathan’s curse in 2 Samuel 12:11 foreshadow Absalom’s rooftop orgy (2 Samuel 16:20-22)." [Note: Jon D. Levenson and Baruch Halpern, "The Political Import of David’s Marriages," Journal of Biblical Literature 99:4 (1980):514.]

This is how God deals with sin normally. He removes the guilt that would result in damnation, but He usually allows at least some of the consequences to follow and uses these for discipline and instruction. God’s punishment fit David’s crimes (cf. Galatians 6:7). In David’s case the infant he fathered died.

"God could not ignore David’s sin and thus let unbelievers impugn the holiness of His character." [Note: Laney, p. 109.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-11.html. 2012.
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