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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 11

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

2 Samuel 11:1. At the time when kings go forth to battle The author of the Observations remarks justly, that this passage seems to suppose, that there was one particular time of the year, in this country, to which the operations of war were limited. So Sir John Chardin, speaking of the Basha of Basra, who endeavoured in his time to erect himself into an independent sovereign, tells us, that, perceiving in the spring, that the Turkish army were prepared to thunder upon him the next September or October, (for the heat of those climates will not permit them to take the field sooner,) he sent beforehand to offer his territory to the king of Persia. The contrary, however, obtained in the Croisade wars; in the Archbishop of Tyre's history whereof, we meet with expeditions or battles in every month of the year: yet there is one story which he tells us, that seems to confirm Sir John Chardin's account, and to show, that, though the active and superstitious zeal of those times might not regard it, the summer was no proper time for war in those countries: and this is where he tells us, that in a battle fought betwixt Baldwin IV. and Saladine, in Galilee, as many perished in both armies by the violence of the heat as by the sword.

Verse 2

2 Samuel 11:2. David—walked upon the roof of the king's house See Deu 22:8 and 1 Samuel 9:25.

Verse 4

2 Samuel 11:4. And she returned unto her house What the state of David's mind was, when the tumult of passion had subsided, Bath-sheba was departed, and reason had returned, I shall not take upon me to paint. Calm reflection will best suit the horrors of so complicated a guilt, upon the recoil of conscience; when all those passions, whose blandishments but a few moments before deluded, seduced, and overset his reason, now resumed their full deformity, or rushed into their contrary extremes; desire into distraction; the sweets of pleasure into bitterness of soul; love into self-detestation; and hope almost into the horrors of despair. In one word, his condition was now so dreadful, that it was not easy for him to bring himself to the presumption of petitioning for mercy.

Verse 11

2 Samuel 11:11. And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, &c.— Nothing can be more elegant and heroic than this answer of Uriah. After all that the critics have said upon the subject, it seems to be very plain from hence, that the ark now accompanied the army, as we know it did on a former occasion; see 1Sa 4:5 in order to animate the soldiers by so sacred a symbol of the divine presence: and there is more reason to suppose that this was the case at present, as the expedition appears to have been a very considerable one. See the first verse.

Verse 15

2 Samuel 11:15. And he wrote in the letter, saying, &c.— As I have been long of opinion, says Dr. Delaney, that the Greeks borrowed most, if not all their mythology, from the Sacred History; so I think the fable of Bellerophon is founded upon this story of Uriah. Bellerophon, (who, as some scholiasts think, should be read Boulepheron, a counsel-carrier,) was a stranger at the court of Proetus, as Uriah, being an Hittite, was at the court of David. He declined the solicitations of Sthenoboea, as Uriah did the bed of Bath-sheba; and was for that reason sent to Jobates, general of Proetus's army, with letters, which contained a direction to put him to death, as Uriah was sent to Joab, David's general: and was sent by Jobates with a small guard upon an attack, in which it was intended he should be slain, as Uriah was by Joab to that in which he fell. The main course of the history is the same in both; and the variations such as might naturally be expected in fabulous embellishments. Hence it is, that the mythologist, not being tied to truth, thought himself bound, in point of poetic justice, to deliver the virtue of Bellerophon from the evil intended him: and so his history ends happily in this world; as I doubt not Uriah's does in the next. See Banier's Mythology, vol. 3: book 2: chap. 6 and Lavaux's Conference de la Fable, &c.

Verses 26-27

2 Samuel 11:26-27. She mourned for her husband, &c.— This mourning is generally supposed to have been the keeping of a fast for seven days successively; eating nothing each day till the sun was set. It cannot be denied, that there was a manifest indecency in David's taking Bath-sheba to be his wife so soon after her husband's death; and some think her compliance a proof of her indifference and disregard for her husband. Alas! they were anxious to hide the infamy of their commerce; and to effect that, no time was now to be lost.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Dark and dismal are the contents of this chapter. David's sun suffers a dreadful eclipse; and in the midst of his victories abroad, he is worse than vanquished at home, fallen a slave under brutish lusts and passions.

1. In pursuit of the former victory, Joab presses hard on the deserted Ammonites (David being returned in triumph to Jerusalem), and, having subdued their country, invests their capital.
2. David, in the mean time, is seduced into the grievous crimes of adultery and murder. While other kings were heading their forces in the field, he was indulging himself ingloriously in ease at home; while they endured the hardship of a camp, he rose from his downy bed, idly to saunter on the roof, and enjoy the evening's breeze: there his wandering eye rolled around; and, as sloth had prepared the fuel, a spark of lust entered, that kindled it into a flame. A beautiful woman in her garden retired, or in her chamber overlooked by the king's palace, washed herself from her ceremonial impurity, and thus became a snare to the unguarded monarch. At the sight, unhallowed desires kindle in his bosom; he turns not away from the inflaming object, but, urged by lawless appetite, contrives how to possess her. He enquires her name and condition, and, not deterred by her belonging to another man, invites her to his house, and tempts her to his bed; to which, with too easy a compliance, she consents. See now the deadly gloom which covers this great character! Lord, what is man! Every circumstance served to aggravate his crime: a king, who should have punished with death the adulterer; one who wanted not numerous wives of his own; an aged man, in whom these youthful lusts were doubly brutish; the person injured, his friend and servant, now fighting for him in the field; and an accomplished woman, before innocent and respectable, prevailed upon perhaps, not more by the glare of his crown, than the fame of his piety, as though that could not be criminal which David proposed! Note; (1.) On this side the grave, no man is secure from presumptuous sins. (2.) The lusts of the flesh are the most besetting evils, and therefore peculiarly to be guarded against. (3.) They who make provision for the flesh, by sloth and sensuality, are prepared for every temptation. (4.) When we are out of the way of duty, we can no longer expect Divine protection. (5.) If the eye be suffered to wander, the heart will not be long restrained from sin. (6.) Every indulgence given to carnal appetite, leaves us more unable to resist its cravings, and hurries body and soul headlong into perdition. (7.) When once the heart is given up to lewdness, then men can sacrifice honour, interest, friends, yea God himself, to the idol of their hateful passions.

2nd, We have, in the next place,
1. The fruit of this illicit commerce. David had sent Bath-sheba home, and all seemed to be hushed up; but God will bring to light these hidden works of darkness. Bath-sheba conceived; and, justly apprehensive of the danger she stood in from an enraged husband, acquaints the king, who, no doubt, had not scrupled to promise her an infamous protection. Note; Promises of secresy and impunity are the great emboldeners to impurity.

2. David is alarmed for his own character, as well as Bath-sheba's honour and safety, and contrives to save both by sending for Uriah, concluding that he would readily go home to his wife, and then the child would be regarded as his. He bids Joab send him, under pretext of inquiring how the siege advanced, receives him graciously, entertains him, and sends him down to his house, to refresh himself after his journey. And now David probably slept quieter than he had done before, and said in his heart, I shall have peace, the darkness shall cover me. Thus often do men deceive themselves, till their abominable sins be found out.
3. Uriah went not home, but lay down in the guard-chamber. David, no doubt, made inquiry about him, and was greatly disappointed to find his plot did not succeed. Another day he makes a viler attempt upon him; he calls him, expresses his wonder at his not going home, and hears the generous warrior express that noble resolution, 2Sa 11:11 which should have awakened every remaining sentiment of gratitude and shame in his perfidious bosom. But David had lost shame when he forsook God, and therefore sought to effect that by making him drunk, which he could not obtain from him when he was sober: but God's over-ruling providence defeated his purpose; and Uriah, though inflamed with wine and mirth, forgets not his oath, perseveres in his noble sentiments, and lies down again with David's servants at the palace-gate. Note; (1.) One sin seldom comes alone, but usually requires others to conceal it. (2.) The greatest cruelty we can exercise toward our neighbour, is to lead him into sin: the loss of his wife's affection, and the attempt to father on him a spurious brood, were not so great injuries to Uriah, as to bring the guilt of drunkenness on his conscience.

3rdly, When once the devil has entangled us, we know not whither he will lead us. David little intended the murder of Uriah when first he cast his eyes upon his wife; but the way of wickedness is steep, and, when he thinks that nothing but this can conceal his shame, he hesitates not at the crime.
1. Uriah is himself made the messenger of his execution. He seems to have entertained no suspicion of what was meditating against him; whilst David, covered with crimes and dark designs, plots his ruin, and in such a way as might most effectually remove him without suspicion of his being accessary to his death. With deliberate malice, therefore, he dictates the fatal letter, takes advantage of Uriah's known courage to place him in the post of danger, and with basest ingratitude thus repays his fidelity: many must necessarily be involved in his fall; but now David is lavish of the blood of his subjects, and dares to tempt, nay command, Joab to be an accomplice in the crime; bringing guilt upon his cause, giving the Ammonites courage, and endangering thereby the loss of his army, and perhaps of his crown withal: well may it be said, that they who are given up to their lusts, are led captive by the devil at his will. Note; (1.) Sin first blinds the eyes, then hardens the heart. (2.) Deliberate malice and murder is the summit of human wickedness.

2. Joab failed not to execute the king's orders; perhaps pleased to find his king no longer able to reproach him with innocent blood, as involved in the same guilt. He sets Uriah, therefore, on an assault where the greatest opposition was expected, and, not supporting him properly, he fell with other brave soldiers, advancing to the breach. Note; (1.) It is a pleasure to the sinful world, to find those who are high in a religious profession, in any particular like themselves, and nothing tends more to harden them in their iniquities. (2.) Obedience to the king's orders is not always a sufficient warrant of excuse.

3. Without delay David acquaints Bath-sheba with the death of her husband, and soon after she becomes his wife: thus all the matter seemed hushed up; and the child, though somewhat before the time, would not come so much out of season, but that it might pass without suspicion of evil; yet there was an eye, from which these vain coverings could not conceal his guilt and shame. God marked his dark and winding way; and, with just indignation, regarded the various steps of this infamous procedure, from the first rising of concupiscence, till the sword was bathed in Uriah's blood, and his adulterous wife was taken to his bed. Note; Let men promise themselves what secresy they will, there is an eye from which no darkness, or shadow of death, can hide the works of iniquity.

The thing that David had done displeased the Lord Whoever reads this narrative, must acknowledge that David's crime was attended with the most heinous aggravations; though no person of humanity can relate it, without pitying the circumstances of the unhappy offender, drawn by a concurring train of accidents from the commission of one sin to another, till at length his guilt grew so enormous, as almost to involve him in ruin, and tarnish the glory of a character which would otherwise have been one of the first and fairest of all antiquity. There are some crimes peculiarly aggravated by previous deliberate steps which men take to commit them, when they lay schemes to gratify their pardons, and accomplish the wicked purposes of their hearts. David's first offence seems to have been free from any thing of this kind. An unexpected sight fired his passion, and, hurried away by it, without allowing himself time for deliberation, he immediately proceeded to gratify it: nor is he the first, or will be, I am afraid, the last instance of the power of a sudden and unexpected temptation drawing men aside into the commission of those vices, which, in other circumstances, they would have trembled at, and abhorred the thoughts of. The first crime thus committed, and the consequences of it appearing; the unhappy man found himself involved in difficulties, out of which he knew not how to extricate himself. Conscious guilt, concern for his own character, regard for the honour of the partner of his crime, and even fear of his own and her life;—the punishment of their adultery being death;—all united to put him upon forming some contrivances how to conceal and prevent the scandal of it from becoming public. Hence all the little shifts he made use of to entice Uriah to his wife's bed, and thus father the fruit of his adultery upon him. But even these failed him. What must he do? Where can a man stop, when once he is entangled in the toils of vice, and has presumptuously ventured into the paths of guilt?—Bath-sheba must be preserved at any rate! His own honour was at stake to prevent her destruction; and he saw but one way left to secure the end, which he was determined, at any hazard, to obtain! If Uriah lived, she must inevitably die. Uriah could have demanded the punishment; and he seems to have been a man of that firmness of resolution, which would have led him to prosecute his just resentment against her to the utmost. And the law was express and peremptory. Which of the two must be the victim? Cruel dilemma! It is at last determined, that the husband should be sacrificed, to save the wife, whom David's passion had made criminal. But how was Uriah to be got rid of? Poison, assassination, or some secret way of destruction, were methods which eastern princes were well acquainted with. David was above them all, and had a kind of generosity even in his very crimes. He causes him to fall in the bed of honour, gloriously fighting against the enemies of his king and country: and having thereby got rid of him, after Bath-sheba had gone through the usual time of mourning, he makes her his own wife, and thus secures her from the penalty of death, to which he himself had exposed her. This appears to me to be the sad situation to which he had reduced himself; and, though I am far from mentioning these things to excuse David, or palliate his aggravated offences, yet the circumstances mentioned excite my compassion, and should ever be remembered, to soften the pen that is drawing up the account of it. It will, however, be far better for us to look to our own hearts, and gain instruction from his unhappy fall, than to suppose it a justification of our own vices. From the view of this mournful event, who can fail to acknowledge the fatal power of temptations, the hazards which the best men run of sinking under them, and the reasons they consequently have to add incessant vigilance to prayer, in order to resist them? On the other hand, we are taught from hence, that the greatest men are but men, men capable of the highest faults, and of the most odious deviations; that, therefore, we ought to regulate our conduct solely by the laws of religion, and never, absolutely speaking, by the example of any mortal whatever. When, moreover, we consider the moment in which David fell, how dangerous must indulgence and softness appear to us! How sensible should we be of the necessity and obligation that we lie under to be so employed, as to give no room for the attacks of temptation, nor suffer it ever to put our feeble virtue to the trial!

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 11". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-11.html. 1801-1803.
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