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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 11

 

 

Introduction

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

SECTION 7. David Falls Into Great Sin Whilst The Ammonites Are Being Defeated (2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 12:31).

Having summarised the glories of David’s reign the writer now considers its dark side. 2 Samuel 11-12 form a unit in themselves as is clear from their chiastic structure, and they cover both the final defeat of the Ammonites, which finalises David’s external conquests, and the great sins that he committed while in a state of spiritual lethargy.

Analysis.

a David sends Joab to besiege Rabbah (2 Samuel 11:1).

b David lies with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, with the result that she becomes pregnant (2 Samuel 11:2-5).

c David arranges for the death of Uriah the Hittite so as to cover up his sin (2 Samuel 11:6-17).

d Joab sends David a message to let him know that Uriah is dead (2 Samuel 11:18-27 a).

e YHWH is displeased with David (2 Samuel 11:27 b).

d YHWH sends a message to David through Nathan the prophet in order to let him know that YHWH knows why Uriah is dead (2 Samuel 12:1-14).

c David's infant son dies as a consequence of David’s sin (2 Samuel 12:15-23).

b David lies with Bathsheba, who is now his wife, with the result that she becomes pregnant (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

a Joab sends for David to come and besiege Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

The section then divides up into a number of smaller units.


Verses 1-17

David Sinks Into Spiritual Apathy Which Results In Mounting Sins Of The Most Serious Kind (2 Samuel 11:1-17).

In this chapter we are brought face to face with a David who had clearly fallen out of touch with YHWH. Nothing else can explain why he so continually ignored YHWH’s clear commandments. It can in fact only be seen as resulting from the fact that he had fallen into a state of complete spiritual insensibility, totally unlike the picture that we have of him elsewhere, both in this book and in the Psalms. This is evidenced by his continual persistence in a course of action which no spiritually sensitive man could even have contemplated.

What then brought about this abject failure on David’s part? The answer provided by the writer would seem to be that it arose because, having been so successful for so long, he decided to rest on his laurels and leave the battles to others. He took a long break from his responsibilities so as to enjoy his royal privileges. He began to see himself as important and to forget that he was but a servant of YHWH. And the result was that he grew slack in his attitude towards YHWH and discovered that Satan would provide plenty of work for his idle hands to do. This is immediately and deliberately brought out by the writer when he points out that ‘in the time when kings go forth to battle’ David ‘stayed in Jerusalem’ and left the battles to others, something which the writer deliberately contrasts with the zeal of Uriah who insisted on remaining in combat readiness even when in Jerusalem, which was the place where he and his wife lived, and in the face of every attempt to make him do otherwise. The truth, of course, was that the king should have been out directing his troops unless he had other equally urgent business on hand. What he should not have been doing was idling in his palace. The list of David’s other failures which then result from this is quite frightening.

· The first is that ‘he saw a woman bathing.’ Now in Israel women did not bathe in the open air, they did it in the privacy of their apartments. So what this tells us is that David had become a ‘peeping Tom’. Not that he probably set out to be. His first glance was probably quite accidental as he noticed through the window (unglazed) of the house opposite the palace a woman bathing. But what any decent Israelite would then have done would have been to ensure that he did not, by his interest, intrude on the woman’s privacy again. To deliberately look on a woman’s nakedness was considered to be a great sin unless you were married to her (even if she was herself unmarried) to a far greater extent than it is today. It was seen as a total betrayal of decency, and almost in terms of those days, a kind of rape, and was almost certainly punishable at law. (In Genesis 9:20-27 it was Ham’s lingering on the fact of his father’s nakedness that brought him under the curse of God). A bored David, however, decided to ignore God’s commands concerning the matter and take a longer look, gazing in at the window because he noticed that the woman was very beautiful. Indeed he deliberately sought to take it all in knowing in himself how distasteful and disreputable it was. It was inexcusable.

· The next thing was that he enquired after the woman. He must have been quite well aware that the woman was of an age when she would be married. Indeed we get the impression from the speed at which he acted that he was not too concerned about the fact. He was idle. He had nothing to do. And he had a harem full of beautiful women. But he was looking for something more exciting, and what more exciting than eating forbidden fruit? So he deliberately continued on his downward path. (There can be no excuse. Even a king in Israel knew that he must marry a woman before having sexual relations with her, whilst this was clearly only intended to be a one night stand).

· It is then stressed that he learned who she was, and that she was the wife of one of his own finest warriors who was away fighting for him in the war against Ammon, and yet he still did not hesitate. Indeed it seems that he even saw it as a bit of luck. His lusts had been aroused, and he had deliberately fed them. He was no longer thinking straightly. Sin had him in its grip. There are absolutely no grounds for excusing him. He deliberately intended to do what he knew to be wrong, engage in adultery with the wife of a loyal subject, and that as one who lived in a society where adultery was seen as a major crime against YHWH Himself. And he was himself fully aware of the law on the matter. Indeed seeing adultery as a crime was not simply limited to Israel. It was seen as a major crime in most societies. Thus the law code of Hammurabi says, ‘if the wife of a citizen is taken cohabiting with another male, they shall both be bound and cast into the water’ (the normal method of execution in that law code). The deliberate nature of David’s act is brought out by the writer. Having sent messengers to her explaining that the king wanted to see her, ‘he took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her’. The threefoldness emphasises the deliberateness of the sin. And it all occurred because he was taking time off from serving YHWH.

· The writer then delicately brings out the heinousness of David’s sin in YHWH’s eyes when he says, ‘for she was purified from her uncleanness’. This mention of being purified from a minor element of ritual uncleanness (suggesting that her bathing had been after she had had her period) stands in stark contrast to the blackness and evil of David’s sin. Here was a pure woman concerned to please YHWH, who, having become ritually ‘clean’, is to be dragged into the deepest possible level of uncleanness by David’s activity. The pure woman of Israel is to be despoiled.

· Then, having despoiled the woman, and having almost dismissed it from his mind (after all what was the point of being a king if you could not have what you wanted?) David went on quite happily with his life. He saw it as just a brief and fleeting incident in his life, which could now to be forgotten, almost like eating a fig (he did not even have the excuse of a hopeless passion). He seems to have made no further attempt to see Bathsheba. After all, that might have caused a scandal, and he did not want to do that. But then two or three months later he received a note from Bathsheba which shook him to the core. She was pregnant at his hands, and that certainly would cause a scandal. However, he did not foresee any serious problem. All he had to do was cover it up by calling for the loyal and luckless Uriah to return from the battlefield and letting him sleep with his wife. Who then could prove for certain who the father was?

· But there was one problem that he had not foreseen. Uriah was an upright man of great integrity and loyalty. Unlike David he could not forget that his comrades were on the battlefield facing death every day. Thus he remembered that he was on active service and refused (unlike David) to take time off. He slept in the guard room of the palace with the soldiery. Keeping oneself from women was seen as religiously important when undergoing serious missions (compare 1 Samuel 21:4-5), and he would not let his comrades, and David, down, even when David made him drunk hoping that it would change his mind.

· Driven almost mad by the fear that the truth might come out David then recognised that his only hope was to arrange for Uriah’s speedy death. It was the only solution to the problem, for if Uriah was not there to testify who else would query the source of the baby? He was desperate. How sin clouds the mind. But in Israel even he could not arrange people’s deaths with impunity. So he recognised that there was only one thing to do, and that was to arrange for a ‘planned accident’. Accordingly he sent Uriah back to Joab a doomed man, bearing a note which made quite clear to Joab, under sealed military orders, what he wanted him to do. Make sure that Uriah died on the battlefield. After all, Joab was his nephew. He knew that he could trust Joab. Thus he was seeking to implicate Joab, as well as himself, in the murder. He was making his nephew, to whom he should have been an example, into a murderer. He no doubt felt sure that Joab, the ‘hard’ man (2 Samuel 3:39), would do it without a qualm. (What dreadful things people will do when they are seeking to cover up for their sins).

· Joab in fact appears to have had more of a conscience than David. He did not specifically follow out David’s cowardly orders. Nevertheless it was simple to arrange for Uriah to be put in the fiercest part of the battle, for, after all, someone had to be there, and Uriah was the kind of loyal soldier who would have volunteered for it. Even that did not work, however, until Joab or one of his officers made a tactical blunder and allowed the besieging troops to linger too close to the wall of the besieged city when they were dealing with a foray, (perhaps because Joab was so eager to see Uriah dead). And the consequence was that many of David’s faithful men died, as well as Uriah. It was multiple murder.

· The final sin was that when David heard of the deaths of his loyal soldiers, instead of being angry he dismissed the matter, simply because it had resulted in his foul purpose being accomplished. And this from a man who had always in the past had the greatest concern and respect for his men! And all because of a one night stand which had resulted from his not fulfilling his duties as a king! But at least he was satisfied that the matter was now over. His secret sin was now quietly covered up and no one would ever know the truth. He could marry the woman and adopt the child. No one would ever guess. And after all he was only doing what other kings did all the time. It is a further indication of his sad state that he never even considered what YHWH would think about the matter. It emphatically brings out that he was in a state of sad spiritual declension.

Analysis.

a And it came about, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel, and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1).

b And it came about at eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to look on (2 Samuel 11:2).

c And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ (2 Samuel 11:3).

d And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her (for she was purified from her uncleanness), and she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child” (2 Samuel 11:4-5).

e And David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David (2 Samuel 11:6).

f And when Uriah was come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered (2 Samuel 11:7).

g And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of food from the king (2 Samuel 11:8).

h But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house (2 Samuel 11:9).

g And when they had told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” (2 Samuel 11:10).

f And Uriah said to David, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents, and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field, shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (2 Samuel 11:11).

e And David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and on the following day (2 Samuel 11:12).

d And when David had called him, he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk, and at eventide he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but did not go down to his house. (2 Samuel 11:13).

c And it came about in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set you Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and you retire from him, that he may be smitten, and die” (2 Samuel 11:14-15).

b And it came about, when Joab kept watch on the city, that he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew that valiant men were (2 Samuel 11:16).

a And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab, and there fell some of the people, even of the servants of David, and Uriah the Hittite died also (2 Samuel 11:17)

Note that the parallels bring out the contrast between the lazy indolence of David and the intense activity of those who were fighting for YHWH and Israel. In ‘a’ Joab went with all Israel and besieged Rabbah, while David was lingering at Jerusalem, and in the parallel the men of the city fought back, whilst Uriah was being killed. In ‘b’ David was watching a beautiful but forbidden woman while in the parallel Joab was watching the city and concentrating on the battle. In ‘c’ David enquires after the woman and discovers that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and in the parallel he calls for Uriah’s death to be arranged. In ‘d’ David lay with the woman and she conceived, and in the parallel Uriah lay in the guard house with David’s servants, refusing to go home to her because he saw it as his duty. In ‘e’ David calls for Uriah to be sent to him in Jerusalem, and in the parallel he calls on him to remain in Jerusalem. In ‘f’ David discusses the war with Uriah, and in the parallel Uriah describes the details of the war. In ‘g’ David tells Uriah to go down to his house, and in the parallel he learns that he did not go down to his house. Centrally in ‘h’ the noble Uriah sleeps in the guard house and refuses to enjoy the luxury of his home and wife.

2 Samuel 11:1

And it came about, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out (to battle), that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel, and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.’

The return of the year was the period after the rains when men were relatively free from the requirements of the land, and when the roads were most suitable for travel. It was thus the time of the year when kings ‘go out’ (on looting expeditions or to battle). This is deliberately set in contrast with the fact that David did not ‘go out’. He ‘stayed at Jerusalem’ and sent Joab, together with his commanders and officers (his servants) and all Israel instead. He wanted to take it easy.

The purpose of their ‘going out’ was probably in order to avenge the insult described in 2 Samuel 10:4-5, when David’s messengers had been shamed. The Aramaeans having finally been subdued it was now time for the Ammonites to get what they had asked for. And the result was that the Ammonites as a whole were ‘destroyed’. That is, their towns and villages were taken and put to the sword, with the result that large numbers of the people fled for refuge to the strong fortress city of Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon. Now it was a matter of reducing Rabbah.

2 Samuel 11:2

And it came about at eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to look on.’

Meanwhile David was lounging in his bed, bored and with nothing to do. And when evening came he climbed to the roof of his palace for a stroll in the fading light. It was then that fate struck. For he saw through a window of a house opposite a woman bathing. This would be drawn to his attention because, as it was getting dark, the woman’s servants had lit her oil lamps with the result that attention was drawn to her window which was lit up in the gloom. And in the dim light he realised that she was very beautiful.

No respectable woman would have bathed in the open in those days, for such a woman would have kept herself covered up at all times. Being provocative was only for prostitutes. Thus David should immediately have recognised her innocence and respected her privacy, turning away before he even realised that she was beautiful. To look on a woman’s (even partial) nakedness in those days was a very serious matter, far more serious matter then than it is today. It was the equivalent of rape. David would have been aware of this, but he was bored and so he took advantage of the situation, thereby sinning deeply.

Others consider that ‘at eventide’ simply means after the mid-day siesta and that it was therefore afternoon, and that the woman was bathing in the enclosed courtyard of her house where there would be a fountain which she saw as private, but which was visible from the roof of the palace. This, however, suggests a laxity that would not have been likely in a respectable woman of that day, especially as, even if she ignored her own servants, she would surely be well aware that she could be seen from the upper part of the palace.

It is not really likely that she was seeking to catch the king’s attention, as she would have no reason to think that he might be interested, and may well have thought that such an austere king would only punish someone who was careless about revealing their own nakedness. After all, she would argue, he had available to him the most beautiful women of the land. Besides she would not know who might be on the roof of the palace. We really cannot turn the blame on Bathsheba.

2 Samuel 11:3

And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” ’

But David not only sinned by gazing at her nakedness (even if she was partly dressed), he went even further. For he sent for his servants and enquired about the woman, and learned that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his faithful military officers. That should certainly have quenched his interest, for otherwise he would be both contemplating forbidden adultery, which in any ordinary person was punishable by death, while at the same time being disloyal to one of his own officers, something which was contrary to his own deepest principles. It would thus be a heinous sin against YHWH, and an act of gross disloyalty and treachery as well. The fact that he even considered it demonstrated his sad spiritual condition.

1 Chronicles 3:5 has Bath-shua (daughter of opulence) for Bath-sheba (seventh daughter, or daughter of an oath) and Ammi-el (my people are of God) for Eli-am (the God of my people). It was not uncommon for people to have two names, and Bathsheba may well have been renamed on her marriage (compare Genesis 26:34 with Genesis 36:2-3). If Ahithophel was her grandfather she certainly came from a wealthy family, and she equally certainly became a ‘daughter of opulence’ when she married David. Uriah was the kind of man who may well have altered his wife’s name to Bathsheba in celebration of their marriage oaths, something which was commonly done. The change from Eli-am to Ammi-el simply results from switching the syllables round. Both names signify the same idea, ‘My people are of God’ or ‘the people of my God’, and both names were probably in use by him. If Eliam was the mighty man of 23:34 then Bathsheba was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, which may help to explain Ahithophel’s part in Absalom’s rebellion.

The fact that Uriah is called ‘the Hittite’ may indicate that he was descended from one of the mixed multitude in Exodus 12:38, or that he was descended from the ancient Hittites who had been in the land for generations and was a convert to YHWH, or that he came from a Hittite family which had come to sojourn in Israel after the demise of the Hittite Empire. Whichever is the case he had become a Yahwist (his name means ‘Yah is my light’), and had been integrated into Israelite society. He was one of David’s acknowledged mighty men (23:39).

2 Samuel 11:4

And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came in to him, and he lay with her (for she was purified from her uncleanness), and she returned to her house.’

But David was not to be denied his pleasure, whoever Bathsheba’s husband might be, and in his supreme royal arrogance he sent messengers and ‘took her, and she came into him, and he lay with her’. The threefold description brings out the completeness of his sin. Lust had conceived and had brought forth sin (James 1:15). The fact that she had just purified herself after her period only accentuates his crime. She was pure, and he took her in her purity and defiled her, and himself as well. And then ‘she returned to her house’ a despoiled woman. It was all over with the minimum of fuss. No one need ever know anything about it.

2 Samuel 11:5

And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”

But unfortunately for David there was a problem that he had not foreseen, for the woman conceived. Notice the continued emphasis on her as ‘the woman’. There was nothing particularly personal about David’s action, it had just been a king misusing his position, having a fling and satisfying his lust. It was a one night stand, which ‘the woman’ could probably have done little about. You did not argue with the king. But the fact that she had conceived made all the difference. Now she could not just be overlooked. There were bound to be repercussions (her husband might well demand the death penalty for Bathsheba) and David’s name would be soiled. Because he was the law he himself, of course, would not be called to account for his adulterous act, which would normally be punishable by death, nor would Uriah be able to do anything about him. But Uriah could, and probably would, reject any child born and divorce his wife, or have her put to death, and either way great ignominy would undoubtedly come on David. He would thus be shunned by many of his men for what they would see as a despicable act and a betrayal of a loyal servant.

2 Samuel 11:6

And David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.’

The thought of all this was too much for David, so he conceived a simple plan. He would bring Uriah back to Jerusalem. Uriah would then make love to his wife, dates could be blurred, and who would then be able to say that the child was not Uriah’s? So David sent a messenger to Joab, saying, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite,’ and naturally Joab did just that. No one had any cause to be suspicious.

2 Samuel 11:7

And when Uriah was come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered.’

When Uriah arrived he would report straight to David, and David enquired of him about the progress of the war. How was Joab doing? How were his people faring? How was the war going? They were simply the normal questions expected of a considerate king. Uriah probably felt honoured that David had called for him. (As one of David’s mighty men he had quite possibly shared his desert adventures and been with him in Philistia).

2 Samuel 11:8

And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present (mess of food and wine) from the king.’

Then David told Uriah to go home and wash his feet. That is, spruce himself up and make himself comfortable after his journey. Indeed reference to ‘the feet’ in Scripture regularly indicates more personal activities (see Exodus 4:25; Deuteronomy 28:57; Judges 3:24; 1 Samuel 24:3; Isaiah 7:20). And once Uriah had left the king’s presence, David sent after him some special delicacies in order to demonstrate his appreciation, no doubt not forgetting to include a skin of potent wine. He did all the things that a nice king would do. And it was all a lie.

2 Samuel 11:9

But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.’

But unfortunately for David Uriah was of a different calibre than he had expected. For when he left the king’s presence, instead of going home he went to the officers’ mess and spent the night among the serving soldiers who were guarding the palace. In his view he was still on active service, and he did not want to let his men down by enjoying luxuries while they were camping out in the rough ground around Rabbah. Nor did he want to defile himself by lying with his wife, even if it was only a temporary defilement. It was not the soldierly thing to do (1 Samuel 21:5).

2 Samuel 11:10

And when they had told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” ’

We can imagine David’s chagrin when he learned from his servants that Uriah had not gone home to his wife. And, no doubt feeling a little annoyed, he sent for Uriah and asked him why, as he had come from a journey, he had not gone home in order to relax? Outwardly he still appeared to be the concerned king.

2 Samuel 11:11

And Uriah said to David, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents (booths), and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field, shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” ’

Uriah’s reply should have quickened his conscience. Indeed we can almost see Uriah standing stiffly to attention as he gives his reply. To him as a loyal officer it was inconceivable that he should enjoy the luxuries of home while the very Ark of God, and all Israel were living in tents (or more strictly ‘booths’ - in view of the length of the siege they may well have erected temporary booths), and Joab and his fellow-officers were encamped out in the open in rough surroundings. Indeed he felt so strongly about it that he asserted by an oath that there were no circumstances under which he would do it. His integrity, grit and loyalty stand in strong contrast with the king who had remained at home to enjoy his luxuries while his men went to battle.

The mention of the Ark and not lying with his wife may well also indicate a religious motive. He did not want to defile himself even for a day by lying with his wife, thus marring the total religious dedication of the Israelite forces. He was determined to maintain his total purity before YHWH. (How this must have stung at David’s conscience).

Although it may not be seen as strictly necessary, for the Ark did dwell in a tent all the time, the mention of the Ark in a tent in this context does suggest that the natural interpretation is that the Ark had gone with them to the battlefield, where it was in its own tent and under a cover. It was the symbol of YHWH’s presence with His people as YHWH of Hosts. Compare how it went into battle in 1 Samuel 4:4-9, and how Saul had considered requiring its presence in 1 Samuel 14:18 when about to make a major attack on the Philistines after Jonathan and his armourbearer had destroyed a Philistine garrison. See also Numbers 10:33-36 where the Ark leads the way for God’s people through the wilderness. Later the Arabs would regularly carry a similar ancient casket (although nor a covenant casket) into battle.

2 Samuel 11:12

And David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and on the following day.’

Recognising that Uriah was obdurate David appeared to accept his argument and told him to remain ‘but another day’ and then he could return to his war duties. Uriah would probably think that the delay was due to the necessity to prepare despatches. There is absolutely no hint of any suspicion on his part. But the truth was that David still had another plan. He would get Uriah drunk, and then surely he would go home to his wife.

2 Samuel 11:13

And when David had called him, he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk, and at eventide he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but did not go down to his house.’

So later that day Uriah was invited to eat with the royal courtiers in the king’s palace, and there David ensured that he was plied with plenty of food and drink, so that he ended up at the end of the day drunk. But when night fell, drunk or not, Uriah simply returned to the guard-house with his fellow-officers. He did not go down to his house. He was probably very grateful to the king for his generosity. What a nice king. It would never have crossed his mind that by his failure to go home he was signing his own death sentence.

2 Samuel 11:14

And it came about in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.’

The next day he reported to David in accordance with what had been agreed (2 Samuel 11:12) in order to receive the despatches that he would be required to take to Joab. And with them he received a personal letter to Joab, written by the king himself. (David would not want anyone to know what he had written).

2 Samuel 11:15

And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set you Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire you from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” ’

Little did Uriah know what David had written. Indeed it is a sign of how kingship and luxury had for a short while dragged David down and seared his conscience. For what the letter required of Joab was a straightforward act of treachery and murder. He was to send Uriah to the hottest part of the battlefield, and then suddenly withdraw his supporting troops leaving Uriah exposed so that he would be smitten and killed. The sheer callousness of it can only make us grow cold. Indeed, as we shall see, even the hardened Joab shrank from doing it. He was prepared to send him where the battle was fiercest, after all someone had to be sent there, but he was not prepared to actually betray him on the battlefield. In fact he probably recognised how difficult it would be to persuade any of his men to do it. They would be totally unwilling to betray a good and loyal officer. How Joab must have sneered in his heart at David’s words. David had so often made him feel guilty, and now here was David doing something that even Joab shrank from. That was the trouble with these very religious men. In the end they turned out to be worse than anyone else.

2 Samuel 11:16

And it came about, when Joab kept watch on the city, that he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew that valiant men were.’

Joab obeyed half his instructions. Watching the course of the fighting carefully he sent Uriah into battle where the most valiant men were fighting because it was the most dangerous place to be. And that would have been in accord with Uriah’s own wishes. He had proved himself that kind of man. But even Joab would not betray his comrade-in-arms on the battlefield.

We may see these words as signifying that he placed him in a position where he would face the finest warriors inside the city as they came out on a sortie, or simply as putting him among the valiant men of Israel selected out for the most dangerous assignments. Indeed, it is difficult to see how there could be any particular spot where such valiant men could uniquely emerge, unless among a number of gates, one was known to be manned by an elite group.

2 Samuel 11:17

And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab, and there fell some of the people, even of the servants of David, and Uriah the Hittite died also.’

The battle grew hot and a party came out of the city to engage with the Israelites, and there they fought with Joab and his men, before again withdrawing inside the city gates. One of their aims was to draw the opposing troops under the city wall where they could be shot at by the archers and slingers stationed on the walls. The valiant men of Israel then obliged, and pressed up to the gates, eager to pursue the enemy. And Joab, who should have stopped them, did not do so. It is doubtful if he ordered them to pursue the enemy up to the walls, for that would have counted against him, but it is very possible that he saw what was happening and knew that he should have sounded the retreat so that his men would not come under the threat of the arrows and missiles from the walls, but deliberately delayed, having in mind what David had asked of him, in the hope that Uriah would be killed. And sure enough that was what inevitably happened. Uriah was killed. But so were many of the valiant men who were fighting alongside him. The insidious plot had thus become multiple murder of some of Israel’s finest warriors. That is how sin goes.

Note how the writer finishes off with the indication that David’s dastardly plot had succeeded. ‘And Uriah the Hittite died also.’ He likes these succint added statements. Compare ‘and the thing which David had done displeased YHWH’ in 2 Samuel 11:27. (See also ‘and Asahel’ in 2 Samuel 2:30).


Verses 18-27

David Gladly Receives The News That Uriah Is Dead And Weds Bathsheba, But Is Blissfully Unaware Of The Dark Shadow That Is Hanging Over Him (2 Samuel 11:18-27).

The writer now skilfully highlights the callousness of David in his present mood, a David who was no longer concerned for the lives of his men but was simply satisfied with the fact that, at the cost of a few men’s lives, he had managed to cover over his own sin so that there would be no repercussions. Whatever some may have suspected he was confident that no one knew anything for certain. Joab was aware that the king wanted Uriah punished by death, but he would not know the reason for it, although he no doubt took note of David’s subsequent marriage to Uriah’s wife. Even that, however, could have been an act of compassion, a taking of her under his protection because of Uriah’s past loyalty. David’s personal servants no doubt knew of his dalliance, but they would not know of what followed. They would just think that David had been ‘lucky’, and were possibly pleased for him. But as the writer draws out, there was One Who knew all, One Who had seen everything, and that was YHWH, and He was not pleased at all. The writer puts in one succint sentence the explanation for all the catastrophes that will follow, ‘But the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’

Analysis.

a Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, and he charged the messenger, saying, “When you have made an end of telling all the things concerning the war to the king, it shall be that, if the king’s wrath arise, and he say to you, “Why did you go near to the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” (2 Samuel 11:18-21 a).

b “Then shall you say, Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (2 Samuel 11:21 b).

c So the messenger went, and came and showed David all that Joab had sent him for (2 Samuel 11:22).

d And the messenger said to David, “The men prevailed against us, and came out to us into the open, and we were on them even to the entrance of the gate. And the archers shot at your servants from off the wall, and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (2 Samuel 11:23-24).

c Then David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing upset you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it,’ and do you encourage him” (2 Samuel 11:25).

b And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband (2 Samuel 11:26).

a And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased YHWH (2 Samuel 11:27).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab is concerned lest David is displeased with what he has done and might cite a woman as the cause of his displeasure, a woman who caused the death of Ahimelech, and in the parallel David takes a woman for himself, a woman who has caused the death of Uriah, and is no doubt pleased with what he has done, but causes YHWH great displeasure (and YHWH will later cite the woman as being the cause of His displeasure). In ‘b’ the news is to given that Uriah the Hittite is dead, and in the parallel Uriah’s wife hears that Uriah is dead and laments the fact. In ‘c’ the messenger comes to David with Joab’s message, and in the parallel he returns to Joab with David’s message. Central in ‘d’ comes the news that Uriah is dead, along with the description of what caused Uriah’s death.

2 Samuel 11:18-21 a

‘Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, and he charged the messenger, saying, “When you have made an end of telling all the things concerning the war to the king, it shall be that, if the king’s wrath arise, and he say to you, “Why did you go near to the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?”

Joab now sent a messenger to explain to David ‘all the things concerning the war’. In them he admitted that he had made a seeming tactical error in allowing the men to fight too close to the city wall with the result that a number of men were lost. And then he suggested to the messenger that David might be angry and might cite to him the example of the woman who hurled a millstone on Abimelech when he went too close to the wall at Thebez (see Judges 9:52-53). This would suggest either that that story was regularly used as an illustration in the training of troops for siege warfare (why otherwise would Joab expect it to be cited?), or that Joab suspected that David’s request had been to do with a woman, thereby indicating that just as Abimelech had been slain by a woman when he went too near the walls, so had these men basically been slain by a woman when they went too near the walls of Rabbah.

“Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth.” Jerubbesheth is, of course, the same as Jerubbaal (Judges 8:35). Thus we have here another example of where ‘baal’ in a name is replaced by ‘bosheth’, as with Esh-baal and Meri-baal who became Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth. But it only occurs in Samuel. It is another trait of the writer.

2 Samuel 11:21 b

“Then shall you say, Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”

And then Joab told the messenger that if David was angry at the news of such deaths he was to tell him that “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” It is clear that Joab expected that that would allay the king’s anger, an anger which he anticipated, and which poignantly would not later be described as forthcoming. The messenger probably thought that Joab was simply pointing out that the officer who had made the error had also died, and had thus paid the price for his error, but Joab and David would know differently.

2 Samuel 11:22

So the messenger went, and came and showed David all that Joab had sent him for.’

The messenger accordingly did as he was commanded and came to David and showed him all that Joab had sent him to relate.

2 Samuel 11:23-24

And the messenger said to David, “The men prevailed against us, and came out to us into the open, and we were on them even to the entrance of the gate. And the archers shot at your servants from off the wall, and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” ’

He then explained what had happened. This explanation might be simply a summary of a more detailed conversation, for Joab had only told him to mention Uriah’s death if it proved necessary. On the other hand it may simply be that as a soldier the messenger considered it a necessary part of his message to indicate that the officer in charge had perished for his mistake. He would not realise how loaded the last few words were.

2 Samuel 11:25

Then David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing upset you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it,’ and do you encourage him.” ’

The impression given is that David was so pleased at the news about Uriah’s death that he did not react to the news about the reason for so many fatalities. Instead he glided over the fact and treated it as a matter of course. What were a few lives if Uriah had been got rid of? This is brought out by his glibly citing a proverb, ‘the sword devours one as well as another’. Having then sent assurance to Joab, David exhorted him to intensify his attempts to take the city and to overthrow it. And he asked the messenger to ‘encourage Joab’, that is, assure him of the king’s pleasure at what he was doing, and had done.

2 Samuel 11:26

And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband.’

When the news reached ‘the wife of Uriah’ of the death of her husband she went into the necessary period of mourning, and would no doubt have arranged for loud lamentations by professional mourners according to custom (compare Genesis 50:10; 1 Samuel 31:13). It may well be that her mourning was genuine. It should be noted that there is nowhere any suggestion that she was at fault. It is very questionable whether, once the king had given his commands, she would have dared to disobey them. She may genuinely have loved her husband.

We should note also that Bathsheba’s name is only mentioned once in the chapter, and that was when her identity was being explained in answer to the king’s request (2 Samuel 11:3), otherwise she has simply been described as ‘the wife of Uriah’. This may well have been because the writer was underlining all the way through that she was a married woman, either to accentuate David’s guilt or as an indication of her shame. She is not again spoken of by name (even on her marriage) until after the child has died (2 Samuel 12:24).

2 Samuel 11:27 a

‘And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.’

When her mourning period was over David sent for her and took her to his home and she became his wife, and bore a son (the child of adultery). This would, of course, be the necessary thing to do, in order that the son might become legitimately David’s son, and it would preserve her from her shame. It also prevented Bathsheba from breathing a word to anyone about what the true situation was. David could thus now relax, confident that his secret lapse was well covered up, and that no one would ever know. It must have been a huge relief. It had taken some manoeuvring, but now at last he could get on with his life.

Note the contrast with 1 Samuel 25:42-43 where when David’s first marriages were described the full details of the wife’s name and heritage were given. Here he has simply married ‘the wife of Uriah’. It has merely been a matter of convenience and adultery. There is no sense of pride here.

2 Samuel 11:27 b

‘And the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’

Like a bombshell falling into the narrative the writer now tacks on a final clause. On one else knew what David had done, bur there was One Who did know. ‘The thing that David had done displeased YHWH.’ And yet David appears to have been oblivious, even to the possibility. It is a sad indication of David’s spiritual and moral state at this time that this thought seems never to have struck him. He had committed two crimes which according to the Law (and throughout most of the Ancient Near East) were punishable by death, and yet he appeared to be perfectly complacent. It is clear that this was not a matter of a temporary lapse. It was indicative of a backslidden state of his heart at the time. It revealed that he had become complacent, had begun to feel that as king he could do what he liked, and could sweep aside YHWH’s requirements, and that he felt that he was beyond the reach of any possible repercussions. How wrong he was now to be proved to be.

“And the thing that David had done displeased YHWH.” This sentence (in both senses of the term) will continue to govern his life from now on and will be reflected in the catastrophes that will fall on a number of his sons. The sins of the father will be visited on the children, not as a result of an arbitrary judgment, but because the father’s example will affect the behaviour of his children, bringing his sins upon them. Each would behave with the same arrogance as their father, and in the end would be able to say to their father, ‘we were only following your example’ as they suffered the consequences of their sins. And these men were intercessory priests of YHWH! (2 Samuel 8:18). Oh David! What have you done to your own family?

Consider the nature of some of the consequences (all, apart from the first, resulting from the same royal arrogance as David had demonstrated towards Bathsheba and Uriah):

· The son to be born will die (2 Samuel 12:14).

· Amnon, David’s firstborn, will rape his half-sister (David’s daughter) and then reject her (2 Samuel 13:11-16).

· Absalom, David’s third son, will arrange for the assassination of his brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:22-29).

· Absalom, beloved of his father (2 Samuel 18:33), will, partly because of his resulting estrangement from his father and recognition that he will probably no longer be allowed to succeed David, rebel against David and seek to take the throne (2 Samuel 15:10 to 2 Samuel 18:33).

· Absalom will take over his father’s concubines and have sexual relations with them quite openly in the sight of the people (2 Samuel 16:22)

· Adonijah, David’s fourth son, no doubt having Absalom’s rebellion in mind, will surreptitiously seek to pre-empt the succession while his father is still alive (1 Kings 1:5-11), and will subsequently seek marriage to David’s bed-warmer, Abishag (1 Kings 1:1-4; 1 Kings 2:17), resulting in his own death.

Thus from this time on there would be no settled peace for the house of David in respect of which so much had been promised. It will be riddled with both sexual misbehaviour and violence. Some have suggested that the four sons represent the fourfold restitution that David had to make to YHWH for Uriah’s life as a result of his crime in accordance with his response to the parable in 2 Samuel 12:6.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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