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The Matter of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11) December 1

Often, it is when we are on top of the world that we are most vulnerable to temptation. As the apostle Paul warns: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). What an incredible position David now appears to be in. He sits enthroned as one of the most powerful rulers on earth. Under this flush of greatness, with tremendous wealth now pouring in, spiritual danger looms. For riches and power can lead one to deny God and disregard Him (Proverbs 30:8-9; Deuteronomy 8). We enter here into the darkest period of David's personal spiritual life. It is of note that David was around 50 years old at this point, after decades of close association with God and experiencing God's hand in his life.

The story opens with the fight against the Ammonites to finish the matter begun in our previous reading. Reference is made to the spring as the time of year when kings go out to battle. There are three reasons for this. 1) Winter in the region is the rainy season. Its end assures troops dry conditions for battle. 2) The rainy season is the time for planting. By the spring, the barley is ready for harvesting and the wheat harvest is well along—freeing up more men to go out to fight. 3) These harvested grains are needed to feed the troops.

David sends Joab to besiege the Ammonite capital of Rabbah (what is today a part of Amman, the modern capital of Jordan). Though so involved with his past battles, David now decides to stay home at Jerusalem. It would seem that he should be with his men on the scene—particularly when the account says kings normally go out with their armies at this time and even the ark of God was at the scene of the battle (verse 11). But with his newfound greatness, perhaps he has begun to deem himself above that. Perhaps he thinks, We're so powerful now that I don't need to be there. Besides, why place myself in unnecessary danger. I'm the king. I'm too important. Whether this assessment is accurate or not, events that follow indicate that some sort of spiritual lethargy has set in with David, weakening his character for the time being—the fruit of which soon becomes evident.

One would think the fight with Ammon would be over almost immediately—with the incredible victory David's army has just accomplished. But, though there are some chronological sequence questions in 2 Samuel 12, it doesn't appear to happen that way—the siege, we will see, seems to take a very long time. If so, why? Besides the fact that ancient sieges could last months or even years depending on the resources of those within the city under siege, the real answer may perhaps be found in the blessings and curses pronounced in the time of Moses. God promised that the Israelites would be blessed with military victory when they were obedient—and would suffer reverses when they were not (see Deuteronomy 28:1-7, 15-25). David's amazing victories over the awesome coalition arrayed against him came from God at a time when David was seeking Him. But now it would appear that, with David's present spiritual letdown, God allows the Israelite military to accomplish very little, making it slow going at Rabbah.

Surprisingly, as we will see in our next reading, the book of Chronicles does not record what happens when David remains at Jerusalem. Chronicles, it seems, has a different focus, primarily emphasizing the strength of David and his dynasty. (As we will see, it does not delve into all the turmoil of David's house during his lifetime, such as the rebellion of Absalom.) But God's Word does not skip over David's great sin—for, though it does not appear in Chronicles, we find it in 2 Samuel 11. David looks out from the rooftop of his palace and sees a beautiful woman bathing herself. Although the account says he inquires about her, the nature of this inquiry is unclear as she is almost certainly someone he already knows. She is "Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite" (verse 3). Eliam and Uriah are two of David's elite mighty men, with whom he has spent untold hours around the campfires over the years (see 2 Samuel 23:34, 39). Indeed, Eliam—also known as Ammiel (see 1 Chronicles 3:5)—is the son of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 23:34), whom we will later learn is one of David's chief advisers, something like a prime minister or chief of staff. Living next to the royal palace, probably by David's own granting, these were very important people who would have been regular guests at the king's table. Perhaps David in his inquiry just wants to make sure she will be alone—that there will be no one to inform Uriah.

Though he now reigns over a powerful kingdom, dominating a sizable part of the Middle East, David is unable to reign over his own passions. Having seen this beautiful woman bathing, he lusts after her—coveting his neighbor's wife in violation of the Tenth Commandment. God admonishes us in enticing situations to flee from the stimulus that is before us (see 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22). If David were to now walk by this rule, considerable suffering would be avoided. But, as it is, he uses his power as king to take advantage of Uriah's wife—he "took her" (verse 4). What part Bathsheba herself played in all this is difficult to ascertain. Did she know David would see her bathing? We don't know. She, of course, has sinned in the matter as well, for adultery is a two-way street. But David, as spiritual leader and premier civil authority in the land, has greater accountability. Furthermore, this sordid situation is made worse by the fact that David fathers a child by her.

What a terrible betrayal this is against Uriah. Many refer to this whole episode as that of "David and Bathsheba." But God does not. He calls it "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kings 15:5). The name Uriah means "Flame of the Eternal" or "The Eternal Is Light." As he is called a Hittite, it is apparent that he is probably a foreign mercenary who became a worshiper of the God of Israel. For years, he has devoted his life to the service of David. And this is the treacherous payback he receives from the king—but, sadly, adultery is not the end of it.

With Uriah off fighting the Ammonites, Bathsheba's pregnancy would expose her as an adulteress—and it would probably not take long to learn the father's identity. David's attempts to cover up his sin by getting Uriah together with his wife are not successful. Unlike David, while Uriah's comrades are still in the field, the ever-dedicated soldier refuses to enjoy the comforts of home. What can David do? He makes a fateful decision. "Failing to cover up sin, David plotted the loyal soldier's death. Perhaps David could not face the shame of seeing Uriah after the warrior had learned that David had slept with his wife" ("An Innocent Victim," The Nelson Study Bible, 1997, p. 524). So he despicably sends with Uriah a message to Joab containing orders that essentially constitute Uriah's death sentence—all the while so trusting of Uriah's honor that he knows he won't read it.

Joab does not follow David's orders exactly. "David had told Joab to have Uriah killed by withdrawing soldiers from around him, leaving him to face the enemy alone. Perhaps Joab thought that this would be an obvious betrayal and would be difficult to explain to the other officers in the army. Instead, he devised a plan to have the soldiers fight near the wall. This maneuver endangered more soldiers and resulted in greater loss of life" (Nelson, note on 11:23-24). Joab expects David to explode at him over his foolish military tactic, but he tells his messenger to explain to the king that Uriah was killed in the engagement—knowing that David will then understand why Joab did what he did.

Thus, David has committed two heinous sins against God—adultery and murder. David's sin began with a thought in his mind—the sin of lust. He then brought that thought to action by actually committing the act of adultery. He then tried deception to cover up his sin. When that did not work, he had Uriah killed. This is the way sin often works—sin begets sin begets sin. In his further drift from God, David's message to Joab is utterly disgusting. Regarding the loss of a number of his particularly valiant soldiers in the murder of Uriah, he basically says, "Oh, don't worry about it—these things happen. Now get back to work" (compare verse 25). The fact that such a righteous man as King David could sink to this level of sin should serve as a warning to us all to always remain close to God. For if this happened with David, it could, as easily if not more so, happen with us—if we are not vigilant in staying close to God.

To perpetuate his cover-up, David takes Bathsheba as his wife as soon as possible to make it appear that their child is legitimate. It may even be that he intends the marrying of his friend's widow to appear an act of beneficence on his part. But the child is born considerably less than nine months later, taking into account the several weeks that lapsed until Bathsheba discovered she was pregnant, the episode of trying to get Uriah to visit his wife, the deployment of the scheme to kill Uriah, and then Bathsheba's period of mourning, which was customarily a month. But babies are sometimes born prematurely, and David perhaps hopes his sin remains concealed. Yet besides the supposedly short pregnancy, the rushed marriage no doubt makes everyone suspicious. Still, it appears to David that he has gotten away with everything. And he may have for a while. "But," as the account tells us, "the thing that David had done displeased the Lord" (verse 27). Nothing is hidden from God—a fact we must all remember when it comes to our own lives.

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