God has established David as a great king in a newly created Israel. This is the account of a new fall, marring that new creation. In this chapter, David commits adultery, followed up with murder. His subsequent attempts at a bungled cover-up resulted in one of the best known stories of human history. So much for cover-ups. But though the outlines of the story are well-known, there is a lot more to it than is commonly supposed.
“And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth 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 tarried still at Jerusalem. . .” (2 Sam. 11:1-27).
Summary of the Text
The time of year came when kings go out to battle, but David does not go out to battle (v. 1). When David gets up from a long afternoon nap, and while walking on his roof in his palace pjs, he sees a beautiful woman bathing (v. 2). He inquires and finds out who she is (v. 3). David sends messengers for her, and she came to him in adultery (v. 4). After a time, she sends word to David that she is pregnant (v. 5). These are her only words in the entire narrative. So David summons Uriah from the front (v. 6). When he arrives, David asks him about this and that (v. 7). David then dismisses Uriah to go home, and David sends along a catered, romantic dinner after him (v. 8). But Uriah didn’t go home—he camped at the door of the king’s house (v. 9). David was told this the next day, and so he asked Uriah why he hadn’t gone home (v. 10). Uriah’s answer was a true rebuke full of faith —the Ark of the Covenant is in the field. The armies of Israel and Judah are in the field. How could he go home to sleep with his wife (v. 11)? So David tells him to stay another day before he returned (v. 12). That evening, David called him to the royal table—where Mephibosheth was, remember—and got him drunk. But he still wouldn’t go home (v. 13). So the next day, David sends Uriah back to Joab, carrying his own death warrant in a letter (v. 14). The instructions were to abandon Uriah on the field of battle so that he would be killed (v. 15). Joab followed instructions, in modified form, and Uriah was killed (vv. 16-17). Joab then sent a messenger to tell David that a number of men had to die in order to accomplish his wishes. If David gets angry, then console him with news of an additional casualty (vv. 18-21). So the whole sordid affair is an open secret by this point, and the messenger doesn’t wait to be asked (vv. 22-24). David tells the messenger to tell Joab not to be displeased (v. 25), because these things do happen in war. When Bathsheba heard that Uriah was dead, she mourned for him (v. 26). When that mourning was over (typically seven days), David summoned her, married her, and she bore him a son (v. 27). But the Lord was displeased.
This is a story full of palace intrigue, with messengers coming and going. This adultery was an open secret. One of his courtiers told David who Bathsheba was—that woman, there, bathing—and then messengers fetched her. She was a willing participant, which can see seen in the subject/object switch in v. 4, where she “came in unto him.” Like the Eagles had it in Lyin’ Eyes, she rushes to his arms, they fall together.
And Joab had David figured out, as we can see from the Abimelech story—a woman took him out, just like some other people he could mention. Uriah was killed from the wall. David looked down on Bathsheba from the wall, but he was the one destroyed—by a woman—from another wall, one he couldn’t see. Uriah was not the only one sacrificed (v. 17), because to abandon Uriah all by himself would have been too obvious, too transparent.
Uriah the Great
Uriah is a true Hittite convert. He is identified as a Hittite, but his name is a pious Israelite name, meaning “the
Lord is my light.” He is one of David’s elite corps of 30 (2 Sam. 23:39). His loyalty was the real thing. He
would not go home sleep with his wife when the Ark of the Covenant was at war. He swore by David’s life, and David’s soul’s life, that he would not do such a thing (v. 11). But he was actually swearing by his own life. Another member of that elite corps was Eliam (2 Sam. 23:34; 1 Chron. 3:5), Bathsheba’s father. His father, Bathsheba’s grandfather, was Ahithophel, one of David’s great counselors, who later went over to Absalom. Wonder why. Absalom executed vigilante justice against Amnon over Tamar, but at least he did something. There are two possibilities here in this story. Either Uriah knew he had been cuckolded or he did not. If he did not, the story is suffused with irony. If he did, it is a story of high brinksmanship, suffused with irony.
The issue here was not simple physical desire. As the prophet Nathan later points out, there were plenty of women available that would not have brought all this trouble upon David’s house (2 Sam. 12:8). Whenever there was a regimental banquet for the 30, you can be assured that it was a room full of testosterone. It would have been a room full of top gun pilots, a room full of swagger. This was the heroic age—Achilles and Hector were only a century or so earlier, and about 700 miles away. David could easily have had some Trojans in his army.
Now when such men give way to ungodly competition, it usually involves the three g’s—gold, glory, and girls. Never make the mistake of thinking that desire is a straight line affair. This kind of desire is always a web. And too many Christian women think that desire—lust—is an affliction that the men have to deal with, poor buddies, and the men are patted on the head patronizingly. But sorry, I don’t buy it. The world lies under the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Men want to want, and women want to be wanted. Men want to attain and women want to be attained. Moreover, they want this in the presence of others, with others in view.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter, “The idea of female beauty is the erotic stimulus for women as well as men . . . i.e. a lascivious man thinks about women’s bodies, a lascivious woman thinks about her own. What a world we live in!” Human sexuality is a key and a lock—it is a complete mechanism. When we fell, the whole thing fell, and not just the key. The lesson here is to not kid yourself.
This is the story where we are introduced to Bathsheba, an ancestress of the Lord Jesus. There are four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, and all of them had reputation issues. One is Tamar, who slept with her father-in-law (Matt. 1:3). Another was Rahab the harlot from Jericho (Matt. 1:5), the great-great- grandmother of David. A third was Ruth the Moabitess, the daughter-in-law of Rahab (Matt. 1:5). And the last was Bathsheba, mother of Solomon (Matt. 1:6).
God promised David a line of kings to sit on the throne, and God fulfilled that promise through the woman who disqualified him from receiving the fulfillment of that promise. Bathsheba was a sinner, along with David, but she, along with David, was a true penitent. Later in the narrative, when Nathan the prophet is organizing the godly faction within the court, Bathsheba is allied with him. We should not hesitate to call her sister—the Lord Jesus could call her mother. The Lord Jesus is the Son of David, and that is quite a glory. But how was it possible for Him to be the Son of David? Through adultery and murder, that’s how.