2 Samuel 11:1-15
Until now, David has enjoyed unprecedented blessings and protection from the Lord:
• At the Lord’s direction, Samuel anointed him as king while David was still a boy—long before David finally took the throne (1 Samuel 16).
• The Lord gave him the victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and protected him against Saul’s jealous rages (1 Samuel 18ff.).
• David married the king’s daughter (1 Samuel 18:17-29).
• He saved the city of Keilah (1 Samuel 23).
• Upon the deaths of Saul and his three sons, David was anointed king over Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-7), and after the death of Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, David became king over Israel (2 Samuel 4-5).
• David defeated the Jebusites and took their city, Jerusalem, to be his capital (2 Samuel 5:6-16).
• He defeated the Philistines and returned the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:17 – 6:19), and was successful in numerous other battles (2 Samuel 8-10).
And, as David prospered, Israel prospered as well.
2 SAMUEL 11:1. DAVID SENT JOAB, BUT DAVID STAYED AT JERUSALEM
1 It happened, at the return of the year (Hebrew: has·sa·nah lit·su·bat), at the time when kings go out, 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.
“It happened, at the return of the year (has·sa·nah lit·su·bat—at the turn of the year), at the time when kings go out“ (v. 1a). The NRSV has interpreted has·sa·nah lit·su·bat to mean “the spring of the year.” This is not certain, but it makes sense. During the springtime, improved weather would make military excursions easier, and late springtime would afford opportunity for the army to feed itself by foraging from ripening crops.
“that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel“ (v. 1b). Joab is David’s nephew, the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, (2 Samuel 2:13; 1 Chronicles 2:13-16). He is also David’s exceptionally capable general.
“and they destroyed the children of Ammon“ (v. 1c). In chapter 10, we read of the Ammonites allying themselves with the Arameans against Israel. At first, Joab led Israel in that battle (10:7ff.), but when the Arameans reconstituted their forces after losing the first battle, David led Israel against the Arameans and defeated them (10:15ff.). “So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more” (10:19).
“and besieged Rabbah“ (v. 1d). Rabbah (modern Amman, Jordan) is located east of the Jordan River—about 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Jerusalem as the crow flies.
David will defeat the Ammonites at Rabbah decisively in the next chapter (12:26-31; see also 1 Chronicles 20:1-3)—but at this time they remain an obstinate foe.
“But David stayed at Jerusalem“ (v. 1e). Scholars are divided about the meaning of this. Some think that the king had no business risking his life on the battlefield. Later, when David is older, his soldiers will say, “You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you don’t quench the lamp of Israel” (2 Samuel 21:17).
But others point to the earlier part of this verse that says that this is “the time when kings go out.” To end that verse with the note that David stayed in Jerusalem seems to suggest that he is staying home when he should be leading his soldiers in battle.
2 SAMUEL 11:2-5. THIS IS THE WIFE OF URIAH THE HITTITE
2 It happened at evening, 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. 3David sent and inquired after the woman. One said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4David 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. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”
“It happened at evening, 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“(v. 2). The houses in that time and place had flat roofs that constituted an extension of their living area when the weather permitted. People often slept on their roofs in warm weather, because the breeze there would make sleeping more comfortable than inside the enclosed house. Even on a summer day, a rooftop couch could be quite comfortable if the owner had some sort of roof stretched over it.
As king, David would have built his palace on high ground, and his palace would be a taller structure than most. From his rooftop, David would have a commanding view of the city.
Houses also tended to be built around courtyards. In the absence of indoor plumbing, most bathing would take place within the confines of those courtyards. The courtyards would provide privacy from surrounding streets, but not from the rooftop of a tall building. There is no reason to assume that Bathsheba is bathing in her courtyard to entice King David into an illicit liaison. The emphasis in this story is on David’s guilt—not Bathsheba’s.
From his rooftop perch, David sees that the woman bathing in the courtyard below is very beautiful.
We should note that David has no shortage of outlets for his libido. He is married to Michal, Saul’s daughter (1 Samuel 18:27). He has also married Abigail, the widow of Nabal, and Ahinoam of Jezreel (1 Samuel 25:29-43). Maacah, the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, has borne him a son (2 Samuel 3:3). Haggith and Eglah have also borne him sons (3:4-5). He has also taken additional concubines and wives (5:13).
There are various possibilities to explain David’s allowing himself to be tempted by the sight of this naked woman:
• Let’s face the facts. Most men would be tempted by the sight of a naked woman—especially if the naked woman is beautiful.
• Some men are more libidinous (more easily aroused sexually) than others. David’s many wives and children testify to his strong libido. He is still a relatively young man—at the height of his physical powers.
• A man arising from an afternoon nap in pleasant surroundings would tend to feel good and might welcome sexual attention more than at other times.
• With most of his male friends deployed to the battlefield, David might find himself with idle time on his hands. The old saw says, “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.”
• David is a man accustomed to conquest—military and otherwise. A new conquest can seem especially exciting.
• But, most of all, David has forgotten (at least for the moment) his connection to the Lord. He has not asked whether the Lord would bless a relationship with this woman. In his lust, he has forgotten his bearings.
“David sent and inquired after the woman. One said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?‘” (v. 3).
Later in this book, there is a list of David’s great warriors—referred to simply as the Three and the Thirty. The Three are three especially renowned warriors who fought spectacular battles (23:8-17). The Thirty are great, but not as great as the Three.
Among the Thirty are Eliam, son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and Uriah, the Hittite (23:34-39). Ahithophel is not mentioned as one of the Thirty (he is included in that list only as the father of Eliam), but he is mentioned elsewhere as David’s counselor (15:12).
Ahithophel will defect to Absalom when Absalom tries to usurp David’s throne (16:15 – 17:4). He will advise Absalom to defile David’s wives, which Absalom will do (16:21). Furthermore, he will ask Absalom for twelve thousand soldiers so that he can pursue and kill David. He intends to kill only David, knowing that, with David gone, it will be easy for Absalom to gain control of the nation. However, Absalom will fail to take Ahithophel’s advice (17:1ff). When Absalom’s rebellion fails, Ahithophel will hang himself (17:23).
But at the time that David commits adultery with Bathsheba, grandfather (Ahithophel), father (Eliam), and son-in-law (Uriah) are all close to David. Perhaps David’s murder of Uriah is the reason why Ahithophel later defects to Absalom.
“Uriah the Hittite“ (v. 3b). At one time the Hittites were a great power in the vicinity of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), but by David’s time they were a small and scattered people.
We have no idea how Uriah’s family happens to be in Israel—much less how they happen to be close to the king. However, as noted above, Uriah’s grandfather is one of David’s trusted counselors, and Uriah’s father and Uriah are both great warriors—members of David’s Thirty. We also know that the name Uriah means “My light is Yahweh,” which suggests that Uriah’s father was a devout worshiper of Yahweh when Uriah was born. This family has been well-assimilated into Israel and Israel’s religion for some time.
“David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in to him, and he lay with her“ (v. 4a). There is much left unsaid here. How could David be sure that one of his messengers wouldn’t betray his confidence? They no doubt understand the danger involved, but some might risk betraying David—motivated either by ambition or by respect for Jewish Law. Adultery is prohibited by the Torah, and the penalty is death (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18; 22:22).
We have no idea what motivated Bathsheba to go to David. Did she feel that she had no choice, or was she excited to receive an invitation from the king? Did she come reluctantly or willingly? We have no idea. If Bathsheba were more central to the story, the narrator would have included more detail. But this is primarily a story about David—the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
“for she was purified from her uncleanness” (v. 4b). The Torah prescribes that a woman shall be unclean for seven days after her period, and ” whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening…If any man lies with her, and her monthly flow is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed whereon he lies shall be unclean” (Leviticus 15:19, 24). David seems to be in violation of this provision of the law as well as the prohibition against adultery—although this violation pales by comparison with the other.
However, this note may have been inserted as a way of saying that Bathsheba is in the time of month following her period when she is most likely to conceive.
“and she returned to her house“ (v. 4c). Case closed! Tryst completed! Time for David to turn his attention to other things! But the seeds of destruction have been sown. The harvest will come soon enough.
We have no idea what Bathsheba felt once she returned to her house. She surely understands the dangers involved, and must be losing sleep. She surely understands that she has been used. Is she resentful? We don’t know.
“ The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am with child‘” (v. 5). It sounds as if Bathsheba sends word via a messenger. More and more people are learning about David’s sin and its consequences. David’s problem is that Uriah has been gone on the battlefield long enough that it will be clear to him and everyone else that Bathsheba’s child is not his child. Her adultery (and David’s) will soon be obvious.
Things will never be the same for David again. Until now, everything he touched turned to gold. That will never be true again.
2 SAMUEL 11:6-9. GO DOWN TO YOUR HOUSE
6David sent to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah had come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. 8David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and didn’t go down to his house.
“David sent to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ Joab sent Uriah to David“ (v. 6). David is an accomplished military leader—a true warrior. Great warriors respond quickly and decisively to changing circumstances. They assess problems and implement solutions. That is what is happening here. David’s solution is to bring Uriah back to Jerusalem so that he can sleep with Bathsheba. Once he does that, he will think that he is the father of Bathsheba’s child.
“When Uriah had come to him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered“ (v. 7). When Uriah arrives, David asks him for a battlefield assessment. Some scholars interpret this as a petty request—a request for information that could easily be obtained by a runner—something not worthy of a distinguished warrior’s time (Bergen, 364). However, it is not unusual, even today, for presidents to call generals back from distant lands to give an assessment of the battlefield situation. Runners can bring a message from the battlefield, but cannot answer questions with authority.
“David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet‘” (v. 8a). The instruction about washing feet might have to do with ordinary hospitality. Roads are dusty and the usual footwear is sandals, so hosts routinely offer footwashing as a courtesy to guests. Presumably, a wife would welcome her soldier-husband home with the same courtesy.
But “wash your feet” could be a euphemism for sexual intimacy.
Whatever the meaning of that phrase, it is clear that David expects Uriah to go home and to have sexual relationships with his wife before returning to the battlefield. Once he has done that, both he and the rest of the world will assume that he is the father of Bathsheba’s child.
“Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and a gift from the king was sent after him“ (v. 8b). David sends a present as a courtesy to his returning warrior—something special—perhaps a nice wine or a gold ring. Where does David send it? Presumably to Uriah’s home. Imagine Bathsheba’s surprise at receiving this gift for her husband—but her husband is nowhere to be found.
“But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and didn’t go down to his house“ (v. 9). Uriah chooses to sleep with the palace servants rather than going home.
2 SAMUEL 11:10-13. URIAH DIDN’T GO DOWN TO HIS HOUSE
10When they had told David, saying, “Uriah didn’t go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Haven’t you come from a journey? Why didn’t you go down to your house?” 11Uriah said to David, “The ark, Israel, and Judah, are staying in tents (Hebrew: suk·kot); 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!” 12David said to Uriah, “Stay here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day, and the next day. 13When David had called him, he ate and drink before him; and he made him drunk. At evening, he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but didn’t go down to his house.
“When they had told David, saying, ‘Uriah didn’t go down to his house,’ David said to Uriah, ‘Haven’t you come from a journey? Why didn’t you go down to your house?‘” (v. 10). The next morning, David learns that his scheme has failed. Uriah has not gone to his home, and has not had sexual contact with Bathsheba.
David’s remarks go beyond giving Uriah permission to go home and visit his wife. His comments sound more like, “What’s wrong with you—tired blood?” or “Let your hair down a little! Relax! You’ll be back on the battlefield soon enough. Enjoy yourself while you can.”
“Uriah said to David, ‘The ark, Israel, and Judah, are staying in tents (suk·kot); 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‘”(v. 11). The word suk·kot is the word for booths rather than tents. Its use here has led scholars to wonder if this might be the fall of the year rather than springtime so that the soldiers are observing the Feast of Tabernacles. However, in view of the context and the lack of other confirming information, that seems unlikely. The plain sense of this verse is that Uriah will not allow himself to revel in the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers are denied those comforts in the field. That is most likely the author’s intent (see also 1 Samuel 21:5).
Note the contrast between David’s treachery and Uriah’s high sense of honor. Uriah, the Hittite, sets a high ethical standard. David, the Israelite, stoops low—and will soon stoop lower.
“Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day, and the next day“ (v. 12). David isn’t accustomed to giving up easily. That is one of the things that make him a great warrior and a great king. In this situation, he decides to keep Uriah in Jerusalem for another day in the hope that he can persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba.
“When David had called him, he ate and drink before him; and he made him drunk. At evening, he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but didn’t go down to his house“ (v. 13). Unscrupulous people often try to manipulate scrupulous people by getting them drunk. That is what David does here, hoping that in his drunken state, Uriah will forget his scruples and go home to Bathsheba. However, Uriah is scrupulous drunk or sober. David’s plot fails for the second time. It becomes evident that David cannot persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. He will have to think of another way to cover up his sin with Bathsheba.
2 SAMUEL 11:14-15. SEND URIAH TO THE FOREFRONT OF THE BATTLE
14 It happened in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15He wrote in the letter, saying, “Send Uriah to the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck, and die.”
“It happened in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah“ (v. 14). David has Uriah serve as the messenger to convey his own death warrant to Joab. Presumably, he uses his royal seal to seal the letter and prevent Uriah from reading it. However, from what we know of Uriah’s ethics, no seal would be required.
“He wrote in the letter, saying, ‘Send Uriah to the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck, and die‘” (v. 15). David’s instructions to Joab are simple. Joab is to put Uriah in the front of the battle, where the danger is greatest, and then is to pull back all support so that Uriah is fighting the Ammonites alone. The goal is to have the Ammonites kill Uriah.
However, David’s instructions don’t reflect clear thinking. His desire to see Uriah dead has overwhelmed his grasp of detail. If Joab follows David’s directions exactly, Uriah will die but his fellow soldiers will see that he has been betrayed. Soldiers who witness that kind of betrayal become reluctant warriors. An obvious betrayal of the kind that David has ordered could lead to the unraveling of David’s army.
Rather than following David’s instructions exactly, Joab improvises. He sends Uriah to fight near the walls of the city, where Ammonite soldiers will have a clear field of fire from the top of the city walls. Uriah and a number of other Israelite soldiers are killed. Joab then sends word to David, telling him of the battle. He instructs his messenger that, if David says, “Why did you go so near to the city to fight? Didn’t you know that they would shoot from the wall?” the messenger is to reply, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (11:20-21).
The messenger tells David the news, adding that Uriah is dead. David responds, “Thus you shall tell Joab, ‘Don’t let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle stronger against the city, and overthrow it'” (11:25). War is hell. Soldiers will die. There will be collateral damage. We can’t help it! Don’t worry about it.
It is the reply of a king who has come to value his own life more than the lives of his soldiers. It is the reply of a good man gone bad.
The chapter closes with these words, “But the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh” (11:27b). A literal translation of the Hebrew is, “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” As a result, the Lord will exercise this judgment against David: “Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised me” (12:10).
David’s sons will pay the price for his sin. The sword will devour “one as well as another” within his own family. Bathsheba’s child will die (12:15b-23). David’s son, Amnon, will rape his sister, Tamar (13:1-22), and Absalom will avenge Tamar by killing Amnon (13:23-38). Then Absalom will rebel against David, and Joab will kill him (15:1-12; 18:1-18). Later, David’s son, Adonijah will vie for the throne, and Solomon will have him killed (1 Kings 1-2, esp. 2:24-25).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Bergin, Robert D., The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Samuel, Vol. 7 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan