2 Samuel 11
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - After the year was expired; Hebrew and Revised Version, at the return of the year; that is, as Josephus paraphrases it, "the next spring." It seems quite certain that the war with Hadarezer did not take place in the same year as the defeat of the Syrians at Medeba. For the gathering of his mercenaries by Nahash would occupy a long time, and it was done so leisurely, that not only did news of it reach Jerusalem, but David was able to collect his forces, and instead of awaiting the invasion, could deliver his attack on the enemy's ground. The battle at Medeba took place in the autumn, and, as it was impossible to keep the field with winter so near, Joab marched back to Jerusalem, intending in the spring to return to the siege of Rabbah. But David quickly had information that a more serious war was impending, and, instead of sending Joab, he now gathers "all Israel," and, after gaining a victory, it is plain that he marched into the Syrian territories, and compelled by his presence the allies of Hadarezer to transfer their allegiance to him. Simultaneously with this war he had to meet the attack of the Edomites, for which purpose he detached Abishai with a portion of his army; and it was necessary also to post garrisons in their country, and in Atom of Damascus. It was while he was thus occupied in the Aramean states that he gathered the "much brass" spoken of in 2 Samuel 8:8. The Ammonites would necessarily be left to themselves while these great events were going on, but now, after a respite of a year and a half, David sent Joab, and his servants, that is, his officers - the word "servant" in Oriental courts being constantly used to designate those, high in rank near the king's person - and all Israel; that is, an army gathered from all the tribes. In accordance with the cruel customs of ancient warfare, they began by laying the whole country waste, and putting all whom they found to the sword, and thus destroyed the children of Ammon before laying siege to the capital, into which all the people by these harsh measures had been forced to go for refuge. In the Hebrew there is a curious spelling, the word "kings" being written melakim, with an aleph to represent the long a. It is a mistake to suppose that a different word, malakim, "angels" or "ambassadors," is meant, as it is nothing more than an archaic method of spelling, instances of which have been made rare by the extreme fastidiousness of Hebrew scribes. There is, however, another example not far off, where the Hebrew word for "poor" is also written with an inserted aleph.
And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
Verse 2. - David arose from off his bed. It was usual in Palestine, and remains so in all hot countries, to take a siesta in the heat of the day (2 Samuel 4:5); and, on awaking, David walked backward and forward on the fiat roof of his house (1 Samuel 9:25), to enjoy the cool breezes of the evening. In so doing he was probably following his usual habits; but temptation came upon him, as so often is the case, unexpectedly. We are told that it is regarded in the East as improper for one neighbour to look over the battlement of his house into the inner court of the next dwelling (Philippson). Considering the jealousy with which Orientals guard the female members of their family from intrusion, it was a wrong act on the king's part to spy into what was going on in the recesses of the adjoining house. But he did so, and suffered for it years of disgrace and misery. For he saw a beautiful woman, the wife of one of his high officers, bathing, probably to purify herself from some legal uncleanness, such as those mentioned in Leviticus 15. No blame, so far, must be attached to her. The place was regarded as perfectly secluded, and probably neither she nor Uriah had ever suspected that what went on there could be observed from the roof of the king's palace.
And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
Verse 3. - Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. In 2 Samuel 23:34 Eliam is said to be the son of Ahithophel, and thus Bathsheba would be his granddaughter. Mr. Blunt, in his 'Undesigned Coincidences,' p. 143, et seq., sees in this the explanation of the adherence to the side of Absalom of a man so high in King David's service. It was the result of his indignation at David's profligate treat-meat of so near a relative. In 1 Chronicles 3:5 she is called "Bathshua, the daughter of Ammiel." The latter is a transposition of Eliam, both names being compounded of Am, people, and El, God. Uriah the Hittite. We read in 2 Samuel 23:39 that he was one of David's "mighties," and it is remarkable that we should thus find high in rank in David's army a member of that grand race who had disputed with Egypt and Assyria the empire of the East. Their head now was Toi, King of Hamath.
And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.
Verse 4. - David sent messengers, and took her. David's fall seems as sudden as it was complete; but we may feel sure that there had been gradual preparation for it during the previous period of great prosperity. David had always been a man of strong passions, and the large harem he had set up at Jerusalem, so far from satisfying him, only intensified his lust. And now he who had previously shown himself so chivalrous and noble stoops to robbing one of his own officers of his honour. And stern and terrible was the punishment. When he sent those messengers, who were some of the vile people who hang about great personages, ready to minister to their sins, he was preparing the way for his daughter's disgrace, for the murder of Amnon, for Absalom's rebellion and death, and for the death of Adonijah. From that day his own house was the scene of horrible crimes, feuds, scandals, and miseries of every kind; and the long interval after his repentance, between the birth of Solomon and David's death, is passed over in gloomy silence. No act of the penitent king after his restoration to the throne is deemed worthy of record. He was pardoned, but his place henceforward was not in the light of God's favour, but in shadow and retirement. Men who fall so grievously must be content to be removed into the outer court. Of Bathsheba it must be said that she remained a faithful wife, and bare David four sons besides the one who was the fruit of their adultery, and that she retained her influence over him to the last (1 Chronicles 3:5; 1 Kings 1:15-31). For she was purified from her uncleanness; Hebrew, and she purified herself from her uncleanness; that is, having committed an act of gross immorality, she nevertheless carefully observed the ceremonial enactment commanded in Leviticus 15:18. She went home unrepentant, and with her conscience defiled, but was all the more scrupulous in performing the rite that purified her outwardly.
And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
Verse 5. - The woman... told David. Her crime was one that made her liable to the penalty of death (Leviticus 20:10), and Uriah was a man likely to exact it; consequently she was in great alarm, and the king shared her anxiety. Already was the punishment beginning to be required from both the guilty sharers in the wickedness.
And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king's house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.
Verse 8. - A mess (of meat); really, a royal present (see Esther 2:18; Jeremiah 40:5; Amos 5:11, where it is translated burdens of wheat, but really means presents of wheat, forced from the poor); though originally a portion of food sent to a guest from the table of the giver of a feast (Genesis 43:34). Uriah, as one of David's thirty-seven heroes, would hold a high rank in the army, though the statement given by Josephus, that he was Joab's armour bearer, is probably a mere conjecture, made with the view of explaining what seemed to him strange, that a foreigner should hold so distinguished a place among the captains of Israel. David sends for him, on the pretext that he wanted full information of Joab's plans, and the state of the army, and the progress of the siege of Rabbah. And so prompt is Uriah, that he goes to the king still soiled with travel, and without calling at his house. And David makes his inquiries, listens with apparent interest to the narrative of the war, and, after receiving a full report, bids Uriah go home and rest and refresh himself after the journey. He sends him, moreover, a present, such probably as was usual after special service, but large and liberal, so as to put Uriah in good humour. But the old soldier cared for war more than for pleasure, and, instead of going to his house, spent the night in the guard room with the soldiers and others who were in attendance upon the king (see 1 Kings 14:27, 28). All would be eager for news of friends and relatives, and it was a far greater delight to Uriah to chat with his old comrades than to be resting luxuriously in his own home.
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.
And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
And Uriah said unto 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 fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.
Verse 11. - The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents. The presence of the ark with the army in the field is puzzling, and shows us how little we know of the religious practices of the Jews, as, but for this chance mention of it, we should have affirmed that it was never taken out of its place in Zion, and that in previous times the conduct of Eli's sons in carrying it out of the sanctuary to war was an irregular act. The Jews themselves feel the difficulty, and some of their rabbins affirm that this was not the ark of the covenant, but a chest containing the ephod whereby inquiries were made of Jehovah. Certainly in 1 Samuel 4:3, 4 it is expressly called "the ark of the covenant;" and in 2 Samuel 6:2 "the ark of God." The use in our version of the special word "ark" obliges us to think of the ark of the covenant, whereas really it is a general word, rendered "chest" in 2 Kings 12:9, 10. It is said, too, that the war with Ammon was not a holy war, nor was it of such importance as to call for David's presence at the head of his troops. But, on the other hand, if it was not the ark of God, why did Uriah lay so great stress upon its presence in the field? Moreover, we find the ark with Saul in his war with the Philistines (l 1 Samuel 14:18), where it is expressly called "the ark of God," and is used for the purpose of inquiring the will of Jehovah. On comparing 1 Samuel 7:2 with 2 Samuel 6:3, we should have imagined that the ark abode uncared for at the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, did we not plainly find it in attendance upon Saul. We are thus compelled to conclude that David sent it, with its attendant priests, with Joab, that he might consult the Deity by its moans. In the Talmud ('Shek. Jerus.,' 9. 2) the idea of there being an inferior or second ark used for this purpose is condemned. David, in his remonstrance with Uriah, shows signs of displeasure, and the conduct of the latter suggests the idea that his suspicious had been aroused. The war was going on prosperously; he had been summoned home on an honourable pretext to give the king a report of it; and it is, to say the least, strange that he should have cared so little for a wife, to whom apparently he had not long been married, and for his domestic affairs, as not even to go to his house, which was close by. The tone, too, of Uriah's answer is excited, and his military ardour too warm. David had assumed that, as a matter of course, he would hasten to visit his wife, and Uriah's unexpected refusal upsets his devices, and leaves him with all his difficulties increased rather than done away with. Very probably, in the conversation in the guard room, Uriah had received hints that his wife was too high in the royal favour. For "tents" the Hebrew has "booths," and so the Revised Version; and for "fields" the singular, "field." The Israelites still lived mostly in tents, and in war were content with very slight and temporary shelter, and if there were any parks, or enclosures, they were called Naioth, while "the field" was the open unenclosed land, which formed the mass of the country. The separate mention of "Israel and Judah" is no indication of the book having been written after the disruption of the kingdom. Uriah had been in David's service when he was king only at Hebron, and had taken part in the long war between Judah and the house of Saul.
And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.
Verse 13. - He made him drunk. David thus adds sin to sin, and, in order to accomplish his vile end, he degrades the brave soldier whom already he had dishonoured. But even when intoxicated Uriah kept to his determination; and though on this second night there would not be the same pleasure in chatting with old comrades seen again after long absence, he still sleeps in the guard room. And thus there were witnesses that he had not gone to his house.
And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
Verse 14. - David wrote a letter. David now uses the knowledge he had acquired in the schools of the prophets for vicious purposes. For it to be a blessing, knowledge must be sanctified to holy use. The letter would conceal from Joab the truth, and only let him know that Uriah, during his visit to Jerusalem, had incurred the king's serious displeasure; and we may be quite sure that Joab would be very indignant when he learned, as he certainly soon would, that David had made him his tool, and caused him to murder one of "the mighties" in order to cover the shame of his adultery. The only fair side of the picture is that it shews the high state of morality among the people. The crimes of kings and great men are usually lightly pardoned, and especially that of adultery. Even in our own and other Christian countries this is the case; but David has to resort to extreme measures rather than face the indignation of his subjects. Unfortunately, the shedding of blood was not looked upon with equal horror. Possibly the leaving it to the relatives to requite it made the suppression of murder the business, not of the state, but of "the avenger of blood." At all events, Joab without much compunction carries out David's orders, caring to know no more than that Uriah was out of favour. And what is more extraordinary, David remains utterly callous for a whole twelvemonth (see 2 Samuel 12:15), and his conscience does not even smite him for the additional meanness of sending the order for Uriah's murder by the hand of the injured man himself.
And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.
And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.
Verse 16. - When Joab observed the city; Revised Version, kept watch upon the city. This does net mean, as some suppose, that Joab sent a body of men to examine the fortifications with a view to an assault, and so provoked a sally. The verb simply refers to the ordinary operations of a siege, which usually resolved itself into a long blockade, continued until starvation compelled a surrender; and to hasten this the people of the villages were forced into the town, by the rule that all left outside were put to the sword. To maintain the blockade, men were posted at all fit points round the city, and these were constantly assailed by the besieged. Joab then placed Uriah at a post which was especially the object of attack; and when the usual sally took place and was repulsed, Joab seems to have ordered Uriah to pursue them up to the very gate, where they would be exposed to a shower of arrows from the walls. Others fell besides Uriah, and that the loss was considerable, and the result of bad generalship, though designedly such, seems probable from the deprecation of the king's anger in ver. 20.
And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.
Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war;
Verse 18. - Then Joab sent. Joab now performs another act in this iniquitous drama, and goes through the form of sending the king a report of the disaster which had followed upon his approaching too near the walls. With well-feigned hypocrisy, he makes the messenger believe that David will be displeased at the loss of life, and will blame him for his want of caution. But it is curious that the messenger is instructed to mention the death of Uriah only after the king has given utterance to his anger. Possibly the meaning of this is that the loss of one so high in rank, and the king's near neighbour, is so serious a matter that it must be gradually broken to him, lest his indignation at Joab should be too violent. Probably there was also the suggestion that Uriah had been himself too rash, and had incurred his fate by his own fault. The reference to the fate of Abimelech (Judges 9:53) proves that the history of the times of the judges was generally known. Very probably not only records of the several events existed, but the Book of Judges was already written In Samuel's schools the youth of Israel were instructed in the annals of their country, and men like Nathan and Gad, and ethers who aided Samuel in his work, would be sure quickly to turn their attention to the orderly arrangement and digest of the records in their possession.
And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king,
And if so be that the king's wrath arise, and he say unto thee, Wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall?
Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
Verse 21. - Jerubbesheth; in Judges 6:32 called Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon. (On the substitution of Besheth, or more correctly Bosheth, for Baal, see notes on 2 Samuel 2:8; 9:6.) It is remarkable that the LXX., Vulgate, and Syriac all read here Jerubbaal, though, like the Hebrew, they have Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth. Probably the change, which was not made until after the days of Jezebel, was only gradually carried out by the scribes.
So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for.
And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate.
Verse 23. - The men prevailed against us. The real meaning is "the men made a sortie against us in force, and came even to the open field; but we were upon them (and drove them back) unto the entry of the gate, and the archers from off the wall shot at thy servants," etc.
And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him.
Verse 25. - Let not this thing displease thee. David professes to be satisfied with Joab's apology, and bids him, if the war is in the main going on prosperously, not to be too much distressed at a temporary reverse. As for Uriah's death, of course it is to be regretted, but such is the fortune of war, and the sword devours now one and now another. The last words, encourage thou him, have provoked comment, as though the messenger was to aid and abet Joab. They simply mean "Give him a message of encouragement from me," the exact form of which is left to the messenger, but of which his report would be that the king wished Joab to take courage.
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
Verse 26. - And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. There is something pathetic in this repetition of the name of the murdered man, and his close relationship with Bathsheba is dwelt upon by his being twice called "her husband," and she "Uriah's wife." Having been the cause of his murder, she is careful to make for him the customary mourning. How long it lasted is uncertain. The mourning for Aaron (Numbers 20:29) and that for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8) were each for thirty days; while that for Jacob at Atad (Genesis 50:10) and that of the men of Jabesh-Gilead for Saul (1 Samuel 31:13) lasted only for seven days. Both these, however, were under such exceptional circumstances as made them no rule; but in Ecclus. 22:12 we read, "Seven days do men mourn for him that is dead," and the national lamentation for Judith lasted the same time (Judith 16:24). Probably, however, the mourning of a widow for her husband would last a month.
And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.
Verse 27. - She... bare him a son. This would be the child whose death is recorded in the next chapter. Afterwards she bare David four sons (1 Chronicles 3:5), of whom one was Solomon, and another Nathan, the ancestor of our Lord. The thing... displeased the Lord. It was probably during the time of David's victories that success began to work in him its usual results. Too commonly men who have conquered kingdoms have been vanquished by their own strong passions; and David had always evinced a keen appetite for sensuous pleasures. Even at Hebron he had multiplied unto himself wives, and now, raised by repeated victory to be the lord of a vast empire, he ceased to be "base in his own sight" (2 Samuel 6:22), and lost his self control. And, as was to be expected in a man of such strong qualities, his fall was terrible. But this declaration of the inspired narrator is not made solely for ethical reasons, but is the key to all that follows up to the end of ch. 20. In this chapter we have had the history of David's sin; a year's respite succeeds, as if God would wait and see whether the sinner's own conscience would waken up, and bring him to repentance; but it slumbers on. Then comes the message of reproof, fellowed by earnest penitence, and severe punishment. It was, perhaps, during this year of hardened persistence in crime that Amnon and his cousin Jonadab also gave the reins to their passions, and prepared the way for the first of the series of crimes that polluted David's home. An early repentance might have saved the son; but the absence of paternal discipline, the loss of respect for his father, and the evil influence of that father's bad example, all urged on the son to the commission of his abominable crime.

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