Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.Ch. 2 Samuel 11:1. The siege of Rabbah
= 1 Chronicles 20:11. after the year was expired] Better, at the return of the year: that is when spring set in with the commencement of the year in the month Abib or Nisan. Cp. 1 Kings 20:22; 1 Kings 20:26; 2 Chronicles 36:10. If Joab’s return to Jerusalem (ch. 2 Samuel 10:14) was due to the lateness of the season, the next year was probably occupied with the Syrian campaign, and the expedition against Rabbah did not take place until the year after it.
at the time when kings go forth to battle] At the time of year when kings were accustomed to reopen the campaign after the winter cessation of hostilities.
destroyed the children of Ammon] The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:1 gives the right explanation, “wasted the country of the children of Ammon.” While Rabbah was besieged, the country was ravaged.
Rabbah] Rabbah (= the great city), or more fully Rabbah of the children of Ammon (ch. 2 Samuel 12:26), the capital of the Ammonites, was situated in a strong position about 22 miles east of the Jordan, on a branch of the valley of the Jabbok. It consisted of the lower town, called “the city of waters” (ch. 2 Samuel 12:27), from the perennial stream which has its source in it; and the citadel, a place of great strength, built on a hill rising abruptly on the north side of the lower town (ch. 2 Samuel 12:28-29). We are not told whether the city was destroyed on its capture. If so, it was afterwards rebuilt (Amos 1:14), and was a place of importance at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion (Jeremiah 49:2-3; Ezekiel 21:20).
Its name was changed to Philadelpheia by Ptolemy Philadelphus in the third century b. c., and down to the fourth century a. d. it continued to be famous. For a description of the ruins, which give proof of the magnificence and wealth of the city during the later period of its existence, see Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 533 ff.; Oliphant’s Land of Gilead, p. 251 ff.
David tarried still at Jerusalem] Exposing himself to the temptations of idleness. So Ovid writes:
“Quaeritur Aegisthus quare sit factus adulter?
In promptu causa est; desidiosus erat.”
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.2. arose from off his bed] In the cool of the afternoon, after his midday siesta. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 4:5.
walked upon the roof] The flat roofs of Oriental houses “afford a most delightful promenade.… During a large part of the year the roof is the most agreeable place about the establishment, especially in the morning and the evening.” Thomson’s The Land and the Book, p. 39. David’s palace on Mount Zion (ch. 2 Samuel 5:9) commanded a view of Uriah’s house, which was in the Lower City (2 Samuel 11:8, go down).
2–5. David’s adultery with Bath-sheba
It is one object of Holy Scripture to paint sin in its true colours. No friendly flattery, no false modesty, draws a veil over this dark scene in David’s life. It is recorded as a warning (1 Corinthians 10:11-12), that even holy men may yield to temptation and fall into gross sin; that one sin almost inevitably leads to others; that sin, even when repented of, brings punishment in its train.
With stern simplicity the inspired prophet-historian describes how “the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). The king who but a few years before had sung of “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4), and vowed to exclude from his palace all workers of deceit (Psalm 101:7) is dragged by his passion into meanness, ingratitude, dissimulation, treachery, murder. “These things were written for our admonition … Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
But if the history is a stern record of the enthralling power and the inevitable consequences of sin, it is no less a testimony to the liberating power of repentance. “Sicut lapsus David cautos facit eos qui non ceciderunt, sic desperatos esse non vult qui ceciderunt” (Augustine on Psalms 51): or in the words of Bishop Hall: “How can we presume of not sinning, or despair for sinning, when we find so great a saint thus fallen, thus risen.”
It is the necessary key to the history of the rest of David’s reign. It explains the sudden overclouding of his life; the change from triumph and prosperity to sorrow and failure. See further in the Introduction, ch. VI. § 10, p. 36, and § 16, p. 41.
This narrative is altogether omitted in the Book of Chronicles, for reasons which are explained in the Introduction, ch. III. p. 22.
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?3. Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam] In 1 Chronicles 3:5 she is called Bath-shua, the daughter of Ammiel. Eliam (= God of the people) and Ammiel (= people of God) are compounded of the same words placed in different order. If this Eliam was the same as Uriah’s brother-officer, mentioned in ch. 2 Samuel 23:34, Bath-sheba was the grand-daughter of David’s counsellor Ahithophel. This, it has been thought, explains Ahithophel’s adherence to Absalom (ch. 2 Samuel 15:12) as an act of revenge for the seduction of his grand-daughter and the murder of her husband. The theory has been well worked out with much ingenuity by Prof. Blunt (Undesigned Coincidences, p. 135 ff.), but must be regarded as very doubtful: for (1) the identity of Eliam the son of Ahithophel with Eliam the father of Bath-sheba cannot be proved; (2) even if the relationship is granted, an ambitious and unscrupulous man such as Ahithophel would be more likely to regard the elevation of his granddaughter to the position of the king’s favourite wife as an honour, than to feel aggrieved at the circumstances by which it was effected.
Uriah the Hittite] One of David’s “mighty men” (ch. 2 Samuel 23:39). His name (= light of Jah) indicates that although he was a Canaanite by race, he had adopted the Jewish religion. Another Hittite in David’s service was Ahimelech (1 Samuel 26:6). On the ancient Canaanite nation of the Hittites, see note on 1 Samuel 26:6.
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.4. David sent messengers] Bath-sheba cannot be acquitted from blame, for it does not appear that she offered any resistance. Vanity and ambition prevailed over the voice of conscience. “Cupido dominandi cunctis affectibus flagrantior est.” “The lust of power burns more fiercely than any other passion” (Tac. Ann. XV. 53).
And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.5. sent and told David] That he might devise some plan to shield her from the consequences of her sin; for by the Mosaic law she was liable to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). David accordingly sent for Uriah, in the hope that his return to his wife might cover the shame of his own crime.
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.6–13. Uriah summoned to Jerusalem
7. David demanded, &c.] David sent for Uriah ostensibly to bring him word about the progress of the war. Uriah, as one of the “mighty men,” no doubt held some command in the army.
demanded] Rather, asked. The use of demand, like Fr. demander, meaning simply ‘to ask,’ is an archaism.
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.8. wash thy feet] An indispensable refreshment after a journey in the East, where sandals only were worn. Cp. Genesis 18:4; Genesis 43:24; Luke 7:44.
a mess of meat from the king] A portion from the king’s table as a mark of honour for his faithful servant. Cp. Genesis 43:34.
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.9. Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house] Probably in the guard chamber in the outer court. Cp. 1 Kings 14:27-28.
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?10. Camest thou not from thy journey] Better, Art not thou come from a journey? David expresses surprise and displeasure that Uriah had not done as men usually do on their return from a journey, and gone to his own home. Uriah’s brave resolution not to enjoy the comforts of his home even for a single night, while his comrades were enduring the hardships of a campaign, bade fair to frustrate David’s scheme for concealing his sin. He may too have had some suspicion of his wife’s unfaithfulness.
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.11. The ark] These wars were “the wars of Jehovah” (see note on ch. 2 Samuel 10:12), and the Ark had been taken along with the army as the symbol of His presence and favour. Cp. Joshua 6:6; 1 Samuel 4:3; 1 Samuel 14:18 (but see note there); 2 Samuel 15:24.
Israel, and Judah] The description of the nation as “Israel and Judah” marks the tendency to isolation on the part of Judah, which had been confirmed by the separation in the early part of David’s reign, and prepared the way for the permanent division of the kingdoms. See note on 1 Samuel 11:8, and Introd. ch. I. § 5 (d), p. 13.
tents] Properly, booths, rough shelters or huts extemporised out of the boughs of trees.
as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth] This form of oath does not occur elsewhere. We usually have either “as the Lord liveth” (ch. 2 Samuel 4:9), or “as thy soul liveth” (ch. 2 Samuel 14:19), or the two combined (1 Samuel 20:3). Possibly “as thou livest” is a textual error for “as the Lord liveth.” The Sept. reads How? as thy soul liveth, &c.
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.13. and he made him drunk] In the hope that he might forget his oath and break his resolution not to go home. But this plan also failed. “The Providence of God is here manifest, defeating David’s base contrivances, and bringing his sin to the open light. It is no less clear how mercy was at the bottom of this severity which issued in David’s deep repentance, and has also given to the Church one of the most solemn and searching warnings as to the evil of sin which is contained in the whole Bible.” Speaker’s Comm.
And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.14–17. David’s letter to Joab. Uriah’s death
14. sent it by the hand of Uriah] So in the Greek story Proetus sent Bellerophon to Jobates with his own death-warrant. Cp. Hom. Il. VI. 168, 169.
“Slay him he would not, that his soul abhorred;
But to the father of his wife, the king
Of Lycia, sent him forth, with tokens charged
Of dire import, on folded tablets traced,
Poisoning the monarch’s mind to work his death.”
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.15. that he may be smitten, and die] So blinded was David by his passion, and so eager to screen himself and Bath-sheba from the disgrace of exposure, that he did not shrink from plotting the murder of one of his bravest soldiers. The King’s command was sufficient warrant to Joab, without inquiry into the reason for it.
And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.16. when Joab observed the city] Better, as Joab watched the city, i.e. besieged it.
a place where he knew that valiant men were] Uriah was posted opposite the most strongly guarded part of the city, where the fighting was likely to be fiercest in case of a sally.
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.17. went out] Made a sally, in which, as the messenger describes (2 Samuel 11:23-24), the men of Israel imprudently pursued the enemy till they were within shot of the archers on the wall, and suffered considerable loss.
Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war;
And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king,18–25. News of Uriah’s Death carried to David
19. the matters of the war] The same Heb. phrase as that translated in 2 Samuel 11:18 “the things concerning the war.”
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?20. if so be that the king’s wrath arise] Joab assumes that David would find fault with him for bad generalship, until he knew that his commission was executed by Uriah’s death.
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.21. Who smote Abimelech] See Jdg 9:50-54. This reference is interesting, as shewing a familiarity with the history of the time of the Judges; but whether it was preserved by written annals or by oral tradition, is uncertain. It is not likely that our Book of Judges was in existence in its present form.
Jerubbesheth] Jerubbaal or Gideon (Jdg 6:32). The form Jerubbesheth occurs here only. The Sept. reads Jerubbaal, and this was perhaps the original reading, altered for the reasons stated in the note to ch. 2 Samuel 2:8.
in Thebez] Only mentioned here and in Judges, but its site and name are both preserved by the village of Tubâs, about ten miles N. E. of Shechem.
So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for.22. The Sept. reads this verse as follows: “And Joab’s messenger went to the king to Jerusalem. And he came and told David all that Joab had told him, even all the things concerning the war. And David was wroth with Joab, and said unto the messenger, Wherefore did ye approach unto the city to fight? Knew ye not that ye would be struck from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman cast upon him a piece of a millstone from the wall, and he died in Thebez? Wherefore did ye approach unto the wall?” Such a repetition may have formed part of the original text. But it is somewhat strange that Joab should anticipate the illustration which the king would use: and it is possible that the reference to Abimelech originally occurred in David’s speech only, and was transferred by mistake to that of Joab also, and finally in the revision of the Hebrew text omitted in the second place, instead of in the first, as it should have been.
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.23. we were upon them] Or, against them: we repulsed the sally, and pursued them to the gate of the city.
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.25. the sword devoureth] Cp. the phrase “the mouth (E. V. edge) of the sword” (1 Samuel 15:8).
encourage thou him] This is certainly the right rendering. That of the LXX., and take it, which follows a slightly different text, is contrary to the usage of the verb.
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.26, 27. Bath-sheba becomes David’s wife
26. she mourned for her husband] Seven days was the usual period of mourning. See Genesis 50:10; 1 Samuel 31:13; Jdt 16:24; Sir 22:12. In exceptional cases thirty days were observed. See Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8. No special time seems to have been prescribed for widows. There is no indication that Bath-sheba’s mourning was more than a formal ceremony.
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.27. fet her] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 9:5.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord] The divine sentence on David’s conduct prepares the way for the mission of Nathan in the next chapter.