The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
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 Samuel 11
1. And it came to pass, after the year was expired [at the return of the year], 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 [devastated the land and cut off stragglers], and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.
2. ¶ 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.
3. And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam [the people of God], the wife of Uriah the Hittite? [one of David's thirty chief heroes].
4. And David sent messengers, and took her [without violence]; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.
5. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
6. ¶ And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite [thus David would cover up his crime]. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
7. And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
8. 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 mesa of meat [a present] from the king.
9. But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house [in the guard chamber at the entrance of the palace] with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
10. 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?
11. 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 [a noble answer].
12. And David said to Uriah, Tarry here today also, and to-morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
13. And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk [how base! how infernal!]: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.
14. ¶ And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter [not with black but with blood] to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
15. 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.
16. And it came to pass, when Joab observed [blockaded] the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.
17. 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.
18. ¶ Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war;
19. And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king,
20. 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?
21. 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.
22. ¶ So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. ¶ And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead she mourned for her husband [the usual period, seven days].
27. 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.
["Several months must have passed since the beginning of David's course of sin, and as yet his conscience had not brought him to a sense of what he had done, nor had the prophet Nathan been sent to him. It is to be remembered that during all this time David was not only the civil ruler of his people, but also the head of the theocracy, the great upholder of the worship and the service of God, and his psalms were used as the vehicle of the people's devotion. If it be asked why he should have been left so long without being brought to a conviction of his sin, one obvious reason is, that this sin might be openly fastened upon him beyond all possibility of denial by the birth of the child. But besides this, however hardened David may appear to have been in passing from one crime to another in the effort to conceal his guilt, yet it is scarcely possible that his conscience should not have been meantime at work and oppressing him with that sense of unconfessed and unforgiven sin which prepared him at last for the visit of Nathan."]
This chapter reveals the character of David in its most distressing aspects. In all history can there be a blacker record than this? From end to end it is a production worthy only of the very genius of perdition. It is almost impossible to conceive that this David is the David whom we have hitherto known. His course has indeed been marked by somewhat of prevarication and duplicity, and now and again we have trembled for his integrity, but we have always felt that he was a man who, coming very near to destruction, would yet escape total ruin. Yet here he is little less than a child of the devil. His very greatness becomes the measure of his sin. All his senses are set on fire of hell. The spirit of generosity is dead within him. The spirit of justice is exiled from his nature. Falsehood, treachery, baseness hardly equalled in history, cruelty odious and detestable beyond all conceivable pitilessness, these now take possession of the king of Israel, worse spirits than troubled Israel's first king when young David harped before him. Surely this is not the young shepherd once "ruddy, and of a fair countenance," so noble in aspect, so valiant in courage, so gifted in music, so forbearing in opposition, and so tender-hearted in his relations to Jonathan. How is the star of the morning dashed from heaven! How is the fine gold become dimmed! How are the mighty fallen! It is almost impossible to believe that this is human nature at all, so infernal is its lust, so desperate and infinite its passion. Let us not seek to excuse David. We injure the Bible, and the whole purpose of the inspired volume, if we speak so much as one word in defence of a series of actions which might have been conceived by Satan and executed within the darkness of perdition. Here is a chapter which may not be read aloud, but which is fearlessly set down m the very midst of the ancient record that it may work out some great moral issue. If we wonder why such a record should have been written, we find the answer in the character and spirit of the very Bible within which it is related. A chapter like this would have degraded any other book. But in the book of God it is right that even such chapters should be written, though they should be perused in the twilight and timidly whispered by the reader to his own listening soul. A Bible without such chapters would not have been a complete history of human nature, and such a history we certainly need if our deepest questions are to be answered, our most solemn fears to be relieved, and our brightest hopes to be realised.
The all-important sentence is the last: "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord." Without that sentence the chapter would have been intolerable. From this time forth David must bear the judgment of the Lord. Do not let it be supposed that even king David could perform such a series of wrongs and cruelties, and play as skilfully on his harp as ever, and sing as jubilantly before Heaven as he ever did. If any man would point to this history as a blot upon the Bible, let him never forget that during the whole remainder of David's life he walked under the shadow of the divine displeasure. David's harp acquired a new tone after this infamy. Psalms were written by David after this great transgression which could not have been written before its commission. Years were added to the life of the king; he was bent down under an invisible load; his face was wrinkled with grief, and his eyes were dimmed by contrite tears. How God can make a man suffer for iniquity! "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
We see now something of what human nature is when it is left to show itself. We are bound to go to history as the one revelation of human nature. It is in vain to invent and discuss theories of psychology; it is in vain to look upon one aspect of human nature, and to judge the whole by the part; it is in vain, too, to fix upon any given date in human history and to judge men by that standard of civilisation. The one inquiry is what men have done in their very worst moods. An answer to that inquiry will settle the whole question respecting human depravity. It is not to the point to talk of any case as extreme, the very fact that such an extreme is possible is itself a valuable consideration in this discussion. Judging ourselves by ourselves we become wise, and we comport ourselves by a regulated series of gentilities. We are bound to look at such a chapter as the first in the epistle to the Romans, if we would see what human nature is in its innermost and largest possibilities. Nor must we shrink from dwelling upon the hideous spectacle. To speak of revolted sensibilities, highly excited prejudices, and to declare that such instances are beyond the range of careful study, is simply to deprive ourselves of some of the most solid lessons of human history. We must know what sin is before we can have any adequate idea of the divine relation to it. Sin explains the cross, sin explains the atonement, sin explains Christ. If we take a superficial view of human guilt, we cannot take a profound view of the Christian gospel. What could save such a man as David in this hell of wickedness? Would some rose-water sentiment meet the occasion? Can adultery and murder be rubbed out by a mere act of forgetfulness? Is not blasphemy added to cruelty when any attempt is made to comfort a man who has done what David did? We must find the remedy of such apostasy in the very omnipotence of God. We can be but dumb, horror-stricken and utterly confounded, before our own nature as illustrated by David, and can only wait the disclosure of any possibility which may lie within the compass of God's almightiness.
The Bible is to be judged by what God would have done, not by what man would have done. Find a single sentence which approves of David's guilt. Happily there is no such sentence in the whole record. The spirit of the Bible, therefore, is not seen in what David did, but in the judgments which followed him and darkened his day with tremendous thunder-clouds. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." From this day forth David will be tormented by new and unexpected presentations of his guilt New appeals will address his conscience day by day. New spectres will make night hideous. The feast of the king will be troubled by a death's-head, which his eye alone can see, glaring at him through all the artificial lights of the high festival. Man is damned even upon earth. Eternal punishment is not a question of the future only, it is a question of the immediate present. No sooner has man committed the great transgression than he enters into the darkness of perdition. Let us learn something by these tragical histories. They were written for our instruction, and fools shall we be beyond all imaginable folly if we regard these records as ancient stories destitute of modern application.
What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God? This is the gospel thou hast sent unto us, thou loving One, thou who dost care for oxen and lambs, for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and to keep the life unspotted from the world. Thou art the God of the poor; thou art the King of the whole earth: thou carest for them that perish; thou lookest with piteous eyes upon the children of men. Thou dost spare us. Thou dost spare even forfeited lives. Thou dost not plead against us with thy great power, for who could stand before the seven thunders of God? Thou art gentle to us; thy voice is full of entreaty and sympathy and love; the tone is a tone of caressing, as if thou wouldst please us and comfort us, and bring us into thy kingdom by the gentle way of persuasion. We own this to be the case: how great, then, our ingratitude, how terrible our rebellion, that against such a God we have lifted up the hand of defiance and to such clement heavens we have sent messages of disobedience! When he was come near the city he wept over it, and said, How often would I have gathered thee: thou art always seeking to gather thy universe around thee; thou wouldst not have any stray one among all the stars—among all the least of the lives that breathe. Thou dost count thy household, thou dost number thy jewels; thine is not a reckless, an un-reckoning extravagance, but a minute economy, a critical examination into lives, purposes, courses, and destinies. Thou art the Judge of the whole earth. We have been unkind to one another; we have forgotten the second commandment, because we have not heeded the first; we have not been gentle, generous, noble, forbearing, hoping all things, enduring all things, never failing; but contrariwise has been our life: a series of failures; day after day pursuing nothing, and seizing it, and finding it to be nothing, to our hearts' vexation. We have been thoughtless, if not cruel; we have not studied one another with the anxiety of love; we have been reckless; we have been without measure in our nature and judgment; we have sinned in little things; we have wearied and chafed one another when we ought to have comforted and inspired one another. We are sinners through and through; we have sought to find the link of gold, the spot of health, the gleam of light; but, lo, there is none: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. There is none that doeth good, no, not one. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. God be merciful unto us, sinners; let Jesus Christ find us, restore us, cleanse us by his priesthood, and set us among the sons of God. Make our life pure, generous, noble, rich in charity, rich in prayer. Amen.