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2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba

Summary

If the story of David and Goliath had trumpeted David's great faith in the Lord and heroic bravery, this equally famous tale portrays Israel's greatest king as a sinful human being breaking the last five of the Ten Commandments.

Analysis

In contrast to Uriah's noble life, David may here break half of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20/Deuteronomy 5: coveting another's wife, stealing her, adultery, lying, and murder. One wonders if it also occurred on the Sabbath!

One also wonders if David has been justly demeaned as the predator. Without denying David's despicable behavior, the murderous cunning with which Bathsheba will manipulate the accession of her son Solomon to David's throne at the climactic end of this so-called "Succession Narrative" (2 Samuel 9-1 Kings 2; see especially 1 Kings 1-2) strongly suggests that David is severely outmatched by his beautiful (and ambitious?) paramour.

The story cannot be adequately interpreted apart from its setting in the period of the Ammonite wars (see 2 Samuel 10:1-12:31) and especially without the balance provided by the conclusion to this little soap opera provided by 2 Samuel 11:16-12:25 (see that text). This familiar slice of that total story consists in four parts:
  • The setting (11:1). Most important here is the notice that David had "time on his hands" since his troops were battling the Ammonites.
  • The tryst (vv. 2-5). The account--intriguingly ambiguous, in that we are not told whether Bathsheba was the predator or the prey--is told starkly. David's notice of the bathing Bathsheba (v. 2) and inquiries as to who (not whose!) she was (v. 3) quickly move to the "encounter" itself with the necessary note that she had just completed her menstrual cycle, that is, the child to be born cannot be Uriah's (v. 4), and conclude with the notice that she is pregnant (v. 5).
  • The cover up (vv. 6-13). At first David wants Uriah to go home and "wash his feet" (probably a reference to sexual relations) in order to fool the Hittite into thinking the child was his. But Uriah refuses to break faith with his comrades at the front. The phrase "not go down to your [his] home," indicating Uriah's resolute devotion, occurs four times in these verses (vv. 10 [twice], 11, 13). Even plying him with alcohol fails.
  • The murder (vv. 14-17). Horrifically, Uriah delivers his own death sentence to Joab at the front.
Of greatest significance is the unrestrained manner with which David's sin is portrayed, especially when compared to the squeaky clean Uriah (though a Hittite, his Hebrew name would mean "My light is the LORD"). Even if Bathsheba played a role, and it is by no means clear that she did so, the story is crystal clear in its depiction of David's sin.

2 Samuel 11:1-15

David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba

11In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ 4So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’

6 So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet.’ Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house’, David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’ 11Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths;* and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to 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 such a thing.’ 12Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

David Has Uriah Killed

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’

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v 2.2.7
10 February 2011

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