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A Better Bible Study Method, Book Two

Chapter 2
The Case of David's Turn

 

A Turning Away from God

 

One of the most famous episodes in the Bible is the adulterous affair between David and the wife of Uriah the Hittite (and those details are found in 2 Samuel, starting in 11:1 and continuing through 12:15).

 

You can put your Bible study method to the test by doing what you would normally do when you consider a passage. Set this book aside and get your Bible. Read 2 Samuel 11:1-12:15 and any other relevant verses, then jot down your thoughts about this passage of scripture.

 

Then consider the biblical evidence this case study presents and see if the evidence-based method modeled herein would help you to get better results.

 

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The Case of David's Turn

 

David

 

The prominence of David is made clear in a number of Bible verses. For example, the opening of the book of Matthew says, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Mt 1:1). In this verse David is singled out with Abraham as an ancestor in the line of Jesus.

 

When the prophet Samuel gave the following rebuke to king Saul, his words included a striking compliment regarding the man who would replace Saul (i.e., David) "But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people" (1 Sa 13:14). In his address to the men of Israel in Acts 13, this compliment was cited by the apostle Paul when he linked David to Jesus:

 

"He [God] raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus" (Acts 13:22-23).

 

Those verses are where we are told about David being a man after God's own heart. In contrast 1 Kings 15:5 says, "David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." Those words might well bring to mind the time when David numbered the people and seventy thousand men died as a result (cf. 2 Sa 24:1-15, 1 Chr 21:1-14), or other episodes in his life. Still, unlike any other thing, "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" is singled out as the only time when David turned aside from something the Lord commanded him. This should arrest our attention. (It also teaches us that in the sight of the Lord "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" is different from all the other things David did that were less than ideal.)

 

David Takes Uriah's Wife

 

2 Samuel 11:1-5 is the only place where scripture records David's adulterous affair with the wife of Uriah the Hittite:

 

"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. And it came to pass in an evening, 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. And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? 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. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child."

 

Notice what occurred as David acted on his lustful thoughts. When "David sent and enquired after the woman" scripture notes this: "And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" A superficial look at those verses may lead some people to assume "enquired after the woman" means David asked about the identity of a beautiful stranger. This would, in turn, tend to lead one to see the statement about "the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite" as being nothing more than a report about the identity of the woman (in response to his inquiry).

 

Yet, it turns out there are details in scripture that indicate the words "Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite" may have been a rebuke to David, and not merely an answer to a question about the woman's identity. Even if those words were not a rebuke, the evidence will show scripture is not simply describing an adulterous union that followed a momentary lapse of judgment on the part of David. What he did was far, far worse.

 

David and Uriah

 

After "the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child" (2 Sa 11:5), the plot thickened as David schemed to avoid having to deal with the awkward result of his affair with Uriah's wife. This is what happened next:

 

"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. 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" (2 Sa 11:6-9).

 

Since Uriah was on the battlefield, people would know he was not the father of the child his wife was carrying. Clearly, David's scheme was to have the battle-weary Uriah spend the night with Bathsheba before she began to show. Then everyone, Uriah included, would mistakenly assume Uriah was the father of the child. But things did not work out the way David planned, because Uriah's affinity for his brethren who were on the battlefront moved him more than his own desires for comfort or pleasure:

 

"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" (2 Sa 11:10-11).

 

Uriah's character deterred him from seeking his own pleasure on that night, so David came up with another plan. David told Uriah to stay in Jerusalem one more night, in the hopes of weakening Uriah's resolve by getting him drunk:

 

"And David said to Uriah, Tarry here today also, and tomorrow 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 evening he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house" (2 Sa 11:12-13).

 

When his scheming proved to be no match for Uriah's integrity, David turned to desperate measures. As you will see, it may not have been fear of public embarrassment that led David to do what he did next. It could be David actually feared what this man of character might do upon learning what David had done to his wife (while he had been busy risking his life in battle on behalf of David and the nation).

 

David's Betrayal

 

David betrayed Uriah when he chose to commit adultery with his wife. Yet something convinced David that rather than risk having to face Uriah in the future, he had better get rid of him once and for all. So David arranged for Uriah to be killed in a way that would make it seem as if Uriah was a casualty of war (and leave everyone, except himself and Joab, thinking Uriah simply died an unfortunate death):

 

"And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 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. 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" (2 Sa 11:14-17).

 

Uriah's blood was not the only blood on David's hands, for scripture notes, "there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also" (2 Sa 11:17). When a messenger told David what had happened, he had a very nonchalant reaction to the loss of innocent life which he has caused: "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" (2 Sa 11:25).

 

Upon hearing about the soldiers who died as a result of his plan to get rid of Uriah, "the sword devoureth one as well as another" was David's response. Indeed, it is very sad, and very telling, that the one who was called the man after God's own heart could sink to such a low level.

 

David Does Uriah Dirty

 

The closing words of 2 Samuel 11 are as follows:

 

"And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. 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" (2 Sa 11:26-27).

 

David probably thought he had gotten away with his dastardly deeds. However, the Lord had other plans (as we will see when we consider the rebuke that was delivered to David by the prophet Nathan). Still, since David was in such a hurry to get rid of Uriah we ought to ask, Why? Should we assume fear of embarrassment over being caught in a garden-variety act of adultery was what moved David to arrange for the speedy demise of Uriah?

 

Given David's background, he must have known his directive to Joab would result in others being killed along with Uriah. The question is, would a fear of having his adultery exposed have been a sufficient motivation to drive David to kill Uriah and sacrifice the lives of others in the process? [Note: his plot also turned Joab into a co-conspirator in the deaths of all those men.] While David, certainly, did not want his adultery with Bathsheba to become public knowledge, it turns out his affair with Uriah's wife went far beyond the sin of adultery. He had something else to hide!

 

While scripture did say, "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" (Ex 20:17), there are different ways to violate the law. Adultery is wrong. However, the problem is compounded when a man commits adultery with the wife of his cousin or his brother or his friend or a national hero, etc. Things like that lead people to view the offense differently, and David knew he had stepped over the line.

 

Uriah the What?

 

In 2 Samuel 11 and 12, Uriah is named 22 times. There we read of David's adulterous affair, David ordering the death of Uriah, and the Lord sending Nathan to rebuke David. Apart from those passages there are only three other Old Testament references to Uriah.

 

We looked at one of them earlier, 1 Kings 15:5 where David's actions in this matter are referred to in terms of David turning aside from the commandment of the Lord "in the matter of Uriah the Hittite."

 

The other two verses where "Uriah the Hittite" was named turn out to be critical to a fuller understanding of the depth David had sunk to in this affair. Those verses are 2 Samuel 23:39 and 1 Chronicles 11:41. Taken out of context those verses tell us little, since they merely have his name documented and included in a list of other names. On the other hand, his name takes on great significance when those verses are read in context, because they are found in passages which tell us about David's "mighty men" (cf. 2 Sa 23:8-39, 1 Chr 11:11-47). Both passages have some men being described as "more honorable," but merely to be included in the list would have set those men apart from all of the other men in Israel.

 

Out of the thousands who served in the armies of Israel and out of all the men who lived in Israel in those days, very few ended up having their names noted in scripture with such a praiseworthy designation. Of all the names in the list of David's "mighty men," one of them truly jumps off the page "Uriah the Hittite" (2 Sa 23:39, 1 Chr 11:41).

 

Uriah the "mighty" is not an idea that is often taught. Nevertheless, it is biblical. The reputation of Uriah is further confirmed when the term "the valiant men of the armies" (1 Chr 11:26) is applied to a group of men that explicitly includes "Uriah the Hittite" (1 Chr 11:41).

 

Half the Facts Versus Have the Facts

 

If we fail to consider the whole counsel of God and base our thinking on David's affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah only on what we see in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, then our judgment of this episode will be based on incomplete data. This is because Uriah was not merely a soldier in the army; he was more like a war hero. Just as recipients of the Medal of Honor are highly esteemed by members of the U.S. military, the "mighty men" and "the valiant men of the armies" were probably held in high esteem by their fellow soldiers in Israel.

 

If we let scripture be a light to our path, then David's actions take on a wholly different quality. In our day, it would be akin to the difference between the Commander in Chief having an affair with the wife of a private in the army versus him sleeping with the wife of a war hero. David did not betray just anybody; he betrayed a man of renown.

 

Knowing who Uriah was starts to explain a lot of things. The palace was surely in the good part of town and Uriah lived within eyeshot of the king's palace with a relatively unobstructed view (cf. 2 Sa 11:2). One might expect to find a hero being rewarded for his efforts and this could be why Uriah ended up living so close to the king's palace.

 

The history of Uriah also reveals something else which casts a very dark cloud on the actions of David. David knew Uriah! Only a handful of men made the list of mighty men. So, David did not merely know of Uriah in the way one could be said to know a passing acquaintance. In addition, Uriah and Bathsheba lived in David's neighborhood. Since Uriah was one of the "mighty men," David may have feared for his life after he got Bathsheba pregnant. Also, if the army learned one of the "mighty men" had been stabbed-in-the-back by David, it would create a far more problematic situation than would have been posed by the pregnancy of a stranger's wife. David had one heck of a motive to get rid of this threat to his reputation, his reign, and/or his life.

 

Uriah: A Man of Character

 

Uriah was one of "the valiant men of the armies" (cf. 1 Chr 11:26 & 41), so this may explain his affinity for his fellow troops and his willingness to deny himself pleasures that were denied to them because they were in an ongoing battle. [Another possibility is his act of self-denial could have been out of respect for the words "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lv 19:18).] As David found out, even getting Uriah drunk was not enough to compromise Uriah's loyalty to his fellow warriors.

 

Uriah's place among the "mighty men" casts David's affair with Bathsheba in a different light, and there is a question that is raised by the details found in scripture. If David knew Uriah before he slept with Uriah's wife, then was he also aware of her prior to the night of their adulterous get together? Is there reason to think he had been lusting after Uriah's wife before he decided to take her on the fateful night?

 

"And it came to pass in an evening, 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 Sa 11:2). Reading those words in isolation could give one the impression of David accidentally spying Uriah's wife and being so smitten with her beauty that it drove him to behave badly in a spur of the moment decision. But is this conclusion justified by the evidence? Not if one considers all the facts.

 

Why Did David Stay Behind?

 

David was a man of war. Yet, in telling us about David's affair with Uriah's wife scripture says, "at the time when kings go forth to battle," he did not do so. Instead, "David tarried still at Jerusalem" (2 Sa 11:1).

 

The subsequent verses go on to tell us how he became involved with Uriah's wife, and how her pregnancy ultimately led him to kill one of his own "mighty men." The question remains, why did he stay behind? It was "the time when kings go forth to battle," but David "tarried still at Jerusalem." Why did he choose to act un-kingly and send his men off to war while he stayed home?

 

What if David knew Uriah's wife? Then he also knew staying behind while Uriah and his fellow soldiers were away would provide a window of opportunity in which Bathsheba would be separated from Uriah for an extended period of time. This verse records the time when David decided he would make his move: "David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" (2 Sa 11:3).

 

Was David asking about a female whom he innocently laid eyes on as she happened to be "washing herself?" Notice the response to his inquiry: "And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" While this may seem to be a mere report of information, those words may actually have been a warning and/or a rebuke to David, given the people who are mentioned. Ask yourself, why was her marriage cited last? Was this detail less important than who her father was?

 

Who was Bathsheba?

 

Why was Eliam (Bathsheba's father) mentioned first? Was it because he was a man of renown, who would also have been known to David? Like Uriah, Eliam was one of David's "mighty men." 2 Samuel 23:8 begins this way, "These be the names of the mighty men whom David had," and in the middle of the list it says, "Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite" (2 Sa 23:34).

 

So, David messed with the wife of one of his "mighty men" and defiled the daughter of another of his "mighty men" in the same act. But wait, there is even more. Eliam was "the son of Ahithophel." Ahithophel is mentioned 20 times in the KJV. Note two things about him:

 

(A)  he was "Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor" (2 Sa 15:12), and

(B)  "the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with