David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba, 1-26

11:1 In the spring of the year, at the time when kings normally conduct wars, David sent out Joab with his officers and the entire Israelite army. They defeated the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem. 11:2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. Now this woman was very attractive. 11:3 So David sent someone to inquire about the woman. The messenger said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

This incident is omitted from the parallel account in Chronicles. But its inclusion among the accounts of David’s military exploits is significant: ‘The biblical writer is more concerned about the character of the man God chose to head up the dynasty in Jerusalem, and the way God dealt with him, than with his splendid military achievements or wealth.’ (Baldwin)

According to Cameron B. R. Howard, ‘2 Samuel 11-12 is the result of a process of editing over time by multiple hands. As scholar Jacob Wright notes, the story is likely built on a battle report of Uriah’s death that originally lacked the current story’s sexual intrigue.’  The story then reflects a scepticism about the institution of kingship.  It seems to us, however, that to say that a biblical story has theological meaning does not mean that it lacks historicity.  Since Howard offers no evidence of the story’s lack of historicity, we reject the hypothesis.

In the spring – The usual time for military expeditions, on account of the favourable travelling conditions.

One of the strongest arguments in favour of the trustworthiness of Scripture is the way it deals with its heroes. The Bible pulls no punches in speaking of the defects and deficiencies of even its greatest characters – Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul.

‘The scripture is faithful in relating the faults even of those whom it most applauds, which is an instance of the sincerity of the penmen, and an evidence that it was not written to serve any party: and even such stories as these “were written for our learning,” that “he that thinks he stands may take heed lest he fall,” and that others harms may be our warnings.’ (MHC)

David was indeed a great man: not just a great leader but ‘a man after God’s own heart’, 1 Sam 13:14. He was a man of contradictions, there is irony in the fact that the king who will not seize the kingdom from Saul (2 Sam 2-5) is nevertheless willing to seize an another man’s wife. (Bathsheba).

David remained in Jerusalem – This is ‘the all-important circumstance.’ He was killing time. His presence was hardly necessary when victory was so certain. His army was powerful, and David’s position secure. ‘It is all too often the case that a sense of ease and security is the prelude to spiritual and moral failure.’ (NBC)

v2 ‘The Hebrews, like other Orientals, rose at daybreak, and always took a nap during the heat of the day. Afterwards they lounged in the cool of the evening on their flat-roofed terraces. It is probable that David had ascended to enjoy the open-air refreshment earlier than usual. ‘ (JFB)

The woman was very beautiful – and David’s glance became a gaze.

Uriah – A Hittite whose name may be Hurrian Ariya conformed to Heb. He was one of several non-Israelites among David’s mighty warriors. (2 Sam 23:39; 1 Chron 11:41)

11:4 David sent some messengers to get her. She came to him and he had sexual relations with her. (Now at that time she was in the process of purifying herself from her menstrual uncleanness.) Then she returned to her home. 11:5 The woman conceived and then sent word to David saying, “I’m pregnant.”

She had purified herself from her uncleanness – This means that she had recently menstruated, leaving no doubt that her pregnancy was due to David’s adultery with her.

‘The despotic kings of the East, when they take a fancy for a woman, send an officer to the house were she lives, who announces it to be the royal pleasure she should remove to the palace. An apartment is there assigned to her; and if she is made queen, the monarch orders the announcement to be made that he has made choice of her to be queen. Many instances in modern Oriental history show the ease and despatch with which such secondary marriages are contracted, and a new beauty added to the royal seraglio. But David had to make a promise, or rather an express stipulation, to Bath-sheba, before she complied with the royal will; (1 Kings 1:13,15,17,28) for in addition to her transcendent beauty, she appears to have been a woman of superior talents and address in obtaining the object of her ambition; in her securing that her son should succeed on the throne; in her promptitude to give notice of her pregnancy; in her activity in defeating Adonijahs natural expectation of succeeding to the crown; in her dignity as the king’s mother; in all this we see very strong indications of the ascendency she gained and maintained over David, who, perhaps, had ample leisure and opportunity to discover the punishment of this unhappy connection in more ways than one.’ (JFB)

‘Some immediate measures of concealing their sin were necessary, as well for the kings honor as for her safety, for death was the punishment of an adulteress.’ (Lev 20:10)

It has been noted that David becomes guilty of breaking the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th commandments.

Adultery or rape?
This story has aroused some discussion as to whether we should regard this as an instance of adultery or rape.  Clearly a lot depends on how we define ‘rape’, and how appropriate it is to import a modern definition into the biblical text.  The fact is that in Scripture the emphasis in rape is on a man’s physical overpowering of a woman, and not on any psychological manipulation that might take place.   Still, we might point to the great power differential between David and Bathsheba: was she left with no choice in the matter?

However, a number of considerations suggest that it should best be thought of as a case of adultery.  For example, the text simply says that David had sexual relations with Bathsheba.  Additionally, there is no indication that Bathsheba ‘cried out’, as a victim of rape was expected to do (Deut 22:23-27).

There is no reason why we should regard Bathsheba as a temptress who was as much seducer as seduced.  She was simply taking a purification bath at the end of her of her 7-day period of ritual impurity (see Lev 15:19).  ‘It was David’s inability to control his sexual passion stirred by the bathing woman’s beauty that made him send messengers to get Bathsheba. To blame Bathsheba for the sexual intercourse is tantamount to blaming her for David’s lack of self-control. Without doubt, Bathsheba was a victim of David’s sexual lust.’ (Abasili, cited by Denny Burke)

11:6 So David sent a message to Joab that said, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. 11:7 When Uriah came to him, David asked about how Joab and the army were doing and how the campaign was going. 11:8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your home and relax.” When Uriah left the palace, the king sent a gift to him. 11:9 But Uriah stayed at the door of the palace with all the servants of his lord. He did not go down to his house.

David now attempts to cover up his adultery by inducing Uriah to go home and have intercourse with Bathsheba.

Joab’s answers to David’s questions are not recorded, indicating that David was not interested in the answers.

This verse provides an interesting commentary on the richness of the word ‘shalom’, ‘peace’. Literally, David asked after ‘the peace of Joab’, ‘the peace of the soldiers’ and ‘the peace of the war’!

“Go down to your house and wash your feet” – The latter expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.  What David meant was well understood by Uriah, v11.

‘The suggestion is designed to sound like indulgent generosity, especially since to follow it would be to break the rules of purity (v. 11; Exod. 19:14–15; Deut. 23:9–14; cf. 1 Sam. 21:5; Ps. 132:1–5). But, of course, to both David and readers the suggestion really means much more than “sleep with your wife.” Rather, it means David’s opportunity to pass off paternity to Uriah, the deceived husband.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

‘The background to this part of the story is the fact that the soldiers had taken an oath at the start of the campaign to abstain from sexual relations. (cf. 1 Sam 21:4-5) It is possible that David’s suggestion to Uriah that he should wash his feet (8) refers to a ritual that would release him from this oath. In any case, Uriah considered himself to be on active duty and showed the highest standards of conduct.’ (NBC)

‘This sudden recall, the manner of the king, his frivolous questions, (2 Sam 11:7) and his urgency for Uriah to sleep in his own house, probably awakened suspicions of the cause of this procedure.’ (JFB)

The gift from the king was meant to indicate Uriah to think that he was specially favoured, and to encourage him to relax and enjoy his opportunity to be alone with his wife. It was probably a gift of food. David wanted Uriah and Bathsheba to enjoy their evening together.

Uriah’s very loyalty to David undermines the latter’s plot.

11:10 So they informed David, “Uriah has not gone down to his house.” So David said to Uriah, “Haven’t you just arrived from a journey? Why haven’t you gone down to your house?” 11:11 Uriah replied to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah reside in temporary shelters, and my lord Joab and my lord’s soldiers are camping in the open field. Should I go to my house to eat and drink and have marital relations with my wife? As surely as you are alive, I will not do this thing!” 11:12 So David said to Uriah, “Stay here another day. Tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem both that day and the following one. 11:13 Then David summoned him. He ate and drank with him, and got him drunk. But in the evening he went out to sleep on his bed with the servants of his lord; he did not go down to his own house.

“The ark” – It is remarkable that Uriah, a Hittite, should mention the symbol of the covenant before all else.

‘The narratives about David…abound in irony. For example, the faithful Uriah unknowingly honors a king who has been unfaithful to him; Uriah retains his ritual purity during warfare by refraining from sexual intercourse during time of war, only to be sent to his death in battle by a king who enjoyed sexual congress with Uriah’s wife instead of going to the battle.’ (EDBT)

Uriah will pay a high price for his loyalty.

11:14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 11:15 In the letter he wrote: “Station Uriah in the thick of the battle and then withdraw from him so he will be cut down and killed.”

‘Adulteries often occasion murders, and one wickedness is sought to be covered by another. The beginnings of sin are much to be dreaded; for who knows where they will end?’ (MHCC)

Until this point David hoped that his adultery could remain hidden, and that the unborn child would be accepted as Uriah’s.

David ‘made Uriah carry his own death warrant.’ (Baldwin)

‘The various arts and stratagems by which the king tried to cajole Uriah, till at last he resorted to the horrid crime of murder, the cold-blooded cruelty of despatching the letter by the hands of the gallant but much-wronged soldier himself, the enlistment of Joab to be a partaker of his sin, the heartless affectation of mourning, and the indecent haste of his marriage with Bathsheba, have left an indelible stain upon the character of David, and exhibit a painfully humiliating proof of the awful lengths to which the best of men may go when they forfeit the restraining grace of God.’ (JFB)

‘Many were the aggravations of this murder.

1. It was deliberate. He took time to consider of it; and though he had time to consider of it, for he wrote a letter about it, and though he had time to have countermanded the order afterwards before it could be put in execution, yet he persisted in it.

2. He sent the letter by Uriah himself, than which nothing could be more base and barbarous, to make him accessory to his own death. And what a paradox was it that he could bear such a malice against him in whom yet he could repose such a confidence as that he would carry letters which he must not know the purport of.

3. Advantage must be taken of Uriahs own courage and zeal for his king and country, which deserve the greatest praise and recompense, to betray him the more easily to his fate. If he had not been forward to expose himself, perhaps he was a man of such importance that Joab could not have exposed him; and that this noble fire should be designedly turned upon himself was a most detestable instance of ingratitude.

4. Many must be involved in the guilt. Joab, the general, to whom the blood of his soldiers, especially the worthies, ought to be precious, must do it; he, and all that retire from Uriah when they ought in conscience to support and second him, become guilty of his death.

5. Uriah cannot thus die alone: the party he commands is in danger of being cut off with him; and it proved so: some of the people, even the servants of David (so they are called, to aggravate Davids sin in being so prodigal of their lives), fell with him, 2 Sam 11:17. Nay, this wilful misconduct by which Uriah must be betrayed might be of fatal consequence to the whole army, and might oblige them to raise the siege.

6. It will be the triumph and joy of the Ammonites, the sworn enemies of God and Israel; it will gratify them exceedingly. David prayed for himself, that he might not fall into the hands of man, nor flee from his enemies; (2 Sam 24:13,14) yet he sells his servant Uriah to the Ammonites, and not for any iniquity in his hand.’ (MHC)

11:16 So as Joab kept watch on the city, he stationed Uriah at the place where he knew the best enemy soldiers were. 11:17 When the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, some of David’s soldiers fell in battle. Uriah the Hittite also died.

‘When he read David’s instructions, Joab adjusted the plan, with the result that several other soldiers died alongside Uriah (17). He clearly realized that David’s plan was too obvious; his own plan hid the fact that Uriah was intended to be a victim. Joab’s loyalty to David is revealed by this incident, and also his ruthlessness. But David was the real murderer.’ (NBC)

11:18 Then Joab sent a full battle report to David. 11:19 He instructed the messenger as follows: “When you finish giving the battle report to the king, 11:20 if the king becomes angry and asks you, ‘Why did you go so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you realize they would shoot from the wall? 11:21 Who struck down Abimelech the son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman throw an upper millstone down on him from the wall so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go so close to the wall?’ just say to him, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.’ ”

“Who killed Abimelech…?” – The reference is to Jud 9:50-57, where in the siege of Thebez Abimelech went too close to the wall, and a woman was able to kill him by dropping a millstone on top of him.

11:22 So the messenger departed. When he arrived, he informed David of all the news that Joab had sent with him. 11:23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and attacked us in the field. But we forced them to retreat all the way to the door of the city gate. 11:24 Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall and some of the king’s soldiers died. Your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.” 11:25 David said to the messenger, “Tell Joab, ‘Don’t let this thing upset you. There is no way to anticipate whom the sword will cut down. Press the battle against the city and conquer it.’ Encourage him with these words.”

“Don’t let this upset you” – By saying this, ‘David is at the same time speaking to himself and placating his own conscience.’

David does not register any of the anger expected by Joab. Instead, he takes the losses in his stride. ‘David poses as Joab’s mild and understanding superior. However in vv14f we have already been informed about the man behind the mask, and therefore v25 sounds all the more cynical and merciless.’ (Fokkelman)

11:26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for him. 11:27 When the time of mourning passed, David had her brought to his palace. She became his wife and she bore him a son. But what David had done upset the LORD.

Uriah’s wife – The writer refers to her by her status, rather than her name, thus detaching himself from the new liaison and paying respect to her dead husband.

The thing David had done displeased the Lord – David thought that he had covered his tracks; he hoped now to put the incident behind him. But the Lord’s displeasure cannot be so easily dismissed.

‘God forgives people who should not be forgivable; for the sake of mercy God violates the conditions of his own covenant and often Acts more leniently than the Torah would allow. David murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba; (2 Sam 11) both actions were punishable by death so that both David and Bathsheba should have been killed. Instead, God forgave David (and presumably Bathsheba), although he was punished for his deeds. (2 Sam 12) In Psalm 51, said to have been occasioned by Nathan’s rebuke, David asks God to forgive him (2 Sam 11:1-2) and expresses confidence that his sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart are acceptable to God.’ (2 Sam 11:16-17) (EDBT)

This sad episode teaches us all the need to pray continually, “Lead us not into temptation.” ‘Note, God sees and hates sin in his own people. Nay, the nearer any are to God in profession the more displeasing to him their sins are; for in them there is more ingratitude, treachery, and reproach, than in the sins of others. Let none therefore encourage themselves in sin by the example of David; for those that sin as he did will fall under the displeasure of God as he did. Let us therefore stand in awe and sin not, not sin after the similitude of his transgression.’ (MHC)

‘Can a real believer ever tread this path? Can such a person be indeed a child of God? Though grace be not lost in such an awful case, the assurance and consolation of it must be suspended. All Davids life, spirituality, and comfort in religion, we may be sure were lost. No man in such a case can have evidence to be satisfied that he is a believer.’ (MHCC)

See 1 Kings 15:5 For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.