II Samuel 11 David, Bathsheba, Uriah, And The Capital Crime Of Adultery.
In this infamous passage our author makes two key points right at the outset. Firstly, springtime was the time that kings go out to war. So common is war in this fallen world, that king’s made plans for it every spring. History, including the 20th century, is strewn with the defeat of armies that attempted to fight in the dead of winter. Secondly, Israel wanted a king to fight their battles for them, but now when spring had arrived their king decided that he wanted more leisure (v. 1). As so often happens, when men don’t concern themselves with the tasks that the Lord sets before them, they slip into an ease that often is the occasion for temptations and sin. David, who had been one who sought to honour his covenantal commitments with his neighbours, is about to let lust for another man’s wife lead him to break that married couple’s covenantal bond. David the warrior became David the voyeur, with eyes roaming his neighbours premises from his royal perch. From here he sees the nude Bathsheba, and he wants her, and as king he determines to get her (vv. 2-3a).
David, not wanting to go himself, sends someone to inquire about her, and we are told that someone proceeds to make the point that this is the daughter of Eliam, a man they know, who is also the wife of Uriah (v. 3b). We should not miss the point here. This “someone” was making the point that this was a married woman that the king was inquiring about. David sent messengers to Bathsheba. Note well, that these are not servants or military guards, these are messengers. Messengers send messages, and the message they sent was clear, a message which Bathsheba accepted. Some are quick to treat this incident as if it were rape on David’s part, but it is clear that Bathsheba went willingly, for she “was cleansed from her impurity” (v. 4). Bathsheba’s period was over (Lev. 15:19-30).* Did she think that her husband would soon return? There was no basis for believing that. The men were off fighting, and for all she knew she would never see him again. In any case, when she got to David it would have been crystal clear why he wanted her, and the law made provision for her to refuse (Dt. 22:24).
If anyone had people close who could hear a scream it was a king with his entourage. It is clear that both David and Bathsheba were mindful of following the law, they just chose to follow the part which said that a man must not lie with a woman “in the days of her customary impurity” (Lev. 12:2). David did not want to be regarded as impure that day, but he and Bathsheba were prepared to commit a sin resulting in a far greater impurity, one that in the OT allowed for a punishment of death for being a capital crime (Lev. 20:10, 18; Dt. 22:22). Just in passing, it is important to note that what appears as a cut and dried issue in terms of punishment in Leviticus, nevertheless clearly had other portions of the law which took into account extenuating circumstances, and other possible punishments to impose. In the case of adultery, this even included a “certificate of divorce” (Dt. 24:1), to which Jesus made the point, had been abused to the point that men were divorcing their wives for far more trivial things than adultery (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:7; Mk. 10:4).
In the same way, the ten commandments do not include what is to be done to those who break them (Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18), including what happens when we break them in our own minds and spirits, if not in the actual deed (Mt. 5:27ff.). To argue that we are to follow the ten commandments but not the laws pertaining to the breaking of them, whether internally or also in actuality, is ludicrously inconsistent, and it is an arrogant presumption to assume that we know better than God how the breaking of his commands should be dealt with. It is in effect to be guilty of breaking the commands ourselves if we do not also follow up with all the legislation and warnings which the LORD himself has provided. In any case, it is clear that both David and Bathsheba knew the consequences, for Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant (v. 5), and David busied himself with some means of covering up their sin with some supposed plausible deniability (vv. 6ff.). Again, at no point do we read that Bathsheba sent word to Uriah that she tried to resist David, that she screamed, but no one heard.
David’s first thought is send someone to the front lines, under the pretext of seeking to learn of the state of the battle, to have Uriah sent home, assuming, especially since he would know that his wife would be clean from her “customary impurity”, that he would lie with her. In what can only be termed as a brutal twist of irony, it turns out that Uriah is such a man of honour, committed covenantally to his brothers in arms and to the LORD who was represented in the presence of the ark in battle, that he could not imagine enjoying the pleasure of sex with his wife, but instead deliberately refused to go home that he might not be tempted to do so (vv. 6-11)! Then, David decides that he will give it a couple of days, thinking that Uriah can’t keep it in his clothes any better than he could. Sadly, for David, Uriah had more self-control than he did (v. 12). Then, after David sears his conscience some more, he decides to get Uriah drunk, thinking that he won’t think so clearly and go home. Sadly for David, Uriah “went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house” (v. 13).
Uriah was not prepared to break his commitment and blame it on being drunk. This guy just has too much integrity, which must have frustrated David to know end. Things were now so dragged out that passing off the baby as Uriah’s was less likely, so now he resorts to sending Uriah to Joab with instructions to send him to the heat of the battle, and to abandon him (vv. 15-17). This was the man who refused to lie with his wife while his brothers fought. Joab and those who abandoned Uriah thus became as guilty as David (vv. 18-21). There can be no excuse that they were simply following orders. Covenant fidelity exceeds military commands. David was now sure that he had the cover he needed. Uriah died in battle, and Bathsheba was now a widow. They still had just enough time to make it look like their baby was conceived as soon as they were married (vv. 22-25). Bathsheba played her part as well (vv. 26-27a). “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (v. 27b). David and Bathsheba made themselves impure, David corrupted his servants and soldiers, sent Uriah to his death, and ultimately sinned against the LORD (Cf. Ps. 51).
*“If the reference is to menstruation (Lev. 15:19-30), the point would be to remove all doubt that David is responsible for Bathsheba’s pregnancy.” (NGSB. 441)