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How King David's actions in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 affected his life and that of the Kingdom!
We remember how king Saul pulled back from pursuing the enemies of Israel at times, and it was sometimes David who stood in Saul's shoes, leading the nation in battle. This really started from the moment when David fought Goliath, a battle that should have been fought by Saul, Israel's 'giant' (ref.1 Samuel 9:2). Up until now, David has been leading his men in battle, but in chapter 11, David suddenly steps back, sending others to fight for him. In 2 Samuel 12:26-31, the inspired writer makes it clear that David may not have been planning to be present for the formal surrender of Rabbah. Joab sends David a message, urging him to come and at least give the appearance of leading his army. If David does not come, Joab warns, David will not receive the glory, and it may go to Joab. Joab knows that David knows this is not the way it was meant to be and so his good actions cause David to make a formal appearance to be the "official" leader at the time of the surrender of the city of Rabbah. Commentators have pointed out that there is another way in which David is wrong in excluding himself from these battles, but a way he could hardly have fully realized at the time for he is a prototype of the Messiah who was yet to come as God's King.3 When the Messiah comes it is He who brings about the deliverance of His people, subdues His enemies and establishes His throne. How can David represent the Messiah if he reigns by staying at home and refusing to enter the battle with the enemies of God and the enemies of God's people? If the Messiah will come (the second time) as a mighty warrior and David portrays Him, then he must be a mighty warrior.
When we consider the sinful actions that this period of inactivity resulted in David committing, we must consider that his days on the battlefield had made him cold and hard-hearted. His many victories had caused him to become a blood-thirsty man and had hardened him against the basic sensitivities of life and, as a result he was able to plot the death of Uriah following his adultery with Bathsheba.
We may ask why David decides to stay home in Jerusalem and avoid battles. There are probably several reasons and they all involve the sinful basics that plague all men: pride, morals and ignorance. The first seems to be reflected in David's arrogance. God has been with him in all of his military encounters and given him victory over all his foes. God has given David a great name and he may now have begun to believe his own press and to feel he is so invincible that he can lead Israel into victory even when he is not with his men in battle. This seems consistent with David's other great sin, which also follows his decision to stay at home. When David instructs Joab to number the Israelite warriors, Joab protests. This is something David should not do. Perhaps this is because David would find too much confidence in the number of his men, rather than in God. It certainly is a far cry from Gideon's army, which God pared down to a meagre 300 men (Judges 7).
David had also moved up in the world, from living in the barren wilderness, which Saul and his men avoided if possible, to the hills of Jerusalem. His accommodation had also improved dramatically for he no longer lived in a tent but had graduated to a palace. Why would David want to stay in a tent, or even in the open, on a battle-field, outside of Rabbah, if he could stay in his own bed, in his own palace, inside Jerusalem? Later we see the interaction between David and Uriah (2 Samuel 11:6-11) which seems to indicate that David was puzzled as to why Uriah should choose not to enjoy the good life in Jerusalem when he had the opportunity to do so. Uriah, on the other hand, was a faithful soldier who chose to live as he would on the battlefield.
Joab was not the commander of the army of Israel by David's choice for David had distanced himself from Joab and Abishai because of the death of Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-30). Joab had become the commander of Israel's armed forces because he was the first to accept David's challenge to attack Jebus (1 Chronicles 11:4-6) and now David was willing to stay at home and leave the whole of Israel's armed forces under Joab's command. Perhaps David was motivated to trust Joab because of his disdain for the hardship of the campaign to take Rabbah. We also notice that David's ploy to get Uriah drunk so that he would sleep with his wife failed (2 Samuel 11:13) because, as a good soldier, Uriah went to bed when it was evening whereas David did not get up until evening (11:2)! This is probably a habit developed over some time and indicative that David had grown used to indulging himself.
Up to a point David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba was one of passion, impulse, and emotion and could be forgiven by God. David may have been walking about, almost absent-mindedly, when his eyes fixed on this woman bathing. We only know that she is within sight of the king's view from his rooftop which probably towered above other buildings (11:2-5) and he noted her beauty. We cannot be certain how much David sees, and thus we do not know for certain whether he has yet sinned. If David saw more of this woman than he should, which is still in question, then he surely should have diverted his eyes. It was not necessarily evil for him to discretely inquire about her. If she were unmarried and eligible, he could have taken her for his wife. His inquiry would make this clear. Word came back to David about this woman's identity:
3b And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" (2 Samuel 11:3b4)
The report David was given concerning Bathsheba gave him all the information he needed, and more, if he was intent upon doing what is right. He knew Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite who is named as one of David's mighty men in 2 Samuel 23:39. Some commentators have even gone as far as to suggest that David chose to ignore Uriah's military record and to fix his attention upon his racial origins.5 It is pointed out that David refers to Uriah as "Uriah the Hittite," while the author of Samuel refers to him only as "Uriah" and the expression, "Uriah the Hittite" is therefore taken to be a term of derision based solely upon the fact that he is of Hittite stock. This would be somewhat hypocritical of course, for David has Moabite blood in his veins, but it might explain his cold-hearted response when Uriah's death is reported to him (11:25). Does David consider this man as one whom the Israelites were commanded to utterly destroy (Deuteronomy 20:17). The Hittites opposed Israel's entrance into the promised land (see Numbers 13:29; Joshua 9:1: 11;1-5), and the Israelites had some victories over them (Joshua 24;11). Nevertheless, they did not totally remove them and came to live among them (Judges 3:5). When David was fleeing from Saul, he learned that the king was camped nearby. He asked two of his men who would go with him to Saul's camp. One of the two, Abishai, volunteered to go with David, the other man did not. This man was Ahimelech, the Hittite (1 Samuel 26:6). It is obvious that Uriah had forsaken his own people and their gods to live in Israel, marry an Israelite woman, and fight in David's army. He is no pagan, to be put to death, but a proselyte. In spite of all this evidence perhaps David looks down upon him for he has grown accustomed to having the finest of everything. His palace is the finest around and his furnishings, food, and all-round lifestyle, are all the finest. Now he looks from his penthouse and sees a woman fit for a king and somehow his reasoning departs from him, as it did at least once before when he pretended to be a madman to save his life (1 Samuel 21:12-13). But this act of madness will have far more serious consequences for David.
It is clear from the words of our text that David sinned, but some try and excuse him by inferring that Bathsheba should not have been exposing herself as she did, and that it was her indiscretion which started this whole sequence of events. But we should notice that, when Nathan pronounces divine judgment upon David for his sin, Bathsheba and Uriah are depicted as the victims, not the villains (2 Samuel 12). When Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically indicted Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and each received their just curse. This is simply not the case with Bathsheba. Nowhere in the Bible is she indicted for this sin and the Law would clearly require us to consider her innocent until proven guilty. It is very clear in Samuel that the tragedies which take place in David's household are the consequence of his sin, just as Nathan indicates (12:10-12). Thus, when Amnon rapes Tamar, the daughter of Absalom, it is a case of this sin being reflected on other generations. It is at David's instruction or command that Tamar is called to the palace (2 Samuel 13:7), and then to Amnon's bedside. There is not so much as a hint that when Tamar is raped, it is not all of Amnon's sinful planning. Should this not strongly indicate that the same is true in Bathsheba's case, of which this second incident is a kind of mirror image?
However, in plotting and systematically carrying out the murder of Uriah, David committed a sin of a most heinous nature showing himself, despite the blessings that God has heaped upon him, to still be a mere man with "feet of clay." His sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah sets a whole new course of events into motion. There are more dark days for David, darker than he has seen before. The severity of God's judgment upon him, appears to do with his deliberate actions of hiding his sin as much as with his original misdeed, for Nathan, when he later confronted him, said:
"thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon" (2 Samuel 12:9). It is as his son Solomon later wrote: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper. but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).
Christians need to learn from David's error of omission regarding his sin and accept God's judgement as readily as he did, rather than learn experientially from the sins he committed. The apostle John put it this way:
7 But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:7-94).
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-24).
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:4-94).
David set out on a course of action that backfired. He first intended to put Uriah in a position that would make it appear that he was the father of Bathsheba's child. But Uriah's conduct publicly exhibited his loyalty to his duties as a soldier, making it more than evident that he could not possibly be the father of this child. It was worse for David now than it had been when he summoned Uriah to Jerusalem. David wrongly concluded that his only course of action now was to have Uriah killed in action. It is doubtful that David could ever deceive the people of Jerusalem as to the parentage of Bathsheba's baby, for surely someone would learn that Uriah had never been with his wife to get her pregnant? Uriah had demonstrated where his affection and loyalties lay by refusing to sleep with his wife even after David had deliberately got him drunk. Now David attempted to legitimize his sin by making Uriah a casualty of war, and making Bathsheba a widow so that he could now marry her and raise the child as his own, which of course it was (2 Samuel 11:8-13).
David must have agonized that night, seeing that even when intoxicated Uriah was a better man than him. How far David had fallen, but now he went further and in the morning he wrote a letter to Joab, which served as Uriah's death warrant. In this letter David clearly ordered Joab to murder Uriah for him. He even told him how to do so in a way that might conceal the truth of the matter. In so doing, David will honour Uriah as a war hero, and magnanimously take on the duty of being a husband to Uriah's wife, also taking care of the child she is soon to bear. Joab was to send Uriah to the front lines of battle, to the fiercest place of battle, which was not a surprising place for a man of his military skills and courage to be found (11:14-17). But the vile and cowardly plan was for Joab to attack and then retreat in such a way as to make Uriah an easy target for the Ammonites, thus assuring his death. There was no mistaking David's plan to have Uriah killed in a way which made it look like a simple casualty of war. Not only did the systematically planned murder of Uriah bring David under the judgment of God but, by using Joab as the man who was privy to the entire sequence of events, he put himself in a position where Joab would always be able to control him because he knew about the 'skeletons in the cupboard.' Joab complied completely with David's orders and Uriah was eliminated, no longer an obstacle to David's plans. In giving this order to Joab, David made him a part of this conspiracy, causing him to share the guilt for the spilled blood of Uriah, thus David's sin continued to encompass more and more people, leading to greater and greater sin.
How strange to see David, the mighty man of valour, (1 Samuel 16:18) dealing with Uriah, another mighty man of valour, like an enemy. Here is Uriah, a man willing to give his life for his king, and David, a man who is now willing to take Uriah's life to cover his sin. How low we can sink when we turn from the Lord's ways and resort to deception and intrigues. How strange it is to see David making Joab his partner in crime, especially after what Joab has done to Abner:
26 When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know it. 27 So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother. 28 Afterward when David heard it, he said, "I and my kingdom are innocent before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. 29 "May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father's house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread." 30 So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon (2 Samuel 3:26-304).
David had condemned Joab and put him under a curse because he shed the innocent blood of Abner. Now, this same David used Joab to kill Uriah and get him out of his way. David's enemy Joab had become his friend, or at least his ally. David's enemies, the Ammonites, also became his allies by killing Uriah when he is isolated at the battle front. The outcome is that David's faithful servant Uriah has been put to death as though he were the enemy. Not only was Uriah put to death, but a number of other faithful Israelite warriors die with him, for one fact often overlooked in the description of Uriah's murder is that, while the fighting was in progress where Uriah had been stationed, verse 17 reports, "and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also". Other valiant men were sacrificed as a cover-up for the reason behind Uriah's death. So, other soldiers as well as Uriah died because of David's lust and sin. They have to be sacrificed to conceal the murder of Uriah. Uriah's death has to be viewed as one of a group of men, rather than merely one man. Without a doubt, this is the moral and spiritual low-water mark of David's life.
2 Samuel 11:18-25 is devoted to the way in which Uriah's death is reported, beginning with Joab's careful instructions to the messenger, who is to bring the news of Uriah's death to David. They conclude with the messenger's actual report and David's response to it. He message seems to be 'mission accomplished.' Uriah is dead for Joab has carried out David's instructions to the letter. Now Joab must send word to David, in a way that does not completely disclose this conspiracy. Joab calls for a messenger to go to David and gives very exacting instructions to him. He is first to give a full and complete report of the events of the war, including the ill-fated attack on the city, and the slaughter of Uriah and those with him. But he is to give the report in a certain manner, as is evident by Joab's own concerns, for the entire mission is a fiasco. The Israelites had besieged the city of Rabbah and surrounded it, giving the people no way in or out of the city. All the Israelites had to do is wait them out and starve them out. There was no need for any attack and the mission was patently a suicide attack from the outset. It would not take a genius to see it for what it was - a deception. Joab had to assemble a group of mighty men, including Uriah, to wage an attack on the city. This attack was not at the enemy's weakest point, as we would expect, but at the strongest point and it provoked a counter-attack by the Ammonites against Uriah and those with him. When the Israelite army drew back from their own men, leaving them defenceless, the obvious result was a slaughter. How could they report this debacle in a way that did not make commander Joab look like a fool, at best, or a murderer, at the worst?
This was therefore the reason for Joab's careful instructions to the messenger who was to report the attack on the city of Rabbah to David, and then tell of the Israelite losses which resulted. Joab knew that David might react as the skilled strategist that he had been for years, although hypocritically, to the report of the attack and the resulting losses. Joab is therefore careful to instruct the messenger that he is to inform David of the death of Uriah - for this would certainly end any protest or criticism on David's part.
In verses 22-25 the messenger does not seem to do as he is told, for he tells David how the Ammonites prevailed against them as they left the city and pursued the Israelites into the open field. When he describes how Uriah and those with him who were fighting within range of the archers were killed, it is almost as if the messenger knew the truth of this mission? It is almost as if, rather than wait for David to hypocritically rant and rave about the stupidity of such a move, he just goes on and tells him first, so that he will not receive any reaction from David. The servant is absolutely right about the reaction, for in verse 25 David responds:
Then David said to the messenger, "Thus you shall say to Joab, 'Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it'; and so encourage him" (2 Samuel 11:254).
These words of David seem superficially gracious and understanding, even sympathetic. In effect, David is saying, "Well, don't worry about it. After all, you win a few, and you lose a few. That's the way it goes." Uriah, a great warrior and a man of godly character, has just died, and David does not express one word of grief, one expression of sorrow, or one word of tribute. What a contrast with his responses to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:11-27), and even of Abner (2 Samuel 3:28-39). This is not the David of a few chapters earlier, but that of a hardened man, calloused by his own sin. David may have rationalized things in his mind, forgetting that God does not accept human rationalizations. His sin had brought disgrace on God and had made both himself and God's nation a laughing-stock for the heathen. His personal testimony was ruined but all he could do was wait for Bathsheba to finish her period of mourning for her husband and then send for her and make her his wife. Everything seemed under control with no loose ends and no one was aware of the full situation except Joab. But 11:272 closes the narrative by saying, "The thing that David had done displeased the Lord."
David was still a young man, of middle age, in good mental and physical condition and probably still of strong stamina and firmly in control of the kingdom. But the prophet Nathan was sent to him (2 Samuel 12:1) to make it very clear that God was judging David for the murder of Uriah and for taking the dead man's wife as his own. This was the only nation on earth where the prophet was allowed to confront a king and to rebuke him regarding his actions without losing his head. After this it will not always be so, even in Israel, but David was theocentric. Although he had allowed sin to come into his life, he still loved God and wanted to serve Him. When Nathan the prophet came to him, the king respected his words from God and was sensitive to them. This is the touchstone of David's life. He was not perfect, but neither was he stiff-necked. He did not rebel at the words of God. His heart was sensitive and when Nathan spoke to him, he listened and obeyed. Nathan presented David with the parable contained in verses 1-4. David passed judgment on the man described in the parable, and in doing so passed judgment on himself. In verse 7, Nathan pointed to him and said, "Thou art the man. " Then he delivered God's words of judgment and future tragedies on David's family.
As tragic as this judgment was, it is possible that verse 8 is even more tragic for it speaks of "lost potential." We imagine what David could have experienced in the perfect will of God. God reminded him of everything He had done for him, and in verse 82, He says, "And if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things." But David was not faithful in all things. He sinned, and as a result of his sin, he was judged. However, he repented and was fully restored to the will of God. But verse 8 indicates that he never experienced the things that could have been his had he remained faithful. Who can ever know what God has in store for the individual who lives and walks in the perfect will of God? How many of us, through impatience or impetuousness, have involved ourselves in those things which have caused us to be relegated to the secondary, permissive will of God and as a result, for the rest of our lives we will never ever experience what we could have experienced had we been faithful from the beginning. This is the tragedy of lost potential.
(Continued on page 572)