I remember being at a church event once and the speaker was talking on the story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11. The story begins by noting that it was spring, the time when kings go off to war. But David stayed home. This, the speaker said, was his first mistake. It began a chain reaction which led to adultery and murder. The lesson, we were told, was that if we want to avoid sin (sexual sin, specifically) we need to be where we are supposed to be, unlike David.
The problem is that the previous summer when Israel was fighting the Ammonites, David had also stayed home (see 1 Samuel 10). It made sense for the king to not always go on military campaign, since he was the head of the government. Later on David’s soldiers will beg him not to go (2 Samuel 21:17). David certainly makes mistakes in this story, but simply being home is not one of them.
That said, maybe we could still fault him. I mean, he was a great warrior! He had fought Goliath! But for whatever reason, he was home. He went out on his roof one evening to catch the cool breeze. His roof probably gave him a good view of the city, including a view of a woman bathing. She probably, on her own roof, thought she had privacy.
Here’s another part of the story I never got before. It always sounded like David simply saw this random woman, was attracted and invited her to him. But if we look more closely, it is pretty obvious he had to know who she was and that she was married. We are told she is the daughter of Eliam who, we learn in 2 Samuel 23:34, was one of David’s top soldiers. Uriah, her husband, is also in the list of David’s top soldiers (23:39). And her grandfather, Ahithopel, was one of David’s most trusted advisors (2 Samuel 16:23). These three men were part of his inner circle. This indicates to me that he had to know exactly who he was inviting to his bed.
To make a long story short, and we spent more time discussing it last night, David gets her pregnant. In an effort to pass the child off as Uriah’s, David calls Uriah back from the military campaign. After getting a report, David encourages Uriah to go home and enjoy the comforts of his wife. Uriah, showing deep integrity and identification with his men in the field, refuses. The contrast is clear – David does not mind staying out of harms way and enjoying women while Uriah chooses to pass up those pleasures in order to identify with his community.
David has to think of another solution and he does. He sends sealed orders with Uriah for the military commander. The orders say to put Uriah in harms way so he will die. The leader complies and after Bathsheba mourns for the appropriate time, David marries her. This may seem fishy to us. It was common in those days for a woman to marry her dead husband’s brother. If Uriah had no siblings, David as king could have volunteered to care for Bathsheba, fulfilling the role of a brother to Uriah. David would come out looking quite generous. That is, until the next chapter when Nathan the prophet uncovers the whole thing and David confesses!
So what lessons did we take from this?
1. Uriah provides a fantastic model of integrity for us – In a world filled with cheaters, Uriah illustrates what it is like to live by strong character and conviction.
2. Uriah was an outsider to God’s people who lived a holy life; this points us to Jesus who welcomes outsiders – Uriah was a Hittite, one of the people Israel was to exterminate (Deut. 7:1-5). Surprisingly then, Uriah is the hero of the story. When we come to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus we notice there are only four women listed – Ruth, Rahab, Tamar and Uriah’s wife. This is often used to emphasize that Jesus came to welcome women and men. While this is certainly true of Jesus, I do not think that is the point of Matthew’s genealogy. If it was so, why did Matthew say “Uriah’s wife” and not simply “Bathsheba”? Bathsheba was an Israelite while Uriah was not. The emphasis is that those outside of God’s people – Ruth, Rahab, Uriah and so many others – are now welcomed into God’s people. But “now” is not right, for Matthew is showing that such people have always been welcomed!
3. Reconciliation does not end in Confessing to God – You must go to the one you have hurt – David’s confession in Psalm 51 kind of bothers me. He says to God, “against you only have I sinned.” What about Uriah? Taken alone a passage like this could lead someone to think they just need confess to God and they are fine. In light of Jesus’ words in places like Matthew 5:23-24 and Luke 15:21 we are reminded that reconciliation is not just vertical with God, we must also pursue reconciliation with others. Of course, this was already a reality at places in the old testament – see Numbers 5:5-8 and Proverbs 28:13.