See Their Worth

| 2 Samuel 11:1-27 | June 18, 2017

Week of June 25, 2017

The Point:  When we see others as Christ sees them, we will treat them accordingly.

David and Bathsheba: 2 Samuel 11:1-27.

[1] In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. [2] It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. [3] And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” [4] So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. [5] And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” [6] So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. [7] When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. [8] Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. [9] But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. [10] When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” [11] Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” [12] Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. [13] And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. [14] In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. [15] In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” [16] And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. [17] And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. [18] Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting. [19] And he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling all the news about the fighting to the king, [20] then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? [21] Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.'” [22] So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. [23] The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us and came out against us in the field, but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. [24] Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall. Some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” [25] David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.” [26] When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. [27] And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.    [ESV]

“Literary Features.  Before we consider the teaching of the chapter, I want to highlight some of its literary qualities. In some cases they help us interpret the text; in any case, we should appreciate literary artistry for its own sake. First, chapter 11 moves at a slower pace than the preceding narrative in chapter 10. In the latter the writer seemed in a hurry to give us the facts, to summarize the situation, and to supply only necessary detail. Here, in chapter 11, however, the tempo slows, perhaps for a reason. Whereas the progress of the Ammonite war is recorded in quick, sure strokes, almost too briefly, the events at the royal court are described in comfortable detail. In the one, it is only the course of the war that is important; in the other it is the exploration of human character. Secondly, chapter 11 reflects a great deal of restraint, a paradox when taken with the preceding point. The writer provides much circumstantial detail but severely restricts, for example, the actual words of Bathsheba and Uriah. David talks a good bit but Bathsheba’s lines are limited to I am pregnant [5], only two words in Hebrew. Uriah, for all his importance in the story, only speaks in verse 11 (admittedly a significant speech), a speech expressing the acme of devotion and showing the reader that this Hittite is the only genuine Israelite in the whole chapter. The writer’s most apparent restraint, however, lies elsewhere: in his utter silence regarding the feelings of his characters. He does not clarify whether Bathsheba was baiting David, nor whether she considered the fling with the king an honor. The emphasis is on David and his deed. Nor does the writer offer a psychology of Uriah. Did Uriah refuse to go down to his house because he suspected something was rotten in Jerusalem? Was this his way of wreaking vengeance on the king, of allowing him to stew in his own immoral juice? We do not and cannot know. The writer offers no help on this. He doesn’t even indicate how Joab felt about David’s ‘sack Uriah’ plan; he carried it out, perhaps improved on it. But whether he felt shock or smug satisfaction or something else we are not told. The writer seems to silence all feelings in order to isolate David’s actions. Third, the writer litters his story with irony. For example, careful observance of the ceremonial law (Bathsheba’s cleansing herself after her period [4]) is followed by blatant transgression of the moral law (David’s adultery with her). Also, Uriah is disobedient [9] to the king’s order [8], but the most moving faithfulness [11] explains such disobedience. Or here is David incessantly asking and talking about the welfare and well-being of his army and the status of the war [7] and yet doing all he wants and can to trash the well-being of a marriage and a servant’s life. Finally, Joab’s instructions to the messenger [19-21] assume that King David has always been vigorously opposed to all unnecessary bloodshed in war. Joab’s remarks reflect David’s policy never to risk heedlessly the lives of one’s men. Here, however, David finds a few lives needlessly snugged out to be a piece of welcome news. The writer then seems to do all he can to keep the spotlight and the responsibility squarely on David, David the lustful adulterer [2-5] and gracious entertainer [6-13], the murderous schemer [14-15] and understanding commander [25]. Perhaps the easiest way for a reader to grasp the overall flow of the chapter is to follow David and his relationships: David and Bathsheba [2-5]; David and Uriah [6-13]; David and Joab [14-25]; and David and Yahweh [26-27].

Theological Witness.  [1-5]  The writer places before us, first of all, a picture of the fallen servant. He intends us to see David of 11:1-5 in stark contrast to the David of 9:1-3 and 10:1-2. At the beginning of these two previous chapters we see David eager to show kindness to both Israelite and Ammonite. But the David of 11:1-5 has no kindness to show. Here it is not hesed but eros that drives him. Walter Brueggemann captures the tone of the text. “The action is quick, The verbs rush as the passion of David rushed. He sent; he took; he lay [4]. The royal deed of self-indulgence does not take very long. There is no adornment to the action. The woman then gets some verbs: she returned, she conceived. The action is so stark. There is nothing but action. There is no conversation. There is no hint of caring, of affection, of love – only lust. David does not call her by name, does not even speak to her. At the end of the encounter she is only the woman [5]. The verb that finally counts is conceived. But the telling verb is David … took her [4]” (First and Second Samuel, page 273). This is the king Yahweh chose [1 Sam. 16:1-13]; this is the man after God’s own heart [1 Sam. 13:14]. The warning in this text reaches far beyond King David and touches all professed servants of Christ. How suddenly and fatally any of us can fall! There is a snip from Robert Robinson’s hymn (‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’) that scares me, I think because I understand it: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Maybe Robert Robinson understood it too. He had been converted under George Whitefield’s preaching in 1752 and later became a Baptist pastor in Cambridge. Toward the end of his life he had again ‘given way to frivolous habits,’ as one account has it. One day during this period he was traveling by stagecoach. Another passenger, a lady and a total stranger, was going over some hymns and especially and persistently referred to ‘Come, Thou Fount’ as one that had brought her immense blessing. As she continued speaking Robinson became so agitated that he burst out, ‘Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago; and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then!’ (Great Hymns and Their Stories, W. J. Limmer Sheppart, pages 159-160). Don’t look at verses 1-5 and stammer something about you being a New Testament Christian. What difference does that make? What immunity does that give you? If you begin to say, ‘Oh, but I could never …,’ then you have already taken the first step in your fall. Don’t ever be surprised at what you are capable of. The only safe ground is to pray with Robert Robinson, “O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be; Let that grace now, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee.”

The Unvarnished Truth [6-25].  Before we come to the unvarnished truth I want us to get a feel for the whole narrative [2-25] from David’s perspective. The story divides into two nearly equal parts: David frustrated [2-13] and David successful [14-25]. In the first section David is always the active one, always the one in control, but repeatedly frustrated. In verses 2-5 David saw, inquired, sent, took, and copulated. The woman returns home. But the palace ‘secret’ hits a snag: I am pregnant [5]. In the next segment [6-11] David sends for [6], asks [7], orders [8a], and lavishes a gift [8b]. He is in the driver’s seat, in control. But he cannot control Uriah, who bunks among the royal servants [9]. David wonders why Uriah is so allergic to supper, shower, and sex [10b] and hears a reply that should have left his spirit in tatters [11]. Yet David has one more card in his hand. He gives Uriah final orders [12], invites him for dinner, and makes him drunk [13a]. David is still the mover, the one in control. He puts Uriah under the influence but not under his influence, for Uriah staggers out to bed down in the servants’ quarters again [13b]. The core of David’s whole scheme is to get Uriah home to spend a night with Bathsheba. Hence his order: Go down to your house [8]. But verses 6-13 emphasize the frustration of David’s plan by repeatedly noting that Uriah did not go down to his house [9,13], court gossip [10a], royal question [10b], or direct refusal [11]. David, however, is up to the challenge as verses 14-25 show. He will have to make Uriah carry his own death warrant under royal seal. David is in control: he writes the letter and sends it via Uriah [14-15]. Uriah must be liquidated and he is, for Joab and the Ammonites are most accommodating whenever it’s only a matter of a little blood. In verses 14-25 all that matters is that Uriah die, and that big fact is mentioned repeatedly [15,17,21,24]. Oh, there will be the funeral at the national cemetery; and there will be the press releases eulogizing Uriah’s exceptional military record and fanning anti-Ammonite sentiment. But Uriah is dead. And that is all that matters. So David has persevered; he has succeeded. All of verses 6-25 centers on two facts: Uriah did not go down to his house and Uriah the Hittite is dead. And David engineered it. He had arranged it all. It may be, as some think, that Joab improved on David’s plan. It would have looked too obvious had Joab hung Uriah out to dry by himself [15b], but if there were a dozen or so funerals [17-24], who would be the wiser? Yet for the narrator the responsibility rests squarely with David. The man after God’s own heart takes the sword after God’s own people. The covenant king himself is ruling with oppression and heartlessness. The unvarnished truth is that life for God’s people can be like that even in the supposed kingdom of God. That kingdom is not safe even in David’s hands. It is only safe when Jesus Christ rules and will rule with justice and righteousness. Yet until Jesus publicly enforces that just regime at His second coming, it will not be unusual for God’s people to suffer even within (what claims to be) the kingdom of God. Christians today find much of their kingdom life within their church, and it is beyond sadness when the leadership in such churches rules with harshness and severity, crushing rather than comforting Christ’s flock, suffocating rather than sustaining.

The Bottom Line [26-27].  Apparently it’s all over but the weeping. Bathsheba (but note how the writer deliberately calls her the wife of Uriah [26a]) receives the letter of notification and condolence from the army and engages in the usual mourning rites [26b]. We don’t know whether her grief was perfunctory or acute; the writer gives no hint about how she really felt. But mourning periods always end, at least official ones do, and after Bathsheba’s, David had her brought to the royal household as his wife, where she bears David a son. Hence nine months have passed, and that is that. Well, almost. There is the bottom line: But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord [27b]. Note the contrast with David’s message to Joab in verse 25: Do not let this matter trouble you. David may take a casual view to this whole matter, but God does not: this thing was evil in God’s sight. And that is the bottom line. The force of this ‘bottom line’ comes from the fact that it is literally the bottom line, the last line of the chapter. The writer relates his whole sordid tale of lust and sex and deceit and murder without pausing to make marginal moral notations along the way. He details every step of the story as if God was nowhere involved. David was in control. This silence about God, however, only serves to accentuate the lone statement in verse 27b. it is as if David can vent his glands and weave his cover-up without any interference – until he runs smack into the judgment of God. It was evil in Yahweh’s eyes. That’s what Yahweh thought of it. The way the narrative is written then, tells us that the silence of God does not indicate the absence of God. Because evil runs on in its successful course does not mean God is not watching it. And yet there is the mystery, and there is the problem some may feel with 2 Samuel 11. Like most injustice, the evil of 2 Samuel 11 goes on unimpeded as if God is not there. We are told at last that it was evil in Yahweh’s eyes. But if Yahweh hates injustice, why did He not prevent it here? If He hates oppression, why did He not stop it? To steal mourners’ words at Lazarus’ grave – could not this God have kept Uriah from dying? Our story does not resolve this mystery. It only insists on a clarity: Yahweh may be silent but He is not sightless. David may have Bathsheba’s flesh and Uriah’s blood, but he will have to face Yahweh’s eyes.”  [Davis, pp. 139-147].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Analyze the progression in David’s disobedience through this chapter. List the verbs used to describe David’s actions. Note how one sin leads to other sins when you do not confess and repent of that first sin. See the importance of confession and repentance without delay.
  1. Compare David and Uriah in this passage. Note how David’s sin blinds him to the faithfulness and devotion of Uriah the Hittite. Have you noticed how your sin blinds you to what God is telling you in His Word and through your friends?
  1. Meditate on verse 27, which Davis calls “the bottom line.” Note how the writer does not mention the Lord until the end of this story when he gives the devastating comment: what David did was evil in the sight of the Lord. What do you think the writer is telling us by God’s silence? Think about Davis’ statement: the silence of God does not indicate the absence of God. How do you react to those times when God is silent in your life?

References:

1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, B & H Publishers.

2 Samuel, Dale Davis, Christian Focus.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Inter Varsity.