David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 – Looking Backwards and Forwards

A couple of interesting things about this pretty gripping chapter…

  1. You’ve probably picked it up, but there’s an immediate hint that “in the spring when kings go off to war,” David’s choice to stay back home provided some idle hands, or eyes, for the devil to play with. This is notwithstanding the fact that 2 Sam. 21:15-17 probably explains why David stayed back: they had nearly lost him in battle once he wasn’t as young as he used to be!
  2. Bathsheba is named once only as the story gets underway, 2 Sam. 11:3. Then she becomes simply “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” for the remainder of the story, until finally, the child born of the liaison dies. This penalty paid, in a sense, there is some kind of expiation or cleansing, and Bathsheba gets her name back in the very next verse after that episode, 2 Sam. 12:24.
  3. Uriah was, we find out later, one of Israel’s war heroes. In the list of the 30 mighty men in 2 Sam. 23:24-39, Uriah is revealed as the very last name of the thirty – not because he was below #29, I suspect, but as a last-minute sucker-punch. David didn’t just have a Joe Average soldier killed. He made sure a war hero was hung out to dry.
  4. It was the archers that got him from the wall, 2 Sam. 11:20. The death scene of Boromir in the first LOTR movie about captures the feel. Uriah leads the charge on the wall as instructed, then looks around to find that he’s left alone.
  5. Uriah’s a Hittite. I.e. not a native Israelite! But that’s true of many others in this story, including a bucketload of Israel’s fighting men around this time.
  6. When David has Uriah killed “with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Sam. 12:10), he learned that method from best. Saul, that is. Saul did his best to kill David with the sword of the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:17). A bit hypocritical of David to turn around and emulate Saul’s style, after having felt the sharp end of it.
  7. Important to the following story is the prophet Nathan’s pronouncement, “the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Sam. 12:10). This is our guide to interpreting all of the following troubles in David’s family, from Amnon’s decision to take the woman he jolly well feels like, in imitation of Dad (2 Sam. 13:1-19) and Absalom’s subsequent revenge killing of Amnon on down.
  8. I believe the critical turning point comes when Joab, always handy with a sharp instrument, kills the rebel Absalom in defence of David’s throne (2 Sam. 18:14). Now David learns the value of a life. Back when he was brought news of Uriah’s death, David had hypocritically trivialized it:

Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another (2 Sam. 11:25).

But when the sword devours his own son, his tune is different:

“The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33)

The poignancy here is almost painful. I hate to think how a reader who had lost a child might feel. But I think that this is when David has been purged of his trivializing attitude to a life. He cares not a fig for Uriah when he stands in his way, but now he learns that every warrior is someone’s son. I think that at this point David is on the painful path to redemption. He will soon return to Jerusalem, his enemies for the time being defeated. But he will return changed, humbled, educated. He will never again, we think, be so flippant about a life.

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