II Samuel 11: 16-27
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. 18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’” 22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.” 25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.” 26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
1. Reflections on David’s Sin
When David’s efforts to make it appear that Uriah, not he, was the father of the child failed, and knowing that in a matter of time it would be clear that Bathsheba had committed adultery with somebody, and to avoid Uriah’s revenge and Bathsheba’s and his own embarrassment, David designed to have Uriah killed. Apparently in David’s mind committing murder at the hand of an Ammonite during a war with the Ammonites seemed like less of a sin than to murder him outright. Of course David knew that Uriah would eventually know of Bathsheba’s unfaithfulness and whether that would be traced to David or not was not known. It was known by the palace staff, however, and that secret might get exposed. David did not want to take the chance. Furthermore, if Uriah was no longer alive David could have Bathsheba for himself the rest of their lives. Adulteries sometimes lead to murders, since one wickedness needs to cover another. David concluded that Uriah must die.
The innocent, valiant, gallant man, who was ready to die for his kings’s honor, would now die by that king’s cowardly decision. How different was the heart of David today; it is difficult to remember that this is the man whose heart convicted him when he merely cut off the edge of Saul’s garment. Could this possibly be he that executed justice to all his people? How can he do so unjust a thing? David was not thinking correctly, if he was thinking at all. This story is a grim reminder that any one of us—even if we deeply love God—can be deceived by ourselves or by the devil or both. Even the most sincere among us can be wrong. Sins war against the soul, cause the eye to blink and what devastations they make in that war. They harden the heart, sear the conscience, and deprive men of all sense. Prov. 6:32 says, “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.” And Job 24:14-15 says, “When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up, kills the poor and needy, and in the night steals forth like a thief. The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed.”
Works of darkness do not like the light. David bravely slew Goliath publicly, and he was proud of it; but, when he cowardly and deceitfully killed Uriah, it was done secretly, for he was rightly ashamed of it—only not ashamed enough abort the plan. If we are afraid to let people know what we are doing, how we are thinking; if we cannot be transparent as Christian leaders, perhaps we should reexamine what it is we are doing and let the Holy Spirt check us. Who does things he or she is not proud of? The devil can put a poisonous arrow in our heart and further put it into our head how to do it.
Absalom killed Amnon by telling his servant to assassinate him and Ahab killed Naboth by allowing Jezebel to set up a mock court to have him condemned to death. David killed Uriah by the hand of the Ammonites. Yes, if Uriah had not been in that dangerous place in the battle he could have lived, but another would have been there and would have died. Soldiers take the risk of death. Uriah died as noble soldiers die—in the line of obedience to the commander and faithful service. It was in a field of honor where soldiers choose to die, but for those of us who know the bigger picture we know it was still a cowardly murder by the king whom Uriah sought to serve.
2. Joab Completed His assignment 16-21
David sent orders—with Uriah!—to have Uriah moved to the front and most dangerous part of the battlefield and then desert him to the enemy. Verses 14-15 say “ In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.’” This was David’s plan to kill Uriah and it was successful. Several significant factors make this murder especially hideous. It was deliberate. There was time to change his mind, but David did not. He had written a letter, which took time and deliberation and he had had time to reverse the command written in the letter; but he didn’t.
Verses 16-17 say, “So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.”
He sent the letter by Uriah himself. Can you think of anything more unreasonably unkind than this? How David could wish dead someone whom he trusted so completely that he would trust Uriah to deliver the letter that killed Uriah is beyond comprehension. David took unfair advantage of Uriah’s zeal and courage to fight for his country and his king. David’s sin compelled others to sin with him. Joab was not an angel, but Joab did not think to do this sin. David designed it and compelled Joab to comply and become a partner in crime. Not only Uriah, but others too died because of this incident.
It gave triumph and joy to the enemies of God and Israel—the Ammonites. David, do you really want to hand such a victory to the Ammonites? David, what are you thinking? David, do you have eyes? David, do you have a heart? David, what possesses you? Much later in his life David prayed for himself, as recorded in 2 Samuel 24:13-14, that he might not fall into the men’s hands, nor run from his enemies. The Scriptures say, “So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’ David said to Gad, ‘I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” Yet David himself sent Uriah into the hands of the enemy Ammonites even though Uriah had no iniquity in hands, heart or head.
Joab was David’s nephew and was lacking in personal ethical standards anyway. He could not be depended on to filter out an immoral command from his uncle the king. So to the front lines, to the most dangerous place in the battle went the faithful and honest Uriah. Why did Joab do this merely because of a letter, without knowing the reason? Maybe he thought Uriah was guilty of something. Maybe this comforted Joab for having spilled innocent blood himself. Remember Abner?
If Joab derived comfort from David’s sin, that comfort was very wrong-headed for sure. If any of us feel justified in doing the wrong thing just because someone else did the same thing or something worse, the justification we falsely feel surely is not from God. The Bible—not the behavior of our contemporaries—is the plumb-line of God’s will for our behavior. Amos 7:7-8 says “This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ ‘A plumb line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’”
Or maybe Joab had some kind of grievance against Uriah and it was easy to obey the king’s misguided directive. This explanation lacks credibility, however, because we know from a later exchange between this uncle and nephew that Joab was not afraid to express himself when he disagreed with David’s instructions. II Sam 19:5 and 24:3 say, “Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines.’” “But Joab replied to the king, ‘May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?’” So why did Joab obey a wrong order from David? His obedience to David this time makes him a partner in crime. This would have been the right time to do what soldiers today are taught to do—to not be complicit when the command is illegal. You and I have the same obligation. We need God’s wisdom and discernment if we hope to be complicit at only the appropriate times and defy the instruction, as Joab should have done, at other times.
3. Joab Reported to David 22-25
Joab sent an account of the battle, its losses and Uriah’s death to David. “Joab sent David a full account of the battle” (8). Joab disguised the situation but it was not necessary. David was glad to hear the report that his plan had succeeded. Joab pretended to think David would be sad or angry at the loss of life and bring up some of Israel’s military history such as the time Abimelech lost his life being too close to danger. Probably Israelis of Joab and David’s day, especially soldiers, would know this story recorded in Judges 9:53, “a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.” Abimelech lost his life because of unknown and unintended danger, and Uriah paid with his life because David and Joab intentionally put Uriah is great danger.
Joab cleverly ordered the messenger to calm David’s “disappointment” by mentioning that Uriah was killed. Joab knew that David would be secretly pleased to hear that. Here are verses 22-24. “The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, ‘The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’” The story may be partially fabricated. Did the Ammonites really have the upper hand? Did they really come out of the city? Were they really driven back? But, yes, it was true that Uriah had been killed and that is what David wanted to hear. His plan had succeeded. He was now free to comfort Bathsheba and then marry her.
So David received the news with a secret satisfaction. Verse 25 says, “ David told the messenger, ‘Say this to Joab: “Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.” Say this to encourage Joab.”” David is not unhappy—he needed no comfort. Joab need not be unhappy, but he nevertheless is to receive some unnecessary comfort. All is well. Uriah is dead. Don’t worry about it. It was a chance of war, nothing more. He ordered Joab to make the battle stronger next time, while by his sin, he himself was weakening it, and tempting God .
4. The Cover-Up Becomes an Even Bigger Sin 14-15
The smoothness of this part of the cover-up, in my view, tells us that Bathsheba was not entirely innocent in this affair. David married the widow who got over her disappointment and grief quite quickly it seems. She went along with tradition in the ceremony of mourning for her husband in as short a time as custom allowed. And then David took her to his house as his wife, and she bore him a son. Uriah’s revenge was avoided, but the birth of the child so soon after the marriage publicized the affair to any thinking person of that day. The shame David and Bathsheba may have felt, whether public or private, was nevertheless shame. “When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son” (26-27) It appeared to look good. Maybe only the palace staff knew the secret. We don’t know, but we do know that Someone of great significance knew and was unhappy about it. The Lord was displeased and the crime was published and punished.
In the record in I Kings 15:5 about Abijah Judah’s king for a while many years later, we see this situation referred to “He (Abijah) committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” In the adultery, falsehood, murder, and this marriage, it was all displeasing to the Lord.
David had pleased himself, but displeased God. God sees and hates sin in his own people—especially the leaders and examples of His people. When a Christian leader sins, putting his or her own pleasure, ego or power before the sacred responsibility to shepherd God’s sheep, he or she does a great disservice to a high calling. Sin in the life of a shepherd is more ingratitude, treachery, and reproach, than in the sins of others. None of us should allow sin in our lives because of the poor example of David. Those in leadership that sin as David did will fall under the greater displeasure of God as David did. Paul warns about the seriousness and responsibility of being a leader—a father—in Christ’s church: “I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” A teacher, leader, overseer, father—whatever title you use—in Christ’s Church has a greater and heavier responsibility than rank and file Christians. You want the position? Accept also the responsibility.
5. A Much Better Alternative
When we try to cover our sin, it indicates that we care more for the praise of men than the approval of God. Sure, it is horribly embarrassing to admit we have sinned, so much so that we add to the sin by covering it with lies. Impenitence, lies, deceit, secrecy, secret inner embarrassment, fear of discovery etc. all go together with the effort to cover sin. There is a much better alternative which is just the opposite of cover-up. It is: openness, transparency, honesty, candor, frankness, integrity, self-respect and trustworthiness. A cover-up leads to more and more problems such as distrust, suspicion, lack of respect and eventually to an eternity separate from God. A repentant and honest heart leads to restoration, renewal, forgiveness, acceptance, courage, confidence, a pure heart and the kind of personal respect that a leader needs if he or she is ever going to have a following.
Here are two lists. The first list provides a sample of the sort of things that make up a normal Christian life.
- Normal Christian experiences: Fellowship with God, acceptance from God, forgiveness, joy, confidence, peace, love, inner witness of the Spirit, temptations, tests, victories and positive influence on those about us. You will notice that temptations and tests are a part of this list. They are a part of the Christian experience. It is not a sin to experience temptations or tests; it is a sin to yield to those temptations or to fail the test when God has promised no temptation or test will ever be too difficult for us—He will not allow us to experience a temptation or test that is too hard. I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” It is easy to understand why this verse in the Bible is loved so much.
- Normal experiences for the impenitent: Embarrassment, shame, fear, anxiety, worry, suspicion, no confidence, no courage, desire to hide, living a lie, deceitful, ineffective prayers and discouragement. When we are unrepentant, these are the kinds of things that preoccupy our thinking and color our perceptions so negatively. We live in the fear that our sin will be discovered.
Yet at any moment as we spin out of the inner circle of fellowship with God, we have the opportunity to repent. It may take courage for us to do that, but repentance is a way of life for those of us who want to maintain a close relationship with God. Every time we discover that we have yielded to a temptation, the sooner we repent the better. If we develop the habit of quick repentance it will seem like we did not spin out of the circle of fellowship with God at all.
If David had quickly repented, perhaps as soon as Bathsheba arrived at the door of his quarters, this incident would have passed quickly. He never repented until months later when Nathan the prophet confronted him. How many times during those months did he hide in his bedroom fearful that others would discover the secret of his affair with Bathsheba and the cover-up sin he shared with his nephew Joab?
Quick repentance, the quicker the better, is a very much preferred alternative to cover-up. If we, as Christian leaders, will model this for those who follow us, we all will have much more fruit, success in God’s eyes, good results, and effectiveness in our work for the Lord. These two chapters dealing with the sin of David and Bathsheba and the cover-up by David and Joab bring an exceedingly important truth to our attention if we are serious about serving God in this generation. People are watching God’s Church—especially her leaders. Better not to sin, but if we do, repent quickly and sincerely. Cover-up is worse.