And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set up Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.
With the coming of final success and prosperity, David’s life fell into its most serious spiritual eclipse. All through the troubled years of his young life while enemies threatened on every side, David had remained relatively faithful in his service of God. It was when the enemies disappeared and offered him less and less opposition that David began to slip. It was gradually so, to the point that he himself was hardly aware of it as it happened. It began with nothing more than the decision to find a little relaxation and rest for himself while the army under the capable leadership of Joab went on to fight his battles without him. Certainly it must not have seemed an unreasonable thing, for who, after all of his hard and difficult years of struggle, deserved a rest more than he? But it meant that David’s attention was now turned to seeking his own satisfaction, and that could lead to no good in the end.
The real trouble began rather unexpectedly when in his leisure hours he happened to see from the ,palace roof a beautiful woman washing herself in a neighboring garden, and desired to have her for his own, even when he learned that the woman was already married to one of his most faithful and valiant soldiers. But his lust having been aroused, he was in no frame of mind to deny himself; and, using his royal authority, he called the woman, to him and seduced her. No doubt, no sooner was it done than he felt the pangs of a guilty conscience and resolved that it would never happen again; but at the same time he seemed to find ample reason to excuse himself. Had he not often seen much more serious faults than this enacted repeatedly by conquering armies? Why then should he feel so badly? And after all was he not king with certain prerogatives denied to others? It took but a few days and he had talked his troubled conscience into comparative submission. He thought he felt at ease about the whole episode.
But sin has a way of refusing to be forgotten; and particularly in His chosen people God does not readily allow it to happen. No sooner had it seemed to David that he had gotten his conscience squared away than the message came from Bathsheba, she was with child. To David it came as more an irritation than anything else, for somehow it seemed inconceivable that he, the king, should actually be discovered in such a compromising situation. And yet it was awkward. The fact was that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was away with the army and had not been home for many months. If things went on as they were going, the whole thing would surely have to come out in the open. Something had to be done; and David was quite sure that he knew how to do it. He would merely summon Uriah home from the battle field and provide him with an opportunity to visit his wife. In the end, who could be so sure that the child was not born a bit early?
What David was unprepared for, however, was the kind of man that Uriah was. To be sure, it was not surprising that David should have called for Uriah to give to him a report of how things were going in the battle. Although a Hittite by birth, Uriah had become an Israelite and in so doing had come all the way. It was hard to find a man more faithful than he either in the service of Jehovah or in the strife of the battlefield. He was by every measure the kind of man that David was most likely to appreciate, one who had molded his own life after the example of his captain and king. It all appeared perfectly natural, therefore, that David called for Uriah and questioned him concerning the course of the battles in which they had engaged. Uriah was quite capable of giving the most pertinent information, and what he said could be relied upon as perfectly trustworthy too. It was just that this was not David’s real reason for calling Uriah, and with that the very uprightness of Uriah was to interfere.
Having concluded his questioning of Uriah, David turned and said, almost nonchalantly, “Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet.” In fact, he even sent a servant after him with a special gift of food for him and his wife. Everything was going according to plan, and it looked as though soon his own reputation would be out of danger completely.
Uriah, however, was not only a man of dedicated faithfulness to his God and his king, he was faithful too to the men with whom he lived and fought. Even here surrounded by the peace and plenty of their beautiful capital city he could not forget that his fellow soldiers were out in the bitter hardship and danger of the field of battle; and he would not either. His fellow soldiers were sleeping out on the hard and cold ground; he would not go down to his house to sleep in the comfort of his own bed. The wives of his companions had to go without the joy of their presence; his wife would have to go without his also. Obedience to authority had brought him for the moment out of the reach of enemy danger, but he would not use the opportunity to exploit his own pleasure. It was the kind of faithfulness such as can not often be found or even appreciated. But it was the kind of faithfulness which David himself in his better days had taught to his soldiers, such as when he refused to drink for his own pleasure the water which had been brought to him from the well of Bethlehem but poured it out as an offering to the Lord, saying, II Sam 23:17, “Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this; is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?” Uriah had seen the beauty of such faithfulness in love as David had shown in his day and had molded his life after it. Thus when the opportunity was there, he would not go down to his own house but slept at the gate of the palace with the servants of the king.
The next morning as a matter of course and just to get the matter finally out of his mind, David inquired as to what Uriah had done the night before when he had left the palace. It was then, when he heard that Uriah had not even gone down to his own house that first the cold bite of fear lay hold upon his heart. Could it be that this man Uriah was not going to cooperate with his plan so simply and logically laid out? In a state of agitated excitement which could hardly be hid, he called for Uriah and demanded authoritatively and yet plaintively, “Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?”
For Uriah it must have seemed a great mystery why one so great and important as the king should be concerned with such small and personal details of his own life; and yet he had the reason clearly before his own mind and there was no reason to hide it. Innocently he answered, but with a certain beauty of humble faith, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.”
David of all men in another day might have appreciated such a simple and humble expression of dedication on the part of one of his soldiers. It was the very same dedication which had carried him and his men on through many a hardship when all of the world seemed turned against them. But it was also the same dedication from which he had also turned, almost unconsciously, when he had sent Joab out alone with the army while he had remained safely home seeking his own leisure. Now to him it was abhorrent, nothing but an instance of bull-headed pride, he may well have thought. Still, how was he going to fight it? And so, vying for time, he dismissed Uriah saying, “Tarry here today also, and tomorrow I will let thee depart.”
Desperately and with a growing sense of fear David tried to think of something he could do; but his heated mind could come up with only one thing he could try. Calling Uriah to him in the late afternoon, he had a great feast spread before him with a great deal of strong drink. It was not what Uriah desired; but how could he possibly refuse the table of the king. Thus, while the king hovered insistently over him, he ate and drank far beyond what he ever had before and wanted to now until he became quite drunk. Then once again David repeated his instructions for Uriah to go down to his house. It was an ugly thing to do, to send a man down to his home in that condition, even under ordinary circumstances; and now David’s motive made it doubly repulsive. But David was a desperate man, and nothing was beyond him.
But Uriah was a man in whom his faith and dedication were very deeply implanted. His determination to seek no pleasure for himself while his companions were in the dangers of battle was not just the thought of the moment. Even in his stupefied condition, it stood out in his mind; and once again he stopped at the gate to sleep with the servants.
The next morning it was much earlier and much more anxiously that David made his inquiry concerning Uriah. When the answer came back that again Uriah had slept with the servants rather than going to his own home, it was disappointing, but it also aroused in David a feeling with which he had always been most unfamiliar, a feeling of angry hatred. If Uriah was so stubborn and uncooperative, it was too bad. He had had his chance and now he would suffer the consequences. Back to Joab by Uriah’s own hands he sent the instructions, “Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.”
Joab, the trusted captain of David’s army, was a cold, calculating and clever judge of human nature. He understood David much better, perhaps, than David did himself. He had always been able to gauge with considerable accuracy just how far he could go without losing David’s favor; and he seldomly risked the danger of stepping beyond this. It was not that he had not often wanted to do so. He was an ambitious military tactician whose greatest pleasure in life was to lead his army on to greater and more spectacular victories. But in this goal he had always been greatly hampered by David’s primary concern for the safety of his men. Thus, because of the need to retain David’s favor, he had often had to give up some of his most spectacular but most risky plans of battle.
When, therefore, this new order came from David, it was to him like a great break in his own favor. To be sure, it was amazing. Never before had he known David to engage in such a personal vendetta: but that was David’s worry, not his. All he knew was that it was something he could use. For the time being at least, he would be able to send out his men on any campaign he desired, no matter how dangerous, as long as Uriah was in the front lines of the battle. And so Joab did until at last Uriah was killed by the enemy.
When at last the time came when a report of his activities had to be sent to David, Joab felt freer than he ever had before. He simply instructed the messenger, “When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king, and if so be that the king’s wrath arise, and he say unto thee, wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”
As it was, however, Joab had nothing for which to worry. For the first time, perhaps, David listened to a report of battle with no concern for the safety and welfare of his men. All he listened for was the report of Uriah’s death, nothing more or less; and when he heard it, he quickly returned the reply, “Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it; and encourage thou it.”
It appeared that all would come out all right for him. As soon as decently possible, he merely took Bathsheba into his home and made her his wife. Now it seemed, his sin could be forgotten.