They Will Slay Me for My Wife’s Sake

I’ve been thinking about the story of David and Bath-sheba (II Samuel 11). I think that the story should have ended in the middle of the 2nd verse: “And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself …” — right there David should have turned around and gone right back into the house. But, instead, he stayed and looked. He found that “the woman was very beautiful to look upon”, he inquired about her, &c., &c. Bath-sheba, for her part, was an immodest woman. It was the custom for people to spend time on their roofs, God even instructed the Israelites to put battlements on them, to prevent anyone from falling from the roof (Deut. 22:8). Bath-sheba knew that she could be seen, she probably even knew that she could be seen from the king’s house.

Anyway, David sent for her, she came, she became pregnant, and David tried to cover up. He sent for Bath-sheba’s husband, Uriah (interestingly, he was one of David’s “mighty men” — II Sam. 23:8, 39; I Chron. 11:10, 41), ostensibly to ask how the battle was going (this was at the “time when kings go forth to battle” — v. 1), and tried to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. Uriah refused to do so, however, even when David got him drunk. He told David, “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab [the commander of the army], 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.” (v. 11). So, with Joab’s cooperation, David has Uriah sent to where the battle is hottest — to be killed. “And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. [Imagine that — he has Uriah deliver his own death sentence to Joab. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when he sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act V, Scene II.)] And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” (v. 14-15). It works, Uriah dies, and David marries the now-widowed Bath-sheba.

It occurred to me that, in this situation, David was acting like the kind of king that Abraham and Isaac were trying to save themselves from (Gen. 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-11). Abraham thought, “Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Gen. 20:11), because she was “a fair woman to look upon” (Gen. 12:11). That is just what David did, he killed Uriah for Bath-sheba’s sake because she was very beautiful to look upon, and by this deed, he truly gave “great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” (2 Sam. 12:14). If Uriah had just taken a leaf out of Abraham’s book and given out that Bath-sheba was his sister, he might have survived …

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Images (top to bottom): Flat roofs in Ashdod, Israel 2005; David Entrusts a Letter to Uriah; and David and Nathan. All three of these images are in the public domain.
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