Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.XI.
(1) After the year was expired.—Literally, as in margin, at the return of the year. This refers back to 2Samuel 10:14. Joab had spent the winter or rainy season at Jerusalem; now he returns to Ammon. David had evidently hurried his campaign against Hadarezer to prevent the junction of his foes, and Joab had probably been sent at first with only a small force to hold the Ammonites in check. With the speedy and successful close of David’s own operations, he returned to Jerusalem, while the bulk of the army was sent to join Joab. By the curious insertion of a letter the Hebrew text reads “when angels (or messengers) go forth.” It is corrected in the margin.
Destroyed the children.—1Chronicles 20:1, explains “wasted the country of the children.” After the custom of ancient warfare, while the army was besieging Rabbah, foraging parties were sent out to lay waste the country and cut off any stragglers. Comp. 1Samuel 13:17-18.
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; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.(2) In an eveningtide.—Late in the afternoon, when David had taken the siesta customary in Oriental countries, he rose from his couch and walked on the roof of his palace, which in the cool of the day was the pleasantest part of an eastern house. This palace was on the height of Mount Zion, and looked down upon the open courts of the houses in the lower city. In one of these he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In the courts of the houses it was common to have a basin of water, and the place was probably entirely concealed from every other point of observation than the roof of the palace, from which no harm was suspected.
David’s grievous fall was consequent upon his long course of uninterrupted prosperity and power, which had somewhat intoxicated him and thrown him off his guard. It is no part of the plan of Scripture to cover up or excuse the sins of even its greatest heroes and saints. This sin was followed by the deepest repentance and by the Divine forgiveness; nevertheless its punishment overclouded all the remaining years of David’s life. His fall, as St. Augustine has said, should put upon their guard those who have not fallen, and save from despair those who have.
And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?(3) Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam.—Her name is spelt in Chronicles Bath-shua, and her father’s name is said to be Ammiel. Ammiel and Eliam are the same name with its component parts transposed, as Scripture names are often varied: God’s people and the people of God.
Wife of Uriah the Hittite.—His name appears (2Samuel 23:39) in the list of David’s thirty chief heroes, and the whole story represents him as a brave and noble-minded soldier. David had now given rein to his guilty passion so far that the knowledge of Bath-sheba’s being a married woman, and the wife of one of his chief warriors, does not check him.
And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.(4) Sent messengers, and took her.—This does not imply the use of violence. Bath-sheba, however beautiful, appears from the narrative of 1Kings 2:13-22, to have been a woman of little discretion, and now yielded to David’s will without resistance, perhaps flattered by the approach of the king.
For she was.—Read, and she was. Under the Law she was unclean until the evening. She therefore remained in David’s palace until that time, scrupulous in this detail while conscious of a capital crime and a high offence against God. David, nevertheless, was a far greater offender.
And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.(5) Sent and told David.—Because her sin must now become known, and by the Law (Leviticus 20:10) adulterers must both be punished with death.
And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.(6) Send me Uriah.—David proposed thus to cover up his crime. By calling for Uriah and treating him with marked consideration, he thought to establish a friendly feeling on his part, and then by sending him to his wife to have it supposed that the child, begotten in adultery, was Uriah’s own.
And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king's house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.(8) A mess of meat.—Lit. a present. The same word is used in Genesis 43:34, and no doubt refers to some choice dish sent by the king to the guest whom he wished to honour.
But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.(9) At the door of the king’s house.—Probably in the guard chamber at the entrance of the palace. (Comp. 1Kings 14:27-28.) It is quite unnecessary to suppose that Uriah had any suspicion of what had been done. His conduct and language is simply that of a brave, frank, generous-hearted soldier.
And Uriah said unto David, 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.(11) The ark, and Israel, and Judah.—notwithstanding the experience of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines in the days of Eli (1Samuel 4:11), it seems to have been still customary to carry it out in war as a symbol of God’s presence and pledge of His favour. (Comp. 1Samuel 14:18.) The separate mention of Israel and Judah gives no indication of a late date for this book, since these two parts of the nation had already been separated, and even hostile to each other in the early years of David’s reign. This noble answer of Uriah should have stung David to the quick, but his conscience was so deadened by his sin that the only effect was to lead him to yet baser means of concealment.
And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.(13) He made him drunk.—This fresh attempt of David to conceal his crime by attempting to send Uriah to his house while in a state of intoxication does not need comment, but Uriah’s resolve was so strong that it still governed his conduct while in this almost irresponsible condition.
And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.(14) Sent it by the hand of Uriah.—The brave soldier is made the bearer of his own death-warrant, and his well-known valour for his king is to be the means of accomplishing his destruction, to relieve that king of the consequences of his crime, which also involved a great wrong to himself. No reason is given to Joab for this order, but as a loyal and somewhat unscrupulous general he obeys without question.
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.(15) Retire ye from him.—This part of David’s orders was not carried out. Perhaps Joab thought it would make the stratagem too evident, or perhaps it was impracticable. At all events, the consequence was that others were slain with Uriah, and thus a larger blood-guiltiness fell upon David.
And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.(16) Observed the city.—The word means watched, or blockaded. In the operations of the siege Joab so arranged some of his forces as to invite a sally from the city under circumstances in which it would be successful. It appears from 2Samuel 11:24 that Uriah’s party had been sent so near as to come within reach of the archers on the wall.
Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a 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.(21) Who smote Abimelech?—See Judges 9:53. Joab anticipated David’s anger at his apparent rashness, and charged the messenger, when he should observe it, to mention’s Uriah’s death. This was not likely to awaken any suspicion in the messenger, as it would appear to him rather as an effort on Joab’s part to throw the blame from himself upon Uriah as the leader of the assaulting party. The messenger appears to have told all in one breath, so that there was no opportunity for David to express displeasure. The reference to the case of Abimelech shows how familiar the Israelites were with the past history of their people.
Then David said unto the messenger, 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 him.(25) One as well as another.—While David’s reply to Joab is ostensibly to encourage him, on the ground that the mishap was a mere accident of war, it is yet couched in such language as to imply a special regret for the loss of Uriah. “One as well as another,” i.e., “though Uriah was a brave hero whom we could ill spare, yet in the fortune of war we cannot choose who shall fall. Notwithstanding this loss, let Joab go on with a good heart.”
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.(26) Mourned for her husband.—How long this mourning lasted we are not told. The usual period was seven days (Genesis 1:10; 1Samuel 31:13), and although that of a widow may well have been somewhat longer, it was doubtless, under the circumstances, made as short as was consistent with decency.
And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.(27) Bare him a son.—Several months must have passed since the beginning of David’s course of sin, and as yet his conscience had not brought him to a sense of what he had done, nor had the prophet Nathan been sent to him. It is to be remembered that during all this time David was not only the civil ruler of his people, but also the head of the theocracy, the great upholder of the worship and the service of God, and his psalms were used as the vehicle of the people’s devotion. If it be asked why he should have been left so long without being brought to a conviction of his sin, one obvious reason is, that this sin might be openly fastened upon him beyond all possibility of denial by the birth of the child. But besides this, however hardened David may appear to have been in passing from one crime to another in the effort to conceal his guilt, yet it is scarcely possible that his conscience should not have been meantime at work and oppressing him with that sense of unconfessed and unforgiven sin which prepared him at last for the visit of Nathan.