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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
David sends Joab against the Ammonites, who besieges the city of Rabbah, 2 Samuel 11:1. He sees Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah, bathing; is enamoured of her; sends for and takes her to his bed, 2 Samuel 11:2-4. She conceives, and informs David, 2 Samuel 11:5. David sends to Joab, and orders him to send to him Uriah, 2 Samuel 11:6. He arrives; and David having inquired the state of the army, dismisses him, desiring him to go to his own house, 2 Samuel 11:7, 2 Samuel 11:8. Uriah sleeps at the door of the king's house, 2 Samuel 11:9. The next day the king urges him to go to his house; but he refuses to go, and gives the most pious and loyal reasons for his refusal, 2 Samuel 11:10-11. David after two days sends him back to the army, with a letter to Joab, desiring him to place Uriah in the front of the battle, that he may be slain, 2 Samuel 11:12-15. He does so; and Uriah falls, 2 Samuel 11:16, 2 Samuel 11:17. Joab communicates this news in an artful message to David, 2 Samuel 11:18-25. David sends for Bath-sheba and takes her to wife, and she bears him a son, 2 Samuel 11:26, 2 Samuel 11:27.
1And 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.
When kings go forth - This was about a year after the war with the Syrians spoken of before, and about the spring of the year, as the most proper season for military operations. Calmet thinks they made two campaigns, one in autumn and the other in spring; the winter being in many respects inconvenient, and the summer too hot.
2And 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.
In an evening-tide - David arose - He had been reposing on the roof of his house, to enjoy the breeze, as the noonday was too hot for the performance of business. This is still a constant custom on the flat-roofed houses in the East.
He saw a woman washing herself - How could any woman of delicacy expose herself where she could be so fully and openly viewed? Did she not know that she was at least in view of the king's terrace? Was there no design in all this? Et fugit ad salices, et se cupit ante videri. In a Bengal town pools of water are to be seen everywhere, and women may be seen morning and evening bathing in them, and carrying water home. Thus David might have seen Bath-sheba, and no blame attach to her.
2 Samuel 11:4 shows us that this washing was at the termination of a particular period.
3And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
The daughter of Eliam - Called, 1 Chronicles 3:5, Ammiel; a word of the same meaning, The people of my God, The God of my people. This name expressed the covenant - I will be your God; We will be thy people.
4And 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.
And she came in unto him - We hear nothing of her reluctance, and there is no evidence that she was taken by force.
5And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
And the woman conceived - A proof of the observation on 2 Samuel 11:4; as that is the time in which women are most apt to conceive.
6And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
7And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
8And 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.
Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet - Uriah had come off a journey, and needed this refreshment; but David's design was that he should go and lie with his wife, that the child now conceived should pass for his, the honor of Bath-sheba be screened, and his own crime concealed. At this time he had no design of the murder of Uriah, nor of taking Bath-sheba to wife.
A mess of meat from the king - All this was artfully contrived.
9But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
Slept at the door - That is, in one of the apartments or niches in the court of the king's house. But in Bengal servants and others generally sleep on the verandahs or porches in face of their master's house.
10And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
Camest thou not from thy journey? - It is not thy duty to keep watch or guard; thou art come from a journey, and needest rest and refreshment.
11And 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.
The ark, and Israel - abide in tents - It appears therefore that they had taken the ark with them to battle.
This was the answer of a brave, generous and disinterested man. I will not indulge myself while all my fellow soldiers are exposed to hardships, and even the ark of the Lord in danger. Had Uriah no suspicion of what had been done in his absence?
12And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
13And 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.
He made him drunk - Supposing that in this state he would have been off his guard, and hastened down to his house.
14And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
David wrote a letter - This was the sum of treachery and villany. He made this most noble man the carrier of letters which prescribed the mode in which he was to be murdered. This case some have likened to that of Bellerophon, son of Glaucus, king of Ephyra, who being in the court of Proetus, king of the Argives, his queen Antia, or as others Sthenoboea, fell violently in love with him; but he, refusing to gratify her criminal passions, was in revenge accused by her to Proetus her husband, as having attempted to corrupt her. Proetus not willing to violate the laws of hospitality by slaying him in his own house, wrote letters to Jobates, king of Lycia, the father of Sthenoboea, and sent them by the hand of Bellerophon, stating his crime, and desiring Jobates to put him to death. To meet the wishes of his son-in-law, and keep his own hands innocent of blood, he sent him with a small force against a very warlike people called the Solymi; but, contrary to all expectation, he not only escaped with his life, but gained a complete victory over them. He was afterwards sent upon several equally dangerous and hopeless expeditions, but still came off with success; and to reward him Jobates gave him one of his daughters to wife, and a part of his kingdom. Sthenoboea, hearing this, through rage and despair killed herself.
I have given this history at large, because many have thought it not only to be parallel to that of Uriah, but to be a fabulous formation from the Scripture fact: for my own part, I scarcely see in them any correspondence, but in the simple circumstance that both carried those letters which contained their own condemnation. From the fable of Bellerophon came the proverb, Bellerophontis literas portare, "to carry one's own condemnation".
15And 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.
16And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.
17And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.
Uriah the Hittite died also - He was led to the attack of a place defended by valiant men; and in the heat of the assault, Joab and his men retired from this brave soldier, who cheerfully gave up his life for his king and his country.
18Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war;
19And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king,
20And 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?
If - the king's wrath arise - It is likely that Joab had by some indiscretion suffered loss about this time;; and he contrived to get rid of the odium by connecting the transaction with the death of Uriah, which he knew would be so pleasing to the king.
21Who 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.
22So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for.
23And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate.
24And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
25Then 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.
The sword devoureth one as well as another - What abominable hypocrisy was here! He well knew that Uriah's death was no chance-medley; he was by his own order thrust on the edge of the sword.
26And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
She mourned for her husband - The whole of her conduct indicates that she observed the form without feeling the power of sorrow.
She lost a captain and got a king for her spouse; this must have been deep affliction indeed: and therefore: -
- Lachrymas non sponte cadentes Effudit;
gemitusque expressit pectore laeto.
"She shed reluctant tears,
and forced out groans from a joyful heart.
27And 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.
When the mourning was past - Probably it lasted only seven days.
She became his wife - This hurried marriage was no doubt intended on both sides to cover the pregnancy.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord - It was necessary to add this, lest the splendor of David's former virtues should induce any to suppose his crimes were passed over, or looked on with an indulgent eye, by the God of purity and justice. Sorely he sinned, and sorely did he suffer for it; he sowed one grain of sweet, and reaped a long harvest of calamity and wo.
On a review of the whole, I hesitate not to say that the preceding chapter is an illustrious proof of the truth of the sacred writings. Who that intended to deceive, by trumping up a religion which he designed to father on the purity of God, would have inserted such an account of one of its most zealous advocates, and once its brightest ornament? God alone, whose character is impartiality, has done it, to show that his religion, librata ponderibus suis, will ever stand independently of the conduct of its professors.
Drs. Delaney, Chandler, and others, have taken great pains to excuse and varnish this conduct of David; and while I admire their ingenuity, I abhor the tendency of their doctrine, being fully convinced that he who writes on this subject should write like the inspired penman, who tells the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.
David may be pitied because he had fallen from great eminence; but who can help deploring the fate of the brave, the faithful, the incorruptible Uriah? Bath-sheba was probably first in the transgression, by a too public display of her charms; by which accidentally, the heart of David was affected wounded, and blinded. He committed one crime which he employed many shifts to conceal; these all failing, he is led from step to step to the highest degree of guilt. Not only does he feel that his and her honor, but even their lives, are at stake; for death, by the law of Moses, was the punishment of adultery. He thought therefore that either Uriah must die, or he and Bath-sheba perish for their iniquity; for that law had made no provision to save the life of even a king who transgressed its precepts. He must not imbrue his own hands in the blood of this brave man; but he employs him on a service from which his bravery would not permit him to shrink; and it which, from the nature of his circumstances, he must inevitably perish. The awful trial is made, and it succeeds. The criminal king and his criminal paramour are for a moment concealed; and one of the bravest of men falls an affectionate victim for the safety and support of him by whom his spotless blood is shed! But what shall we say of Joab, the wicked executor of the base commands of his fallen master? He was a ruffian, not a soldier; base and barbarous beyond example, in his calling; a pander to the vices of his monarch, while he was aware that he was outraging every law of religion, piety, honor, and arms! It is difficult to state the characters, and sum up and apportion the quantity of vice chargeable on each.
Let David, once a pious, noble, generous, and benevolent hero, who, when almost perishing with thirst, would not taste the water which his brave men had acquired at the hazard of their lives; let this David, I say, be considered an awful example of apostasy from religion, justice, and virtue; Bath-sheba, of lightness and conjugal infidelity; Joab, of base, unmanly, and cold-blooded cruelty; Uriah, of untarnished heroism, inflexible fidelity, and unspotted virtue; and then justice will be done to each character. For my own part, I must say, I pity David; I venerate Uriah; I detest Joab, and think meanly of Bath-sheba. Similar crimes have been repeatedly committed in similar circumstances. I shall take my leave of the whole with: -
Id commune malum; semel insanivimus omnes;
Aut sumus, aut fuimus, aut possumus,
omne quod hic est.
God of purity and mercy! save the reader from the ευπεριστατος ἁμαρτια, well circumstanced sin; and let him learn,
"Where many mightier have been slain,
By thee unsaved, he falls."
See the notes on the succeeding chapter, 2 Samuel 12 (note).