Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 11:1
(Cf. Ch1 20:1). Siege of Rabbah. - "And it came to pass at the return of the year, at the time when the kings marched out, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah: but David remained in Jerusalem." This verse is connected with Sa2 10:14, where it was stated that after Joab had put to flight the Aramaeans who came to the help of the Ammonites, and when the Ammonites also had fallen back before Abishai in consequence of this victory, and retreated into their fortified capital, Joab himself returned to Jerusalem. He remained there during the winter or rainy season, in which it was impossible that war should be carried on. At the return of the year, i.e., at the commencement of spring, with which the new years began in the month Abib (Nisan), the time when kings who were engaged in war were accustomed to open their campaign, David sent Joab his commander-in-chief with the whole of the Israelitish forces to attack the Ammonites once more, for the purpose of chastising them and conquering their capital. The Chethibh המּלאכים should be changed into המּלכים, according to the Keri and the text of the Chronicles. The א interpolated is a perfectly superfluous mater lectionis, and probably crept into the text from a simple oversight. The "servants" of David with Joab were not the men performing military service, or soldiers, (in which case "all Israel" could only signify the people called out to war in extraordinary circumstances), but the king's military officers, the military commanders; and "all Israel," the whole of the military forces of Israel. Instead of "the children of Ammon" we find "the country of the children of Ammon," which explains the meaning more fully. But there was no necessity to insert ארץ (the land or country), as השׁחית is applied to men in other passages in the sense of "cast to the ground," or destroy (e.g., Sa1 26:15). Rabbah was the capital of Ammonitis (as in Jos 13:25): the fuller name was Rabbath of the children of Ammon. It has been preserved in the ruins which still exist under the ancient name of Rabbat-Ammn, on the Nahr Ammn, i.e., the upper Jabbok (see at Deu 3:11). The last clause, "but David sat (remained) in Jerusalem," leads on to the account which follows of David's adultery with Bathsheba (vv. 2-27 and 2 Samuel 12:1-25), which took place at that time, and is therefore inserted here, so that the conquest of Rabbah is not related till afterwards (Sa2 12:26-31).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 11:2
David's Adultery. - David's deep fall forms a turning-point not only in the inner life of the great king, but also in the history of his reign. Hitherto David had kept free from the grosser sins, and had only exhibited such infirmities and failings as simulation, prevarication, etc., which clung to all the saints of the Old Covenant, and were hardly regarded as sins in the existing stage of religious culture at that time, although God never left them unpunished, but invariably visited them upon His servants with humiliations and chastisements of various kinds. Among the unacknowledged sins which God tolerated because of the hardness of Israel's heart was polygamy, which encouraged licentiousness and the tendency to sensual excesses, and to which but a weak barrier had been presented by the warning that had been given for the Israelitish kings against taking many wives (Deu 17:17), opposed as such a warning was to the notion so prevalent in the East both in ancient and modern times, that a well-filled harem is essential to the splendour of a princely court. The custom to which this notion gave rise opened a dangerous precipice in David's way, and led to a most grievous fall, that can only be explained, as O. v. Gerlach has said, from the intoxication consequent upon undisturbed prosperity and power, which grew with every year of his reign, and occasioned a long series of most severe humiliations and divine chastisements that marred the splendour of his reign, notwithstanding the fact that the great sin was followed by deep and sincere repentance.
Towards evening David walked upon the roof of his palace, after rising from his couch, i.e., after taking his mid-day rest, and saw from the roof a woman bathing, namely in the uncovered court of a neighbouring house, where there was a spring with a pool of water, such as you still frequently meet with in the East. "The woman was beautiful to look upon." Her outward charms excited sensual desires.
David ordered inquiry to be made about her, and found (ויּאמר, "he, i.e., the messenger, said;" or indefinitely, "they said") that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hethite. הלוא, nonne, is used, as it frequently is, in the sense of an affirmation, "it is indeed so." Instead of Bathsheba the daughter of Eliam, we find the name given in the Chronicles (Ch1 3:5) as Bathshua the daughter of Ammiel. The form בּת־שׁוּע may be derived from בּת־שׁוע, in which ב is softened into ; for Bathsheba (with beth) is the correct and original form, as we may see from Kg1 1:11, Kg1 1:15, Kg1 1:28. Eliam and Ammiel have the same signification; the difference simply consists in the transposition of the component parts of the name. It is impossible to determine, however, which of the two forms was the original one.
The information brought to him, that the beautiful woman was married, was not enough to stifle the sensual desires which arose in David's soul. "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin" (Jam 1:15). David sent for the woman, and lay with her. In the expression "he took her, and she came to him," there is no intimation whatever that David brought Bathsheba into his palace through craft or violence, but rather that she came at his request without any hesitation, and offered no resistance to his desires. Consequently Bathsheba is not to be regarded as free from blame. The very act of bathing in the uncovered court of a house in the heart of the city, into which it was possible for any one to look down from the roofs of the houses on higher ground, does not say much for her feminine modesty, even if it was not done with an ulterior purpose, as some commentators suppose. Nevertheless in any case the greatest guilt rests upon David, that he, a man upon whom the Lord had bestowed such grace, did not resist the temptation to the lust of the flesh, but sent to fetch the woman. "When she had sanctified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house." Defilement from sexual intercourse rendered unclean till the evening (Lev 15:18). Bathsheba thought it her duty to observe this statute most scrupulously, though she did not shrink from committing the sin of adultery.
When she discovered that she was with child, she sent word to David. This involved an appeal to him to take the necessary steps to avert the evil consequences of the sin, inasmuch as the law required that both adulterer and adulteress should be put to death (Lev 20:10).
David had Uriah the husband of Bathsheba sent to him by Joab, under whom he was serving in the army before Rabbah, upon some pretext or other, and asked him as soon as he arrived how it fared with Joab and the people (i.e., the army) and the war. This was probably the pretext under which David had had him sent to him. According to Sa2 23:39, Uriah was one of the gibborim ("mighty men") of David, and therefore held some post of command in the army, although there is no historical foundation for the statement made by Josephus, viz., that he was Joab's armour-bearer or aide-de-camp. The king then said to him, "Go down to thy house (from the palace upon Mount Zion down to the lower city, where Uriah's house was situated), and wash thy feet;" and when he had gone out of the palace, he sent a royal present after him. The Israelites were accustomed to wash their feet when they returned home from work or from a journey, to take refreshment and rest themselves. Consequently these words contained an intimation that he was to go and refresh himself in his own home. David's wish was that Uriah should spend a night at home with his wife, that he might afterwards be regarded as the father of the child that had been begotten in adultery. משּׂאת, a present, as in Amo 5:11; Jer 50:4; Est 2:18.
But Uriah had his suspicions aroused. The connection between his wife and David may not have remained altogether a secret, so that it may have reached his ears as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. "He lay down to sleep before the king's house with all the servants of his lord (i.e., the retainers of the court), and went not down to his house." "Before, or at, the door of the king's house," i.e., in the court of the palace, or in a building adjoining the king's palace, where the court servants lived.
When this was told to David (the next morning), he said to Uriah, "Didst thou not come from the way (i.e., from a journey)? why didst thou not go down (as men generally do when they return from a journey)?" Uriah replied (Sa2 11:11), "The ark (ark of the covenant), and Israel, and Judah, dwell in the huts, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord encamp in the field; and should I go to my house to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? By thy life, and by the life of thy soul, I do no such thing!" בּסּכּות ישׁב, to sit or sojourn in huts, is the same practically as being encamped in the field. Uriah meant to say: Whereas the ark, i.e., Jehovah with the ark, and all Israel, were engaged in conflict with the enemies of God and of His kingdom, and therefore encamped in the open country, it did not become a warrior to seek rest and pleasure in his own home. This answer expressed the feelings and the consciousness of duty which ought to animate one who was fighting for the cause of God, in such plain and unmistakeable terms, that it was well adapted to prick the king to the heart. But David's soul was so beclouded by the wish to keep clear of the consequences of his sin in the eyes of the world, that he did not feel the sting, but simply made a still further attempt to attain his purpose with Uriah. He commanded him to stop in Jerusalem all that day, as he did not intend to send him away till the morrow.
The next day he invited him to his table and made him drunken, with the hope that when in this state he would give up his intention of not going home to his wife. But Uriah lay down again the next night to sleep with the king's servants, without going down to his house; for, according to the counsel and providence of God, David's sin was to be brought to lift to his deep humiliation.
When the king saw that his plan was frustrated through Uriah's obstinacy, he resolved upon a fresh and still greater crime. He wrote a letter to Joab, with which he sent Uriah back to the army, and the contents of which were these: "Set ye Uriah opposite to the strongest contest, and then turn away behind him, that he may be slain, and die."
(Note: "We may see from this how deep a soul may fall when it turns away from God, and from the guidance of His grace. This David, who in the days of his persecution would not even resort to means that were really plausible in order to defend himself, was now not ashamed to resort to the greatest crimes in order to cover his sin. O God! how great is our strength when we lay firm hold of Thee! And how weak we become as soon as we turn away from Thee! The greatest saints would be ready for the worst of deeds, if Thou shouldst but leave them for a single moment without Thy protection. Whoever reflects upon this, will give up all thought of self-security and spiritual pride." - Berleburg Bible.)
David was so sure that his orders would be executed, that he did not think it necessary to specify any particular crime of which Uriah had been guilty.
The king's wishes were fully carried out by Joab. "When Joab watched (i.e., blockaded) the city, he stationed Uriah just where he knew that there were brave men" (in the city).
"And the men of the city came out (i.e., made a sally) and fought with Joab, and some of the people of the servants of David fell, and Uriah the Hethite died also." The literal fulfilment of the king's command does not warrant us in assuming that Joab suspected how the matter stood, or had heard a rumour concerning it. As a general, who was not accustomed to spare human life, he would be a faithful servant of his lord in this point, in order that his own interests might be served another time.
Joab immediately despatched a messenger to the king, to give him a report of the events of the war, and with these instructions: "When thou hast told all the things of the war to the king to the end, in case the anger of the king should be excited (תּעלה, ascend), and he should say to thee, Why did ye advance so near to the city to fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbosheth (i.e., Gideon, see at Jdg 6:32)? did not a woman throw down a millstone from the wall, that he died in Thebez (Jdg 9:53)? why went ye so nigh to the wall? then only say, Thy servant Uriah the Hethite has perished." Joab assumed that David might possibly be angry at what had occurred, or at any rate that he might express his displeasure at the fact that Joab had sacrificed a number of warriors by imprudently approaching close to the wall: he therefore instructed the messenger, if such should be the case, to announce Uriah's death to the king, for the purpose of mitigating his wrath. The messenger seems to have known that Uriah was in disgrace with the king. At the same time, the words "thy servant Uriah is dead also" might be understood or interpreted as meaning that it was without, or even in opposition to, Joab's command, that Uriah went so far with his men, and that he was therefore chargeable with his own death and that of the other warriors who had fallen.
The messenger brought to David all the information with which Joab had charged him (שׁלח with a double accusative, to send or charge a person with anything), but he so far condensed it as to mention Uriah's death at the same time. "When the men (of Rabbah) became strong against us, and came out to us into the field, and we prevailed against them even to the gate, the archers shot at thy servants down from the wall, so that some of the servants of the king died, and thy servant Uriah the Hethite is dead also." The א in the forms המּוראים ויּראוּ instead of המּורים ויּרוּ is an Aramaic mode of writing the words.
David received with apparent composure the intelligence which he was naturally so anxious to hear, and sent this message back to Joab: "Let not this thing depress thee, for the sword devours thus and thus. Keep on with the battle against the city, and destroy it." The construction of אל־ירע with את obj. is analogous to the combination of a passive verb with את: "Do not look upon this affair as evil" (disastrous). David then sent the messenger away, saying, "Encourage thou him" (lit. strengthen him, put courage into him), to show his entire confidence in the bravery and stedfastness of Joab and the army, and their ultimate success in the capture of Rabbah. - In Sa2 11:26 the account goes back to its starting-point. When Uriah's wife heard of her husband's death, she mourned for her husband. When her mourning was over, David took her home as his wife, after which she bore him a son (the one begotten in adultery). The ordinary mourning of the Israelites lasted seven days (Gen 50:10; Sa1 31:13). Whether widows mourned any longer we do not know. In the case before us Bathsheba would hardly prolong her mourning beyond the ordinary period, and David would certainly not delay taking her as his wife, in order that she might be married to the king as long as possible before the time of childbirth. The account of these two grievous sins on the part of David is then closed with the assurance that "the thing that David had done displeased the Lord," which prepares the way for the following chapter.