To have been chosen is not the assurance of right action, rather it is the challenge of right relationship. The Father has chosen us from before creation, He offers His hand, if we refuse it we lose sight of who we are and become servants of the evil inclination.
David and Bathsheba
An examination of 2 Sh’muel/Samuel 11
This tragic account of Israel’s G-d anointed and heroic king is a poignant reminder of the yatzer ha-ra’ah—fallen nature—of all humanity.
To have been chosen is not the assurance of right action, rather it is the challenge of right relationship. The Father has chosen us from before creation, He offers His hand, if we refuse it we lose sight of who we are and become servants of the evil inclination. Yeshua was adamant when He spoke to those among the religious authorities who disbelieved, saying, “You are sons of your father ha-Satan—the adversary… he was a liar from the beginning.”
It is important to note that this account, unlike the histories of other nations—which exclude information that might disparage their heroic leaders, shows a very fallible and human David, king of Israel. It seems that the Hebrew writer of 2 Sh’muel—Samuel—is more concerned with the Kingdom of G-d and His righteous expectations than he is with reporting pro-Israel propaganda. This type of consistent recording of the reality of Israel’s moral highs and lows is yet another proof of the authentic historical accuracy and incomparable spiritual value of the Scriptures.
One rendering of the Hebrew text of 11:1 is as follows:
“One year later, in the spring, when kings go out to war.”
This holds continuity with the previous text which records the beginning of Israel’s conquest against the Ammonites. It helps us to understand the chronology of events in a way that gives some illumination to David’s decision to remain in Jerusalem while Israel went out to war. We must remember that the scrolls of Israel’s prophets did not include the chapter and verse markings of modern texts, this is all one story.
The greater story—account—of the Scriptures is known as its Meta narrative, here we have a powerful—if sordid—sub narrative which speaks a dire warning to each of us as we live out our own sub narrative role as part of G-d’s great Meta narrative.
11:1 Then it happened--at the turning of the year—in the spring, at the time when kings go out to war that David--beloved—sent Yo’av—Joab, fathered by YHVH—and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah--great, large. But David stayed at Jerusalem--the city flowing with the instruction of peace.
Up until this point in the story of David’s life he has been known as a successful warrior, a man gifted by G-d in warfare, one might say that in some way this was part of his vocation—calling. The text makes it clear that this is the time of year that all the kings of the nations’ go out to war. Why is David, the mighty warrior king of Israel staying at home?
Some have suggested that he was weary of warfare. Others believe he may have become prideful in his many successes and was beginning to act like the arrogant kings of the Far East. One of our Yeshivah students observed that David’s actions were consistent with the symptoms of depression; his staying away from the battle, his sleeping in the afternoon and waking in the evening rising from the couch to walk in the cool air and gaze on the setting sun. Mental illness is not a modern condition, it is as ancient as humanity itself. Those of us who have experienced mental illness know well the vulnerable moral state that such conditions can leave in. However there is always an opportunity for us to lean on HaShem—G-d—in our weakness. Vulnerability is not an excuse for sin, it is an opportunity for a hug from HaShem.
Regardless of the reasons for David staying behind the important warning for us is that of avoiding isolation. I am not saying we should never take time to be alone with G-d or to seek space from the maddening crowed. I am simply alluding to the fact that Isolation breeds moral relativity, whereas solace, rest and contemplation seek moral clarity. The issue is one of motive not circumstance.
“In the spring time when kings go out to war, the beloved of G-d sent his servant, the one fathered by Yahveh out to fight his battles for him, rather than doing what he was called to do, the beloved of G-d stayed at home in the city that flows with the instruction of G-d’s deep peace.”
– AJB paraphrase 2 Sh’muel 11:1
2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing herself; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.
This indicates that David had been lounging and sleeping during the day and had awoken to rise and stroll in the evening air as the sun descended. This is the antithesis to the rhythm of human life, in fact many of the actions that follow are in complete contradiction to the rhythm of David’s life up until this point in time. Is he feeling a distance between G-d and himself? Is he deeply depressed? Is he finally allowing the heavy loss of his good friend Jonathan to sink in? Why has he not sought Nathan the prophet? Why has he not asked friends for council? Where are his friends and allies? The answer to the last question may well be that they are out at war, how do they feel about David’s decision to stay home in Jerusalem?
Why was Bathsheba bathing herself in a location where she could be seen? Some have said that she was seen simply because David had a bird’s eye view but this becomes untenable when one realizes that all of Israel had a view of the king’s palace roof from their houses in Jerusalem. The present city of Jerusalem, while built with matching stone and continuity of structure, does not resemble the ancient city referred to in this text. At the time of these events the city was much smaller and the lines of sight much clearer than the modern city. Absalom at a later date uses this very knowledge to defile his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel on the roof of the palace.
It seems then, that it was known to Jerusalem’s occupants that the King could see into the exposed spaces of their homes from the palace roof. It was probably also known that the king liked to take strolls on the roof. In our present sub narrative almost all the men had left the city to go to war and the people of Jerusalem would have been aware that David had not gone with them. What then would be the motivation of a woman who knowing these things, chooses to bath herself somewhere she can be seen by the king?
I am not seeking to detract from David’s obvious guilt but we must remember that there were responsibilities incumbent upon the women of Israel regarding their purity and integrity. These responsibilities are clearly outlined in the Torah and violation of them is heavily condemned.
With respect to our own lives we must be careful not to passively entertain fantasies of violation. We are being watched by others and our motivations may well be seen in our actions. If we provide temptation for others we become the potential inception of the subsequent sin. In doing so we also become responsible for the resulting actions.
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba--Daughter of seven/oath, house of seven/oath, the daughter of Eliam--My G-d of the people, the wife of Oriyah--my light is YHVH—the Hittite--Descendant of Chet?”
David had found himself tempted, he had seen the woman and rather than look away he had lusted after her. As a man I understand this, we are often driven to madness by the beautiful body of a mysterious woman. In the present age we have a palace view that far exceeds David’s. We have internet, T.V, and e-magazines, all within close proximity and easier than ever to access.
Perhaps we find ourselves tempted in this way on a daily basis? This is why Yeshua warns us that, “If a man lust after a woman in his heart he has already committed adultery with her.” Being fully human, Yeshua knows the potentially rapid descent of a man who is emotionally and physically aroused by the sight of a beautiful woman, therefore He explains in one concise statement the entire story of David and Bathsheba.
While this was extremely tempting for David, he had an opportunity here to cease his potential journey into adultery. We too have this same opportunity on a daily basis. When tempted we must lean into G-d, asking for the strength of His Spirit and the ability to resist the enemy. If we do not resist at this early stage we will soon lose the will and or ability to stop our descent.
David sends for information about this mysterious woman and one of his attendants says, “Hey, isn’t that Uriah’s wife?” I hear the warning of a friend in this statement, “Hey bro, I know she’s hot but she’s married mate. Don’t touch that!”
More accurately David is told:
“That’s the daughter of Oath, the child of My G-d’s people and the wife of the light of HaShem.”
If I were to see a beautiful woman on a T.V. show and were tempted by her beauty I would have the opportunity to turn off the show, that choice would end the potential journey into thought adultery. However, if having completed the show I then turn to the internet seeking more information about her and hoping for sordid photographs etc. then I have missed the opportunity to turn away and have begun a journey which can only end in disaster. This is what David is about to do, only his T.V. is a window to Jerusalem and his muse is Bathsheba the wife of one of his most honorable servants.
4 David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, she had purified herself from her uncleanness, and he lay with her. After this she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, “I am pregnant.”
David has entered the “aching with lust and desire” stage of temptation, he must have her. At this point he doesn’t know her as a person, he is utterly objectifying her, and he desires her as a means to satisfy his sexual urge. Perhaps this is an attempt to escape his mental and emotional state? Whatever his reasons he is thinking only of himself. A woman called by the king is in no position to refuse, this is a tragic and brazen abuse of G-d given authority.
David has sex with the woman and after their encounter she returns home. Note that Bathsheba is not called by name here, it seems that the writer holds some distain for her actions and writes in such a way as to show Bathsheba’s desire for anonymity with regard to the sin she has committed with David. She cannot possibly be named in relationship to him at this point because this is not an act of relationship, it is an act of sexual objectification.
While Bathsheba may not have had any way of refusing the kings invitation, she did have a way to refuse his sexual advances. The palace was occupied by many servants and advisors, all of whom were aware of what was going on. The Torah says that if a woman is about to be raped in a walled city and calls out then she remains guiltless but her assailant must be punished, however if she doesn’t call out then the act is considered consensual. Not even the king is immune from the rule of Torah—Instruction of G-d. Therefore it seems that for all intents and purposes this was a mutually consensual act.
The author makes it clear that the woman had just finished her period thus indicating it was not possible for her to have been impregnated by any man other than David.
It takes at least a month for a woman to be certain of a pregnancy, this means that some time had passed before David was informed that Bathsheba had conceived as a result of their adultery.
6 Then David--beloved—sent to Yo’av--fathered by YHVH, saying, “Send me Oriyah--my light is YHVH—the Hittite.” So Yo’av sent Oriyah to David. 7 When Oriyah came to him, David asked concerning the welfare of Yo’av and the people and the state of the war. 8 Then David said to Oriyah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Oriyah went out of the king’s house, and a present from the king was sent out after him.9 But Oriyah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.
David is now faced with one of two options: confess his sin and submit to the Torah or attempt to hide his sin. Calling for Oriyah is the beginning of both outcomes, it is the husband who has the right to know first regarding the sin that has been committed against him.
On Oriyah’s arrival David conducts a conversation of pleasantries and then urges Oriyah to go down to his home to see—and sleep with—his wife. The Hebrew idiom, “wash your feet’’ infers a night of complete relaxation, in this case it is not outside the realms of possibility that it was understood as a euphemism. David’s intentions are clear, he wants Oriyah to sleep with his wife so that he will believe the baby is his and no one will be any the wiser—except the palace servants, advisors, Bathsheba’s girlfriends and of course HaShem Himself.
We understand from the text that Bathsheba has no children from her marriage to Oriyah, one wonders whether Oriyah was able to seed a child given that the Torah commands that a newly married man may not go out to war until he has spent at least one year with his bride. Surely if Oriyah was potent Bathsheba would already have been impregnated prior to this time? Perhaps she had miscarried in the past?
Oriyah chooses to sleep at the king’s gate with his servants. It seems that his loyalty to his calling superseded his desire to be reunited to his wife.
“The beloved of G-d sent word to the one fathered by Yahveh, asking him to send the light of Yahveh to him.”
– AJB paraphrase on 2 Sh’muel 11:6
10 Now when they told David, saying, “Oriyah did not go down to his house,” David said to Oriyah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Oriyah said to David, “The ark and Israel--overcome in G-d—and Judah--praise—are staying in temporary shelters--Sukkot, and my lord Yo’av and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing.”
With his words Oriyah effectively countermands every action of David up to this point:
Oriyah had gone out to war – David stayed at home.
Oriyah practiced self-control by not returning to his house – David sinned willfully, utterly lacking in self- control.
He is effectively saying, “Should I do all the wrong things you’ve done? No thanks mate, not on your life.”
David may be the protagonist of this sub narrative but he is not the hero. We might understand it this way:
“The light of Yahveh went out to war—against the enemies of G-d’s kingdom, but the beloved of G-d stayed at home. While at home the beloved of G-d took the light of Yahveh’s wife aside and defiled their wedding bed, sinning against the light of Yahveh. Calling the light of Yahveh home, the beloved of G-d attempted to deceive the light of Yahveh but the light of Yahveh challenged him saying, “On your life I will not do as you have done.”
It is possible that Oriyah had caught wind of what had happened, he had after all, slept at the gate with the king’s servants, many of who must have been aware of what had transpired. If this is the case then Oriyah’s words are meant as a rebuke, one that carries the weight of the commandment against adultery when he says, “on your life, even upon your very soul, I will not do this thing.” This only serves to show the great depth of integrity Oriyah has. He is a Hittite, a foreigner who has obvious regard for the holiness of Yahveh and His Torah and is devote in his loyalty to David and to Israel. He is rightly named “My light is Yahveh,” for of all the characters in this story Oriyah is truly a shining example of G-d’s light.
It is important to note that the ark was not in the Mishkan—tent—in Jerusalem. Oriyah alludes to it being out in the field with Israel’s armies. Why is the ark in the field? Last time Israel had taken it out to use as a good luck charm in battle it had been taken from her. Was David allowing ungodly practices to creep back into Israel’s routine? This may be yet another sign that David had allowed the fire of his love for Yahveh to grow cold, so cold in fact that when the light of Yahveh stood right in front of him he was able to ignore Him altogether, even to the point of plotting against Him.
12 Then David said to Oriyah, “Stay here today also, and tomorrow I will let you go.” So Oriyah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Now David called him, and he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his bed with his lord’s servants, but he did not go down to his house.
In spite of David’s best efforts to get Oriyah to sleep with his wife, Oriyah’s righteous determination would not be swayed. It seems strange that we don’t hear of Bathsheba seeking out her husband by way of messenger, she must surely have known that Oriyah had returned, it had now been three days since his re-entry into Jerusalem. Why did Bathsheba remain silent?
Notice the repetition of the phrase, “he did not go down to his house.” Though he had every opportunity to change his mind and do what he considered ignoble, he did not go down. Self-control is born of the Holy Spirit.
14 Now in the morning David wrote a letter to Yo’av and sent it by the hand of Oriyah. 15 He had written in the letter, saying, “Place Oriyah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”
David’s got chutzpah—not the good kind, I’ll give him that. Giving the guy your about to murder his own death warrant and sending him to his executioner with it shows some real gusto. Of course it also shows that David trusted this righteous man not to open the correspondence. What kind of callus darkness does a person have to fall into in order to be able to send an innocent man to die for his sin? In fact, we have all fallen into that darkness, we have all sent an innocent man to die for our sin. Knowing our nature, He went willingly.
16 So it was as Yo’av kept watch on the city, that he put Oriyah at the place where he knew there were valiant men. 17 The men of the city went out and fought against Yo’av, and some of the people among David’s servants fell; and Oriyah the Hittite also died. 18 Then Yo’av sent and reported to David all the events of the war. 19 He charged the messenger, saying, “When you have finished telling all the events of the war to the king, 20 and if it happens that the king’s wrath rises and he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near to the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21 Who struck down Abimelech--My father (is/the) king—the son of Yerub’aal--Gideon? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’—then you shall say, ‘Your servant Oriyah the Hittite is dead also.’”
Why was Yo’av concerned that David would be angry, hadn’t he done what David had requested? Yo’av did not follow David’s instructions to the letter. David had asked Yo’av to pull the other warriors back from the fighting so that only Oriyah was killed, Yo’av had let them carry on into the fray and too close to the city and thus a number of David’s best warriors’ were killed alongside Oriyah. This of course adds an even greater tally to the list of sins that David is now responsible for.
We must remember also that David’s relationship to Yo’av was rocky at best. Throughout David’s reign he was afraid of the power that Yo’av held over Israel’s fighting men and he disliked the short tempers exhibited by Yo’av and his kin. Yo’av knew this and often sought ways to collect ammunition against David and to garner favor with David that he could later use to his own advantage.
22 So the messenger departed and came and reported to David all that Yo’av had sent him to tell. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men prevailed against us and came out against us in the field, but we [h]pressed them as far as the entrance of the gate. 24 Moreover, the archers shot at your servants from the wall; so some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Oriyah the Hittite is also dead.” 25 Then David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Yo’av, ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it’; and so encourage him.”
David is so relieved by the news of Oriyah’s death that he does away with any words of discipline regarding Yo’av’s poor battle strategy and instead encourages him for having carried out what was effectively a mass murder on behalf of the king.
26 Now when the wife of Oriyah heard that Oriyah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son. But the thing that David had done caused Yahveh’s eye to tremble.
After seven days of mourning and the months that had passed by this time, Bathsheba’s growing belly must surely have been showing. Many in Jerusalem must have known what their king had done. This king was G-d’s anointed, does G-d condone this kind of practice?
“I was concerned for My Holy Name which Israel has profaned among the nations…” – Ye’tzkiel/Ezekiel 36:21
Notice that the writer is still not using Bathsheba’s name. This is the woman that has been a catalyst for some of Israel’s most catastrophic civil unrest. Like Haman--y’ma-shmo, may his name be blotted out—perhaps the author is canceling out her name temporarily to show his disdain for this act of desecration.
Finally we read:
“Yahveh’s eye trembled because of what David had done.”
The blame is rested squarely on David’s shoulders, but it is more than blame that we are reading about here. Yahveh’s eye trembled. It is only during times of extreme emotion that a person’s eye trembles. The metaphor here is heart wrenching. Yahveh is not just angry, He is heartbroken, this is gut wrenchingly painful for Him to observe, the man who is called after His own heart openly spits in Yahveh’s face. Perhaps this is the reason for the powerful realization of David’s repentant psalm:
“Against You alone have I sinned and done what is evil before your trembling eye!”
It is Rav Yaakov, the writer of the book of Yaakov—James—who sums up this story best when he writes:
“When tempted, no one should say, “Elohim is tempting me.” For Elohim cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.