II Samuel 11
1 “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
But David tarried still at
After the year was expired; Hebrew and Revised Version, at
the return of the year; that is, as Josephus paraphrases it, “the next
spring.” It seems quite certain that the war with Hadarezer did not take
place in the same year as the defeat of the Syrians at Medeba. For the
gathering of his mercenaries by Nahash would occupy a long time, and it
done so leisurely, that not only did news of it reach
David was able to collect his forces, and instead of awaiting the invasion,
could deliver his attack on the enemy’s ground. The battle at Medeba took
place in the autumn, and, as it was impossible to keep the field with winter
near, Joab marched back to
to the siege of Rabbah. But David quickly had information that a more
serious war was impending, and, instead of sending Joab, he now gathers
Syrian territories, and compelled by his presence the allies of Hadarezer to
transfer their allegiance to him. Simultaneously with this war he had to
meet the attack of the Edomites, for which purpose he detached Abishai
with a portion of his army; and it was necessary also to post garrisons in
their country, and in Aram of Damascus. It was while he was thus
occupied in the Aramean states that he gathered the “much brass” spoken
of in ch. 8:8. The Ammonites would necessarily be left to
themselves while these great events were going on, but now, after a respite
of a year and a half, David sent Joab, and his servants, that is, his officers
— the word “servant” in Oriental courts being constantly used to designate
those, high in rank near the king’s person — and all
army gathered from all the tribes. In accordance with the cruel customs of
ancient warfare, they began by laying the whole country waste, and putting
all whom they found to the sword, and thus destroyed the children of
Ammon before laying siege to the capital, into which all the people by
these harsh measures had been forced to go for refuge. In the Hebrew
there is a curious spelling, the word “kings” being written melakim, with an
aleph to represent the long a. It is a mistake to suppose that a different
word, malakim, “angels” or “ambassadors,’’ is meant, as it is nothing more
than an archaic method of spelling, instances of which have been made rare
by the extreme fastidiousness of Hebrew scribes. There is, however,
another example not far off, where the Hebrew word for “poor” is also
written with an inserted aleph.
2 “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.” David arose from off his bed. It was usual in
day (ch. 4:5); and, on awaking, David walked backward and forward on the
flat roof of his house (I Samuel 9:25), to enjoy the cool breezes of the
evening. In so doing he was probably following his usual habits; but
temptation came upon him, as so often is the case, unexpectedly. We are
told that it is regarded in the East as improper for one neighbor to look
over the battlement of his house into the inner court of the next dwelling
(Philippson). Considering the jealousy with which Orientals guard the
female members of their family from intrusion, it was a wrong act on the
king’s part to spy into what was going on in the recesses of the adjoining
house. But he did so, and suffered for it years of disgrace and misery. For
he saw a beautiful woman, the wife of one of his high officers, bathing,
probably to purify herself from some legal uncleanness, such as those
mentioned in Leviticus 15. No blame, so far, must be attached to her. The
place was regarded as perfectly secluded, and probably neither she nor
Uriah had ever suspected that what went on there could be observed from
the roof of the king’s palace.
3 “And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not
this Bathsheba, the
daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. In ch. 23:34 Eliam is said to be the son of
Ahithophel, and thus Bathsheba would be his granddaughter. Mr. Blunt, in his
‘Undesigned Coincidences,’ p. 143, et seq., sees in this the explanation of the
adherence to the side of Absalom of a man so high in King David’s service.
It was the result of his indignation at David’s profligate treatmeat of so
near a relative. In I Chronicles 3:5 she is called “Bathshua, the daughter of
Ammiel.” The latter is a transposition of Eliam, both names being compounded
of Am, people, and El, God. Uriah the Hittite. We read in ch. 23:39 that he was
one of David’s “mighties,” and it is remarkable that we should thus find
high in rank in David’s army a member of that grand race who had
was Toi, King of Hamath.
4 “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.” David sent messengers, and took her.
David’s fall seems as sudden as it was complete; but we may feel sure that
there had been gradual preparation for it during the previous period of great
prosperity. David had always been a man of strong passions, and the large
harem he had set up
his lust. And now he who had previously shown himself so chivalrous and
noble stoops to robbing one of his own officers of his honor. And stern and
terrible was the punishment. When he sent those messengers, who were
some of the vile people who hang about great personages, ready to
minister to their sins, he was preparing the way for his daughter’s disgrace,
for the murder of Amnon, for Absalom’s rebellion and death, and for the
death of Adonijah. From that day his own house was the scene of horrible
crimes, feuds, scandals, and miseries of every kind; and the long interval
after his repentance, between the birth of Solomon and David’s death, is
passed over GLOOMY SILENCE! No act of the penitent king after his
restoration to the throne is deemed worthy of record. He was pardoned,
but his place henceforward was not in the light of God’s favor, but in
SHADOW and RETIREMENT. Men who fall so grievously must be content to
be removed into the outer court. Of Bathsheba it must be said that she
remained a faithful wife, and bare David four sons besides the one who was
the fruit of their adultery, and that she retained her influence over him to
the last (I Chronicles 3:5; I Kings 1:15-31). For she was purified
from her uncleanness; Hebrew, and she purified herself from her
uncleanness; that is, having committed an act of gross immorality, she
nevertheless carefully observed the ceremonial enactment commanded in
Leviticus 15:18. She went home unrepentant, and with her conscience
defiled, but was all the more scrupulous in performing the rite that purified
5 “And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am
with child. 6 And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite.
And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 And when Uriah was come unto him,
David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how
the war prospered.” The woman… told David. Her crime was one that made her
liable to the penalty of death (Leviticus 20:10), and Uriah was a man
likely to exact it; consequently she was in great alarm, and the king shared
her anxiety. Already was the punishment beginning to be required from
both the guilty sharers in the wickedness. (As usual! – CY – 2018)
8 “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. 9 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. 10 And 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?” A mess (of meat); really,
a royal present (see Esther 2:18; Jeremiah 40:5; Amos 5:11, where it is translated
burdens of wheat, but really means presents of wheat, forced from the poor);
though originally a portion of food sent to a guest from the table of the giver of
a feast (Genesis 43:34). Uriah, as one of David’s thirty-seven heroes,
would hold a high rank in the army, though the statement given by
Josephus, that he was Joab’s armor bearer, is probably a mere conjecture,
made with the view of explaining what seemed to him strange, that a
foreigner should hold so distinguished a place among the captains of
David sends for him, on the pretext that he wanted full information of
Joab’s plans, and the state of the army, and the progress of the siege of
Rabbah. And so prompt is Uriah, that he goes to the king still soiled with
travel, and without calling at his house. And David makes his inquiries,
listens with apparent interest to the narrative of the war, and, after
receiving a full report, bids Uriah go home and rest and refresh himself
after the journey. He sends him, moreover, a present, such probably as was
usual after special service, but large and liberal, so as to put Uriah in good
humor. But the old soldier cared for war more than for pleasure, and,
instead of going to his house, spent the night in the guard room with the
soldiers and others who were in attendance upon the king (see I Kings
14:27-28). All would be eager for news of friends and relatives, and it was
a far greater delight to Uriah to chat with his old comrades than to be
resting luxuriously in his own home.
11 “And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and
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.
12 And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let
thee depart. So Uriah abode in
The ark, and
army in the field is puzzling, and shows us how little we know of the religious
practices of the Jews, as, but for this chance mention of it, we should have affirmed
that it was never taken out of its place in
conduct of Eli’s sons in carrying it out of the sanctuary to war was an irregular act.
The Jews themselves feel the difficulty, and some of their rabbins affirm that this
was not the ark of the covenant, but a chest containing the ephod whereby
inquiries were made of Jehovah. Certainly in I Samuel 4:3-4 it is
expressly called “the ark of the covenant;” and in here, in ch. 6:2 “the ark
of God.” The use in our version of the special word “ark” obliges us to
think of the ark of the covenant, whereas really it is a general word,
rendered “chest” in II Kings 12:9-10. It is said, too, that the war with
Ammon was not a holy war, nor was it of such importance as to call for
David’s presence at the head of his troops. But, on the other hand, if it was
not the ark of God, why did Uriah lay so great stress upon its presence in
the field? Moreover, we find the ark with Saul in his war with the
Philistines (I Samuel 14:18), where it is expressly called “the ark of God,”
and is used for the purpose of inquiring the will of Jehovah. On comparing
I Samuel 7:2 with here, ch. 6:3, we should have imagined that the
ark abode uncared for at the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, did we
not plainly find it in attendance upon Saul. We are thus compelled to
conclude that David sent it, with its attendant priests, with Joab, that he
might consult the Deity by its means. In the Talmud (‘Shek. Jerus.,’ 9. 2)
the idea of there being an inferior or second ark used for this purpose is
condemned. David, in his remonstrance with Uriah, shows signs of
displeasure, and the conduct of the latter suggests the idea that his
suspicious had been aroused. The war was going on prosperously; he had
been summoned home on an honorable pretext to give the king a report
of it; and it is, to say the least, strange that he should have cared so little
for a wife, to whom apparently he had not long been married, and for his
domestic affairs, as not even to go to his house, which was close by. The
tone, too, of Uriah’s answer is excited, and his military ardor too warm.
David had assumed that, as a matter of course, he would hasten to visit his
wife, and Uriah’s unexpected refusal upsets his devices, and leaves him
with all his difficulties increased rather than done away with. Very
probably, in the conversation in the guard room, Uriah had received hints
that his wife was too high in the royal favor. For “tents” the Hebrew has
“booths,” and so the Revised Version; and for “fields” the singular, “field.”
The Israelites still lived mostly in tents, and in war were content with very
slight and temporary shelter, and if there were any parks, or enclosures,
they were called Naioth, while “the field” was the open unenclosed land,
which formed the mass of the country. The separate mention of “
of the kingdom. Uriah had been in David’s service when he was king only
13 “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.”
He made him drunk. David thus adds sin to sin, and, in order
to accomplish his vile end, he degrades the brave soldier whom already he
had dishonored. But even when intoxicated Uriah kept to his
determination; and though on this second night there would not be the
same pleasure in chatting with old comrades seen again after long absence,
he still sleeps in the guard room. And thus there were witnesses that he had
not gone to his house.
14 “And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to
Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 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.” David wrote a letter. David now uses the
knowledge he had acquired in the schools of the prophets for vicious purposes.
For it to be a blessing, knowledge must be sanctified to holy use. The letter would
conceal from Joab the truth, and only let him know that Uriah, during his visit to
that Joab would be very indignant when he learned, as he certainly soon would, that
David had made him his tool, and caused him to murder one of “the mighties” in
order to cover the shame of his adultery. The only fair side of the picture is that it
shows the high state of morality among the people. The crimes of kings and great
men are usually lightly pardoned, and especially that of adultery. Even in our own
and other Christian countries this is the case; but David has to resort to extreme
measures rather than face the indignation of his subjects. Unfortunately, the
shedding of blood was not looked upon with equal horror. Possibly the
leaving it to the relatives to requite it made the suppression of murder the
business, not of the state, but of “the avenger of blood.” At all events, Joab
without much compunction carries out David’s orders, caring to know no
more than that Uriah was out of favor. And what is more extraordinary, David
remains utterly callous for a whole twelvemonth (see ch.12:15), and his conscience
does not even smite him for the additional meanness of sending the order for
Uriah’s murder by the hand of the injured man himself.
16 “And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned
Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. 17 And 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.”
When Joab observed the city; Revised Version, kept watch upon the city.
This does not mean, as some suppose, that Joab sent a body of men to examine
the fortifications with a view to an assault, and so provoked a sally. The verb
simply refers to the ordinary operations of a siege, which usually resolved itself
into a long blockade, continued until starvation compelled a surrender; and to
hasten this the people of the villages were forced into the town, by the rule
that all left outside were put to the sword. To maintain the blockade, men
were posted at all fit points round the city, and these were constantly assailed
by the besieged. Joab then placed Uriah at a post which was especially the
object of attack; and when the usual sally took place and was repulsed, Joab
seems to have ordered Uriah to pursue them up to the very gate, where they
would be exposed to a shower of arrows from the walls. Others fell besides
Uriah, and that the loss was considerable, and the result of bad generalship,
though designedly such, seems probable from the deprecation of the king’s
anger in v. 20.
18 “Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war;
19 And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end
of telling the matters of the war unto the king, 20 And 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?” Then Joab sent. Joab now performs another act in this
iniquitous drama, and goes through the form of sending the king a report
of the disaster which had followed upon his approaching too near the
walls. With well-feigned hypocrisy, he makes the messenger believe that
David will be displeased at the loss of life, and will blame him for his want
of caution. But it is curious that the messenger is instructed to mention the
death of Uriah only after the king has given utterance to his anger. Possibly
the meaning of this is that the loss of one so high in rank, and the king’s
near neighbor, is so serious a matter that it must be gradually broken to
him, lest his indignation at Joab should be too violent. Probably there was
also the suggestion that Uriah had been himself too rash, and had incurred
his fate by his own fault. The reference to the fate of Abimelech
(Judges 9:53) proves that the history of the times of the judges was
generally known. Very probably not only records of the several events
existed, but the Book of Judges was already written. In Samuel’s schools
like Nathan and Gad, and others who aided Samuel in his work, would be
sure quickly to turn their attention to the orderly arrangement and digest of
the records in their possession.
21 “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.” Jerubbesheth; in Judges 6:32 called
Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon. (On the substitution of Besheth, or more correctly
Bosheth, for Baal, see notes on ch. 2:8; 9:6.) It is remarkable that the
Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac all read here Jerubbaal, though, like the
Hebrew, they have Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth. Probably the change,
which was not made until after the days of Jezebel, was only gradually
carried out by the scribes.
22 “So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had
sent him for. 23 And 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. 24 And 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.”
The men prevailed against us. The real meaning is “the men made a sortie
against us in force, and came even to the open field; but we were upon them
(and drove them back) unto the entry of the gate, and the archers from off the
wall shot at thy servants,” etc.
25 “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.” Let not this thing displease thee. David professes
to be satisfied with Joab’s apology, and bids him, if the war is in the main going
on prosperously, not to be too much distressed at a temporary reverse. As
for Uriah’s death, of course it is to be regretted, but such is the fortune of
war, and the sword devours now one and now another. The last words,
encourage thou him, have provoked comment, as though the messenger
was to aid and abet Joab. They simply mean “Give him a message of
encouragement from me,” the exact form of which is left to the messenger,
but of which his report would be that the king wished Joab to take courage.
26 “And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was
dead, she mourned for her husband.” There is something pathetic in
this repetition of the name of the murdered man, and his close relationship
with Bathsheba is dwelt upon by his being twice called “her husband,” and
she “Uriah’s wife.” Having been the cause of his murder, she is careful to
make for him the customary mourning. How long it lasted is uncertain. The
mourning for Aaron (Numbers 20:29) and that for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8)
were each for thirty days; while that for Jacob at Atad (Genesis 50:10) and that
of the men of Jabesh-Gilead for Saul (I Samuel 31:13) lasted only for seven days.
Both these, however, were under such exceptional circumstances as made them
no rule; but in Ecclesiasticus. 22:12 we read, “Seven days do men mourn for him
that is dead,” and the national lamentation for Judith lasted the same time
(Judith 16:24). Probably, however, the mourning of a widow for her husband
would last a month.
27 “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.” She… bare him a son.
This would be the child whose death is recorded in the next chapter. Afterwards
she bare David four sons (I Chronicles 3:5), of whom one was Solomon, and
another Nathan, the ancestor of our Lord. The thing… displeased the Lord.
It was probably during the time of David’s victories that success began to work
in him its usual results. Too commonly men who have conquered kingdoms have
been vanquished by their own strong passions; and David had always
evinced a keen appetite for sensuous pleasures. Even at Hebron he had
multiplied unto himself wives, and now, raised by repeated victory to be
the lord of a vast empire, he ceased to be “base in his own sight”
(ch. 6:22), and lost his self control. And, as was to be expected in a
man of such strong qualities, his fall was terrible. But this declaration of the
inspired narrator is not made solely for ethical reasons, but is the key to all
that follows up to the end of ch. 20. In this chapter we have had the history
of David’s sin; a year’s respite succeeds, as if God would wait and see
whether the sinner’s own conscience would waken up, and bring him to
repentance; but it slumbers on. Then comes the message of reproof,
followed by earnest penitence, and severe punishment. It was, perhaps,
during this year of hardened persistence in crime that Amnon and his
cousin Jonadab also gave the reins to their passions, and prepared the way
for the first of the series of crimes that polluted David’s home. An early
repentance might have saved the son; but the absence of paternal discipline,
the loss of respect for his father, and the evil influence of that father’s bad
example, all urged on the son to the commission of his abominable crime.
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Vers. 1-17. — The facts are:
1. During the prosecution of the war against Ammon in the spring, David
remains in Jerusalem.
2. Walking one evening on his house top, he sees a woman washing
herself, and observes her beauty.
3. Curiosity being awakened, he sends to inquire after her, and learns that
she is the wife of Uriah.
4. Sending a royal message to her, she, as a loyal subject, waits upon him,
whereupon he commits adultery.
5. Discovering in the course of a little time that the fact would come to
light, he sends for Uriah from the war, under pretext of gleaning
information concerning it, but really that, by Uriah’s sojourn with his wife,
the fact may be concealed.
6. Uriah, possibly suspicious of wrong, excuses himself from doing as
David desires, on the plea that military duty and patriotism required of him
absolute abstention from domestic pleasures.
7. Failing in the first attempt, David makes him drunk, in hopes that, when
stupid, he would go to his home; but in this also he fails.
8. Subsequently he sends him back to Joab, with a secret instruction that he
would set him in such a position as to ensure his death, which instruction
Joab faithfully carries out.
The beginnings of great sins.
By universal consent the deed of David here recorded is regarded as a
great sin — a very great sin, because it was a breach of the commandment
which guards the purity of human life, and because committed by one
blessed with more than ordinary privileges, and in an abuse of regal
authority over a probably unsuspicious subject. The deed is ever base and
criminal, but that such a man should commit the crime when God was
prospering him in all his affairs, when his people were bravely risking their
lives in defence of their country, and after he had spent so long and blessed
a life in fellowship with God, is one of the marvels and mysteries of human
nature. In the narrative we have set forth the origin and progress of the sin,
so far as relates to its ostensible character. Scripture gives us outward facts
in their natural order. But we know that in one outward fact of human life
there are involved many mental and moral movements, and these are
connected in the continuity of life with antecedents which, in part at least,
account for their occurrence. It is not difficult, by bringing our knowledge
of the laws of mental and moral movement to bear on the facts here
recorded, to get a clue to the real beginnings of this great sin, and of great
sins in general.
I. INTENSE ABSORPTION IN PROSPEROUS AFFAIRS
DIMINISHES THE ENERGY THAT OTHERWISE WOULD GO TO
SPIRITUAL CULTURE. Man, considered physiologically and physically,
is a store of energy, and he can give out only what he possesses. The
totality of his thoughts and acts is the outcome, and generally speaking the
measure, of his store. What portion of it is spent in excess in one direction
is just so much taken from another direction. The usual law of forces here
applies. For some time David had been intensely absorbed in consolidating
his power. The amount of work involved in all the changes he initiated and
brought to completion must have been far in excess of what falls to an
ordinary monarch, and this in proportion to the utter disorganization of
affairs under Saul and Ishbosheth. Such an absorption most probably
trenched upon the nervous and moral energy he had at one time
concentrated directly on the culture of the spiritual life. Some few men
seem gifted with the faculty of sudden transitions of energy, so that, while
intensely absorbed in business or secular studies at one moment, they can,
by an act of will, become equally absorbed at once in religious pursuits.
Possibly David was one of these; but even in their case they cannot escape
the weakening effect on the finer sensibilities of a protracted absorption in
purely temporal affairs, especially if they are very prosperous. We see
many instances of this in the lives of professedly religious men.
II. HABITS OF LIFE MAY UNCONSCIOUSLY BE FORMED WHICH
GENERATE A CLASS OF FEELINGS PROVOCATIVE OF
TEMPTATION. Habits grow in silence and too slowly to be noted, and
every unconsciously formed habit brings with it its corresponding class of
feelings, which also, rising gradually, are apt to obtain an unobserved
permanence in life. The usages of Eastern courts in reference to polygamy
acted in a subtle way on David’s life, so that he gradually formed the habits
peculiar to that abnormal form of domestic life, and we need no Divine
revelation to inform us of the class of inferior feelings that would thereby
be surely though slowly engendered. The man in modern times who, by
reason of his affluence, combined with a certain habit of body, fares
sumptuously every day, does not, while he is getting into the practice of so
doing, reflect on the possible effect of all this, in days not far distant, upon
his animal tendencies in a certain direction, and his corresponding moral
safeguards. There can be no question that the physical, mental, and moral
habits of life of a polygamous household are such as would furnish good
soil for a sensual temptation, which, in the case of a man unduly absorbed
and preoccupied in mere secularities, would be still more perilous. Many a
religious man is weak from sources similar to this. Our Lord even warned
his apostles, after they had had the benefit of his teaching for two years, to
take heed lest at any time their hearts be” overcharged with surfeiting and
drunkenness, and the cares of this life” (<422134>Luke 21:34).
III. LEISURE SUPERVENING ON GREAT ACTIVITY BRINGS THE
WEAKER SIDE OF NATURE INTO PROMINENCE. The protracted
exertions of years had now issued in a compact kingdom and internal
order. Saul’s family was cared for. Administration was organized and
labour divided (<100814>2 Samuel 8:14-18). The war against the Syrians was in
the hands of a powerful force, under a skilful general. David, in Jerusalem,
had leisure unknown in former years. Now it is a fact in the history of
human nature that, when great energies cease to be in demand, and the
force of life no longer goes out in its wonted volume in its ordinary course,
then the feelings and tendencies which, meanwhile, have been
unconsciously generated by slowly formed habits of social life, are apt to
take more prominence, and find less resistance, in consequence of the
probably impaired power of the spiritual element (see division I). It is well
known among young men that more moral falls occur during seasons of
leisure than at any other time. Leisure following on great prosperity
requires for its safe use more than ordinary wisdom and spiritual health.
Adversity, though taxing energy to the utmost, tends to draw the heart
nearer to God, so that when there is leisure from it the soul is in a better
condition to guard against the evils incident to such a season.
IV. AN UNCONSCIOUS DECLINE OF REALITY IN COMMUNION
WITH GOD MAY SET IN ON A MAN’S OBTAINING A
RECOGNIZED POSITION IN THE RELIGIOUS WORLD. The subtlety
with which spiritual declension sets in is admitted by all who know
anything of religions experience. The best of men are the objects of assault
from the powers of darkness, clothed, it may be, as angels of light (<471114>2
Corinthians 11:14). Once let a man, by some subtle insinuation, begin to
think that now, having served God so many years and written such useful
and sincere utterances of his experience, he has a distinctly recognized
position, — then, in that very thought, there is an element of danger. From
that hour watchfulness may be less keen, routine may set in, and grey hairs
may come “here and there upon him” while he “knoweth it not” (<280709>Hosea
7:9). Undoubtedly David had attained such a recognized position in the
religious world. His people would accord it; and, in the cessation of strain
in civil and political exertions, he might, in an unguarded hour, especially if
the lower feelings (see division II.) began to put forth their force, indulge
in self-complacence. Communion with God might continue in full form, but
its original intense reality would have passed away. Herein, perhaps, is the
secret of the decline of religion in many a quondam professor. There are in
the Church not a few who have left to them only “the form of godliness.”
V. UNDER THE CONDITIONS THUS FAR CONSIDERED DISTINCT
SUGGESTIONS COME THROUGH THE SENSES WITH DOUBLE
FORCE. There are conditions under which suggestions through the eye,
ear, or animal passions fall as powerless as snow on the solid rock. The
real power of a temptation through the senses lies in the state of mind
which we are in at the time. David had probably seen beautiful women
many a time during his exile, and while king in Jerusalem; but the healthy,
well guarded spirit was unhurt by the sight. Beauty anywhere is, to a
healthy spiritual nature, an object of pure admiration as a work of God. It
was because David was not his old self that this sight was as fuel to a
smouldering flame. It takes but little to create radical changes and
commotions, as seen in chemistry, when the primary elements of things are
brought into contact; and so is it when certain elemental conditions of the
moral man and his surroundings are concerned. Joseph was pure and
spiritually healthy when the suggestion of evil came upon him, and it only
produced a recoil (<013908>Genesis 39:8, 9). Great stress is laid on this in the
Bible. “To the pure all things are pure.” “Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.”
VI. THERE IS A DISTURBING FORCE IN CERTAIN PASSIONS BY
WHICH REASON, THE WILL, AND SPIRITUAL INSTINCTS ARE
WEAKENED. It is a psychological fact that all emotion affects the
exercise of the pure reason for the worse. It is in the experience of men
that such passions as were aroused in David by the sight he witnessed from
the roof of his house, more than any — except, perhaps, those involved in
drunkenness — disturb or cripple the action of reason and of the will. Of
course, they weaken the spiritual instincts in proportion as they find scope.
Thus the powers which may be considered as the guardians of purity, the
foes of evil, are not in their normal condition, and consequently the chances
are, unless something happens to prevent such an issue, that the
unhallowed feelings will gain further ascendency. In this we see that the
perfect man is attainable only in Christ. The triumph of spiritual religion in
our nature is coincident with the most perfect development of that nature.
Hence, also, spiritual power among men is dependent on inner purity.
VII. WHEN ONCE THE REIN IS GIVEN TO SUCH PASSIONS, THE
FALL HAS TAKEN PLACE IN ESSENCE. When David saw and looked
on her, with a certain thought in his mind and feeling in his heart, he had
virtually done the deed of which we have a record. In the spiritual sphere,
thought and desire are tantamount to deed. The one is but the fuller form
of the other. Sin lies in intent and purpose, whether it be actualized in
outward fact or not. Hence our Lord’s strong words (<400527>Matthew 5:27,
28). The mystery of David’s sin really lies in the creation within himself of
the base feeling indicated in the terms of ver. 2. All that followed was a
development of this (<590114>James 1:14, 15). It is a question whether Christian
people have, as a rule, recognized the solemn truth taught by Christ and
seen in David’s case. The seventh commandment has a bearing on the daily
VIII. AN INWARD FALL BRINGS ON SPIRITUAL DARKNESS,
LOSS OF SELF-RESPECT, WITH FURTHER ENFEEBLED REASON
AND WILL-POWER. Such an inward fall as David’s on the roof of his
house at once brought a cloud between him and his God, caused him to
feel that he was a degraded man, and placed him, in that abandoned mood,
under weaker safeguards against the growth of the evil passion. Unless a
sudden and sharp repentance — a shocked cry to God for special help —
came forth, there was no hope of his being the same man as formerly.
Every hour during which the intrusive evil passion retained ascendency
only hastened his final overthrow. Men so circumstanced become blind and
stupid; they know their degradation, but are under a spell by which it
becomes greater; consequences suggested in feeble or strong tones by the
reason are not considered; the will, lately crippled for good, now goes over
in full strength to the side of evil. Facilis descensus Averni. The particular
passion may vary in the different deeds of evil which occasionally shock the
religious world, but in every case there is a gradual decline, and it is only
the last few stages of it which form the subject of surprise among men. Not
murder as seen in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ nor fraud as seen in occasional
modern revelations, nor youthful excesses as when the parent’s heart is
broken, are sudden in origin. A series of mental and moral changes precede
that which attracts the notice of men and forms the occasion of a social
1. The fidelity of Scripture writers may be referred to as evidence of Divine
inspiration. The cool impartiality with which the best king of Israel is
represented as having fallen into the vilest of sins, and this without note or
comment, is certainly not of man.
2. Moral causes are deepest and most wide reaching in the sphere of
human life; the change here indicated in David’s moral condition was of
pernicious influence ever after on his rule, his court, his private life, and the
general prosperity of the kingdom.
3. The season of great prosperity in temporal affairs, and of elevation in
religious privilege, should, on account of the peril it brings, be a season of
keenest and most earnest watchfulness.
4. So powerful are the inferior propensities of human nature, even in the
case of most favoured men, that it is possible for them to sweep away in
their outburst the reputation built up on the best purposes and actions; and
hence the importance of a most jealous guard against everything in
appetite, sight, and sound, that may develop their power.
5. Seeing the extraordinary extremes of human experience in the life of
David, we may note and weigh well the undeveloped possibilities for good
or evil, for joy or pain, for usefulness or harm, that lie within the scope of
every human being in the future state, even more than in this.
6. Feminine obtrusiveness, even when no danger is actually perceived in it,
may all the time be operating on some one for evil; and hence the duty of
the most guarded modesty of manner and personal appearance. We do not
fully estimate the harm done to human thought and feeling by the ocular
impressions produced by certain forms of dress and bearing.
7. It is good to have leisure from toil, but much grace is needed to use
leisure so that in it the tempter may not gain power over us.
8. The dangers of eventide leisure are conspicuous, especially to the young
and to the ardent.
9. It adds to the guilt of a man if, being in a position of authority or
influence, he exercises his official influence to gain power over others for
proposes of evil.
The crooked ways of sin.
We have in vers. 6-13 an account of the devices by which David sought to
escape the human discovery of his guilt. The perhaps sleepless nights spent
in painful thought as to what could be safely done are not alluded to —
only the product of his thinking. After what was said in ver. 5, it was
certain that exposure in the most palpable form would ensue if the
woman’s husband remained away at the war. To bring him home, and get
him in an apparently natural way to spend a little time with his wife, at
once seemed most feasible. The failure of this scheme, either through the
patriotism or the awakened suspicions of Uriah, caused another night of
thought and scheming, and, as the case was urgent, he was made drunk, in
hope thereby his patriotism or suspicions would yield to natural
propensities. Once more the force of events is against the scheme; and, as a
last resort, seeing that Uriah could not be made out to be the father of the
coming child, he must, with as good an appearance as possible, be put out
of the way so that the king, in accordance with the rights of Eastern
monarchs, might take his wife, and the expected one thus appear to be
prematurely born in wedlock. Concerning these crooked ways of sin
I. THE FIRST STEP OF THE IMPENITENT SINNER IS TO CLING
TO HIS SIN. When such a sin as David’s is committed, God is offended,
conscience outraged, self-respect disregarded, and human condemnation
rendered imminent. The whole of this disruption and confusion in the moral
sphere is recognized at once as being a consequence of the deed done.
Now, it is obvious that these consequences are not only to be dreaded, and,
if possible, to be avoided, but also that the first act of a sound mind would
be to abominate and seek to get dissociated, in every sense of the term,
from the sin which entailed them. The sin, and not the consequences, is the
evil thing — the most terrible and hurtful thing. And the first step of a truly
penitent mind would be to shrink from it, to loathe it, to seek to cut it off if
possible from self as the accursed thing. But note here that David shows no
sign of this. The evil nature adopts the deed, identifies itself with it, seeks
to live on in association of thought, feeling, and interest with it. God,
purity, conscience, self-respect, — all may go; the soul will have its sin,
and, by cherishing this sentiment towards it, virtually persists in its
repetition. So did Adam, Achan, and Ananias; and so do all the poor
debased souls that sink into iniquity without the grace of true repentance.
II. THE SECOND STEP IS TO RECOGNIZE THE POSSIBILITY OF
EXPOSURE BEFORE MEN. The guilty man knows that God is aware of
his crime. His action in this respect is a very singular phenomenon. There
may be secret dread of God’s coming judgment; the certainty of God’s
knowledge and power to punish may be so strong as even to render life
inwardly wretched, and to produce the passivity and helplessness proper to
an unavoidable fate. Possibly this sort of desperation urges to a warding off
of such consequences as would come did men but know as much of the sin
as God. At any rate, what the narrative sets before us is not an endeavour
to escape from God and his anger; it shows us rather that, as soon as the
mind can collect itself after the indulgence in sin, it recognizes the
possibility of men becoming acquainted with the deed done. That was the
thought which lay at the basis of Achan’s covering up his spoils; that is the
thought which starts in the mind of the thief, the liar, the adulterer, the
false professor. The fear of man is a very potent influence. The fear of God
is real, but it carries with it a hopelessness of effort. This induces gloomy
desperation, but not thought and action to prevent discovery.
III. THE NEXT STEP IS TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBLE MEANS OF
ESCAPE FROM HUMAN EXPOSURE. A guilty man pays unconscious
homage to holiness in that he begins to think how he can prevent men
knowing what he has done. David the hero, who trembled not before
Goliath, now spends hours in thinking how he may escape the
consequences of his own people knowing what he has done in private. Is it
simply fear of civil and social loss? Is it merely dread of physical pain? No;
even the guilty testify that sin is abominable; that sin is deepest personal
disgrace; that sin is too black and ugly to bear even the gaze of imperfect
men. No doubt David saw that he would suffer loss of respect among the
best of the land; that the force of law would be weakened; that turbulence
might arise in his kingdom by reason of others following his example; and
that he would no longer be able to figure before the nation as the illustrious
reformer of religion. The thousands who daily live in dread of, and
consider how they may escape, human exposure! What restless nights!
what deep-laid plans! what feverish concern! — all to cover up sin from
feeble man! And yet God knows all, and will bring to judgment. Truly sin
renders the operation of the mind very perverse. God knows all and judges
all, and yet all effort is to keep man from knowing! Nothing is done
Godward, except to harden the heart against him, and go on in sullen
desperation. This is sin! — this the accursed evil of the universe!
IV. IN SEEKING TO ESCAPE HUMAN EXPOSURE, THE FIRST
CONTRIVANCE IS TO SIMULATE THE ORDER OF PROVIDENCE;
i.e. to create, by innocent natural means, an order of events that shall have
in them and their results an appearance of providential succession. David
does not commit another positive sin to cover up the first. The sin-stained
soul again, notwithstanding its degradation, pays homage to righteousness,
in its deliberate effort to hide its past deed by deeds that are within the
province of right; for David had a right to send for any officer to give him
information as to the progress of the war (vers. 6, 7), and it was only
generous to allow him to go and rest at home (ver. 8). Lord Bacon has
taught us that, by carefully studying the processes of Nature to see how
she works, we, on submitting to her ways, become her conquerors, by
being able to set her at work in circumstances of our own creation. The
scheme of an impenitent sinner, when wishing to hide his sin from the
knowledge of man, is very much of that kind. He knows the order of
providential events, and he tries to create circumstances by which, in the
judgment of men, Providence shall be credited with the deed he himself has
done. Uriah, not David, shall be made to appear as the father of the child.
How this perverse ingenuity works still is familiar to all who know only a
little of mankind. The cleverness with which trains of events are set in
motion so as to assuredly direct attention from the doer of evil, is amazing.
The devil was always a great schemer, and his dupes catch his spirit.
V. THE FAILURE OF SCHEMES INVOLVING NO POSITIVE SIN IN
THE DETAILS IS SOON FOLLOWED BY DEEDS DISTINCTLY
EVIL. If Providence cannot be simulated, because of the uncontrollable
nature of its agents (vers. 9-11), then homage to righteousness must cease,
and positive evil must be done (vers. 13-15). The one desired end —
escape from human exposure — must, by good or evil means, be secured.
The knowledge that God knows and is angry counts for nothing. The
despair of escaping God, combined with a mad identification of one’s
interests with the evil committed and still cherished in the heart, seems to
operate on the mind in such a way as practically to banish him from
thought or care. All thought is on man, and at any cost man must be kept
in ignorance. It is against even the conscience, stained and hardened as it
is, to do definite evil, if possible — so mighty is the moral law in the worst
of men — but preservation of self from exposure is now the first law, to
which right, generosity, every true and holy sentiment and obligation, must
VI. IN HAVING RECOURSE TO DESPERATE MEASURES OF
EVIL, THERE IS SOME REGARD TO APPEARANCES. It is only the
very uttermost moral degradation — that, perhaps, of fiends in hell — that
can perpetrate fresh evils with utter freedom, and without any reserve of
decency or tacit recognition of the majesty of law. Every hour spent by
David in elaborating his scheme brought him more within the coil of
iniquity, and gradually reduced his moral sensibilities towards zero; but
even when in his despair he meditated the death of the man whose life
might lead to exposure of his sin, he could not slay him with his own hand,
he could not say even to Joab, “Slay him.” Appearances must be saved,
and some homage paid, by the lingering sense of right, to the Law of God,
by a contest being created in the interests of the kingdom, so that in
fighting for his country the doomed man might die by the hand of the
enemy. Of course, David did not kill him! Of course, it was an incident in
the natural order of warlike events!
It was not the King of Israel that raised the arm to slay, but the wicked
Ammonites! Such is the crooked logic of sin. Our Saviour has described
Satan as a liar as well as a murderer (<430844>John 8:44). It is evidently very
difficult to crush out all light from the conscience. There is a continuous
protest in the performance of guilty deeds; but so obstinate and desperate
in alliance with sin is the heart of an impenitent man, that this protest, this
remnant of light, is only used to grace the performance of positive evil with
a semblance of naturalness and innocence. The crooked ways of sin are
traversed by all men who in any measure hug their iniquities, and try to
avoid the consequences which it is feared would come were the deeds of
darkness exposed to view. There are many acting in this way every day.
1. Men in positions of power have many means at hand for hiding their sins
from public view (ver. 6); but they should be warned of their
corresponding peril and increased guilt if they use those means.
2. Real hypocrisy lies in doing things with the appearance of right and to
give an impression of right conduct, when the real aim is evil, and the
present motive is subordinate to that aim (vers. 6-11); consequently, just
pains should be taken in exposing to men the horrible wickedness of their
course, and in getting them to recognize more distinctly, as a governing
power in life, the perfect knowledge of God.
3. There are always forces working unconsciously against the designs of
hypocritical men, rendering, as the action of Uriah did (vers. 11-13), the
way of transgressors hard. It is vain to fight against God.
4. The man who, in the day of success and real goodness, scorns the
unprincipled and hardhearted (<100329>2 Samuel 3:29-39), may so fall as to be
glad of such men to carry out his evil designs (ver. 15) — a warning this to
him “who thinketh that he standeth.”
5. He who makes use of another as his instrument of evil henceforth
becomes weak in all his relations to him. Masters who employ their
servants to carry on evil transactions lose influence over them, and virtually
place themselves in their power.
Vers. 18-27. —
Complicity in evil.
The facts are:
1. Joab, having executed the wicked commission, sends word to David as
to the progress of the war.
2. He furnishes the messenger with a means of appeasing the probable
wrath of David on his learning that the conflict was more serious than
either he or Joab looked for, namely, an announcement of Uriah’s death.
3. The messenger carefully describes the seriousness of the engagement
with the enemy, and concludes by referring to the death of Uriah.
4. David sends back an encouraging message to Joab, and professes to
acknowledge the inevitable losses and chances of war.
5. On suitable sorrow being shown by the widow, for the loss of her
husband, David takes her to himself as a wife.
6. The deed of David is displeasing to God. The narrative here gives us the
maturing of David’s scheme, and the general character of the secret
negotiations carried on with Joab in order to bring his purpose to pass. We
have, then, an instance of accomplices in crime, revealing to us truth, and
illustrating facts in connection with human life in all ages.
I. MEN INTENT ON A GREAT EVIL ARE FORCED TO BRING
OTHERS INTO THEIR WICKED SECRETS. Providence kindly
frustrated David’s attempt to cover his sin by means of Uriah’s free action;
and it therefore became necessary, in his desperate wickedness, to seek the
end in view by means of Uriah’s death. But unless David committed
murder with his own hand, which his conscience would not allow, he must
find some one whose ingenuity, with his own, would bring it to pass, and
save appearances. Such is the logic of evil. God in his mercy has filled the
world with obstacles to the committal of sin and to persistence in it when
once committed; but such is the baseness of the human heart that this,
instead of being regarded as a help in the warfare with evil propensity, is
turned into a reason for seeking the aid of another’s wits and agency. It is a
further fall in evil when men are thus impelled to drag others into the
meshes of their sin. So hardened does the heart become by dalliance with
sin and indulgence in it, that even the character and souls of others are to
be ruined in order to gratify self and hide iniquity for a few years from
II. THERE ARE GENERALLY MEN TO BE FOUND READY TO
CARRY OUT THE EVIL PURPOSES OF THEIR SUPERIORS. Even in
the chosen nation a Joab was to be found, cruel, hard of heart, habituated
to acts of severity, and glad to have the opportunity of retorting in spirit, if
not in words, the former reproaches of his master (<100329>2 Samuel 3:29, 39).
It is a sign of the marvellous change that had come over David, that he,
who had so bitterly reproached this man for cruelty and hard heartedness,
now turns to him for the purpose of using those very qualities for
accomplishing his own cruel design. The presence of such a man in Israel
for doing the evil work of his superior is typical of a universal fact. There is
a vast amount of reserve evil in the world, waiting only for some influential
will to draw it out into activity. The power of superiors over subordinates
sometimes extends to the moral sphere. In strict fact, a king has only
power, in virtue of his office, over the legal actions of his subjects, and a
master over the legal actions of his servants; but when a king or a master,
in excess of his right, extends his authority into the moral sphere, it too
often happens that the subordinate whose conscience is not sensitive allows
the authority due to the legal position to pass over to the moral sphere and
break down the defences of conscience. This is an abuse of influence on the
one side, and an abandonment of most sacred duties on the other. The
wicked heart is apt to find excuses in the fact that a superior leads the way,
and that, if guilt lies anywhere, it is on him.
III. MEN BENT ON AN EVIL DESIGN WILL EVEN RISK THE
RUIN OF THE INNOCENT IN CARRYING OUT THEIR SCHEMES.
David knew very well that Joab could not carry out his instructions
without, not only exposing Uriah to the certain risk of death, but also
placing other men, not concerned in this domestic trouble, in positions of
peril; for the meaning of the instructions was plainly to create a position of
extreme peril, which in war can only be done by engaging a troop. What if
several innocent men fell in this “hottest battle”! Uriah, at all events, would
be amongst them! The more the progressive conduct of the king is
scrutinized, the more base and abominable does it appear. This dreadful sin
is not confined to David. Monarchs and diplomatists, who from motives of
vanity or mere love of power bring on war, really cause the death of
innocent men and the wailings of widows in carrying out their designs.
What if thousands of men fall! Some regal or other obstacle to ambition or
pride will at least be got rid of! That is the moral side of too many wars.
The same in a measure applies to men who will be rich, though it cost the
health, the poverty, and often lives of workmen. What of all that? Wealth
must be secured! Other instances are to be found in modern life.
IV. MEN IN CARRYING OUT NEFARIOUS DESIGNS ARE
CAREFUL TO CONFORM TO THE DECENCIES OF OUTWARD
LIFE. Bad men understand one another. There is a freemasonry in evil.
Joab knew what he was about when he anticipated that David would
manifest signs of wrath on hearing of his fruitless attack on the city. Each
evil doer played his part with skill. The messenger was to remind David of
historic parallels (ver. 21), and to tell him that the rash man Uriah, who led
the bootless assault, had been punished for his rashness by death. No court
martial would be necessary, lamentable as the affair certainly was! Heart
answers to heart. The anger ceases; maxims concerning the chances of war
come to one’s aid (ver. 25); the lessons of failure must be laid to heart; the
general at the head of the army must not be discouraged. All this was very
proper — in harmony with the proprieties of life. Men doing evil are
inwardly ashamed of it, and are compelled to keep up the appearance of
doing and being good. It is the outward conformity with the decencies of
life that enables wicked men to go on in their evil ways for years. They
follow the teaching and example of their chief, who is a liar in deed and
word, and who, to perfect his schemes, assumes, if necessary, the form of
an “angel of light.”
V. EVIL MEN BRING THEIR DEVICES TO A SUCCESSFUL ISSUE
WITH ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION. The success of David was
complete. Uriah was safely put away; Bathsheba was the king’s wife within
a date to prevent convincing exposure; the army and the people were kept
in ignorance of actual facts; the future was hopeful; but there was one fact
on which the infatuated king did not reflect — the Lord was displeased.
The brethren of Joseph seemed to succeed in getting rid of a troublesome
brother, but God saw their wickedness, and this counted for more than
they then imagined. The wicked husbandmen succeeded in freeing
themselves from annoyance when they killed the heir (<402138>Matthew 21:38);
but there was One to reckon with of whom they did not think. The
conspiring scribes and Pharisees doubtless congratulated themselves that
their plans for getting rid of the “babbler” who caused them so much
trouble were wonderfully successful; but there was One whose “power”
was not secured to their side (<440223>Acts 2:23, 24). Kings and diplomatists
and exactors of unjust labours and secret defrauders, and evil livers may
succeed in keeping up appearances, in passing as honourable men, and in
securing their heart’s desire; but there will always be one factor in the case
with which they some day will have to reckon — the displeasure of the
1. It is a disgrace to a master to be in league with a servant, and it puts the
master within the servant’s power. Many a subordinate is in possession of
secrets which, if used, would blast character and ruin earthly prospects.
The coils of iniquity!
2. Every new device to hide sin, and every effort to keep up appearances,
only blinds the mind the more to the actual state of the soul in its relation
3. In all our affairs, and especially when tempted to persist in courses of
sin, we should endeavour to remember that we shall have to reckon with
One who knows all and is already displeased.
4. That a man professing religion can go on in a secret course of sin
without giving due heed to the knowledge which he must possess of God’s
knowledge of himself and deeds, is a striking sign of the utter deterioration
of his spiritual sensibilities and his being nigh unto perdition.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE.
Vers. 1-5. — (THE KING’S PALACE.)
David’s fall into sin.
“But David tarried still at Jerusalem” (ver. 1; <132001>1 Chronicles 20:1).
1. He was about fifty years of age; had been reigning in Jerusalem upwards
of twelve years; dwelt in a stately palace on Mount Zion; and possessed
numerous sons and daughters, a splendid court and a powerful army. He
had been “preserved whithersoever he went,” subdued his enemies, and
returned in triumph. His natural gifts and fervent piety (<192404>Psalm 24:4;
101:7) were even more extraordinary than his material prosperity; and he
now stood on the pinnacle of human greatness and glory.
2. “We might well wish, in our human fashion, that, as he stood at this
elevation, he had closed a life hitherto (as far as was possible before
Christianity) almost entirely spotless, and bequeathed to posterity a wholly
unclouded memory, and the purest type of true royalty. But the ascent of
the dizzy height is always attended by the possibility of a slip and then of a
headlong fall” (Ewald).
3. “Rising from the couch where he had indulged in his noonday siesta to
an undue length, David forthwith ascended to the roof of his house. So
ambition commonly follows excess; nor do they whom the contagion of
luxury once corrupts readily seek after moderate and lowly ways. But that
ascent of David, alas! was a prelude to his deplorable downfall. For he
ascended only that he might fall, beholding thence, as from a watchtower,
Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, and immediately becoming passionately
enamoured of her” (J. Doughty, ‘Analecta Sacra:’ 1658).
4. It was the turning point of his career, which was henceforth marked by a
long series of calamities. And “it is sad to think that the cup of life, alter
being filled for him by God and made pure and sweet by previous suffering
and self-restraint, should have been recklessly poisoned by his own hand”
“His steps were turn’d into deceitful ways:
Following false images of good, that make
No promise perfect.”
His fall occurred (serving as an instructive warning to others) —
I. AT A SEASON OF SLOTHFUL RELAXATION. In the spring of the
year, “when kings go forth to war,” instead of going forth with his army to
complete the subjugation of Ammon, “David sent Joab,” etc., and abode in
Jerusalem. Formerly, when “the Lord had given him rest” (<100701>2 Samuel
7:1), he spent his leisure in a worthy manner, and displayed an ardent and
even excessive zeal; but now, in choosing rest for himself, he showed a
lack of zeal, and his unhappy choice was followed by disastrous
consequences. “His actual fall into sin seems to have begun by the
abdication of his functions as captain of Israel” (Maclaren); which was
itself the effect of “previous relaxation of the girded loins and negligence of
the untrimmed lamp.” Inactivity (voluntarily chosen, without adequate
reason, and regardless of opportunities of useful service) is commonly:
1. Induced by a course of successful enterprise, and the attainment of great
prosperity. If adversity has slain its thousands, prosperity has slain its tens
of thousands. “When his pillow was the rock and his curtain the cave;
when his sword, under Providence, procured him his daily bread from the
foes of his country, and the means of existence formed the object and
pursuit of life, — he was pious and immovable; he must have been active
or he must have resigned his life. But now the case was widely different.
He had not only all the necessaries, but all the luxuries which the most
refined voluptuousness could devise, attending in rich profusion around
him. He had certainly the duty of his charge to impress its importance on
his mind; but then he had the opportunity of neglecting it, and even David,
it appears, was not proof against the solicitations of this opportunity”
2. Indicative of a state of spiritual declension.
(1) Of a gradual decay of faith and neglect of watchfulness and prayer, and
so leaving his hold of God;
(2) of a defective sense of responsibility to God;
(3) of pride and security, “mortal’s chief enemy,” so that the self-denying
labours and hardships of the battlefield seemed no longer necessary; and
(4) of undue love of ease and sensuous pleasure, fostered in David’s case
by polygamy. “The sense of delicacy and chastity, which has such a
purifying and preserving influence on the life, could not flourish side by
side with the polygamy in which he permitted himself” (W.M. Taylor). The
majestic forest tree falling suddenly beneath the blast excites our surprise;
but, on examination, it will be found to have been undergoing at heart a
gradual process of decay, which at length brought the giant to the ground.
3. Conducive to the indulgence of sinful propensities; exposing to the peril
of falling into “the snare of the devil.” Want of proper occupation tends to
develop the hidden evil of the heart. “Standing waters gather filth”
(Matthew Henry). “Idle hours bring forth idle thoughts, and idle thoughts
are nothing but dry kindling wood that waits only for a spark to be
suddenly ablaze” (Disselhoff). “The industrious man hath no leisure to sin;
the idle hath no leisure or power to avoid sin” (Hall). David “may have
been quite unconscious of bad habits of mind; but they must have been
there growing in secret. The tyrannous self-will, which is too often
developed by long successes and command; the unscrupulous craft, which
is too often developed by long adversity and the necessity of sustaining
one’s self in a difficult position; — these must have been there. But even
they could not have led David to do the deed he did had there not been in
him likewise that fearful moral weakness which comes from long
indulgence of the passions — a weakness which is reckless of conscience,
of public opinion, and of danger either to earthly welfare or everlasting
salvation” (C. Kingsley). “This single act can only be regarded as the
expression of his whole disposition of mind” (Hengstenberg).
II. UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF STRONG TEMPTATION; or the
desire of self-gratification. For “each man is tempted, when he is drawn
away by his own lust [desire], and enticed,” etc. (<590113>James 1:13-15). “Lust
is egoistic desire under the incitement of impulse. But the action is not yet
performed; it still lies with the man to combat the lust, or by the free choice
of his will to yield himself to it” (Martensen, ‘Christian Ethics’). It:
1. Arises in most cases from impressions made upon the senses by external
objects. “And it came to pass in an eventide,” etc. (ver. 2). The eye is the
most common inlet of temptation. “And when the woman saw that the tree
was good for food,” etc. (<010306>Genesis 3:6). Achan first saw, then coveted
and took (<060721>Joshua 7:21). “David at this time had forgotten the prayer,
‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.’ We see, therefore, how
dangerous a thing it is to suffer the eyes to wander. Job made a covenant
with his eyes” (Wilier). “They who abuse the eye deserve to have the
inward eye darkened” (Gregory).
2. Derives its force from various circumstances; such as
(1) the unexpected, sudden, and deceitful manner of its occurrence;
(2) the power and opportunity of its gratification;
(3) the temperament, predisposition, and besetting sins of its subject;
(4) the entertainment of it in the fancy, which forms false images of good,
and invests them with a perilous fascination; and
(5) the delay of endeavour to overcome it, wherein there always lies
peculiar and most imminent danger (<013909>Genesis 39:9).
3. Becomes by such means an absorbing passion (<400628>Matthew 6:28, 29);
blinding the mental vision, perverting the moral judgment, and influencing
(though not absolutely compelling) the choice of the personal will, by
which sin comes into actual existence. “There is a black spot, though it be
no bigger than a bean’s eye, in every soul, which, if once set a-working,
will overcloud the whole man in darkness, and something very like
madness, and will hurry him into the night of destruction” (Arabic saying).
To escape this fatal issue there is need, not merely of resolute resistance
and fervent prayer, but also of instant flight. “The temptation of the flesh is
overcome and impure passion mortified by flight, and not by fighting face
to face. He then who flies fastest and furthest is most sure of victory. Once
more I say to thee, Fly! for thou art as stubble. Therefore fly, fly, if indeed
thou wouldest not be overtaken, led captive, and slain!” (Scupoli).
III. AGAINST THE RESTRAINTS OF RECOGNIZED OBLIGATION.
“And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this
Bathsheba,” etc.? (ver. 3). Whilst he knew not who she was, there might be
at least some excuse (considering the position of an Oriental monarch, and
the common practices of the age) for his passion (<100301>2 Samuel 3:1-5); but
now that he was informed that she was “the wife of Uriah,” the claims of a
higher law than his own inclination must have risen up distinctly before
him; and he had to choose between renouncing his evil desire or breaking
through the numerous restraints placed in his path. These restraints are:
1. Set up by the express commandments of the Divine Law, which says,
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife;” “Thou shalt not commit
adultery;” “Thou shalt not steal” (<101204>2 Samuel 12:4-6).
2. Strengthened by the special responsibilities of peculiar position and
relationship; such as David held, as King of Israel, under Jehovah, with
respect to his subjects, and more particularly his faithful servant Uriah.
3. Enforced by the terrible consequences threatened against transgressors
(<032010>Leviticus 20:10; <052815>Deuteronomy 28:15). It is nevertheless possible
to burst through all such restraints. And in the exercise of his freedom and
the abuse of his power, David set them at nought, and “despised the
commandment of the Lord” (<101209>2 Samuel 12:9). “When lust has
conceived, every restraint generally increases its vehemence, the thoughts
of future consequences and the consideration of the presence, purity, and
justice of God are excluded; his Law and authority are disregarded; faith
and fear and love are out of exercise; and the enhanced imagination of the
satisfaction to be found in indulgence possesses and engrosses the soul”
IV. WITH THE PERSISTENCY OF WILFUL PRESUMPTION. “And
David sent messengers, and took her,” etc. (vers. 4, 5). Regarding himself
as a special favourite of Heaven, he perhaps imagined (as others have
done) that he might leave the ways of lowly obedience and self-denial, and
go whithersoever he pleased, and yet be preserved from harm
(<052919>Deuteronomy 29:19; <191913>Psalm 19:13; <400406>Matthew 4:6); and under
this delusion he persisted in his purpose, and fell from his moral elevation
into the depths of sin and to the verge of destruction. “How are the mighty
fallen!” By such persistency:
1. The sinful purpose of the heart is confirmed and completed in outward
2. The guilt incurred is aggravated.
3. The natural consequences of sin become more serious and extensive;
and, in some respects, they cannot possibly be averted (ch. 12:11-14).
1. No man, however holy, is exempt from the liability of falling into sin.
“Be not highminded, but fear;” “Let him that thinketh he standeth,’ etc. “If
such a strong and tall cedar as David fall, how ought weaker Christians to
fear and to pray that God would deliver them from temptation!” (Guild).
2. Material prosperity and outward show are frequently associated with
moral failure and secret iniquity. Whilst the conquest of Rabbah went
forward, David became the victim of his own unfaithfulness.
3. The fall of men into sin is to be attributed to themselves — their
voluntary choice of evil; and not to their circumstances, or constitution, or
the withholding from them of the help of God. “Let no man say when he is
tempted, I am tempted of God,” etc.
4. It is of unspeakable importance to maintain the exercise of the spiritual
life in full vigour, and to watch against the first approach of evil. “The
narrow way has precipices on both sides; let us walk it awake and
watchful, for we are not more exact than David, who by a moment’s
neglect was precipitated into the very gulf of sin” (Chrysostom).
5. By the record of the sins of good men (<092102>1 Samuel 21:2), the truth and
worth of the Word of God are plainly shown. “If such a story does not give
one a view of the unfathomable depths of sin and of its power, he will
never learn what sin is” (Schmid).
6. In the whole course of history One alone has appeared “without sin;” he
was tempted and overcame, and he is the Succourer of them that are
tempted. — D.
Ver. 4. —
The Books of Samuel furnish abundant materials for instructive studies of
female character, in
(1) the praying Hannah,
(2) the provoking Peuinnah,
(3) the broken hearted wife of Phineas,
(4) the proud Michel,
(5) the persuasive Abigail,
(6) the beautiful Bathsheba,
(7) the unfortunate Tamar,
(8) the wily woman of Tekoah,
(9) the devoted Rizpah,
(10) the peaceable woman of Abel, and (in a minor degree)
(11) the terrified nurse of Mephibesheth (<100403>2 Samuel 4:3),
(12) the faithful maidservant at En-rogel,
(13) the sympathizing woman of Bahurim (<101717>2 Samuel 17:17, 18).
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam (Ammiel, <130305>1 Chronicles 3:5), the
granddaughter of Ahithophel the king’s counsellor (2 Samuel 23. 34), and
well known (ver. 3) as the wife of Uriah the Hittite. “Eliam and Uriah must
have been thrown much together, being beth of the same rank, and being
each one of the thirty-seven officers of the king’s guard” (Blunt,
‘Undesigned Coincidences’). She was:
1. Endowed with perilous gifts — extraordinary beauty (ver. 2), ardent
temperament, quick perceptions, ambitious aims. Something of her natural
character may be inferred from <110115>1 Kings 1:15-21 and <110213>1 Kings 2:13-
21, “a woman ignorant of ruling, but skilled in love matters.”
2. Destitute of adequate safeguards, such as would have been afforded by
the presence of her husband, who was away at the siege of Rabbah; careful
moral training; and firm religious principles (<201122>Proverbs 11:22).
3. Overcome by a great temptation. “And David sent messengers, and took
her; and she came,” etc. “There is no intimation whatever” (as Delany
endeavours to show) “that David brought Bathsheba into the palace
through craft or violence; but rather that she came at his request, without
any hesitation, and offered no resistance to his desires. Consequently, she is
not to be regarded as free from blame” (Keil). “One is even disposed to
suspect that she was a designing, ambitious woman, who laid a snare for
the king. Nothing is told us concerning her in order that the iniquity of
David might not be relieved” (R. Tuck, ‘The First Three Kings of Israel’).
She, like others, admired the king, felt flattered by his attentions, and had
not sufficient moral strength to resist his wishes or control her own
inordinate vanity. “Had she been mindful of her matrimonial fidelity,
perhaps David had been soon checked in his inordinate desire” (Hall). Yet
she was a woman “more sinned against than sinning” (ver. 27; <101204>2
4. Observant of customary ceremonies. “And she was purified,” etc.
“More scrupulous about the ceremonial law than the moral” (<031518>Leviticus
15:18). “She also mourned for her husband when she heard of his death
(ver. 26), but not for her sin which caused it” (Guild); being chiefly
concerned about appearances; for her sin had been kept, as far as possible,
a profound secret.
5. Visited by deserved chastisement. Beset by tormenting anxieties and
terrible fears, knowing the penalty due to her transgression; and,
subsequently, overwhelmed with grief on account of the affliction and
death of her child; nor was this the only retribution she experienced.
6. Treated with merciful consideration. (Ver. 27.) As David himself, the
supreme administrator on earth of the Divine Law, did not suffer death,
“and it is easy to perceive that, to leave this single act of criminality
unpunished in a great king, was for the advantage of the people”
(Michaelis, ‘Laws of Moses,’ 1:37), as he was expressly exempted from it
by the word of the prophet (<101213>2 Samuel 12:13); so, in the exercise of his
royal prerogative, he very properly dispensed with the penalty in the case
of the partner of his guilt. Like him, also, she probably repented of her sin;
and “mercy glorieth against judgment” (<590213>James 2:13). Evil was even
overruled for good (<101224>2 Samuel 12:24; <130305>1 Chronicles 3:5; <400106>Matthew
1:6; <420331>Luke 3:31). It has been thought (though without sufficient reason)
that the counsels contained in Proverbs 31. were given by her to her son
Solomon. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth
the Lord, she shall be praised,” D.
Vers. 5-15. — (JERUSALEM, RABBAH.)
Entanglements of sin.
He who once leaves the right path little knows how far he may go astray or
how great will be his perplexities and perils. Possibly he may never return;
certainly he will not return without overcoming immense difficulties, and
finding out by bitter experience his folly and perversity.
“The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labour lies.”
Sin is commonly attended (as in the case of David) by —
I. GUILTY FEARS. After his sudden fall he probably felt some measure
of compunction; but repressed the reproaches of conscience, and
continued, in the view of men, the same as he had ever been. It is evident
that, when the message (ver. 5) came to him, he was not truly penitent.
1. It awakened his fears concerning the possible exposure of his sin. Would
not the wife of Uriah, on the return of her husband, be constrained. to
declare the author of her shame?
2. His fears were intensified by the probable consquences of such exposure.
Even if he should be able to save Bathsheba, and himself escape legal
punishment, by virtue of his high position as the Lord’s anointed, how
could he avert the private vengeance of Uriah, or maintain the confidence,
affection, and allegiance of his army and people? What other Eastern
monarchs did with impunity, could not be done by him in Israel without
incurring the moral indignation of the people, and causing the enemies of
the Lord to blaspheme.
3. He was impelled by his fears to use his utmost efforts with a view to the
concealment of his sin. “And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah
the Hittite” (ver. 6). His endeavour to hide his transgression “as Adam”
(<183133>Job 31:33) was itself a tacit acknowledgment of its disreputable
character. And “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper,” etc.
(<202813>Proverbs 28:13). Would that men, after their first wrong step,
immediately confessed their error, made reparation, and returned to the
way of truth and righteousness!
II. FRUSTRATED DEVICES.
1. In their attempts at concealment men are wont to employ extraordinary
ingenuity (<091817>1 Samuel 18:17-30), and to hide their base designs under the
cover of kindness (vers. 7-9).
2. Their crafty purposes are often defeated by simplicity and sincerity,
beyond their calculation. “The ark,” etc. (vers. 9-12). “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
unmistakable 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
3. Although defeated, their attempts are usually repeated (ver. 13), but
only to issue in greater disappointment, perplexity, and anxiety. The
devices of sin are like a labyrinth, in which the sinner becomes more and
more inextricably involved. They are like the meshes of a net, in which he
becomes more and more hopelessly entangled.
III. INCREASING CRIMINALITY. (Vers. 14, 15.) “He sent back the
unsuspicious warrior to Babbah, to Joab, with a letter, which, under the
name of ‘Uriah’s letter,’ has become notorious throughout the world. It
was written with the same pen with which the sweet psalmist had written
his psalms” (Krummacher).
1. The course of sin is downward into ever deeper moral abasement. “It is
the nature of sin to multiply itself, and to draw the wretched sinner on to
greater and greater enormities.” Adultery was followed by
(5) temptation (ver. 13; <350215>Habakkuk 2:15),
“One sin another doth provoke;
Murder’s as near to lust, as flame to smoke.”
2. It is so because of its blinding, hardening, and enslaving power (<610219>2
Peter 2:19; <200622>Proverbs 6:22), its delusive promises of good, its specious
pleas of necessity, its urgent impulses to desperate expedients. “Such are
the accursed entanglements of sin; such the workings and gradations of it
in the distracted, bewildered breast that admits it. Millions have been lost in
these Labyrinths of guilt; but none, sure, in any more intricate and
perplexing than this!” (Delany).
3. Although it may be followed by apparent and temporary success, it
cannot ultimately prosper. “The Lord shall reward,” etc. (<100339>2 Samuel
3:39; <201121>Proverbs 11:21; <230518>Isaiah 5:18). “The means which David took
to extricate himself from the complications in which his adultery involved
him appeared well chosen; but there was one thing he had not taken into
consideration — that he could not here, as in former embarassments,
confidently expect the assistance of God. It was God’s design that David’s
sin should be fully manifested, for only in this way was perfect cure
possible, and therefore he suffered the means to fail” (Hengstenberg). —
Ver. 6. —
Uriah the Hittite.
Like Ahimelech (<092606>1 Samuel 26:6), he belonged to a notable people
(Genesis 23. 3; <261603>Ezekiel 16:3; <111029>1 Kings 10:29; <120706>2 Kings 7:6), had
adopted the faith of Israel, and joined David in exile; he was one of the
famous “thirty” (<131141>1 Chronicles 11:41; <102339>2 Samuel 23:39), married
Bathsheba (the young and beautiful daughter of a brother officer), to
whom he was fondly attached (<101203>2 Samuel 12:3), and had a house
overlooked by the king’s palace. The story of this man, “immortal by his
wrongs,” constitutes a little tragedy. He was:
1. Greatly distinguished for his heroic courage. For more than twenty
years he had taken part in the conflicts of David, and contributed to his
victories; and, by the valour which he displayed, gained and kept an
2. Grievously wronged by his royal master. Having been secretly
dishonoured by the king, he was specially sent for, treated with guile, and
tempted to become an unconscious agent in concealing the crime. “Were
honour driven out of the world, it should find a refuge in the breast of
3. A noble example of patriotic devotion. “The ark, and Israel, and Judah,
abide in tents,” etc. (ver. 11). He “may be regarded from a moral
standpoint as a type of the marvellous power and self-control for which
those troops, then in their prime, must have been distinguished” (Ewald).
In contrast with the indulgent habit (ver. 1) of the king, he exhibited
sympathy, self-denial, zeal, and determination: “I will not do this thing.”
“The ark of God is in the field,
Like clouds around the alien armies sweep;
Each by his spear, beneath his shield,
In cold and dew the anointed warriors sleep.
“And can it be? thou liest awake,
Sworn watchman, tossing on thy couch of down;
And doth thy recreant heart not ache
To hear the sentries round the leaguered town?
“Oh, dream no more of quiet life;
Care finds the careless out; more wise to vow
Thine heart entire to faith’s pure strife;
So peace will come, thou knowest not when or how.”
4. A pitiable instance of a common failing. (Ver. 13.) He was susceptible
to the power of temptation, even as others. Though proof against
indulgence in one form, he was overcome by it in another. But he did not
entirely lose his self-control. And the guilt of the tempted is far surpassed
by that of the tempter. Intoxication weakens the sense of duty, strengthens
the force of the passions, is often used as an incitement to vice, and is a
fruitful source of incalculable moral, and physical evil in the individual, the
family, and society (<092537>1 Samuel 25:37, 38; <101338>2 Samuel 13:38).
5. The unsuspecting bearer of his own death warrant. “And David wrote a
letter to Joab,” etc. — the first letter mentioned in the Bible — telling him
“that he had offended him,” etc. (Josephus). And without suspecting its
contents, he delivered the treacherous missive.
6. The hapless victim of his unswerving fidelity. “He assigned Uriah a
place where he knew that valiant men were” (ver. 16). “Honour is
pretended to poor Uriah; death is meant. He was not the first or last that
perished by his friends” (Hall). “He fell unconscious of his wife’s
dishonour” (Stanley). “Thus fell this brave man, a sacrifice to his own
heroic virtue and his prince’s guilt. He fell, but not alone; some of his brave
companions in arms stood by him to the last, nor deserted him in death”
(Delany). The report of his fate was received by the king with the cold and
commonplace reflection, “The sword devoureth one as well as another”
(ver. 25). “That the sin of David was fulfilling some righteous judgment of
God against Uriah and his house, I doubt not — for God often makes his
enemies his instruments and, without sanctifying the means, strikes out of
them good. Still, a sin it was, great and grievous and offensive to that God
to whom the blood of Uriah cried from the ground” (Blunt). — D.
Vers. 16-21. — (RABBAH.)
Complicity in sin.
Here are three men: David, a great but sinful king, bent on the destruction
of a faithful servant; Uriah, a brave but injured soldier, sent unconsciously
to his doom; and Joab, an able but unscrupulous general (<100322>2 Samuel
3:22-30), become a willing agent and ready accomplice in his execution
“with the sword of the children of Ammon” (<101209>2 Samuel 12:9).
1. There is seldom wanting a suitable accomplice in effecting a sinful
purpose, however iniquitous it may be. The character of Joab was well
known to David. “It was his very wickedness that commended him to the
king as the most fitting instrument for carrying out his infamous design.”
He had formerly deprecated his wickedness (<100329>2 Samuel 3:29, 39); but
now that he had himself fallen into sin, he associated himself with it, and
made use of it for his own ends, although, as he afterwards found, to his
own cost. “How Joab must have rejoiced when David sank down to his
2. In serving another, such an accomplice is chiefly concerned about
serving himself. He seeks supremely his own advantage. Joab acted not
from loyalty, but self-love. “To make himself great, powerful,
indispensable, was the object of his life” (Plumptre). “Possibly he had some
information that Bathsheba had been with David” (‘Speaker’s
Commentary’). Anyhow, perceiving the design of the king against Uriah,
he served him, in order that he might gain complete power over him; and in
this he succeeded. “When David made him a partner and secret agent of his
guilty purpose touching Uriah, he sold himself into his hands, and in that
fatal letter he sealed away his liberty and surrendered himself up to this his
unscrupulous accomplice” (Blunt). “All fellowship in sin begets
despotism.” Henceforth Joab did with the king very much as he pleased.
3. No authority of man can justify the violation of the Law of God. How
often have men imagined that the command or sanction of one in authority
has been a sufficient warrant for doing what their own consciences
condemned, and laid the blame of their conduct on the instigator thereof
rather than on themselves! Joab probably needed little self excuse; but it
ever he should want a defence, he might plead the king’s letter. He was
reckless of human life; to effect his purpose made a greater sacrifice of it
than the king intended (ver. 17), and became more hardened than ever in
wickedness. “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
4. There may be exemption from punishment when there is no exoneration
from blame. “How must this example needs harden Joab against the
conscience of Abner’s blood! while he cannot but think, ‘David cannot
avenge that in me which he acteth himself’” (Hall). Nevertheless, his guilt,
in the sight of God, remains; and judgment comes at last (<211214>Ecclesiastes
12:14). — D.
Ver. 21. — (JERUSALEM, RABBAH.)
Warnings from history.
“Who smote Abimelech,” etc.? “History is philosophy teaching by
example.” It is full of doctrines, principles, examples, warnings (<091208>1
Samuel 12:8-12). This event, which had taken place two hundred and thirty
years before, was familiar to Joab and others; and, viewed as a warning,
likely to be recalled by the king to point his reproof (<070953>Judges 9:53). Of
such warnings observe that they —
I. ARE OF IMMENSE SERVICE; in making general lessons concerning
danger and duty:
1. More distinct.
2. More impressive.
3. More beneficial.
They are beacon lights, danger signals, startling voices; and leach that in
the way of inconsideration, rashness, and presumption, there is imminent
peril; that destruction may come unexpectedly, suddenly, and by a feeble
hand — “a woman slew him;” and that; (although neither Joab nor David
laid it to heart) every violation of God’s Law is surely followed by
retribution (<070956>Judges 9:56, 57). They are “written for our admonition”
(<461011>1 Corinthians 10:11).
II. SHOULD BE DULY HEEDED.
1. Intelligently studied.
2. Constantly remembered.
3. Practically observed.
They are “written for our learning” (<451504>Romans 15:4). “The world exists
for the education of each man. There is no age or state of society or mode
of action in history to which there is not something corresponding in his
life. Everything tends in a most wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and
yield its whole nature to him” (Emerson).
III. MAY BE DELIBERATELY SLIGHTED.
1. For some immediate personal advantage.
2. From the persuasion of immunity, though others perish (ver. 17).
3. With a plausible excuse, when remonstrated with.
“Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” “Joab quoted God’s Word,
but was not careful to keep it” (Wordsworth).
IV. WILL BE ASSUREDLY VINDICATED.
1. By the occurrence of similar events (<110234>1 Kings 2:34). “The history of
the past is a prophecy of the future.”
2. In the bitter experience of the obdurate.
3. With ever-increasing clearness and force to successive generations.
“Remember the days of old,” etc. (<053207>Deuteronomy 32:7). — D.
Vers. 22-27. — (JERUSALEM, RABBAH.)
Concealment of sin.
Order of events:
1. Report of Uriah’s death (vers. 22-25).
2. Bathsheba mourns (seven days, <093113>1 Samuel 31:13) for her husband
(ver. 26), being probably unacquainted with the manner in which it was
3. David makes her his wife.
4. Joab takes Rabbah, except the citadel (<101226>2 Samuel 12:26).
5. David, on receiving Joab’s message, goes to Rabbah and conquers the
city (<101227>2 Samuel 12:27-31).
6. David and all the people return to Jerusalem.
7. Bathsheba bears a son (ver. 27).
“When I kept silence my bones waxed old
Whilst I continually groaned;
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me:
My moisture was turned into the drought of summer.”
(<193203>Psalm 32:3, 4.)
The life of David has an outward and an inward aspect: the one described
in the history, the other by himself in his psalms; each the necessary
complement of the other. They are, in general, closely connected and
correspond, the outward being the expression of the inward, and explained
by it. But sometimes they appear at variance, and in some respects present
a melancholy contrast; as in the period that followed his transgression. He
had succeeded in hiding it from public view; but he could not hide it
altogether from himself. Consider concealment of sin in relation to —
I. THE OUTWARD LIFE. Many a man carries in his breast a guilty
secret, unsuspected by others. He may be the object of their admiration and
envy, and distinguished (as David was) by:
1. Apparent sincerity in public and in private life. He judges offenders in
the gate, or receives news (from the battlefield) with words of resignation
or encouragement (ver. 25). “Alas! how often do men hide baseness and
satisfaction at successful plotting under the commonplace of resignation to
the inevitable, of submission to the conditions of existence!” He goes to the
house of God (<100708>2 Samuel 7:8), “returns to bless his household” (<100620>2
Samuel 6:20), and maintains the form of private devotion. Yet he is
inwardly “like the troubled sea when it cannot rest,” etc. (<235720>Isaiah 57:20).
2. Restless activity (<101229>2 Samuel 12:29), which, though it appear to be a
display of admirable energy, is really pursued as a welcome diversion from
disquieting thoughts. “The enterprise promised an opportunity of escaping
from himself; and he probably went thither in the maddest of all attempts,
that, namely, of outrunning a guilty conscience” (W.M. Taylor).
3. Earthly prosperity. “And he took the king’s crown,” etc. (<101230>2 Samuel
12:30). In this there was, probably, something of vain glory (<620216>1 John
2:16). It was the culmination of his victories over the heathen. But the
honour of wearing the crown of “their king” (or Milcom, Moloch) was a
poor compensation for the dishonour he had done to his own, and the loss
of uprightness of heart; his triumph over idolatry a miserable set off against
his overthrow by Satan.
4. Unusual severity. (<101231>2 Samuel 12:31.) The effect of sin is to harden
“I waive the quantum o’ the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But och! it hardens a’ within,
And petrifies the feeling!”
It also perverts the judgment. He who is wanting in a due sense of his own
sinfulness is apt to be a severe judge of others (<101205>2 Samuel 12:5;
<401828>Matthew 18:28; 21:41; <450221>Romans 2:21). A conscience ill at ease
makes the temper sullen and irritable; and a repressed feeling of justice in
relation to a man himself sometimes finds relief in the infliction of cruel
vengeance on other men. “An evil conscience is the concealed root of
bitterness from which spring a thousand poisonous plants, to shed their
baleful influence upon the possessor and upon society at large” (McCosh).
II. THE INWARD LIFE. The experience of David was marked by:
1. Obstinate silence. (<193203>Psalm 32:3.) He not only sought to conceal his
transgression from men, but also sullenly refused to admit “the iniquity of
his sin” to himself, or acknowledge it before God. The impulse to
confession in such a man must have been strong; but he struggled against it
with all his might (<193209>Psalm 32:9), as others have done.
2. Self-deceiving guile. “The deceit of the impenitent heart consists in its
seeking to excuse and justify itself despite the condemnation of conscience,
while it obtains no relief from the feeling of guilt, but rather brings about a
sharper reaction of conscience, and increases the pains that come from the
conflict of mutually accusing and excusing thoughts” (Erdmann). “The
roots of this deceit, which makes its appearance immediately after a fall
into sin, are pride, lack of trust in God, and love of sin” (Hengstenberg).
3. Spiritual deprivation. For during these long, weary months of silence
the light of God’s countenance was hidden, the joy of his salvation lost
(<195108>Psalm 51:8, 12). “His harp was out of tune, and his soul like a tree in
winter, with the life in the root only” (Matthew Henry). “We are not to
conceive of him as one who had quite fallen, nor as one spiritually dead,
but as sick unto death. It is certain that he had not quite lost all desire after
God, that he had not entirely given up prayer; doubtless there were still
many fruits of faith perceptible in him; but his soul was checked in its flight
toward God, a curse rested upon him, which made solitary communion
with the Divine Being for any length of time intolerable, and moved him to
seek distractions in order to escape the torment of conscience and keep it
from attaining to full life.”
4. Inexpressible misery; consisting of “the burden of the heart weighing on
itself, the burden of a secret, the sense of hypocrisy, the knowledge of
inward depravity, while all without looks pure as snow to men” (F.W.
Robertson); the remembrance of sin that cannot be forgotten (<195103>Psalm
51:3), the remorse of conscience that cannot be quieted, the sense of
Divine displeasure, the dread of approaching woes (<195111>Psalm 51:11);
continuing without cessation; consuming the vital energies, and exhausting
the physical strength (<193806>Psalm 38:6). “Whithersoever the sinner may turn
himself, or however he may be mentally affected, his malady is in no degree
lightened nor his welfare in any degree promoted until he is restored to
God” (Calvin, in Psalm 32.). “I will reprove thee” etc. (<195021>Psalm 50:21).
Although for a season concealed, it will be in due time revealed
(<401026>Matthew 10:26). “Not only was the fruit of the sin to be first of all
brought to light (ver. 27), and the hardened sinner to be deprived of the
possibility of either denying or concealing his crimes; God would first of all
break his unbroken heart by the torture of his own conscience, and prepare
it to feel the reproaches of the prophet .... Nathan’s reproof could not
possibly have berne its saving fruit if David had been still living in utter
blindness as to the character of his sin at the time the prophet went to him”
(Keil). “No language ever described so vividly the sense of a weight at the
heart — a weight that cannot be uplifted; and it was the weight of God’s
own presence, of that presence which he had once spoken of as the fulness
of joy. With this oppression, like that of the air before the thunderstorm,
came the drying up of all the moisture and freshness of life, the parching
heat of fever. Did the Prophet Nathan bring all this to his consciousness?
No, surely. The Prophet Nathan came at the appointed time to tell him in
clear words, by a living instance, that which he had been hearing in
muttered accents within his heart for months before. He came to tell him
that the God of righteousness and mercy, who cared for Uriah, the poor
man with the single ewe lamb, was calling him, the king, to account for an
act of unrighteousness and unmercifulness. Nathan brought him to face
steadily the light at which he had been winking, and to own that the light
was good, that it was the darkness which was horrible and hateful, so that
he might turn to the light and crave that it should once more penetrate into
the depths of his being, and take possession of him” (Maurice). — D.
Ver. 27. — (JERUSALEM.)
God’s displeasure at sin.
“And the thing that David had done displeased Jehovah” (<132107>1 Chronicles
21:7). This is the only remark which the sacred historian makes on the
conduct of David. It reveals its true nature as with a sunbeam; “contains
the moral decision from a theocratic point of view, and is, as it were, a
superscription of the following history of the Divine judgments on David
and his house on account of this sin” (Erdmann). The Divine displeasure
(indignation, anger, wrath) is —
I. REAL. Jehovah is the living, personal, supreme Ruler of men, and to
him each man is responsible for his actions. As he is capable of being
pleased, so he is of being displeased. His wrath is no less real than his love,
wisdom, or power; like, yet unlike, that of man, being above all human
imperfection. The Scriptures declare that he is displeased with men when
they do evil (<190205>Psalm 2:5; 6:1; 7:11; <410305>Mark 3:5). “The wrath of God is
revealed,” etc. (<450218>Romans 2:18). This is confirmed by conscience, in
which his displeasure is reflected as a clouded sky in the surface of a lake.
II. DESERVED. Sin is rebellion against his authority, disobedience to his
Law, opposition to his holiness, ingratitude toward his goodness; a
transgression of the covenant, “a coming short of the mark,” iniquity
(<193201>Psalm 32:1). Every wrong done to man is a dishonouring of God
(<195104>Psalm 51:4). In the sin of David there were elements of peculiar and
aggravated guilt (ch. 12:7-9). But in every case it is “exceeding sinful,”
“the abominable thing which he hates” (<244404>Jeremiah 44:4). It is the one
real evil in man.
“Sin alone is that
Which doth disfranchise him, and make unlike
To the chief good; for that its light in him
III. IMPARTIAL. The Holy One of Israel is unaffected by any of those
influences that make human displeasure at wrong doing partial and
defective. He is neither blind nor indifferent to the sins of his children
(<100714>2 Samuel 7:14). They have not, any more than others, a licence to sin.
David, “his chosen,” is not above the Law, nor exempt from due
punishment. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (<450211>Romans
2:11). “Without respect of persons, the Father judgeth according to every
man’s work,” etc. (<600117>1 Peter 1:17; <300302>Amos 3:2); estimating it according
to its exact moral “weight” (<090203>1 Samuel 2:3).
IV. UNAVOIDABLE. However men may conceal it from others, or
endeavour to hide it from themselves, they cannot hide it from God
(<182213>Job 22:13). What pleases men may displease him (<520204>1 Thessalonians
2:4). His knowledge is infinite; his righteousness and justice essential,
unchangeable, and eternal. Wherever and whenever sin exists, the holy
energy of his wrath must burn against it; “for our God is a consuming fire,”
an “almighty foe to ill.” Although delayed, it is not extinct. “A year had
passed since his fall. The child of his sin had been born. And all this time
God was silent. Yet like a dark cloud on a summer’s day hung this
sentence over him, ‘But the thing that David did,” etc. Soon it would burst
in a storm of judgment.”
V. EFFICIENT AND DREADFUL. As “in the king’s favour there is life,”
so in his displeasure there is death. It is manifested in the punishment of the
sinner, both inwardly and outwardly; as in the case of David (<101210>2 Samuel
12:10, 11). Every future moment must answer for the present. The
penalties of transgression in this life are numerous and terrible. And who
shall tell what will follow hereafter, when the wind becomes a whirlwind?
VI. MINGLED WITH MERCY. God is displeased with sin rather than
with the sinner (except in so far as he voluntarily identifies himself with it);
whom, in his essential nature, he loves; who possesses the capacity of
restoration; whose salvation he seeks; and to whom, on his repentance,
punishment becomes chastisement, a means of purification and blessing
(<100715>2 Samuel 7:15). “There is no more terrible, there is no more
instructive, portion of the Word of God than this whole record. The long
death sleep of that once living soul; its awakening under the prophet’s
voice; its deep repentance; its free forgiveness; its long, heavy, repeated,
almost incessant chastisement; — speak to every ear which is not
altogether deaf lessons of the holiness and truth, of the severity and love,
of the justice and mercy, of the Lord our God, which is borne perhaps with
equal force in no other record of his ways with man” (‘Heroes of Hebrew
History’). “O God, thou hadst never suffered so dear a favourite of thine to
fall so fearfully, if thou hadst not meant to make him a universal example to
mankind, of not presuming, of not despairing. How can we presume of not
sinning, or despair for sinning, when we find so great a saint thus fallen,
thus risen?” (Hall). — D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
Ver. 27. —
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” One guarantee,
even to the most unlettered, of the truthfulness of sacred history is the
impartiality of its accounts of its greatest heroes, whose sins and follies are
faithfully recorded as well as their virtues. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter,
are cases in point. David is another instance, whose fearful sins are
recorded in this most distressing chapter, ending with the significant words
of our text, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
I. THE WICKEDNESS WHICH DISPLEASED GOD. Many things done
by good men of old times which appear to us very culpable, were in them
innocent or excusable, on account of the different standard by which their
conduct was regulated, and the different public opinion of their days. But
the sins of David recorded in this chapter were not of such a description.
The law of nature everywhere and in all times, as well as the laws of the
revelation known to David, are clear and emphatic in condemning them.
1. The sins themselves.
(1) Adultery; and, growing out of this,
(2) deceit. Pretences to Uriah of concern about the war, and about Uriah’s
comfort while in Jerusalem (vers. 7-10); and to Joab’s messenger, of
regarding the deaths of Uriah and other brave soldiers whose lives had
been sacrificed through his directions, as being ordinary casualties of war
(3) Murder of Uriah and the soldiers who fell with him.
(4) Leading others into crime: Uriah into drunkenness, Joab into murder.
2. Their aggravations.
(1) His age, position, knowledge, experiences, and reputation. He was
between fifty and sixty years old. As king, he was the highest guardian of
justice and protector of innocence. He knew well the wickedness of his
conduct. He had been marvellously guided, advanced, and blessed by God,
with whom he had been accustomed to maintain the closest converse. He
was well known as a devout man, professing himself a devoted servant of
God. He had thus a reputation to sustain.
(2) The difficulties in his way. The necessity of sending messengers (ver. 4)
to Bathsheba. Think of his stooping to that! Difficulties, necessitating some
consideration and calling for determined resolution to conquer them,
increase the guilt of sin.
(3) His abundant harem, as contrasted with Uriah’s one wife; hinted at in
<101202>2 Samuel 12:2, 3.
(4) Uriah’s position and conduct. His relation to David, as one of his chief
military officers, and distinguished for his valour (<102339>2 Samuel 23:39;
<131141>1 Chronicles 11:41). He was at the time with the army in the field, and
might justly look to the king to be the protector (if necessary) of his wife
from evil. He cherished noble sentiments (ver. 11) of duty and honour as a
soldier. (Did he, however, know or suspect how matters stood; and frame
his language to the king as a subterfuge?)
(5) The deliberateness of the later crimes.
(6) The time cousumed, giving ample opportunity for reflection. When
these things are considered, the wickedness of David assumes proportions
which are appalling.
3. How they were possible.
(1) There must have been secret and very serious declension in piety. Had
he been in the state of mind and heart which is revealed in ch. 7., it is
impossible that he could have so sinned. The height of prosperity and
power which he had reached had corrupted him.
(2) There is much in what Dean Stanley says of “that abyss which yawns by
the side of lofty genius and strong passions,” which “opened and closed
(3) His position as an Eastern monarch, accustomed to polygamy,
accustomed also to act in many things according to his own will.
(4) Some think that his being in the way of temptation arose from a selfindulgent
neglect of duty in remaining at Jerusalem instead of leading his
army in the field.
(5) He found in Bathsheba a ready consent to his will.
(6) The later sins and crimes seemed necessary, after the first step, to save
himself and his companion in guilt from utter disgrace and ruin. Such
considerations may help to explain, but cannot be accepted as excusing, his
II. HOW THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD WAS MANIFESTED.
1. The message by Nathan (<101201>2 Samuel 12:1-12); who boldly reproved
David in the name of the Lord, and announced the punishments which
would fall upon him.
2. The death of the chill.
3. Family scandals, sins, and sorrows.
4. Absalom’s rebellion, and all the humiliations and troubles it involved.
5. Joab’s increased ascendency. “There was a guilty secret between the
two” (Trench). The worst part of his punishment sprang from sins like his
own, and was probably occasioned by them, at least in part.
1. Do nothing, however pleasant, or gainful, or common among men, or
seemingly safe, to the account of which may be appended the terrible
words, “The thing… displeased the Lord.”
2. Let none presume on their security against even disgraceful sin. “Let
him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (<461012>1 Corinthians
10:12); “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” (<402641>Matthew
3. Guard against the beginnings of evil. “Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life” (<200423>Proverbs 4:23). David had already
committed adultery when he gazed lustfully on Bathsheba (comp.
<400528>Matthew 5:28). Pray, as David did afterwards, “Create in me a clean
heart” (<195110>Psalm 51:10). The beginning of sin is, like that of strife, “as
when one letteth out water” (<201714>Proverbs 17:14). The trickling of water
through a small crevice in an embankment may seem inconsiderable; but,
unless stopped, it may issue in widespread devastation and misery. One sin
leads to another and another, and all to pain and sorrow. Gehazi’s
covetousness led him to falsehood and robbery, and then to lifelong
leprosy, transmitted to his children’s children (<120520>2 Kings 5:20-27).
Peter’s self-confidence prepared the way for cowardice, falsehood, and
profanity, followed by bitter anguish. The pilferings of Judas from “the
bag” issued in the betrayal of his Lord; and then remorse and suicide.
4. How vain are all attempts to conceal sin and prevent punishment! God
is looking on all the time the sinner is cunningly endeavouring to hide his
sin (see <183421>Job 34:21, 22). “Be sure your sin will find you out”
(<043223>Numbers 32:23). — G.W.