Wednesday

13 July 2016

"In the letter he wrote, 'Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.'" (v.15)

Psalm: Psalm 119:1-16

 

Background

This brilliantly told narrative about King David (which includes yesterday's passage) could almost come straight from a modern magazine or film script (and it has certainly engendered countless works of art which had biblical permission to depict a naked and beautiful woman taking her bath).

First there is seduction and adultery, resulting in Bathsheba's pregnancy by David. Then David makes the effort to trick Uriah into thinking the child is his by giving him home leave so that he may make love to his wife. This is scuppered by Uriah's loyal refusal to forego a soldier's normal hardships at a time of war - he won't go. So David cynically arranges for Uriah to be exposed to particular danger in battle and then be abandoned by his comrades so that he will die and David can marry Bathsheba himself. David is willing to deceive and effectively commission a murder which involves subverting good military practice. (You will see from verses 18-25, if you read on, that the plot puts other soldiers in danger too.) Joab, the commander, is effectively David's 'fixer' in this matter, as in many others.

This story is in shocking contrast to some earlier passages which present David as the ideal king, full of the spirit of God.

However, there are some interesting points to note. At the time when this story was told, most contemporary monarchs would have had no scruple in openly taking for themselves whatever women they fancied, married or not. Or they would have had inconvenient individuals killed without needing to make it look like an accident. Brutal as David's behaviour is towards Uriah, it is clear that he is trying not to look like a tyrant - there is a higher standard for the kings of Israel.

It is also fascinating that the Israelites, who came to revere David as the greatest king of Israel, still preserved the traditions that show him in a very poor light as a sinful human being. In the majority of ancient archives, whether carved on stone or in manuscripts, only the 'official' and impressive version of a monarch's doings is retained.
 

To Ponder

  • Why do you think a story like this has been preserved by the biblical writers when it shows David in such a poor light?
  • What modern examples can you think of where those in power have put their own agenda first, even at the expense of the lives of common soldiers?


Bible notes author: Janet Morley

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you