Murder Most Foul

Read: 2 Samuel 11:6-27

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 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” (2 Samuel 11:14-15, NRSV).

“Uriah who?”

If that’s the way you would respond to a question about Uriah, don’t beat yourself up. Most people don’t pay much attention to Uriah as a character. He doesn’t even merit a mention in the way we think of the story. Most of us refer to it as the story of “David and Bathsheba.”

Yet, Uriah is a crucial character in this story. In fact, he is arguably the most noble character in the story. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

When last we left this chapter (see last week’s installment, “Above the Law,”), Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, had just sent to tell King David that she is pregnant. If she is indeed a victim of rape (as I argued last week), why does she risk contacting David with this news?

Remember that her husband has been out fighting the good fight for his commander in chief. Once her pregnancy becomes obvious, people will conclude that she has committed adultery—a crime punishable by death (Lev. 20:10). Now you see her problem.

To his credit, David does not ignore her. His response, however, has all the qualities of a classic cover-up. One thing leads to another, and while David may not have set out to commit murder, that’s exactly where his efforts lead.

Plan A: Get Uriah to come back from the battlefield and encourage him to go home and “wash his feet.” This is a delicate way of telling him to sleep with his wife, and if you imagine David saying it with a nudge and a wink, you aren’t far wrong. There’s only one problem. Uriah takes his soldierly vows of celibacy seriously (soldiers were not supposed to have sexual relations during an active campaign), so he spends the night “at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord.” So, David implements Plan B, which is pretty much Plan A once more with feeling.  But this time Uriah makes a passionate declaration of his loyalty to David and vows never to do such a thing. Plan C: David invites Uriah to dinner, plies him with wine, and gets him drunk. Surely, this will work! But no. Uriah is loyal even when he’s drunk.

Plan D is where the story gets really ugly. David writes a letter to General Joab instructing him to make sure Uriah dies in battle. Notice that the plan will only work if Uriah is as brave as he is loyal. And notice that David is so confident in Uriah’s integrity that he sends him back to the battlefield carrying his own death sentence. Ouch.

Plan D works. Uriah dies in battle, and David waits only as long as the traditional mourning period before he sends to make Bathsheba his wife—or at least, one of his wives. One can’t help wondering how she feels about this. It’s better than getting executed for adultery, but perhaps not much.

If we weren’t so besotted with David, we would recognize that this is one of those Bible stories where the “faithful foreigner” is actually more righteous than anyone else. At the very least, we ought to remember his name. I, for one, am going to start referring to this story as the story of “David, Bathsheba, and Uriah.”

Ponder: Why do you think this biblical author is so candid about David’s sins? What can we learn from that?

Pray: Help us to recognize integrity wherever we find it, O God. And may that integrity inspire us to walk in “roads of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3).