2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba


2 Samuel 11:1-15


If the story of David and Goliath had trumpeted David’s great faith in the Lord and heroic bravery, this equally famous tale portrays Israel’s greatest king as a sinful human being breaking the last five of the Ten Commandments.


In contrast to Uriah’s noble life, David may here break half of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20/Deuteronomy 5: coveting another’s wife, stealing her, adultery, lying, and murder. One wonders if it also occurred on the Sabbath!

One also wonders if David has been justly demeaned as the predator. Without denying David’s despicable behavior, the murderous cunning with which Bathsheba will manipulate the accession of her son Solomon to David’s throne at the climactic end of this so-called “Succession Narrative” (2 Samuel 9-1 Kings 2; see especially 1 Kings 1-2) strongly suggests that David is severely outmatched by his beautiful (and ambitious?) paramour.

The story cannot be adequately interpreted apart from its setting in the period of the Ammonite wars (see 2 Samuel 10:1-12:31) and especially without the balance provided by the conclusion to this little soap opera provided by 2 Samuel 11:16-12:25 (see that text). This familiar slice of that total story consists in four parts:

  • The setting (11:1). Most important here is the notice that David had “time on his hands” since his troops were battling the Ammonites.
  • The tryst (vv. 2-5). The account–intriguingly ambiguous, in that we are not told whether Bathsheba was the predator or the prey–is told starkly. David’s notice of the bathing Bathsheba (v. 2) and inquiries as to who (not whose!) she was (v. 3) quickly move to the “encounter” itself with the necessary note that she had just completed her menstrual cycle, that is, the child to be born cannot be Uriah’s (v. 4), and conclude with the notice that she is pregnant (v. 5).
  • The cover up (vv. 6-13). At first David wants Uriah to go home and “wash his feet” (probably a reference to sexual relations) in order to fool the Hittite into thinking the child was his. But Uriah refuses to break faith with his comrades at the front. The phrase “not go down to your [his] home,” indicating Uriah’s resolute devotion, occurs four times in these verses (vv. 10 [twice], 11, 13). Even plying him with alcohol fails.
  • The murder (vv. 14-17). Horrifically, Uriah delivers his own death sentence to Joab at the front.

Of greatest significance is the unrestrained manner with which David’s sin is portrayed, especially when compared to the squeaky clean Uriah (though a Hittite, his Hebrew name would mean “My light is the LORD”). Even if Bathsheba played a role, and it is by no means clear that she did so, the story is crystal clear in its depiction of David’s sin.