In this essay we study 2 Sam. 10 and 11, which begins the next major section of Second Samuel. In the first nine chapters the author recorded the first half of David’s reign. During those years David led Israel to great national glory, exalting the covenant nation into prominence in the region by forcing all of her traditional enemies to bow before her.
But beginning with chapter 10, the author records the moral fall of David, which led to a series of heavy judgments on David and his family. The actual years of David’s reign when these events took place are not stated, but we can figure it out fairly closely. There are several references to time in the account (13:23, 38; 14:28; 15:7), but they are only partially helpful.
The most helpful information relates to David’s sons. Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon about two years after David began his adulterous affair with her. And Solomon was 18 or 20 when he ascended the throne following the death of David after David’s forty-year reign as king, because he already had a small son of his own when he assumed the throne. We know this is true, because Solomon reigned 40 years (1 Kgs. 11:42). And Rehoboam was 41 when he followed his father Solomon (1 Kgs 14:41-42). Thus backing up with this information, we can see that the adultery with Bathsheba took place about the middle of David’s reign.
David’s son, Ammon, was not born until after David became king over Judah. Thus if he was about 20 when he violated his half-sister, Tamar (that story is told in chapter 13), then that event took place well into David’s reign, after David’s adultery. The time references in the book (mentioned above) suggest that the rebellion by David’s other son, Absalom, occurred about seven years after the rape of Tamar. Therefore we conclude that that all of these destructive events took place during the second half of David’s reign.
Thus chapter ten begins the second half of David’s reign, during which David fell morally and brought heavy judgments on himself and his family. In 10:1-5 we learn that Nahash, the Ammonite king mentioned in 1 Sam. 11 (in regard to a war with Saul) had befriended David in some unexplained fashion. He probably helped David when David was fleeing from Saul. So David extended the hand of friendship to Nahash’s son, Hanun, when he came to the Ammonite throne. He sent a delegation to Hanun in order to express sympathy regarding the death of Hanun’s father.
The country of Ammon was located on the eastern side of the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. Hanun’s advisers didn’t believe that David’s motive was honorable; and they convinced Hanun of that. But why Hanun did what he did to David’s delegation seems inexplicable to me. By shaving off half of their beards and cutting off the lower half of their garments, exposing them, Hanun in effect declared war.
In verses 6-8 we see how the war with the Arameans (mentioned back in chapter eight) began. Hanun of Ammon hired the Arameans to fight Israel. Beth-rehob was in the north somewhere near Damascus. Tob was a geographical area between Aram and Ammon, east of the Dead Sea. Once again in the various accounts of this war (2 Sam. 8 and 10 and 1 Chron. 19) there are differences in the numbers of soldiers and what units were involved.
Verses 9-14 show us how the battle unfolded. Joab found his army in between the Arameans and Ammonites, which meant he might have to fight on two fronts. The Ammonites placed themselves before the city, presumably a reference to their capital, Rabbah. The Arameans on the other hand gathered in the open country, which is believed to have been South and a little West of Rabbah near the city of Medeba. That city is named in 1 Chron. 19:7. And as we already have noted, Joab and the army of Israel were in the middle.
We see that Joab prepared for the possibility of fighting on both fronts. He picked the best of the men for his command, and set himself against the Arameans, who evidently were the more formidable force. Then he put the rest of Israel’s army under the command of his brother, Abishai, against the Ammonites. But he didn’t have to fight on both fronts. Joab struck first and routed the Arameans. When the Ammonites became aware of that, they also fled before Abishai giving Israel a total victory.
We are told that Joab returned to Jerusalem after the victory rather than follow up with a siege on Rabbah. We are not told the reason.
As it turns out, the peace was short-lived. We see in verses 15-19 that the Arameans under king Hadadezer gathered themselves together, reinforced themselves with troops from beyond “the river,” meaning the Euphrates; and then continued the war. David once again sent his army against the Arameans; and again Israel won. The Aramean general, Shobach, was mortally wounded in the battle and died. And this time a permanent peace was established between Israel and the Arameans. The paragraph ends with the statement that the Arameans would never again help the Ammonites.
All right, now we come to chapter 11, one of the best-known chapters in the Bible. It is the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. In verses 1-5 we see the situation. The previous fall when Israel had defeated the Ammonites, they had retreated into their capital, Rabbah. Joab returned to Jerusalem rather than begin a siege, probably because of the time of year. After that, the Arameans had been taken out of the picture with a decisive final victory over them, which meant they no longer would help the Ammonites. So when spring came, Joab began the siege against Rabbah. “But David remained at Jerusalem.”
This set the context for David’s moral downfall. It seems clear that David and Bathsheba were in this sin together. That is, there is no indication that David coerced Bathsheba. Rather she came and participated willingly. Some commentators go so far as to accuse her of having an ulterior motive when taking that bath. But at the very least she was immodest by choosing to bathe in an open court where other houses were located on higher ground providing a vantage point for seeing her bath.
Up to this point in his reign, David had avoided the grosser sins. He exhibited the basic morality of the culture, including polygamy; but he had not committed the kinds of wicked sins he now chose to indulge in, namely, adultery and murder.
As so often is the case, one sin led to another. The adultery produced a pregnancy, which had to be dealt with. And we see David’s plan A in verses 6-13. We are not told what pretext David used to get Uriah to Jerusalem. It may have been that Uriah was told to inform the king in respect to the siege, because David immediately asked Uriah how the siege was going. After the report, David gave Uriah leave to go down to his house and wash his feet, which was an invitation to go home, relax, and enjoy the refreshment of his own home. Of course that included the enjoyment of his wife. Thus David’s plan A was that Uriah would be intimate with Bathsheba and naturally would believe that the child she was carrying was his own.
But Uriah did not go to his house. The next day he told David he stayed away out of patriotism, because of his respect for his fellow soldiers who did not have that privilege. Some commentators suggest that Uriah’s motives may not have been so pure. They suggest that Uriah may have heard rumors about Bathsheba and the king, and he was suspicious.
At any rate, David tried again the next day. He invited Uriah to stay in Jerusalem another day, and then he got Uriah drunk, thinking that in that state, Uriah would go home to his wife. But Uriah did not go home. So it was time for plan B, which we see in verses 14-25.
Plan B was murder. David wrote a letter to Joab and had Uriah carry it to him. In the letter David instructed Joab to place Uriah in a situation where fighting was heavy, “and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” Joab did exactly what David asked, and Uriah was killed.
Joab immediately sent a messenger to inform David. David heard the message with apparent composure. And then he sent a return message of encouragement to Joab. Verses 26-27 tell us the end result. The ordinary mourning period for Israelites was seven days (Gen. 50:10; 1 Sam. 31:13). It is unknown if widows mourned longer. But we can be sure that Bathsheba mourned the minimum period, because David wanted the marriage to take place as soon as possible in order that they might be married as long as possible before the birth of the child conceived in adultery.
So plan B brought David the result he wanted. He managed to get Uriah out of the way, and he was free to marry Bathsheba. But it is significant that the passage concludes with the statement, “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” This statement does two things. It clearly informs us that God does not approve of such behavior. And it prepares the way for the next chapter.
There are several powerful lessons here in chapter 11. First, we are told in 11:1 that spring was the time when kings went to war. But David didn’t go. He stayed in Jerusalem. There is no indication that pressing kingdom business kept him there. In a sense he was taking some time off, and thus he was not doing what he as the king should have been doing. The lesson for us is that we must keep doing what God has called us to do and not give ourselves over to self-indulgence.
Second, we must resist temptation to sin. David could have, and should have, ended his interest in Bathsheba when he learned that she was married and thus she was not free to marry him. But she was beautiful, and he was the king, and he wanted her. So he summoned her to his quarters and entered into an adulterous relationship with her. Now as I suggested earlier, Bathsheba wasn’t guilt free in this, though David’s guilt was heavier, because of his position of power. It would have been very difficult for any woman in Israel to resist the advances of the king. Nevertheless, Bathsheba should have resisted. So we have two people who yielded to lust for sex on David’s part, and probably for power on her part.
A third lesson in chapter 11 is this. Sin leads to more sin. And sometimes it leads to greater sin. David’s affair caused a pregnancy. Because of that David tried to cover up his sexual sin by seeking to get Uriah to bed Bathsheba, which would have caused Uriah to believe the child was his. When that deception didn’t work, David sunk to a new sinful low by arranging the murder of Uriah. Sin breeds more sin.
Finally, fourth, our sins displease God. The chapter ends with a statement that David displeased the Lord. We Christians, like David, displease God when we sin, especially when we sin blatantly, as he did. Therefore we must resist sin, and if we sin, we must repent and seek forgiveness.