Friday of week 3 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-4, 5-10, 13-17

Although David is unquestionably one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament and a key figure in salvation history leading to the appearance of Jesus as Messiah, King and Saviour, one must admire the honesty with which David’s weaknesses are described. It is difficult to think of any other Old Testament leader who is given such warts-and-all treatment (although some of the patriarchs come pretty close!). But it is what makes David such an attractive personality. It is very easy to identify with him.

And, in fact, it is through the very weakness of David – as in the case of Paul – that God’s power and wisdom are revealed.

The story begins by telling us that David had sent his army out under Joab. They attacked their enemies, the Ammonites, and laid siege to Rabbah, the Ammonite capital. It would now be about 10 years since David established himself in Jerusalem. It was also the time of year "when kings go out on campaign", directly after the grain harvest in April or May. However, while David’s army was out in the field fighting the nation’s battles, David decided to stay at home.

One afternoon as he walked on the flat roof of his palace, after his afternoon rest, he caught sight of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the armour-bearer of Joab, David’s leading general, bathing. He found her very beautiful. On making enquiries about her identity he was told that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. Later in 2 Samuel there is mention of an Eliam, who was a member of David’s personal bodyguard and a son of his adviser, Ahithophel. Bathsheba was a Hittite. The Hittites were a people from Asia Minor but the term was used of non-semitic people living in Palestine. (Her not being an Israelite further increases the seriousness of what is going to happen between her and the king.)

Filled with desire for her, David sent for her to be brought to his house, had sexual relations with her and, as she soon told him, made her pregnant. They both knew that, according to the law, they could be condemned to death for their act. That was David’s first sin: lust followed by adultery. However, there is no indication that Bathsheba was an unwilling partner in the affair.

The comment that she was “just purified after her monthly period” is significant. She had just become ceremonially clean after the seven-day period of monthly impurity following menstruation. This makes it clear that she could not have been pregnant by her own husband when David took her. The child was unquestionably David’s.

In letting David know that she was pregnant, she left the next step up to him. The law prescribed the death penalty for both of them but then, of course, he was the king.

Now comes David’s second serious sin. He tried to cover up what he had done. (Was this due to a sensitive awareness of wrongdoing or just to keep himself free from the application of the Law?) He summoned Uriah from the battlefield back to Jerusalem on the pretext of finding out how the fighting was going on. Uriah reported that the fighting was going very well.

David then, in an apparent show of deep consideration, urged Uriah to go down to his house and relax for a while. What he does not say specifically is what is most important, and well understood by Uriah. Clearly, he hoped that Uriah would also sleep with his wife.

The king also sent a portion from the king’s table. David wanted Uriah and Bathsheba to have a really enjoyable evening together with more implications of what that would mean.

The next two verses in the original text are omitted in our reading. In them, Uriah, who clearly understands all that David is hinting at, asks how he could go home, eat with his wife and have sexual relations with her, when Joab and the army and even the ark of the Lord are out in the battlefields. It was also a religious obligation for soldiers in war to practice continence. He refuses point blank. David’s actions are looking even worse than ever. Even the Lord is out in the battlefield while David is at home indulging in behaviour for which he should be deprived of his life. David’s plan had failed miserably.

But David had not yet given up. He persuaded Uriah to stay over at least for another day. On the following day, Uriah was again invited to share David’s table. There was a lot of wine and David managed to get Uriah drunk, obviously hoping that, in that condition, he would fall into his wife’s bed. But, instead of going home as expected, Uriah slept with the servants in the king’s palace. Failure of Plan Two.

David now played his last and most terrible card. He sent Uriah back to the battlefield and told Joab to put Uriah where the fighting was fiercest. At the critical moment, the soldiers were to be pulled back, leaving Uriah exposed to the enemy. This plan worked and Uriah was killed. Having failed to make it look as if Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child, he got rid of Uriah altogether and could now enter a quick marriage with Bathsheba. It is difficult to think of a more reprehensible way of behaving.

David is guilty of adultery, deception and finally murder. It is a sad record for a man who was chosen by God and anointed three times to be king and leader of God’s people and to be the founder of a dynasty that would never end. It is another example of how good can emerge from the most evil actions. For David is the direct ancestor of Jesus, the Son of God. Bathsheba will soon be the mother of Solomon from whom the rest of the Davidic line would continue. Hence she is also an ancestor of Jesus.

Before we condemn David, we need first, to read the rest of the story and then to look at our own lives. We could recall Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."

In our time, especially, we seem to be so quick to condemn people’s wrongdoings, especially public figures. We use them as scapegoats to cover our own shortcomings.

Did God condemn David for what he did? Let us wait and see as the story unfolds.

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