2 Samuel 11 – “David and Batsheba: Adultery and Murder”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
David impregnates a married woman named Batsheba. He attempts to cover-up the pregnancy by having Batsheba’s husband sleep with her, but her husband refuses do so. David has the husband killed and takes Batsheba as his own wife.

II. Photo
David sees Batsheba bathing: “Late one afternoon, David rose from his couch and strolled on the roof of the royal palace; and from the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful.” (v. 2)

III. Important Verses
2-3: Late one afternoon, David rose from his couch and strolled on the roof of the royal palace; and from the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and the king sent someone to make inquiries about the woman. He reported, “She is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam [and] wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
8-11: Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.” When Uriah left the royal palace, a present from the king followed him. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the royal palace, along with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When David was told that Uriah had not gone down to his house, he said to Uriah, “You just came from a journey; why didn’t you go down to your house?” Uriah answered David, “The Ark and Israel and Judah are located at Succoth, and my master Joab and Your Majesty’s men are camped in the open; how can I go home and eat and drink and sleep with my wife? As you live, by your very life, I will not do this!”
14-17: n the morning, David wrote a letter to Joab, which he sent with Uriah. He wrote in the letter as follows: “Place Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest; then fall back so that he may be killed.” So when Joab was besieging the city, he stationed Uriah at the point where he knew that there were able warriors.  The men of the city sallied out and attacked Joab, and some of David’s officers among the troops fell; Uriah the Hittite was among those who died.
26-27a: When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she lamented over her husband. After the period of mourning was over, David sent and had her brought into his palace; she became his wife and she bore him a son.

IV. Outline
1. David’s army goes forth
2-3. David sees Batsheba, the wife of Uriah
4-5. David impregnates Batsheba
6-9a. David sends Uriah home
9b-11. Uriah remains at the palace as a matter of piety
12-13. David cannot convince Uriah to go home
14-17. David has Uriah killed in a battle
18-25. David is told about Uriahs death
26. Batsheba’s lament
27. David takes Batsheba as a wife

V. Comment
Chapter 11 tells the story of David and Batsheba. While this is one of the most interesting stories in the Hebrew Bible, it is also plagued with ambiguity. For example, was Batsheba forced to sleep with David or was she his willing accomplice? Also, if she was an accomplice, would the law have required the two to be put to death? Leviticus 20:10 seems to say “yes”: “If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” However, Anderson points out that certain preexilic texts condemn an adulterous woman to divorce or humiliation, not death. While these passages are from poetic sources, they are important nonetheless. Jeremiah 3:8 says, “I noted: Because Rebel Israel had committed adultery, I cast her off and handed her a bill of divorce,” and Hosea 2:12 says, “Now will I uncover her shame In the very sight of her lovers, And none shall save her from Me.” Thus, according to Anderson, it is not clear if the law would have required David and Batsheba to be put to death. Also, even if they were guilty, it is highly unlikely that any court would have been able to prosecute the king of Israel.

While this chapter makes no attempt to cover-up David’s wrongdoings, Anderson offers a scathing critique of David: “It is ironic in the extreme that the one who ought to be the guardian of the people’s rights and justice should murder his loyal servant and cause the deaths of other faithful soldiers in order to protect the facade of his honor which he himself had already disgraced. Of course, it is unlikely that David intended the other casualties but the implementation of his deadly plan necessarily involved the death of innocent Israelites (v 24). Moreover, after the tragic event we have David’s cynical comment when he comforted Joab by saying that this loss of men was an inevitable part of the fortunes of war!

“Perhaps, the most serious charge against David was this that he was more concerned with the protection of his badly dented honor than with the caring for the divine law. One could nearly say, that as far as David was concerned, the deterrent value of the divine sanctions was zero, at least in this situation. Consequently, he was not afraid to commit a murder by proxy to cover his adultery.” (157)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Anderson, A. A. “2 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Waco Texas: Wordbooks, 1989).
Campbell, Antony F. “2 Samuel” The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, vol 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eedrdmans, 2005).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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