When Christians on the Lord’s Day hear a sermon about King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, they are often left in the dark about Bathsheba’s husband.
Uriah the Hittite was one of King David’s retainers, a faithful man not of Israel, but one who became an Israelite through affiliation and conversion, despite a rule barring any from his tribe from citizenship for 10 generations (Deut. 23:3).
By David Tulis
Uriah is from one of the six peoples God ordered the Israelites to drive out (the Hittite, Ammorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite and the Jebusite. Exodus 34:11).
As we hear about Uriah at church or read about him in the second book of Samuel, he is an important contrast to the Israelite monarch. He is an elevated character in a section of narrative marked by the depravity and sinfulness of David.
David is the children of Israel’s second king, a man whom God says is close after his own heart.
David is in Jerusalem while his army is in the field. His absence is an important thing to note. The king should be at the front, near the battle, leading and fighting by example, working strategy — even tactics — with his lieutenants.
David should not have been at leisure at home. But he is. “When we are out of the way of our duty we are in the way of temptation,” says Matthew Henry. One evening he spies a woman bathing — a very beautiful woman, Bathsheba. He steals her away and violates her.
Bathsheba conceives in their adulterous relationship, and notifies him in horror that she is with child.
But now David must hide the fact that she has conceived because if he does not, there will be a scandal, more likely the prospect of a rebellion if her husband finds out the grave breach by the king against him.
So David has Uriah sent for, and Joab the general sends Uriah to David.
Facing duty, no pleasure at home
David wants Uriah to come to Jerusalem and to sleep with his wife, which will cover for his sexual sin. He calls Uriah on the pretext of hearing battlefield intelligence, asking how the war prospers.
David says, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”
Now is the first sign of Uriah’s virtue. He departs, accompanied by a gift of food from his master. He goes not to his house, as ordered. He refuses the implicit invitation to go enjoy private time with his wife. Instead he sleeps at the door of the King’s house with all the servants of his Lord, “and did not go down to his house.”
David admonishes Uriah next day, saying, “Did you not come from the journey, why did you not go down to your house?”
“The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”
Did Uriah know himself cuckolded?
In Uriah’s mind, it is a grievous breach to enjoy the comforts of home. He is indignant at the suggestion.
An honorable soldier on duty will not grant himself the comforts of home when the others are in the field. This response shows Uriah’s nobility, and also David’s poverty of character, because he has been far from the fighting.
Henry says “Some think he suspected what was done, being informed of his wife’s attendance at court, and therefore he would not go near her. But if he had had any suspicion of that kind, surely he would have opened the letter that David sent by him to Joab. *** Whether he suspected any thing or no, Providence put this resolution into his heart, and kept him to it, for the discovering of David’s sin, and that the baffling of his design to conceal it might awaken David’s conscience to confess it and repent of it.”
David detains Uriah by a little longer. “Now when David called him, he ate and drank before him; and he made him drunk. And at evening he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.” Notes Henry, “Robbing a man of his reason is worse than robbing him of his money, and drawing him into sin worse than drawing him into any trouble whatsoever.”
In his hand, fatal letter
So built-in is Uriah’s virtue, that even in a drunken state he is not persuaded to enjoy the comforts of bed with Bathsheba.
A third instance of Uriah’s virtue, one that David acknowledges, is in his integrity in minding his own business. David writes a letter of execution to Joab the general and sends it along when Uriah returns to the front.
The letter says that Uriah is to be put in a position on the battlefield of peril so that as the Israelites withdraw, Uriah will be exposed and slain.
David has so much confidence in the character of Uriah that he gives this communication to Uriah to deliver to the general. Uriah totes his own death warrant to his superior in the field, respecting the wax seal.
David “sent the letter by Uriah himself, than which nothing could be more base and barbarous, to make him accessory to his own death,” Henry says. “And what a paradox was it that he could bear such a malice against him in whom yet he could repose such a confidence as that he would carry letters which he must not know the purport of.”
A fourth virtue, less clear perhaps than the first three, is that Uriah does as he is told in the course of battle and courageously fights the Ammonites, whereupon he is killed in battle.
“Adulteries have often occasioned murders, and one wickedness must be covered and secured with another,” warns Henry. “The beginnings of sin are therefore to be dreaded; for who knows where they will end?”
‘The advantage of my neighbor’
To say Uriah is a model in local economy and free markets is to stress a minor point. He is a virtuous man — and this point is the main one. He acts as a Christian should act. He is loyal, he is personally responsible to his friend and master, David. He is true to his earthly lord even though he may have been aware that his wife had violated the marriage bed with him.
He is a man of integrity.
But local economy? Business? Commerce and livelihood?
The local economy man keeps his contracts, swears to his own hurt, is principled in favor of the other, looks out for the success of the other, serves his customer in the details and is constantly thinking about the needs of the other party.
The Heidelberg catechism helps flesh out how Uriah is a model for the man of account in my city and yours.
Question 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
Answer: God forbids not only those thefts, (a) and robberies, (b) which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbour: (c) whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, (d) false coins, usury, (e) or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all covetousness, (f) all abuse and waste of his gifts. (g)
Question 111. But what does God require in this commandment?
Answer: That I promote the advantage of my neighbour in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others: (a) further also that I faithfully labour, so that I may be able to relieve the needy. (b)