Containing The Interval Of Forty Years.
From The Death Of Saul To The Death Of David.
How David Fell In Love With Bathsheba, And Slew Her Husband Uriah, For Which He Is Reproved By Nathan.
1. BUT David fell now into a very grievous sin, though he were otherwise naturally a righteous and a religious man, and one that firmly observed the laws of our fathers; for when late in an evening he took a view round him from the roof of his royal palace, where he used to walk at that hour, he saw a woman washing herself in her own house: she was one of extraordinary beauty, and therein surpassed all other women; her name was Bathsheba. So he was overcome by that woman's beauty, and was not able to restrain his desires, but sent for her, and lay with her. Hereupon she conceived with child, and sent to the king, that he should contrive some way for concealing her sin (for, according to the laws of their fathers, she who had been guilty of adultery ought to be put to death). So the king sent for Joab's armor-bearer from the siege, who was the woman's husband, and his name was Uriah.
And when he was come, the king inquired of him about the army, and about the siege; and when he had made answer that all their affairs went according to their wishes, the king took some portions of meat from his supper, and gave them to him, and bade him go home to his wife, and take his rest with her. Uriah did not do so, but slept near the king with the rest of his armor-bearers. When the king was informed of this, he asked him why he did not go home to his house, and to his wife, after so long an absence; which is the natural custom of all men, when they come from a long journey. He replied, that it was not right, while his fellow soldiers, and the general of the army, slept upon the ground, in the camp, and in an enemy's country, that he should go and take his rest, and solace himself with his wife. So when he had thus replied, the king ordered him to stay there that night, that he might dismiss him the next day to the general.
So the king invited Uriah to supper, and after a cunning and dexterous manlier plied him with drink at supper, till he was thereby disordered; yet did he nevertheless sleep at the king's gates without any inclination to go to his wife. Upon this the king was very angry at him; and wrote to Joab, and commanded him to punish Uriah, for he told him that he had offended him; and he suggested to him the manner in which he would have him punished, that it might not be discovered that he was himself the author of this his punishment; for he charged him to set him over against that part of the enemy's army where the attack would be most hazardous, and where he might be deserted, and be in the greatest jeopardy, for he bade him order his fellow soldiers to retire out of the fight. When he had written thus to him, and sealed the letter with his own seal, he gave it to Uriah to carry to Joab. When Joab had received it, and upon reading it understood the king's purpose, he set Uriah in that place where he knew the enemy would be most troublesome to them; and gave him for his partners some of the best soldiers in the army; and said that he would also come to their assistance with the whole army, that if possible they might break down some part of the wall, and enter the city.
And he desired him to be glad of the opportunity of exposing himself to such great pains, and not to be displeased at it, since he was a valiant soldier, and had a great reputation for his valor, both with the king and with his countrymen. And when Uriah undertook the work he was set upon with alacrity, he gave private orders to those who were to be his companions, that when they saw the enemy make a sally, they should leave him. When, therefore, the Hebrews made an attack upon the city, the Ammonites were afraid that the enemy might prevent them, and get up into the city, and this at the very place whither Uriah was ordered; so they exposed their best soldiers to be in the forefront, and opened their gates suddenly, and fell upon the enemy with great vehemence, and ran violently upon them. When those that were with Uriah saw this, they all retreated backward, as Joab had directed them beforehand; but Uriah, as ashamed to run away and leave his post, sustained the enemy, and receiving the violence of their onset, he slew many of them; but being encompassed round, and caught in the midst of them, he was slain, and some other of his companions were slain with him.
2. When this was done, Joab sent messengers to the king, and ordered them to tell him that he did what he could to take the city soon; but that, as they made an assault on the wall, they had been forced to retire with great loss; and bade them, if they saw the king was angry at it, to add this, that Uriah was slain also. When the king had heard this of the messengers, he took it heinously, and said that they did wrong when they assaulted the wall, whereas they ought, by undermining and other stratagems of war, to endeavor the taking of rite city, especially when they had before their eyes the example of Abimelech, the son of Gideon, who would needs take the tower in Thebes by force, and was killed by a large stone thrown at him by an old woman; and although he was a man of great prowess, he died ignominiously by the dangerous manner of his assault: that they should remember this accident, and not come near the enemy's wall, for that the best method of making war with success was to call to mind the accidents of former wars, and what good or bad success had attended them in the like dangerous cases, that so they might imitate the one, and avoid the other.
But when the king was in this disposition, the messenger told him that Uriah was slain also; whereupon he was pacified. So he bade the messenger go back to Joab and tell him that this misfortune is no other than what is common among mankind, and that such is the nature, and such the accidents of war, insomuch that sometimes the enemy will have success therein, and sometimes others; but that he ordered him to go on still in his care about the siege, that no ill accident might befall him in it hereafter; that they should raise bulwarks and use machines in besieging the city; and when they have gotten it, to overturn its very foundations, and to destroy all those that are in it. Accordingly the messenger carried the king's message with which he was charged, and made haste to Joab. But Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, when she was informed of the death of her husband, mourned for his death many days; and when her mourning was over, and the tears which she shed for Uriah were dried up, the king took her to wife presently; and a son was born to him by her.
3. With this marriage God was not well pleased, but was thereupon angry at David; and he appeared to Nathan the prophet in his sleep, and complained of the king. Now Nathan was a fair and prudent man; and considering that kings, when they fall into a passion, are guided more by that passion than they are by justice, he resolved to conceal the threatenings that proceeded from God, and made a good-natured discourse to him, and this after the manner following: - He desired that the king would give him his opinion in the following case: -
"There were," said he, "two men inhabiting the same city, the one of them was rich, and [the other poor]. The rich man had a great many flocks of cattle, of sheep, and of kine; but the poor man had but one ewe lamb. This he brought up with his children, and let her eat her food with them; and he had the same natural affection for her which any one might have for a daughter. Now upon the coming of a stranger to the rich man, he would not vouchsafe to kill any of his own flocks, and thence feast his friend; but he sent for the poor man's lamb, and took her away from him, and made her ready for food, and thence feasted the stranger."
This discourse troubled the king exceedingly; and he denounced to Nathan, that
"this man was a wicked man who could dare to do such a thing; and that it was but just that he should restore the lamb fourfold, and be punished with death for it also."
Upon this Nathan immediately said that he was himself the man who ought to suffer those punishments, and that by his own sentence; and that it was he who had perpetrated this 'great and horrid crime. He also revealed to him, and laid before him, the anger of God against him, who had made him king over the army of the Hebrews, and lord of all the nations, and those many and great nations round about him; who had formerly delivered him out of the hands of Saul, and had given him such wives as he had justly and legally married; and now this God was despised by him, and affronted by his impiety, when he had married, and now had, another man's wife; and by exposing her husband to the enemy, had really slain him; that God would inflict punishments upon him on account of those instances of wickedness; that his own wives should be forced by one of his sons; and that he should be treacherously supplanted by the same son; and that although he had perpetrated his wickedness secretly, yet should that punishment which he was to undergo be inflicted publicly upon him;
"that, moreover," said he, "the child which was born to thee of her shall soon die."
When the king was troubled at these messages, and sufficiently confounded, and said with tears and sorrow that he had sinned, (for he was without controversy a pious man, and guilty of no sin at all in his whole life, excepting those in the matter of Uriah,) God had compassion on him, and was reconciled to him, and promised that he would preserve to him both his life and his kingdom; for he said that, seeing he repented of the things he had done, he was no longer displeased with him. So Nathan, when he had delivered this prophecy to the king, returned home.
4. However, God sent a dangerous distemper upon the child that was born to David of the wife of Uriah, at which the king was troubled, and did not take any food for seven days, although his servants almost forced him to take it; but he clothed himself in a black garment, and fell down, and lay upon the ground in sackcloth, entrusting God for the recovery of the child, for he vehemently loved the child's mother; but when, on the seventh day, the child was dead, the king's servants durst not tell him of it, as supposing that when he knew it, he would still less admit of food, and other care of himself, by reason of his grief at the death of his son, since when the child was only sick, he so greatly afflicted himself, and grieved for him: but when the king perceived that his servants were in disorder, and seemed to be affected, as those who are very desirous to conceal something, he understood that the child was dead; and when he had called one of his servants to him, and discovered that so it was, he arose up and washed himself, and took a white garment, and came into the tabernacle of God.
He also commanded them to set supper before him, and thereby greatly surprised his kindred and servants, while he did nothing of this when the child was sick, but did it all when he was dead. Whereupon having first begged leave to ask him a question, they besought him to tell them the reason of this his conduct; he then called them unskillful people, and instructed them how he had hopes of the recovery of the child while it was alive, and accordingly did all that was proper for him to do, as thinking by such means to render God propitious to him; but that when the child was dead, there was no longer any occasion for grief, which was then to no purpose. When he had said this, they commended the king's wisdom and understanding. He then went in unto Bathsheba his wife, and she conceived and bare a son; and by the command of Nathan the prophet called his name Solomon.
5. But Joab sorely distressed the Ammonites in the siege, by cutting off their waters, and depriving them of other means of subsistence, till they were in the greatest want of meat and drink, for they depended only on one small well of water, and this they durst not drink of too freely, lest the fountain should entirely fail them. So he wrote to the king, and informed him thereof; and persuaded him to come himself to take the city, that he might have the honor of the victory. Upon this letter of Joab's, the king accepted of his good-will and fidelity, and took with him his army, and came to the destruction of Rabbah; and when he had taken it by force, he gave it to his soldiers to plunder it; but he himself took the king of the Ammonites' crown, whose weight was a talent of gold; (13) and it had in its middle a precious stone called a sardonyx; which crown David ever after wore on his own head. He also found many other vessels in the city, and those both splendid and of great price; but as for the men, he tormented them, (14) and then destroyed them; and when he had taken the other cities of the Ammonites by force, he treated them after the same manner.
(13) That a talent of gold was about seven pounds weight, see the Description of the Temple, Ch. 13. Nor could Josephus well estimate it higher, since he here says that David wore it on his head perpetually.
(14) Whether Josephus saw the words of our copies, 2 Samuel 12:31, and 1 Chronicles 20:3, that David put the inhabitants, or at least the garrison of Rabbah, and of the other Ammonite cities, which he besieged and took, under, or cut them with saws, and under, or with harrows of iron, and under, or with axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln, is not here directly expressed. If he saw them, as is most probable he did, he certainly expounded them of tormenting these Ammonites to death, who were none of those seven nations of Canaan whose wickedness had rendered them incapable of mercy; otherwise I should be inclinable to think that the meaning, at least as the words are in Samuel, might only be this: That they were made the lowest slaves, to work in sawing of timber or stone, in harrowing the fields, in hewing timber, in making and burning bricks, and the like hard services, but without taking away their lives. We never elsewhere, that I remember, meet with such methods of cruelty in putting men to death in all the Bible, or in any other ancient history whatsoever; nor do the words in Samuel seem naturally to refer to any such thing.