2 Samuel 11:1-15

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2 Samuel 11:1 - 15

Background to the Book of 2 Samuel (What's happening In Judah at this time?)

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the beginning of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty-five chapters are given to these three people and forty-seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who were settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had achieved the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools that gave them superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine.

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Second, we follow the narrative as it tells of the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Samuel 1:19ff.

In the second book of Samuel we read of the rise and fall of David's reign. There was quite a protracted war between Saul's son Ishbaal and David. The outcome was triggered by Ishbaal's stupid accusation against Abner and the consequence was that all the tribes of Israel accepted David as King at Hebron. 2 Samuel continues with the narrative of David's consolidation of power and the unification of the tribes into what became a very powerful kingdom. David's reign and extension of the territory to include many of the surrounding countries is the only time in history in which Israel occupies such a large area until the 20th century Six Day War. David defeats the Philistines soundly after he has taken Jerusalem and this removes them as a serious threat to the Davidic Empire. 2 Samuel continues with the story of David's deeds both good and bad.

After David realised he was living in a more luxurious place than that of the sacred Ark he told Nathan, the prophet, he wanted to build a temple in which to house it. Nathan agreed initially, but after God spoke to Nathan he came back to David and told him that he would beget an eternal line of kings and his "house" and kingdom would be forever. His progeny would build the temple.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BC


1004 - 965



Context of 2 Samuel 11:1 -15 (What's happening in the Literature around 2 Samuel 11:1 -15; the bigger picture)

David has defeated the armies of all the surrounding countries (2 Samuel 8) and the empire is at its greatest zenith until the time of the Six Day War in the 20th century. 2 Samuel 9 depicts David showing great kindness to the son of Jonathon who had been saved by his nurse. He is treated as his own and given many privileges around the court.

We have to wonder why Hanun, the new king of Ammon believed the stories by his own princes that David was out to deceive him when the evidence was to the contrary (2 Samuel 10). The insult by the King of the Ammonites brought David into battle against the Ammonites who called on the Arameans to help them. The consequence was the defeat of Arameans and the Ammonites flight to fight another day. This story of the continuing fight with the Ammonites is interrupted by the account in our lectionary reading of Bathsheba and David. The actions of David recounted in this reading are in direct contradiction to his kindness displayed in 2 Samuel 9 in which he gives life and comfort to Jonathon's crippled son. In 2 Samuel 11:1-15 David sets up a man whom he wants dead in order that he can legitimately take his wife. This is followed in detail about his plans, which are indeed successful in the collaboration with his Army General. The prophet comes into the story for next lectionary reading when David is confronted and very cleverly tricked into admitting his guilt.

Insights/Message of 2 Samuel 11:1 -15 (What insights can we gain from the text and literary structure?)

The story is set up to show that David has remained in Jerusalem whilst his troops are continuing to fight against the Ammonites, which explains the absence of Bathsheba's husband Uriah. Not only does it explain why David is in Jerusalem but also v.2 suggests it was almost a coincidence that David saw Bathsheba. We note that she is identified as daughter and wife. After that, the action was very fast: a messenger sent, she came, he lay with her, she returned and she conceived. Two verses only, to share a love scene which is of incredible import in the life of Judah. In the middle of this was the comment put in brackets in the English translations which tell us that Bathsheba is able to have sexual relations at this time because she is purified from the period of her menstruation. There is some suggestion that this period is the most fortuitous for a woman to conceive so perhaps we as listeners are being warned about what is likely to happen.

The Hebrew in v.4 translated in modern English translations as "get her" has far stronger tones in Hebrew with its meaning "to grasp her" - a far more violent act. The older versions of the bible use the verb, "took her" which is closer to the Hebrew than "get her".

In contrast to this brief and rapid love scene we have in vv.6-25 the long drawn out scenes of David's plan to get Uriah to have sexual relations with his wife so that the child will be known as Uriah's. When that ploy fails David tells his Army commander to make sure Uriah is left in a vulnerable position in the battlefield so that he will be killed.

The detail given to David's actions emphasise his deviousness and his sin. We are in no doubt that he knew what he was doing was deliberately wrong and when Uriah refused to compromise his soldier's vows by succumbing to the temptations put in is way, we are faced with the honour of the Hittite, a foreigner, versus the deviousness of the so called righteous king. Indeed, the Hebrew demonstrates the irony of David's actions when in v.7 it uses "shalom" - peace, well being, three times in the conversation between Uriah and David. This irony is totally missing in the English that David can ask after the wellbeing of Joab, the people and the war, and the person with whom he is in conversation with is the focus of anything but wellbeing.

In contrast the Hebrew emphases the righteous actions of Uriah by using the verb "he did not go down to his house", four times in vv.10-13. Uriah says that if Joab, the army and the Ark are all out in the fields why should he go down to his house. We have this lovely comparison of the Hittite who keeps his vows and behaves in a righteous manner versus the one who should be righteous and isn't.

Message/theology in 2 Samuel 11: 1 - 15

The Chronicler probably because of the bad light in which David is portrayed omits this story. The creator of Deuteronomy to 2 Kings has no such hesitation and leaves the story with its great detail about David's manipulative behaviour. We have it in all it gory detail.

David succumbed to his desire to have sexual relations with another man's wife. He tried to pass his child off onto the husband, in this case Uriah, and when that failed he planned in cold blood to get him killed.

We have had other instances in which David has succumbed to his feelings and either killed or ordered that a messenger be killed. This behaviour is different in that the other instances were acceptable in the worldview of the time, but not what he did to legitimise the child he had conceived with Bathsheba.

What David did was wrong and is clearly condemned by God. In the lectionary we have separated the readings, but 2 Samuel 11-12 needs to be read together. To discuss the theology here leaves us with action without the consequences.

David as King was meant to show and live out the righteousness, which is part of his role as anointed King of Israel. The theology of failure by a king is quite explicit. In the worldview of that time there was a belief that even with repentance punishment was still part of the consequences and we will discuss the theology of punishment as part of the next lectionary reading.

It does not take a great deal of hermeneutic to apply the message to our situation. We behave inappropriately if we succumb to our sexual desires and the sin increases if we manipulate the consequences and cause pain deliberately to others rather than take responsibility for action. How do we deal with the sin? What are ways, which are appropriate to bring deal with the sin of lust and its consequences?
Each situation has to be dealt with individually and in light of the gospel, which is not suggesting easy grace.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading:John 6:1-21, - this reading from John has numerous references which allude to the Old Testament: John 6:5 echoes the question of Moses to God in the wilderness, "Where can I get meat for all these people" (Num 11:13) and indeed there are further parallels between John 6 and Numbers 11 which occur later than in the Johannine reading for today (Num 11:1 & John 6:41;43 - the grumbling of the people: Num 11:7-9 & John 6:31 - reference to manna but no description in John as there is in Numbers: the eating of meat and eating of bread is present in Num 11:13 & John 6:51 and both are to do with life versus death. both Num11:22 & John 6:7-9 talk about the great need of the people versus the possible resources available by natural means. The mention of the boy/lad in John 6: 9 is the only place in the NT in which this particular Greek word is used, but is also used several times in the Greek version of 2 Kings 4 in which Elisha feeds one hundred men with barley loaves. Both stories mention barley, a disbelief by the servants/disciples, a command by Elisha for the men to eat and by Jesus to sit and in both stories there are fragments left over which in the case of the disciples needed to be gathered up. Deut 18 talks about how one discerns a true prophet and the people after seeing the feeding believe this to be a sign that the true prophet had come into the world (John 6:14). In each of the cases mentioned above Jesus is the successor of Moses and Elisha but greater than them - Jesus gives eternal life. While a true prophet in Deut 18 is known by their prophecies coming true in the csae of Jesus it was by the miracle he performed. Eph 3:14-21 - there are no direct allusions /motifs to the Old Testament in these verses.

Resources/Worship for 2 Samuel 11:1 -15 (Worship and the Old Testament message; are there new ways to present the reading?)

This could come to life if told as 1st person story from either David's perspective or indeed, even from Bathsheba or Uriah.   Many people know the story from their childhood and it could challenge them to think about the issues in a different way.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2
Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: