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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 2-samuel-11.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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2 Samuel 11:1
After the year was expired; Hebrew and Revised Version, at the return of the year; that is, as Josephus paraphrases it, "the next spring." It seems quite certain that the war with Hadarezer did not take place in the same year as the defeat of the Syrians at Medeba. For the gathering of his mercenaries by Nahash would occupy a long time, and it was done so leisurely, that not only did news of it reach Jerusalem, but David was able to collect his forces, and instead of awaiting the invasion, could deliver his attack on the enemy's ground. The battle at Medeba took place in the autumn, and, as it was impossible to keep the field with winter so near, Joab marched back to Jerusalem, intending in the spring to return to the siege of Rabbah. But David quickly had information that a more serious war was impending, and, instead of sending Joab, he now gathers "all Israel," and, after gaining a victory, it is plain that he marched into the Syrian territories, and compelled by his presence the allies of Hadarezer to transfer their allegiance to him. Simultaneously with this war he had to meet the attack of the Edomites, for which purpose he detached Abishai with a portion of his army; and it was necessary also to post garrisons in their country, and in Atom of Damascus. It was while he was thus occupied in the Aramean states that he gathered the "much brass" spoken of in 2 Samuel 8:8. The Ammonites would necessarily be left to themselves while these great events were going on, but now, after a respite of a year and a half, David sent Joab, and his servants, that is, his officers—the word "servant" in Oriental courts being constantly used to designate those, high in rank near the king's person—and all Israel; that is, an army gathered from all the tribes. In accordance with the cruel customs of ancient warfare, they began by laying the whole country waste, and putting all whom they found to the sword, and thus destroyed the children of Ammon before laying siege to the capital, into which all the people by these harsh measures had been forced to go for refuge. In the Hebrew there is a curious spelling, the word "kings" being written melakim, with an aleph to represent the long a. It is a mistake to suppose that a different word, malakim, "angels" or "ambassadors,'' is meant, as it is nothing more than an archaic method of spelling, instances of which have been made rare by the extreme fastidiousness of Hebrew scribes. There is, however, another example not far off, where the Hebrew word for "poor" is also written with an inserted aleph.
2 Samuel 11:2
David arose from off his bed. It was usual in Palestine, and remains so in all hot countries, to take a siesta in the heat of the day (2 Samuel 4:5); and, on awaking, David walked backward and forward on the fiat roof of his house (1 Samuel 9:25), to enjoy the cool breezes of the evening. In so doing he was probably following his usual habits; but temptation came upon him, as so often is the case, unexpectedly. We are told that it is regarded in the East as improper for one neighbour to look over the battlement of his house into the inner court of the next dwelling (Philippson). Considering the jealousy with which Orientals guard the female members of their family from intrusion, it was a wrong act on the king's part to spy into what was going on in the recesses of the adjoining house. But he did so, and suffered for it years of disgrace and misery. For he saw a beautiful woman, the wife of one of his high officers, bathing, probably to purify herself from some legal uncleanness, such as those mentioned in Leviticus 15:1-33. No blame, so far, must be attached to her. The place was regarded as perfectly secluded, and probably neither she nor Uriah had ever suspected that what went on there could be observed from the roof of the king's palace.
2 Samuel 11:3
Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. In 2 Samuel 23:34 Eliam is said to be the son of Ahithophel, and thus Bathsheba would be his granddaughter. Mr. Blunt, in his 'Undesigned Coincidences,' p. 143, et seq; sees in this the explanation of the adherence to the side of Absalom of a man so high in King David's service. It was the result of his indignation at David's profligate treat-meat of so near a relative. In 1 Chronicles 3:5 she is called "Bathshua, the daughter of Ammiel." The latter is a transposition of Eliam, both names being compounded of Am, people, and El, God. Uriah the Hittite. We read in 2 Samuel 23:39 that he was one of David's "mighties," and it is remarkable that we should thus find high in rank in David's army a member of that grand race who had disputed with Egypt and Assyria the empire of the East. Their head now was Toi, King of Hamath.
2 Samuel 11:4
David sent messengers, and took her. David's fall seems as sudden as it was complete; but we may feel sure that there had been gradual preparation for it during the previous period of great prosperity. David had always been a man of strong passions, and the large harem he had set up at Jerusalem, so far from satisfying him, only intensified his lust. And now he who had previously shown himself so chivalrous and noble stoops to robbing one of his own officers of his honour. And stern and terrible was the punishment. When he sent those messengers, who were some of the vile people who hang about great personages, ready to minister to their sins, he was preparing the way for his daughter's disgrace, for the murder of Amnon, for Absalom's rebellion and death, and for the death of Adonijah. From that day his own house was the scene of horrible crimes, feuds, scandals, and miseries of every kind; and the long interval after his repentance, between the birth of Solomon and David's death, is passed over in gloomy silence. No act of the penitent king after his restoration to the throne is deemed worthy of record. He was pardoned, but his place henceforward was not in the light of God's favour, but in shadow and retirement. Men who fall so grievously must be content to be removed into the outer court. Of Bathsheba it must be said that she remained a faithful wife, and bare David four sons besides the one who was the fruit of their adultery, and that she retained her influence over him to the last (1 Chronicles 3:5; 1 Kings 1:15-31). For she was purified from her uncleanness; Hebrew, and she purified herself from her uncleanness; that is, having committed an act of gross immorality, she nevertheless carefully observed the ceremonial enactment commanded in Le 2 Samuel 15:18. She went home unrepentant, and with her conscience defiled, but was all the more scrupulous in performing the rite that purified her outwardly.
2 Samuel 11:5
The woman … told David. Her crime was one that made her liable to the penalty of death (Le 2 Samuel 20:10), and Uriah was a man likely to exact it; consequently she was in great alarm, and the king shared her anxiety. Already was the punishment beginning to be required from both the guilty sharers in the wickedness.
2 Samuel 11:8
A mess (of meat); really, a royal present (see Esther 2:18; Jeremiah 40:5; Amos 5:11, where it is translated burdens of wheat, but really means presents of wheat, forced from the poor); though originally a portion of food sent to a guest from the table of the giver of a feast (Genesis 43:34). Uriah, as one of David's thirty-seven heroes, would hold a high rank in the army, though the statement given by Josephus, that he was Joab's armour bearer, is probably a mere conjecture, made with the view of explaining what seemed to him strange, that a foreigner should hold so distinguished a place among the captains of Israel. David sends for him, on the pretext that he wanted full information of Joab's plans, and the state of the army, and the progress of the siege of Rabbah. And so prompt is Uriah, that he goes to the king still soiled with travel, and without calling at his house. And David makes his inquiries, listens with apparent interest to the narrative of the war, and, after receiving a full report, bids Uriah go home and rest and refresh himself after the journey. He sends him, moreover, a present, such probably as was usual after special service, but large and liberal, so as to put Uriah in good humour. But the old soldier cared for war more than for pleasure, and, instead of going to his house, spent the night in the guard room with the soldiers and others who were in attendance upon the king (see 1 Kings 14:27, 1 Kings 14:28). All would be eager for news of friends and relatives, and it was a far greater delight to Uriah to chat with his old comrades than to be resting luxuriously in his own home.
2 Samuel 11:11
The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents. The presence of the ark with the army in the field is puzzling, and shows us how little we know of the religious practices of the Jews, as, but for this chance mention of it, we should have affirmed that it was never taken out of its place in Zion, and that in previous times the conduct of Eli's sons in carrying it out of the sanctuary to war was an irregular act. The Jews themselves feel the difficulty, and some of their rabbins affirm that this was not the ark of the covenant, but a chest containing the ephod whereby inquiries were made of Jehovah. Certainly in 1 Samuel 4:3, 1 Samuel 4:4 it is expressly called "the ark of the covenant;" and in 2 Samuel 6:2 "the ark of God." The use in our version of the special word "ark" obliges us to think of the ark of the covenant, whereas really it is a general word, rendered "chest" in 2 Kings 12:9, 2 Kings 12:10. It is said, too, that the war with Ammon was not a holy war, nor was it of such importance as to call for David's presence at the head of his troops. But, on the other hand, if it was not the ark of God, why did Uriah lay so great stress upon its presence in the field? Moreover, we find the ark with Saul in his war with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:18), where it is expressly called "the ark of God," and is used for the purpose of inquiring the will of Jehovah. On comparing 1 Samuel 7:2 with 2 Samuel 6:3, we should have imagined that the ark abode uncared for at the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, did we not plainly find it in attendance upon Saul. We are thus compelled to conclude that David sent it, with its attendant priests, with Joab, that he might consult the Deity by its moans. In the Talmud ('Shek. Jerus.,' 9. 2) the idea of there being an inferior or second ark used for this purpose is condemned. David, in his remonstrance with Uriah, shows signs of displeasure, and the conduct of the latter suggests the idea that his suspicious had been aroused. The war was going on prosperously; he had been summoned home on an honourable pretext to give the king a report of it; and it is, to say the least, strange that he should have cared so little for a wife, to whom apparently he had not long been married, and for his domestic affairs, as not even to go to his house, which was close by. The tone, too, of Uriah's answer is excited, and his military ardour too warm. David had assumed that, as a matter of course, he would hasten to visit his wife, and Uriah's unexpected refusal upsets his devices, and leaves him with all his difficulties increased rather than done away with. Very probably, in the conversation in the guard room, Uriah had received hints that his wife was too high in the royal favour. For "tents" the Hebrew has "booths," and so the Revised Version; and for "fields" the singular, "field." The Israelites still lived mostly in tents, and in war were content with very slight and temporary shelter, and if there were any parks, or enclosures, they were called Naioth, while "the field" was the open unenclosed land, which formed the mass of the country. The separate mention of "Israel and Judah" is no indication of the book having been written after the disruption of the kingdom. Uriah had been in David's service when he was king only at Hebron, and had taken part in the long war between Judah and the house of Saul.
2 Samuel 11:13
He made him drunk. David thus adds sin to sin, and, in order to accomplish his vile end, he degrades the brave soldier whom already he had dishonoured. But even when intoxicated Uriah kept to his determination; and though on this second night there would not be the same pleasure in chatting with old comrades seen again after long absence, he still sleeps in the guard room. And thus there were witnesses that he had not gone to his house.
2 Samuel 11:14
David wrote a letter. David now uses the knowledge he had acquired in the schools of the prophets for vicious purposes. For it to be a blessing, knowledge must be sanctified to holy use. The letter would conceal from Joab the truth, and only let him know that Uriah, during his visit to Jerusalem, had incurred the king's serious displeasure; and we may be quite sure that Joab would be very indignant when he learned, as he certainly soon would, that David had made him his tool, and caused him to murder one of "the mighties" in order to cover the shame of his adultery. The only fair side of the picture is that it shews the high state of morality among the people. The crimes of kings and great men are usually lightly pardoned, and especially that of adultery. Even in our own and other Christian countries this is the case; but David has to resort to extreme measures rather than face the indignation of his subjects. Unfortunately, the shedding of blood was not looked upon with equal horror. Possibly the leaving it to the relatives to requite it made the suppression of murder the business, not of the state, but of "the avenger of blood." At all events, Joab without much compunction carries out David's orders, caring to know no more than that Uriah was out of favour. And what is more extraordinary, David remains utterly callous for a whole twelvemonth (see 2 Samuel 12:15), and his conscience does not even smite him for the additional meanness of sending the order for Uriah's murder by the hand of the injured man himself.
2 Samuel 11:16
When Joab observed the city; Revised Version, kept watch upon the city. This does net mean, as some suppose, that Joab sent a body of men to examine the fortifications with a view to an assault, and so provoked a sally. The verb simply refers to the ordinary operations of a siege, which usually resolved itself into a long blockade, continued until starvation compelled a surrender; and to hasten this the people of the villages were forced into the town, by the rule that all left outside were put to the sword. To maintain the blockade, men were posted at all fit points round the city, and these were constantly assailed by the besieged. Joab then placed Uriah at a post which was especially the object of attack; and when the usual sally took place and was repulsed, Joab seems to have ordered Uriah to pursue them up to the very gate, where they would be exposed to a shower of arrows from the walls. Others fell besides Uriah, and that the loss was considerable, and the result of bad generalship, though designedly such, seems probable from the deprecation of the king's anger in 2 Samuel 11:20.
2 Samuel 11:18
Then Joab sent. Joab now performs another act in this iniquitous drama, and goes through the form of sending the king a report of the disaster which had followed upon his approaching too near the walls. With well-feigned hypocrisy, he makes the messenger believe that David will be displeased at the loss of life, and will blame him for his want of caution. But it is curious that the messenger is instructed to mention the death of Uriah only after the king has given utterance to his anger. Possibly the meaning of this is that the loss of one so high in rank, and the king's near neighbour, is so serious a matter that it must be gradually broken to him, lest his indignation at Joab should be too violent. Probably there was also the suggestion that Uriah had been himself too rash, and had incurred his fate by his own fault. The reference to the fate of Abimelech (Judges 9:53) proves that the history of the times of the judges was generally known. Very probably not only records of the several events existed, but the Book of Judges was already written In Samuel's schools the youth of Israel were instructed in the annals of their country, and men like Nathan and Gad, and ethers who aided Samuel in his work, would be sure quickly to turn their attention to the orderly arrangement and digest of the records in their possession.
2 Samuel 11:21
Jerubbesheth; in Judges 6:32 called Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon. (On the substitution of Besheth, or more correctly Bosheth, for Baal, see notes on 2 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 9:6.) It is remarkable that the LXX; Vulgate, and Syriac all read here Jerubbaal, though, like the Hebrew, they have Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth. Probably the change, which was not made until after the days of Jezebel, was only gradually carried out by the scribes.
2 Samuel 11:23
The men prevailed against us. The real meaning is "the men made a sortie against us in force, and came even to the open field; but we were upon them (and drove them back) unto the entry of the gate, and the archers from off the wall shot at thy servants," etc.
2 Samuel 11:25
Let not this thing displease thee. David professes to be satisfied with Joab's apology, and bids him, if the war is in the main going on prosperously, not to be too much distressed at a temporary reverse. As for Uriah's death, of course it is to be regretted, but such is the fortune of war, and the sword devours now one and now another. The last words, encourage thou him, have provoked comment, as though the messenger was to aid and abet Joab. They simply mean "Give him a message of encouragement from me," the exact form of which is left to the messenger, but of which his report would be that the king wished Joab to take courage.
2 Samuel 11:26
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. There is something pathetic in this repetition of the name of the murdered man, and his close relationship with Bathsheba is dwelt upon by his being twice called "her husband," and she "Uriah's wife." Having been the cause of his murder, she is careful to make for him the customary mourning. How long it lasted is uncertain. The mourning for Aaron (Numbers 20:29) and that for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8) were each for thirty days; while that for Jacob at Atad (Genesis 50:10) and that of the men of Jabesh-Gilead for Saul (1 Samuel 31:13) lasted only for seven days. Both these, however, were under such exceptional circumstances as made them no rule; but in Ecclesiasticus 22:12 we read, "Seven days do men mourn for him that is dead," and the national lamentation for Judith lasted the same time (Judith 16:24). Probably, however, the mourning of a widow for her husband would last a month.
2 Samuel 11:27
She … bare him a son. This would be the child whose death is recorded in the next chapter. Afterwards she bare David four sons (1 Chronicles 3:5), of whom one was Solomon, and another Nathan, the ancestor of our Lord. The thing … displeased the Lord. It was probably during the time of David's victories that success began to work in him its usual results. Too commonly men who have conquered kingdoms have been vanquished by their own strong passions; and David had always evinced a keen appetite for sensuous pleasures. Even at Hebron he had multiplied unto himself wives, and now, raised by repeated victory to be the lord of a vast empire, he ceased to be "base in his own sight" (2 Samuel 6:22), and lost his self control. And, as was to be expected in a man of such strong qualities, his fall was terrible. But this declaration of the inspired narrator is not made solely for ethical reasons, but is the key to all that follows up to the end of 2 Samuel 20:1-26. In this chapter we have had the history of David's sin; a year's respite succeeds, as if God would wait and see whether the sinner's own conscience would waken up, and bring him to repentance; but it slumbers on. Then comes the message of reproof, fellowed by earnest penitence, and severe punishment. It was, perhaps, during this year of hardened persistence in crime that Amnon and his cousin Jonadab also gave the reins to their passions, and prepared the way for the first of the series of crimes that polluted David's home. An early repentance might have saved the son; but the absence of paternal discipline, the loss of respect for his father, and the evil influence of that father's bad example, all urged on the son to the commission of his abominable crime.
2 Samuel 11:1-17
The facts are:
1. During the prosecution of the war against Ammon in the spring, David remains in Jerusalem.
2. Walking one evening on his house top, he sees a woman washing herself, and observes her beauty.
3. Curiosity being awakened, he sends to inquire after her, and learns that she is the wife of Uriah.
4. Sending a royal message to her, she, as a loyal subject, waits upon him, whereupon he commits adultery.
5. Discovering in the course of a little time that the fact would come to light, he sends for Uriah from the war, under pretext of gleaning information concerning it, but really that, by Uriah's sojourn with his wife, the fact may be concealed.
6. Uriah, possibly suspicious of wrong, excuses himself from doing as David desires, on the plea that military duty and patriotism required of him absolute abstention from domestic pleasures.
7. Failing in the first attempt, David makes him drunk, in hopes that, when stupid, he would go to his home; but in this also he fails.
8. Subsequently he sends him back to Joab, with a secret instruction that he would set him in such a position as to ensure his death, which instruction Joab faithfully carries out.
The beginnings of great sins.
By universal consent the deed of David here recorded is regarded as a great sin—a very great sin, because it was a breach of the commandment which guards the purity of human life, and because committed by one blessed with more than ordinary privileges, and in an abuse of regal authority over a probably unsuspicious subject. The deed is ever base and criminal, but that such a man should commit the crime when God was prospering him in all his affairs, when his people were bravely risking their lives in defence of their country, and after he had spent so long and blessed a life in fellowship with God, is one of the marvels and mysteries of human nature. In the narrative we have set forth the origin and progress of the sin, so far as relates to its ostensible character. Scripture gives us outward facts in their natural order. But we know that in one outward fact of human life there are involved many mental and moral movements, and these are connected in the continuity of life with antecedents which, in part at least, account for their occurrence. It is not difficult, by bringing our knowledge of the laws of mental and moral movement to bear on the facts here recorded, to get a clue to the real beginnings of this great sin, and of great sins in general.
I. INTENSE ABSORPTION IN PROSPEROUS AFFAIRS DIMINISHES THE ENERGY THAT OTHERWISE WOULD GO TO SPIRITUAL CULTURE. Man, considered physiologically and physically, is a store of energy, and he can give out only what he possesses. The totality of his thoughts and acts is the outcome, and generally speaking the measure, of his store. What portion of it is spent in excess in one direction is just so much taken from another direction. The usual law of forces here applies. For some time David had been intensely absorbed in consolidating his power. The amount of work involved in all the changes he initiated and brought to completion must have been far in excess of what falls to an ordinary monarch, and this in proportion to the utter disorganization of affairs under Saul and Ishbosheth. Such an absorption most probably trenched upon the nervous and moral energy he had at one time concentrated directly on the culture of the spiritual life. Some few men seem gifted with the faculty of sudden transitions of energy, so that, while intensely absorbed in business or secular studies at one moment, they can, by an act of will, become equally absorbed at once in religious pursuits. Possibly David was one of these; but even in their case they cannot escape the weakening effect on the finer sensibilities of a protracted absorption in purely temporal affairs, especially if they are very prosperous. We see many instances of this in the lives of professedly religious men.
II. HABITS OF LIFE MAY UNCONSCIOUSLY BE FORMED WHICH GENERATE A CLASS OF FEELINGS PROVOCATIVE OF TEMPTATION. Habits grow in silence and too slowly to be noted, and every unconsciously formed habit brings with it its corresponding class of feelings, which also, rising gradually, are apt to obtain an unobserved permanence in life. The usages of Eastern courts in reference to polygamy acted in a subtle way on David's life, so that he gradually formed the habits peculiar to that abnormal form of domestic life, and we need no Divine revelation to inform us of the class of inferior feelings that would thereby be surely though slowly engendered. The man in modern times who, by reason of his affluence, combined with a certain habit of body, fares sumptuously every day, does not, while he is getting into the practice of so doing, reflect on the possible effect of all this, in days not far distant, upon his animal tendencies in a certain direction, and his corresponding moral safeguards. There can be no question that the physical, mental, and moral habits of life of a polygamous household are such as would furnish good soil for a sensual temptation, which, in the case of a man unduly absorbed and preoccupied in mere secularities, would be still more perilous. Many a religious man is weak from sources similar to this. Our Lord even warned his apostles, after they had had the benefit of his teaching for two years, to take heed lest at any time their hearts be" overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life" (Luke 21:34).
III. LEISURE SUPERVENING ON GREAT ACTIVITY BRINGS THE WEAKER SIDE OF NATURE INTO PROMINENCE. The protracted exertions of years had now issued in a compact kingdom and internal order. Saul's family was cared for. Administration was organized and labour divided (2 Samuel 8:14-18). The war against the Syrians was in the hands of a powerful force, under a skilful general. David, in Jerusalem, had leisure unknown in former years. Now it is a fact in the history of human nature that, when great energies cease to be in demand, and the force of life no longer goes out in its wonted volume in its ordinary course, then the feelings and tendencies which, meanwhile, have been unconsciously generated by slowly formed habits of social life, are apt to take more prominence, and find less resistance, in consequence of the probably impaired power of the spiritual element (see division I). It is well known among young men that more moral falls occur during seasons of leisure than at any other time. Leisure following on great prosperity requires for its safe use more than ordinary wisdom and spiritual health. Adversity, though taxing energy to the utmost, tends to draw the heart nearer to God, so that when there is leisure from it the soul is in a better condition to guard against the evils incident to such a season.
IV. AN UNCONSCIOUS DECLINE OF REALITY IN COMMUNION WITH GOD MAY SET IN ON A MAN'S OBTAINING A RECOGNIZED POSITION IN THE RELIGIOUS WORLD. The subtlety with which spiritual declension sets in is admitted by all who know anything of religions experience. The best of men are the objects of assault from the powers of darkness, clothed, it may be, as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Once let a man, by some subtle insinuation, begin to think that now, having served God so many years and written such useful and sincere utterances of his experience, he has a distinctly recognized position,—then, in that very thought, there is an element of danger. From that hour watchfulness may be less keen, routine may set in, and grey hairs may come "here and there upon him" while he "knoweth it not" (Hosea 7:9). Undoubtedly David had attained such a recognized position in the religious world. His people would accord it; and, in the cessation of strain in civil and political exertions, he might, in an unguarded hour, especially if the lower feelings (see division II.) began to put forth their force, indulge in self-complacence. Communion with God might continue in full form, but its original intense reality would have passed away. Herein, perhaps, is the secret of the decline of religion in many a quondam professor. There are in the Church not a few who have left to them only "the form of godliness."
V. UNDER THE CONDITIONS THUS FAR CONSIDERED DISTINCT SUGGESTIONS COME THROUGH THE SENSES WITH DOUBLE FORCE. There are conditions under which suggestions through the eye, ear, or animal passions fall as powerless as snow on the solid rock. The real power of a temptation through the senses lies in the state of mind which we are in at the time. David had probably seen beautiful women many a time during his exile, and while king in Jerusalem; but the healthy, well guarded spirit was unhurt by the sight. Beauty anywhere is, to a healthy spiritual nature, an object of pure admiration as a work of God. It was because David was not his old self that this sight was as fuel to a smouldering flame. It takes but little to create radical changes and commotions, as seen in chemistry, when the primary elements of things are brought into contact; and so is it when certain elemental conditions of the moral man and his surroundings are concerned. Joseph was pure and spiritually healthy when the suggestion of evil came upon him, and it only produced a recoil (Genesis 39:8, Genesis 39:9). Great stress is laid on this in the Bible. "To the pure all things are pure." "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
VI. THERE IS A DISTURBING FORCE IN CERTAIN PASSIONS BY WHICH REASON, THE WILL, AND SPIRITUAL INSTINCTS ARE WEAKENED. It is a psychological fact that all emotion affects the exercise of the pure reason for the worse. It is in the experience of men that such passions as were aroused in David by the sight he witnessed from the roof of his house, more than any—except, perhaps, those involved in drunkenness—disturb or cripple the action of reason and of the will. Of course, they weaken the spiritual instincts in proportion as they find scope. Thus the powers which may be considered as the guardians of purity, the foes of evil, are not in their normal condition, and consequently the chances are, unless something happens to prevent such an issue, that the unhallowed feelings will gain further ascendency. In this we see that the perfect man is attainable only in Christ. The triumph of spiritual religion in our nature is coincident with the most perfect development of that nature. Hence, also, spiritual power among men is dependent on inner purity.
VII. WHEN ONCE THE REIN IS GIVEN TO SUCH PASSIONS, THE FALL HAS TAKEN PLACE IN ESSENCE. When David saw and looked on her, with a certain thought in his mind and feeling in his heart, he had virtually done the deed of which we have a record. In the spiritual sphere, thought and desire are tantamount to deed. The one is but the fuller form of the other. Sin lies in intent and purpose, whether it be actualized in outward fact or not. Hence our Lord's strong words (Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:28). The mystery of David's sin really lies in the creation within himself of the base feeling indicated in the terms of 2 Samuel 11:2. All that followed was a development of this (James 1:14, James 1:15). It is a question whether Christian people have, as a rule, recognized the solemn truth taught by Christ and seen in David's case. The seventh commandment has a bearing on the daily mental life.
VIII. AN INWARD FALL BRINGS ON SPIRITUAL DARKNESS, LOSS OF SELF-RESPECT, WITH FURTHER ENFEEBLED REASON AND WILL-POWER. Such an inward fall as David's on the roof of his house at once brought a cloud between him and his God, caused him to feel that he was a degraded man, and placed him, in that abandoned mood, under weaker safeguards against the growth of the evil passion. Unless a sudden and sharp repentance—a shocked cry to God for special help—came forth, there was no hope of his being the same man as formerly. Every hour during which the intrusive evil passion retained ascendency only hastened his final overthrow. Men so circumstanced become blind and stupid; they know their degradation, but are under a spell by which it becomes greater; consequences suggested in feeble or strong tones by the reason are not considered; the will, lately crippled for good, now goes over in full strength to the side of evil. Facilis descensus Averni. The particular passion may vary in the different deeds of evil which occasionally shock the religious world, but in every case there is a gradual decline, and it is only the last few stages of it which form the subject of surprise among men. Not murder as seen in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth,' nor fraud as seen in occasional modern revelations, nor youthful excesses as when the parent's heart is broken, are sudden in origin. A series of mental and moral changes precede that which attracts the notice of men and forms the occasion of a social condemnation.
1. The fidelity of Scripture writers may be referred to as evidence of Divine inspiration. The cool impartiality with which the best king of Israel is represented as having fallen into the vilest of sins, and this without note or comment, is certainly not of man.
2. Moral causes are deepest and most wide reaching in the sphere of human life; the change here indicated in David's moral condition was of pernicious influence ever after on his rule, his court, his private life, and the general prosperity of the kingdom.
3. The season of great prosperity in temporal affairs, and of elevation in religious privilege, should, on account of the peril it brings, be a season of keenest and most earnest watchfulness.
4. So powerful are the inferior propensities of human nature, even in the case of most favoured men, that it is possible for them to sweep away in their outburst the reputation built up on the best purposes and actions; and hence the importance of a most jealous guard against everything in appetite, sight, and sound, that may develop their power.
5. Seeing the extraordinary extremes of human experience in the life of David, we may note and weigh well the undeveloped possibilities for good or evil, for joy or pain, for usefulness or harm, that lie within the scope of every human being in the future state, even more than in this.
6. Feminine obtrusiveness, even when no danger is actually perceived in it, may all the time be operating on some one for evil; and hence the duty of the most guarded modesty of manner and personal appearance. We do not fully estimate the harm done to human thought and feeling by the ocular impressions produced by certain forms of dress and bearing.
7. It is good to have leisure from toil, but much grace is needed to use leisure so that in it the tempter may not gain power over us.
8. The dangers of eventide leisure are conspicuous, especially to the young and to the ardent.
9. It adds to the guilt of a man if, being in a position of authority or influence, he exercises his official influence to gain power over others for proposes of evil.
The crooked ways of sin.
We have in 2 Samuel 11:6-13 an account of the devices by which David sought to escape the human discovery of his guilt. The perhaps sleepless nights spent in painful thought as to what could be safely done are not alluded to—only the product of his thinking. After what was said in 2 Samuel 11:5, it was certain that exposure in the most palpable form would ensue if the woman's husband remained away at the war. To bring him home, and get him in an apparently natural way to spend a little time with his wife, at once seemed most feasible. The failure of this scheme, either through the patriotism or the awakened suspicions of Uriah, caused another night of thought and scheming, and, as the case was urgent, he was made drunk, in hope thereby his patriotism or suspicions would yield to natural propensities. Once more the force of events is against the scheme; and, as a last resort, seeing that Uriah could not be made out to be the father of the coming child, he must, with as good an appearance as possible, be put out of the way so that the king, in accordance with the rights of Eastern monarchs, might take his wife, and the expected one thus appear to be prematurely born in wedlock. Concerning these crooked ways of sin observe—
I. THE FIRST STEP OF THE IMPENITENT SINNER IS TO CLING TO HIS SIN. When such a sin as David's is committed, God is offended, conscience outraged, self-respect disregarded, and human condemnation rendered imminent. The whole of this disruption and confusion in the moral sphere is recognized at once as being a consequence of the deed done. Now, it is obvious that these consequences are not only to be dreaded, and, if possible, to be avoided, but also that the first act of a sound mind would be to abominate and seek to get dissociated, in every sense of the term, from the sin which entailed them. The sin, and not the consequences, is the evil thing—the most terrible and hurtful thing. And the first step of a truly penitent mind would be to shrink from it, to loathe it, to seek to cut it off if possible from self as the accursed thing. But note here that David shows no sign of this. The evil nature adopts the deed, identifies itself with it, seeks to live on in association of thought, feeling, and interest with it. God, purity, conscience, self-respect,—all may go; the soul will have its sin, and, by cherishing this sentiment towards it, virtually persists in its repetition. So did Adam, Achan, and Ananias; and so do all the poor debased souls that sink into iniquity without the grace of true repentance.
II. THE SECOND STEP IS TO RECOGNIZE THE POSSIBILITY OF EXPOSURE BEFORE MEN. The guilty man knows that God is aware of his crime. His action in this respect is a very singular phenomenon. There may be secret dread of God's coming judgment; the certainty of God's knowledge and power to punish may be so strong as even to render life inwardly wretched, and to produce the passivity and helplessness proper to an unavoidable fate. Possibly this sort of desperation urges to a warding off of such consequences as would come did men but know as much of the sin as God. At any rate, what the narrative sets before us is not an endeavour to escape from God and his anger; it shows us rather that, as soon as the mind can collect itself after the indulgence in sin, it recognizes the possibility of men becoming acquainted with the deed done. That was the thought which lay at the basis of Achan's covering up his spoils; that is the thought which starts in the mind of the thief, the liar, the adulterer, the false professor. The fear of man is a very potent influence. The fear of God is real, but it carries with it a hopelessness of effort. This induces gloomy desperation, but not thought and action to prevent discovery.
III. THE NEXT STEP IS TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBLE MEANS OF ESCAPE FROM HUMAN EXPOSURE. A guilty man pays unconscious homage to holiness in that he begins to think how he can prevent men knowing what he has done. David the hero, who trembled not before Goliath, now spends hours in thinking how he may escape the consequences of his own people knowing what he has done in private. Is it simply fear of civil and social loss? Is it merely dread of physical pain? No; even the guilty testify that sin is abominable; that sin is deepest personal disgrace; that sin is too black and ugly to bear even the gaze of imperfect men. No doubt David saw that he would suffer loss of respect among the best of the land; that the force of law would be weakened; that turbulence might arise in his kingdom by reason of others following his example; and that he would no longer be able to figure before the nation as the illustrious reformer of religion. The thousands who daily live in dread of, and consider how they may escape, human exposure! What restless nights! what deep-laid plans! what feverish concern!—all to cover up sin from feeble man! And yet God knows all, and will bring to judgment. Truly sin renders the operation of the mind very perverse. God knows all and judges all, and yet all effort is to keep man from knowing! Nothing is done Godward, except to harden the heart against him, and go on in sullen desperation. This is sin!—this the accursed evil of the universe!
IV. IN SEEKING TO ESCAPE HUMAN EXPOSURE, THE FIRST CONTRIVANCE IS TO SIMULATE THE ORDER OF PROVIDENCE; i.e. to create, by innocent natural means, an order of events that shall have in them and their results an appearance of providential succession. David does not commit another positive sin to cover up the first. The sin-stained soul again, notwithstanding its degradation, pays homage to righteousness, in its deliberate effort to hide its past deed by deeds that are within the province of right; for David had a right to send for any officer to give him information as to the progress of the war (2 Samuel 11:6, 2 Samuel 11:7), and it was only generous to allow him to go and rest at home (2 Samuel 11:8). Lord Bacon has taught us that, by carefully studying the processes of Nature to see how she works, we, on submitting to her ways, become her conquerors, by being able to set her at work in circumstances of our own creation. The scheme of an impenitent sinner, when wishing to hide his sin from the knowledge of man, is very much of that kind. He knows the order of providential events, and he tries to create circumstances by which, in the judgment of men, Providence shall be credited with the deed he himself has done. Uriah, not David, shall be made to appear as the father of the child. How this perverse ingenuity works still is familiar to all who know only a little of mankind. The cleverness with which trains of events are set in motion so as to assuredly direct attention from the doer of evil, is amazing. The devil was always a great schemer, and his dupes catch his spirit.
V. THE FAILURE OF SCHEMES INVOLVING NO POSITIVE SIN IN THE DETAILS IS SOON FOLLOWED BY DEEDS DISTINCTLY EVIL. If Providence cannot be simulated, because of the uncontrollable nature of its agents (2 Samuel 11:9-11), then homage to righteousness must cease, and positive evil must be done (2 Samuel 11:13-15). The one desired end—escape from human exposure—must, by good or evil means, be secured. The knowledge that God knows and is angry counts for nothing. The despair of escaping God, combined with a mad identification of one's interests with the evil committed and still cherished in the heart, seems to operate on the mind in such a way as practically to banish him from thought or care. All thought is on man, and at any cost man must be kept in ignorance. It is against even the conscience, stained and hardened as it is, to do definite evil, if possible—so mighty is the moral law in the worst of men—but preservation of self from exposure is now the first law, to which right, generosity, every true and holy sentiment and obligation, must bow.
VI. IN HAVING RECOURSE TO DESPERATE MEASURES OF EVIL, THERE IS SOME REGARD TO APPEARANCES. It is only the very uttermost moral degradation—that, perhaps, of fiends in hell—that can perpetrate fresh evils with utter freedom, and without any reserve of decency or tacit recognition of the majesty of law. Every hour spent by David in elaborating his scheme brought him more within the coil of iniquity, and gradually reduced his moral sensibilities towards zero; but even when in his despair he meditated the death of the man whose life might lead to exposure of his sin, he could not slay him with his own hand, he could not say even to Joab, "Slay him." Appearances must be saved, and some homage paid, by the lingering sense of right, to the Law of God, by a contest being created in the interests of the kingdom, so that in fighting for his country the doomed man might die by the hand of the enemy. Of course, David did not kill him! Of course, it was an incident in the natural order of warlike events!
It was not the King of Israel that raised the arm to slay, but the wicked Ammonites! Such is the crooked logic of sin. Our Saviour has described Satan as a liar as well as a murderer (John 8:44). It is evidently very difficult to crush out all light from the conscience. There is a continuous protest in the performance of guilty deeds; but so obstinate and desperate in alliance with sin is the heart of an impenitent man, that this protest, this remnant of light, is only used to grace the performance of positive evil with a semblance of naturalness and innocence. The crooked ways of sin are traversed by all men who in any measure hug their iniquities, and try to avoid the consequences which it is feared would come were the deeds of darkness exposed to view. There are many acting in this way every day.
1. Men in positions of power have many means at hand for hiding their sins from public view (2 Samuel 11:6); but they should be warned of their corresponding peril and increased guilt if they use those means.
2. Real hypocrisy lies in doing things with the appearance of right and to give an impression of right conduct, when the real aim is evil, and the present motive is subordinate to that aim (2 Samuel 11:6-11); consequently, just pains should be taken in exposing to men the horrible wickedness of their course, and in getting them to recognize more distinctly, as a governing power in life, the perfect knowledge of God.
3. There are always forces working unconsciously against the designs of hypocritical men, rendering, as the action of Uriah did (2 Samuel 11:11-13), the way of transgressors hard. It is vain to fight against God.
4. The man who, in the day of success and real goodness, scorns the unprincipled and hardhearted (2 Samuel 3:29-39), may so fall as to be glad of such men to carry out his evil designs (2 Samuel 11:15)—a warning this to him "who thinketh that he standeth."
5. He who makes use of another as his instrument of evil henceforth becomes weak in all his relations to him. Masters who employ their servants to carry on evil transactions lose influence over them, and virtually place themselves in their power.
2 Samuel 11:18-27
Complicity in evil.
The facts are:
1. Joab, having executed the wicked commission, sends word to David as to the progress of the war.
2. He furnishes the messenger with a means of appeasing the probable wrath of David on his learning that the conflict was more serious than either he or Joab looked for, namely, an announcement of Uriah's death.
3. The messenger carefully describes the seriousness of the engagement with the enemy, and concludes by referring to the death of Uriah.
4. David sends back an encouraging message to Joab, and professes to acknowledge the inevitable losses and chances of war.
5. On suitable sorrow being shown by the widow, for the loss of her husband, David takes her to himself as a wife.
6. The deed of David is displeasing to God. The narrative here gives us the maturing of David's scheme, and the general character of the secret negotiations carried on with Joab in order to bring his purpose to pass. We have, then, an instance of accomplices in crime, revealing to us truth, and illustrating facts in connection with human life in all ages.
I. MEN INTENT ON A GREAT EVIL ARE FORCED TO BRING OTHERS INTO THEIR WICKED SECRETS. Providence kindly frustrated David's attempt to cover his sin by means of Uriah's free action; and it therefore became necessary, in his desperate wickedness, to seek the end in view by means of Uriah's death. But unless David committed murder with his own hand, which his conscience would not allow, he must find some one whose ingenuity, with his own, would bring it to pass, and save appearances. Such is the logic of evil. God in his mercy has filled the world with obstacles to the committal of sin and to persistence in it when once committed; but such is the baseness of the human heart that this, instead of being regarded as a help in the warfare with evil propensity, is turned into a reason for seeking the aid of another's wits and agency. It is a further fall in evil when men are thus impelled to drag others into the meshes of their sin. So hardened does the heart become by dalliance with sin and indulgence in it, that even the character and souls of others are to be ruined in order to gratify self and hide iniquity for a few years from human view.
II. THERE ARE GENERALLY MEN TO BE FOUND READY TO CARRY OUT THE EVIL PURPOSES OF THEIR SUPERIORS. Even in the chosen nation a Joab was to be found, cruel, hard of heart, habituated to acts of severity, and glad to have the opportunity of retorting in spirit, if not in words, the former reproaches of his master (2 Samuel 3:29, 2 Samuel 3:39). It is a sign of the marvellous change that had come over David, that he, who had so bitterly reproached this man for cruelty and hard heartedness, now turns to him for the purpose of using those very qualities for accomplishing his own cruel design. The presence of such a man in Israel for doing the evil work of his superior is typical of a universal fact. There is a vast amount of reserve evil in the world, waiting only for some influential will to draw it out into activity. The power of superiors over subordinates sometimes extends to the moral sphere. In strict fact, a king has only power, in virtue of his office, over the legal actions of his subjects, and a master over the legal actions of his servants; but when a king or a master, in excess of his right, extends his authority into the moral sphere, it too often happens that the subordinate whose conscience is not sensitive allows the authority due to the legal position to pass over to the moral sphere and break down the defences of conscience. This is an abuse of influence on the one side, and an abandonment of most sacred duties on the other. The wicked heart is apt to find excuses in the fact that a superior leads the way, and that, if guilt lies anywhere, it is on him.
III. MEN BENT ON AN EVIL DESIGN WILL EVEN RISK THE RUIN OF THE INNOCENT IN CARRYING OUT THEIR SCHEMES. David knew very well that Joab could not carry out his instructions without, not only exposing Uriah to the certain risk of death, but also placing other men, not concerned in this domestic trouble, in positions of peril; for the meaning of the instructions was plainly to create a position of extreme peril, which in war can only be done by engaging a troop. What if several innocent men fell in this "hottest battle"! Uriah, at all events, would be amongst them! The more the progressive conduct of the king is scrutinized, the more base and abominable does it appear. This dreadful sin is not confined to David. Monarchs and diplomatists, who from motives of vanity or mere love of power bring on war, really cause the death of innocent men and the wailings of widows in carrying out their designs. What if thousands of men fall! Some regal or other obstacle to ambition or pride will at least be got rid of! That is the moral side of too many wars. The same in a measure applies to men who will be rich, though it cost the health, the poverty, and often lives of workmen. What of all that? Wealth must be secured! Other instances are to be found in modern life.
IV. MEN IN CARRYING OUT NEFARIOUS DESIGNS ARE CAREFUL TO CONFORM TO THE DECENCIES OF OUTWARD LIFE. Bad men understand one another. There is a freemasonry in evil. Joab knew what he was about when he anticipated that David would manifest signs of wrath on hearing of his fruitless attack on the city. Each evil doer played his part with skill. The messenger was to remind David of historic parallels (2 Samuel 11:21), and to tell him that the rash man Uriah, who led the bootless assault, had been punished for his rashness by death. No court martial would be necessary, lamentable as the affair certainly was! Heart answers to heart. The anger ceases; maxims concerning the chances of war come to one's aid (2 Samuel 11:25); the lessons of failure must be laid to heart; the general at the head of the army must not be discouraged. All this was very proper—in harmony with the proprieties of life. Men doing evil are inwardly ashamed of it, and are compelled to keep up the appearance of doing and being good. It is the outward conformity with the decencies of life that enables wicked men to go on in their evil ways for years. They follow the teaching and example of their chief, who is a liar in deed and word, and who, to perfect his schemes, assumes, if necessary, the form of an "angel of light."
V. EVIL MEN BRING THEIR DEVICES TO A SUCCESSFUL ISSUE WITH ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION. The success of David was complete. Uriah was safely put away; Bathsheba was the king's wife within a date to prevent convincing exposure; the army and the people were kept in ignorance of actual facts; the future was hopeful; but there was one fact on which the infatuated king did not reflect—the Lord was displeased. The brethren of Joseph seemed to succeed in getting rid of a troublesome brother, but God saw their wickedness, and this counted for more than they then imagined. The wicked husbandmen succeeded in freeing themselves from annoyance when they killed the heir (Matthew 21:38); but there was One to reckon with of whom they did not think. The conspiring scribes and Pharisees doubtless congratulated themselves that their plans for getting rid of the "babbler" who caused them so much trouble were wonderfully successful; but there was One whose "power" was not secured to their side (Acts 2:23, Acts 2:24). Kings and diplomatists and exactors of unjust labours and secret defrauders, and evil livers may succeed in keeping up appearances, in passing as honourable men, and in securing their heart's desire; but there will always be one factor in the case with which they some day will have to reckon—the displeasure of the Lord.
1. It is a disgrace to a master to be in league with a servant, and it puts the master within the servant's power. Many a subordinate is in possession of secrets which, if used, would blast character and ruin earthly prospects. The coils of iniquity!
2. Every new device to hide sin, and every effort to keep up appearances, only blinds the mind the more to the actual state of the soul in its relation to God.
3. In all our affairs, and especially when tempted to persist in courses of sin, we should endeavour to remember that we shall have to reckon with One who knows all and is already displeased.
4. That a man professing religion can go on in a secret course of sin without giving due heed to the knowledge which he must possess of God's knowledge of himself and deeds, is a striking sign of the utter deterioration of his spiritual sensibilities and his being nigh unto perdition.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
2 Samuel 11:1-5
(THE KING'S PALACE.)
David's fall into sin.
"But David tarried still at Jerusalem" (2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1).
1. He was about fifty years of age; had been reigning in Jerusalem upwards of twelve years; dwelt in a stately palace on Mount Zion; and possessed numerous sons and daughters, a splendid court and a powerful army. He had been "preserved whithersoever he went," subdued his enemies, and returned in triumph. His natural gifts and fervent piety (Psalms 24:4; Psalms 101:7) were even more extraordinary than his material prosperity; and he now stood on the pinnacle of human greatness and glory.
2. "We might well wish, in our human fashion, that, as he stood at this elevation, he had closed a life hitherto (as far as was possible before Christianity) almost entirely spotless, and bequeathed to posterity a wholly unclouded memory, and the purest type of true royalty. But the ascent of the dizzy height is always attended by the possibility of a slip and then of a headlong fall" (Ewald).
3. "Rising from the couch where he had indulged in his noonday siesta to an undue length, David forthwith ascended to the roof of his house. So ambition commonly follows excess; nor do they whom the contagion of luxury once corrupts readily seek after moderate and lowly ways. But that ascent of David, alas! was a prelude to his deplorable downfall. For he ascended only that he might fall, beholding thence, as from a watchtower, Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, and immediately becoming passionately enamoured of her".
4. It was the turning point of his career, which was henceforth marked by a long series of calamities. And "it is sad to think that the cup of life, alter being filled for him by God and made pure and sweet by previous suffering and self-restraint, should have been recklessly poisoned by his own hand" (Binney).
"His steps were turn'd into deceitful ways:
Following false images of good, that make
No promise perfect."
His fall occurred (serving as an instructive warning to others)—
I. AT A SEASON OF SLOTHFUL RELAXATION. In the spring of the year, "when kings go forth to war," instead of going forth with his army to complete the subjugation of Ammon, "David sent Joab," etc; and abode in Jerusalem. Formerly, when "the Lord had given him rest" (2 Samuel 7:1), he spent his leisure in a worthy manner, and displayed an ardent and even excessive zeal; but now, in choosing rest for himself, he showed a lack of zeal, and his unhappy choice was followed by disastrous consequences. "His actual fall into sin seems to have begun by the abdication of his functions as captain of Israel" (Maclaren); which was itself the effect of "previous relaxation of the girded loins and negligence of the untrimmed lamp." Inactivity (voluntarily chosen, without adequate reason, and regardless of opportunities of useful service) is commonly:
1. Induced by a course of successful enterprise, and the attainment of great prosperity. If adversity has slain its thousands, prosperity has slain its tens of thousands. "When his pillow was the rock and his curtain the cave; when his sword, under Providence, procured him his daily bread from the foes of his country, and the means of existence formed the object and pursuit of life,—he was pious and immovable; he must have been active or he must have resigned his life. But now the case was widely different. He had not only all the necessaries, but all the luxuries which the most refined voluptuousness could devise, attending in rich profusion around him. He had certainly the duty of his charge to impress its importance on his mind; but then he had the opportunity of neglecting it, and even David, it appears, was not proof against the solicitations of this opportunity" (Thompson, 'Davidica').
2. Indicative of a state of spiritual declension.
(1) Of a gradual decay of faith and neglect of watchfulness and prayer, and so leaving his hold of God;
(2) of a defective sense of responsibility to God;
(3) of pride and security, "mortal's chief enemy," so that the self-denying labours and hardships of the battlefield seemed no longer necessary; and
(4) of undue love of ease and sensuous pleasure, fostered in David's case by polygamy. "The sense of delicacy and chastity, which has such a purifying and preserving influence on the life, could not flourish side by side with the polygamy in which he permitted himself" (W.M. Taylor). The majestic forest tree falling suddenly beneath the blast excites our surprise; but, on examination, it will be found to have been undergoing at heart a gradual process of decay, which at length brought the giant to the ground.
3. Conducive to the indulgence of sinful propensities; exposing to the peril of falling into "the snare of the devil." Want of proper occupation tends to develop the hidden evil of the heart. "Standing waters gather filth" (Matthew Henry). "Idle hours bring forth idle thoughts, and idle thoughts are nothing but dry kindling wood that waits only for a spark to be suddenly ablaze" (Disselhoff). "The industrious man hath no leisure to sin; the idle hath no leisure or power to avoid sin" (Hall). David "may have been quite unconscious of bad habits of mind; but they must have been there growing in secret. The tyrannous self-will, which is too often developed by long successes and command; the unscrupulous craft, which is too often developed by long adversity and the necessity of sustaining one's self in a difficult position;—these must have been there. But even they could not have led David to do the deed he did had there not been in him likewise that fearful moral weakness which comes from long indulgence of the passions—a weakness which is reckless of conscience, of public opinion, and of danger either to earthly welfare or everlasting salvation" (C. Kingsley). "This single act can only be regarded as the expression of his whole disposition of mind" (Hengstenberg).
II. UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF STRONG TEMPTATION; or the desire of self-gratification. For "each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust [desire], and enticed," etc. (James 1:13-15). "Lust is egoistic desire under the incitement of impulse. But the action is not yet performed; it still lies with the man to combat the lust, or by the free choice of his will to yield himself to it" (Martensen, 'Christian Ethics'). It:
1. Arises in most cases from impressions made upon the senses by external objects. "And it came to pass in an eventide," etc. (2 Samuel 11:2). The eye is the most common inlet of temptation. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food," etc. (Genesis 3:6). Achan first saw, then coveted and took (Joshua 7:21). "David at this time had forgotten the prayer, 'Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.' We see, therefore, how dangerous a thing it is to suffer the eyes to wander. Job made a covenant with his eyes" (Wilier). "They who abuse the eye deserve to have the inward eye darkened" (Gregory).
2. Derives its force from various circumstances; such as
(1) the unexpected, sudden, and deceitful manner of its occurrence;
(2) the power and opportunity of its gratification;
(3) the temperament, predisposition, and besetting sins of its subject;
(4) the entertainment of it in the fancy, which forms false images of good, and invests them with a perilous fascination; and
(5) the delay of endeavour to overcome it, wherein there always lies peculiar and most imminent danger (Genesis 39:9).
3. Becomes by such means an absorbing passion (Matthew 6:28, Matthew 6:29); blinding the mental vision, perverting the moral judgment, and influencing (though not absolutely compelling) the choice of the personal will, by which sin comes into actual existence. "There is a black spot, though it be no bigger than a bean's eye, in every soul, which, if once set a-working, will overcloud the whole man in darkness, and something very like madness, and will hurry him into the night of destruction" (Arabic saying). To escape this fatal issue there is need, not merely of resolute resistance and fervent prayer, but also of instant flight. "The temptation of the flesh is overcome and impure passion mortified by flight, and not by fighting face to face. He then who flies fastest and furthest is most sure of victory. Once more I say to thee, Fly! for thou art as stubble. Therefore fly, fly, if indeed thou wouldest not be overtaken, led captive, and slain!" (Scupoli).
III. AGAINST THE RESTRAINTS OF RECOGNIZED OBLIGATION. "And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba," etc.? (verse 3). Whilst he knew not who she was, there might be at least some excuse (considering the position of an Oriental monarch, and the common practices of the age) for his passion (2 Samuel 3:1-5); but now that he was informed that she was "the wife of Uriah," the claims of a higher law than his own inclination must have risen up distinctly before him; and he had to choose between renouncing his evil desire or breaking through the numerous restraints placed in his path. These restraints are:
1. Set up by the express commandments of the Divine Law, which says, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife;" "Thou shalt not commit adultery;" "Thou shalt not steal" (2 Samuel 12:4-6).
2. Strengthened by the special responsibilities of peculiar position and relationship; such as David held, as King of Israel, under Jehovah, with respect to his subjects, and more particularly his faithful servant Uriah.
3. Enforced by the terrible consequences threatened against transgressors (Le Job 20:10; Deuteronomy 28:15). It is nevertheless possible to burst through all such restraints. And in the exercise of his freedom and the abuse of his power, David set them at nought, and "despised the commandment of the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:9). "When lust has conceived, every restraint generally increases its vehemence, the thoughts of future consequences and the consideration of the presence, purity, and justice of God are excluded; his Law and authority are disregarded; faith and fear and love are out of exercise; and the enhanced imagination of the satisfaction to be found in indulgence possesses and engrosses the soul" (Scott).
IV. WITH THE PERSISTENCY OF WILFUL PRESUMPTION. "And David sent messengers, and took her," etc. (verses 4, 5). Regarding himself as a special favourite of Heaven, he perhaps imagined (as others have done) that he might leave the ways of lowly obedience and self-denial, and go whithersoever he pleased, and yet be preserved from harm (Deuteronomy 29:19; Psalms 19:13; Matthew 4:6); and under this delusion he persisted in his purpose, and fell from his moral elevation into the depths of sin and to the verge of destruction. "How are the mighty fallen!" By such persistency:
1. The sinful purpose of the heart is confirmed and completed in outward action.
2. The guilt incurred is aggravated.
3. The natural consequences of sin become more serious and extensive; and, in some respects, they cannot possibly be averted (Job 12:11-14).
1. No man, however holy, is exempt from the liability of falling into sin. "Be not highminded, but fear;" "Let him that thinketh he standeth,' etc. "If such a strong and tall cedar as David fall, how ought weaker Christians to fear and to pray that God would deliver them from temptation!" (Guild).
2. Material prosperity and outward show are frequently associated with moral failure and secret iniquity. Whilst the conquest of Rabbah went forward, David became the victim of his own unfaithfulness.
3. The fall of men into sin is to be attributed to themselves—their voluntary choice of evil; and not to their circumstances, or constitution, or the withholding from them of the help of God. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God," etc.
4. It is of unspeakable importance to maintain the exercise of the spiritual life in full vigour, and to watch against the first approach of evil. "The narrow way has precipices on both sides; let us walk it awake and watchful, for we are not more exact than David, who by a moment's neglect was precipitated into the very gulf of sin" (Chrysostom).
5. By the record of the sins of good men (1 Samuel 21:2), the truth and worth of the Word of God are plainly shown. "If such a story does not give one a view of the unfathomable depths of sin and of its power, he will never learn what sin is" (Schmid).
6. In the whole course of history One alone has appeared "without sin;" he was tempted and overcame, and he is the Succourer of them that are tempted.—D.
2 Samuel 11:4
The Books of Samuel furnish abundant materials for instructive studies of female character, in
(1) the praying Hannah,
(2) the provoking Peuinnah,
(3) the broken hearted wife of Phineas,
(4) the proud Michel,
(5) the persuasive Abigail,
(6) the beautiful Bathsheba,
(7) the unfortunate Tamar,
(8) the wily woman of Tekoah,
(9) the devoted Rizpah,
(10) the peaceable woman of Abel, and (in a minor degree)
(11) the terrified nurse of Mephibesheth (2 Samuel 4:3),
(12) the faithful maidservant at En-rogel,
(13) the sympathizing woman of Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:17, 2 Samuel 17:18).
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam (Ammiel, 1 Chronicles 3:5), the granddaughter of Ahithophel the king's counsellor (2 Samuel 23:34), and well known (2 Samuel 11:3) as the wife of Uriah the Hittite. "Eliam and Uriah must have been thrown much together, being beth of the same rank, and being each one of the thirty-seven officers of the king's guard" (Blunt, 'Undesigned Coincidences'). She was:
1. Endowed with perilous gifts—extraordinary beauty (2 Samuel 11:2), ardent temperament, quick perceptions, ambitious aims. Something of her natural character may be inferred from 1 Kings 1:15-21 and 1 Kings 2:13-21, "a woman ignorant of ruling, but skilled in love matters."
2. Destitute of adequate safeguards, such as would have been afforded by the presence of her husband, who was away at the siege of Rabbah; careful moral training; and firm religious principles (Proverbs 11:22).
3. Overcome by a great temptation. "And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came," etc. "There is no intimation whatever" (as Delany endeavours to show) "that David brought Bathsheba into the palace through craft or violence; but rather that she came at his request, without any hesitation, and offered no resistance to his desires. Consequently, she is not to be regarded as free from blame" (Keil). "One is even disposed to suspect that she was a designing, ambitious woman, who laid a snare for the king. Nothing is told us concerning her in order that the iniquity of David might not be relieved" (R. Tuck, 'The First Three Kings of Israel'). She, like others, admired the king, felt flattered by his attentions, and had not sufficient moral strength to resist his wishes or control her own inordinate vanity. "Had she been mindful of her matrimonial fidelity, perhaps David had been soon checked in his inordinate desire" (Hall). Yet she was a woman "more sinned against than sinning" (1 Kings 2:27; 2 Samuel 12:4).
4. Observant of customary ceremonies. "And she was purified," etc. "More scrupulous about the ceremonial law than the moral" (Le 1 Kings 15:18). "She also mourned for her husband when she heard of his death (1 Kings 2:26), but not for her sin which caused it" (Guild); being chiefly concerned about appearances; for her sin had been kept, as far as possible, a profound secret.
5. Visited by deserved chastisement. Beset by tormenting anxieties and terrible fears, knowing the penalty due to her transgression; and, subsequently, overwhelmed with grief on account of the affliction and death of her child; nor was this the only retribution she experienced.
6. Treated with merciful consideration. (1 Kings 2:27.) As David himself, the supreme administrator on earth of the Divine Law, did not suffer death, "and it is easy to perceive that, to leave this single act of criminality unpunished in a great king, was for the advantage of the people" (Michaelis, 'Laws of Moses,' 1 Kings 1:37), as he was expressly exempted from it by the word of the prophet (2 Samuel 12:13); so, in the exercise of his royal prerogative, he very properly dispensed with the penalty in the case of the partner of his guilt. Like him, also, she probably repented of her sin; and "mercy glorieth against judgment" (James 2:13). Evil was even overruled for good (2 Samuel 12:24; 1 Chronicles 3:5; Matthew 1:6; Luke 3:31). It has been thought (though without sufficient reason) that the counsels contained in Proverbs 31:1-31. were given by her to her son Solomon. "Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised," D.
2 Samuel 11:5-15
Entanglements of sin.
He who once leaves the right path little knows how far he may go astray or how great will be his perplexities and perils. Possibly he may never return; certainly he will not return without overcoming immense difficulties, and finding out by bitter experience his folly and perversity.
"The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labour lies."
Sin is commonly attended (as in the case of David) by—
I. GUILTY FEARS. After his sudden fall he probably felt some measure of compunction; but repressed the reproaches of conscience, and continued, in the view of men, the same as he had ever been. It is evident that, when the message (2 Samuel 11:5) came to him, he was not truly penitent.
1. It awakened his fears concerning the possible exposure of his sin. Would not the wife of Uriah, on the return of her husband, be constrained. to declare the author of her shame?
2. His fears were intensified by the probable consquences of such exposure. Even if he should be able to save Bathsheba, and himself escape legal punishment, by virtue of his high position as the Lord's anointed, how could he avert the private vengeance of Uriah, or maintain the confidence, affection, and allegiance of his army and people? What other Eastern monarchs did with impunity, could not be done by him in Israel without incurring the moral indignation of the people, and causing the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
3. He was impelled by his fears to use his utmost efforts with a view to the concealment of his sin. "And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite" (2 Samuel 11:6). His endeavour to hide his transgression "as Adam" (Job 31:33) was itself a tacit acknowledgment of its disreputable character. And "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper," etc. (Proverbs 28:13). Would that men, after their first wrong step, immediately confessed their error, made reparation, and returned to the way of truth and righteousness!
II. FRUSTRATED DEVICES.
1. In their attempts at concealment men are wont to employ extraordinary ingenuity (1 Samuel 18:17-30), and to hide their base designs under the cover of kindness (2 Samuel 11:7-9).
2. Their crafty purposes are often defeated by simplicity and sincerity, beyond their calculation. "The ark," etc. (2 Samuel 11:9-12). "This answer expressed the feelings and the consciousness of duty which ought to animate one who was fighting for the cause of God, in such plain and unmistakable terms, that it was well adapted to prick the king to the heart. But David's soul was so beclouded by the wish to keep clear of the consequences of his sin in the eyes of the world, that he did not feel the sting, but simply made a still further attempt to attain his purpose with Uriah" (Keil).
3. Although defeated, their attempts are usually repeated (2 Samuel 11:13), but only to issue in greater disappointment, perplexity, and anxiety. The devices of sin are like a labyrinth, in which the sinner becomes more and more inextricably involved. They are like the meshes of a net, in which he becomes more and more hopelessly entangled.
III. INCREASING CRIMINALITY. (2 Samuel 11:14, 2 Samuel 11:15.) "He sent back the unsuspicious warrior to Babbah, to Joab, with a letter, which, under the name of 'Uriah's letter,' has become notorious throughout the world. It was written with the same pen with which the sweet psalmist had written his psalms" (Krummacher).
1. The course of sin is downward into ever deeper moral abasement. "It is the nature of sin to multiply itself, and to draw the wretched sinner on to greater and greater enormities." Adultery was followed by
(5) temptation (2 Samuel 11:13; Habakkuk 2:15),
"One sin another doth provoke;
Murder's as near to lust, as flame to smoke."
2. It is so because of its blinding, hardening, and enslaving power (2 Peter 2:19; Proverbs 6:22), its delusive promises of good, its specious pleas of necessity, its urgent impulses to desperate expedients. "Such are the accursed entanglements of sin; such the workings and gradations of it in the distracted, bewildered breast that admits it. Millions have been lost in these Labyrinths of guilt; but none, sure, in any more intricate and perplexing than this!" (Delany).
3. Although it may be followed by apparent and temporary success, it cannot ultimately prosper. "The Lord shall reward," etc. (2 Samuel 3:39; Proverbs 11:21; Isaiah 5:18). "The means which David took to extricate himself from the complications in which his adultery involved him appeared well chosen; but there was one thing he had not taken into consideration—that he could not here, as in former embarassments, confidently expect the assistance of God. It was God's design that David's sin should be fully manifested, for only in this way was perfect cure possible, and therefore he suffered the means to fail" (Hengstenberg).—D.
2 Samuel 11:6
Uriah the Hittite.
Like Ahimelech (1 Samuel 26:6), he belonged to a notable people (Genesis 23:3; Ezekiel 16:3; 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6), had adopted the faith of Israel, and joined David in exile; he was one of the famous "thirty" (1 Chronicles 11:41; 2 Samuel 23:39), married Bathsheba (the young and beautiful daughter of a brother officer), to whom he was fondly attached (2 Samuel 12:3), and had a house overlooked by the king's palace. The story of this man, "immortal by his wrongs," constitutes a little tragedy. He was:
1. Greatly distinguished for his heroic courage. For more than twenty years he had taken part in the conflicts of David, and contributed to his victories; and, by the valour which he displayed, gained and kept an honourable position.
2. Grievously wronged by his royal master. Having been secretly dishonoured by the king, he was specially sent for, treated with guile, and tempted to become an unconscious agent in concealing the crime. "Were honour driven out of the world, it should find a refuge in the breast of kings."
3. A noble example of patriotic devotion. "The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents," etc. (2 Samuel 11:11). He "may be regarded from a moral standpoint as a type of the marvellous power and self-control for which those troops, then in their prime, must have been distinguished" (Ewald). In contrast with the indulgent habit (2 Samuel 11:1) of the king, he exhibited sympathy, self-denial, zeal, and determination: "I will not do this thing."
"The ark of God is in the field,
Like clouds around the alien armies sweep;
Each by his spear, beneath his shield,
In cold and dew the anointed warriors sleep.
"And can it be? thou liest awake,
Sworn watchman, tossing on thy couch of down;
And doth thy recreant heart not ache
To hear the sentries round the leaguered town?
"Oh, dream no more of quiet life;
Care finds the careless out; more wise to vow
Thine heart entire to faith's pure strife;
So peace will come, thou knowest not when or how."
4. A pitiable instance of a common failing. (2 Samuel 11:13.) He was susceptible to the power of temptation, even as others. Though proof against indulgence in one form, he was overcome by it in another. But he did not entirely lose his self-control. And the guilt of the tempted is far surpassed by that of the tempter. Intoxication weakens the sense of duty, strengthens the force of the passions, is often used as an incitement to vice, and is a fruitful source of incalculable moral, and physical evil in the individual, the family, and society (1 Samuel 25:37, 1 Samuel 25:38; 2 Samuel 13:38).
5. The unsuspecting bearer of his own death warrant. "And David wrote a letter to Joab," etc.—the first letter mentioned in the Bible—telling him "that he had offended him," etc. (Josephus). And without suspecting its contents, he delivered the treacherous missive.
6. The hapless victim of his unswerving fidelity. "He assigned Uriah a place where he knew that valiant men were" (2 Samuel 11:16). "Honour is pretended to poor Uriah; death is meant. He was not the first or last that perished by his friends" (Hall). "He fell unconscious of his wife's dishonour" (Stanley). "Thus fell this brave man, a sacrifice to his own heroic virtue and his prince's guilt. He fell, but not alone; some of his brave companions in arms stood by him to the last, nor deserted him in death" (Delany). The report of his fate was received by the king with the cold and commonplace reflection, "The sword devoureth one as well as another" (2 Samuel 11:25). "That the sin of David was fulfilling some righteous judgment of God against Uriah and his house, I doubt not—for God often makes his enemies his instruments and, without sanctifying the means, strikes out of them good. Still, a sin it was, great and grievous and offensive to that God to whom the blood of Uriah cried from the ground" (Blunt).—D.
2 Samuel 11:16-21
Complicity in sin.
Here are three men: David, a great but sinful king, bent on the destruction of a faithful servant; Uriah, a brave but injured soldier, sent unconsciously to his doom; and Joab, an able but unscrupulous general (2 Samuel 3:22-30), become a willing agent and ready accomplice in his execution "with the sword of the children of Ammon" (2 Samuel 12:9).
1. There is seldom wanting a suitable accomplice in effecting a sinful purpose, however iniquitous it may be. The character of Joab was well known to David. "It was his very wickedness that commended him to the king as the most fitting instrument for carrying out his infamous design." He had formerly deprecated his wickedness (2 Samuel 3:29, 2 Samuel 3:39); but now that he had himself fallen into sin, he associated himself with it, and made use of it for his own ends, although, as he afterwards found, to his own cost. "How Joab must have rejoiced when David sank down to his own level!"
2. In serving another, such an accomplice is chiefly concerned about serving himself. He seeks supremely his own advantage. Joab acted not from loyalty, but self-love. "To make himself great, powerful, indispensable, was the object of his life" (Plumptre). "Possibly he had some information that Bathsheba had been with David" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Anyhow, perceiving the design of the king against Uriah, he served him, in order that he might gain complete power over him; and in this he succeeded. "When David made him a partner and secret agent of his guilty purpose touching Uriah, he sold himself into his hands, and in that fatal letter he sealed away his liberty and surrendered himself up to this his unscrupulous accomplice" (Blunt). "All fellowship in sin begets despotism." Henceforth Joab did with the king very much as he pleased.
3. No authority of man can justify the violation of the Law of God. How often have men imagined that the command or sanction of one in authority has been a sufficient warrant for doing what their own consciences condemned, and laid the blame of their conduct on the instigator thereof rather than on themselves! Joab probably needed little self excuse; but it ever he should want a defence, he might plead the king's letter. He was reckless of human life; to effect his purpose made a greater sacrifice of it than the king intended (2 Samuel 11:17), and became more hardened than ever in wickedness. "We ought to obey God rather than men."
4. There may be exemption from punishment when there is no exoneration from blame. "How must this example needs harden Joab against the conscience of Abner's blood! while he cannot but think, 'David cannot avenge that in me which he acteth himself'" (Hall). Nevertheless, his guilt, in the sight of God, remains; and judgment comes at last (Ecclesiastes 12:14).—D.
2 Samuel 11:21
Warnings from history.
"Who smote Abimelech," etc.? "History is philosophy teaching by example." It is full of doctrines, principles, examples, warnings (1 Samuel 12:8-12). This event, which had taken place two hundred and thirty years before, was familiar to Joab and others; and, viewed as a warning, likely to be recalled by the king to point his reproof (Judges 9:53). Of such warnings observe that they—
I. ARE OF IMMENSE SERVICE; in making general lessons concerning danger and duty:
1. More distinct.
2. More impressive.
3. More beneficial.
They are beacon lights, danger signals, startling voices; and leach that in the way of inconsideration, rashness, and presumption, there is imminent peril; that destruction may come unexpectedly, suddenly, and by a feeble hand—"a woman slew him;" and that; (although neither Joab nor David laid it to heart) every violation of God's Law is surely followed by retribution (Judges 9:56, Judges 9:57). They are "written for our admonition" (1 Corinthians 10:11).
II. SHOULD BE DULY HEEDED.
1. Intelligently studied.
2. Constantly remembered.
3. Practically observed.
They are "written for our learning" (Romans 15:4). "The world exists for the education of each man. There is no age or state of society or mode of action in history to which there is not something corresponding in his life. Everything tends in a most wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its whole nature to him" (Emerson).
III. MAY BE DELIBERATELY SLIGHTED.
1. For some immediate personal advantage.
2. From the persuasion of immunity, though others perish (2 Samuel 11:17).
3. With a plausible excuse, when remonstrated with.
"Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also." "Joab quoted God's Word, but was not careful to keep it" (Wordsworth).
IV. WILL BE ASSUREDLY VINDICATED.
1. By the occurrence of similar events (1 Kings 2:34). "The history of the past is a prophecy of the future."
2. In the bitter experience of the obdurate.
3. With ever-increasing clearness and force to successive generations. "Remember the days of old," etc. (Deuteronomy 32:7).—D.
2 Samuel 11:22-27
Concealment of sin.
Order of events:
1. Report of Uriah's death (2 Samuel 11:22-25).
2. Bathsheba mourns (seven days, 1 Samuel 31:13) for her husband (2 Samuel 11:26), being probably unacquainted with the manner in which it was brought about.
3. David makes her his wife.
4. Joab takes Rabbah, except the citadel (2 Samuel 12:26).
5. David, on receiving Joab's message, goes to Rabbah and conquers the city (2 Samuel 12:27-31).
6. David and all the people return to Jerusalem.
7. Bathsheba bears a son (2 Samuel 11:27).
"When I kept silence my bones waxed old
Whilst I continually groaned;
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me:
My moisture was turned into the drought of summer."
(Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4.)
The life of David has an outward and an inward aspect: the one described in the history, the other by himself in his psalms; each the necessary complement of the other. They are, in general, closely connected and correspond, the outward being the expression of the inward, and explained by it. But sometimes they appear at variance, and in some respects present a melancholy contrast; as in the period that followed his transgression. He had succeeded in hiding it from public view; but he could not hide it altogether from himself. Consider concealment of sin in relation to—
I. THE OUTWARD LIFE. Many a man carries in his breast a guilty secret, unsuspected by others. He may be the object of their admiration and envy, and distinguished (as David was) by:
1. Apparent sincerity in public and in private life. He judges offenders in the gate, or receives news (from the battlefield) with words of resignation or encouragement (2 Samuel 11:25). "Alas! how often do men hide baseness and satisfaction at successful plotting under the commonplace of resignation to the inevitable, of submission to the conditions of existence!" He goes to the house of God (2 Samuel 7:8), "returns to bless his household" (2 Samuel 6:20), and maintains the form of private devotion. Yet he is inwardly "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest," etc. (Isaiah 57:20).
2. Restless activity (2 Samuel 12:29), which, though it appear to be a display of admirable energy, is really pursued as a welcome diversion from disquieting thoughts. "The enterprise promised an opportunity of escaping from himself; and he probably went thither in the maddest of all attempts, that, namely, of outrunning a guilty conscience" (W.M. Taylor).
3. Earthly prosperity. "And he took the king's crown," etc. (2 Samuel 12:30). In this there was, probably, something of vain glory (1 John 2:16). It was the culmination of his victories over the heathen. But the honour of wearing the crown of "their king" (or Milcom, Moloch) was a poor compensation for the dishonour he had done to his own, and the loss of uprightness of heart; his triumph over idolatry a miserable set off against his overthrow by Satan.
4. Unusual severity. (2 Samuel 12:31.) The effect of sin is to harden the heart.
"I waive the quantum o' the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But och! it hardens a' within,
And petrifies the feeling!"
It also perverts the judgment. He who is wanting in a due sense of his own sinfulness is apt to be a severe judge of others (2 Samuel 12:5; Matthew 18:28; Matthew 21:41; Romans 2:21). A conscience ill at ease makes the temper sullen and irritable; and a repressed feeling of justice in relation to a man himself sometimes finds relief in the infliction of cruel vengeance on other men. "An evil conscience is the concealed root of bitterness from which spring a thousand poisonous plants, to shed their baleful influence upon the possessor and upon society at large" (McCosh).
II. THE INWARD LIFE. The experience of David was marked by:
1. Obstinate silence. (Psalms 32:3.) He not only sought to conceal his transgression from men, but also sullenly refused to admit "the iniquity of his sin" to himself, or acknowledge it before God. The impulse to confession in such a man must have been strong; but he struggled against it with all his might (Psalms 32:9), as others have done.
2. Self-deceiving guile. "The deceit of the impenitent heart consists in its seeking to excuse and justify itself despite the condemnation of conscience, while it obtains no relief from the feeling of guilt, but rather brings about a sharper reaction of conscience, and increases the pains that come from the conflict of mutually accusing and excusing thoughts" (Erdmann). "The roots of this deceit, which makes its appearance immediately after a fall into sin, are pride, lack of trust in God, and love of sin" (Hengstenberg).
3. Spiritual deprivation. For during these long, weary months of silence the light of God's countenance was hidden, the joy of his salvation lost (Psalms 51:8, Psalms 51:12). "His harp was out of tune, and his soul like a tree in winter, with the life in the root only" (Matthew Henry). "We are not to conceive of him as one who had quite fallen, nor as one spiritually dead, but as sick unto death. It is certain that he had not quite lost all desire after God, that he had not entirely given up prayer; doubtless there were still many fruits of faith perceptible in him; but his soul was checked in its flight toward God, a curse rested upon him, which made solitary communion with the Divine Being for any length of time intolerable, and moved him to seek distractions in order to escape the torment of conscience and keep it from attaining to full life."
4. Inexpressible misery; consisting of "the burden of the heart weighing on itself, the burden of a secret, the sense of hypocrisy, the knowledge of inward depravity, while all without looks pure as snow to men" (F.W. Robertson); the remembrance of sin that cannot be forgotten (Psalms 51:3), the remorse of conscience that cannot be quieted, the sense of Divine displeasure, the dread of approaching woes (Psalms 51:11); continuing without cessation; consuming the vital energies, and exhausting the physical strength (Psalms 38:6). "Whithersoever the sinner may turn himself, or however he may be mentally affected, his malady is in no degree lightened nor his welfare in any degree promoted until he is restored to God" (Calvin, in Psalms 32:1-11.). "I will reprove thee" etc. (Psalms 50:21). Although for a season concealed, it will be in due time revealed (Matthew 10:26). "Not only was the fruit of the sin to be first of all brought to light (2 Samuel 11:27), and the hardened sinner to be deprived of the possibility of either denying or concealing his crimes; God would first of all break his unbroken heart by the torture of his own conscience, and prepare it to feel the reproaches of the prophet …. Nathan's reproof could not possibly have berne its saving fruit if David had been still living in utter blindness as to the character of his sin at the time the prophet went to him" (Keil). "No language ever described so vividly the sense of a weight at the heart—a weight that cannot be uplifted; and it was the weight of God's own presence, of that presence which he had once spoken of as the fulness of joy. With this oppression, like that of the air before the thunderstorm, came the drying up of all the moisture and freshness of life, the parching heat of fever. Did the Prophet Nathan bring all this to his consciousness? No, surely. The Prophet Nathan came at the appointed time to tell him in clear words, by a living instance, that which he had been hearing in muttered accents within his heart for months before. He came to tell him that the God of righteousness and mercy, who cared for Uriah, the poor man with the single ewe lamb, was calling him, the king, to account for an act of unrighteousness and unmercifulness. Nathan brought him to face steadily the light at which he had been winking, and to own that the light was good, that it was the darkness which was horrible and hateful, so that he might turn to the light and crave that it should once more penetrate into the depths of his being, and take possession of him" (Maurice).—D.
2 Samuel 11:27
God's displeasure at sin.
"And the thing that David had done displeased Jehovah" (1 Chronicles 21:7). This is the only remark which the sacred historian makes on the conduct of David. It reveals its true nature as with a sunbeam; "contains the moral decision from a theocratic point of view, and is, as it were, a superscription of the following history of the Divine judgments on David and his house on account of this sin" (Erdmann). The Divine displeasure (indignation, anger, wrath) is—
I. REAL. Jehovah is the living, personal, supreme Ruler of men, and to him each man is responsible for his actions. As he is capable of being pleased, so he is of being displeased. His wrath is no less real than his love, wisdom, or power; like, yet unlike, that of man, being above all human imperfection. The Scriptures declare that he is displeased with men when they do evil. "The wrath of God is revealed," etc. (Romans 2:18). This is confirmed by conscience, in which his displeasure is reflected as a clouded sky in the surface of a lake.
II. DESERVED. Sin is rebellion against his authority, disobedience to his Law, opposition to his holiness, ingratitude toward his goodness; a transgression of the covenant, "a coming short of the mark," iniquity (Psalms 32:1). Every wrong done to man is a dishonouring of God (Psalms 51:4). In the sin of David there were elements of peculiar and aggravated guilt (2 Samuel 12:7-9). But in every case it is "exceeding sinful," "the abominable thing which he hates" (Jeremiah 44:4). It is the one real evil in man.
"Sin alone is that
Which doth disfranchise him, and make unlike
To the chief good; for that its light in him
III. IMPARTIAL. The Holy One of Israel is unaffected by any of those influences that make human displeasure at wrong doing partial and defective. He is neither blind nor indifferent to the sins of his children (2 Samuel 7:14). They have not, any more than others, a licence to sin. David, "his chosen," is not above the Law, nor exempt from due punishment. "For there is no respect of persons with God" (Romans 2:11). "Without respect of persons, the Father judgeth according to every man's work," etc. (1 Peter 1:17; Amos 3:2); estimating it according to its exact moral "weight" (1 Samuel 2:3).
IV. UNAVOIDABLE. However men may conceal it from others, or endeavour to hide it from themselves, they cannot hide it from God (Job 22:13). What pleases men may displease him (1 Thessalonians 2:4). His knowledge is infinite; his righteousness and justice essential, unchangeable, and eternal. Wherever and whenever sin exists, the holy energy of his wrath must burn against it; "for our God is a consuming fire," an "almighty foe to ill." Although delayed, it is not extinct. "A year had passed since his fall. The child of his sin had been born. And all this time God was silent. Yet like a dark cloud on a summer's day hung this sentence over him, 'But the thing that David did," etc. Soon it would burst in a storm of judgment."
V. EFFICIENT AND DREADFUL. As "in the king's favour there is life," so in his displeasure there is death. It is manifested in the punishment of the sinner, both inwardly and outwardly; as in the case of David (2 Samuel 12:10, 2 Samuel 12:11). Every future moment must answer for the present. The penalties of transgression in this life are numerous and terrible. And who shall tell what will follow hereafter, when the wind becomes a whirlwind?
VI. MINGLED WITH MERCY. God is displeased with sin rather than with the sinner (except in so far as he voluntarily identifies himself with it); whom, in his essential nature, he loves; who possesses the capacity of restoration; whose salvation he seeks; and to whom, on his repentance, punishment becomes chastisement, a means of purification and blessing (2 Samuel 7:15). "There is no more terrible, there is no more instructive, portion of the Word of God than this whole record. The long death sleep of that once living soul; its awakening under the prophet's voice; its deep repentance; its free forgiveness; its long, heavy, repeated, almost incessant chastisement;—speak to every ear which is not altogether deaf lessons of the holiness and truth, of the severity and love, of the justice and mercy, of the Lord our God, which is borne perhaps with equal force in no other record of his ways with man" ('Heroes of Hebrew History'). "O God, thou hadst never suffered so dear a favourite of thine to fall so fearfully, if thou hadst not meant to make him a universal example to mankind, of not presuming, of not despairing. How can we presume of not sinning, or despair for sinning, when we find so great a saint thus fallen, thus risen?" (Hall).—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 11:27
"But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord." One guarantee, even to the most unlettered, of the truthfulness of sacred history is the impartiality of its accounts of its greatest heroes, whose sins and follies are faithfully recorded as well as their virtues. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, are cases in point. David is another instance, whose fearful sins are recorded in this most distressing chapter, ending with the significant words of our text, "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."
I. THE WICKEDNESS WHICH DISPLEASED GOD. Many things done by good men of old times which appear to us very culpable, were in them innocent or excusable, on account of the different standard by which their conduct was regulated, and the different public opinion of their days. But the sins of David recorded in this chapter were not of such a description. The law of nature everywhere and in all times, as well as the laws of the revelation known to David, are clear and emphatic in condemning them.
1. The sins themselves.
(1) Adultery; and, growing out of this,
(2) deceit. Pretences to Uriah of concern about the war, and about Uriah's comfort while in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:7-10); and to Joab's messenger, of regarding the deaths of Uriah and other brave soldiers whose lives had been sacrificed through his directions, as being ordinary casualties of war (2 Samuel 11:25).
(3) Murder of Uriah and the soldiers who fell with him.
(4) Leading others into crime: Uriah into drunkenness, Joab into murder.
2. Their aggravations.
(1) His age, position, knowledge, experiences, and reputation. He was between fifty and sixty years old. As king, he was the highest guardian of justice and protector of innocence. He knew well the wickedness of his conduct. He had been marvellously guided, advanced, and blessed by God, with whom he had been accustomed to maintain the closest converse. He was well known as a devout man, professing himself a devoted servant of God. He had thus a reputation to sustain.
(2) The difficulties in his way. The necessity of sending messengers (2 Samuel 11:4) to Bathsheba. Think of his stooping to that! Difficulties, necessitating some consideration and calling for determined resolution to conquer them, increase the guilt of sin.
(3) His abundant harem, as contrasted with Uriah's one wife; hinted at in 2 Samuel 12:2, 2 Samuel 12:3.
(4) Uriah's position and conduct. His relation to David, as one of his chief military officers, and distinguished for his valour (2 Samuel 23:39; 1 Chronicles 11:41). He was at the time with the army in the field, and might justly look to the king to be the protector (if necessary) of his wife from evil. He cherished noble sentiments (2 Samuel 12:11) of duty and honour as a soldier. (Did he, however, know or suspect how matters stood; and frame his language to the king as a subterfuge?)
(5) The deliberateness of the later crimes.
(6) The time cousumed, giving ample opportunity for reflection. When these things are considered, the wickedness of David assumes proportions which are appalling.
3. How they were possible.
(1) There must have been secret and very serious declension in piety. Had he been in the state of mind and heart which is revealed in 2 Samuel 7:1-29; it is impossible that he could have so sinned. The height of prosperity and power which he had reached had corrupted him.
(2) There is much in what Dean Stanley says of "that abyss which yawns by the side of lofty genius and strong passions," which "opened and closed over him."
(3) His position as an Eastern monarch, accustomed to polygamy, accustomed also to act in many things according to his own will.
(4) Some think that his being in the way of temptation arose from a self-indulgent neglect of duty in remaining at Jerusalem instead of leading his army in the field.
(5) He found in Bathsheba a ready consent to his will.
(6) The later sins and crimes seemed necessary, after the first step, to save himself and his companion in guilt from utter disgrace and ruin. Such considerations may help to explain, but cannot be accepted as excusing, his wickedness.
II. HOW THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD WAS MANIFESTED.
1. The message by Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-12); who boldly reproved David in the name of the Lord, and announced the punishments which would fall upon him.
2. The death of the chill.
3. Family scandals, sins, and sorrows.
4. Absalom's rebellion, and all the humiliations and troubles it involved.
5. Joab's increased ascendency. "There was a guilty secret between the two" (Trench). The worst part of his punishment sprang from sins like his own, and was probably occasioned by them, at least in part.
1. Do nothing, however pleasant, or gainful, or common among men, or seemingly safe, to the account of which may be appended the terrible words, "The thing … displeased the Lord."
2. Let none presume on their security against even disgraceful sin. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12); "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." (Matthew 26:41)
3. Guard against the beginnings of evil. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). David had already committed adultery when he gazed lustfully on Bathsheba (comp. Matthew 5:28). Pray, as David did afterwards, "Create in me a clean heart" (Psalms 51:10). The beginning of sin is, like that of strife, "as when one letteth out water" (Proverbs 17:14). The trickling of water through a small crevice in an embankment may seem inconsiderable; but, unless stopped, it may issue in widespread devastation and misery. One sin leads to another and another, and all to pain and sorrow. Gehazi's covetousness led him to falsehood and robbery, and then to lifelong leprosy, transmitted to his children's children (2 Kings 5:20-27). Peter's self-confidence prepared the way for cowardice, falsehood, and profanity, followed by bitter anguish. The pilferings of Judas from "the bag" issued in the betrayal of his Lord; and then remorse and suicide.
4. How vain are all attempts to conceal sin and prevent punishment! God is looking on all the time the sinner is cunningly endeavouring to hide his sin (see Job 34:21, Job 34:22). "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).—G.W.