In the spring, when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites, and they destroyed the Ammonites, attacking the city of Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone and inquired about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (Now she had been purifying herself after her monthly period.) Then she returned home.5 The woman conceived and sent word to David. “I’m pregnant,” she said. Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?” “The chest and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!” Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home. The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.” So as Joab was attacking the city, he put Uriah in the place where he knew there were strong warriors. When the city’s soldiers came out and attacked Joab, some of the people from David’s army fell. Uriah the Hittite was also killed. Joab sent a complete report of the battle to David. “When you have finished reporting all the news of the battle to the king,” Joab instructed the messenger, “if the king gets angry and asks you, ‘Why did you go so close to the city to fight? didn’t you know they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Jerubbaal’s son Abimelech? didn’t a woman throw an upper millstone on top of him from the wall so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go so close to the wall?’ then say: ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.’” So the messenger set off, and when he arrived he reported to David everything Joab sent him to say. “The men overpowered us,” the messenger told David. “They came out against us in the open field, but we fought against them[f] up to the entrance of the city gate. Archers shot down on your servants from the wall. Some of the king’s servants died. And your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too” (2 Samuel 11:1-24, Common English Bible).
I am Uriah. I was a soldier for David, King of Israel. But, I am not a Hebrew. I was born to Hittite parents. The Hittites were Canaanites. We were a people known for our military prowess but four generations ago our army rested on its reputation alone. Many, like my great, great grandfather were committed to fulfilling their destiny as Hittite soldiers. Many other soldiers in our army neglected their training and even came and went from the army at their own pleasure, making them completely unprepared for war. Our king did nothing to discourage this. As a result, when our enemies attacked we were woefully unprepared and the Hittite nation fell to the Assyrians. With this fall, my great, great grandfather had to support his family. Being a soldier was all he knew. He came to Israel as a mercenary, working as a hired soldier in the Israelite army and hoping for an opportunity to be part of the restoration of the Hittite empire one day.
That was not to be. By the time of my grandfather, he knew we would never go back to the Hittite nation. For all his life he and his family worshiped Yahweh. Since it was clear that we would never go back to Hitti again, and Israel was now home, he and his family adopted the Hebrew religion. We have been worshipping as Jews ever since.
Though I, like my father and grandfather before me still are known to the Hebrews as Hittites. We have been very much part of Hebrew life since my great, great grandfather came to Israel. And, when we became Israelites, when I was born I was given the name Uriah which means “Light of Yahweh.”
It was always known in our family that I would become a soldier. It is what comes from being of Hittite ancestry. Even the king assumed I would become a soldier in his army. Everyone knew that we Hittites were great and dedicated soldiers. And, in my day, young men almost always followed in their father’s footsteps. So, it was expected that I, like my father before me and his father before him would become a soldier. It was my destiny and I accepted it.
When I was twenty years old, as was expected of me, I joined Israel’s army. I trained hard. I worked hard and I fought hard. My efforts helped me to climb the ranks rapidly and it wasn’t long before I became an officer and a leader in the king’s army. I was one of the king’s mighty men or champions. I was proud to bring such honor home for my family. My father and grandfather couldn’t have been more pleased, not only with such recognition but for the honor brought to our family.
One other thing that came to me for my efforts was that Eliam went to my father asking if Bathsheba might become my wife. She was beautiful and I was thrilled. As was done in those days, my father and Eliam had their discussion. I was not a part. They came to an agreement. The arrangements were made. Though she was young, much younger than I, Bathsheba became my wife. We were married just as winter set in. A few months later, it was spring time. It was time to go to war. Military duty called so, reluctantly, I left Bathsheba behind to go to battle.
I was surprised when we readied to march from the city that the king was not present. King David had never missed going to battle before. His heroics on the field of war were legendary. Every soldier in the Israelite had not only heard about David’s heroics, they knew them and could tell them as a story around the campfire at the drop of a hat. Joab, general of David’s armies rode where normally we would have seen King David.
We moved into enemy territory ready for battle. We knew raiding parties had invaded Israel for months. Everyone in the army accepted that we had to go to battle and push these enemies back to stop the continuing raids into our lands.
When the battle started, it was fierce, but we held our own and start to push the enemy back some distance, but things went back and forth. It happens in battle.
We had been in the field a few weeks when the general called for me to report to him immediately. I wasn’t a happy soldier. My men were in heated action. I did not want to leave them. I grumbled, probably too loudly. It’s a good thing the general didn’t hear me. I wasn’t happy about it, but I am a soldier. I follow orders. I reported to the general.
“I prepared this written report,” Joab said. “Travel back to Israel and report directly to the king. Give him my written report. If he wants, you will follow with an oral report. Then you will answer any questions King David might have. Understood?”
“I understand, my general,” I replied. “But, I don’t think I should leave my men during battle. We have young boys here for messenger duty. With all due respect, General shouldn’t one of them go report to the king?”
“Uriah, I don’t question orders from the king. I would suggest you shouldn’t question his orders either. Doing so could be hazardous to your health.”
“Yes, sir. I understand.” With that, the general started briefing me for my report.
After the briefing, I started making my way to Jerusalem. I grumbled the whole time. No one could hear me other than my horse and he wasn’t telling. I also knew Joab was right. When I got back to Jerusalem, I needed to make my report, answer his questions and start back as quickly as possible.
I was, however, a bit concerned the king had asked for me. Had something happened to my father or grandfather? What about Bathsheba? Was Bathsheba OK? Were they all OK? Why else would the king want me? I stood before him a few times following battle, but we weren’t friends. We hadn’t spoken. There had to be a reason. Now I upset about leaving my men and worried for my family. Combining that with the idea kings ALWAYS go to war and David didn’t go, it was all more than a little bit weird. But, as the general reminded me, I am a soldier in the Kings’ army. I follow orders.
When I reached Jerusalem I passed through the city gates and onto the King’s palace. I rode passed my house and thought of Bathsheba. It was tempting to stop and spend a minute with my wife before seeing the king. I know I could have gotten away with it. I doubt he would have known. I knew that while tempting, I would never fall into the temptation. It was nice to think about but I was a soldier and it was war time. My place was in the field with my men. I would do what was expected of me and then I would get back to the war and my men.
A minute or two later I was at the palace, prepared to give my report to the king. I was admitted and lead to a room where the king receives most of his followers.
When I entered, I quickly made my way to the throne, bowed before the king. I was prepared to give my report at his pleasure. I rose and stood before him, waiting.
I expected he would want to hear what I had to say. I thought that was why I was there. “We’ll take care of that tomorrow,” the King said. “I will read the written report tonight. I know it has been a long day for you. It has also been some time since you last saw your wife. Go and spend the evening with her. We will talk tomorrow.”
I was floored. I replied, “As you wish, my king,” and left the room.
When the door closed behind me I started shaking my head. From what the general had told me, I thought the King was in a hurry and wanted this report faster than I could get there. Now he says, go home, see your wife, spend the night with her and come back and see me. Does that sound strange to anyone but me?
It was really tempting to do what the King said. I could be at my house in less than five minutes. No one would have thought less of me for it. After all, the king had instructed me to do so. As I thought about all this, I walked out of the palace, mindlessly in the direction of my house. I stopped. I turned around and went back to the palace. “I can’t go home and eat, drink and be merry with my wife while my men are in battle, sleeping in tents and eating what a cook calls food. It would dishonor my men. I can’t do that. Until the day the army is home, I can’t go home.
I knewI could get a place to stay in the servant’s quarters. I was shown to a small bed. After dropping off a few things I followed the king’s servants to dinner.
As I ate, eating in the palace, even with the servants, is so much better food than eating in the field. I digress. As I ate I first started to notice quiet whispers around me. I saw fingers pointed in my direction. Again, weird. I finished dinner and approached a small group of people who were whispering and pointing. I got close enough to hear.
“Can you believe he is here when only a few weeks ago his wife was in the palace with the king?” a woman in the group said.
A man replied back, “I sure hope he doesn’t find out I am the one who got her and brought her to the king. He looks pretty tough to me.”
“You don’t need to worry. Uriah understands following the king’s edicts. You did nothing wrong.”
“I hope so, I replied. He is big. I am not. He works in the fields all day, every day. He knows battle stuff. He knows hand to hand combat.”
I stood there listening but was spotted by the group. It wasn’t long before they were heading in different directions. Something was up. I had to find out what.
I made my way back to the room I would be sharing with 15 of my closest friends I didn’t know before today. I went to my bed. It was smaller than I was used to and there was no Bathsheba, but it was more comfortable than the field. Nothing felt better at that moment. I fell in. I laid there for a few minutes considering the events of the day.
I thought about the order for me to return to Jerusalem. I thought about my brief audience with the King. I thought about him telling me to go spend the night with my wife. I thought about the finger-pointing and whispers. I thought about Bathsheba. Bathsheba in the palace? I thought about… and I was asleep.
I rose the next morning and went to the kitchen to find breakfast. I wanted to see the king and get back to my men. The king might have been able to stay home but I could not. I would not. I needed to get back.
A messenger came into the kitchen looking for me. The king wanted to see me. I got down the rest of my meal and followed the messenger. “Did you have a nice evening with your wife?” the messenger asked. I didn’t answer. He wasn’t my superior. Then he said, “You should tell me. The king wants to know and told me to ask.
Perhaps I was accountable to this messenger. “I haven’t seen my wife,” I told him. “I didn’t go home. My men and my comrades are in the heat of battle, how can I go home and spend a night with my wife. It would go against my code of honor.”
When we arrived at the same room as yesterday the messenger said I should wait. I paced the floor until he came back. He said, “The king will see you now.”
I stepped into the room. King David bid me come forward. I did, bowing when I was directly in front of him. “Get up, get up.” The King said. “I understand you stayed in servant’s quarters last night and did not go home. I told you to go home to your wife.”
“You did my king,” I said. “The Ark of God and the troops of Israel and Judah are living in tents. My master Joab and the troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and sleep with my wife? I swear, I will not do that!”
“That is very honorable of you. I know you desire to get back but stay one more day. I have a message to prepare for Joab you will deliver. Please, come have dinner with me tonight and then I will send you back with the message in the morning.”
“Yes sir, my King,” I said. “Would you like me to make my report now?
“No,” the King replied. I have read the written report you brought from Joab. That will suffice. You are dismissed. Go and enjoy a day in the city.”
I left. I didn’t understand why I was here. Any messenger could make this trip. I thought he wanted me to give an accurate accounting of the battle. I was wrong.
Leaving the palace I knew I was not going, home. I was afraid I might be tempted. I was proud of my honor, my conduct. I feared I wasn’t strong enough. I had to stay away.
As walked through the city a peddler stopped me. I tried to walk away. He blocked me. Then he was unsure what to do. “You are a Hittite, yes?”
“Yes, I am,” but I have lived in Israel all my life. I am as much a Jew as you.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “Are you the Hittite known as Uriah?”
“I am he.”
Then everything changed with the peddler. He was no longer interested in selling. He wanted to get away. His was petrified and tried to move away.
I stopped him. “No worries. I won’t hurt you. Why do you ask these questions?”
“I can’t say, sir. It’s not my place. If I make the wrong people angry. It would be difficult for me,” he said.
“Come on, out with it,” I replied, getting angry. “As an officer in the King’s army, I will throw you into prison. Answer!”
“Please sir, I fear others more than you. I was at the palace a few weeks ago their talk of the king and your wife. Please, let me go. I won’t survive prison.”
“Go on,” I told the peddler. Throwing him in prison won’t do any good. I thought about his words. The king and my wife? My suspicions were growing. If my thoughts were true… Didn’t she know I could have her stoned? But, what if the King forced himself on her? That wouldn’t be her fault.
More investigation was needed, more than I could complete now. You can’t go accusing the king and your wife of adultery without proof. But, if true, I swore I would lead every Hittite out of Israel’s army to go fight with the enemies of David, King of Israel.
When evening came I was again in the palace with the king having a meal together. It was the best I’ve ever eaten. He also served wine, lots of wine and other spirits. At the end of it all, I was staggering. The king told me again to go home and spend the night with my wife. As I promised before, I didn’t go. I made my way back to my bed in the servant’s quarters.
Early the next morning, I was called again to the presence of the king. He gave me sealed messages to give to the general, battle plans he told me. Then he dismissed me to return to Joab and the army.
I went back to the kitchen for a quick meal, got my horse and left. When I rode by I saw Bathsheba standing outside. I blew her a kiss and left the city.
I arrived back in camp and immediately found the general. “Sir, orders from the king.” Joab took the messages from me and saw the seals intact.
Joab sat in a chair and opened the package from the king, read it, then pointed in one direction. “Uriah, the heaviest fighting is in that direction. Take your men and move to the front. Reinforcements will be behind you.”
“Yes, sir!” I replied.
“Make it so. You are dismissed,” the general said.
I left to get my men. We gathered our weapons and moved forward to where fighting had been heaviest. Two more units came up behind me with three more following them. We entered the fray. Suddenly I looked around and all the other units had vanished. It was me and my men. We were outnumbered. We stood no chance. It was a massacre. Not one man was left standing. Not even me.
There are people in the world who do the right thing, even when it’s hard, even when it’s costly. Uriah was one of those people. For centuries people of faith have held Uriah up as one who did the right thing despite the wrongs that went on around him. David, at best, had inappropriate relations with the wife of one of his soldiers. He tried to cover up the deed. “Uriah, go spend the night with your wife.” He wined him and dined him and encouraged him again to spend the night with his wife. It has been said that Uriah had more honor drunk than David did sober. When both plans A and B failed David went on to plan C. In an effort to cover up his own sin, David signed Uriah’s death warrant. Not only was he responsible for the death of Uriah, he was also responsible for the deaths of the men surrounding Uriah.
In the end, this story is about why bad things happen to good people. Uriah was a good guy. He did things the right way, but his honor and his ethics didn’t protect him from the intentional will of someone determined to keep their sin secret at any cost. In this case, that person was a king who had the resources and abilities to make it happen.
Uriah paid a high price. Sometimes, in various situations, bad things happen to good people. They can even happen to people like us.