Last week, I was giving a lecture on Desire (Covetousness and Lust) as part of my internship. We were talking about the story of David and Bathsheba as the worst (best?) example of the danger of lust. I was suggesting that the tenth commandment, “do not covet,” is strategically placed as the last commandment because it encompasses so many of the other sins listed in the 10 commandments, and it is the opposite of the first commandment:the first commandment tells us about properly ordered desire, while the last tells us about disordered desire. I had the class list all the other sins that flowed from David’s coveting of Bathsheba, and we concluded that he broke practically all of the commandments. Somehow I ended up down a rabbit trail (which is really easy to do when I’m in 1 or 2 Samuel) and asked this question of the class: Does Uriah Know? That is, does Uriah know what David has done and does it make David’s sin(s) all the more heinous given that he’s not fooling anyone?
In this post, I am going to attempt to unrabbit trail my thoughts.
While the narrator does not specifically tell us one way or the other, there are several hints that suggest that Uriah does in fact know what David has done. Though the king as ordered Uriah to go home and have relations with his wife, Uriah does not, and instead sleeps in the courtyard. To disobey the king is to invite death. But Uriah does not fear David. This could be because he is in a position of power knowing exactly what David has done. David would not dare murder Uriah for disobedience, for people would know that David had murdered him to cover something up.
Uriah, in responding to David’s inquiry about why he has not obeyed, says that he cannot go home and enjoy the pleasures of a homecoming when his comrades are in the battlefield, unable to also enjoy rest. He swears a double oath, on both the life and soul of David, he will not do “this thing.” Of course “this thing” is ambiguous, but I would suggest that if Uriah knows, then he is saying that he will not participate in the David’s cover-up, and ultimately in David’s sin.
If it is read in this way, then Uriah is the foil for David. Uriah, the convert to Judaism (the narrative repeatedly refers to Uriah as “Uriah the Hittite”), cares more for theology than David. This is especially ironic if we read David as a hologram of Israel. An outsider understands the honour of being chosen (a man or nation after God’s own heart) then Israel (David), who forgets.
If Uriah does know, then what David is about to do next is even more perplexing. David is so concerned with himself and with his image that he is willing to have an innocent man put to death; a man who knows David’s sin, and chooses to allow David to kill him. The honour and nobility of this soldier and friend stands in stark contrast to the self-righteous king who does not even go out to battle when it is the season for kings to go out. When Uriah disobeys the king, David must realize that Uriah has the upper hand. That he orders Joab to have Uriah murdered in such a public and obvious way shows that David is so self-centred and so desperate that it is Joab who has to rewrite the orders to protect David’s position as king.
Though not stated in the text, one has to wonder if there may not have been a prior relationship (or flirting) between David and Bathsheba, of which Uriah may have been aware. Uriah, being one of David’s top men, and being the grandson-in-law of David’s top minister, would have had many opportunities to socialize with the king. It may have been that David had previously “scoped out” Bathsheba, and Uriah should be aware of the many wives and concubines that David acquires in his role as king. Uriah, then, may not surprised that David, being a ladies’ man and being home alone while the troops are at war, would find a way to enjoy the presence of Bathsheba.