Uriah the Hittite was an outstanding soldier in David’s army. While away fighting, David noticed Uriah’s wife Bathsheba bathing on a roof. He asked about her and invited her to his palace. David was apparently reassured that she had bathed from her menstruation.
Our rabbis teach that the ancient Israelite practice was that husbands officially divorced their wives before leaving for war in case they went missing, so that their wives would not become chained women. Therefore, David technically did not commit adultery.
Nonetheless, Uriah was understandably in love with his wife-in-waiting. David slept with Bathsheba, who subsequently sent news that she was pregnant.
Nervous, David recalled Uriah from the war and required him to go home and act conjugally, in the hope that the indiscretion would not be discovered.
Uriah, possibly suspicious of the King’s request, refused to go, saying that it would be dishonourable to indulge himself in wartime.
David sent Uriah back to the battlefront, unwittingly carrying his own death warrant – it was an order to Joab, the military chief of staff, to place Uriah in the thick of the battle, thereby exposing him to fatal danger. Uriah was subsequently killed.
David’s attempt to hide his indefensible actions were laid bare by Nathan the prophet, who told the king about a poor man, who had been ruthlessly robbed by a rich neighbour.
When David reacted with indignation, Nathan openly accused him of Uriah’s death, as accessory to stealing his wife.
Nathan prophesied the death of the child of that union. He later had another son with Bathsheba, the future wise king – Solomon.
The Bible eulogises David as having been a righteous man, “except for the matter of Uriah the Hittite”.
David dedicated Psalm 51 to repentance for his conduct; broken of spirit, he begged of God to purge him of his sin.
Rabbi Ariel Abel is Padre to HM Armed Forces and Rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation