Uriah the Hittite - Glenn Conjurske

Uriah the Hittite

by Glenn Conjurske

Uriah is always referred to as “Uriah the Hittite.” He was no Israelite, but belonged to the wicked race of the Hittites, who had been devoted to the judgement of God when Israel entered the land of Canaan. Long ere that date, when the iniquity of the inhabitants of Canaan was not yet full, Esau took two of the daughters of the Hittites as his wives, “And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” Herein she speaks not only of the wickedness of the two wives of Esau, but of all the race to which they belonged. She had no hope that her other son would find a better wife than these among the women of the land. They were all of a lot, and all bad.

For this wickedness the Lord devoted these peoples to destruction. Yet we are not to suppose that Israel was commissioned to destroy every Hittite. Their commission was either to destroy them or to drive them out. God had said to Israel, “And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.” (Exodus 23:28.) And once more, “Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD hath said unto thee.” (Deut. 9:3). They were to destroy them as nations and peoples, but not necessarily to destroy every individual. When they made war against their cities, and conquered them, they were straitly commanded, “But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, but thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee, that they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.” (Deut. 20:16-18). Separation was the grand concern of the Lord, and Israel was therefore to destroy such as would fight, and drive out such as would flee, but to make no league or covenant with any.

Yet the failure of Israel is notorious. “And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites, and they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” This was the general and prevailing effect of the failure of Israel.

On the other side, no doubt some few of the Hittites were converted to the God of Israel. We see “Ahimelech the Hittite” among the followers of David in the wilderness, and “Uriah the Hittite” is twice listed among his mighty men.

Tens of thousands there are in our own day, including virtually the whole of Evangelicalism, who have repudiated all the principles of separation, in order, professedly, that they may influence and convert the ungodly. We fear that in most cases this is the excuse for their lack of separation, rather than the reason, but be that as it may, their ways are directly against the ways of God, and certain to lead to their own undoing. This is no new experiment. God’s way was too hard for Israel, and they took their own way instead. Instead of destroying or driving out the Canaanites, they dwelt among them, or suffered the Canaanites to dwell among themselves. The result was the occasional conversion of a few of the inhabitants of the land—-two Hittites that we know of—-and the corruption of the whole nation of Israel. We once heard a mother, arguing against the doctrine of separation, grant that her way was “risky,” but how risky it was she probably little dreamed, till she saw a little of the fruit of that way.

The conversion of “Uriah the Hittite” is a fact, but it is no excuse whatever for the delinquent course of Israel, in failing to destroy or drive out the Hittites. Nor can the conversion of Uriah any way compensate for the corruption of the whole nation of Israel. Separation is the way of the Lord, and any departure from that way will bring great evil.

Meanwhile, “Uriah the Hittite” was not only a true convert to the God of Israel, but a shining example of faith and devotedness. We know little enough about him, and would not know that but for the wayward activities of his wife, who first carelessly exposed herself where the eyes of a man were likely to see her, and then criminally yielded to the solicitations of the man who did see her. Her carelessness put herself in as much danger as it did David, for David would certainly never have tempted her if she had not first tempted him. Not that she could be thought to have as much guilt in the matter as David had. Her temptation of David was unconscious and unintentional. His temptation of her was intentional and criminal. Yet she proves as weak before the solicitations of a man as he was before the sight of a woman. “David sent messengers,” not to invite her to commit adultery, for such an invitation she would most likely have refused, but to call her to his presence, where he might tell her of her ravishing beauty, and woo and win her to the illicit act. As is usual, the man fell by the eye, and the woman by the ear, yet they both fell, and their guilt was certainly equal in their adultery.

Like all adulterers, they no doubt expected to indulge in their stolen waters, keep the matter hid in their own two hearts, and answer to no one for it. Yet there is a God in heaven, who would not allow the matter to end so. He will first reprove David, and then judge him. As the first reproof from heaven, the Lord secures the event that shall secure the exposure of the sin, and Bath-sheba is with child. And her partner in sin must now be her confidant. She must now trust in the man who seduced her. She does not send to her husband, saying, “I am with child,” but to David, and here is the proof that she was not forced by David, but seduced, and so became the willing accomplice of his sin. Had she been forced, she had doubtless told her husband long ere this. But having fallen herself, such a message to Uriah would have been a confession of her guilt. To David it was a plea for help, a plea for protection, for the discovery of her sin by her husband was now inevitable.

David has the same concern, of course, but he thinks to secure both himself and her by a simple expedient. He sends for her husband, ostensibly to inquire of him “how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered,” but in actual fact to send him down to his house, that he might lie with his wife, and so provide some semblance of a covering for the sin of David. “And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet.” “Wash thy feet!” It was something other than this that David desired, yet he dares not excite any suspicions by suggesting it, being fully confident that it would naturally suggest itself.

But here David receives his second reproof. The first came as the natural consequence of his sin. The second comes from the faithful devotedness to God of this converted Hittite—-a devotion which put David himself, and many another Israelite to shame. David received a two-fold reproof from Uriah, and it was all unconscious and unintended on Uriah’s part, for Uriah knew nothing of David’s sin. Paul tells us to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” And by their unobtrusive faithfulness, many another saint of God has done many another glorious work “unawares.” Such was the case with Uriah the Hittite in the matter before us. The first of his reproofs to David was administered by his action, without speaking a word. Though bidden by the king to go home to his house, “Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.” For this he had good reason. It was devotedness to the cause of the Lord that kept him from his house, as his subsequent words will tell. And there was nothing of ostentation in it. He made no display of his act—-said not a word of it to David—-but simply took his place at the king’s door with his servants. Perhaps he had left the presence of David full of joy and expectation, with thoughts of home and wife, but ere he had proceeded out of the king’s house, he abandoned all such thoughts. This was a time of war. It was no time for ease and indulgence. How could he take his ease, and indulge in the pleasures of home and wife, when he and all the faithful belonged on the battlefield? He would not do it. He would sleep at the king’s door, doubtless intending in the morning to return to the field of battle.

But in the morning David is informed that “Uriah went not down unto his house.” We cannot but wonder why anybody would concern himself with such a matter. Perhaps some of the servants of David knew more of his matters than he would choose, and guessed his design in sending Uriah to his house. At any rate, the matter is reported to the king, and “David said unto Uriah”—-no doubt in the most nonchalant manner which his guilt and fear would allow him to assume—-”Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?”

In the answer of Uriah we see almost all that we know of the man, and we see moreover a glowing testimony of true devotedness to the Lord and his cause. “And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.” Here is the second half of his rebuke of David, and if ever man spoke by the Spirit of God, Uriah did so here. All “unawares,” he administered the keenest rebuke to David which wisdom and purpose could have devised.

It has often been pointed out by others that if David had been zealous for his God and his duty, he would have avoided altogether the occasion of his great sin. The chapter which relates these matters begins with, “And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem”—-taking his ease, when he ought to have been fighting the battles of the Lord. This put him in the way of temptation, “And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself, and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.” The rest we know. But behold the striking contrast between the king of Israel and this poor Hittite. While David tarried still at Jerusalem, taking his ease, and leaving the battle of the Lord to others, Uriah would not so much as go down to his house for a night. While David lay with the wife of another, Uriah would not lie with his own. “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?” Could a keener rebuke than this have been administered to the delinquent king? Was ever a stroke more home than this? We know it was all “unawares” on Uriah’s part, but we know as surely that it was intended by the Spirit of God. David certainly knew this stroke to be “unawares” on Uriah’s part, and must therefore have felt it the more deeply as coming directly from God. And we mark this fact, that it had not been possible for God to send such a sharpened arrow to the heart of David, but for the faithful devotedness of his servant Uriah. And thus it appears that by our earnest zeal and devotedness we may often do more good than we know.

Yet what good did Uriah do after all? David remains where he was—-determined to cover his sin. Sin hardens, and nowhere is this fact read so plainly as in the sin of David. Yet in David’s course we may read our own hearts. We all certainly know that our sin is known to God, yet how determined we are to conceal it from the eyes of man! How is this, that men who are content their sin should be known to the judge, will have it hidden from their fellow criminals? It may be we expect more mercy, more understanding, from God than we do from sinners like ourselves. It may be there is some vein of profanity in us, which cares more for our reputation before man than for our condition before God. Whatever the case, it is a universal fact of human experience that we would have that covered before man which is certainly seen of God. In this David was a man of like passions with ourselves. He remains fixed, therefore, determined to cover his sin, in spite of the faithful and keen reproof which came to him from God through the lips of Uriah.

Yet we will not say that Uriah’s faithful words were of no use. The Lord Jesus himself reproved men for two reasons. The first was to turn them from their sins, but where there was no hope of that, he spoke to leave them without excuse. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.” A number of years ago, when a faction in the church launched a personal attack upon myself, pride and passion were so strong that it was perfectly evident that no force of truth or reason would turn them from their wayward course. Did I therefore forbear to speak? Nay—-but I spoke for this sole purpose, to leave them without excuse.

Uriah had no such purpose, but Uriah’s God had, and David will yet give account of the ill use he made of that faithful reproof. Meanwhile he will try one more expedient to move Uriah to his own house and wife, and to that end “he made him drunk.” To no avail, however, for even a brain stupefied by too much wine cannot turn this faithful man from his holy purpose. David proceeds, therefore, hardened by his sin, to the blackest deed of his life. He proceeds to murder his faithful servant, and, to make sure Uriah was taken in the net, to murder some others also of the innocent and faithful of Israel. And faithful and true Uriah—-still “unawares”—-
must carry his sentence of death in his hand to Joab. What a doleful errand for one of David’s mighty men! Yet what a glorious testimony to his impeccable faithfulness! David, whose whole passion was to cover his sin from the eyes of Uriah, yet fears not to trust Uriah with the message which would have exposed and damned himself, if the faithful man had taken one peep at it. Yet David fears no such thing. How easy it would have been for him to have sent another messenger—-nay, a hundred of them, for he was the king of Israel. Yet so implicit was his trust in Uriah that he never troubles himself to do what every man would do of course in the same situation. He would rather trust Uriah with such a message, than any other man. Perhaps, had he trusted another man with this message, the matter might have come to the ears or eyes of Uriah, but in trusting Uriah himself, he had no fear of it. Neither do we read that he solemnly adjured his faithful servant not to lay eyes on the message, for that would have excited suspicion. He takes no precautions—-needs none—-for the impeccable faithfulness of faithful Uriah answers all. It is one thing for a man to be thus faithful, and quite another that his faithfulness should be so known that he may be trusted without misgiving. Every act, every word, of Uriah marks him as a man who was devoted to his duty, and it was none of his duty to know what David had to say to Joab. Uriah was not faithful and true only, but tried and known, and David trusts him without reservation to carry the damning evidence of his own sin, mile after mile, and never trouble himself about the contents. Surely all heaven watched the steps of Uriah in this his last journey, as full of admiration as of grief.

And we must remark that as David trusted Uriah, so did Uriah trust David also. He carries David’s message to Joab without a shade of suspicion. What reason had he to do otherwise? Neither do we dare say that his confidence was misplaced. Who so worthy to be trusted as David, the light of Israel, the man after God’s own heart? Shall no man trust another, because the best of men might once fall? Shall every man entertain groundless suspicions on every occasion, because the abstract possibility remains that good men might fall? We suppose that Uriah did well to trust in David—-would have done very ill to do otherwise. Yet that confidence was his undoing.

But was Uriah wise as a serpent? Might not David’s calling him back from the battle to so little apparent purpose have excited his suspicions? Perhaps, if David had not been David. And ought not David’s making him drunk have taught him that something was amiss? We grant it might, and yet who will blame the man for trusting David? Who would blame him if he saw the fact, and yet suspected no purpose on David’s part? He might rather have blamed himself for his over-indulgence. David’s goodness, David’s record, disarmed him, and put suspicion out of the question, and who can blame Uriah for this? Why should he not trust the man whose heart smote him for cutting off the skirt of his enemy, when he might have killed him? How many hundreds of others trusted in David precisely as Uriah did, and received only good for it? If Uriah erred in trusting David on the present occasion, his mistake was honorable—-perhaps more honorable than it had been to see clearly, for it is no doubt more honorable to be harmless as doves, than to be wise as serpents, though it may not be so safe. Perhaps there are matters here too deep for us, and we must wait for heaven to unravel them, and “Heaven,” we are sure, “will make amends for all.” Heaven will repay faithful Uriah for his loss on earth. If he suffered here, it was for well-doing, and he shall not lose his reward.

One thing, however, we may remark. An old proverb tells us, “He that hath a white horse and a fair wife never wants trouble,” and so it proved in Uriah’s case. All his trouble was owing to the beauty of his wife, and to her careless exposure of herself. Surely an ounce of prevention would have been better than a pound of cure, and every man might teach his wife to conceal from others what he delights in himself. The feminine form is a potent drug, and if the man after God’s own heart may fall before its charms, so may ten thousand others. Husbands know the power of that drug, and they may prevent not only trouble, but sin also, by teaching their wives religiously to avoid any careless display of their feminine form, by tight or skimpy clothing. They may thus be wise as serpents and harmless as doves both, while they make their wives as harmless as doves also. A little carefulness here, on the part of one woman, would have spared David his sin, Uriah his life, and the house of David the sword for many generations. “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”—-and a little care on Bath-sheba’s part might have prevented it all, and a little care on Uriah’s part might have inspired Bath-sheba with the carefulness required. And with such an example as this before them, why are not all men as wise as serpents?

Meanwhile sin has hardened the heart of David, and if he cannot use Uriah to cover his sin, he will put him out of the way. It must be understood that it was from Uriah alone that David sought to cover his sin, for of all men, Uriah alone would certainly know that his wife’s child was not his own. The means by which he sought to hide the matter from Uriah proving ineffectual, he will send him to an early grave. Thus one sin leads to another, and adultery to murder. The murder of faithful Uriah was the blackest deed of David’s life, but not, we suppose the most shameful. Sin hardens, and David sank lower still. Being informed by a messenger from Joab of the death of Uriah, “Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another.” Such shameful carelessness, such profane indifference, such hardness of heart, was wrought by sin even in the shepherd and sweet singer of Israel, even in the man after God’s own heart. And yet men will love and cling to sin, as though it were the greatest treasure on earth.

Uriah is dead and buried, and David takes possession of his wife, but they shall meet again. David and Uriah will not dwell for ever on opposite sides of heaven, nor will they meet there with the past all swept under the rug, as though nothing had ever happened between them. Judging from their course and conduct on earth, we fear some of our own acquaintances must expect to do either the one or the other in heaven, but no such thing is possible, for heaven is no fantasy land, disconnected from all the acts and emotions of earth. We shall take things up in heaven where we left them off on earth. If men will sweep their dirt under the rug on earth, and nail the rug to the floor too, this will avail them nothing in heaven. Everything swept under the rug on earth will be swept out again in heaven, and disposed of in a righteous and honest manner. If David succeeded in hiding his sin from Uriah on earth, what will that avail him in heaven?—-”for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.” David must face Uriah in heaven—-has doubtless long since done so—-and the nature of that meeting we scarcely know how to describe. We are not able to tell who it was who initiated their first contact in Paradise. We find ourselves first hoping it was David, and anon hoping it was Uriah. We can only say, this was a thing of great moral beauty if done by David, and of much greater if the act of Uriah. Of two things we are sure, that David was filled with great shame at that meeting, and Uriah with great grace. We suppose that David and Uriah wept as freely at their meeting in heaven as David and Jonathan at their parting on earth, till one of them exceeded, but we cannot venture to guess which one. There are no envies nor resentments there, and David and Uriah no doubt now live in concord and mutual esteem, as they did before David’s great sin against his faithful servant. And as Uriah the Hittite shone as one of David’s mighty men in the kingdom of Israel, so he now shines in heaven as one who was pre-eminently faithful and devoted to God on earth.

Glenn Conjurske