The Bible Story
Volume 4, Chapters 100-104
AFTER insulting David's emissaries from Jerusalem, (II Samuel 10:15; I Chronicles 19:1-5) King Hanun of Ammon later learned that he had been most unwise. Reports kept coming to him that the Israelites were so angry that they were almost certain to attack the Ammonites in the region east of the Dead Sea.
A Gentile Plot
The army of Hanun, king of the Ammonites, was very small compared to King David's army. Hanun realized that the only possible way to meet his enemy on anything resembling an equal basis would be to hire troops from nearby Aramaean and Mesopotamian nations.
After much diplomatic bargaining, Hanun managed to secure 33,000 soldiers -- many of them horsemen and charioteers -- from four of those neighboring Syrian kings. This was quite an accomplishment, inasmuch as the Syrians (called Aramaeans in the original Hebrew Bible) had recently suffered great defeat by Israel. The troops assembled around the city of Medeba east of the northern tip of the Dead Sea in the vicinity of Mount Nebo, where Moses died. (II Samuel 10:6; I Chronicles 19:6-7).
Certain members of David's expanding espionage system promptly sent to Jerusalem the news of the Syrian accumulation of soldiers. David was more disappointed than worried. He had hoped that wars could be avoided for many more years, but now he knew that since Israel didn't trust God for protection, Israel's army would have to be sent out again. If it failed to show up against the Syrians, they would be likely to work themselves into the foolish idea of going northward from Medeba into eastern Israel. Or they might cross westward over the Jordan and wipe out some of the Israelite towns. Although the people of Israel and especially David, were angry because of what Hanun had done to the men who had come to the Ammonites for a friendly purpose, David hadn't planned on waging major warfare over the matter. But the Ammonites had now invited attack on themselves for the second time.
The Philistines posed no threat to Israel at that time. So most of Israel's army was sent eastward across the Jordan River to meet the enemy. David remained in Jerusalem, sending Joab as head of the fighting force, and Abishai, Joab's brother, as second in command. (II Samuel 10:7; I Chronicles 19:8.)
When the Israelites came in sight of Medeba, the Ammonites rushed out to station themselves in front of the city. Their intention was to try to cause the Israelites to believe that only the very limited numbers of Ammonites were on hand to fight. This attempted trick momentarily looked successful. But Joab's rear guard saw the thousands of Syrians pouring over a ridge behind them and sounded a warning. The Aramaeans had planned on waiting for the Israelites to close in on the Ammonites, and then to quickly attack the Israelites from the rear.
Joab hastily chose the best soldiers of the army to go against the 33,000 Syrians. The remaining Israelite troops were put under Abishai's command to be used against the Ammonites.
"Your men should be able to rout those Ammonites in front of the gates of Medeba," Joab told Abishai. "I'll take the rest of the troops against these Aramaeans coming toward our rear column. It's up to us to make the very best use of our men to fight for the people and cities of Israel. If the Aramaeans are too strong for me, come quickly with your men to help me. If the Ammonites prove too strong for you, I'll rush back to help you. Don't be concerned about being defeated. If God sees fit, He will help us win." (I Samuel 10:8-12; I Chronicles 19:9-13).
A Trap Turned to Victory
Joab's last remark could be considered a bit odd for one who was an expert soldier who believed in force and violence to settle matters. Nevertheless, he believed in God's great power, even though he wasn't usually inclined to obey God's laws. He never realized to what an extent God was using him to deliver the unbelieving, sinful Israelites from their neighbors.
At Joab's command the stronger part of the army suddenly reformed their lines to face the Aramaeans. When the Syrians realized that they, instead of the Ammonites, were the first objects of attack, they fell into a noisy state of panic. They raced away from Medeba with such frantic haste that Joab commanded his men not to tire themselves in futile pursuit.
About the same time Abishai's troops rushed at the Ammonites, who were so discouraged at the retreat of the Syrians that they fled into Medeba and slammed the gates shut on their pursuers. As Abishai was planning how he could break into the city, Joab joined him after giving up the chase of the Syrians. The Syrians continued their hasty retreat to their homeland.
"The Ammonites have learned that they have no chance of defeating us," Joab told Abishai. "This city is on the border, and we'd probably have to destroy it and the women and children inside in the process of wiping out the soldiers. The Syrians have gone, so the wisest thing to do is return to Jerusalem." (II Samuel 10:13-14; I Chronicles 19:14-15).
Even while the Israelite army was returning home, certain Syrian men were planning to combine their military power into a mighty force intended to sweep into Israel with deadly violence. Embarrassed and angered by the rout of their soldiers from Medeba, Syrian leaders schemed for immediate reprisal. The man who was eager to champion their cause was Hadadezer. He was the Syrian king who previously had lost thousands of men and many horses and chariots to the army of Israel. By this time Hadadezer had rebuilt an army. This, combined with the men of other Syrian kings, made up a sizable fighting machine. But Hadadezer wasn't satisfied until he had recruited many more Aramaean soldiers from Mesopotamia, the ancient land north of the Euphrates river.
Hadadezer sent the army southward under the command of an experienced and able military leader by the name of Shobach. Shobach halted his army for the night at the town of Helam, in the territory of eastern Manasseh. He planned to begin laying Manasseh waste next morning. Then he would ravage every Israelite town and village in his path to the Jordan River and on to Jerusalem. He didn't intend to let anything stand in the way of his great number of men and chariots. (II Samuel 10:15-16; I Chronicles 19:16.)
But there was a problem he didn't know about till next morning, when the huge Israelite army appeared on the southwest horizon!
An International Scheme Ruined
Shobach was almost overcome with surprise. He had been told that the Israelite army was in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and that he would meet no opposition until he was almost there. He didn't know that David, through his alert spies, had learned several days before of the movements of the Syrian army. Because this appeared to be such a serious threat to Israel, David decided that he would lead the army, with Joab next in command under him. He ordered the army to move fast and with long periods of marching. It was necessary to meet the Syrians before they could enter and damage any part of Israel.
In spite of being taken by surprise, Shobach felt that he had an advantage in meeting the enemy on fairly flat ground. There his chariots could operate with slaughterous abandon. He sent them off at once to attack.
The approaching Israelites knew they must look to God for help when they heard the growing roar of thousands of horses' hoofs. They saw row upon row of bladed chariots being drawn swiftly toward them. The line of chariots soon curved almost halfway around them from the northwest to the southeast horizons.
As the Syrian foot soldiers were hurrying forward two or three miles from the Israelites, the Syrian chariots disappeared from their view in a mammoth cloud of dust. There was no way for the Syrian foot soldiers to know how much carnage their chariots were causing when they rolled against the Israelites. Later, after the dust had partly settled, Shobach and his men received their second jolting surprise.
Out of the thinning cloud of dust emerged a wide phalanx of Israelite infantrymen with bows, javelins and spears poised for instant action!
As for the chariots that had been sent out against the approaching Israelites, the first lines of vehicles had been stopped by a tremendous shower of javelins and arrows well aimed at the horses as well as the drivers and their companion fighters. Succeeding lines of chariots had piled up against those that were halted or overturned. More and more chariots had charged blindly onward through the choking cloud of dust to pile up in a staggering mass of screeching metal, whinnying horses and yelling, groaning men. The Israelites had scrambled over them, dealing death as they passed, and then had hurried on to surprise the oncoming Syrian infantrymen.
Shobach didn't have time to find out what had happened to his chariots and their drivers. The closest Israelites let their arrows and javelins fly with deadly accuracy and force that almost completely downed the foremost ranks of the bewildered Syrians before they could counteract. Regardless of Shobach's orders to keep pressing ahead, the Syrians who had seen what had happened to their front ranks wheeled around and frenziedly plunged into those behind them in a mad effort to retreat. Within minutes the whole Syrian army was a struggling, screaming, disorganized mass of men, trampling, clawing and hacking at each other in a wild attempt to get away from the oncoming Israelites.
Shobach was killed in the terrible struggle that followed. Even the huge cavalry force, which was to follow the chariots, was made useless when many horses became overly excited and threw and trampled their riders.
Aware of the Syrians' trouble, David told Joab to order the Israelites to make the most of the situation by doubling their efforts to crush their enemies while a state of panic existed. The military strength of Israel was so great against the Syrians that in the next few hours 40,000 cavalrymen and foot soldiers lost their lives and hundreds of chariots were destroyed with their drivers. As usual, as in almost any great battle, many escaped. Miraculously, because of God's help, very few Israelites were injured.
Temptation Sneaks In
Following this great contest, a vast wealth of army material was picked up from the vanquished Syrians. Moreover, the subdued nations brought tributes to the Israelites and served them in other ways. Syrian leaders realized how tragic it had been to try to help the Ammonites fight against Israel. They determined that they would never again be drawn into such a foolish alliance, although helping the Ammonites was only one of several reasons why they had come to war with Israel. (II Samuel 10:17-19; I Chronicles 19:17-19.)
The next year, when weather permitted more favorable movement of troops, David planned to send an army against the Ammonites. They had been responsible for much of the warfare the year before. And he felt that they hadn't been dealt with in a manner that would keep them from invading Israel again. David wasn't concerned with vengeance. He wanted to curb the war-loving, ambitious Ammonites before they could build an army strong enough to trouble Israel in the future.
The Israelites easily invaded the land of Ammon and devastated much of the countryside and lesser fortifications. There was little resistance until they neared Rabbah, the capital, about thirty miles northeast of the Dead Sea. The terrain in that area was rugged. Joab and Abishai, the commanders of the Israelite troops, knew that the Ammonites could be very troublesome in such a region. Thousands of Ammonites might charge out of the defiles and gullies before the Israelites could reach Rabbah. (II Samuel 11:1; I Chronicles 20:1.)
Back in Jerusalem, David wondered how matters were going with his army. The last report that had come to him by a special messenger informed him that all was going well. Thus encouraged, David took a late afternoon nap on the private roof area of his palatial home. It was a warm day, and he wished to rest outside to take advantage of the gentle breeze.
He awakened just as dusk was coming on, and got up to stroll around the terrace and gaze out across the city. Oil lamps were being lit here and there.
The starting flares of more lamps on a nearby building below drew his attention. He saw a young woman stepping into a tub to bathe. There wasn't anything very unusual about a person bathing in sight of others in those times. Privacy was something not everyone could afford. A little later, just as David was coming back around the terrace, the young woman emerged from the tub. David looked down to see her again. This time he watched her with more than passing interest as she gracefully draped a robe over her dripping body. He hadn't noticed the first time that she was so beautiful.
On inquiring who the woman was, David learned that her name was Bathsheba, and that she was the wife of a man named Uriah, a Hittite. (The Hittites were living in the region around the headwaters of the Jordan River when the Israelites had come to Canaan.) (II Samuel 11:23.) Uriah was one of the thousands of soldiers in the army of Israel that had gone to attack the Ammonites. And he was one of David's thirty-seven great military heroes. (II Samuel 23:39.) This was disappointing information. David had hoped that Bathsheba was unmarried. Even though he didn't know her, the possibility of taking her for a wife was growing in his mind. He was unwisely allowing himself to be influenced by lust for physical beauty alone.
It spite of his usual ability for fairness and good judgment, David continued to think about Bathsheba. He impulsively decided to do something about it.
"Take this message to the woman named Bathsheba, wife of Uriah," David told a servant.
When Bathsheba opened the sealed message, she was surprised and pleased to find an invitation for her to privately visit the king. When Bathsheba walked up to him at the appointed time, David was captivated even more by her appearance.
Even before sending his message, David had gone too far in allowing his lusts to control him. He became unusually familiar with Bathsheba in the next few hours, and before the light of another day arrived, the familiarity resulted in adultery.
Instead of shoving tempting thoughts out of his mind, David had yielded to them. The result was going to be the start of the most miserable era in his life. He had broken the Seventh and the Tenth Commandments. Now trouble was certain to come. (II Samuel 11:4.)
The first blow came to David when he received a message from Bathsheba informing him that she was going to have a child several months later. David had already started to regret his foolish affair with this woman. Now sudden dismay was added to regret. The only possible way to escape from this miserable situation, he thought to himself, was to get Uriah back to his wife at once. If Uriah stayed with his wife a few days, he would think the baby was his.
David lost no time in sending a fast messenger to Joab, requesting him to get Bathsheba's husband back to Jerusalem by the swiftest means available to report on the progress of the war. Uriah rushed back and was brought to David.
"Why am I here?" Uriah asked David. "Why am I being singled out?"
David answered: "From time to time I like to pick certain men out of my army, even during a war, to learn from their observations. It's important that I know what my men think."
Uriah was a bit uncertain why the king had sent for him, and he wasn't going to give the wrong answers if he could help it.
"What's your opinion of the attitude of the soldiers?" David began. "Do they feel that they're being fed well enough? Do they think that this drive against the Ammonites is worthwhile?"
By the time the questioning was over, Uriah was still a little confused, but he felt that he had somehow given David the answers he sought.
Bible Story Book Index
"You Are The Man!"
AFTER committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, King David tried to cover up his sin. His first thought was to send for her husband.
When Uriah arrived, David chatted with him about the progress of the war in the land of Ammon.
"Thank you for being so observant and informative," David finally said to Uriah. "You have earned a short furlough. I would like to talk to you later, but for now go to your home and your wife." (II Samuel 11:1-8)
David's Scheme Backfires
The king sighed with relief as he watched Uriah stride out the door. The questioning was only an act to disguise the real reason for the Hittite's being returned to Jerusalem. David despised himself for such petty deception.
Added to that was the gnawing feeling of guilt, especially strong in the presence of the heroic and unswervingly faithful officer he had wronged. To try to lessen the uncomfortable feeling, David instructed servants to deliver a special dinner for two to the home of Uriah and Bathsheba.
After an almost sleepless night, David was greeted with an unpleasant surprise. He was informed that Uriah hadn't gone home. Instead, he had spent the time sleeping on a bench in the servants' quarters of the king's house.
"Send him to me at once," was David's gloomy request. "Why didn't you spend last night at your home with your wife?" the king asked with a weak smile when Uriah was brought before him.
"Weren't you anxious to see her after having been away from her for so long?" (II Samuel 11:9-10.)
"I wanted very much to be with my wife." Uriah explained, "but I felt that while my commander and fellow soldiers were having to sleep on the ground and the rocks, I shouldn't be taking advantage of anything better than a bench. I don't deserve better, and I don't prefer to accept the comforts and pleasures of my home until my fellow soldiers can also come back to their homes."
"So be it," David commented in unhappy resignation, though he tried not to look unhappy. "I'll send you back tomorrow to rejoin the army. Meanwhile, I think it would be wise for you to drop in to see your wife for at least a few minutes."
All that day Uriah paced nervously about. Several times he peered out between some columns at his home, only yards away, hopeful of getting a glimpse of Bathsheba. David was watching him part of the time, and was hopeful that Uriah would see his wife, and be sufficiently moved by her appearance to toss away his resolutions and go home. It didn't turn out that way. (II Samuel 11:11-12.)
That evening David invited Uriah to eat with him. Uriah readily accepted. He couldn't very well point out that his fellow soldiers weren't eating, and that therefore he shouldn't eat. According to the king's instructions, the waiters saw to it that the guest's wine glass was continually filled. By the time the long meal was over, the soldier had difficulty getting to his feet under his own power.
"Go to your home and rest," David whispered to him as he guided him gently but firmly toward the door.
"Follow him and lead him carefully to his house," David murmured to a servant. "Report to me if you don't succeed."
Believing that matters would go his way, David retired to his private quarters. A half-hour passed, and his servant hadn't returned. Now there was reason to feel that Uriah had staggered home, with some help, and that when Bathsheba's child was born, Uriah would naturally be considered its father.
Another half-hour passed. The king was beginning to relax a little for the first time in several days. Then came the particular knock used only by certain servants. At David's permission a servant entered.
"You told me to report to you if I couldn't succeed in getting your guest back to his home," he told David. "I would have come to you sooner, but I and other servants have been trying for an hour to get the man to his house."
"Well?" David snapped loudly. "Where is he now?" "We couldn't even herd him off your back porch," was the answer. "He's asleep on a bench in the servants' quarters!" (II Samuel 11:13.)
David stared in dismal disappointment. For a moment it appeared that the king was about to strike his servant. The droll situation suddenly caused him to become very angry, but then he controlled himself and began pacing the floor and wondering what he should do next.
Causing Uriah to become drunk had been a waste of effort. Even in that condition the resolute-willed Uriah resisted visiting his wife, who was so close at hand. He felt that he shouldn't enjoy any part of home life while his fellow soldiers were enduring hardships in the campaign against the Ammonites.
David was very worried at the thought of what would happen if the public should learn that he was to be the father of a child by another man's wife. In a frantic attempt to escape from the situation, David decided to do a terrible thing. He sent a sealed letter to Joab, commander of his army, and gave it to Uriah to be the bearer. Uriah hurriedly returned, just as he wished, to where the Israelite forces were encamped northeast of the Dead Sea.
On opening the letter, even the callous Joab was a little moved. He was instructed to place the incorruptibly patriotic Uriah in the foremost ranks in the battle with the Ammonites. Then he was to suddenly withdraw his soldiers and not let them rescue or help Uriah in any way. This loyal soldier had been given his own death warrant by David, and had unknowingly delivered it to the man who had the power to carry out the vicious order. (II Samuel 11:14-15.)
Uriah returned to the Israelite camp just before the Ammonites, who had been bottled up in their city of Rabbah, decided to come out in a surprise foray against their besiegers. Joab assigned Uriah to the most dangerous spot. The gates of the city burst open and yelling soldiers streamed out toward the Israelites.
"Close in on them!" Joab commanded his officers. "Don't let them get around us!"
The Israelites rushed to meet the attackers, but before they could get within the archers' range of them, the Ammonites wheeled about and raced back into the city. The heavy gates slammed shut to keep out the Israelites as they ran up to the walls. Joab, meanwhile, had secretly told the other leaders near Uriah to fall back as soon as danger threatened him. They fell back, but too late to save some of them from the hissing cloud of arrows, spears and stones that came down from hundreds of soldiers who appeared at just the right moment on top of the wall.
Uriah was among those who were first to reach the walls of Rabbah. He was also among those who were killed. Some Ammonite had shot the arrow or hurled the spear or stone that took Uriah's life, but it was David who was responsible for the Hittite's death. (II Samuel 11:16-17.)
As far as the crafty Joab was concerned, this episode provided him with secret knowledge that could be used to his advantage if he ever needed a very special favor from the king. He didn't delay in sending news to David.
"Tell the king exactly what has happened lately," Joab instructed the messenger. "When he hears about how the Ammonites tricked us, he'll probably be angry, and stare coldly at you as though you could be personally to blame because our soldiers moved so close to the walls of Rabbah. He is likely to remind you of a battle that took place almost two centuries ago, during which Abimelech, one of Gideon's sons, was killed by a piece of a millstone tossed down by a woman from the wall at the city of Thebez. If he demands to know why the Israelite soldiers or their commander haven't learned from Abimelech's mistake, avoid answering and quickly mention that I, Joab, regret that some of our men lost their lives in this action. Give the names and ranks of these men, starting with Uriah the Hittite." (II Samuel 11:18-21.)
Joab felt certain that David would appear angry when he heard about his soldiers being lured so close to Rabbah's walls, but he was equally as certain that the king would forget his anger as soon as he heard that Uriah was dead.
Later, when the messenger reached Jerusalem to relate to David what had happened to the army in recent days, the king became very upset. As he was instructed, the messenger tactfully forestalled an outburst from David by naming the casualties. When Uriah was mentioned as having been killed, David's frown faded away. He held up a hand as though he wished to hear no more.
"I know that Joab must be troubled because of how the Ammonites tricked him," he remarked to the messenger. "When you return, tell him not be overly concerned. Remind him for me that certain ones have to die in battle. Tell him that it's my desire that he forget past incidents and put his mind to taking the city of Rabbah, even though months are required to do it." (II Samuel 11:22-25.)
A Stolen Wife
His anxiety somewhat abated, David immediately made it known to Uriah's wife that her husband was dead. After the widow had gone through the usual period of mourning, David had her brought to his home.
"Become my wife now, and we won't have to be concerned about your unborn child," David told her.
Under these adverse circumstances David added another wife, and eventually another son. Life with his other wives was less happy thereafter. It was part of the price that had to be paid for having to divide affections among several wives.
If God had been asleep, David might have lived through this disastrous episode without his people learning of his disgraceful desires, scandalous schemes and infamous deeds. Truth can be withheld from whole nations as well as from individuals.
But God doesn't sleep. He can't be deceived. And God was displeased by what David had done. Even the king of Israel, like anyone else, was certain to run into calamity because of breaking some of the Eternal's commandments (II Samuel 11:26-27.)
Those same laws are still in full effect today, just as is the law of gravity. Nevertheless, thousands of "Christian" leaders keep telling our people that observance of the commandments is unnecessary, impossible, a waste of effort and even improper. Unless they come to realize how much harm they are doing, and wholeheartedly repent, as David later did, they will eventually be burned to ashes in a tremendous heat referred to in the Bible as the lake of fire. (Malachi 4:1, 3.)
Secret Sins Exposed
God began David's punishment by instructing Nathan, one of God's prophets, in what he should say to the king. Nathan asked for a private talk with David, and was escorted into a room where even the servants couldn't overhear the conversation.
"I want to report a matter to you that should come to your attention," Nathan said to David. "I have known you to be a man of fair judgment, and I trust you will see fit to do something about this case."
"Tell me about it," David said, giving Nathan his full attention.
Nathan told about two men who were neighbors. One was wealthy and the other was poor. The wealthy one had many flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. The poor man's stock consisted of only one lamb that had been raised in his household. It had been a close pet for the children, and was almost like one of the family.
"What was the problem?" David interrupted. "The trouble came when a friend came to visit the wealthy man," Nathan continued. "Instead of telling his servants to slaughter one of his own animals for food for his guest, he went to the home of his poor neighbor and took and then slaughtered his only animal, his pet lamb. The lamb was served to the wealthy man's guest. Do you feel that this kind of conduct calls for punishment?" (II Samuel 12:1-4.)
"By all means!" David angrily exclaimed. "That man should restore to his neighbor four lambs to replace the one that he took. Furthermore, because he was so miserably selfish and had no compassion for his poor neighbor, he deserves to die. Tell me who this man is and where he lives. I'll see that justice is carried out." (II Samuel 12:5-6.)
"You don't need to go outside your home to find the man who has been so inconsiderate and heartless," Nathan said.
"You mean that this evil man is in my house right now?" David scowled.
"Absolutely!" Nathan replied. "A man very much like him is here, except that the one here has lately performed even baser deeds. You are the man!"
"What are you saying?" David demanded, getting to his feet. "You have angered God by your vile conduct of late. He protected you many times from Saul and his soldiers. He made it possible for you to have power in Israel, the home and wealth you enjoy and the several wives you have chosen. If there had been need for anything else, God would have given it to you. Considering the wonderful things your Creator has done for you, why have you flouted His commandments You planned the death of the loyal and trusting man with whose wife you committed adultery! Uriah the Hittite died by your hand through your enemies, the Ammonites. Then you took Uriah's widow to be your wife lest your adultery be discovered." (II Samuel 12:7-9.)
David, by this time, realized God had truly spoken to Nathan about him. Otherwise the prophet couldn't have known about the things David hoped to keep secret.
Suddenly he felt very sick within.
Bible Story Book Index
"I Acknowledge My Sin"
DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL, had allowed himself to fall into a dangerous and miserable state of affairs. He had tried desperately to hide his sins.
But David should have known that God would uncover them. He was astounded when Nathan the prophet told him that God had revealed matters to him, and that he, Nathan, was aware of the wicked things the king had done. (II Samuel 12:1-9.)
God Corrects David
"God further instructed me to tell you what will happen because you have slipped into such deep sin," Nathan went on. "From now on death will be hovering over your house. It will strike at unexpected times. Other evil things will take place in your house. A neighbor will take your wives from you. You did some base things in secret, but the one who takes you] wives will brazenly do the same things in the light of day and in full view of the public."
By now David was on his knees. He was bent over, his hands covering his tear-streaked face. Nathan the prophet patiently waited. This was n time for him to step up to the king and pat him consolingly on the shoulder (II Samuel 12:10-12.) "I acknowledge my sin. I have acted in a depraved and heartless manner," David confessed after a short while. "I have carelessly done these things in God's sight without considering others. I deserve t die!" (Psalm 51 is David's prayer of repentance.)
"Now that you realize how wrong you have been and have repented and made up your mind never to do such things again, God will forgive you, Nathan advised. "He will not take your life. However, because your action will provide God's enemies with reason to point you out as a favored playboy and a murderer, your and Bathsheba's child shall surely die."
Leaving the shaken and miserable king kneeling on the floor, Nathan walked away to his quarters. David was alone for hours after that. He had, during this period, found relief in heartfelt repentance.
But there was a time of greater suffering ahead. It started to take place shortly after his son was born to Bathsheba. The baby suddenly became very ill. In spite of Nathan's prediction that the infant would surely die, David frantically prayed that it would live. That night, instead of going to bed, he lay on the stone floor. (II Samuel 12:13-16.)
When servants came to him in the morning, they found him still on the stone floor. They tried to talk him into going to bed, but he waved them away. He refused the food they brought. Days passed, during which his main communication with others was to ask about his baby son. Apparently he didn't intend to give up praying, fasting and lying on the floor until he could hear a good report.
The baby died on the seventh day of his sickness. Servants feared to tell the king. They reasoned that his behavior had been so extreme while the baby was alive that he would do something very desperate if he were told that the baby was dead. When David noticed them whispering more than usual among themselves, he knew what had happened.
"I can tell by the way you act that the baby is dead," he said, sitting up. "Isn't that so?"
There was an awkward silence for a few moments. Then heads began to nod slowly. One of the servants spoke out, saying that David had supposed rightly. The king sat and stared at the floor for several seconds and motioned for everyone to leave. After they were gone he struggled weakly to his feet and staggered away to bathe, change his clothes and go to the house of God to worship. There he prayed for a while.
His servants were surprised when he returned to his home in a mood that was almost normal. They were pleased to serve him food after his fast, but they were puzzled because he was in a better state of mind after his son had died than he had been in while he was alive. (II Samuel 12:17-20.)
"How can you feel better, now that your child is dead?" someone asked.
"I don't necessarily feel better," David explained. "But now that he is dead, there's no reason to continue fasting and praying for him. I hoped that he would live, but now that he is gone, there is nothing I can do to bring him back."
After regaining his strength, David went to comfort Bathsheba because of the loss of their son. Bathsheba also realized that she had acted foolishly, and she was regretful.
Later, another son was born to David and Bathsheba. Because they were now free to be married, God looked with favor on their marriage by giving them this second child. Nathan the prophet named him Jedidiah, which meant "Friend of God." David named him Solomon, which meant "Peaceable." (II Samuel 12:21-25.) We remember him today as King Solomon.
Meanwhile, from the time that Uriah the Hittite had been killed till after David repented, Joab and the Israelite army had remained near the Ammonite city of Rabbah, waiting for the besieged natives to surrender. The Israelites took the lower city, which was watered by the Jabok River which ran through it. But the upper city was better fortified. Water was available from a reservoir inside the upper city until the Israelites managed to find the conduit through which the reservoir was fed. Rather than die of thirst, some of the Ammonites emerged to try to gain freedom by attacking the Israelites, who slaughtered part of them before they could get very far. Those near the gate managed to get to safety inside.
Strong walls and sealed gates separated the lower city from the upper part, in which was situated the king's palace and other special buildings.
Joab knew that it would be only a matter of days before this part of the city would have to surrender. Although the reservoir in the lower city was dry, Joab reasoned that a supply of water had undoubtedly been taken into the sealed-off section of Rabbah where the Ammonite king and perhaps the remainder of his army were trapped. Unless Joab successfully attacked at once, the unknown amount of water in the city would determine when the city would completely fall to Israel.
Later, messengers from Joab came to Jerusalem to tell David what had happened, and to bring a suggestion from the commander that David should come to Rabbah with additional troops.
"Joab thinks it would be wise for the king of Israel to hurry and take the capital of Ammon," they reported. "It would create a good impression among our people, and the nations around us would have even greater respect for you. Besides, if Joab receives full credit for taking Rabbah, the city might be named after him. He would prefer that you have that honor." (II Samuel 12:26-28.)
Ammonites Finally Subdued
David agreed, and went with several thousand soldiers to join Joab. Now greater in numbers, the Israelites closed in on the fortified sections of Rabbah from all sides.
"We know that there are many thousands of soldiers inside," Joab told David. "We got the information out of several prisoners in return for our mercy. If we approach close enough to throw up wall hooks, the Ammonites will probably show up on the walls and send down a storm of anything they can throw, but it's a chance we'll have to take."
On orders from David, volunteers climbed ropes to the top of the wall, as others protected them with a continuous volley of arrows aimed at the top of the wall. Then a few descended inside the second section of the city under protection from others who remained on the wall. They quickly unfastened the locking beams from the heavily barred gates. As soon as the gates were open, David and his men swarmed inside and spread out along the streets leading up to and around the palace and other buildings.
As they swelled in, armed Ammonites, despite hunger and thirst, came at them from all sides, fiercely defending their capital city.
Some of the Ammonites rushed toward Israel's king, fiercely struggling to get close enough to him to send some kind of weapon through his body. Guards swarmed around David, quickly choking off the assault.
Some of the Israelites fell before the desperate, sword-swinging, spearthrusting Ammonites. But David's forces were greater in number. They met the attack with such power that the Ammonites were put out of action almost as fast as they came forward. It turned out to be a one-sided battle. Soon no more of the Ammonites remained in the battle. The streets were strewn with the bodies of those who had tried to defend Rabbah.
David wasn't convinced that all of Ammon's soldiers had come out in the open. He sent troops to scour every part of the capital to find any more who might be concealed. Some were discovered who were unable to fight.
The water supply had run out, and they were suffering from thirst. The long struggle with the Ammonites was finally finished.
This had been a needless war. David had not yet learned that God is not pleased with war.
Prophesied Troubles Begin
The Bible doesn't say what happened to the Ammonite king. Probably he was captured or slain. There is a scriptural reference to David's taking the crown off the enemy king's head, but it doesn't mean that the king of Israel walked up to the king of Ammon and snatched off his crown. This would have been quite a feat for both rulers, inasmuch as the crown weighed more than a hundred pounds. It had many precious stones in it, and the gold alone was worth an enormous amount of money. Instead of the crown being worn, it was suspended as an emblem of authority above the throne of the Ammonite king.
The crown was only a small part of the wealth taken by the Israelites from Rabbah. There were valuable jewels, objects of gold and silver, weapons of war, livestock, carpets, tapestries, clothing, ornate vases and pots, fur pelts and many other costly things. These were taken back to Jerusalem. Some of it was distributed among the soldiers, and part went into the royal treasury. The heavy crown was hung in David's throne room as a trophy of the victory over Ammon.
As for the people captured in Rabbah, as well as most of the natives of Ammon, they became subject to the Israelites. Some were used as laborers in Canaan and their own country in mining, handling cultivating equipment, making bricks and cutting wood.
Matters went fairly well for David during the next several months. Then an unpleasant event developed. As usual, it was because of breaking some of God's laws -- and was part of the penalty Nathan had foretold. Amnon, one of David's sons, fell in love with Tamar, one of David's daughters, but by another mother. Tamar was therefore a half-sister to Amnon. It was a blood relationship that was so close that it was a sin for either one of them to consider marriage or any of its privileges. Nevertheless, Amnon had a great desire for his half-sister, and brooded about it so much that friends wondered what was troubling him.
One of those friends was a crafty fellow by the name of Jonadab, a cousin of Amnon. When he found what was bothering Amnon, he suggested a scheme by which David's son could be alone with Tamar.
"Go to your home and pretend to be ill," Jonadab whispered, grinning smugly. "When your father comes to visit YOU, he'll probably ask what he can do for you. Tell him that you would like to have Tamar bring some food and serve it to you. He'll undoubtedly ask Tamar to carry out your wish. What you do after that is up to you." (II Samuel 13:1-5.)
Amnon's desire to be with Tamar was so great that he eagerly put Jonadab's suggestion into action. When David heard that his son was sick, he immediately went to see him. The king was distressed to see Amnon lying in bed so motionless, apparently weakened by his sickness.
"Would you care to have Nathan the prophet come and pray for you?" David asked.
David is Deceived
"Don't bother him," Amnon muttered feebly. "I can pray for myself. There is something I would like to have you do, though. I haven't seen Tamar for quite a while. I think I would feel better if she would come here and prepare one of her special meals for me. Would you send her?"
"I'll see that she comes shortly," David promised. Amnon was soon pleased to see Tamar arrive with the food he had requested. Despite his excitement, he managed to appear weak and ill. The girl talked to him while she prepared the special meal he had told his father about. When the food was done, she took it out of the baking pan and put it on a serving plate. But David's son refused the food.
He grunted angrily. "I want Tamar to come in here and serve me! Everybody else get out of the house!" (II Samuel 13:6-9.)
Perplexed by Amnon's rudeness, everyone left except Tamar, who hesitantly entered her half-brother's room with the food. As she placed the plate before him, Amnon jerked himself up to a sitting position and seized her by an arm. The plate clattered to the floor. Tamar's eyes widened in surprise.
"You're not ill!" the girl exclaimed. "You've been pretending!"
"Now don't get excited and raise your voice," Amnon warned. "It was just a little plan to see you alone."
"Let me go!" Tamar murmured angrily. "You're acting like a fool. If you want me for your wife, speak to the king, and he'll arrange our marriage!" (II Samuel 13:10-13.)
Tamar knew that David wouldn't do that. But it was the only thing she could think to say in those frenzied moments to try to persuade Amnon to release her. Like too many girls today, instead of screaming for help, Tamar continued to reason with Amnon -- hoping to convince Amnon not to commit fornication. He raped her anyway.
Amnon had hoped that Tamar would have as much ardor for him as he had for her. But when he found that she didn't, his sexual lust for her suddenly turned to hate. To add insult to injury, he demanded that she leave immediately.
When Tamar hesitated, because she didn't want to run out of the house in an undignified manner, he yelled to a servant to get her out of the building and then lock the doors to make certain that she wouldn't return. Obviously Amnon was trying to give his servants the deceitful impression that Tamar had such an attraction to him that extreme measures should be taken to keep her away. To Tamar's great embarrassment, the servant came in and escorted her outside.
God put this experience in the Bible as a lesson for every young person never to get involved in fornication.
A short time later Absalom, Tamar's brother, looked out from his home to see his sister approaching. She was trying to hide her face with one hand. As she came to the doorway, he noticed that there were ashes on her head, and that she was crying. He leaped forward to put his arms around her. (II Samuel 13:14-20.)
"What is the matter with you? " he asked. "Where have you been?"
Bible Story Book Index
An Undisciplined Son Rebels
AMNON one of David's sons, had cruelly forced Tamar, his half-sister. After Tamar had escaped from him, she hurried in anguish to the home of Absalom, her brother, who opened the door for her. (II Samuel 13:7-19.)
A Plot for Revenge
Sobbing, Tamar jerked off her coat, a colorful and expensive garment such as was worn by a virgin in the royal family, and vigorously ripped it. Absalom knew that something tragic had taken place when he saw this demonstration. Then he remembered that his father had sent a message to Tamar that she should visit Amnon because of his sickness.
"Have you been with Amnon just now?" Absalom asked. Tamar nodded and went to a chair to sit down and try to hide her tear-filled eyes. Knowing Amnon, Absalom didn't have to try very hard to understand the reason for his sister's misery.
"Don't worry about this," Absalom said, putting his arm about her. "And don't tell anyone about it. If you do, the scandal would harm you as well as our family. Stay here in my home for a while and try to put it out of your mind." (II Samuel 13:20.)
His father David was the last person Absalom would have wanted to learn about this matter. But the most secret things have a way of coming into the open. It wasn't long before the king found out what Amnon had done. He was grieved and angry, but he unwisely didn't apply any punishment to Amnon because Amnon was his first son, and he had a special liking for him. One of David's weaknesses was his failure to properly discipline his children. (I Kings 1:6.)
As for Absalom, he also said nothing to Amnon, although he hated him for what he had done. He felt that an opportunity would come when he could cause Amnon to pay for the crime against his sister. (II Samuel 13:21-22.)
He waited two years for that opportunity. It was sheep-shearing season, a time when there were special gatherings of friends and relatives to celebrate the wool harvest. Absalom wanted to make this a very special occasion, so he invited his father to a gathering at Absalom's estate a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. David declined with the explanation that the entertainment of royalty, such as the public would expect, would entail too much expense, and that he didn't want Absalom to be burdened with such a heavy bill.
"But I would be very pleased and honored to have my father the king at my home as the guest of honor on this occasion," Absalom persisted.
"Thank you, my son," David said, "but it would be better that I should not be there. I am sure that the celebration will be most enjoyable without me."
"If you can't be there, then I would like Amnon to be my special guest," Absalom stated.
"Why Amnon?" David asked suspiciously, remembering what had happened to Tamar.
"Because he is your firstborn son," Absalom quickly replied. "I trust that you will encourage him and all your sons to be there." (II Samuel 13:23-27.)
Later, when all the guests were assembled at his home, Absalom issued a ghastly order to his servants.
"When we go in to dine," he told them, "give Amnon plenty of the strongest wine. Make sure that he drinks so much that he will become dull and careless. Then, at a signal from me, do what I have planned for you to do. Don't hesitate. I'll bear the responsibility. Anyone who fails to do his part is lacking courage, and must leave my employ."
Aftermath of Revenge
The Bible doesn't reveal whether Amnon was killed by a spear, a dagger or a sword, but he died suddenly at the table while he was too befuddled to be aware of his assailants. The other guests were so shocked and frightened by his murder that they fled from Absalom's house without so much as attempting to find out who was guilty. (II Samuel 13:28-29.)
Even before the horrified people had reached their respective homes, a wild rumor somehow reached David that all his sons had been massacred at Absalom's home by Absalom and a bloodthirsty group of servants. There was no way to prove or disprove this report. David was inclined to fear the worst. He went into a state of mourning, which included tearing the clothes he was wearing and sprawling on the floor. His servants also believed the rumor, and joined him in the strange, ancient custom by ripping their clothes, too.
Jonadab, the crafty fellow who had been partly responsible for starting this trouble, and who knew what had really happened at Absalom's home, came to David. He informed him that it wasn't true that all his sons had been slain, but that Amnon had been the only victim. David knew that Jonadab wasn't always to be trusted, so he wasn't sure what to believe until Jonadab pointed out a large group of people approaching. The king looked closely at them, and saw that they were his sons and their families. Only Absalom and Amnon were missing. (II Samuel 13:30-36.)
Meanwhile, Absalom was fleeing for his life with his family and servants, He knew that it wouldn't long be safe for him to remain at home, nor would he very long be welcome in any of the cities of refuge in Israel. The only possible safety was in the land of Geshur, an area to the northeast in Syria. (II Samuel 15:8.) Talmai, king of Geshur, was Absalom's grandfather on his mother's side. Being not too friendly toward Israel, he nevertheless welcomed Absalom because of being related. For the next three years he was pleased to harbor his grandson from those who would try to avenge Amnon's death.
During that time David never quite recovered from the loss of his firstborn son. But as his sorrow decreased, he thought more and more about Absalom, finally forgiving him for what he had done to Amnon, and even desperately hoping that Absalom would return to Jerusalem. (II Samuel 13:37-39.)
Joab, David's hardhearted, crafty but loyal general, became aware that the king longed to see Absalom. He sensed that David wanted to send to Geshur for his son, but that he feared what the public reaction would be to his pardoning a murderer in the royal family. Joab had a plan by which he hoped to cause David to decide to have Absalom returned to Jerusalem. He arranged for a wise elderly widow, a stranger in Jerusalem, to obtain an audience with the king. He instructed her what to say. When she came before David she told him that she was a widow, a mother of two men who had fallen into a fight in which one was killed. She said that angry relatives were demanding that she turn her only son over to them so that they could take his life for what he had done to his brother.
The Sprouting of Vanity
"If they kill my only remaining son, then my dead husband's name and family will come to an end," the woman murmured sadly.
"Don't worry about this matter," David told her. "I'll see that your son is pardoned and that no one will harm him." (II Samuel 14:1-10.)
The woman pretended that she was very relieved and thankful. Then she said that she would like David to explain something to her.
"If you so readily can pardon my son, why haven't you done the same thing for your son, who has been banished for so long? Saving my son is a vital thing only to me and my husband's family, but saving your son is important to the welfare of all Israel."
Suddenly the woman felt very uncomfortable under David's steady gaze. Uneasy seconds dragged by while he said nothing.
"I would like YOU to explain something to ME," he finally said. "Did Joab, my army commander, have anything to do with your being here?"
"He did," the embarrassed and fearful woman hesitantly confessed. "It was he who told me what to say so that you might decide to take steps to bring your son back home. Forgive me for having some part in this thing. You must have the wisdom of an angel to have perceived that I was scheming." (II Samuel 14:11-20.)
"It's not that I'm so wise," David observed. "I've known Joab long enough to recognize his schemes."
"Did you think that sending a woman to me with a wild tale about a murderous son would cause me to decide to pardon Absalom?" David asked Joab after summoning the army commander.
"I had hoped it would," responded Joab, maintaining his military dignity.
"I know a way in which you can help even more," the king declared.
Joab noted David's stern expression. He expected to be told that he could help by keeping out of the king's business from then on. Respectfully he waited for his superior to continue.
"You can assemble the necessary attendants and equipment for going to Geshur to bring Absalom back," David grinned.
Joab stared in momentary disbelief, then prostrated himself before the king.
"Thank you!" he exclaimed. "I am happy to find favor in your sight so that your son might be restored to Israel!"
A few days later Absalom was back in his home in Jerusalem, but he wasn't taken to see his father. David felt that it was enough, for the time being, that he should be pardoned. Although he wanted to see his son, he didn't choose to allow a big happy reunion that might seem to indicate to the people that Absalom was being regarded as blameless because he was the king's son. (II Samuel 14:21-24.)
Absalom received much public interest, but not just because he was a royal person who had returned from the protection of another nation. He was a very good-looking, well-proportioned, muscular man whose unusual appearance gained for him the reputation of being the most handsome man in Israel. There were no blemishes on his skin. His hair was so exceptionally thick and heavy and so admired that he became very vain about it. He let it grow very long and then every year he would have about six pounds of it trimmed off.
He was the object of admiration of many women and the cause of jealousy in many men, but his interest was in his wife and children. He had three sons and a daughter. He named his daughter Tamar, after the sister who had been involved in the reason for his plotting Amnon's death. (II Samuel 14:25-27.)
Vanity Begets a Plot
Two years passed without Absalom seeing his father. The younger man couldn't understand this lack of contact. He considered Joab a friend who could help build relations between himself and his father. So he sent a message to the army commander, asking him to try to get him in touch with the king. Joab didn't reply. After sending a second message and again receiving no reply, Absalom decided to resort to a more effective method of gaining Joab's attention.
"See that field of barley just beyond mine?" Absalom pointed out to his servants. "Go set it on fire."
The servants considered this a most unusual order. But they faithfully did as their master ordered. After the field was burned, the owner quickly showed up at Absalom's home, just as Absalom knew he would because the field belonged to Joab.
"My barley field has been burned, and I've been told that your servants set fire to it," Joab angrily said to Absalom. "Why have you allowed such an outrageous thing?" (II Samuel 14:28-31.)
"You are very alert to what happened to your field, but you paid no attention to the messages I sent you," Absalom replied. "I had to do this thing to get you here. Please go to my father and ask him why I was brought back from Geshur. Tell him that I would prefer to still be there if I can't be allowed to see him. If he still regards me as a criminal, he should have me killed. It might be better than living here as an outcast from my own family."
Joab was quite upset because of the loss of his barley. Probably Absalom paid for it, but he managed to get a message to his father. When David heard from Joab how disquieted Absalom was about not seeing him, he was moved to send for his son immediately. Absalom happily came to the palace. When he saw his father, he sank to his knees and bowed his forehead to the floor. David pulled him up to embrace him for the first time in five years. (II Samuel 14:32-33.)
It wasn't long after Absalom was welcomed at the palace that he began; to change. Because Absalom had not been properly disciplined, he was self-willed and self-centered. He began to lust after his father's throne. Amnon's death led Absalom to believe he would be the one to succeed his father on the throne of Israel. The very thought of coming into that rank and power spurred him with ambition to try to hasten the time when it would happen.
Absalom's vanity increased with his ambition. He equipped himself with fancy chariots in which he rode haughtily about, sometimes preceded by as many as fifty men to herald his approach and to clear the streets and roads. To many people Absalom was a more exciting and interesting figure than the king, and they were quite impressed by the manner in which he conducted himself.
Often he went to the main gate of the city to mingle with the many people who brought problems and grievances there to be settled. He was always anxious to have some part in helping make decisions. He tried to make the decisions in favor of parties to whom he could look for support in the day when he might need support from as many people as possible. He was building up a following that would be necessary in the near future.
By these back-slapping, favor-performing methods, together with his unusual appearance and manners, David's son soon became very popular in Israel. At the same time, he became so impressed with that popularity and the way in which he was able to influence people, that he soon decided that it was the time for him to try to wrest the rulership of Israel from his father David! (II Samuel 15:1-6.)
Absalom Leads Revolt
To do this, he had to go away to organize his political and military forces. As an excuse to leave Jerusalem, he told his father that he had made a vow, when he was in Geshur, that if ever he could return to Jerusalem, he would make a special thank offering and would thereafter serve God.
"I want to go to Hebron, the ancient sacred city of the priests, to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving," Absalom told David.
"Indeed you should," David agreed, pleased that his son had such inclinations. "Take two hundred of my soldiers with you, and may your sacrifice be pleasing to God."
Unknown to the king, Absalom took many conspirators with him, besides the two hundred, who weren't aware that they would turn out to be something more than just impressive guards for the king's son. Absalom had already secretly arranged to send men out to all parts of the nation to help swing the people over to support him as king. Because David was getting old and because he had made what people thought were unwise and unpopular moves, Absalom's campaigning helpers had some effective tools to use in promoting David's son for king. The people were becoming more agitated by the day, and far more than David was told or suspected. (II Samuel 15:7-11.)
Even Ahithophel, David's chief advisor and prime minister, went over to Absalom's side. (II Samuel 15:12.) Perhaps his reason for deserting the king was that he was Bathsheba's grandfather. (II Samuel 11:3; 23:34.) He could have harbored some secret ill will against David because of the way he had treated her.
It was a grave shock to David when he was informed by a loyal subject that the state of affairs in Israel had changed almost overnight. Not until then did he learn that Absalom was seeking the throne and that he was planning to make a surprise attack on Jerusalem in a sudden effort to gain control of the nation by taking over the seat of government. (II Samuel 15:13.)
David could have ordered soldiers to occupy every foot of the wall around Jerusalem, but he didn't want to make the city the site of a possible battle that would mar the capital. Instead of taking defense measures, he called together only his family, servants and palace guards.
"Prepare to leave Jerusalem at once!" he warned. "Absalom has turned against me, and might attack us here with an army he has raised!"
For a time there was confusion and fearful excitement, but then the women and children became calmer. The servants declared their loyalty to David, and assured him that they were eager to go with him anywhere.
Leaving ten women to take care of the palace, David and his family, servants and guards left with a few hastily collected provisions. The party included the six hundred men David had brought from the Philistine city of Gath years before, and who were still loyally attached to him.
David was very moved that these people were intent on staying by him at a time when so many in Israel were switching their devotion and allegiance from the king to Absalom. David suggested to Ittai, who commanded the palace guards and others from Gath, that he and his men and their families remain in Jerusalem, but Ittai made it evident that he wanted to stay with the king no matter what happened. David consented to Ittai's going with him. (II Samuel 15:14-24.)
Not far outside the city David paused to watch the loyal lines of people move on toward safety. He was suddenly quite perturbed when he saw that the ark of the covenant was being carried from Jerusalem.
Bible Story Book Index