Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustrations: Uriah the Hittite

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost.  Here is this week’s reading from the book of 2 Samuel:

2 Samuel 11:1-15

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant." So David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?" Uriah said to David, "The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing." Then David said to Uriah, "Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back." So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Here are Buechner’s thoughts on this incident, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

URIAH THE HITTITE, Bathsheba's husband, was a straight arrow and a patriot, and in his eyes the king could do no wrong. There's no reason to think he had any idea David was carrying on with Bathsheba while he was off in the army, but you suspect that even if somebody had tipped him off about it, he wouldn't have made all that much of a fuss.

When Bathsheba told David she was pregnant by him, he decided to move fast and had her husband sent back from the front on the double. His hope was that Uriah would lose no time bedding down his beautiful bride, and that way, when the time came, he'd have no reason for thinking the baby was anyone's but his. But he didn't count on Uriah's strong moral character and high sense of duty. Uriah said that as long as his troops were back there slogging it out in the trenches, he refused to live it up at home or have sex with anybody. Even after David got him all liquored up one night in an effort to lower his resistance, he still insisted on sleeping curled up on the palace floor, and Bathsheba bedded down alone.

His first trick having failed, David had Uriah bundled off to the front again with a note to General Joab saying to assign him where the fighting was fiercest. Uriah was soon shot down by the enemy, and after a long enough mourning period to make it look respectable, David married Bathsheba himself.

If Uriah could have known about the long and illustrious line that was to issue from that unseemly match, the chances are he would have considered his death none too high a price to pay. With Solomon in mind and all the mighty kings who followed him, he would probably have rejoiced in the thought that by bowing out at the right moment he had been able to give so many lives besides his own to the service of his country.