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Uriah the Hittite: A Faithful Warrior

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Uriah the Hittite is one of the least appreciated warriors in the Bible. He is known as the man King David murdered to cover up his affair with Bathsheba. Even though he is a central figure in the II Samuel 11 account, he is overshadowed by the renowned King David and the enormity of David’s sin. Uriah is the victim, of course, but as often happens, the victim’s story can get lost because of weightier personalities. But Uriah is a renowned warrior, a central figure who helped David establish his kingdom. That, of course, makes his story even more tragic, but it must not detract from his heroism.

A Summary of Uriah’s Story

While his army was at war with the Ammonites, King David uncharacteristically remained in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a rather small city then and the houses were stacked close together. The palace itself would have been located in close proximity to surrounding homes. One afternoon, from the roof of his palace, King David saw a beautiful woman bathing in one of these houses.

David asks for the woman, sleeps with her, and impregnates her. To cover up his actions, he calls Uriah back from the front lines under the guise of getting an update on the war. David urges him to go home, sure that he will sleep with his wife, but Uriah opts to sleep with the King’s servants instead. David tries again by getting him drunk, but even in that state, Uriah refuses to go.

Feeling trapped, King David sends Uriah back to the front lines with a message for his commanding general, Joab, to have Uriah killed in battle. Joab acquiesces and Uriah dies at the hands of the Ammonites.

Who Was Uriah the Hittite?

With a cursory reading of II Samuel 11, one might get the impression that Uriah was a regular soldier who happened to have a very beautiful wife. II Samuel 23:39 informs us otherwise.

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Uriah was a member of David’s elite warriors known as David’s Mighty Men or David’s Mighty Warriors or just simply, “The Thirty.” God saw it fit to list these warriors by name in both II Samuel 23 and I Chronicles 11. Although there are some variations in both lists, Uriah is mentioned in both of them.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of The Mighty Men is that they helped bring David to power. I Chronicles 11:10 reads, “Now these are the chiefs of David’s mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the LORD concerning Israel.” Since Uriah the Hittite is named among this elite group, he must have also been one of the ones who lent his military prowess to help David establish his kingdom. That gives us a hint about the relationship between David and Uriah.

David fought with his men and he came into power through war. He fought alongside them and spilled blood with them. David’s regular army had over 30,000 men and there is no way that he would have known each of them, but he would have known all of the Mighty Men by name. King David must have known Uriah and probably fought with him and had seen his courage in action.

A Band of Brothers

The brotherhood formed between fellow warriors is undeniable. It is a bond that is forged when men (or women) suffer extreme circumstances together. Often not even the wife/husband relationship can surmount this bond. It is the reason that men, who have endured war, continually volunteer to return to the battlefield instead of staying home with their families. It isn’t the love of war, it is the bond, it is the brotherhood with their fellow warriors.

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Siegfried Knappe in Soldat, Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949 reflects on this bond on page 220:

“Men who share combat become brothers, and this brotherhood is so important to them that they would give their lives for one another. It is not just friendship and it is stronger than flag and country.”

William Manchester stated it best when described the reason he chose to return to the battlefield on page 12 of Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War (another book worth reading):

“It was an act of love. Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say, closer than any friends had been or ever would be. They had never let me down, and I couldn’t do it to them. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them. Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another. Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die, is not a man at all. He is truly damned.”

William Manchester in Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War

The bond is so strong and an important motivator in helping to keep warriors fighting. Both ancient and modern militaries have recognized it. Numerous studies and papers have been written on how to exploit that bond for maintaining unit cohesion. Once the bullets (or arrows) start flying, things like patriotism and ideology may go out the window, but the bond keeps warriors going and most importantly, keeps them from retreating.

Betraying the Band of Brothers

David’s betrayal went beyond sexual sin, it betrayed the band of brothers. As part of David’s Mighty Men, Uriah would have been there with David in the Cave of Adullam living alongside David and other warriors in miserable conditions. He wandered together with David when he was a king without a home. He would have suffered thirst and hunger along with David in the Judean Wilderness, a mostly uninhabited arid place. He would have warred with David in numerous battles and given sweat, blood, and tears. David, Uriah, and the other Mighty Men would have formed a bond, the kind of bond forged only on the battlefield.

So when David inquired about Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11:3, and they told him she was the wife of Uriah, he would have known exactly who Uriah was. He may not have been one of his closest war buddies, but he would have known that Uriah was one of his band of brothers. It is probably for this reason that David panicked when Bathsheba told him she was pregnant.

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To complicate matters, Bathsheba’s father, Eliam might have also been one of The Thirty. An Eliam, son of Ahithophel appears in the Thirty’s roster in II Samuel 23:34. (Note, Ahithophel is the same individual who would later side with Absalom in his coup attempt against his father David.)

That the king would have had an affair with the wife of a soldier, may have been frowned upon and would have been embarrassing for David, but as powerful as David was at the time, I don’t believe David would have been threatened enough to panic. However, to have an affair with the wife of one of The Mighty Men (and the daughter of another one) was a whole different story. It would have rattled the loyalty that this elite group had towards David and shaken the foundations of his military might. In a separate incident involving David’s son Absalom, Joab warned David on how precarious loyalty could be if his men felt betrayed (See II Samuel 19:5-7).

It is also for this reason that it would not have been unusual for David to recall someone like Uriah from the battlefield and inquire about the status of the military campaign in II Samuel 11:6-7. He would have been a trusted warrior, a suitable choice for relaying intelligence to the king.

Uriah is Loyal to the Band of Brothers

Despite David’s efforts to create a scenario that would entice Uriah to sleep with his wife to cover the affair, Uriah was faithful to God and his band of brothers. David encouraged Uriah to go home and enjoy the pleasures of being with his wife, but Uriah chose a more humble place to lay his head that night. He rested with the king’s servants instead. The word “servant” is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to a king’s warriors so this could have just meant he slept in the barracks.

Uriah’s response in II Samuel 11:11 shows his commitment to God and his fellow warriors:

Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell 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 this thing.” 2 Samuel 11:11 ESV

Uriah’s mention of the ark shows that he understood the spiritual underpinnings of the battles he was engaged in. He likely came to accept and worship the God of Israel when he joined David, probably part of the group in I Samuel 22:2.

Hittites were a people displaced by Israel per God’s command when they entered the Promise Land (See Exodus 13:5). They were a pagan people (for a great, historical fiction on the Hittites I recommend the series, Empires of Bronze). Seeing that a Hittite showed more honor and integrity than the anointed king of Israel should have woken David up from his spiritual slumber. As is often true of the human condition, David fell deeper into the hole he was digging for himself.

Uriah’s response to David’s enticements also echoes the feelings of many warriors after him. It is a sense of guilt for enjoying the comforts of home while fellow brothers are still dying on the battlefield. For whatever reason, David sent his men to war against the Ammonites while he stayed in Jerusalem contrary to his custom of leading his men into battle. He was enjoying the comforts of his wealth while his men were still at war. The contrast between Uriah and David in this exchange is stark. David’s disregard for the band of brothers only becomes more obvious further in the text.

How Did Uriah Die?

After his plan fails, David sentences Uriah the HIttite to his death. In the ultimate betrayal of the band of brothers, Uriah carries his own execution order unawares and delivers it to David’s general, Joab. In 2 Samuel 11:15, David tells Joab to put Uriah on the front lines and then abandon him to his fate.

The glue that holds the band of brothers together is the idea that the man on your left or the right will watch your back and protect you at the risk of their own life. And in return, you will do the same for those who will die for you. The “leave no man behind” ethos runs through a warrior’s blood.

And yet, this is exactly what David is asking Joab to do. Interestingly, Joab sends Uriah to his fate but not exactly in the manner that David asked him to. Joab sent Uriah on a suicide mission where he died along other brave men. He was not alone. He did not die alone. He was not left behind.

While Joab was ruthless and up to this point, loyal to David, there must have been conflict swelling up within Joab. He was bound to obey his king but at the same time, he was asked to break that unspoken code between warriors. Now Joab was no stranger to death. He was a hardened warrior and he certainly had no qualms about killing a man in cold blood (and probably why David felt comfortable giving him that order). He had done so out of revenge against the one that killed his brother Asahel (See 2 Samuel 3:30). But asking him to send one of David’s Mighty Men to his fate is a different story altogether.

There are men with few moral standards who will still hold fast to a warrior’s code, to their band of brothers. The suicide mission was probably Joab’s best way to reconcile the turmoil within himself. Or at the very least, Joab knew that those fighting alongside Uriah would not leave him behind to die alone. (For a full analysis of Joab himself, read, “Joab: Commander of David’s Army.”)

David’s Message to Joab

The text shows that David predicted that Joab would have had difficulties with Uriah’s death. In 2 Samuel 11:25 he sends a message to Joab in an attempt to comfort him:

David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

Joab had seen countless men die and had sent countless men to their fate. Why would David want to comfort Joab in this particular situation? David’s message confirms the position of Uriah within David’s army and the long history he had fighting alongside Joab and David. Leaders in the middle of war do not have time to grieve every death, but when it is one of their own, the grief is deep and enduring. I doubt David’s message had much of an effect on Joab, however.

The message also shows how far David had fallen. David came to power by inspiring the loyalty of great warriors. That kind of leader is built by leading from the front. Why did highly successful military leaders like the Spartan King Leonidas or the great German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel inspire such loyalty? They fought and suffered alongside their men. While other German military leaders would lead from the safety of their headquarters behind the front lines, Rommel was known to stand alongside his men as bullets whizzed by. It is what made his units such formidable foes during World War II. David was that kind of military leader and much greater because he honored and served God.

The loyalty of David’s men ran deep and David cherished these men. In 2 Samuel 23:13-17 we read about a time when David was hiding from Saul and probably having spent days without much water or food. He longingly wished to drink from the waters of Bethlehem. Bethlehem at the time was under the control of the Philistines, but when his men heard David’s words, three of them snuck through the Philistine lines to get that water for David.

David’s response to their generous act showed the love and appreciation he had for their sacrifice. Instead of drinking the water, he poured the water out to God. He felt that was the only way that he could honor how they had risked their lives to get him the water in the first place. His response showed the heart of David, a man after God’s own heart, and it stands in great contrast to his callous message to Joab after Uriah’s death many years later, “for the sword devours now one and now another.”

God’s Faithful Servant

Uriah the Hittite was a seasoned warrior, so when Joab assigned him a position on the battlefield along the wall (see II Samuel 11:16-20), he would have understood it was a suicide mission. And yet he did not waiver. He followed orders even if it meant he would most likely not return. He would stand with his band of brothers;.

As much as David was called to be king, David’s Mighty Men were called to support him. God used these men to help establish David’s kingdom. Like David, Uriah answered his call, was faithful to the end, and played his part in bringing about God’s promise.

God Honored Uriah the Hittite

The last time that Uriah’s name is mentioned in the Bible is in Matthew Chapter 1 in the genealogy of Jesus. It is curious that in this genealogy that details the line of Jesus, Uriah is the only non-blood relation mentioned.

Matthew 1:6 says “and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,”

David was king but Jesus is the King of kings. To be mentioned in his line is an honor that will survive into eternity. The irony is that the mention of Uriah’s name in the same sentence as King David is a constant reminder of David’s fall. We know from II Samuel 12 that David paid dearly for his sin. God was displeased and David paid a high price for betraying another of His faithful servants.

But God did more than exert justice for Uriah. God placed Uriah in the genealogy for a reason. It is possible that God didn’t want His people to forget his faithful servant Uriah. God wanted to honor his faithfulness to the end.

Unlike King David and Joab, God didn’t leave Uriah the Hittite behind and He doesn’t want the reader to either.

An image of a fierce warrior known as Uriah the Hittite, husband to Bathsheba, the man who King David killed.
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4 thoughts on “Uriah the Hittite: A Faithful Warrior”

  1. melvin e skipper

    I loved this explanation about Uriah. You absolutely described the bond between soldiers who have served in war. This was so good .

  2. Hendrik J. Haan

    In the narrative, it says that David observed Bathsheba bathing. However, it’s also reasonable to conclude that David knew of her as a child, since her grandfather, father and husband were in his service and knew them all by name. It also necessitated that Bathsheba’s son must die just to prove that he wasn’t Uriah’s issue. In the end, Solomon had an enormous advantage over Adonijah, the Crown Prince. Adonijah was in the King’s palace, whereas Solomon was imbedded with the troops: his grandfather and uncles.

  3. Mind blowing! I love the last paragraph and if it were not for your article, I may not have married all those concepts so precisely. Thank you for sharing and opening my eyes to so many connections between the OT, NT, and eternity 😉

    Be blessed!

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