Wars in the Old Testament were fought to achieve God’s purposes. In the New Testament, we are called to a different type of war, a spiritual war. Although the weapons of our warfare are no longer carnal, there is a lot to learn from the real time warriors of the Old Testament. Studies about their faith, their character, their achievements, and even their failures can enrich our own spiritual fight and help us become Women of Valor (or Men of Valor for my male readers). I hope this to be the first in a series entitled Old Testament Warriors. We begin with an Old Testament hero that has been often overlooked, Uriah the Hittite.
Most of us Christians are familiar with the story of David, Bathsheba, and the warrior David killed in order to cover up his affair, Uriah. In the countless times that I have read this story, I paid little attention to Uriah. Even though he is a central figure in this 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 the weightier personalities. But God never forgot Uriah and He made sure that his name would never be forgotten.
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Who was Uriah the Hittite?
Despite the countless times that I have read through II Samuel 11, I always got the impression that Uriah the Hittite was a regular soldier who happened to have a very beautiful wife. Yet, recently as I was digging into some of the scriptures regarding David’s military I came across, II Samuel 23:39. This is another verse I have read many times, but it is only recently that I made the connection. II Samuel 23:39 tells us that Uriah was anything but common.
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 in I Chronicles 11. Although there are some variations in both lists, Uriah is mentioned in both of them.
How does David’s Mighty Men differ from regular soldiers?
Within most militaries, there usually exist a group of elite fighters or warriors who are called upon to do things, regular soldiers cannot. In the United States we call those types of missions Special Operations and we have elite groups of men (Special Forces) trained for that purpose. Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals are a few of our special forces units. As an example, it was the Navy Seals who were sent to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The men in these units are the best of the best. They are incredibly skilled at killing, to put it bluntly, but they also have the physical and psychological capacity to endure extreme situations.
Well, David also had his special operations forces, those were his Mighty Men. The Mighty Men included men that had single handedly killed hundreds in hand-to-hand combat and a few that were giant slayers. They were the cream of the crop in David’s kingdom.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of The Mighty Men is that they helped bring David to power. In I Chronicles 11:10 we read, “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 that lent his military prowess to help David establish his kingdom. That gives us a hint about the relationship between David and Uriah.
In the United States, the Commander-in-Chief (the President), never goes into battle with his warriors. Although he may respect and know some members of the military, generally he wouldn’t have a personal relationship with members of his Special Forces. That was not the case in Israel, and it certainly was not the case during David’s reign.
David fought with his men and he came into power through war. He fought alongside them and spilled blood with them. David’s army was well over a million and there is no way that he would have not known each of them, but he knew all of Mighty Men by name. He must have because he had a long history with them. What does that tell me? That King David knew Uriah, and he knew him well. He had probably fought with him and had seen his courage in action.That King David knew Uriah, and he knew him well. He had probably fought with him and had seen his courage in action. Click To Tweet
A Band of Brothers
As a student of war, one of the things that has always fascinated me is the brotherhood formed between fellow warriors. It is a bond that is formed when men (or women) suffer extreme circumstances together. I have come to learn, that many times 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.
I was again recently reminded of this strong bond when reading the memoirs of Siegfried Knappe, Soldat, Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949 (a book I highly recommend). In it he states 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.”
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. It was a perfect place to hide from Saul, but not very hospitable. 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 in the battlefield.Uriah 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 in the battlefield. Click To Tweet
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 have not been one of his closes war buddies, but he would have known that Uriah was one of his band of brothers. It is for this reason, I believe, that David panicked when Bathsheba told him she was pregnant.
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 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 probably also this reason why it would not have been unusual for David to recall someone like Uriah from the battlefield to 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 design a scenario that would entice Uriah to sleep with his wife to cover the affair, Uriah was faithful to God and to his band of brothers. David encouraged Uriah to go home and enjoy in the pleasures of being home, but Uriah chose a more humble place to lay his head that night. He rested with the king’s servants instead. His response in II Samuel 11:11 shows his commitment to God and to 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. It is likely that he came to accept and worship the God of Israel when he join 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 known as a pagan people. 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 in our human condition, David just fell deeper into the whole he was digging for himself.
Uriah’s response to David’s enticements also echoes the feeling of many warriors after him. It is a sense of guilt in enjoying the comforts of home when fellow brothers are still dying in the battlefield. For whatever reason David sent his men to war against the Ammonites, while he stayed in Jerusalem contrary to his usual custom of leading his men into battle. He was enjoying the comforts of his wealth while his men were fighting and dying in the battlefield. The contrast between and Uriah and David in this exchange is stark. David’s disregard for the band of brothers only becomes more obvious further in the text.
Uriah’s Tragic Death
After his plan failed, David sentences Uriah to his death. In the ultimate betrayal to 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 to 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 that will die for you. I have read countless stories of soldiers and warriors who have risked life and limb to save a brother in combat. The “leave no man behind” ethos runs through a warriors 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.
As I read the text, I wonder the conflict that swelled 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 (See 2 Samuel 3:30). But to ask him to send one of David’s Mighty Men to his fate is a whole level different story altogether. I have experienced and read about men who otherwise have few moral standards, 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.
David’s message to Joab
The text shows us 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 to me 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. Ask why highly successful military leaders like the Spartan King Leonidas or the great German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel inspired 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 wizzed 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 nor food said longingly how he 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
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 and was faithful to the end and played his part in bringing about God’s promise.
Even though this event with Uriah is tragic and definitely leaves a bad impression of David, I love that God has imperfect leaders. His imperfect heroes reminds us every day people that God’s requirement is not perfection. It reminds me that you do not have to wait to be perfect to serve his purposes. But I wanted to bring Uriah’s story to light, a lesser known and almost forgotten hero. He too was a leader of men, a great warrior, faithful to God, and faithful to his mission. He also was God’s faithful servant.But I wanted to bring Uriah's story to light, a lesser known and almost forgotten hero. He too was a leader of men, a great warrior, faithful to God, and faithful to his mission. Click To Tweet
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. I found it 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 David, is a constant reminder of David’s fall. We know from II Samuel 12 that David payed dearly for his sin. God was displeased and David payed 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. I believe that reason was because God didn’t want us to forget his faithful servant Uriah. I believe that reason was because God wanted to honor his faithfulness to the end.
Spiritual Lessons Learned
We need to keep our integrity even if our leaders do not. Although, I don’t think Uriah knew about the affair, he probably questioned why David had chosen to stay behind while his men were fighting. David’s behavior would have seemed out of character for Uriah who had known him for many years as a great military leader. And yet Uriah chose the higher path. Even if our bosses or even our Christian leaders have fallen from grace, we need to pick up our cross and keep on trudging and do what God has called us to do, despite our leaders’ behavior.
Our good choices are not often rewarded in this life, but God doesn’t forget. Even when we do the right thing, we may suffer for it. Uriah certainly did and so did many of God’s good “soldiers.” The life of the disciples post-resurrection serve as good examples. But God never overlooks our hearts to serve nor our efforts to do His work. Uriah’s reward came after his death and sometimes we won’t see our reward until after ours.But God never overlooks our hearts to serve nor our efforts to do His work. Uriah's reward came after his death and sometimes we won't see our reward until after ours. Click To Tweet
Are we choosing comfort over the hard realities of the Christian battle? Although our calling as Christians is not a physical battle, the spiritual battle for peoples eternal salvation is real. And that battle requires for us to step outside our comforts and our perfectly planned out lives. The Christian battle is messy and uncomfortable because it requires us to get knee deep into the mess of other people’s lives and sometimes face real persecution. For some, that may mean a missionary calling on the other side of the world, but for others it might mean opening their homes and their hearts to neighbors and/or strangers. We need to ask ourselves if we are choosing the comforts of life as David did in this account, or the hard realities of the spiritual battlefield like Uriah?
Sometimes we have to follow “orders” even if we don’t like them because authorities matter. Even though Uriah may have been ignorant of David’s order to have him killed, he was fully aware that his mission was a suicide mission upon receiving it. As an experienced warrior, he would have known that Joab’s order would be a tactical failure and he most likely would not survive it. He went anyway because he respected the authorities God had placed above him.
Our bosses, pastors, and leaders will sometimes ask us to do things we do not like. Although there will be times when we must resist an “order” if it stands contrary to God’s word, in most cases we will need to respect the authorities that God has placed above us and go along with the plan anyway. We can certainly voice our opinions, but at the end of the day if they make a decision contrary to our opinions, we must comply. It isn’t our job to bring about God’s justice, God will do that on his own as he did so for Uriah. We must embrace the example of Uriah, but we have an even greater example in Jesus who also obeyed God unto death.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Questions to Ponder
What other lessons can you take away from reading about Uriah in this new light?
What does this account teach you about faithfulness?
What does this account teach you about God’s character?