The men who brought the water were among David’s mightiest warriors, who are memorialized in 2 Samuel 23. Who now remembers Naharai, General Joab’s armorbearer, or the Ithrites, Ira or Gareb? But the last name burns on the page: Uriah the Hittite. Uriah, faithful to the death. Uriah, still fighting David’s battles when David was secure in his kingdom and relaxing on his palace roof. Uriah, Bathsheba’s faithful husband, summoned from the front to the king when David learned that Bathsheba bore the fruit of his adultery. Uriah, who would not go home to embrace his beautiful wife, because he was on duty and his comrades were in battle.
David’s attempted cover-up failed. He sent Uriah back to Joab bearing his own death warrant. The murder of Uriah and of companions-in-arms was the price David paid to take Bathsheba as his wife.
Having carried out the king’s orders for a useless sally against the gate of Rabbah, the Ammonite capital, Joab reported the loss of life to David. He added, “ ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also’ ” (2 Sam. 11:21). David answered Joab with horrifying hypocrisy: “Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Carry on.” He composed no lament for Uriah, no celebration of the Lord’s endowment of Uriah for mighty deeds. Instead, David spoke not out of faith, but out of unbelief—“In a chance universe, you win some, you lose some.”
Months of silence hardened David’s heart. At last, Nathan the prophet caught the king out by appealing to his remaining sense of justice: “ ‘You are the man!’ ” (2 Sam. 12:7). David was not now humble, but humbled. His sensitivity had been trampled down by unfaith, pride, and lust. His hard heart could not be softened. It had to be broken.
Convicted at last of his crimes, David knew his sin was not just against Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab, his warriors, and his people. His sin was against God. He had turned to the disobedience of unbelief. He cried out then, not complaining about the injustice of his enemies, but confessing his own wickedness and shame (Ps. 51). He pleaded for washing from the pollution of his sin. He could not escape his guilt. Indeed, his betrayal showed the truth of God’s indictment against him. His sin was no accident. It was as deep as his being. He had been born a sinner, conceived in iniquity. He deserved to be cast from God’s presence and deprived of His Spirit. No sacrifices from the altar could cleanse him. All he could offer was his broken heart. Only the power of the Holy One could make his black heart as white as snow and restore his salvation.
From the abyss of his contrition, David begged for unimaginable grace. He asked for God’s unfailing covenant love: “Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness” (Ps. 51:14, NIV).