Desperate to conceal his adultery and seeing no other course, David now begins to plot another heinous sin— the murder of Uriah so that he can marry Bathsheba and conceal his immorality. “It is resolved in David’s breast (which one would think could never possibly have harbored so vile a thought) that Uriah must die,” Matthew Henry writes. “That innocent, valiant, gallant man, who was ready to die for his prince’s honor, must die by his prince’s hand.”
Of course, David has no plans to take Uriah’s life with his own hand; his death must appear to be an accident. For that, David needs an accomplice, and Joab is ideal for the job. David orders him to send Uriah and his comrades into a hot spot in the fighting at Rabbah and then to pull his other men back, leaving Uriah alone and exposed to the Ammonite forces. David heartlessly sends these instructions to Joab in a letter carried by Uriah himself, and Joab heartlessly acts on them. But he is subtler and more callous than David. He puts a whole unit into the thick of the fighting with no orders to retreat at a certain time. Valiantly driving the Ammonites back, they approach too close to the walls of Rabbah, and several of them are killed, including Uriah.
Joab then sends word to David that the plot has succeeded. As he briefs the messenger with an ostensible battle report, he anticipates that David will be angry that the Israelite soldiers went so near the wall. He guesses that David might even point to the story of Abimelech, who was mortally wounded by a millstone dropped from a city wall by a woman (Judg. 9:50–54). If David does indeed react angrily, the servant is to tell him that Uriah also is dead, which is the news David most wants to hear. However, when he comes to the king, the servant seems to want to get all of his bad news told as quickly as possible, so he simply spills his whole report in one quick speech. This draws a surprisingly mild response from David—he simply instructs the messenger to comfort Joab with a reminder of the shifting fortunes of war and to tell him to keep up the good work.
David is now free, after decent period of mourning, to marry Bathsheba. It appears that his sin has been concealed. But it is not so. The author of 2 Samuel tells us unequivocally, “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” God knows what David has done.