Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside to commemorate those who died in military service to the nation. It reminds me of some of the heroes of the Bible, who gave their lives in service to the Lord and His people. Uriah the Hittite was one such stalwart soldier – a man whose priorities were well-ordered in singular devotion to the Lord and His people Israel. That is what makes his sacrifice all the more poignant: this loyal man of God fell in battle as the result of the treachery of his commander-in-chief, King David. Thankfully, this did not diminish his service in the Almighty’s eyes, for the Scriptures repeatedly memorialize Uriah’s name.
A Few Good Men
Though of Gentile origin, Uriah allied Himself with the true and living God of Israel. He turned away from the idolatrous Hittite nation of his birth, and took up arms on behalf of his adopted country. His martial prowess and illustrious military career are evidenced by his inclusion in the role call of “David’s Mighty Men,” where he is conspicuously mentioned last so as to highlight his name (2 Sam. 23:39.) This distinction was tantamount to belonging to one of the elite modern “special ops” units like Seal Team Six, Delta Force, the British SAS, or the Israeli Sayeret Matkal. These courageous men were the cream of the ancient Israelite military.
Duty And Honor
The Bible tells us little of his actual exploits in combat, but what makes Uriah so admirable is his conduct away from the battlefield. Through personal negligence David first lusted for Uriah’s wife, then committed adultery with her while her devoted spouse was on the frontlines. This adulterous liaison resulted in a pregnancy that threatened to expose the king’s infidelity.
To cover up his sin, David first brought Uriah home on special leave from the campaigning army, ostensibly to offer an eye-witness account of the progress of the siege of the Ammonite capital Rabbah. Secretly the erring ruler hoped that his officer would have normal relations with his wife. Thereafter, it would be presumed that the child in her womb was her husband’s progeny. This scheme was thwarted, however, by Uriah’s constancy. Rather than enjoy the comforts of home and family, he kept in mind the times: the nation was at war and he could not behave domestically as if there were already peace. Since the armed forces and the symbol of the Lord’s throne, the Ark of the Covenant, were on foreign soil waging war, Uriah determined to live as a loyal soldier. Even when the king got him drunk, he comported himself as an upright and faithful warrior; instead of heading to his own bed, he slept with the royal servants. Still trying to hide his sin, David added to it the crime of blood-guiltiness by arranging the murder by proxy of the loyal Uriah. On the king’s secret orders, this brave man was set up by General Joab; he died in the most vulnerable spot on the battlefield, faithfully fighting when those around him withdrew.
Telling It Like It Is
The famed preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon powerfully described David’s treachery in these words: “…of course, his death was a cowardly murder, planned and devised by the very man who ought to have been his protector.” Elsewhere he said:
…he [Uriah] had been with David when he was outlawed by Saul, he had accompanied his leader in his wanderings, he had shared his perils and privations, so it was a shameful return on the part of the king when he stole away the wife of his faithful follower who was at that very time fighting against the king’s enemies. Searching through the whole of Scripture, or at least through the Old Testament, I do not know where we have the record of a worse sin committed by one who yet was a true child of God. So David had good reason to pray to the Lord, ‘Wash me,’ for he was indeed black with a special and peculiar blackness.
In His great grace, the Lord eventually exposed David’s sin and forgave and cleansed him after he confessed and repented of his wickedness (read Ps. 32 & Ps. 51.) He was disciplined and would reap certain consequences of his sin for the rest of his life. But his crimes were forgiven and he was restored to fellowship with God.
Lessons From A Fallen Warrior
Despite his tragic death, Uriah continued to be memorialized by the Lord. In summarizing the son of Jesse’s reign, 1 Kings 15:5 notes: “…David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” Both 2 Samuel 23:39 and 1 Chronicles 11:41 list him among the celebrated “Mighty Men.” Moreover, he gets “honorable mention” in the royal genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Mt. 1:6.)
A few points to remember and emulate from the life of this great hero:
- Just as Uriah refused to behave as if it was peacetime while the war raged, even so Christians must remember that they also are in a spiritual conflict (Eph. 6:10-20.) They must put on their spiritual battle armor of righteousness, faith, prayer, and the Word of God. Romans 13:11-12 spells out the believers’ duty: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
- Uriah was devoted to the Lord (2 Sam. 11:11.) Proverbs 25:19 laments: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint,” but this intrepid soldier was faithful unto death. This is an age of undependability, with people regularly breaking vows both large and small. Believers ought to strive to be people of their word, living by the principle that their yes means yes. At the local church level, fidelity may be expressed by using one’s gift to edify and serve others. It may also be demonstrated by faithful prayer for one’s fellow-saints and attendance at the meetings of the local assembly.
*Image: Bernardino Luini, “The Death of Uriah the Hittite”; found here: http://www.artchive.com/web_gallery/reproductions//226501-227000/226525/size1.jpg Accessed on 5/27/13.
 For background on this unit, see: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/05/04/135982609/seal-team-six-the-best-of-the-best Accessed on 5/27/13.
 For background on this unit, see: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jun/3/delta-force-armys-quiet-professionals/?page=all Accessed on 5/27/13.
 For background on this unit, see: http://www.marsandminerva.co.uk/history.htm & http://www.sasregiment.org.uk/organization-of-the-sas-regiment-and-recruitment.html & http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A517664 All accessed on 5/27/13.
 For background on this unit, see: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2001/12/israeli-counterterrorism-200112 Accessed on 5/27/13.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Soul murder – Who is guilty?” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XII. Originally preached on September 30, 1866. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), p. 541.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Wordless Book,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. LVII. Originally preached on January 11, 1866. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1911), p. 566.