David’s view from the roof, gazing down in an all-seeing way on the whole of his capital city, is a confirmation of Samuel’s worst fears concerning kings: that they would be domineering, oppressive, superior, and self-absorbed. Strutting on top of his palace, David is a parody of God’s providential presidency over the whole of creation. This is David having seized, Adam-like, the prerogatives of divinity, and what follows shows vividly the havoc that is wreaked when human beings begin playing the role of God.
Surveying the whole of his city, seeing what delights his eye, ordering about his underlings, David is the precise opposite of the pious young king who guilelessly asked God whether to go up to Hebron. The “look” of David, the regard from on high, is the gaze of the master that objectifies what it sees. The look of the lover is one that invites an answering look while the regard of the master pins the object of that regard to the table for examination.
He sees a woman of great beauty. Especially given the numerous associations between David and Adam that I have already noted, it would be difficult to miss the link between Bathsheba and Eve and between Bathsheba and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. On the one hand Bathsheba, comfortably naked in the garden of David’s city, is Eve, the occasion for the king’s sin; on the other hand, the very beauty of Bathsheba is like that Edenic fruit that was “good for food . . . and a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). Indeed, it would be naive in the extreme to construe Bathsheba as totally innocent—she just happens to be bathing nude within easy eyeshot of the king?
David’s first move is to send a messenger to find out about her. Once more buffers, indirection, and the use of others to do the dirty work is consistently characteristic of the king during this episode. The servant reports that she is “Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11:3). Since it was unusual to identify a woman by both her father and her husband, some suggest that both Eliam and Uriah were prominent members of David’s inner military circle.
Eliam will play a role later in the story, but the emphasis is clearly on Uriah, explicitly identified as a foreigner, though he bore a stately Hebrew name meaning “Yahweh is my light.” Likely, therefore, he was not so much a foreigner as a native or naturalized Israelite of Hittite extraction. The irony, obviously, is that this man of foreign origins shows far greater loyalty to the customs and traditions of Israel than the Israelite king who murders him.