The Biblical narrative in Samuel records one of the most controversial encounters
in the entire Bible—the story of King David and Bat Sheva. This is precisely the
question I put to my Bible study group, which has taken several sessions to work
out, or rather, to work through.
Samuel in fantastic shorthand, essentially a summary or overview of the topic.
Storyline: King David had intimate relations with Bat Sheva, a woman
married to a warrior in the king’s service. From the relationship, Bat Sheva conceived. King David recalled the woman’s husband, Uriah Hachiti, from the
front and urged him to spend time with his wife. Uriah refused to go home,
insisting that the offer offended a noble soldier’s sensitivities. His commanding
officer and fellow soldiers were in the field “roughing it.” After the king’s second
attempt to send Uriah to visit his wife failed, he resolved that Uriah should return
to the front and there be ambushed by the enemy. This resolution came in the
form of a royal directive to Yoav, the commander. Uriah was, in fact, killed by
enemy fire upon his return to duty.
Abravanel lists five compelling reasons that point to a straightforward
indictment of David. 4 Conclusion: the king was guilty of heinous crimes; he
perpetrated a mighty wrong. Heaven meted out punishment to the culprit. For his
part, the king exhibited remorse and indeed heartrending contrition.
Abravanel then turns to the Talmud’s interpretation of the very same facts.
The rabbis or Chazal take a totally different tack, infusing Jewish tradition and
insight. Not only do they hold the king blameless, but they go a step further:
“Whoever says that David sinned [with Bat Sheva] errs.” 5
Where does this leave us? Did King David sin with Bat Sheva?
According to Abravanel, Chazal’s innocent verdict speaks to a legitimate,
alternate dimension of Biblical text or drush (דרוש). This stands in marked contrast
to Abravanel, who is intent on discovering the verses’ plain reading or pshat (פשט).
Abravanel is always reverential of Chazal, while acknowledging the pshat/drush
divergence. The story of David and Bat Sheva eloquently highlights their distinct