People of the Promised Land: Uriah the Hittite

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Uriah (meaning Yahwah is my light) dies because of who he married. It’s a tragic tale of an undeserved death.

The Hittites were an Anatolian people who played an important role in establishing an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Anatolia as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia.

Between the 15th and 13th centuries BC the Empire of Hattusa, conventionally called the Hittite Empire, came into conflict with the Egyptian EmpireMiddle Assyrian Empire and the empire of the Mitanni for control of the Near East. The Assyrians eventually emerged as the dominant power and annexed much of the Hittite empire, while the remainder was sacked by Phrygian newcomers to the region. After c. 1180 BC, during the Bronze Age collapse, the Hittites splintered into several independent “Neo-Hittite” city-states, some of which survived until the 8th century BC before succumbing to the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Like all peoples who surrounded the Israelites and were pagans, the Hittites were an enemy of Israel.

Based on the Biblical account, Uriah was probably of the ethnic Hittite minority resident in Israel that had lived in and around the region, “the Land of Canaan“, since before the time of Abraham. The Hebrews, upon their entry into Canaan, had been commanded (Deuteronomy 20:16–17) to kill “anything that breathes … in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance,” with the explanation that “otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:18). Even so, some of the earlier inhabitants were spared, in some cases for cooperating with the Hebrews (Joshua 2:12–14, 6:23, Judges 1:24–25) in other cases from failure to carry out the extermination order (Joshua 15:63, 16:10, Judges 1:19, 21, 27–36).

The era of David’s rule was many generations after this time, long enough for the original tumult and overwhelming emotional grief suffered by the survivors to have subsided, and by David’s day, many residents of non-Israelite descent who followed the Israelite religion had come to be accepted as Israelites. It is likely this included Uriah, as his name in Hebrew means “God is my light”. In addition, his status as an officer in the army and as one of David’s “mighty men” would indicate acceptance within the ethnic community.

The Talmud states two opinions as to who Uriah was. 1) He was a convert to Judaism. 2) He lived amongst Hittites and so is known as a Hittite despite his being born Jewish. Either way, he was not actually part of the Hittite nation since he would have been forbidden to marry Bathsheba had he been a Gentile.

The Romans coined the term “rex lex”, or “the king is law” to state the fact that people on top who make the rules often don’t live by them. David does what he wants with no challenges. The problem ensues when Bathsheba becomes pregnant.

David ends up breaking the sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth commandments because of this one affair. Uriah is murdered because of his loyalty to his king and kingdom, along with other men who were put in harm’s way. David is cold and ruthless in his use of power and shows little remorse for what he’s done: until he’s visited by Nathan.

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