What You Need to Know About Bathsheba

Dalaina May

lightstock_329212_medium_andrewpeters

Subscribe to the Junia Project Blog

Get content on biblical equality straight to your inbox. And get our free guide: 5 Pillars of Biblical Equality

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Bathsheba SL

bathsheba mourns tissot

Like many other children raised in the church, I grew up hearing the famous stories of Scripture.

Noah’s ark, Samson’s strength, and Gideon’s fleece colored my childhood imagination. From very early on I noticed that the women of the Bible, with the exceptions of Esther and Ruth, always seemed to have boring, sidekick roles to play while the men enjoyed the leading parts. This presentation of Scripture reinforced what I was taught as the biblical ideal of gender: men lead and women are their helpers.

Over the last few years, my theology has been transformed with the realization that God has not actually created anyone for small parts in his story (Galatians 3:28). As I processed the implications of this new point of view, I began to see the power of women in the Bible in bringing about God’s kingdom. These women lived in patriarchal societies, but their influence was deep and lasting – I just never had the eyes to see it before.

Take Bathsheba for example.

My Sunday school teachers called her an adulteress, but in recent years many have challenged this point of view. The definition of “power rape” seems to apply to Bathsheba’s situation, and nowhere does Scripture condemn her as sinful.[1] In fact when her relationship to David is mentioned, the only one declared sinful is him (2 Samuel 12:1-6).

The Bible does not explicitly state that Bathsheba knew David personally before her assault, but what we know about her family suggests that she had known David on some level before she was summoned to the palace. Her father, Eliam, was one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:34), as was her husband Uriah. In fact, Uriah had a history with David that preceded David’s life in the palace, and he knew the king intimately from their days serving together on the battlefront (2 Samuel 23:39).

Bathsheba’s grandfather, Ahithophel, was David’s chief counselor, a position that placed him above even the priests. Eventually, Ahithophel betrayed David and attempted to overthrow him as king by aiding Absalom’s rebellion. Interestingly, one of Ahithophel’s admonitions to Absalom was that he take the harem of the king (2 Samuel 16:21-22). We are never given a reason for Ahithophel’s treason or his interest in the king’s harem, but it is possible that that death of Uriah and the plight of his granddaughter, Bathsheba, had much to do with his decisions.

Whether or not Bathsheba had already met David or only knew of him through her grandfather, father, and husband, she was eventually called to the palace.

Like her husband, she had very little choice but to obey the king’s summons or risk death for defying him. Uriah chose to defy the king because he understood that the king’s orders did not align with God’s commandments, but there is no reason to suspect that Bathsheba knew why it was that the king ordered her to the palace. In the end she did not lose her physical life like Uriah did, but she did lose her rights to her body, her husband, and eventually her child (2 Samuel 12:15-18).

Through this incredible suffering, what is most lovely about Bathsheba is her steadfast faithfulness to God.

Even in the middle of her trauma, she is conscious of Yahweh’s commandments as she performs the ritual post-coital washing that the law required whether the sexual relationship was licit or rape (Leviticus 15:18). The only time we hear her voice is when she sends a message to the king announcing her pregnancy.

She is essentially at the mercy of the men in her life. Her husband can take her life when he hears of her pregnancy, and she cannot appeal to the law to protect her as an innocent victim for it is the king who has violated her. So she waits as her future is decided by the choices of David and Uriah.

In the end, Uriah’s righteousness cost him his life, and Bathsheba is brought to the palace to take her place in the harem as another of David’s wives. However, her story is far from over. It is through these traumatic circumstances that Bathsheba discovered God’s purpose for her.

Refusing the identity of David’s victim, Bathsheba instead became Solomon’s – and by consequence, Israel’s – heroine.

Solomon, her second son with David, was promised the throne, but the completion of that promise was endangered by the internal strife in David’s family as his children jostled for power (1 Kings 1:13-17 & 1 Chronicles 28:5).

It was Bathsheba who quietly approached elderly and ill King David to inform him of his son Adonijah’s plot for kingship and remind him of his promise to Solomon. She reminded David that both she and Solomon would be in danger if he did not act on their behalf. Because of her boldness and the prophet Nathan’s confirmation of her words, Solomon was given the crown.

Scripture gives every indication that Bathsheba shared a close relationship with her son after his coronation. She crowned him with his wedding crown (Song of Songs 3:11) and was given a seat of honor in his throne room as he listened carefully to her advice about his kingdom (1 Kings 2:13-21).

Despite what I understood in Sunday school, Bathsheba never simply faded into the background as David and his sons took center stage. Her influence in Jewish and Christian history was at least as profound as that of any biblical hero.

Aside from the history-changing actions of Bathsheba, her wisdom lives on through the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and in many of the Proverbs.

Most notably is the famous Proverbs 31 passage that has both inspired and frustrated women worldwide. King Lemuel, generally accepted as a pseudonym of King Solomon’s, introduces Proverbs 31 as an oracle his mother taught him.

If King Lemuel is in fact King Solomon, Proverbs 31 likely contains the very words of Bathsheba.

It is especially poignant that Bathsheba would make it a point to teach her son to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). No one had spoken up for her or defended her rights when she was stripped of her life as Uriah’s wife and placed in the king’s harem. Bathsheba’s life did not take the course that she anticipated, but her story reveals the character of one who discovers the purpose God has for her despite extraordinary suffering and subjugation.

As a woman living in a world that still wants me living a secondary role to men, I am inspired by Bathsheba.

She faced tragedy that I cannot even comprehend: rape, the murder of her husband, the stillbirth of her child, and the loss of her home and family for the sake of a man’s lust. Yet she was hardly a victim of her circumstances. Bathsheba embodied the strength of passive resistance that honored her God and changed her world. From her I have learned that God is never limited by the boundaries that society or the church places on its daughters.

Even though the stories of powerful women often go unnoticed, God used women to usher in his kingdom throughout scripture. He still does.

——————

[1] For a compelling argument that Bathsheba was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of King David, see Davidson’s excellent article, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology.”

See also A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba

 

Dalaina May

Personal Stories, Women and the Church

Those Who Protect a Woman’s Call

Sarah Sparks-Franklin

Thank God for those who protect a woman’s call! “I’m not sure I can continue…

General

Awaiting the Refugee King: A Christmas Reflection

Christiana Rice

This Christmas, I’m pondering the grittier, truer side of the nativity narrative through the lens

Women and the Church

12 Ways to Advocate for Women in Ministry

Elizabeth Graham

I am a part of a Christian tradition that has ordained women as elders since…

Subscribe for our free guide

5 Pillars of Biblical Equality

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

42 Comments

  • Thank you so much for sharing! As a child, I was taught that it was all Bathsheba’s fault. I am so thankful for blogs like this where the truth is being preached.

  • Thanks for a well-researched essay that goes way beyond the usual stereotypes. As far as I can tell, there is a lot of “palace scheming” going on in the backstory of David’s regnal life.

    Perhaps one of the more intriguing depictions of the story of David and Bathsheba I have seen is in the movie “King David,” starring Richard Gere. Here, Bathsheba is presented at court by her grandfather Ahitophel, in order to allow her to lodge a private complaint with the king that her husband Uriah “scorns to lie with me,” as is the conjugal right of all married women in Israel, in the hope of bearing children. She has been beaten and berated by Uriah, but is willing to overlook those indignities in order to become pregnant.

    David examines her closely, and validates the abuse.

    Supposedly, this appeals to David’s sense of wanting to right an injustice, and he takes steps to “right the wrong” — which, conveniently, also happens to align with his own lusts in this case. The movie leaves a strong impression that, if any adultery took place, it would only be at her protest.

    In cultures other than Israel, the “right of the first night” often belonged to the king– and while we should be able to expect otherwise in Israel, perhaps the ten commandments were pushed aside in a perverted sense of “accomplishing justice” for Uriah’s adamant refusal to conjugate the marital vows with his wife.

    All kinds of twisted moral logic are possible, and frequently illustrated in the Scriptures.

    In any case, it is definitely too easy to go beyond the evidence and paint Bathsheba as a seductress.

    It would have been a common practice to bathe discreetly on the roof of ancient houses, as there were usually no private rooms downstairs, and to my knowledge, the use of mikvahs did not begin this early. The palace was likely the only building around that rose above one or two stories, and so it afforded upper windows which would allow otherwise “discreet viewing.”

    The movie does a good job of presenting the moral messes which too easily arrive on the heels of leisure, ambition, power, privilege, and “private” prurience.

    In Bathsheba’s case, she would seem to have walked gracefully through the mess, and emerged as a “godly woman in Israel,” and I commend the tone presented by the essay. My two cents… : )

    • It is interesting how easy it is to read into a story what we want to see. The reality is the few (none?) biblical stories provide us with all the details. I think when we come to a narrative, we have to be really careful with our assumptions and makes sure whatever assumptions we make are consistent with what is actually in the text.

      I don’t buy the idea that Uriah was a crappy husband. It doesn’t fit with the honor with which Uriah is ALWAYS depicted in Scripture and certainly not with the way that Bathsheba mourned his death. I also think that Bathsheba’s innocence is held up in the text both by the lack of criticism against her (it’s nowhere) and in the comparison that Nathan used for her (an innocent lamb).

      All that to say, I am looking forward one day to sitting down with her and asking, “Okay, so what really happened??”

  • This is great. Shared on my own blog. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever hear another talk about women aspiring *not* to be like Bathsheba.

  • This is a really interesting essay.Also, i found the following comments and your responses equally compelling. Having grown up in a very conservative denomination it was particularly interesting to hear how this story was viewed through the eyes and minds of women. I have always viewed David as the culprit in this story but have never thought of or heard Bathsheba referred to as an adulterous. I am certain due to the many years I have attended church that it has happened but I probably already had my mind wrapped around my own view
    I have always viewed her as a woman born into a culture in which she is little more than property but was able to use her circumstances as a spring board to achieve new heights. If you look at her life it is no mystery that Solomon was so wise. I, of course, relate more to David. It gives me hope that in all of my human frailty God sees something redeemable.

    • I love this, Bill! And I love that seeing where Bathsheba shows up in other places in the Bible gives her back her power. She did not remain a victim. She was a survivor and a hero. Thanks for commenting!

  • Just a note on your comment: “She faced tragedy that I cannot even comprehend… the stillbirth of her child”.

    Bathsheba’s first child was not still born, rather, it became ill and died shortly after birth. See 2nd Samuel 12:15-18 (NIV):

    “After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
    On the seventh day the child died.”

    • Mary, thanks for that correction! We should have caught that the first time around.

    • Mary, I just found your three comments in our spam file. Not sure how they landed there, but I apologize for not seeing them before. Thanks for your engagement and input. I’ve also long questioned the traditional commentary on Bathsheba, thinking she often gets a bad rap.

  • I’ve been reading through 1st and 2nd Samuel over the past month, and last night, after having grown up in Sunday school, hearing the story of David and Bathsheba numerous times, the question finally popped into my brain, “Why do we villainize Bathsheba?” In the story that Nathan tells David to help him realize the error of his ways, she is even represented as a lamb, a symbol of innocence that is used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus himself. I love your beautifully written reflections on this story, and I am so glad that I found this post.

    • Hi, Sarah. For some reason your comment ended up in our spam folder and I didn’t see it until I was clearing things out today. There are 2 sites that we go to first when looking for information from an egalitarian interpretation on scripture. The first is New Life, the blog written by Marg Mowczko, found at http://newlife.id.au/margs-articles/. The second is the website of Christians for Biblical Equality – a little harder to find things here, but they have a LOT of content. http://www.cbeinternational.org.

      Happy researching!
      Gail (co-editor for TJP)

    • Thank you, Sarah! Honestly, researching and writing this article was an absolute delight to me. Bathesheba is now a 3D person to me and not just a 2D accessory to David’s story. Additionally, because I work with the sexually exploited, to know that despite David’s past as a rapist and murderer, he became a “man after God’s own heart” gives me a lot of hope for the people who are exploiting the vulnerable in my community. Thanks for the comment (and sorry it got lost until now!)

  • Wow, such an insightful perspective. It always struck me as ‘off’ when Bathsheba was indicted but I have never clarified why… Thanks!

    • I agree! It was such a joy to discover how much more there was to her story. Thanks for reading!

  • Thanks for a fresh perspective on this woman. She made the best of a very bad situation and instead of becoming embittered, it seemed she maintained a close relationship with the Lord and had a great influence over her son, Solomon. I enjoyed this post very much!

    • Thanks for reading! As a mom of boys, it is even more heartening to see how she overcame so much to influence him for good. I would have been easy to just fade away, but she fought for her son as well as herself. That might be my favorite part about her story.

  • This is so awesome! I had never even thought to look deeper into Bathsheba’s history and circumstance. Thank you for your insight!

    • Thanks, Kass! I enjoyed researching her so much. I grew up in the church, but had no idea until just last year how much more there is to her story in Scripture

  • Good work, Dalaina!

    I love forums like this where so many of us in the U.S., and hopefully elsewhere, can benefit from your scholarship and reflection even though we are half a world away from you.

    Thank you, Patti

  • This is so beautifully written!!! I love how our God is so redemptive!

  • The family background for Bathsheba is really informative. And as for what David did to her and to one of his longest serving companions, he got off easy. Then again, haven’t we all. God’s grace is amazing.

  • What a beautifully exposed sight we get of Bathsheba from what you’ve written here, Dalaina. For me, too, the figures of so many women have been shadowy at best and only of interest through their power to snare men, or so it is put to many impressionable minds.

    I know that you are right in that she had no choice. Did she weep at the murder of her husband, as Michal did when she was taken from her husband. David is such a hero in so many ways, the man of God and the one who was faithful to his call, and yet, like so many others, he viewed women as chattels and even viewed men as dispensable when it came to his day to day life.

    It’s interesting that we parrot what we learn. In this current climate, we are so much more ready to acknowledge the victimisation of women in subtle and not so subtle ways…

    I got a lot out of what you’ve written; thanks.

    • Thank you, Bev! I had a BLAST studying Bathsheba and was so stunned by how much more there is to her story than I ever knew growing up. I agree with you that in this day when women’s rights are in the spot light, we are learning to look at Scripture, our culture(s), and ourselves with new lenses. I think we can see possibilities that we couldn’t notice before.

  • I really appreciate this post because it calls our attention to a reality that I think we (and especially men) choose to ignore.

    We need more people to point out that David – our beloved King David – was a rapist. And we need to wrestle with the implications that this “man after God’s own heart” was as much sinner as saint. I really think your post helps us on that road.

    It’s all too easy to play into the woman-as-temptress trope that is incredibly destructive to our shared humanity, and mutual responsibility. In David’s time and place, as King, he has all the power in the situation, and yet so often I’ve heard people talk about this as though it is Bathsheba’s fault. This is a whole layer of patriarchal purity culture I don’t understand. Men are powerful. Men are in charge. But we’re not responsible for what we do when a beautiful woman comes along.

    I heard something somewhere about great responsibility coming with great power. I also think we need to do a lot more, in many different ways to deal with this crazy power imbalance, and to ditch the blame game.

    • I agree. I recently read through David’s entire life over the course of just a couple of days and walked away shaking my head wondering why on earth he was called the man after God’s own heart. His sins against Bathsheba and Uriah were only the tip of a tall mountain of arrogance and selfishness. I had to really wrestle with my feelings because, I mean, you HAVE to like David, right?

      But I wonder if that is the point of it all, David didn’t earn the title “man after God’s own heart” for his goodness or faithful exploits, he was given it freely despite all of his past and future shortcomings simply because God claimed him as such. I don’t think it is an excuse to not work out our salvation or strive diligently to obedience and faithfulness, but at the end of the day, my righteousness isn’t my own. It’s claimed over me because of Jesus. I wonder if David’s title was given to him precisely because he so vividly and publicly struggled to live out who he was. Maybe we all need to see that what makes us a man or woman after God’s heart is grace.

      • Absolutely. To restate “David, a man after God’s heart”: David, a man who chased after God’s heart, but like every lover of God everywhere, in every time, he wrestled with the fallen nature’s tendency to wander. Consider these words from the hymn, “Come thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

        “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
        Prone to leave the God I love!
        Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it
        Seal it for thy courts above”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top