The Women of Advent: Bathsheba

Ariel Curry

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Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth are notable in the genealogy of Christ recorded in Matthew 1 because they are women who took risks and acted righteously. They came with imperfect pasts, and God redeemed them. Like the other women, Bathsheba also has a troubled past. And Bathsheba also acts righteously, though it’s a story we don’t often hear about.

BATHSHEBA’S STAIN

David’s infamous mistreatment of Bathsheba follows quickly on the heels of his many successes. 2 Samuel 8: 13 says, “And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” In 2 Samuel 9, David takes in Mephibosheth, the crippled son of his friend Jonathan—which is one of my favorite stories of David.

In 1 Samuel 10, David soundly defeats the Syrians, whom the Ammonites had hired to help in their war against Israel. Without the help of the Syrians, the Ammonites are sitting ducks. So in 2 Samuel 11, though it was “the time when kings go out to battle,” David decides to stay home.

It’s no wonder David is a little prideful at this point. He feels invincible. So when he sees Bathsheba bathing, he acts. He sends others to bring her to him—a brazen act that shows he was not trying to keep this a secret. “David sent his messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.” (2 Samuel 11:4).

Opinions about Bathsheba tend to fall on a continuum between two extremes: 1) she was a temptress who seduced David, or 2) she was an innocent victim and David raped her. Whether one considers her guilty or innocent, Bathsheba was not in an easy position, as the law and culture were both stacked against her. On the one hand, to lie with David means committing adultery. On the other hand, not lying with him means refusing the king. Both courses of action were punishable by death.

It’s possible that everyone in that patriarchal society—even Uriah himself, if he knew about it—could have overlooked the incident, except for one thing: Bathsheba becomes pregnant.

Suddenly, David’s foolishness is inescapable, and the person most at risk is Bathsheba. So David invites Uriah back from the war and tries to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. This is the only way to protect David’s reputation and Bathsheba’s life. One commentary suggested that it’s possible Uriah knew or suspected David’s true motive. Uriah refuses to go home, saying,

“The ark and Israel and Judah swell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”

These words are a heap of judgment on David’s head. They remind him that he is not out at the battle where he should be. He is relaxing at home, sleeping with other men’s wives, while even God’s ark is in a booth on the battlefield.

Uriah calls Joab, David’s commander, “my lord.” He will not go home to cover for David’s sin, even for Bathsheba’s sake. But whether or not Uriah knows about the affair and whether or not he intends to take action against David, he just made himself a serious threat to David’s kingship.

This is no longer just about Bathsheba and the pregnancy. Uriah is out of David’s control. So David puts the battle against the Ammonites at risk by sending Uriah and others too close to Rabbah, the city they were laying siege to. Uriah is killed in battle.

David tries to make it right by marrying Bathsheba, but the Bible says that “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” God sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke him, even sending a prediction that the child will not live as a result of his sin (2 Samuel 12:14). David repents, but the prediction holds true.

BATHSHEBA’S RIGHTEOUSNESS

Eventually, Bathsheba has another son, Solomon, and the Bible tells us that “the Lord loved him” (2 Samuel 12:24). We know from 1 Kings 1 that David promised that Solomon would be his heir. But when David is old and his house is in shambles, his son Adonijah tries to take over.

Once again, Bathsheba’s life is at risk. If Adonijah becomes king, Bathsheba will be viewed as an adulteress; neither she nor Solomon will be recognized as legitimate.

Because Solomon has the Lord’s favor, the prophet Nathan knows that this will have implications not just for Bathsheba and Solomon, but for all of Israel as well. Rather than going to David himself, Nathan asks Bathsheba to intercede.

It’s clear that Bathsheba has a special authority to intervene in such a way. And though she does not know that Solomon’s reign will be the most peaceful and prosperous time of Israel’s history, and she does not know that the Savior of the world will be born through Solomon’s line, she goes to the king.

“My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.” And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it…And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.” (I Kings 1)

Nathan enters and confirms what Bathsheba has said. But David doesn’t tell Nathan right away that he will make Solomon the king. He calls Bathsheba back, and she is the first to know.

Bathsheba’s action saves her life and makes Solomon king, ensuring God’s favor on Israel.  As a result, David’s line is continued through Solomon to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus (Matthew 1:6).

 

NOTES

Bathsheba went to have four more sons with David (Solomon, Shimea, Shobab, and Nathan) and two of them are listed in New Testament genealogies. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, was a descendant of her son Solomon (see Matthew 1:6) and his mother, Mary, was a descendant of her son Nathan (see Luke 3:31).

This post is the fourth in an Advent series on the women in Christ’s lineage: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.  

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14 Comments

  • Good post and I feel really onside with this perspective of Bathsheba. For the hand that was dealt with her, whether she was an innocent victim or a willing partner, she recovered well in so many ways. If it was she who speaks in Proverbs 31, she advises her son well, especially in moral issues.

  • ESV for all verses

    Jer_22:24 “As I live, declares the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off

    Jer 22:28 Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for? Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land that they do not know?
    Jer 22:29 O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD!
    Jer 22:30 Thus says the LORD: “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.”

    1Ch 3:15 The sons of Josiah: Johanan the firstborn, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum.
    1Ch 3:16 The descendants of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son;
    1Ch 3:17 and the sons of Jeconiah, the captive: Shealtiel his son,

    Mat 1:11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
    Mat 1:12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

    In Matthew, sometimes “father” is used in a loose sense as Josiah was actually the grandfather of Jeconiah. In Jer 22:28-30 Coniah (Jeconiah) is given a negative prophecy that “none of his offspring” will “sit on the throne of David”. So I think the genealogy in Matthew 1 is given to show Jews that Joseph NOT being the biological father fulfills this negative prophecy.

    P.S. I am egalitarian.

  • She is the most fascinating inclusion in this list. It’s always intrigued me that she is ‘the widow of Uriah’ in Matthew’s listing – seems like a quiet sign of respect for this long-dead warrior. Thanks for your work on this wonderful series, everyone.

    • Diana, that phrase caught my eye as well – though my translation calls her “the wife of Uriah”. It’s as if the writer recognizes that David’s “ownership” of her was not voluntary. Wish we knew more about her side of the story!

  • Great entry!

    You know, though, while I understand the culture of the time, I really have a hard time with the idea Bathsheba was forced. David consistently listens to people who stand up to him. Maybe she was scared, but, as the wife of one of the mighty men from way back when he was on the run from Saul, I just think she had to know that side of him, too. Between her apparent silence there and Scripture, which doesn’t soft-shoe on people’s sins, not saying ‘he raped her,’ it just…seems like she decided not to argue with him.

    • Kaci, I totally understand your thinking. I pondered over that a lot as well. The Bible simply doesn’t say, so we’ll never know for sure. But, I think it’s highly plausible that Bathsheba didn’t really have a choice even if he didn’t physically force her. Bathsheba does have a lot of agency later on in her life – 1 Kings reports that she sits at her son Solomon’s right hand! And, of course, she is more able than even Nathan to approach King David. But when she and David first met, it’s possible she didn’t feel like she had enough power or freedom to say anything against the king.

      • Well, I suppose in my head, she’s the wife of a man who’s been one of David’s mighty men since he was running from Saul and the granddaughter of a court official. She wasn’t just some random nobody. Maybe she didn’t *think* she did, but since her grandfather would later side with David’s son’s rebellion (successfully unseating him), and her husband was, essentially, David’s old war buddy and now officer in the royal army, I’m not sure she was completely powerless. It’s plausible she felt that way, but just looking at the text itself I’m not sure.

        Don’t get me wrong; the depth of David’s treachery is insane.

        • This is an interesting discussion, but I think we have to be careful not to underestimate David’s power and authority – Uriah challenged him and was sent to the front lines. The phrases “he took her” and “he lay with her” give the clear impression that the narrator holds only David responsible. This was premeditated – he watched her bathe, he inquired about her, he sent men to bring her to him for the purpose of satisfying his building lust. He took her and he lay with her, despite knowing she was the daughter/granddaughter/wife of men loyal to him.

          I doubt if Bathsheba had much power at all in this situation, especially considering the social standing of women, which was essentially that they were the property of their husbands. The domestic violence literature documents sexual abuse in situations very similar to this, as between a minister and congregant, or between a professor and student, where the imbalance of power causes the victim to feel powerless.

          And what do we make of the fact that although David’s actions are condemned several times, no judgment is ever pronounced on Bathsheba? The narrator had every opportunity to lay some of the blame on Bathsheba, but it never happens. Perhaps this is a case where silence speaks louder than words?

      • Addendum: And I apologize if I come off combative. I did enjoy this post and I agree Bathsheba is often overlooked. Thanks so much.

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