This post is the fourth in an Advent series on the women in Christ’s lineage: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Subscribe to the blog in December 2014 & receive links to PDF versions of the series with enhanced content and reflection questions!
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.
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 its 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.
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).
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).
Updated Resources on Bathsheba:
Marg Mowczko recently wrote an excellent analysis of this story: A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba.
Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative. In this scholarly article, Davidson presents eighteen lines of evidence that Bathsheba was the victim of an abuse of power rather than a willing participant.
This post is the fourth in an Advent series on the women in Christ’s lineage. Subscribe to the blog in December 2014 & receive links to PDF versions of the series with enhanced content and reflection questions!