Bathsheba The Victim Who Became Queen Mother verses from 2 Samuel 11
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’ So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David.
When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet.’ Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house’, David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’ Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain 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 such a thing.’
Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’ As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well… When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, 1834-1902)
King David was at the peak of his power when he espied Bathsheba taking the ritual bath after her period. He had her brought to him and raped her – a woman powerless to say “no” to the most powerful man in her world. Shades of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo movement! There is nothing on record to suggest that Bathsheba had brazenly flaunted her body as some commentators claim.
When she sent a message to announce her pregnancy, it was her life on the line, not David’s. She alone faced a possible death penalty for adultery. First David tried and failed to palm off the child on Uriah. Then he compounded his sin by giving orders for the inconvenient husband to be killed – another cruel abuse of power. It was the beginning of the end for David, God’s chosen one, as is highlighted in the prophet Nathan’s blistering treatment of him (2 Samuel 12: 1-25 – a must read).
Of the five women mentioned in the family tree of Jesus, Bathsheba is the only one unnamed. She is described instead as “the wife of Uriah”. Why? Why did the author not use the true name of the woman who became the respected and much-loved mother of Solomon, her first surviving son? Answers on a postcard, please! Power exercised without conscience or morality is a terrible thing and takes many forms. We see the results every day in the news.
The lesson the story of David and Bathsheba teaches us is not about forbidden sex. It’s about abuse of power. And if our churches want to call ourselves the people of God, and play the role of Nathan in the story, then we must fearlessly speak truth to power and stand alongside the victims, because that is where God would want us to be.
Let us not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show us where love and hope and faith are needed, and use us to bring them to those places. Amen