The Bible’s Supporting Players: Bathsheba

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We know little about Bathsheba whose story is overshadowed by King David’s. But we do learn this: From strange circumstances, great good can come.

The skeleton of the story (2 Samuel) is well-known: David sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof. As Frederick Buechner describes the scene in Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, “He saw both that he had to have her at any cost, and that the cost would be exorbitant.”

Attracted by her beauty, the king sleeps with Bathsheba and they conceive a child. Then he arranges to have her husband, Uriah, killed. After Uriah’s death, David and Bathsheba marry.

Pawn in a Royal Game

What’s stunning is that we know nothing of Bathsheba’s reactions to dramatic changes in her life. She is bathing innocently, unaware of who’s watching. Then, suddenly, the king sends for her. That is not an order she can easily disobey, nor can she resist the king’s advances. She becomes a pawn in a royal game.

Did Bathsheba love Uriah? We know he has integrity, refusing to go home, as David wanted, while his soldiers camped: Going home would have provided the handy excuse that Uriah was the dad.

Uriah has such noble loyalty to David that it provokes the Prophet Nathan’s parable, accusing the king of being like the rich man who steals the only lamb of a poor man. When David is outraged at the injustice, Nathan reminds him, “You are the man.”

At Uriah’s death, Bathsheba “made lamentation for him” (2 Samuel 11:26, NRSV). After mourning, she marries David and bears his son. Again, we hear of David’s prayer for the sick child who dies, but we can only imagine hers. We know little of her motherly grief except that the king “consoled” her and she later bore Solomon.

When David is dying, Bathsheba acts to ensure that Solomon inherits his throne (1 Kings chapters 1—2). By then, the mature woman has taken charge. As the future king’s mother, she has an independence she didn’t have as a girl.

Nobodies and Hooligans

If we could have a cup of tea with Bathsheba, she might point to her personal drama as a prime example that we can play roles we can’t imagine, that our little lives are bits of a vast, divine pattern.

In her novel Evensong, Gail Godwin draws on Father Raymond E. Brown’s book A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus (Matthew 1 and Luke 1). Godwin notes that none of the upstanding patriarchal wives, such as Sarah or Rachel, are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. Each one who is named has “scandal or aspersion attached to her.” Bathsheba takes her place with Tamar (Genesis 38) and Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6) to prove that Jesus provides “an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.”

That complex mix of nobodies and hooligans who formed the genealogy of the Savior tells us that we play our parts, too. God uses our peculiarities and gifts for powerful reasons we never guess. Godwin concludes, “Who of us can say we’re not in the process of being used right now…to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?”

From Nathan’s criticism of David, we know that God doesn’t take kindly to using or possessing people. Indeed, the death of David and Bathsheba’s first child is read as punishment for the king’s arrogance. But why must the innocent mother and child suffer?

The unanswered questions raised by Bathsheba’s story prepare the way for a Christ who never manipulates or demeans anyone. Indeed, he is actively concerned about the welfare of the most apparently insignificant woman.

Buechner, in the book mentioned earlier, imagines David on his deathbed looking back on the lovely young woman who had inspired such fatal consequences. From that perspective, David realizes that the story wasn’t about them. Instead, it was a step toward “the child of their child of their child a thousand years thence who he could only pray would find it in his heart to think kindly someday of the beautiful girl and the improvident king who had so recklessly and long ago been responsible for his birth in a stable and his death just outside the city walls.”

Next Month: Gehazi

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