Read 2 Samuel 11
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah…” (Matthew 1:6 NRSV)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 56: Bathsheba. Now we get to the character of Bathsheba. For the first part of the story she was treated little more than a prop to get us from the widely celebrated King David to the largely scorned and scrutinized King David. She was a literal prop in that David objectified her and lusted after her in order to fulfill his own self-indulgent, sexual whims. She was also a literary prop used to expose the selfish, cowardly, tyrannical, despotic side of David.
Following being named in 2 Samuel 11, the scene where David sees her bathing on a roof and being summoned to David’s room, she is not named again until after her first child with David died. In that time, she is merely referred to as “Uriah’s wife” or “the woman”, and is not given much of a character to develop; rather, she is utilized in a way that continually points to David’s sin. Much like in real life, Bathsheba is yet another person abused and silenced by those in power.
But who was Bathsheba? We know very little about her because her character goes largely undeveloped. Some have tried to suggest that Bathsheba’s bathing on a roof, in plain sight of the palace, indicates that she wanted to be “seen” and that she was complicit (at least) in the affair; however, the Bible does not write it in such a way that hints at her guilt. Instead, the Bible states that David “sent” (2 Samuel 11:3), “took”, and “lay” (verse 4). Bathsheba, who is only further objectified by the author as being “a woman of unusual beauty”, is shown to have acted passively or submissively to the king. The Bible states that she “came”, “returned” (verse 4), and “conceived” (verse 5).
The textual evidence, though scant, provides us with a fairly clear picture. David was the one who acted in authority and, naturally, Bathsheba did as her king commanded. Even if the relationship were consensual, King David’s act is nothing short of rape given the power differential between him and his subject. Yet, using the language it does, the Bible does not paint a portrait of consensual sex; rather, it tells the tale of a King whose power went to his head and who treated his subjects as playthings for him to indulge upon. What’s more, the Biblical author(s) never refer to the sin as Bathsheba’s sin or both of their sins. The Bible only ever refers to the sin as “David’s sin”.
Later in life, Bathsheba too finds herself wrapped up in power. Typically, in monarchies, the heir to the throne comes from the legitmate, first-born, male child of the King’s first marriage. Sucession, should anything happen to that child (as it did in the case of David’s eldest, Amnon), continues down that line to the the next oldest male child. Yet, Bathsheba gained great favor with the King, and she used that favor to ensure her son would become the next king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah.
Indeed, Solomon, her son, did end up taking over his father’s kingdom; however, that political manuevering came with a heavy cost. While David’s family was, no doubt, rocked by the scandal of David’s sexual relationship with Bathsheba, this particular act ensured that the fracturing of the Davidic family was complete. Two of David’s children openly rebelled against him (Absalom and Adonijah), and both ended up dead for it. The first was killed by Joab, King David’s general, and the latter was killed by Solomon. What’s more, without doubt, Bathsheba played a role in Adonijah’s death.
The reality is that, as we see, Bathsheba was a victim of David’s; however, as is sometimes the case, the abused ends up becoming an abuser. Bathsheba learned to play the game of power once that power was given to her. She learned how to politically manuever so that her son, and with him her legacy, would out live David and his former wives. How many times have we been victims of psychological, emotional or physical abuse, only to eventually find our own actions mirroring that of our abusers? Perhaps some of us have, and others have not, but we all have the ability to fall into the same power trap that Bathsheba found herself. Let us be mindful of that and turn to God to help us avoid those pitfalls.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix
Lord, help me to avoid the pitfall of power, and to rely only on your power. Amen.