Bathsheba’s Story: Take Back the Night

Read: 2 Samuel 11:1–12:26; 1 Kings 1

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 get 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” (2 Samuel 11:2–5, NRSV).

This is the fourth installment of our Women in Waiting series which features the women named in Jesus genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Today’s reflection features Bathsheba as she looks back on her life from her perspective as queen mother.

The following is an imagined interview between “C” (Carol) and “B” (Bathsheba).

C: Do you mind if I ask you about the events recorded in 2 Samuel 11? I realize it might be difficult for you to talk about….

B: I can deal with “difficult” if it gives me a chance to tell my side of the story. You wouldn’t believe the things that people have said about me over the years. Talk about blaming the victim!

C: All right, then. Let’s start with the knock on the door. What did you think when you opened the door and saw the messengers from the palace?

B: My first thought was that my husband, Uriah, had been killed in battle. He was one of the king’s elite soldiers, and I knew the fighting had been intense. He’d been gone for some time.

C: Didn’t you think it was strange that the messengers asked you to go with them to the palace?

B: Well, they didn’t “ask.” Put yourself in my position. The royal messengers show up at the door. What am I supposed to do? Refuse to go? I had no reason to resist, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have done much good.

C: When did you realize the true reason for the summons?

B: David’s intentions were pretty clear right away. He tried to flatter me first, saying he had seen me taking my ritual bath….

C: Do you mind if I ask you about that? Some people have suggested that you’re a bit of an exhibitionist. I remember seeing a Sunday school picture of you bathing on the roof….

B: Oh, for pity’s sake. David was the one on the roof; I was in the privacy of my own courtyard. Am I an exhibitionist or is he a peeping tom?

C: Fair point. If it’s any comfort, newer translations make that much clearer. But once people get an image in their head….

B: Yes, and I suppose it is quite an image. Although what they were thinking when they decided to feature it in your Sunday school curriculum is beyond me.

C: I suspect it was written by men.

B: Yes, well, men have had a field day at my expense.

C: You must have been terrified when you discovered that you were pregnant.

B: Terrified doesn’t begin to describe it. Uriah hadn’t been home for ages, so anyone who had been paying attention would know that he wasn’t the father. Do you know what the punishment for “adultery” was in those days?

C: It was a capital offense as I recall. But what you experienced wasn’t adultery. Wasn’t there an exception for rape?

B: First of all, thank you for using that word. I’ve waited a long time to hear someone name that. But you’re naïve if you think I could have convinced anyone that it was rape. We’re talking about the word of a woman against the word of a king. So, I sent and told David that I was pregnant. It was a long shot, but I guess I hoped he would repent and take responsibility for what he had done.

C: But that’s not what happened, is it?

B: No. His way of dealing with the “problem” was to try to entice Uriah home to sleep with me so that the paternity question could be obscured. The only trouble with that plan was that it assumed that Uriah would be as morally compromised as he was.

C: What do you mean by that? What would have been wrong with Uriah spending the night with you when he was back in Jerusalem?

B: Soldiers had really strict rules back then. He would never have slept with me while his “band of brothers” was out on the battle field.

C: Uriah really comes out looking much more honorable than King David does in this story.

B: I’m glad to hear you acknowledge that. When it became clear that David’s “Plan A” wasn’t going to work, he moved on to “Plan B,” which was to make sure Uriah was killed in battle. Notice that this plan was based on the assumption that Uriah would be too honorable to read his own death warrant.

C: I have always found that detail particularly chilling. I’m so sorry—not only about the loss of your husband, but for all you endured leading up to that loss.

B: Thank you…but it didn’t end there, did it? The next think I knew, I was married to my rapist—who also happened to be the man who murdered my husband.

C: I don’t even want to ask you what that must have been like.

B: It’s not a time in my life that I like to dwell on. Although I suppose David could have just abandoned me to my fate, so I have to give him some credit. It was unimaginably painful, though, especially when the baby died. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.

C: Again—I’m so sorry. Did things improve at all after the prophet Nathan confronted David?

B: Well, I did take some satisfaction in that episode. For one thing, Nathan’s parable about the “little ewe lamb” pretty much proved my innocence. It makes no more sense to blame me for what happened than it would to blame the little ewe lamb!

C: Good point. But what did you think of David’s repentance?

B: Again, I don’t want to gloss over David’s sins. Even the Bible doesn’t do that! But I have to give David credit for admitting his sins. At least he wasn’t self-deceived. There’s nothing more dangerous than a leader who is self-deceived.

C: I agree with you there. I won’t say how I know. Is there anything else you’d like to add—just for the record?

B: I guess I would just like to point out that my life was never easy. If you read the rest of my story you’ll see that. The palace was not a safe place. At one point I was afraid my son Solomon and I were going to join the list of succession casualties.

C: I’m so glad you didn’t—especially in light of the fact that you both ended up in Jesus’ genealogy.

B: Maybe you can fill me in on that. All I can say is that God moves in mysterious—and often painful—ways.

Ponder: How does Bathsheba’s story empower you? Convict you?

Pray: Forgive us for blaming the victim and for abusing power for selfish ends.