The Bible is full of iconic stories, many of which are alluded to in literature, art, music and film. Even if you don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God, it’s important to understand the characters and stories to really appreciate the references. This week, let’s take a look at the story of David and Bathsheba.
Bathsheba is introduced in 2 Samuel 11. King David notices a beautiful woman bathing while he is walking on the roof of his palace. David’s army is off to war, but he stayed home. He sent a person to inquire about the woman. Her name is Bathsheba and she is married to Uriah, who serves in the army. Even knowing that Bathsheba was married, David sent for her and slept with her.
Was Bathsheba Guilty?
The Bible doesn’t record whether Bathsheba was willing or not. Some believe that she deliberately enticed him, but others believe that David was the instigator. She probably had no choice in the matter. Who could refuse the king? Women had little authority. With her husband away, she was vulnerable. The other clue that the storyteller gives us that it was David’s fault is that he should have been away at war, with his army.
Bathsheba became pregnant. After she tells David, the King sends for Uriah, ostensibly to find out about the war, but it was really to conceal his sin. David hopes that Uriah will go home and sleep with Bathsheba. Thus, Uriah will assume the child is his. After Uriah meets with the King, Uriah is sent home, but Uriah has other ideas. He sleeps with the palace guard. He cannot go home to be comfortable when he knows that his commander, Joab, and the army are sleeping in tents.
David cannot convince Uriah to go home. Instead, David sends him back to the front with a message for Joab instructing the commander to put Uriah out in front where the fighting is the worst. David sends Uriah to his death. The last verses in 2 Samuel 11 say that Bathsheba mourned for Uriah. Then she was brought to David and became his wife. She bore a son.
The story continues in chapter 12. The Lord is displeased with David. The priest, Nathan, rebuked David. When David acknowledged his sin against the Lord, he was forgiven. But the priest told David that the consequences would be that the son born to Bathsheba would die. David prayed and mourned, hoping God would change his mind, but the baby did die. Nowhere in David’s rebuke is Bathsheba mentioned.
David comforted Bathsheba. They had another child, Solomon, who would be the next king. Bathsheba held the throne for Solomon when David died. It’s thought that she foreshadows the role of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Whether she was willing, the enticer or the enticed, she is mentioned in the book of Matthew as an antecedent of Jesus, but as Solomon’s mother, the wife of Uriah, not the wife of King David.
Pop Culture References
The story of David and Bathsheba is memorialized in a Rembrandt painting that hangs in the Louvre, but many artists of the Reformation created artwork around the story. Susan Hayward played Bathsheba in a 1951 movie. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the story in one of his Sherlock Holmes novels.
Thomas Hardy based his “Far from the Madding Crowd” on the story of Bathsheba and the King. The novel is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. It’s set in fictional Wessex, a region of England, but uses the theme of love and betrayal between David, Bathsheba and Uriah.
The story of Bathsheba lacks information from her point-of-view, but she must have been a strong woman to lose so many loved ones to death and still stay strong for her son.