Our final reflection this Advent, on the women in Jesus' genealogy –
Written by Olivia Cottrell
In Matthew’s genealogy beginning at verse 6, we read:
and Jesse became the father of David the king.
And David became the father of Solomon by the wife* of Uriah
Of the women that Matthew highlights in his genealogy, Bathsheba, who is the wife of Uriah, is the only one not mentioned by name. And perhaps, just like myself, you are wondering why Bathsheba didn’t get the same recognition that Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Mary received? All we can do is speculate, something I learned to do from my father. So, here are some of my speculations. One reason might be to point out yet again the failing of David, he took Uriah’s wife, he committed adultery. Perhaps, Matthew is purposefully documenting that the Lord Jesus came from broken people and situations. Or maybe, he wants his readers to consider Uriah’s “righteousness” in light of David’s failure, since his is the name that is actually mentioned.
I think it is likely a bit of all of the above. So as we look to reflect on Bathsheba – a woman about whom the bible tells us very little, we will inevitably come face to face with the kind of evil deeds that should weigh heavy on our hearts. And yet, we will also encounter righteousness in the most unlikely of places. Perhaps you are reading this and wondering, “Why is this a Christmas reflection?” The adulterous story of David and Bathsheba, filled with our hero’s shame and failure, is not necessarily your typical Christmas content. However, I promise that the answer will become clear, for we cannot look at the story of Bathsheba without finding ourselves kneeling at a manger.
The account of David and Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. In the first verse we read that it is spring, the time kings go out to war. Although David has sent his armies out, for some reason he has stayed behind. Hence, late one afternoon, David gets out of his bed to walk his rooftop. And here is the first bit of information we have regarding Bathsheba. Before we even read her name, we are told that she is beautiful. Very beautiful.
David sees a beautiful woman bathing and does not quickly look away. With lingering eyes, he covets her and enquires about her identity. It says in verse 4 that he “sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he slept with her.”
I have often heard people ask why was Bathsheba bathing somewhere people could see her? Was she trying to seduce David? Isn’t it strange that in a story that is obviously highlighting the sin of David, we want to know if the very beautiful woman is at fault or at least sharing in some of the blame? The reality of it is, we do not know. Perhaps it was just David’s vantage point of being on the roof of the palace and his being in the wrong place at the wrong time due to shirking his kingly responsibilities that led to this “affair.” We do not even know for sure if Bathsheba goes in willingly to David. What we do know is that the biblical text through Nathan the prophet places the responsibility squarely on David. God is not oblivious to the power dynamics at play here, and neither should we be. As a woman in the 21st century (a time where we talk a lot about consent and its connection to power dynamics within a relationship), I will admit it is hard for me to read this story and believe that Bathsheba had much say in the sequence of events that followed her summons to David’s chamber. Whether it was because he physically forced her or because she felt compelled out of fear of what a refusal might mean for her and her family, I doubt if she felt she could say no. In today’s cultural and social environment, most people would assume that Bathsheba was the victim of rape. Regardless, if that’s true, when I (as a woman) read this, I get angry. No matter what way you spin the story, David, the man with all the power, was the one who sent for and “took” Bathsheba into his bed. At the very least he coerced her into sin, if not something much more violent. But since this is a reflection on the mothers of Jesus, let’s refocus our attention on the person and character of Bathsheba.
Her name, Bathsheba, literally means daughter of Sheba. I don’t know about you, but my only reference point for the word Sheba is the Queen of Sheba, who travelled a great distance to consult the wisdom of Solomon. So, the name Bathsheba might indicate that she was not an Israelite herself. While I am not a biblical scholar, I do have a number of scholars in my family who shared with me in conversation that it is possible that Bathsheba came from the same land as the Queen of Sheba. This would mean that Bathsheba herself, or her family, came from either Africa (Nubia) or Southern Arabia (Yemen). Sheba’s exact location is still unknown. So, we have, once again, a Gentile in the lineage of Jesus. Despite being a Gentile, we have reason to believe she was committed to the God of the Jewish people and their Law because of what is said in 2 Samuel 11:4.
Then David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) And she returned to her house.
That bit about her purifying herself because of her uncleanliness is referencing that she was following Jewish purity laws regarding her period. As a Gentile she is not subject to those laws, yet she follows them. It is also worth reminding ourselves that her husband Uriah was a Gentile, a Hittite. Yet Scripture paints a picture of Uriah, and you could argue Bathsheba as well, as being a God honoring individual, more righteous than David himself.
Let’s return to the story. Bathsheba becomes pregnant and sends word to David. David, wishing to keep his sin hidden, orders for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to return from the current conflict. Uriah was pulled off the battlefield under the ruse that David wanted to check in, see how his men fared, and the state of the war. He urges Uriah then to go home, assuming he would then be able to pass off the child’s as Uriah’s. But David’s plan is thwarted when Uriah does not do as David planned. Although he thought Uriah would go enjoy the pleasure of his own wife, he was found sleeping at the King’s door with David’s servants. Growing concerned that his ruse was in jeopardy, David questions this behavior in 2 Samuel 11:11.
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are living in the booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping on the surface of the open field; and I, shall I go to my house to eat and to drink and to sleep with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I surely will not do this thing.”
You would think that after this encounter, David would be forced to face his sin. But he doesn’t. Next David tries to get him drunk, thinking, then he’ll go to his wife. But still he doesn’t. Even drunk, Uriah is acting more godly than sober David.
Seeing his failure, David does the unthinkable. He sends a letter back to Joab (the commander of his forces) with Uriah (the unsuspecting bearer of his own death warrant). It details how Joab is to bring about the death of the very man that handed him the letter. Uriah, one of David’s mighty men who defended him against Saul, was murdered to cover up David’s sin against Bathsheba. It says that when Bathsheba heard of the death of her husband, she mourned over him. And when the time of mourning was complete, once again David “took” her back into his house and she became his wife – well one of them that is. He already had many.
In this story Uriah, the Gentile, is contrasted with David, the Israelite King. Can you see it? Do you see the way David’s sin broke Bathsheba’s covenant of marriage; do you see the deep, personal sorrow she felt when she lost her husband? Do you see the backstabbing murder of a loyal friend? Does this make you angry? Do you feel the deep chasm of sin left in David’s wake?
It is hard to fathom this, but David does not see it yet. David does not see it until Nathan the prophet is sent by God to tell David a story, a simple story about a rich man who had many sheep, but still took the one precious sheep of the poor man for his own use. David is outraged, and for the first time since violating Bathsheba he speaks the truth.
Then the anger of David was kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this deserves to die! (2 Sam 12:5)
I have to admit that when I read this verse, I sense some justice coming, and I’m happy about it. I’m over here thinking, “Yeah this man does deserve to die, finally, David, you are going to get what is coming to you!” Thus, we read in verse 7, “Then Nathan said to him, “You are the man!”
At last, someone is calling him out! David took Bathsheba, murdered Uriah, and pretended he was not in the wrong. He is the man!! He deserves to die because of his sin. But wait, David is not put to death for his actions against Uriah and Bathsheba. In fact, we remember David for so many reasons that come after his failure here.
Why? Why doesn’t David die? I’d encourage you to reread the story of David and Bathsheba. Read carefully. Do you remember the ending? Do you remember why David didn’t die? The child. The son of Bathsheba, “the son of David,” born outside of marriage, innocent of all that his father and those who went before him had done. He dies instead.
The text says in verse 15 “Yahweh struck the child that the wife of Uriah bore for David”
This child, whose name we do not even know, bore the punishment of David’s sin, so that he could live. This baby is perhaps one of the clearest pictures in the Old Testament of the fully innocent “Son of David” that would one day be “struck” by Yahweh, so that we could live (cf. Isa 53:4, 8).
The rage and anger I felt as I read what David did, do I feel that rage regarding my own sin? I’m so judgmental. I’m almost happy when I think David is going to get his due.
Perhaps I need a Nathan to help me see that “I am the man,” or in this case “the woman.” You see David was the man, but so am I and so are you. We are a fallen race. And just like David we need a sacrifice, we need a savior. And where do we find it? We read this in Luke chapter 2, verse 8:
And there were shepherds in the same region, living out of doors and keeping watch, guarding over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and ⌊they were terribly frightened⌋. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
I did promise that we would end at a manger. In the manger we find a baby – a “Son of David,” who will be our sacrifice, the one who will wash us clean, so that like David we can live. Let me leave you with a verse from one of my favorite Christmas songs, O Savior of our Fallen Race. May these words remind you this Christmas of where the baby in the manger came from and what he came to do.
For from the Father’s throne You came,
His banished children to reclaim;
And earth and sea and sky revere
The love of Him who sent You here.
And we are jubilant today,
For You have washed our guilt away.
O hear the glad new song we sing
On this, the birth of Christ our King!