King David’s Wife Bathsheba

We know the main elements of Bathsheba’s story(2 Samuel 11).  It was the time of year when the winter rains had ceased, and kings and armies went out on military campaigns.  David was getting older.  This time he stayed behind in Jerusalem.  One evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace.  From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.  He asked about her and was told, “She is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  David, who was used to having his way, took her.  When she told him that she was pregnant, David told Uriah to go down to his house.  But Uriah, engaged in a military expedition, would not do as David ordered him.  David then arranged to have Uriah killed.  Bathsheba mourned for her husband.  When the mourning period was over—just seven days—David took her for his wife, and she gave birth to a son.

The sages of the Talmud, who portray Bathsheba as a modest woman,  saw Satan’s role in these events:

“And he walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.  Now Bathsheba was cleansing her hair behind a screen, when Satan came to him, appearing in the shape of a bird. He shot an arrow at him, which broke the screen, thus she stood revealed, and he saw her. Immediately, And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came unto him, and he lay with her. ” (Sanhedrin 107a)

Elsewhere, the sages try to excuse the great King David.  Uriah had, indeed, disobeyed the king, and for this he could have been tried. Moreover, everyone who went out in the wars of the house of David wrote a conditional bill of divorce for his wife.  The divorce became valid if the husband died.  Since Uriah died, Bathsheba was free from the time he went out to battle; she was not married when David took her (Shabbath 56a).  Still, the Bible states, “the Lord was displeased with what David had done.”   His sin results in the subsequent turmoil and tragedy that embroil his children and threaten his kingship (Yoma 22b).

What is Bathsheba’s role in all this?  Is she merely a passive victim of David’s lust?  Probably not.  She conspires, along with the prophet Nathan, to convince David to designate her son Solomon as his successor (1 Kings 1).  She apparently has influence at court.  David’s son, Solomon’s older brother Adonijah, the son of Haggith, asks her convey his request for Abishag, David’s concubine, to King Solomon.  She agrees to do this.  Solomon sees this (correctly) as a challenge, and he orders Adonijah to be killed (1 Kings 2).  Abishag herself was a rival to Bathsheba, or perhaps she wanted Solomon’s rival to be done away with.  David married his match when he took another man’s wife to be his own.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

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