I recently stumbled across a TikTok which said, “Think of how different David’s life would have been if a certain woman would have been a bit more careful in guarding her modesty.” That is (those of you who don’t like cursing skip ahead) total fucking bullshit.
Quick recap on Bathsheba for those of you who haven’t read the story in awhile. She was bathing on the roof when she caught the attention of King David. David liked what he saw and had her brought to him so he could have sex with her and then sent her home, seemingly to never intending to speak with her again (we call this rape culture and toxic masculinity). But Bathsheba got pregnant, as is apt to happen when you have unprotected sex. So to ‘fix’ everything David has her husband killed and then David marries Bathsheba, all in plenty of time to announce her pregnancy without anyone suspecting he had committed adultery.
Turns out there’s more to the story. Like waaaaaaayyy more, but let’s start with the whole roof bathing scene. You see the take away that I always got from this story, and I don’t remember if this was ever taught directly or if it was just part of the general culture, was that Bathsheba was a seductress. Her body was so tempting and she was just up there bathing on the roof-what was David supposed to do? (correct answer-keep it in his pants, but alas). Here’s the thing though, in that time pretty much everyone bathed on the roof so it wasn’t like Bathsheba was doing some steamy strip tease for the men of the city (and even if she was, that doesn’t mean you get to summon her for sex). She was probably completing the ritual purification required after a woman finished her period. Not to say that following the laws of God can’t be sexy….but ritual purification doesn’t really put me in the mood.
Joel Green puts it this way, “David was pacing on the roof of his palace. Bathsheba was bathing on the roof of her house. Neither of these activities was unusual in the crowded setting of a walled city. Bathing was often on the roof…there is no suggestion that Bathsheba intended to attract David’s attention.” The word that comes to mind is normal. It was normal for Bathsheba to be bathing on her roof and it was normal for David to be walking on his. Neither party was doing anything out of the ordinary. Yet, David took advantage his power to have this woman summoned to him where he raped her. As a result, Bathsheba becomes pregnant.
And this is where things get tricky. To cover up his actions David has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in battle making Bathsheba a widow. David then marries Bathsheba but the child that they conceived dies as a punishment for David’s sins. You see even though everything about Bathsheba’s life is changed by this encounter, the story isn’t really about her. She is a side character in David’s story. Newson and Ringe note, “Bathsheba is pictured as almost entirely passive in this episode; except for her first person message to David (“I am pregnant”) she is always spoken of in the third person.” Bathsheba is the one who has had her whole world turned upside down, losing her husband and then her child, but instead of focusing on her, this encounter is framed as the turning point in David’s story.
Joel Green notes, “Recent interpreters see in this section a tragic family story illuminating David’s use of power for his own self-centered ends, which leads to tragic consequences for his own family. David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the killing of her husband Uriah, and the confrontation and judgement by the prophet Nathan mark the division of David’s story into two parts: blessing/curse or gift/grasp.” Bathsheba’s widowhood, remarriage, and subsequent child are all a part of David’s turning point. But what about Bathsheba? This is also her turning point, yet she lacks any kind of agency.
How many widows can relate to this? I certainly can. The feeling that your whole life has changed without your consent. That all of a sudden everything is different because of someone else’s actions (or a disease you can’t control, a tragic accident, or the devastating choices others make without consulting you). You find yourself swept up, forced to follow the currents with no idea when you will be able to regain the rudder. Is this how Bathsheba felt as she was ushered from her house to her new home in the palace? The palace where her new husband is the King and everything revolves around him. The palace where she knows no one and may not even know the etiquette?
But even this is not the end of Bathsheba’s story. Like we saw with Anna, like we see with all the biblical widows, even this can be redeemed. You’ll have to come back next time for that part of the story.