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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Prophets of Advent IV: Bathsheba the Righteous

Bathsheba is the fourth woman named in the lineage of Jesus recorded in the first chapter of Matthew. (Matthew 1:6)

Her story is told in the Hebrew Scripture of the Second Book of Samuel. Like, Tamar, Rahab and Ruth, her scriptural sisters before her, she comes with a complicated, troubled past. And, like her sisters, Bathsheba also acts righteously, although the biblical narrative about her is often tarnished in the telling by her extramarital affair with King David.

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, one of King David’s generals. David had made quite a name for himself having slain “18,00 Edomites in the Valley of Salt” (2 Sam 8:13). 

The very next chapter contains an endearing story of Samuel that ought not be missed. David takes in Mephibosheth, the crippled son of his dearest friend Jonathan and grandson of Saul. Mephibosheth eats at David’s table and is treated like “one of the king’s own sons”. 

The story makes abundantly clear the love between Jonathan and David. It is an interesting prelude to the story of the darker side of the King in this next chapter of his life. 
Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, is near Rabbah on the front lines of the battle with the Ammonites. 

David, on the other hand, is back at home, feeling invincible. 

Even though it was “the time when kings go out to battle,” (2 Samuel 11) David decides to stay home. Perhaps this sense of invincibility is the reason he makes no secret of his lust for Bathsheba, sending his men to fetch her after he sees her bathing on her rooftop.

Like the story of most women, opinions about Bathsheba vary widely on a continuum between two extremes. She was either a temptress who seduced David or she was an innocent victim and David raped her. 

No matter. Both the culture and law of the ancient times in which she lived were stacked against her. If she succumbs to David, she is guilt of adultery. Deny him and she is refusing the King. 

Either way, both actions are punishable by death. Either way, she knows the ancient shame of women which continues to haunt women to this day.

The whole illicit affair probably would have gone unnoticed except that Bathsheba becomes pregnant. Now, David has to put on his big boy pants and become responsible. 

Except, of course, he doesn’t. He sends for Uriah to come home from the war to be with Bathsheba. It’s the only way to protect his reputation and save Bathsheba’s life.

It is believed that Uriah must have been onto David’s plot because he refuses to come home. (2 Samuel 11) His decision heaps judgment on David’s head. While David is relaxing at home, sleeping with other men’s wives, God’s ark is in a booth on the battlefield. He is not on the battlefield during “the time when kings go out to battle.”

And, just like that, the situation is no longer about Bathsheba and the pregnancy. 

It’s about the King’s authority. And, the King’s pride. 

David devises a plot to have Uriah and others killed in battle against the Ammonites by sending Uriah and others too close to Rabbah. David’s nefarious plot is successful and he does the "righteous" thing and marries Bathsheba.

But, what David has done “has displeased the Lord,” and God sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke him, predicting that the child will not live because of “the sins of the father” (2 Samuel 12:14). 

Even though David repents, the child dies.

Consider, then, the lowly estate of Bathsheba. Her husband Uriah is murdered and her first born son taken from her as recompense for David’s sin. For her whole life, she must endure side-glances and whispers and rumors of scandal and shame. 

How much grief and suffering must one woman bear for the sins of one man?

Eventually, Bathsheba bears another son, Solomon, of whom Scripture says, “the Lord loved him”. (2 Samuel 12:24). David even promised that Solomon would be his heir.

But, Bathsheba isn’t out of danger yet. When David is old and his house is in shambles, his son Adonijah tries to take over. If he becomes king, Bathsheba will be viewed as an adulteress and neither she nor her son Solomon will be recognized as “legitimate”.

The prophet Nathan understands well the implications not just for Bathsheba and Solomon but for all of Israel as well. He also understands that Bathsheba has special authority to intervene with David. 

Bathsheba appeals to David:
“My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.” And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it…And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.” (I Kings 1)
Bathsheba cannot know at the time that Solomon’s reign will be the most peaceful and prosperous time of Israel’s history, and she does not know that the Savior of the world will be born through Solomon’s line. 

Bathsheba’s action saves her life and makes Solomon King, ensuring God’s favor on Israel. Bathsheba went to have four more sons with David (Solomon, Shimea, Shobab, and Nathan) and two of them are listed in New Testament genealogies. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, was a descendant of her son Solomon (Matthew 1:6) and his mother, Mary, was a descendant of her son Nathan (Luke 3:31).

So, when you light the fourth blue candle of your Advent wreath this evening, remember the story of one of the women in the genealogy of Jesus.

Remember Sister Bathsheba and how she transformed her lowly status of vulnerability and shame as well as the deep grief of the murder of her husband and death of her firstborn son into a vehicle of the redemption of Israel. 

Through her righteousness came not only the wisest leader of the most peaceful and prosperous time in that ancient land but also the Incarnation of Ancient Wisdom.

Remember and tell the story to your children that your children's children from generation to generation may know that the glory of God is the human person fully alive.

Holy God, as we begin to turn our eyes toward the lowly manger in Bethlehem where we await the birth of Jesus lying weak and vulnerable in the midst of the harshness of the world, help us to turn our hearts toward hope and trust in your goodness. 

Give us the strength and righteousness of Bathsheba that shame, vulnerability and grief may be transformed and through us wisdom and salvation may be born again. 



Melody said...

Wow! That's amazing! I didn't realize all of this or put it into this perspective; thank you!

Melody said...

Wow! That's amazing! I didn't realize all of this or put it into this perspective; thank you!

Lindy said...

And maybe a messiah was born out of all that, but we are still asking the question, aren't we:

How much grief and suffering must one woman bear for the sins of one man?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy - Apparently the men who were the actors in this story thought women could carry all of hers and theirs as well.