Bathsheba is One of the Most Beguiling Characters in the Bible

Wife, mother, queen, object of royal lust.

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In either case, Bathsheba has no choice but to comply when summoned by the king. And whether the consequence of that meeting—a pregnancy—is welcome to her or not is equally unclear. Bathsheba says only, "I am with child." Yet for so few words, they carry an import she must have understood. "Is that a cry of help, or is that manipulative?" Fewell asks. By confiding in David, Bathsheba actively puts him in a position of responsibility—a smart move, considering that, at the time, the penalty for adultery was stoning.

David acts quickly to conceal the affair. At first, he pins his hopes on Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, inviting him back from the battlefield and twice trying to get Uriah to sleep with his wife, in order to plausibly pass off the child as his. But with his troops still at war, Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home. When all else fails, David orders that Uriah be placed in the front lines of the battle, where he will surely be killed. Once David receives word that Uriah has died fighting, he responds coolly, "The sword devours one way or another."

Once more, the Bible tells us little of Bathsheba's reaction. "The wife of Uriah" mourns for an appropriate period of time, then becomes David's wife. She may even have felt relieved. Certainly, the text does not indicate that Uriah was a particularly loving husband.

  • Women of the Bible
  • Daughters of Eve
  • Old Testament

    • Eve: The First Rebel
    • Sarah and Hagar: Dueling Mothers
    • Zipporah: The Woman Who Stood Up to God
    • Bathsheba: Wife, Mother, Queen, Object of Royal Lust
    • Jezebel: The Reigning Icon of Womanly Evil
    • Esther: A Clever Heroine
    • Ruth: Mixed Message
    • Dirty Rotten Men
    • Delilah: One Fiesty Femme
    • Deborah: Facing Down ‘900 Chariots of Iron’
    • But the sword that devours now hangs over David's own house. "The thing that David had done displeased the Lord," and both he and Bathsheba will pay the price. Soon thereafter, the prophet Nathan tells the king a parable: There are two men in a city, one rich and one poor. The rich man has many flocks of sheep, but the poor man has only one ewe lamb, a lamb he raised with his own children and fed from his own table. A traveler comes to the rich man one day, and rather than kill one of his own flock to feed the guest, the rich man takes the poor man's lamb. Thinking the story is true, David tells Nathan, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this deserveth to die."

      Nathan replies, "Thou art the man." Delivering the message of God, Nathan recounts David's sins and curses him, saying, "The sword shall never depart from thy house." The shamed king bows his head: "I have sinned against the Lord." But David's admission of error comes too late. Nathan tells him, "The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die."

      Although God singles out David as the sinner, Bathsheba also suffers a cruel punishment. Soon after the birth of their son, the child falls ill; on the seventh day, the child dies-innocent blood spilt in payment for sinful parents. It now seems likely that Bathsheba will withdraw into David's harem, a shamed wife, never to be heard from again. But the connection between David and Bathsheba proves to be more than transitory, and instead it seems that the tragedy draws them closer. Miraculously, God grants David a temporary reprieve. Bathsheba gives birth to a healthy son, the future King Solomon.

      Most of David's previous marriages were arranged for political alliances. But David is drawn to Bathsheba by a powerful sexual attraction. Popular culture chooses to view their relationship as a classic romance—lust turned to love. In his novel God Knows, Joseph Heller envisions Bathsheba as the love of David's life, as does the 1951 Gregory Peck movie, David and Bathsheba.

      But some biblical scholars caution against reading too much romance into the lines of the text. "There are a lot of times when you're told that people love David," Fewell says, referring in part to David's first wife, Michal, and King Saul's son Jonathan. "The word love is never used in the story of David and Bathsheba."