Sometimes, you think that you know someone, but it turns out you know about them, but you don’t know them. That’s how I felt about Bathsheba (in Hebrew Batsheva).
As I read her story in 2 Samuel 11-1-5, I realized that I had another story in my head. I had some assumptions of this story because of the way it had been portrayed by others. Commentators, pastors, rabbis, art, and our culture have influenced the way that we see her story. But, today we are going to peel away some of the misconceptions and hopefully, actually reveal Batsheva!
Let’s take a look at our first verse, 2 Samuel 11:1, “Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.” This is where we see the problem. David was not going out to battle with his army. He instead decided to stay home. He was not doing what he was supposed to be doing. He was “feeling himself”. I’m great, I’m the King, no one can tell me what to do. He was shirking his responsibilities. This attitude created the perfect environment for him to fall into great sin!
In 2 Sam. 11:2, we start running into some of the misconceptions of Batsheva’s story. The verse says, “Now when evening came, David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.” Notice that it is evening. It is not broad daylight. Actually, the Hebrew word used here for evening can also be used for twilight. Many commentators say that Batsheva seduced him, but notice it’s not daylight, it’s twilight, or evening where it is difficult to see someone, so if she wanted to seduce him maybe she would have picked a better time of day? Also, David arose from his bed and “walked around on the roof of the king’s house”. So, for sure we know that David was on his roof. Archeologists state that because of the elevation of the royal dwelling on a hillside, David enjoyed a panoramic view of all of the houses below. The verse continues with “from the roof he saw a woman bathing;”. Honestly, I always thought Batsheva was on the roof, the verse doesn’t say she was, but it does say David was. He had a view of everything from his roof. Now, the collection of water according, to archeologists, was done on the rooftop so she could have also been on her rooftop. The other question is, was she bathing/having a mikveh? It could have been either, but I believe it was a mikveh. One thing we do know is David somehow saw her even though, she chose a time where it would be difficult to be seen.
Let’s look at the next verse, 2 Samuel 11:3, “So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Batsheva, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”. Now, at least two people were checking her out! Which is totally creepy! She’s identified as Batsheva the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. This is very important! Eliam was one of David’s 37 mighty men (2 Sam. 23), as was Uriah. He was in David’s inner circle and fought with him. David knew these men intimately. The other thing that I thought was interesting was, why did David have a Hittite in his army? Uriah was a Hittite by nationality, but commentators say he was probably a second generation convert. His name contains the “yah” suffix for the Hebrew word Lord (like halleluyah praise the Lord). His name means the flame (or light) of the Lord. When David hears who Batsheva is, that should have stopped him…dead in his tracks.
In v. 4 he sends messengers to her: “David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.” First of all, look at the action taking place. “He sent, He took, He lay”. These are all action words. At this point, he is at the fullness of his power and like I said earlier, he is feeling himself! Do you notice that Batsheva doesn’t speak a word? She has no power to say no. She is powerless before the king. Sometimes we accuse people for not speaking out, or fighting back in these situations. We end up blaming the victim instead of the transgressor. At this time monarchs had absolute power and were not held accountable for their private lives. We have to remember the times that Batsheva lived in, who she was and most importantly, who David was. In reality, this has changed some, but when the #metoo movement arose, that’s why it resonated so much with so many women. Because powerful men take “beautiful women”. This was the fear of Abraham with Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. Being described as “beautiful” in the bible meant trouble then and to some extent still does.
In v. 5 we hear Batsheva’s first words, “I am pregnant”. Those words are thunderous! Batsheva knows that the penalty for her would be stoning. King David would not pay the price for his serious abuse of power. In our 21st century we might call what happened to Batsheva sexual assault or rape. However, we have to be careful to not use 21st century terminology to describe biblical accounts. Commentators call it adultery, or love affair, but there is no conversation of love between them. Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse. But, David “sends for her”, “takes her”, and “lays with her”. It doesn’t seem to be a love story or voluntary.
There is so much to dig into in this story, so join me next time in part 2 of our study into Batsheva!
This is an excerpt from Diana’s teaching at the 2019 Neshama Women’s Conference.
Diana’s blogs are featured on http://diana-levine.com and reposted with permission.