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Women in the Old Testament: Bathsheba

Monday, August 27, 2012
Bathsheba ('daughter of the oath') is one of only five women to be mentioned, albeit indirectly as 'the wife of Uriah', in St Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:6). As a wife of King David and mother of King Solomon, Bathsheba is a direct ancestor of Our Lord. She thus holds a unique place in Israel's history, which is the history of our salvation. The story of David and Bathsheba teaches us about the importance of right conduct, how the Lord is displeased with sin, and how we suffer as a result of our own sin and folly.

Yet Bathsheba, in the Old Testament as in the Gospel genealogy, seems to have a largely indirect role and could easily be overlooked as a passive victim. Her story is principally related in 2 Samuel 11 and is not a happy episode. King David is lazing at the palace, instead of leading his soldiers in the war against the Ammonites, when he spies from his roof a very beautiful woman bathing. He lusts after her, despite learning that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a brave and loyal soldier. David nevertheless calls her, seduces (or rapes) her, and she becomes pregnant. David is unable to cover up his adultery, since Uriah honourably refuses to lie with his wife during the campaign season, and the king resorts to murder: he ensures that Uriah is placed in the front of the battle line, and thus gets him killed (2 Sam. 11:14-17). Finally, David takes Bathsheba as (another) wife.

But David's wicked actions displease the Lord, who is the God of righteousness. Nathan the prophet speaks God's word of rebuke to David, and the king is full of remorse. This is the moment immortalised in the soulful words of Psalm 50 (51), the Miserere Mei, famously set to the beautiful music of Allegri (video below), as David acknowledges his sin before God and begs for forgiveness. Although this repentance is met with God's forgiveness, David has already set in motion a chain of events that will overtake him. Having raised the sword against Uriah, David receives Nathan's prophecy: 'therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife' (2 Sam 12:10). David now becomes the victim in the story - the victim of his own sin. His child from the adulterous relationship with Bathsheba dies. Later one of his own sons, Absalom, will indeed raise the sword against him, in a conspiracy that leads to civil war (2 Sam. 15-20). Absalom even sleeps publicly with David's concubines to shame him, as he had shamed Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 16:22).

It is David who plays the central role in all of this; Bathsheba is but a victim on the sidelines. Although we're not told whether she refuses and rebukes David, as the lust of Amnon is explicitly refused by his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:12-14), we can probably assume that Bathsheba is as blameless as Tamar, as much an upright woman as her husband, Uriah, is an upright man.

It is only in David's old age that Bathsheba seems to come into her own. She had given birth to four other sons - Solomon, Shammua, Shobab and Nathan - and now she takes the initiative to secure Solomon's accession to the throne (1 Kg 1:11-31). Bathsheba's evident resolve and faithful commitment, as both wife and mother, indicate that throughout these narratives she maintains her dignity and uprightness. As a result, she truly deserves her place in Our Lord's genealogy.

Matthew Jarvis OP


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