Bathsheba and her experience of joy
Does Bathsheba have anything to say about joy this Advent? The final in our four part series, by Terry Young
Matthew refers to Bathsheba as Mrs Uriah, rather than by name, presumably because this was a difficult relationship.
Everyone agrees it started in the lowest point of David’s reign, although there is no agreement over what was wrong. The way in which David ensures that her husband Uriah is killed in battle used to be seen as murder, which was the top bad thing to do. These days, many people see David as a rapist and deny Bathsheba any role in what happened. People at the time would have been horrified at the betrayal of Uriah’s trust as a subject and as a soldier, and the narrative certainly lingers longest there.
The Bible puts David totally in the wrong and I cannot find anything that discusses Bathsheba’s role one way or the other. More surprisingly, David sees his sin not in terms of his fellow woman or man, but against God alone.
So, where is the joy, and why is Bathsheba on Matthew’s list? Wherever we place the blame – and neither your allocation nor mine is worth anything in the end – we recognise a situation where relationships have been torn apart leaving an awkward pair in the middle. Bathsheba loses what is presumably her firstborn, while David’s rule never recovers from this but plays out to the sound of rape, murder and civil war. Uriah, of course, died and his memorial is among the bravest of the brave (1 Chronicles 11:41).
To families that have been shattered, or are tearing themselves apart after the original pair have found some peace, does Bathsheba have anything to say about joy this Advent?
Despite all that went wrong something went right. Bathsheba’s later child, Solomon, grows to become the wisest and wealthiest Royal to reign in Jerusalem.
Although Bathsheba is only named twice in Samuel (2 Samuel 11:2 & 12:24), she gets more coverage in Kings (1 Kings 1:11-2:19). In a struggle that the books of Chronicles miss, there is a precarious handover from David to Solomon and Bathsheba is suddenly pushed to the fore, first of all in fighting for her son in the royal household in David’s dying days, and then as Queen Mother and royal go-between to the new monarch.
The joy story here is surely that she emerges from horror of her early encounters with David and takes her place in the palace. Not just that, but her son eventually sits on the throne, fulfilling her deepest hopes, and she lives out her days in peace.
However, the country as a whole enters into her joy as David’s war years give way to unprecedented prosperity. To the extent that any king in Israel could reflect the world to come, Solomon comes closest. Psalm 72 reflects the joy of Solomon’s reign to come and is one the most joyful in the psalter. It concludes:
Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. May the crops flourish like Lebanon and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed
Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.
Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds.
This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse. (Psalm 72:15-20, NIV 2011)
Bathsheba and David unravel a catastrophe and get back to joy and peace once more. David’s prayer in Psalm 51, reveals a heart that is truly sorry and grasps forgiveness. Solomon’s accession reminds us that while bad things may mature over many years, good things do, too, and they are more powerful in the end.
Those around live safer lives as the suffering of the civil war gives way to peace and prosperity. Bathsheba’s joy is not a private joy: it’s an infectious joy, a joy to be shared around.
Whatever position we take, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba started out with very limited choices. It wasn’t just gutsy determination that they brought to the royal line, but an ability to act in faith and to change the world around them. I wish the same for all of you this Advent.
Image | David and Bathsheba, anonymous painting | Wikimedia Commons
Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.
After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor
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