From among the many ancient women who exploited the flaws in the character of rich and powerful men, no one stands out quite like Bathsheba. She was a wife, an illicit lover, a mother, and a queen. Her intriguing story starts with a serene bath she took on a rooftop before sunset. It is not known whether she was an exhibitionist and knew she was being watched, or if she was simply cleansing herself as part of a purity ritual, in which case the bathing would have been somewhat explicit. Whichever the case, she was bathing in view of the palace of King David, and he was watching.
Bathsheba may have come across as a self-assured, confident, and articulate young woman. But biblical scholars assert that such characterization of her involves pure speculation. She certainly must have appeared beguiling to have captured the interest of David, who already had many wives and concubines. Whether or not she sought the interest of the king, Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite, a professional soldier in the king's army. Uriah served on the battlefield, leaving Bathsheba alone for long periods of time. He was away on the afternoon of her infamous bath, engaged in the war the Israelites were fighting against the Ammonites.
King David was not on the battlefield with his soldiers. Instead, he “tarried still at Jerusalem” (II Samuel 11:1). As he observed the beautiful woman bathing on the distant rooftop, David was overcome with feelings of lust. Instead of averting his eyes or resisting the temptation to give into his sexual desire, David sent for her.
God gave many laws to Moses and Aaron for the children of Israel concerning uncleanness (especially Leviticus 15:1–33). One such rule was that a woman who had her monthly period was required after seven days to take a ritual bath known as a mikveh. Perhaps this was the bath that Bathsheba was engaged in when she was spied by David.
If Bathsheba had intended to seduce the king, then she would likely have been elated to go meet him. But if that were not her purpose, she would have felt fear and dread upon discovering his carnal desire for her, because death by stoning was the punishment for committing adultery.
When Bathsheba told David that she was with child, the ruler had to figure out how to hide what he had done to the wife of one of his soldiers. He sent word to Uriah to come from the battlefield, hoping that Uriah would spend the night with Bathsheba and thus create the appearance that Uriah was the father of the unborn child. Uriah returned at the behest of the king, but he did not sleep with his wife. He slept with the servants of the king at the door of the palace. When David learned that Uriah had not gone home to Bathsheba, he asked him why. Uriah replied that since the soldiers were staying in tents and the king's servants camped in an open field, Uriah didn't feel right about going to his house to enjoy a good meal, having something to drink, and lying with his wife.
Murder as a Cover Up
Out of options, David ordered Uriah to the battle's front line. There was little question that Uriah would be killed. And indeed he was. David received word that his faithful soldier had fallen in battle. The ruler replied matter-of-factly that, “the sword devoureth one as well as another.”
Bathsheba's story inspired many images of her through the ages. Artists, including among others Rembrandt and Jan Metsys, have depicted her as a partially clad or nude woman, often with a full figure, reaching for water, sitting quietly absorbed in thought, boldly speaking to David, or simply washing her feet.
Their Act Offends God
Bathsheba mourned the loss of her husband for the required period before marrying David. Perhaps she felt remorse over the death of Uriah, but there was little question that her station in life suddenly shifted upward. The steamy, sexual bond between her and David may not have been love, but it was a strong bond nevertheless. The Scriptures do not mention love between the king and the soldier's wife, nor do they suggest that Uriah was necessarily an attentive and devoted husband. The adultery between Bathsheba and David, and the subsequent murder of Uriah to cover it up, displeased the Lord, who sent the prophet Nathan to David with a message: “…the sword shall never depart from thine house…” (II Samuel 12:10).
Wages of Sin
Nathan told David that he and Bathsheba would not lose their lives in punishment for the sin, but that the child Bathsheba carried in her womb would die. Soon Bathsheba gave birth to a sickly infant. on the seventh day, the infant died; the wages for the sin of the father and mother fell upon the innocent infant. The sexual attraction between Bathsheba and David, however, must have remained strong, for he comforted Bathsheba and lay with her again to conceive another child. In time, she gave birth to Solomon, a baby that the Lord loved. In all, Bathsheba would have three children by David.
Bathsheba's Power Grows as Queen Mother
As the years went by, Bathsheba's power increased, even as David's waned. The Lord forgave the couple for their adulterous act, and Bathsheba proved to be an insightful wife and an intelligent and powerful queen. She raised Solomon to honor God and adhere to his laws with diligence. When it appeared that David's son Adonijah would claim the throne while David lay upon his deathbed, Bathsheba convinced her husband to proclaim Solomon his successor. According to some sources, Bathsheba wrote Proverbs 31 in honor of Solomon's marriage to the pharaoh's daughter. In her recitation of that text on Solomon's wedding day, she issued warnings against giving his strength to women or doing things that destroy kings.
As a bathing beauty, she may have been a masterful manipulator, or simply a beautiful young woman performing a mikveh. In any case, Bathsheba would be remembered as a politically perceptive queen, beautiful wife to David, diligent mother of Solomon, and a woman who would be included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:6).