Behold, you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. – Psalms 51:6
Among the genealogies of Jesus is a reference to one of five women who had a remarkable impact on the Messiah’s coming. One such woman is never recognized by her own name, referred to always as simply, “her that had been the wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:6). How does the Mother of King Solomon and the matriarch of Jesus get reduced to such a nameless reference? Some may find this rather demeaning, at first. It would seem the lovely Bathsheba has gotten a bad rap in the lines of history. Or did she?
To find the answer, we have to be willing to look much deeper, past the lines of text and straight into the heart of what matters. Her tagline in history just might be among one of the few biggest complimenting gestures toward women in the entire Bible. How can this be? Because it is a neon flashing sign of God’s call to intimacy.
Like Tamar, this bathing beauty has been at the center of many a pastor’s sermon telling us how the blemishes of one’s indiscretions are no match to a merciful God. If he can redeem a harlot and an adulteress then who is not beyond his saving? It sounds good enough, but it’s not the total picture. If you read my earlier piece on The Prostitute Tamar: A Woman of Great Faith? you may already have a sense where I might be going with all this.
Like every matter of intimacy between God and his disciples, we must be willing to linger with Him until we receive the fullness of His revelations.
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;
he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
– Mark 4:33-34
Let’s take another look at what the Scriptures tell us about the wife of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11:2-5.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.”
It’s there in plain text, Bathsheba was very beautiful. Some interpretations have always speculated that Bathsheba somehow had a part in the King’s demise by being a willing conspirator in his seduction. Dare I say, we deal with the same issues today. Is a woman’s beauty alone cause for violation of one’s dignity or moral code of living? Even art history portends to reflect the views of contemporary society with its gross lack of scrutiny and detail to the truth. It was all I could do to find an image of this most revered woman without her breasts exposed, much less portrayed in the valor like way she is deserving of and not as the poster child for a hedonist colony. It’s clear we cannot rely entirely on even the greatest of artist to reflect the truths we so desperately desire without them being mangled in some way. So, let us see how God would have us see it.
What’s significant and wholly out of context is that we try to interpret these stories under our own lens of modernity and post-Messianic era understanding, rather than under the spectacles of that Ancient Wisdom from which it was born. According to the Jewish scholars, the truths of this story lie in the details, according to Hebrew wisdom.
“And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathshe’ba, the daughter of Eli’am, the wife of Uri’ah the Hittite?”
According to the Jewish midrash, Bathsheba was the granddaughter of Ahithophel the Gilonite (II Sam. 23:34), one of the King’s Mighty Men, along with Uriah the Hittie (II Sam. 23:39). Ahitophel was also one of King David’s most trusted counselors. The Scriptures do not reveal who was speaking to David, above, but their inclusion of Eli’am in the description of the woman was indeed a warning to the King not to do what he was planning to do. Eliam was Ahitophal’s son. Uriah and Ahitophel being not only among David’s Mighty Men, but Bethsheba being Ahitophel’s granddaughter and Uriah his grandson-in law. II Samuel 15:12 later shows us the repercussions of David’s error in iniquity, when David’s own son Absolom approaches Ahitophel to join in the overthrow of David’s kingdom, and Ahitophel agrees. Clearly, David’s most trusted counselor must have been very fond of his grandson-in law if his death was cause for treason so many years later. Then again, perhaps watching the shame his granddaughter had to walk through because of the king’s sinfulness was enough of a reason all its own.
The sins of iniquity can have lasting consequences and affect more than just ourselves.
We can see now the depravity of a man’s heart when his eyes are intent on evil that not even reason, nor honor, can stop him. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we resonate so much with David’s soulful appeals in the Psalms.
“So David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.”
This story of David and Bathsheba is actually not taught publicly in Jewish Synagogues. The rabbis and sages throughout history believing it’s wisdom much better suited for private, intimate revelations among those in most need of instruction.
The midrash asserts that the affair of David and Bathsheba (Bat’sheva in Hebrew) was a trial that David brought upon himself and which he failed. David asked: “Master of the Universe, why is it said: ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ and not, ‘the God of David?'” To which God answered: “I put Abraham to ten tests, but I did not try you” (Midrash Tehillim 18:25). David said to God, “Master of the Universe! Probe me O’Lord and try me!” (Ps. 26:2). God responded: “I will try you, and I will grant you a boon that I did not afford them. I did not inform the Patriarchs with what I would try them, but you I tell that I will try you with a sexual matter.” When David heard how he would sin, he changed his nightcouch to a daycouch (i.e. he engaged in intercourse during the day, so that he would be sated and not have lustful thoughts about any woman. It is therefore said in II Samuel 11:2: “Late one afternoon David arose from his couch,” for it was then he arose from intercourse. The Rabbis note that when he acted so, he forgot one fact: man has a small organ that when fed becomes hungry (and desires more), but when starved, is satisfied (Sanhedrin 107a). His lying with his wives that day was of no avail, and when he saw the woman was very beautiful, he lusted after her.
Now here’s the part I find most revealing. See if you catch some Judeo-Christian similarities.
The midrash portrays Bathsheba as a modest woman, and relates how she washed her hair under a bucket, hidden from all. The apocryphal parts of the book of Daniel regarding the “Two Elders’ Lust For Susanna” (Daniel 13 in Catholic Bibles) outlines the Jewish washing rituals for women and confirms the practice Bathsheba was following. Women took great care to bathe in hiding to avoid accusations of impropriety. Still, there is only so much a woman can do, and it becomes the dignity and honor of men to respect the parts she cannot control. The midrash says, David came to the roof to be tested by Satan, who appeared to him as a bird. It seems this bird enjoys taking people to the high places for testing. Something David’s heir to the throne of Heaven would experience also.
David shoots an arrow at the bird, but the bird flys away, and the arrow hits Bethsheba’s bucket, breaking it open. Thus revealing Bathsheba to David as she was bathing. This explanation is taken in the context of Psalms 11:1-2, where David, as the assumed writer, describes how the upright fall under the arrows of the wicked. His inability to hit the target (the bird) gives ways to his unbridled love toward Bathsheba, breaking open the bucket that concealed her.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Bat sheva is also a wordplay from the Rabbinical period for an especially fine type of “fig” in Hebrew. Rabbi’s explain that not only is David guilty of lust and adultery (though there is some dissenting over the latter due to talmudic laws at the time stating that warriors extend to their wives a writ of divorce in case they should die at battle, which Uriah did), but David is also guilty of awaking love before it’s time. Bathsheba and David having already been appointed during the six Days of Creation to marry each other and become mother and father to King Solomon and the Messianic inheritance (Jesus). Had he waited for the appointed time, they would eventually have been free to marry without iniquity, perhaps even at that very next battle, but by God’s sovereignty and not David’s.
This viewpoint extends to us the opportunity to consider the truth that God does, indeed, have a plan for us, even down to the marrying of our spouses, and that breaking with those plans not only could have some dire consequences but, perhaps, also be considered a sin. David, like his predecessor Adam, ate of the “fig” when it was not ripe to be eaten.
His son Solomon will explain it another way in his writings in the Song of Songs chapter 8 verse 4, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This love he speaks of, being a foreshadow of the coming Messiah. His plea, that the people of Jerusalem not invite Messiah to come before the Bride is ready, least we eat of the unripened fruit also, and reap the judgement of God, rather than His mercy.
“And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am with child.”
Like her predecessors, the wife of Uriah becomes a foreshadow of the cosmic love story unfolding since before time. The woman at war with Satan from the first unrighteous act in the Garden, when Eve and Adam tasted of the forbidden fruit. It too was very beautiful and pleasing to the eye. Though their testing was not on the roof, they did fall from the heights, from a tree filled with unripened fruit. Like our Edenic parents, David and Bathsheba are caught up under the iniquity of stepping outside of God’s timing and they both must experience its bitterness in death of their first born before they can partake in the sweetness of God’s redemption.
The Jewish people count Bathsheba among the 22 Women of Valor (Proverbs 31:22). She is a prophetess, having foresaw that her son would be the wisest among men. They admonish her as having not been caught up in adultery due to the talmudic laws in place at the time and her actions following the death of her husband (II Samuel 11:26). They revere her as a woman of great faith and obedience. In Hebrew, the entomology of Bat Sheva means “a woman of Oath” and, like her husband and her grandfather, she would have revered their oath to the King’s command. Unlike Abigail, David’s previous wife, who is able to stand up to him in Wisdom and confront his attempt at iniquity due to her stature as a wealthy, wise woman at a time when David was not yet king, as the wife of Uriah and a woman of Oath, Bathsheba would not have felt free to do the same.
You see, the real beauty of this woman is not just in her physical looks but in her obedience. She who is but a humble servant to the King, a lowly maiden, has found his favor. And though his eyes have rested upon her out of season, she is no less full of grace. She is a woman of Oath, knowledgeable and committed to the ways of purification, returning dutifully to her household commitments and honors her husband even unto mourning his death. She trusts in the Lord for his provision. She carries the king’s child in humble obedience and she waits, until the day her son of Promise changes her scorn into a crown and makes of her a woman of great influence, a woman of valor, a Queen Mother.
How beautiful it is now to read the genealogy of Jesus, knowing that these women were not just redeemed but, rather, chosen for their faith and their aptitude to be filled with grace. Suddenly, it’s not just a collection of women with indiscretions, but a sign post to humanity that obedience in all circumstances is the source of true beauty and authentic love. This is the lineage of Christ Jesus. And it’s happening through both men and women.
Matthew’s opening, with the understanding now of King David’s request to be named among the father’s of the faith, is so much more potent.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
How can we not be but overwhelmed by the goodness and beauty of our Lord’s great love for us and how he restores to us all our desires, even when we’ve failed the test.
And, how can we not be but awed at the lengths our Lord will go, to draw us into deeper intimacy with him, through the arms of a woman. Even a woman like the wife of Uriah, who throughout history has had no need to hold claim to her own name.
“And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uri’ah…”
A woman who, in the subtle silence of her story, has become a sign to us, like the women before her and the one who would come after, of how the Father has let time and Spirit reveal what, eventually, everything always comes back to:
The beautiful wife and the husband who lays down his life for her.
*In Light of all these things, READ Psalm 51 now and REFLECT on David’s Prayer following his time of testing.
I pray that the Wisdom of the Lord would come to you now as you sit with him, in the secret place. Be intimate with Him. And, may this prayer of David become the petition of your own heart.
“Behold, you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” – Psalms 51:6
Until the Day Dawns and the Shadows Flee,