Interestingly, all the women that we have mentioned so far have been outsiders, Gentiles… and yet they are here, listed in Jesus family tree. Family trees usually highlighted the purity of Israelite ancestry, and yet we have heard the stories of three Gentile women, including stories of incest and prostitution. And now we come to our fourth woman mentioned by Matthew, to Bathsheba, although Matthew simply refers to her as Uriah’s widow.
Bathsheba, the woman with whom David committed adultery. That in itself is a contentious description of what happened. Adultery implies mutual consent by both parties yet was Bathsheba truly consenting? We read of how David sent messengers to bring her to him. I can’t imagine that there was any option for Bathsheba to refuse either to go to him or not to comply with his wish to sleep with her. Was this not an act of rape rather than adultery? We’re used to hearing of the greatness of King David… so when you hear the name Bathsheba, I’m curious, do you think of a predatory, lone temptress, or do you think of a woman victimised by a powerful man?
I think, quite often, Bathsheba can be seen as someone that takes advantage of her looks and position and seduces poor King David… and yet, when we read the text, David sees a beautiful women bathing, and exercises his royal privilege, his power, to “take” her.
It’s a bit like the common story in rape… ‘she asked for it’.. somehow mitigating or reducing the coercion of the man’s actions. The prophet Nathan does not describe Bathsheba as a seductress, he uses the word lamb, exposing David’s abuse of power.
She becomes pregnant, David tries to cover his sin, by tricking Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. When that doesn’t work, he abuses his power still further, and has him killed. Bathsheba’s story reminds us of the deadly spiral of violence that can escalate from a single sinful act, in this case David’s selfish desire for a woman without giving any thought to the consequences of that for the woman or for her family.
What you might not realise is that the baby that Bathsheba was carrying also then dies too. So this woman has to live with the monstrous abuse of power by the king, the murder of her husband and the death of her baby. Bathsheba does then go on to have another well-known son, Solomon, but I sure that the grief of the death of her husband and baby never left her.
She then has to fight for her son Solomon’s right to the throne, by reminding David of his oath. Knowing how David has abused his power in the past, Bathsheba is potentially risking her and her son’s lives by approaching King David, and reminding David to keep his word.
I wonder how many of us would have had the strength and determination to carry on, and to challenge a king, risking everything!
Across the world many women live in fear for both themselves and their children due to the abuse that they suffer at the hands of men. I was reminded this week that, in the UK, it takes an average of twenty attempts to leave an abusive relationship before a place of safety is permanently reached. And what of those women who never achieve this, who spend their whole lives in fear, or even worse lose their lives at the hands of their abusers.
Bathsheba is an example of a woman who was greatly wronged by someone in power. Over the last few years the #metoo campaign has given a voice to many other women who have suffered at the hands of men in positions of power. As disciples of Jesus we must endeavour to follow his example – we have a duty to speak out for those who dare not speak out, we are obliged to protect those who are fearful and we are called to love without judgement the victims of abuse whose stories, just like that of Bathsheba, may not be as clear cut as we may first perceive.
God of Bathsheba
and all unlikely grandmothers,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
You upheld Bathsheba
through her grief and her abuse;
your steadfast love endures.
We ask for your protection
on all vulnerable people at this time,
those being abused, and those in grief,
show them your love,
as you showed your love to Bathsheba.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the light who is coming into the world.