And her goal is to rule.
Now I don’t resonate with this life goal. Or with people who will do whatever it takes to achieve it. But Bathsheba is a royal figure, great and terrible all at once. Just like the royal men! So I am ready to take a second look at her story.
Here’s the famous part. About the young Bathsheba. It’s all in II Samuel, chapters 11-12.
One evening King David is looking down from his roof. He sees a beautiful woman bathing. He learns she is Bathsheba, married to Uriah. But he sends for her anyway.
And she goes to the palace. Probably, she knows her visit won’t be secret. People live in the palace courtyard. They see, they gossip. But Bathsheba seems not to mind. She makes love with the King. And she’s in no hurry to leave. She lingers until evening, takes a purifying bath, and heads home.
Soon Bathsheba sends David a note, two words long. “I’m pregnant.”
David immediately gets to work. Probably not to protect himself. He can deny everything. But to protect Bathsheba. She can’t deny her pregnancy. And surely every gossip following the affair knows that Uriah is a soldier. That he has been deployed out of town. And that the baby is not his. Bathsheba would be disparaged. Her innocent child would be shamed. David doesn’t want to see that.
Before Bathsheba, David has had many lovers. But he’s never been in love. His wife Michal loved him. But she was just a stepping stone for him. So he could join the royal family and get in line for the throne. But now, David is falling in love with Bathsheba. And now — maybe – the tables are turned. Bathsheba sees David as her path to the throne. But she’s in no hurry.
Back to the story. David offers Uriah leave, so he can go home to see his wife. And all the busybodies can calculate the date of conception back to Uriah’s leave. Bathsheba’s baby will look legal.
But Uriah refuses to go. Instead, Uriah sleeps in the palace courtyard. So, David sends Uriah back to battle. He gives Uriah a note addressed to General Joab. It says: Make sure Uriah is killed in battle.
Do you think Uriah read the note? And understood it was a warning? Last chance to see your wife or die? If so, Uriah ignores it. He’d rather die. Maybe he’s honourable. Or angry. Or just stubborn and impulsive. No wonder his wife wants a different life.
Back to the story again. General Joab follows his orders. He purposely conducts the battle poorly. So, many of the men on the front line die. Including Uriah. Bathsheba observes a period of morning. Then she moves in with David. They get married. Their baby dies. But their second baby lives. Bathsheba names him Solomon.
Well, God thinks the whole affair looks pretty bad. So, God sends the prophet Nathan, David’s spiritual advisor, to talk to him. Nathan tells David a parable.
There’s a rich man with lots of flocks. And a poor man with only one hand-raised lamb. He feeds it; it sleeps in his lap. A traveller visits the rich man. But the rich man won’t feed the traveller from his own flock. Instead, he kills the poor man’s lamb to feed the traveller.
When David hears the parable, he gets angry. He says, “What a jerk that rich man is! A person without compassion! He should pay the poor man back four times the price of the lamb. But really, he deserves to die.” Then Nathan says, “He’s you, David!”
Obviously, the rich man is David. The traveller is David’s sudden desire. The little lamb must be Bathsheba. And Uriah is the poor man. David stole Bathsheba unjustly from Uriah to feed his desires.
Except that’s not right. Because in the parable, the lamb dies. But Bathsheba doesn’t die. Uriah does. So, Uriah is the lamb. And Bathsheba is the poor man. Nathan means, “David, you have seven wives. Bathsheba had one husband. And to feed your passing desire, you killed him.”
David gets it, immediately. So, he puts his judgement into practice. He shows compassion for Bathsheba. He comforts her. And he makes fourfold restitution. Together, he and Bathsheba have four sons.
Of course Nathan’s parable is about justice for Bathsheba. Because Nathan also cares about her. Maybe he got to know her during her palace visits. Saw her desire to rule. Realized she would do it well. And is hoping to work as her advisor, too. So, he does what he can to make sure she has a secure place in the royal court.
But we hear no more about their work together until David is old and frail (I Kings 1-2). Even then, David still loves Bathsheba. She is everything to him. David doesn’t know who his caretaker is. He no longer recognizes Nathan. But when his beloved walks in, he takes one look at her face and says, “What’s troubling you?”
She gets right to the point. “Everyone is looking at you to name your successor. Now, name Solomon, or I’ll be killed.” Her ally Nathan echoes her message. But David cares only about Bathsheba. In front of witnesses, he swears to her that Solomon will be king.
Solomon becomes king. He bows down to Bathsheba. Then, he has the Queen Mother’s throne placed next to his.
Thus, Bathsheba’s second career begins. And her Biblical story ends. She has played a long game…and won.
But what happens next? Now that she sits on the throne?
Is she “the woman of valour” praised in her son’s big book of wisdom (Proverbs 31:10-31) ? The real “Mother of Lemuel,” offering sage advice (Proverbs 31:1-9)? One strand of the “threefold cord” that “is not readily broken,” described in her son’s little philosophy book (Kohelet 4:12)?
Only midrash knows for sure!
Sources: I read about the public nature of the affair, and the correct interpretation of the parable in the work of Tikvah Frymer-Kensky. The other interpretations, including the Queen Mother’s life-long ambition, are mine.
Presented as a dvar Torah at Or Shalom Synagogue, Nov, 23, 2019.