Nine Men in the Life of Bathsheba
Lives are often defined by those with whom we come in contact. Bathsheba is a good example. There is little we know of her life and character from the scriptural account. We have no direct information concerning her character, either for good or for bad. She only figures directly in four incidents in the Bible: her illegitimate liaison with King David (2 Sam. 11), her reaction to the death of her firstborn (2 Sam. 12), her plea for the kingship for her son Solomon (2 Kings 1), and her intercession on behalf of Adonijah in the matter of Abishag (2 Kings 2).
However we do know a certain amount about her family and the small cameo roles they play in the Bible help us flush out a more accurate picture of Bathsheba herself. She came from one of the most prominent families in Israel with both her father and first husband in the elite palace guard and her grandfather serving as the chief political adviser to King David.
In this study we want to touch briefly on the lives of nine men whose lives impact upon that of Bathsheba.
Eliam, Her Father
The father of Bathsheba was Eliam (2 Sam. 11:3), also known as Ammiel (1 Chron. 3:5). He was ranked as one of the thirty-seven ” mighty men of David” (2 Sam. 23:4) and would have thus been a frequent guest at the palace. Other than these relationships we know little of him, except for the fact that he had a daughter and gave her a name.
It is worthy of note that she was not known as Bathsheba when she was born. Her birth name was Bathshua (1 Chron. 3:5). It was not unusual among the Israelites to have a name change. Frequently this was done at the ceremony we know as Bar-Mitzvah or Bat-Mitzvah at about the age of twelve. Their first name reflected on the feelings of the parents at the time of her birth, while the second was to reflect her own character and, in particular, her relationship to the law.
Her birth name, Bathshua, means “daughter of my prosperity” (compare Strong’s 1340 and 7771). The name by which we know her, Bathsheba, signifies “daughter of an oath” (Strong’s 1339) and is often used of the oath-bound covenant made with Abraham.
In this transition of names we see a noted progress in her father’s appreciation of her. While he first names her in honor of his own prominent and prosperous position in the kingdom of David, his values later change and he honors her by calling her the “daughter of the oath” or “daughter of the oath-bound covenant. It is a lesson for each of us to apprise spiritual growth as superior to material prosperity at all times.
Ahithophel, Her Grandfather
Ahithophel was the chief counselor of David and ranked even above the priests Abiathar and Jehoiada (1 Chron. 27:33, 34). So wise were his counsels that it was said of him, it “was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom” (2 Sam. 16:23).
When Absalom rebelled against his father, Ahithophel switched sides and became Absalom’s counselor. He gave two pieces of strategic advice to Absalom. The first was to publicly take possession of the king’s harem, thus showing himself to be mightier than the king (2 Sam. 16:21, 22). His second advice was to immediately pursue David and kill him while he was in flight from Absalom in disarray (2 Sam. 17:1, 2). David was able to thwart this advice by having his trusted confidante, Hushai, pretend to be a traitor and warn Absalom that David was lying in wait to ambush Absalom’s troops. When Absalom followed the advice of Hushai rather than that of David, Ahithophel went to his home town of Giloh and hung himself. David speaks of the remorse he had for Ahithophel’s treason in moving expressions in Psalms 55:12-14.
While we cannot know the motivation for Ahithophel’s counsel to take the harem of David, one possible motive is obvious. As the patriarch of Bathsheba’s family he must have felt shamed and betrayed by David when the king had taken his granddaughter, another man’s wife, and had her husband killed in battle. He may have even felt justified in light of Nathan’s prophecy that this would happen (2 Sam. 12:11). Revenge may well have been at least part of his motivation. This, too, provides a powerful lesson for us today—”Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30).
Machir, Her Brother
Machir plays two bit roles in the saga of David. In the bitter squabbling after King Saul’s death many men made the mistake of trying to win the king’s favor by proclaiming themselves enemies of Saul and his house. In exasperation, David finally asks, “Is there not yet any of the house of Saul that I might show the kindness of God unto him?” (2 Sam. 9:3). He is informed that the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, a cripple, is still living. “Where is he,” asks David. “He is in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in Lo’debar” (v. 4). It must have taken great courage for Machir to befriend a potential heir of the throne at that particular point of time.
The next incident is in connection with the rebellion of Absalom. His grandfather, Ahithophel, had correctly assayed the situation when he said that David was fleeing in disarray. The king had been thoroughly humiliated and had to go across the Jordan, to the mountain fortress of Mahanaim. He knew he would have to regroup there but was without supplies to arm, garrison, and feed his men. How it must have delighted the discouraged king’s heart to see an entire caravan of supplies already being delivered from Amman through the intervention of Machir (2 Sam. 17:27-29).
Even though his father had switched allegiance to Absalom Machir would remain loyal to the king even as he remained loyal to the house of Jonathan when others in Israel were distancing themselves from the house of Saul. Machir, like Barnabas in the New Testament, would always be the friend of the friendless, supporting the cause of the unpopular. Paul summarizes the lesson for us in Hebrews 10:32, 33, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.”
Uriah, Her First Husband
It is hard to imagine a more noble and loyal character than that of Uriah. Although a Hittite by nationality, he was obviously at least a second generation Jew by religion for his name contains the iah suffix for Jehovah and means the flame [or light] of Jehovah. Five other Israelites in the Bible bear the same name. Like his father-in-law, he was one of David’s “mighty men” (2 Sam. 23:39), a list so exclusive that it does not even include the name of Joab, the general of David’s forces and Uriah’s commander in battle.
His loyalty was not only to his king and the nation but he showed a fierce personal loyalty to Joab (2 Sam. 11:11). How ironic it is that Joab is the one who is shortly commissioned to arrange for the death of Uriah (vs. 14, 15).
The lesson Uriah brings to us is again one of priorities, placing the work of God ahead of personal pleasure, even the legitimate joys of life. The singleness of purpose and zeal for the Lord’s cause which Uriah showed are seldom found, either in his day or ours.
David, Her Second Husband
David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14) yet in this one incident he breaks over half of the ten commandments. This becomes, at his death, the only liability charged against him (1 Kings 15:5).
The account of the sin poses a few interesting questions. Since she was the granddaughter of his closest adviser, the daughter and husband of two of his top soldiers, why did he need to inquire who she was? The answer probably includes at least three ingredients: (1) the instance takes place “in an eveningtide” when daylight was departing and he could see only a vague picture; (2) although he may have known her personally he would have only seen her covered with the traditional vail and loose clothing which would not have revealed her beauty; and (3) there was some distance, both vertically and horizontally, separating the king’s palace from surrounding homes.
Would he not have recognized the name of Uriah, when given, as a trusted soldier? Undoubtedly yes! It had become customary, however, for kings to have their own way and exclude themselves from the law. Evidently David had started becoming accustomed to the perks of his office and had begun multiplying wives and concubines unto himself (2 Sam. 5:13). This might also be indicated by two observations in the narrative of his sin with Bathsheba. In the first verse we are told that at “the time when kings went out to battle” that “David tarried at Jerusalem.” We find him here rising from his bed “at eventide,” a time when others are only beginning to think about retiring to their beds, suggesting he had spent some time in the afternoon at ease. These are all suggestive of a natural moral laxity that comes with prosperity.
Why was Bathsheba bathing so publicly? She probably did not consider it public. The middle eastern houses had roofs with walls that came to about waist height. David could view her because the height of the king’s house was so much greater that the shallow walls did not protect her from his view. The bathing was porbably not the usual bath for cleanliness, but a ritual bath connected with the uncleanness that was upon a woman for seven days after her menstrual period (Lev. 15:25-33). This is suggested in verse four of the narrative where that point is probably mentioned to further prove that she had not become impregnated by Uriah or anyone else. In fact, the knowledge of the purpose of such bathings may have been partially responsible for the seed of lust to rise in David’s heart.
There is no indication in the account as to her reaction to his proposal. She is not painted as a seductress or agressive although she may have been a willing participant, perhaps considering it her obligation to a king who could demand concubines at will. Despite the heinousness of the sin, Bathsheba not only became a wife (and not a concubine) and the favored of all his wives. Nathan, Her Accuser
The twelfth chapter of second Samuel delineates the account of Nathan’s confronting David with his crime. The story of the ewe lamb was an ideal tool for forcing David to judge himself. The effect was to produce complete repentance as is beautifully shown in the 51st Psalm which David wrote to show his heart’s feelings. There is no reason to suspect that Bathsheba felt any differently.
Nathan was a common Hebrew name (meaning gift) and Nathan the prophet may or may not have been the father of another of David’s top soldiers, Igal (2 Sam. 23:36), and brother of a later captain in David’s forces, Joel (1 Chron. 11:38); or he may have been the father of two of Solomon’s chieftans, Azariah and Zabud (1 Kings 4:5) though it is more likely that these would have been children of Solomon’s brother Nathan.
Although Nathan appears in this story as a messenger of gloom to David and Bathsheba he remains as a trusted adviser to both of them. It is by his intervention that Solomon acceded to the throne at David’s death instead of Adonijah (1 Kings 1:11). It is also noteworthy that he addresses Bathsheba first on this matter before going directly to David. Perhaps it is for this reason that Brother Russell suggests that Bathsheba had chosen Nathan to be the tutor of Solomon (R5701:5; 4286:5).
In any event, we see in Nathan the faithful prophet, neither biased for or against the one to whom he is send, but concerned totally with conveying the message of Jehovah.
Her First Son
The child which David sired in sin was born with an incurable disease. (The word translated “very sick” in 2 Sam. 12:15 is translated “incurable” on five of its nine usages in the Old Testament.) David fasted and prayed for the life of the child. When he died at the age of seven days, David immediately laid aside the garments of repentance and mourning and broke his fast. This change of manner is noted in 2 Samuel 12:20, “Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.”
It is noteworthy that not only did he change his own appearance but that he went into the house of the Lord and “worshipped.” Rather than accusing God of taking the life of sin son or being in bitterness that he was being punished, he accepted the discipline of the Lord. There is no reason to think that Bathsheba felt any differently.
Solomon, Her Second Son
Like Bathsheba herself, her second son was given two names. In his case, however, both were given at birth—one by David (notice the masculine pronoun in 2 Sam. 12:24) and the other by Nathan. Nathan named him Jedidiah, meaning “beloved of Jehovah,” though some commentators take it as “pardoned by Jehovah” (2 Sam. 12:25). David named him Solomon (v. 24), meaning “peaceful.” The two names taken together present a beautiful thought—”I have peace because I am still beloved and have received pardon for my sins.”
We know little of Bathsheba the mother. She may have delegated much of his education to Nathan the prophet. We do know of her desire for him to accede to the throne from the account in 1 Kings, chapter one.
The last chapter of the book of Proverbs is attributed to a king named Lemuel. While some take him to be an unknown monarch of a nearby country, most commentators agree with the ancient Jewish rabbis in identifying the name Lemuel (along with the Agur of chapter 30) as pen names for Solomon. If so, the first verse of that chapter is worthy of note: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.”
This would ascribe the entire chapter as a prophecy of Bathsheba. An analysis of the chapter seems to confirm this view. As a mother, one desirous of his exaltation, she would know her son better than anyone else. In this prophecy she zeroes in on Solomon’s two greatest weaknesses: wine and women. In verses four through seven she admonishes him that “it is not for kings to drink wine.” The remainder of the chapter gives a job description of the kind of wife she would desire for Solomon. The indication is of a mother’s intense care for her child and a keen eye for his weaknesses which need attention.
Nathan, Her Third Son
Nathan is the first child Bathsheba has the privilege of naming. The first child died before a name was given, the second was named successively by David and Nathan the prophet. The name she chooses gives an insight into her character. Very likely it was chosen in honor of her friend and counselor, Nathan the prophet. Yet this was the very man who had pronounced the death sentence of God on her firstborn.
How few would have the moral fortitude to not only accept such a harsh pronouncement of punishment but honor the one delivering it by naming the first child they are privileged to name with his name. If we could each value our critics so dearly as to appreciate the words they speak even when, perhaps specially when, they are contrary to our actions and reproofs of them!
God’s forgiveness of the sin of David and Bathsheba is further highlighted by the fact that both the mother and step-father of Jesus come from their lineage. Joseph is a descendant of Solomon (Matt. 1:6, 16) and Nathan is the ancestor of Mary (Luke 3:31).
Thus, while we know little of Bathsheba directly, from the men surrounding her we get the view of a faithful woman of Israel who is unfortunately known mostly by her one sinful act. We begin to view her as a woman of prominence, a faithful mother, a humble penitent, a wise prophetess, and a favored wife of the “man after God’s own heart.”