Forty women: 29. Bathsheba
We come, inevitably, to the one wife of David we’ve all heard about. I don’t think it would quite be possible to have done the whole series of forty women on David’s wives, but it’s a lot more than most people realise. I make it at least eight wives, plus some uncounted concubines: Michal, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maakah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, Bathsheba. I expect it tells us everything we need to know that most of these women are only named in a list of David’s sons. Michal does not appear in that list, since she had no sons. There may well have been other wives in her position too, who never made it into any written list.
David’s household was obviously nothing compared to his son’s 300 wives and 700 concubines, but he still had rather more wives than most of us. And, of course, more than God intends and the Bible instructs.
So, no, it’s not Some Enchanted Evening when David sees Bathsheba taking a bath from the roof of his house one night and decides he’ll add her to the roster. It’s not some grand romantic gesture when he forces her into his bed and tries to get the resulting pregnancy passed off as her husband’s. It’s a tawdry tale of a man unwilling to control his lust, unable to be satisfied with what he already has in the quest for something new. And it’s a tawdry tale that turns positively horrific, when David arranges for Bathsheba’s first husband to be killed in the front line of battle.
It’s pretty grim, in fact. Even though David is brought to recognise his sin and repents of it, that’s the kind of thing which tends to sour a relationship going forward. Which makes it all the more astonishing that when David is old and dying, it’s Bathsheba, of all his wives, who still has the ear of the king.
She speaks up for her son, Solomon, when one of David’s other sons, Adonijah, declares himself to be the new king. Solomon is not the oldest and nor was Bathsheba David’s first wife. But he is the one to whom the promises were made. And it is up to his mother to ensure that her husband keeps those promises.
She has the ear of the new king, too: “When Bathsheba went to King Solomon… the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand. ‘I have one small request to make of you,’ she said. ‘Do not refuse me.’ The king replied, ‘Make it, my mother; I will not refuse you.’ ” (1 Kings 2:19-20)
Enthroned at the right hand of the king, Bathsheba is given the greatest possible honour. Perhaps partly because Solomon knows he owes his undisputed crown to his mother’s intervention on his behalf, he will not refuse any request she makes.
It’s just a shame that the request she makes isn’t hers. The usurping Adonijah isn’t afraid to try and use her influence to his own ends and it’s he who sends Bathsheba to advocate for him. It backfires, of course. Perhaps if he’d disappeared quietly, Adonijah might have been forgotten. But the request he sends via Bathsheba makes Solomon see what a threat he is. Adonijah does not live to see another day.
Instead Bathsheba is the one who fades into obscurity.
When the Chronicler later comes to write his history of Israel, there’s no mention of Bathsheba’s first marriage or the vile way in which she came to be David’s wife. There’s nothing of her wise intervention on Solomon’s behalf or her foolish intervention on Adonijah’s. Just one brief word: “David reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba, daughter of Ammiel.” (1 Chronicles 3:4-5).
Nothing that could cast a shade on the golden reputation of the great King Solomon. Nothing to remind us that his father was an adulterer, a rapist and a murderer. Nothing to remind us what his mother suffered at the hands of his father.
Can you see the big cans of white paint and the giant brushes splashing it across the grim pages of Israel’s history? Can you see the stories of Bathsheba and the many other women like her being hidden away in dark places? Can you see the sinful hearts inside the great heroes of the faith?
Can you see your own?