Erm, in case you’re wondering, Bathsheba was that woman who famously took a bath in an open shower and set on fire both the groin of a king and the nation of Israel. Uriah – a gallant and noble infantry officer was her husband. And no, she wasn’t named Bathsheba because she took a bath. Bathsheba is the anglicised form of the Hebrew “Bat Sheva.” It means “daughter of the oath.” The Bathsheba saga is one of those modern TV drama series in the Bible. Has everything: power play, sex, scandal, attempt at cover up, murder… The whole thing was such a huge scandal it’s omitted in the Books of Chronicles. Chronicles is some sort of official history of the kings in Israel. But we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a little.
If you’re a regular reader of Asterix, the comic series about some indomitable Gauls who defied Roman conquest you would have read Asterix in Great Britain. Well, there was a battle scene in that story. Halfway through the battle, the British soldiers suddenly downed their weapons and refused to fight. It was time for tea break! The British don’t joke with their tea. War timetable in ancient times contained something like that tea break. There was a season for war – spring. During that season battles are fought all over. When the season wraps up, everyone chills out until the next season. What would later become known as the Uriah scandal unfolded in spring. For reasons not entirely clear, David refused to go to war that spring. Uriah and the other Israeli soldiers were at war against the Ammonites. It’s to be noted that Bathsheba came from a military family. Her father was Eliam, aka Ammiel (1 Chronicles 3:5). He was one of David’s top officers – inducted into the military hall of fame, “The Thirty”. (2 Samuel 11:3, 2 Samuel 23:34). Because Amiel is referred to as son of Ahitopel in 2 Samuel 23:34, some scholars believe Bathsheba’s grandfather was in fact Ahitopel. Ahitopel was that brilliant strategist and special adviser to David. He would later betray David during the Absalom coup.
David’s palace had a panoramic view. The flat roof served as pent floor and from that vantage point David could see into neighbouring houses. As he looked out over the city that famous spring afternoon he noticed a stunning apparition. There was this beautiful woman bathing in the open, the reflective needles of the sun glistering in procession over her naked form. Her name was Bathsheba. She was Mrs. Uriah. David was struck by lightning at midday. He sent his palace officials to procure her and he slept with her, this despite being told she was married. It was blatant abuse of power. Unfortunately she was ovulating at that period and so got pregnant. Turns out that was her first pregnancy. To cover up the affair and make the child seem like Uriah’s, David gave Uriah leave from battlefield. The army had laid siege to Rabbah Ammon forty miles away from Jerusalem. Rabbah Ammon is the site of modern day Jordan’s capital. It’s now known as Amman.
Unfortunately, Uriah was one of these very nationalistic and patriotic types. He refused to go home and sleep with his wife. He thought it was most unpatriotic and very unprofessional: “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and (General) Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.” (2 Samuel 11:11 NLT) Even after David plied him with alcohol the second night, the guy refused to go home! He slept in the barracks of the palace guard. And that was when David resorted to desperate measures. He gave a directive to General Joab to put Uriah in the most dangerous battle spot and withdraw the army suddenly leaving Uriah exposed. And that was how Uriah died on the field of battle. It was executive murder. What made the whole thing callous was that David had sent the murder instruction to Joab through Uriah. He was the courier on his own murder. In essence, Uriah was murdered to cover up an affair. David then proceeded to marry Bathsheba.
God was livid about the whole thing and grave consequences followed. In fact, God was going to kill David. (2 Samuel 12:13) He commuted the murder but the judgment was grave: “I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbour, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!” (2 Samuel 12:7-12 MSG) Absalom, David’s son who plotted his overthrow slept with his father’s wives on TV…sorry, in full view of the whole country. He set up a special tent for that purpose on the very roof from which David spotted Bathsheba and he announced to the whole country. He did this to send a message to the populace there was no possibility of reconciliation between him and his father, that the old order was done with. Guess who advised him on this course? Ahitopel! Perhaps he did it out of vengeance. Remember he’s said to be Bathsheba’s granddad. God killed the child – the product of that terrible affair, struck him with a deadly illness.
And now to the question – What if Uriah had gone home to sleep with Bathsheba? He probably wouldn’t have died unless he found out the affair and made a threat. (David was capable of murder, remember?) Uriah would probably have raised the child as his own believing he was his; though some might have wondered about the uncanny resemblance of the child to David. But there were two levels to God’s judgment. There was retribution for murder of Uriah and retribution for appropriation of Bathsheba. The murder opened the door to murder in David’s family. Two of his children – Absalom and Amnon died in gruesome manner. But God also dealt with the forceful appropriation of Bathsheba. That carried its own penalty. It was raw misuse of power. Turned out David had a daughter equally as ravishing as Bathsheba. Her name was Tamar. Tamar’s half-brother wanted her and raped her, mirroring David’s misuse of power. Tamar was Absalom’s direct sister and Absalom simply murdered Amnon. And so we see sex crimes dog the family.
However, this story is not all about retributive justice. It’s also the story of repentance and the story of mercy. It’s in remorse for his crime that David wrote Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognise my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.” (Psalms 51:1-4 NLT) This is a worthy template for contriteness of heart. God endorsed the template by adding it to the Bible. It’s a deep plea for mercy. The death of baby John Doe (David’s unnamed late baby) represented God’s retribution, but God is also the God of mercy. Bathsheba would later give birth to Solomon and it was as if her past never existed. That’s how God moves past the past. He really puts it behind him, opens a new chapter.
As is common in African families, God sent a name for the new born during naming ceremony, like a proverbial Grandfather. He named the child “Jedidah.” It means “beloved.” The retribution of God is never the end of the book. His mercy always triumphs over his judgement. It’s in that spirit that 1 John 1:8-9 was penned by the Holy Spirit: “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins — make a clean breast of them — he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” (1 John 1:8-9 MSG) God is the God of mercy and His mercies endure forever. (Psalm 136:23)
If you’ll like to give your life to Jesus, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me Father. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.The retribution of God is never the end of the book. His mercy always triumphs over his judgement. Click To Tweet