Was blind, but now I see.

1 : 1 November 2001


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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Francine Rivers' Bathsheba

Francine Rivers' Bathsheba

1. Bathsheba in the Bible

Of the five men in her life, Bathseha of the Bible is said to actually speak to two: King David and her son Solomon. Others, like Nathan the prophet and Adonijah the step brother of Solomon, speak to her and she acts upon their requests. She is a silent character in some sense, but has come to occupy a very important place in guiding personal morals in all Christian thinking.

Questions of morality have been raised in the Bible against King David, but the role of Bathsheba as a collaborator is left for us to imagine and decide. For Francine Rivers, Bathsheba is an unspoken character. Her name became a taboo for her family. Her decision to be the mate of David was deliberate on her part. She is not cruel, but she let her love for David take over her entire being, overriding her better judgment.

We read in the Bible that from the roof David saw a "woman" bathing. The woman was very beautiful. David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and David slept with her, no protestation, and no remorse from her side. She had purified herself from her uncleanness before she came to him. Was it an indication that she wanted this to happen?

Uriah the Hittite, her lawful husband, found a reason for not going to his wife, preferring to sleep with all his master's servants, and not with his wife. He had come from a distance, from the battlefield, and he could lose his life at any moment in the war. But in spite of possible, impending death, he would not go see his wife. Was the marriage already broke? Was it a marriage at all?

Ahithophel was Bathsheba's grandfather. His name means "a brother of folly" (and some call him "the Judas of the Old Testament"). He is known for his wisdom and counsel, but he was so attached to his own wisdom that he hanged himself when his counsel was not acted upon. Deserting David, Ahithophel joined Absalom. Ahithophel's advice to Absalom was to make a stench in his father's nostrils by openly sleeping with David's concupines. It was happily embraced, but Ahithophel's counsel that David should be attacked in surprise and killed was not. Absalom chose the counsel of Hushai and he was ultimately killed. As calculating a person as Ahithophel was, when his advice was not accepted, "he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself."

Eliam, Bathsheba's father, is known only as the father of Bethsheba and son of Ahithophel. Possibly Bathsheba had the wisdom and counsel of her grandfather, and had inherited her resolute posture from him.

There were also the sixth and seventh men, Nathan the prophet and Adonijah, a rebellious son of King David, who declared himself to be the king before David's death and without David's approval. Nathan asked Bathsheba to go and speak in favor of her son, Solomon, to make good the promise of King David that her son would sit on the throne after him. This, Nathan said, would save her own life and his son's life.

A very interesting argument was presented by Bathsheba in a language that was polite, yet firm. She only reminded the king of his promise and the fate that would befall her and her son if that promise was not kept. It was an unusual exhibition of a powerful rhetoric from a character shown hitherto as silent, obliging, and carrying out the wishes of others.

The next conversation was with Solomon at the prompting of his step brother Adonijah, who declared himself to be king. Solomon had spared his life on this condition: "If he shows himself to be a worthy man, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die." Adonijah went beyond what was expected of him. He tried to use Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to get back what was not due to him: the beautiful Shunammite woman Abishag to be his wife. Abishag was selected from among the many young women to warm the body of King David in his old age. She was a possession of the king. Was she also a matter of jealousy for Bathsheba? Bathsheba's request to Solomon that the Shunammite woman be given in marriage to Adonijah resulted in the killing of Adonijah. Was it a ploy, an innocent request, or born out of jealousy?

The story found in the Bible, thus summarized, opens many avenues to interpret and reconstruct. A creative writer, deeply devout and wholly faithful to the Word of God, will have to walk on the razor's edge in weaving her own story. Francine Rivers does not fail us in the expectations we have from a master storyteller.

2. Francine's Bathsheba

Francine's Bathsheba was eight years old when we first meet her. Full of admiration for David, for everthing he stood for, everything he said and did, and for his very physical beauty, Bathsheba craved for David at this very young age. The brief passages in the Bible makes it look as if David took the first move to get Bathsheba. Francine's narrative shows that it was Bathsheba who went out of her way as a young girl to talk to David because she was always dreaming about him. David addressed her at that first encounter as "little one."

3. Uriah the Hittite

Uriah the Hittite is introduced as a friend of Eliam, father of Bathsheba. He had saved Eliam from the hands of the Amalekites, and was in the inner circle of warriors who were close to David. Uriah is only a year younger than David, whom Bathsheba wanted to marry desperately, but Bathsheba complained that "he's so much older than I am." Despite her marriage to Uriah the Hittite, her heart was after David. She only had affection and respect for Uriah, but not the kind of love that makes one's head giddy.

4. Bathsheba's Abiding Love for David

"Her feelings for him (David) had not diminished with time." Meanwhile, David "couldn't recline for a simple meal without hearing constant bickering and whispered complaints from wives and children." "Each time he (Uriah) marched away to war, she lived with the uncertainty that he might be marching out of her life forever, leaving no son behind to carry on his name. She longed to have children. But how could she conceive when her husband was seldom home?" She was childless, unhappy, and lonely, but, she thought, David had many children and many women to make him happy. His loneliness and restlessness was not known to her.

5. David Looks at Woman Bathsheba: Falling for the Little One

David was not aware who the beautiful woman was when he saw, from the palace roof, the woman who was bathing. Francine's narrative has a very interesting description of this episode: "Bathsheba removed her gown and stepped into the basin prepared for her in the privacy of her courtyard. ... She stepped out of the basin and stood waiting as her handmaiden emptied it. ... Her handmaiden returned and Bathsheba stepped into the basin again. ... Her skin prickled strangely. She sensed someone looking at ther. Disturbed, she glanced up and saw a man standing on the wall. Gasping, she covered herself with her hands and ducked beneath the gauzy shelter that did little to hide her. ... Angry, she leaned forward to see if she recognized the guard intruding upon her privacy. ... It was not a palace guard staring down at her, but a man in a white linen tunic with purple trim. David! She knew she should flee to the privacy of the house and complete her bath later, but hurt and resentment filled her. Why not let him see what he had let slip through his fingers?"

6. Bathsheba and Uriah at Crossroads

So, it was deliberate on Bathsheba's part. She felt sad for David, "Why look at her at all with so many beautiful women at his beck and call?"

Bathsheba tried to meet Uriah when he was called to see David. Uriah did not come home, but Bathsheba (and David, as the narrative indicates) wanted to make sure that he returned home and slept with her for the world to think that the baby was Uriah's. "As Urriah walked toward her, her heart hammered. ... 'They expect me to kill you where you stand,' he said hoarsely. ... 'You have every right.' ... He took the stone and made a fist. ... he shook his head and dropped the stone at her feet. ... She watched him walk slowly away, his shoulders bent. ... Bathsheba never saw Uriah again." (p. 74-75)

Plan B was implemented. Urriah, in contrast to David, is shown to be a greater person, a loyal servant, sinned against much. This time, after the mourning period of seven days, she was taken through the mainstreet to the palace. "The king was taking to wife the widow of one of his fallen mighty men. Perhaps it was meant as a show of great magnitude, for she was, after all, only a common woman, the daughter of a warrior, the granddaughter of a military adviser. No one was fooled. Except, perhaps, the king." (p. 85).

7. Bathsheba's Guilt and Prayer

We shall not go into the entire story woven by Rivers, but shall only remark that from being a dreaming girl of eight years, Bathsheba was transformed into a woman trying to reconcile herself with her mother and family with no success. She felt remorseful that taking the message from Abadnijah led to his killing. But her son Solomon's explanation that he did not kill his brother for that request, but for the evil in him, made her feel at peace to some extent. But the guilt and shame seemed not to leave her until the very end. Even with guilt and shame, she would make her last prayer that the people not look at her sins, but at the blessing she received from God despite being a sinful woman:

I know they will remember my sins, Lord, but when they look upon my life, let them see what You did for an unworthy woman. Let them see the hope born from despair. If they must recount my sins, let them count Your blessings more so. You protected me. You raised me up. You gave me sons. Let my name be unspoken, Lord, for what am I that anyone should remember me? But, oh, Lord God of Israel, if they do remember me, let them open their mouths and sing praises for Your great mercy toward me. Let them see Your infinite grace and Your boundless love. And let them ... be encouraged.

8. To Conclude

This is a beautiful story told by a master storyteller. Frasncine shifts some of the blame to Bathsheba, and Bathsheba herself realizes in this story that what she did was unworthy of a godly woman. The shifting of the blame is an interesting view. The stories that are based on what has been given in the Bible have certain beauty around them. But it is also very dangerous to write such stories. The biblical story gives us a feeling and understanding that transcend ethnic and cultural boundaries. We enter into a universe of God where ethnicity and culture do not matter. It is the presence of the Spirit of God that matters to us in such an environment. However, sometimes in reading such imaginative stories, some people begin to believe that what the writer of fiction narrated might have really happened instead of what we actually read in the Bible!

Francine Rivers. Bathsheba - Unspoken. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois. 2001.

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