Bathsheba. The name brings with it a tangled web of lust, infidelity, intrigue, treachery, murder. She has been portrayed as a seductress, flaunting her nakedness before the king, eagerly seeking a place a the palace, and alternatively as an innocent wife, going about her own business, with no choice but to obey the royal summons. Frankly, the biblical narrative about the adultery focuses almost exclusively on David’s actions so that it gives no indication of her thoughts or motivations. She bathed, he saw, he summoned, she came to the palace. When she became pregnant as a result, David sent her home, sent to the battlefield for her husband to return to his home, so as to cloud the issue of paternity. When that failed, he conspired with Joab to have Uriah killed in battle.

The story represents a soldier’s worst fear. Sent away from his home, the king takes advantage of his absence by seducing the soldier’s wife, and then arranges for the soldier to be killed in battle. It is the lowest form of treachery for a king, a betrayal of the basest sort. The narrative exposes the depth of David’s depravity for all to see. On the other hand, this same biblical author, so skilled at using just the right verb to indicated attitude, the precise words of dialogue to hint at motive, does none of that concerning Bathsheba. During all this drama, the narrative portrays Bathsheba as a physical beauty but an otherwise blank character, speaking only these words: “I’m pregnant.”

To portray her as temptress attributes motives and actions far too elaborate and detailed to resemble the actual woman sketched in the text. In fact, the entire narrative of her early encounter with King David can be boiled down to “beautiful, compliant, pregnant.”

However, Bathsheba did not make make the list because of the initial episode. She shows no initiative, almost no will at all in it. Four decades later that changes, and she plays a crucial role.

David lay dying. Never before in Israel’s history had a king died of natural causes, and without an anointed successor. Adonijah, David’s fourth son, his older brothers Amnon and Absalom being dead, decided to seize the opportunity.

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” Then he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. . . . He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest; and they followed Adonijah and helped him.—1 Kings 1:5, 7.

Adonijah shrewdly assumes the mantle of heir apparent, consolidating his claim by enlisting the support of Abiathar, and Joab; representing the priesthood and the military, respectively. Joab had been David’s chief general, one who had proved himself both loyal and ruthless. Loyal, because he conspired with David in the death of Uriah the Hittite without raising any objection, and ruthless in the revenge killing of Abner, and what was essentially an execution of Absalom, despite David’s orders not to harm his son. But not everyone supported Adonijah’s claim.

But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David, were not with Adonijah.—v. 8.

Zadok, Nathan, and the rest represent a powerful group of men, but the lack one thing: a credible person to take the throne. A monarchy needs a monarch. No matter your influence, if you lacked a prospective king, your opposition would mean little. And Adonijah moves swiftly to consolidate his claim. He prepares a feast to celebrate his accession to the throne.

Adonijah killed sheep, cattle, and fatlings by the stone of Zoheleth, which is beside En Rogel; and he called all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants; but he didn’t call Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother.

Note who is included in the guest list, and who is excluded. Adonijah invites all of his supporters, and none who oppose him. There will be no dissent over his claim to the throne at this celebration. Most notable, of course, is the absence of Solomon, his rival. Unspoken is the mortal threat: in the nations around Israel, it was common for the new king to exterminate his rivals and his enemies.

Then Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Haven’t you heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith reigns, and David our lord doesn’t know it? Now therefore come, please let me give you counsel, that you may save your own life, and your son Solomon’s life.

Go in to king David, and tell him, ‘Didn’t you, my lord, king, swear to your servant, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne?” Why then does Adonijah reign?’

Behold, while you are still talking there with the king, I will also come in after you and confirm your words.”

Nathan gives voice to the previously unspoken threat. Bathsheba needs to act to save her life, and Solomon’s life. Nathan is the recognized prophet, and he will back her up. But Nathan realizes that Bathsheba wields an influence over David that only a beloved wife can. She and Nathan carry out their plan, and David responds by officially proclaiming Solomon his successor. That settles the issue, and Solomon begins what will be the last reign of a united Israel. It’s easy to minimize Bathsheba’s role here. But imagine what would have happened had she failed to act.

The history of Israel is unimaginable without the reign of Solomon. Solomon the wise, Solomon who built the Temple. Solomon represents the ‘golden age’ of the monarchy. Bathsheba not only gave birth to Solomon, the man, in a real sense she gave birth to Solomon the King. Compared to some of the other women in scripture, her role is rather small. But small does not mean insignificant. And there are two more reasons to include her in this list of women who took the lead. Which we will examine next time.

Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.