Bathsheba the nameless
As we commence our series on the Old Testament women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, we start with the woman who is unnamed. We can infer from 2 Samuel 11 that her name is Bathsheba, but for most of that story, she’s not called Bathsheba. Her name is mentioned only once, in v.3 where David asks her name. The rest of the time she is, in most English translations, ‘the wife of Uriah’, or more literally, ‘she of Uriah’. That’s also how she’s referred to in Matthew’s gospel: ‘she of Uriah’.
Why refer to Bathsheba by her husband’s name? Why not refer to her by her own name? It’s to make a point about David and his sin. In Matt 1:6, here’s how Bathsheba is introduced: ‘Jesse bore King David, David bore Solomon, whose mother was the wife of Uriah.’ This woman ‘the wife of Uriah’ is identified by the name of her first husband. When she gave birth to Solomon, she was the wife of David but before she married David, she was married to Uriah. Why are we reminded of her history? It is because when we hear the name of Uriah, we remember that David killed Uriah to cover up his own sin that he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah. The way 2 Samuel 11 presents David, he’s an irresponsible king not leading his soldiers in battle (v.1) and he’a lazy (v.2). Unlike the good king of Deuteronomy 17 who would not consider himself better than his subjects and would not turn from God’s law to the left or to the right, this David is more like the king Samuel prophesied about in 1 Samuel 8, taking the people’s sons as soldiers and their daughters for his own purposes. Of course, that’s exactly what he does with Bathsheba. He knows she’s another man’s wife (v.3) but he sends for her anyway. As Tanya Riches has pointed out in her piece on this site on the same passage, culturally Bathsheba has no means to resist David. (article here) When she becomes pregnant, David first attempts to cover up his sin (v.6-13). When this does not work, because ironically Uriah, even though he is a Hittite, is more is more righteous than David himself, David has Uriah killed. David has all the guilt here. He had the power and responsibilities of a king but he used them to do evil: abdicating his responsibility, committing adultery, lying, murder. When we hear ‘the wife of Uriah’ in Matthew 1, we remember this sin of David though he was King of Israel.
David is right in the centre of Israelite society. And his treatment of Bathsheba shows us what is at the centre of his heart. Vulnerable and powerless, Bathsheba shows us how abusive David was, both of her and of the power he had as King. To mention Bathsheba using the name of her first husband reminds us of the sin of David. Even David, the king of Israel committed sin. Even David did wrong. Even David needed a Saviour. Even David was waiting for Jesus Christ.
But this Saviour, Jesus Christ, King of the whole world, did not come in power. He came in vulnerability, as a child completely dependent on his mother.
His mother was not rich. She was a young girl, a virgin, disgraced by being pregnant about of wedlock.
He was not born in a palace in a great city, but in a stable in a village.
Jesus was not born like a king. He was born as a poor person.
Yet through him, God would save all people. He was not born as a rich person; he was born of a young girl, a virgin. Yet through him, we received the gift of God himself in Jesus Christ.
Most of the time, we prefer not to hear about the poor, women, children, the elderly, the disabled, new migrants or refugees, those without family support, etc. They’re expect to remain silent. They’re not the lovely things of this world, or those whom our society values so we don’t want to see them. Yet the startling thing about the inclusion of ‘she of Uriah’ in Matthew 1 is that the namelessness of this woman is used by God to critique a King of Israel. It’s entirely appropriate to mention her in this introduction to the Son of God, the King of Heaven, because he refuses to shun the marginalised. Instead, he identifies himself with them.
Tamie comes from Adelaide and lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). She and her husband blog here