Bathsheba, from Consort to Queen Mother

Bathseba at her bath was a popular subject for the old masters. This one by Rembrandt is one of the nudest.

Bathsheba’s story in II Samuel 11 is another beloved tale. King David from his tower in the City of David spies Bathsheba taking a bath on a rooftop and calls her to him. When she is pregnant, David sent her husband Uriah off to the front lines of the current war to be killed. But again, we have two stories. In the other version she is called “daughter of Eliam.” According to Wikipedia:

Bathsheba was a daughter of Eliam, one of David’s “thirty” (2 Sam. 23:34; cf 1 Chr. 3:5); Eliam was also the son of Ahitophel, one of David’s chief advisors…and thus Bathsheba was from David’s own tribe and the granddaughter of one of David’s closest advisors (2 Sam.15:12).

So, again, love had very little to do with it. The parties had negotiated a marriage alliance, albeit a nasty one. She would bring to the relationship the backing of her military family and David was in the middle of a war. For her part, David’s marriage to Bathsheba gave her the promise that a son of hers would inherit the kingdom.

The Role of a Wife of the King

We learn a lot from Bathsheba. She was given speaking parts like Queen Michal as she pursued her primary duty at court; fighting for the rights of her son. The author of I Kings gives this speech:

And Bathsheba went in unto the king into the chamber…and did obeisance unto the king. And the king said, What wouldest thou? And she said unto him, My lord, thou swarest by the LORD thy God unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me…And now Adonijah reigneth and…thou knowest it not…And the king sware, and said…Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me…Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and did reverence to the king, and said, Let my lord king David live forever. I Kings 1:10-31

Bathsheba was not actually called a “queen” though. According to Queen Mother, A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship[i] by Edward Sri:

Although one particular woman from the royal harem usually held the king’s preference, “the king’s favor was not enough to give his wife official title and rank.” This is seen in the fact that throughout the entire Old Testament, the word queen (feminine form of melek, or “king”) is used only once in association with Israel, and even there it is used primarily poetically, not politically.

From Consort to Queen Mother

Again, in the book, Queen Mother:

Accordingly, when a favorite royal son succeeded to the throne, he frequently owed his kingship to the influence of his mother, so that the dowager queen was wont to occupy a position of preeminence at court, sharing the glory and prerogatives of her son’s rule. Just like her Near Eastern neighbors, Israel bestowed great honor upon the mother of the ruling king. Roland De Vaux notes how the queen mother was given a special preeminence over all the women in the kingdom of Judah, even the king’s wife…(T)he prestigious title gebirah was used often in the Old Testament to describe the mother of the king. Meaning “mistress,” “great lady,” or “queen,” gebirah is the feminine form of gebhir (“lord” or “master”) …In the Old Testament, gebirah is often used as a title for the mother of the king, but it is never used to describe the wife of an Israelite king.

We will look at some of the passages using gebirah in the Old Testament as we go along but the most well-known passage was also about Bathsheba. In her second speaking appearance, she was shown petitioning her son King Solomon for a request brought to her. Petitioning the king is a wife’s second source of power at court. This time, though, she is Queen Mother:

And Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said Peaceably…And now I ask one petition of thee, deny me not. And she said unto him, Say on. And he said, Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king…and give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife. And Bathsheba said, Well; I will speak for thee unto the king. Bathsheba therefore went into king Solomon…And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand. Then she said, I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay. And the king said unto her, Ask on, my mother; for I will not say thee nay…. I Kings 2:12-20

[i] Queen Mother, A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship by Edward Sri, Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, OH, 2005

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