October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.
Bathsheba is the only story in scripture that discusses the loss of an infant. Technically, there was the infanticide that was carried out by Pharaoh in Exodus and King Herod around the birth of Jesus, and the death of the firstborn of Egypt, but Bathsheba’s story is the only account of an actual infant who singularly dies.
Bathsheba had a rough year. The basic story is that David was on his rooftop one evening, saw a lady bathing on another rooftop, sent for her, made love to her, got her pregnant, then tried to cover that up by bringing her husband home. When that didn’t work, he killed the husband. Nathan the prophet confronted David and told him because of his deeds, the child that was conceived would die. And the child did.
We don’t hear much of Bathsheba’s side of it, though there are a few hints throughout the chapter. It says she was the daughter of Eliam. Eliam was one of David’s mighty men, along with her husband Uriah the Hittite. Eliam is a Jewish name, though it is not perfectly clear whether she was Jewish or not, she did seem to follow the law as we will talk about later. Her husband was not Jewish, but he was a pretty well-respected military man. So, she was part of a very important family in the city of Jerusalem. Something that should have given her some sense of security.
Now, there are people who believe she was being seductive, bathing on that rooftop, but there was something in the verse that was particularly interesting. After it mentions that David slept with her, it says that she was “purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” It is quite possible that she was bathing on the rooftop because she was separating herself from her household, which was required during menstruation. When a woman was on her period, everything she touched was unclean for seven days.
But regardless of whether she was seductive or not (which borders on victim shaming), David had the power in this relationship. He was the king. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. At the beginning of the chapter it says,
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabba. But David remained in Jerusalem.1 Samuel 11:1 (emphasis added)
All the men in her family were off fighting a war that the king wasn’t even at. She was taking a bath on the rooftop during the time in her cycle when she purified herself, and was summoned by the king. We don’t know her thoughts as she entered the palace gates, the worry she might have had for her husband or her father. And when David was done with her, she was sent back home.
Then, she gets pregnant, sends word to the man who used her and cast her aside, and he tries to cover it up by sending her husband home. But her husband doesn’t even go into the house. Her husband couldn’t enjoy seeing his wife when all the men were still fighting on the frontline. Contrast that with the king who was still in Jerusalem, sleeping with married women.
After two attempts, David decides to have Uriah killed in battle. Still not setting foot in the war, David tells his men to pull back so that Uriah will die. And he does. Not only was Bathsheba used, but now she has lost her husband. When she heard that he died, she mourned him (1 Samuel 11:26), and when the mourning time was over (typically it was seven days), David took her to be his wife. She had a son, though he is not named in the Bible.
At this point, the Israelite people have no idea what has happened to Bathsheba. But God knew. And he sent Nathan to set David straight. But the consequence for David’s actions was the child was going to die. The child falls ill and seven days later, he dies. In that seven days, David is in mourning, crying out to God to change his mind, realizing all the wrong and pain and hurt that his actions brought.
When the child dies, David comforts Bathsheba. I get a sense that their relationship was also healing. They get pregnant again and give birth to Solomon, the next heir to the throne. Although, towards the end of David’s life, Bathsheba has to speak up to make sure Solomon receives that inheritance, which shows how fierce she became over her lifetime.
There was a lot of grief in Bathsheba’s life. Sexual assault, the loss of a husband, and the loss of a child. But God saw her. In Matthew 1, in the genealogy, she is mentioned as Uriah’s wife. I thought maybe that was a slight to her, to not call her by name, but it almost reestablishes who she is. She was the wife of Uriah, one of the mighty men of king David. Yet through it all, she is also part of the legacy of Jesus Christ.
I want to make clear that infant loss is not the result of some terrible sin in your life. That is something I had to work through, myself. But even in the darkest moments, God is working and moving. All the hurt will be redeemed. And one of the things that brings me most promise about my little ones is something that David says after his son dies. After a period of fasting, David’s attendants tell him the son has died. He cleans himself, worships God, and begins to eat again. When asked why he says,
Can I bring him back again? [meaning the baby] I will go to him, but he will not return to me.2 Samuel 12:23b Parenthesis added
Just like David and Bathsheba, I will reunite with my babies again someday. But for now, I know they are cradled safely in the arms of God. Like Bathsheba, I was given a son after my losses, and I am so thankful for that gift. But I know that is not always the case in pregnancy loss. Still, even before my son was born, God was working in me. He provided community and hope when I needed it. Our stories do not end at pregnancy loss, they do not end in grief. God is a god of wonders who can use dark stories to shed the light of hope into the nooks and crannies around us. My prayer is that I continue to remember God is in control and he will never leave me, no matter may come.