The Dowager Queen had many threats in court, but 13-year-old Heo Yeon Woo was the biggest one of all. She had captured the heart of the Crown Prince, Lee Hwon, and if let alone would grow into the most powerful woman in the land. Her father, the head scholar, and the rest of the Dowager Queen’s opponents would be empowered. The Dowager Queen needed to eliminate the girl and her family, just as years before she had framed and eliminated Prince Uiseong, the King’s half-brother. Minister Yoon from her clan could then position his daughter as the new Crown Princess. As long as she produced an heir, their power would be unrivaled…
In times of democracy, we don’t always understand the power struggles of past empires and even less the influence of women. Fortunately, some examples of powerful women have been preserved in Asian historical records. While heavily fictionalized, Asian historical dramas, like “The Moon Embracing the Sun”, illustrate further how these women were crucial to preserving empires even in their limited spheres of power. Wouldn’t the women of ancient Israel be power players as well?
Batsheva is often portrayed as a seductress and the object of David’s greatest temptation. However, some modern commentators, particularly female, have reframed her story: David was the primary sinner using his power to coerce Batsheva. The prophet Nathan solely rebukes David while comparing Batsheva to a lamb, a creature of innocence that was destroyed. Batsheva had indeed lost the person who loved her the most, her reputation, and her child. Her trial had even rattled the foundations of the kingdom.
Yet this is not the end of her story in the Bible, and she becomes key to the continuity of the kingdom of Israel. How could this have played out? By superimposing the stories of women of Asian empires, we can get a better sense of how Batsheva was an empire builder, not a mere comma in David’s exalted life.
In Asian historical dramas, for a consort to have influence and power, she would need three things: the favor of the King, a son, and a powerful family. She was responsible for the care of her sons and protecting them from the treachery of the court and the jealous ambitions in the harem. A prince could then inherit his mother’s power and alliances.
Whether or not he truly loved Batsheva as Uriah had, David comforted her after their son’s death. Blessed by God with four surviving sons, David had been with her for at least 4 or 5 years. She definitely held the king’s favor and a secure place in the harem. As for family, Batsheva was the granddaughter of the wisest government counselor and the daughter of one of the 30 great warriors.
In times of Biblical empire, securing a throne required: legitimacy, a loyal general, the anointing of God through a priest or prophet, and sometimes popular approval and allies in court. Even David was subject to those shifting powers often having to put up with unscrupulous leaders, such as Joab. The prophet Nathan becomes Batsheva’s main ally as he proclaims that God loves her son Solomon. When Adonijah revolts, it is Batsheva that Nathan goes to first – she had extracted from David the promise that their son Solomon would be the next king. By their side stood High Priest Zadok and great warrior Benaniah – a complete alliance that neither Absalom nor Adonijah had in their rebellions.
Throughout Asian history, a Dowager Queen often remains a powerful influence. In Batsheva’s last mention, she precipitates Adonijah’s execution by conveying his request to King Solomon to give his half-brother one of King David’s women. Was eliminating this threat intentional on her part?
Batsheva may be called a temptress, but we can also call her honored by God. She is protected by the favor of King David. She is blessed with several sons and has the approval of God through the prophet Nathan. She spends her remaining years with influence as the mother of one of the wisest kings in history. When Solomon famously presided over the trial of two prostitutes’ claims on one baby, how had he learned the extent of a mother’s love for her child? From the scriptures? Or from the very one who showed him that love?
While stories of women in power are sparse in the history books, it would be a disservice to underestimate them. As Asians, we have the fortune to be able to look no further than our own heritage to see how a woman can change an empire. Through the lens of our heritage, we can see how God had justified and empowered Batsheva.
May all women be honored and recognized in the way you have always seen them. May our inheritance as Asians bring in new light and reveal your heart.