P. J. O’Rourke once said that giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. O’Rourke is not the first political operative to issue warnings about concentrations of power. Samuel, too, tried to warn people about the dangers of having a king: He (a king) will take your sons, and your daughters. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves. He will take your servants, your cows, and donkeys too! A king will take, and take, and take.
But the people wanted a king, and God granted them a king, and the king took, and took, and took.
When King David took Bathsheba he already had wives and concubines. Though it was forbidden for kings to have too many, he would have inherited all of Saul’s considerable harem, plus his own wives. If it was wifely attention he wanted, it was readily available. What had happened, though, is that David had gotten in the habit of taking what he wanted; and when his eyes fell upon Bathsheba, he wanted her.
David hadn’t always been a taker. When he was younger he played the harp, slew a giant, loved Jonathan, and protected those who lived near him in The Wilderness of Paran. In fact, David had been a giver.
There is a thing about kings and rulers, though; they inhabit a special bubble. Occasionally there is a news story about the presidential bubble in which all US presidents live. The bubble keeps them safe, but it also separates, it holds them apart. President Nixon was so isolated in his bubble that he began to believe he couldn’t commit a crime, famously declaring that, ‘If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal’
King David created a bubble too. There was no harp playing in David’s bubble. Times had changed and now he had a kingdom to preserve. David must have thought, “If the King does it, it can’t be wrong.”
King David’s kingship was a carbon copy of Samuel’s prophecy. He took all of King Saul’s haram, he took Bathsheba, and in a cover-up attempt he took the life of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. King David took, and took, and took. He might have continued taking and never been held accountable, except that one day he received a visit from a story-teller named Nathan.
Nathan told a story that mirrored David’s habit of taking from the poor to satisfy himself. Readers of this morning’s text won’t have to be told that the story is about David. It’s as clear as day. Nathan got to the end of the story, though, and David still hadn’t figured out that it was about him. Nathan had to tell him.
That’s the way it is, isn’t it? We are the last ones to see the truth about ourselves.
We may not have committed the same sins that David committed, but I suspect we share in his blindness. We may even share the same kind of hubris that allowed him to become insulated and aloof.
Now that Advent and Lent are well behind us, it’s tempting to put away all thoughts of sin until the next scheduled round of repentance. But, repentance is nothing more than turning away from sin, and we can do that everyday. If the comparatively big sins of murder and adultery aren’t on your list, then what about the sin of just not caring, of living in a bubble far removed from the one billion people who live on less than a dollar a day, or the trans woman who is afraid to walk home in the dark, or a lonely neighbor who is easy to forget about?
David never was a perfect king, and you and I will never be perfect Christians. David kept sinning, and so will we. His heart was broken. One of his wives made fun of him. Some of his children didn’t turn out too good. But from the moment he stepped out of his bubble, turning away from a life of sin, he was forgiven, and he was free. We can be too.
Linda McMillan is an introvert who lives in Shanghai, China. In her spare time she plays ukulele, writes bad haiku, and tries to be conscious about living as a stranger in a strange land. Lindy has a passion for rural education; she loves her friends, good stories, quiet, and dogs.
Image: Nathan admonishes King David, Aert de Gelder, 1683. In the Fuji Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan. In the public domain.
Some scripture references:
I Samuel 8:11 He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses
I Samuel 8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
I Samuel 8:14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves
I Samuel 8:16 He will take your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys
I Samuel 8:15 and 17 also talk about taking, but it is more of a tithe; there is no connotation of injustice or wrong-doing in those verses.
Deuteronomy 17:14-17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life….”
2 Samuel 12:13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Opening quote: O’Rourke, P. J. Parliament of Whores. Grove, 1991. Print.
Richard Nixon quote: April 6, 1977. Interview with David Frost
People living on less than a dollar a day: Fast Facts: The Faces of Poverty, The Millennium Project, 2006