We are always reaching for figures the past to compare the figures of the present. Not only to do we invoke the great—Lincoln, Churchill, King—but also the evil—Hitler, Stalin, Mao—with monotonous regularity. It seems we cannot make up our own minds without some well-known figure to clinch the deal. But sometimes the analogy is so outrageous and so wrong that you have to yell: “Stop!”
Spend enough time studying the life of King David and you start to expect that he will turn up in popular culture on a regular basis. Each time the “little guy” wins, you get comparisons of David and Goliath. When a public figure gets caught in flagrante, David and Batsheba are certain to be cited. While I was writing a biography of King David, I found many examples of David turning up in the news to explain the events of the day. None was as downright ridiculous as this statement from Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, endorsing Donald Trump for president:
This is an almost perfect example of using scripture to endorse the precise opposite of what the scripture teaches. The incident Falwell is referring to is David’s liaison with Batsheba. The sordid story of the adultery and murder is found in II Samuel, ch. 11. David takes a married woman to bed and, afterwards, finding she is pregnant, tries to lure her husband, Uriah, back from war to sleep with her so that his sin will not be discovered. When Uriah refuses, David arranges to have him killed in the war. Rarely has an admired figure done anything so cunning, cruel and contemptible.
But the entire point of the story is not that power and fear went to David’s head and he did a terrible thing. He becomes a man after God’s own heart not for his sin, but for his sorrow. When confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sin, David does not do what any other ancient king would have done—call for Nathan’s head. Instead, David repents and weeps and begs forgiveness of God. The son born of the adulterous union dies despite David’s urgent and wracking pleas on his child’s behalf. In other words, if you want to make a case for a man being after God’s own heart, find a man who admit his misdeeds, can cry at his sins, and strive to be better with people and with God.
Falwell had other choices from the Bible. He might have cited King Rehoboam (I Kings, ch. 12), who when faced with people feeling disenfranchised, took counsel with the elders who had served his father Solomon. They suggested he speak softly and kindly, but he chose a harsh rhetoric, promising a policy of retribution. He too was a king of Israel. King Rehoboam incited a division in the nation that was never healed.
- Volodymyr Zelensky and the Spirit of Ukraine: TIME's 2022 Person of the Year
- Mickey Guyton Is TIME's 2022 Breakthrough Artist of the Year
- The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2022
- Column: What Elon Musk Gets Wrong About Free Speech
- The Forgotten Story of One of the First U.S. Soldiers Killed Overseas After Pearl Harbor
- Why You're More Likely to Get Sick in the Winter, According to New Research
- Column: What the Protests Tell Us About China's Future
- 18 Last-Minute Gifts for Everyone on Your List