The word ‘flawed’ has been bandied about this political season in the U.S., most notably as a few Christians of significant influence cobble together bizarre arguments for how Americans might in good moral conscience support Donald Trump. Most prominently, Jerry Falwell drew a comparison between Trump and Israel’s King David, and more recently, radio host Sean Hannity. Their arguments suggest that both Trump and David are ‘flawed’ leaders who either rule over, or might rule over, a great nation. King David was God’s ‘flawed’ man, and on analogy, Trump might be as well. While Trump is no saint, to expect a saint is unreasonable and even contrary to the pattern we see in Scripture.
The gains with a leader like Trump are inestimable, we’re told. Though lacking a moral compass himself, he’ll at least outsource morality to justices who will ensure that morality prevails.
Let’s set aside for a moment the obviously ‘stacked deck’ nature of this appeal to David, as opposed to, say, King Manasseh, or King Ahab, Samson, Pharaoh, or King Herod. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Trump is a kind of David redivivus—a man after God’s own heart, flawed indeed, but chosen to lead the nation during a time of serious threats on the outside (Philistines/ISIL) and from within (disunity/moral chaos). And let’s look, as Ben Carson recently encouraged us to do, at the ‘bigger picture.’
David’s Sin and Repentance
Most appeals to David’s ‘flawed’ character have in mind his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11), where David saw her bathing from his rooftop and took her for himself. At this point David faced his first obstacle … her husband Uriah the Hittite. That first ‘obstacle’ to the object of David’s longing was a foreigner, and an expendable one at that. To finalize the deal, he had Uriah murdered.
Nonetheless, David eventually confesses his sin and repents, an act which the story clearly presents as commendable (2 Sam 12).
But let’s not stop there. Let’s concede something outrageous, that Trump’s apology was sincere and heartfelt, analogous to David’s repentance. Does the King David analogy then allow us to imagine the possibility of a brighter, greater, and more godly future? To answer this, we need to focus on the aftermath of David’s sin and repentance, and not solely at the simple fact that God uses a flawed leader.
A few observations:
- Nathan the prophet tells David that because of what he does, ‘the sword will never depart from your house’ (2 Sam 12:10). The statement is not so much a punishment as a statement of fact. Violence—whether by word or by hand—breeds violence.
- In particular, that violence takes the specific form of sexual violence against women, thus combining and amplifying the two ‘flaws’ of David in one. The very next chapter of Samuel reports that David’s son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar (2 Sam 13), thereby consigning her to a life of ruin. In response, David was angry, but did nothing. It is clear that David’s inaction stems from the knowledge of his own weakness and culpability, silencing him in the face of sexual violence against women. This proves to be a key turning point in the unravelling of his family and kingdom.
- Out of anger for David’s passivity, Absalom had Ammon killed to avenge his sister (2 Sam 13). The story is told in a way that recalls the story of David having his men kill Uriah, showing the imprint of David’s life in his son and would-be successor.
- The fallout continued. David refused to reconcile with his son after Absalom avenges Tamar. David grew ever inactive, to the point where Absalom lead a military revolt because David failed to enact justice.
- Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, aided Absalom in a revolt against David. Clearly, this is retaliation for what David did to Bathsheba and Uriah. And again, sexual violence played a prominent role. Ahithophel encouraged Absalom to rape all the king’s concubines (2 Sam 16:21-22) on the rooftop of David’s palace, thereby 10-fold revenge. David later degraded and ruined the lives of these concubines since they were ‘spoiled.’ He had them ‘shut up until the day of their death, living as widows’ (2 Sam 20:3).
- David ended his life avenging the lives of those he promised not to kill (1 Kgs 2). For instance, he says to Solomon:
Note well, you still have to contend with Shimei … who tried to call down upon me a horrible judgment … I solemnly promised him by the LORD, ‘I will not strike you down with the sword.’ [wink, wink, but that doesn’t mean you can’t!] (1 Kgs 2:8).
David then uttered his very last words: ‘Bring down his grey head with blood to Sheol’ (1 Kgs 2:9).
- Is it any wonder that David’s son Solomon acquired countless wives, eventually leading to the division of the kingdom? The elderly Solomon loved women, power, and money more than God, and because of the way he treated people (cf. 1 Kgs 12:10), tore the nation apart.
One definition of wisdom as the ability to see to the end of a matter. In many ways, the comparison between Trump and David is only too apt, sans any of David’s godly qualities. To suggest that Trump, like King David, has flaws but can carry America to the heights of greatness misses the direction of David’s life and nation in the wake of his ‘flaws,’ which only began with his mistreatment of a woman and a foreign man, but eventually tore through the whole nation. I dare say that two supreme court justices couldn’t even offset those effects.
 Interestingly, the narrator recounts that critical incident in a way that recalls the primal sins in Gen 3-4:
David: King David ‘saw’ (*r’h) the ‘beautiful’ (*ṭôb) Bathsheba and sent officials to ‘take’ (*lqḥ) her. To underwrite his theft, David then acted violently by having Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed (2 Sam 11).
Eve (& Adam) – Cain: The woman ‘saw’ (*r’h) that the fruit was ‘good’ (*ṭôb) and ‘took’(*lqḥ) for herself and her husband. Their son Cain then murders his brother.