There is a certain phenomenon which can be seen in our modern political discourse, and Christians who participate in it should stop already.
The problem is thus: a politician gets caught in a morally questionable situation, such as an adulterous affair, and some among their followers defend them by saying something along the lines of, “God raised up David, and Solomon, and Nebuchadnezzar as leaders! And look at what they did!”
Some of the reason for this, of course, has to do with the very human instinct to defend those we perceive as being on our side; but some of it is simply just bad theology and a lack of actual biblical knowledge. Defending your politician-of-choice’s bad moral judgment by saying, “David did it too,” does not necessarily make the case that many suppose it does. Neither, for that matter, does comparing politician X to Nebuchadnezzar necessarily put your chosen champion in a good light.
Firstly let’s deal with the actual biblical histories… It is true that God raised up Nebuchadnezzar as a leader and that Nebuchadnezzar was an ungodly man (cf. Daniel 2-4), but we might want to acknowledge that God did this, not to bless His people, but to punish them for 70 years (cf. 2 Kings 24-25, etc.).
Likewise, it is true that David, who God generally approved of, had an affair with Bathsheba, and that Solomon, David’s son, was a polygamist. But this is not the defense that many think it is. For one thing, David’s sin with Bathsheba, and David’s other poor familial choices, wrecked his family, literally resulting in death and misery. Time precludes a litany of the problems David’s children experienced, but it was a pretty miserable affair (cf. 2 Samuel 12-14). Beyond this though, David’s poor familial choices had severe repercussions for the nation of Israel: namely David’s son Absalom, angry at his father, plunged the country into civil war (cf. 2 Samuel 15). This hardly seems like the path rational people want to follow, politically.
So too with Solomon. We read in the Bible that his poor choices with women led him further and further away from God (cf. 2 Kings 11:3-4). Summarizing quite a bit, Solomon’s decision to turn to idols was the beginning of the end of an era and it led the nation down a path that resulted in God’s judgment and the destruction of both Israel and Judah. Politically, Solomon’s poor choices contributed to civil unrest, and following his death, the nation was divided by God as punishment, with David’s line losing 10 of the 12 tribes.
Do we really want to defend our politicians-of-the day by comparing their choices to choices which historically led to death, civil war and political upheaval? That doesn’t seem like sound reasoning.
But there is another reason we should stop using these sort of arguments. Namely, because they miss the point God actually wants us to be learning from His word. For example, when we study the story of David and Bathsheba, we might want to make sure that we glean the actual point of the account. God is not sharing the story in order to justify powerful men having affairs. In fact, just the opposite is true. The story teaches us that God holds even kings accountable to His standards.
In the story of David and Bathsheba, there is a hero, a man of God who does the right thing, but it’s not David. The hero of the story is Nathan, the prophet, who had the God-given duty to confront David concerning his sin. Nathan did this, quite boldly, and, mercifully, God granted David repentance (cf. 2 Samuel 12).
There are two take-aways from the text. First, if we, like David are caught in a sin, rather than justifying it, we should repent and turn to God for mercy. But second, when we observe powerful people caught up in sin, we need to have the boldness Nathan had to confront them about their deeds. Nathan did not rationalize away David’s indiscretion, nor did he allow his admiration for David, nor his fear of David’s power, to silence him. Instead he boldly did what God required him to do and chastised David for David’s sin.
Many years later, John the Baptist did much the same with Herod (cf. Mark 6:18). One wonders if the Herodians, Jews who politically supported Herod, argued that John should have kept quite, “because David sinned with Bathsheba.” But John did not keep quite when he observed his king sinning with a woman, but boldly did what God required him to do and denounced it.
We might notice that Jesus had very little respect for Herod’s morals (cf. Luke 13:31-33), but He did think John was a great man (cf. Matthew 11:11).
Christians who do decide to be politically active should keep all these things in mind, and when called upon to do so, should remember the story of David and Bathsheba and, remembering that story, choose to be a Nathan.
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.