FHForward is honored to walk with many believing, deeply spiritual members. We are also honored to have the trust of those who have been hurt in their faith spaces or those who may not identify as believers in a particular religion. While faith is a deeply personal, individual journey, we firmly hold that our mission is not only centering and inspiring but fully aligned with a range of holy scriptures. This week, our faith message comes from the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. The verses of the Old Testament are considered holy by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.
King David is a dynamic figure for each of these faiths, considered by each to be a great king chosen by God for the throne, despite his humble beginnings. King David is the same David who conquers Goliath, the youngest and slightest of his brothers and the subject of the Lord's command to Samuel the prophet, "Arise and anoint him," and the Divine admonition that God "looketh on the heart," instead of with the eyes of man (1 Samuel 16:7, 12-13). David rules over Israel during the brief period in which Israel is a united kingdom and is credited with the collection of Psalms, a collection of lyrics and poetry found in The Holy Bible, The Quran, and the Torah. He is the great grandson of two central women from the text, Ruth and Naomi, and it is from David's family line that Christians believe the Messiah came.
But for Christians and Jews, the record of David is also one of a flawed, complex man who seeks to serve God but who sees the barbarism of war and gives in to temptations of lust when he desires Bathsheba. After calling Bathsheba, his subject to him, David sends her husband, Uriah, to war where Uriah is killed in battle. The record of David does not end here, but the reader is a witness to the subsequent consequences, loss, and challenges David experiences. The record details David's challenges in parenthood and the consistent competition and betrayal he faced as ruler. Yet, David remains both formidable and imperfect until his old age and death.*
My favorite verses concerning David don't detail his anointing or his courage in battle; nor does his story stir my soul because of his strategy or acumen. The verses I appreciate most are found in 2 Samuel, chapter 12, where we find the counsel of David's own spiritual leader, the Prophet Nathan. In this chapter, Nathan shares with David the Parable of the Ewe Lamb. The parable tells of two men from the same city. One is a man of humble circumstance who nurtures and raises his only lamb with such great care and love, the scriptures say it was like his daughter. By contrast, the other is a rich man with "exceeding many flocks and herds." Despite his abundant resources, when the rich man is visited by a traveler, he provides dinner for his guest with the only ewe lamb of his poor neighbor. When Nathan finishes this tale, David demands to know the offender, asserting that the loss should be repaid fourfold. Nathan's reply is powerfully instructive. He states unflinchingly, "Thou art the man," and details David's wrongs. Many rulers in scripture were not receptive to challenges like these, but David, a powerful ruler, admits humbly, "I have sinned against the Lord."
David and the reader understand from Nathan's parable that David's coveting of Uriah's wife and orchestration of Uriah's murder was especially egregious because of his position as King and his abuse of power. The interaction between Nathan and David reminds us that great, wise leaders make terrible mistakes which our Maker and the scriptures do not condone. We can recognize Nathan as an advocate who spoke truth to power and David as one who received this message, despite a privileged position from which he could have rejected Nathan. The account provides evidence that the Lord expects us to understand our own positions of privilege and to avoid similar abuses of power. I believe we can and should apply these lessons to the present day.
There are some who say that teaching white children about ancestors who participated in horrific abuses of power and privilege will cause them to have an unhealthy, negative perception of their heritage. But if the holy text is any kind of model, we see the value of studying both flawed characters and heroes for reflection. Like Nathan, the prophet, many have lived who spoke truth to power, who advocated for justice, and who overcame incredible social pressure to act otherwise. It is not unrighteous to consider ways in which this mighty nation rose to power through the talents and skilled labor of those who worked unpaid or underpaid for no other reason than racial hierarchy. It is just and right to examine how our policies have denied access to education, the polls, housing and much, much more.
When we look closely at this scriptural account, we understand that God does not ask us to deny stories of lived experience, of discrimination, or pain. Like David, we should lean into the discomfort of the truths our community members of color, LGBTQ citizens, and other marginalized groups are sharing with us, and we can do this without looking to excuse or justify the harm our systems or our own actions have caused and state honestly that we have erred.
We can also have confidence in educators who ask our youth to consider significant historical figures as complex characters with flaws or help them see the humanity in classmates whose gender identities may be confusing to them. Young minds can and should learn to look through their history for those like Nathan, whose mention is brief compared to the comprehensive account we have of David's reign, but whose words hold priceless insight. This kind of reflection is not a dangerous or damaging exercise, but a gift which can prepare them as future leaders who will approach their roles from a position of humility, truth, and wisdom.
*Please note: Islamic leaders maintain that David did not succumb to temptation. They believe that David was both a King and a prophet who was righteous without fail and remained worthy of God's favor.