The differences are striking. David volunteered to do unequal battle with Goliath, and went on to a spectacular military career, greeted on his return from the front by women dancing with timbrels and lutes, crying, “Saul has struck down his thousands and David his tens of thousands!” Trump, by contrast, is most emphatically not a war hero. David spared the mad King Saul, who sought his life. When Saul and his son, David’s friend Jonathan, perished in battle with the Philistines, he keened over their loss in a haunting lament. It is difficult to imagine Trump having the same instincts, let alone eloquence, in an analogous case.
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But much more profoundly and seriously, the equation of David and Trump betrays a terrible misreading of the Bible. The Book of Samuel and the Book of Psalms attributed to David reveal him to be an exceptionally complex figure, and not just a (forgivably) bad guy who does good things at divine direction, or at least by divine intent. He is, after all, the sweet singer of Israel, whose religious poems even now echo several times a day in the ears and hearts of the devout. And those psalms show a man as utterly different from the American president as a person can be.
David often portrays himself as wracked with guilt and fear:
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am wretched.
Heal me, for my limbs are stricken …
I weary in my sighing.
I make my bed swim every night, with my tears I water my couch.
The psalms attributed to David appeal to the Rock of Ages, portraying their author as bereft, vulnerable, outcast, and in mortal peril. Contrast this with a man who always describes himself as the greatest, the smartest, and the most capable, who preens about his wealth and his health, and who despises tears in himself and in others.
Nor does God (or man, for that matter) simply disregard David’s sins or dismiss them as peccadilloes that might perhaps merit private punishment but no public reaction. David lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, the Book of Samuel relates. He arranged to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, placed in the front of a desperate attack. He died, and the king carried off the widow. Not quite murder, perhaps, but a foul and tricky deed.
In the next chapter, Nathan the prophet stormed into the royal palace, and told the startled David a story about a rich man who has stolen a poor man’s ewe. When David expressed indignation at the villain of the tale, Nathan thundered at him, “You are the man!” And then followed David’s doom, intoned in the name of the God of Israel:
“And so now, the sword shall not swerve from your house evermore, seeing as you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” Thus says the Lord, “I am about to raise up evil against you from your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your fellow man, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it in secret but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.”
David confessed and repented, but the doom came nonetheless. His son Absalom revolted against him, he was chased from his throne (which he recovered after much hardship); he was humiliated by his inferiors; and he ends his days in the midst of another son’s revolt, decrepit and apparently impotent. David’s sin was not only a private sin, and it did not receive a merely private punishment. Nor did he alone suffer: His humiliation included a revolt that turned his kingdom upside down, and led to waves of political murders even after his death. Apparently, the Ancient of Days was not willing to let bygones be bygones.