Saturday, June 27, 2009

2 Samuel 11: Sanford is No David

I did promise in recent weeks to be slightly less topical in my blog posts: the Bible possesses deep and abiding meaning, and I needn’t try to make it relevant to every little HuffPost news story.

But this one’s just too juicy to pass by.

So I know you’ve all been following the hilarious mis-steps of Governor Mark Sanford from down in SC; if you haven’t, here’s just the most recent Times story covering the kerfuffle. Basically, it was recently revealed—after a week of obfuscation—that Sanford was using state funds to finance occasional trips to Argentina to see a mistress. (He is married with four children.) And yes, all the now-standard “social conservative” Republican hypocrisies apply: as a House member, Sanford signed bills in the late 90’s condemning Bill Clinton for his sexual infidelities and calling for his resignation. (Sanford himself has yet to step down.)

Why do I care? Well, because on Friday, during his first meeting back with state heads, Sanford apologized to his staff and compared his plight to that of the Bible’s King David. The exact quote: King David “fell mightily, fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there.” Sanford’s referring to the married David’s erotic dust-up with Bathsheba, a beautiful woman who was not (yet) his wife. And to the fact that David escaped the scandal relatively unharmed. But the scandal itself? Whew!

Now I have few kind words for Sanford, another fallen moral crusader (as if there were any other kind). But here’s perhaps the only case where I think the governor’s being a little hard on himself. Seriously. Do you know the full story of David and Bathsheba? Let’s take a little trip back in time.

David was and is still considered the most successful, most beloved king of Israel (which, considering the competition, isn’t really saying much). On the whole, he leads an exemplary life, except for one major screw-up. It’s outlined in 2 Samuel 11.

Our story takes place “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle” (11:1), as opposed to the winter, when kings go out to Arizona to take advantage of the dry heat. The Israelites are at war with the Ammonites, but the king is at home, far from battle. One afternoon, he’s strolling on his roof when he catches a glimpse of a beautiful bathing woman off in the distance. This is Bathsheba, and she is gorgeous. (And David’s a bit of a perv here … though I’ve never been one to condemn a little voyeurism.)

However, because he’s a king and not a commoner, David needn’t merely look; he can touch. He calls Bathsheba to his palace and, in the parlance of the time, “lays with her.” (But let me tell you, there’s a lot more than “laying” going on in the kingly bed that night.) When morning comes, he says he’s got an early meeting, sends her away, and has a cup of coffee, right? Well, not quite.

Because you see, Bathsheba is married, and her husband, Uriah, is actually fighting in the war against the Ammonites that (we presume) David instigated. Awkward, right? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet, because Bathsheba conceives. And Uriah’s still at the front, fighting his ass off the Israelite cause.

So David has an idea: he’s going to bring Uriah back from the front, get him rippin’ drunk, send him home to his hot wife, and let a horny, trashed, sex-deprived man do what horny, trashed, sex-deprived men do.

But Uriah’s such an unbelievably good guy that he refuses to go to his marital bed when his brothers-in-arms are in tents at the front. In an act of remarkable solidarity, he sleeps on the ground outside the city gate and never enters his wife’s home. Listen to Uriah and get a taste for how shitty David must be feeling right now … because this guy’s bona fide: “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in the booths; and my lord Joab [the army commander] and the servants of my lord are campaigning in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and drink, and lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing” (11:11).

David is moved but unconvinced, and he tries the same trick the next night. But to no avail. So David does the only thing he can do (?): he arranges for Uriah’s murder. He asks that Joab, the army commander, send a group of soldiers—Uriah among them—to the hottest part of the battle. Then he commands Joab to have the rest of the men pull back, leaving Uriah to be slaughtered. Joab, it seems, has some compunction about this, but he basically sees this horrible scheme through. The hero is cut down, and David has his morally dubious victory.

In the wake of the disaster, David calls Bathsheba back to his house and marries her. And in another of the Bible’s fantastic dramatic ironies, it is their son Solomon who takes over the throne from David and becomes the last of the great Israelite kings. Now, God isn’t altogether pleased with this state of affairs, and he basically lets the first child—the one that led to Uriah’s death—die. And David does earn the Lord’s curse, but it’s a comparatively slight curse, especially considering those doled out to Saul and Solomon.

So, basically, I’m saying that Sanford has a long way to go before he can reach the heights (or depths, as it were) of Davidic romantic sin. He’d have not only to sleep with his Argentine mistress, but to arrange for the mistress’s husband to head off on a “fact-finding” mission to FARC-controlled Colombia and then have his entourage abandon him in an angry drug lord’s lair after telling them that the husband really wants to take over the cartel … and then invite his now-widowed mistress back to his home and marry her too (keeping his other wife Jenny around) and then watch as God kills their first-born as punishment and then be sure to let his new wife convince him to name their second child the new governor of South Carolina one day.

Let’s just admit it: Governor Sanford is no David.


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