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The Seduction of Public Leadership: Principles of Morality for Christian Leaders, by Stephen M. King

Uriah, of course, is killed, and David, abusing his kingly powers and prerogative, takes Bathsheba for his wife. Perhaps no one would have been the wiser had it not been for the fact that the governmental system of the ancient Israelite kingdom had its own system of checks and balances. In spite of fairly unlimited power and authority, an Israelite monarch was not absolute, nor could he completely run roughshod over his subjects. Granted, there was no constitutional republican form of government, complete with a written constitution, and enforced by power of the law, no popular legislative body, no Supreme Court. There was, however, an office, divinely instituted, to which nominees were confirmed or commissioned by God. It was the office of the prophet, and the select few who occupied it were usually concerned not so much with foretelling the future as with forth telling the present. The role of the prophet was to serve, among other functions, as the conscience of the king and as an unimpeachable voice of moral authority and rectitude.

And so it happens that David is approached by Conscience personified in the person of the prophet Nathan. Bear in mind that Nathan is not a reporter for the New York Times or the Washington Post, nor is he out to scoop the networks by unraveling the scandal of the century. On the contrary, his approach is what we would call low key: he simply marches himself into the king’s presence and proceeds to reveal to David, the king, his sin through the use of a parable. David, for his part, does not recognize that the story is fictitious, and he listens intently. Nathan tells of a poor man who owned just one ewe lamb. In the same town lived a rich man with a great many lambs. When a traveler came and the rich man wished to serve the traveler dinner, he confiscated and slaughtered the poor man’s ewe lamb rather than one of his own. Immediately, David, enraged by the facts, pronounces that the wealthy man who did this deed deserves to die and that his estate should compensate the poor man four times over.

The entire scene is; however, a clever contrivance of the prophet to lure David into condemning himself, for Nathan proceeds to announce that David is that rich man. David has an entire kingdom, including many wives and concubines, but he coveted Bathsheba. Nathan pronounces judgment on David, saying, “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own…Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house…” In an instant, David’s sinful action is uncovered and the intentions of his heart laid bare. It is political scandal par excellence, the likes of which even modern politicians could not even begin to match. It is Bathshebagate!

David, for his part, is undone. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he confesses. When the un-named child born to David and Bathsheba is stricken with illness, David refuses all nourishment and lies prostrate on the ground symbolizing total self-abasement. After the child’s death, David arises, washes himself, and eats. While the child was sick, there was hope he would regain health, but now that he is dead, David goes on with life. His repentance brings self-purgation; however, it does not alleviate him of accepting not only personal but national responsibility for his actions. His personal life is affected; his public life is as well. For God the former greatly affects the direction and impetus of the latter.

David’s leadership up to Bathshebagate seemed flawless. He honored both God and man; he acted justly in his decisions, because he maintained a standard of morality based upon the edicts and laws of the Mosaic covenant, a standard greater than the political system he ruled in. However, with the commission of the crimes of adultery (a personal act) and conspiracy to commit murder (a public act), David breaks his covenant relationship with God and is forced either to justify himself and his actions through more lies and deceit, or to confess and accept the judgment of God. He, of course, wisely chooses the latter.

What did David gain through confession? Did he avert the judgment of God and sidestep the consequences of his crimes? No. The judgment was final and carried out completely. Direct and indirect consequences of his acts included the death of the un-named child; the rape of daughter Tamar; the murder of step-son Amnon; Absalom’s conspiracy, including his public rape of David’s concubines; the slaying of Absalom by Joab; and the war of succession between two of David’s other sons, Adonijah and Solomon, with Solomon finally succeeding. Modern scandals, including Watergate and Clintongate, and their resulting consequences seem tame in comparison, at least compared to Bashebagate’s intensity of action and ultimate consequences.

Bathshebagate set in motion the decay and eventual deinstitutionalization of David’s leadership. He became leader of crisis rather than a leader of authority, constantly repairing and maintaining the breaches brought on by his crimes, instead of systematically and strategically establishing and meeting policy goals with the full force and influence of his kingly office. Legitimate use of political power is based on the use of authority, which is derived from a covenant with a higher power. When this agreement is disannulled, the leader is guilty of breach of trust and thus leadership is one of crisis and not prudence.

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Category: Ministry

About the Author: Stephen M. King, Ph.D. (University of Missouri-Columbia), is Associate Dean of Academics, Chair of Department of Government, History, and Criminal Justice, and Professor of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of God and Caesar: The Biblical Keys to Good Government and Community Action (Xulon Press, 2002) and co-author with Bradley S. Chilton of Administration in the Public Interest: Principles, Policies, and Practices (Carolina Academic Press, 2009), as well as writing and being a contributor to numerous books and articles about Christian faith and politics, administrative ethics, public management, and public policy. In addition to his extensive background as an educator, he has experience in pastoral ministry and overseas mission work. Regent University Faculty Page.

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