King David: Murderer; Rapist; Man After God's Own Heart

One of the reasons I know I'm pretty awesome comes directly from the story of King David, the only Dude the Bible ever refers to as a man after God's own heart. My reasoning is as follows:

A. God is awesome.
B. David was an artist.
C. David and God were alike.
D. I'm an artist.
E. David and I are alike.
F. Ergo... boom! I'm pretty awesome.

Flawless logic, eh?*

King David gets a lot of play in a lot of North American Protestant Evangelical sermons, but not usually for his awesome artistry (which is generally overlooked).

Mostly, I think, Americans have a gut-level affinity for David because he lived in barbarous times and was handy with a sword and a well placed rock. We Americans do like our violence. God apparently didn't find this as cool, and wouldn't let David build his fun-house because of it. Sometimes, though, you gotta fudge things a little, if you want to get people riled up for your massive capital campaigns (see: The Crusades, Colonialism, et cetera).

I think it was all about artistry, though, so let's recap some of David's artistic accomplishments:

First, he was a wicked-awesome musician. In modern terms, you might say he was pretty much the best guitarist in the country. It was as though Joe Satriani and Andres Segovia made a love-baby, locked it in a room, and forced it to play scales for its supper until it was fifteen. David was so good, in fact, that he could alter mental states with his fingering and got a gig playing regular, private concerts for King Saul (who was sort of a bipolar, loose cannon) to help him sleep.

David was also an actor. This one time, he got captured by some Philistines (sworn enemies of the Israelites - David's people) and acted like a slathering nutcase so they wouldn't see the need to separate his head from his body. I mean, he was dedicated to the role. The Dude drooled all over, peed on the city gates... talk about a method actor! Apparently he was good at it, too, because they let him off the hook. Him - a guy famous for having killed thousands of their people. Go ahead, ask any actor in Hollywood what's the quickest path to an Oscar nomination and they'll say, "Easy: play a character who's a little mentally un-hinged."

This isn't all just hearsay, though. We've got lasting proof of David's artistry, because the Dude was a prolific poet, master of the poetic forms of his day and of his people.

Now, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute... I've heard of those poems - they're called the Psalms, right? And aren't those NAPEs just ape-dandruff over David's psalms/song lyrics? So doesn't it stand to reason that they do respect him as an artist?"

Well, in short: No.

NAPE churches do use a lot of Davidic psalms, yes, but generally only the ones he wrote when he was in a good mood. They tend to ignore the ones where he was pissed at the world and at God, and just wanted to die. Respecting an artist means being willing to take on his or her body of work as a whole - not just the stuff that doesn't make you uncomfortable. This may come as a bit of a shock, but there have been times when Church People have been a bit, um, selective about what in the Bible they will and won't read.

David was a Dude. He was real. When he was pissed, he said so. When he wanted something and had the power to take it, he did so. Like, say, the time he happened to peeping-Tom some other guy's wife while she was in her nekkies taking a bath, and used his king-powers to force her to come have sex with him. And then after that woman's husband inconveniently came back, he went ahead and had him killed. True story. Which goes to show that if there's one thing God really, really likes, it's a murderer.

Or maybe... no. Maybe the bit about David being "a man after God's own heart" wasn't meant to be read as a definitive, all-encompassing definition of who David was, or an affirmation of his behavior. Maybe the God the Bible's supposed to be artfully painting a picture of isn't quite as focused on all the idiot-stick things we do all the time, because God knows that they're just sort of inevitable. Perhaps this God-entity is more interested in some sort of heart/relationship/metric/thingy - something that can never be encapsulated in one verse; or one horrendous, rapist/murderous set of actions.

So... what kind of heart did David have, when he wasn't killing off other guys so he could get away with raping their wives? How come he gets to be God's bro?

I'm not sure, but I think it may be entwined, somehow, with who David was as an artist - who God is, as an artist. See, I tend to think of God as this big, crazy-haired artist, a sort of macro-Maker who gets his jollies from painting/singing/playing/tapestrizing This Whole Shindig into Being. And even though This Whole Shindig kind of sucks (and incomprehensibly so) at times, I still think it's a frickin' cool Art Experiment - one most likely motivated by a mind-boggling, Creative Love.

David, as a genuine Artist, probably understood this. He was still human, though, and therefore an idiot who did the sort of idiotic things that humans always do when they get too much power. But in his heart there still burned this Creative Love that just couldn't be quenched, no matter how hard he tried to beat it out with his idiot-stick. That, I think, is what that "God's own heart" verse is all about. It's not about how David behaved or what he accomplished as a King and leader, it was about a Creative, Loving heart-connection.

Let me tell you just one more David story to illustrate this point.

So, we've established that David was kind of a [dirt]bag, who used his power in order to use women for sex. This kind of behavior was all the rage at the time, sure, and these women had probably been trained to believe it was an honor to be used by the king, but still...

As you can imagine, David's philandering habits brought him a lot of progeny, and one of those little progenies was named Absalom, who grew up to be just like his dad - a violent Dude. Earlier in the story, for example, Absalom murdered another one of David's sons, Ammon, for pretending to be sick and raping his sister, Tamar.

So yeah, Absalom was a dude, with this massive, probably-dredheaded hairdo that, when it was cut off one time, was found to weigh in at almost five pounds. That's some Bob-Marley action, right there. Absalom's big hair started to get to him, and he started to get a big head, too. Long story short, he organized an uprising against his own dad. It failed, and while Absalom was riding off on a mule, his hair got stuck in a tree and he was left dangling. Then David's top general came and threw a few javelin's through Absalom's chest.

This is where David's heart came in. Instead of rejoicing at his victory he got totally bummed, crawled up into a room over the city gate, and cried so loud and hard that his returning soldiers had to sneak in, they were so ashamed of themselves. His spear-chucking general had to come drag him out of there so the people wouldn't lose their faith in him as king and knock off his crown. Theirs was a harsh, harsh world; but what's important here, I think, is that what was of ultimate concern to David, at heart, is not what his son did, but who his son was.

The metaphor's not perfect, of course. In addition to being a murdering rapist, David was also most likely a pretty crappy father to Absalom, or things would likely never have gotten so bad. You can't be the man of raping violence that David was and not have some serious familial consequences. 

But this is a story (a cracking good one, actually), and it's my impression that the theme or idea we're supposed to take away is that despite his many, many flaws, David knew a thing or two about the kind of Love that God had for him. David's flaws are front and center in the story, I think, to show us that Real Love is not about being morally perfect - it's about something bigger... something Divine.

You might think I'm being a bit selective, here - attempting to use the story of David to reinforce my pre-existing belief in a God of Love. To which I say: Fine. Fair enough - no contest. I only ask that you go find me an un-selective, un-biased reader of anything, ever. I'd like to grovel at her feet.

My main point here is not to convince you that my conception of God is the right one, or to use the Bible to prove something you don't otherwise already believe. What I am trying to do is to argue that a militaristic, destructive, moral-behavior-based reading of the Bible is not inevitable - that it can be read as a work of Art, a delicate exploration of a Creative Universe, and a Love story.

The rest, as they say, is between y'all and the Almighty.


*There may be a formal fallacy somewhere in there - something about an excluded middle, perhaps? I don't know... I think I may have dozed off that semester.


  1. okay, I have to stop and say this is an awesome post; Samson was also pretty cool. thanks

  2. Thanks, Mark. Anytime I can disturb a little poop and tear down an idol, I'm happy to do so - even if it's a "hero of the faith." ESPECIALLY if it's me.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this!!!!! This is brilliant.

    1. You're welcome! It was nine years ago and I didn't even remember writing it, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)


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