Jim West tackles King David’s irascible personality in his post today, “Shimei, David, And A Change of Heart.” Jim outlines the history and how David swore he would not take Shimei’s life, after he cursed the king fleeing his own son but on his death bed David charges Solomon, “you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”
I left some comments on Jim’s post but I wanted put them hear as well. David is one of my favorite characters because he is so complex. Jim concludes (almost, there is another few sentences, but this is his pronouncement):
This is the real David, the vicious, cruel, violent, murderer whose dying breath is an order of execution against a man he had pardoned- proving the truth of Shimei’s earlier accusation and the Deuteronomist’s disdain for monarchy.
If only it were that simple. Why should we decide that this is the “real” David and not the other? And why believe any of these accounts in the first place? But assuming we do….
Yes, David was certainly all of those things including someone who struggled to obey God. But he was also incredibly savvy, if we accept the accounts. He knew who to play against whom and when. He kept his vow, he did not kill him, but Solomon was not bound to that oath. David is as complex as any “real” human, with various and different motivations all in tension. To attribute this “contradictor” emotions or reactions to one source or another (and I am not saying that Jim does, necessarily) is to ignore the complexity of reality, even in a fictional character.
And of course, I would also suggest that 1 Kings is telling us that Solomon is just as “sharp” as his father. He knew that there were many opposed to his rising to the throne, perhaps Shimei and others around him, and so he had to “consolidate” his own throne and in that context it was either by marriage or death. Solomon seemed to have trafficked in a lot of both.
In the end, with regards to Jim’s post, I wonder what he is really getting at in this post. Is he simply casting stones at an aging and vindictive character or is he being iconoclastic? Perhaps he is making a wider, albeit veiled, contemporary analogy of the use and abuse of power, it is after all an election year here in the US. Jim concludes (really, these are the last sentences of the post) with this:
That’s what kings are like. They lie and steal and kill and destroy. Much like Satan, in the description found of the arch-deceiver in the Gospel of John. One can hardly fail to notice the parallel between David and the Adversary.
But not all kings of course. Some are benevolent and have done an immense amount of good in this world. To me, the power of the character of David is that he is so “real” and human in his emotions and struggles. I can relate to David, not in the killing and sleeping around bit of course, but in terms of the struggle. Much as I can relate to Paul in Rom. 7.14-20. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7.15) What Christian honest with themselves cannot say the same at some point (or daily, as the case may be).
It would be easy to make humorous comparisons between David and Bill Clinton, but I won’t you can do that for yourselves, but lately I have begun to think of Johnny Cash as a suitable comparison, at least for my point. Today they are selling posters in the student union to returning students and one is the picture of Johnny Cash flipping the bird (the actual picture is from earlier years, one person even calls it the “Greatest Rock-n-Roll Photo Ever Taken,” but he took out an ad in 1998 after he won a Grammy, to show the music establishment what he thought of them). He was a man of great passion and conviction. He went through addiction, recovery, marriages and conversion. He was a real person with real emotions and struggles. I can relate to that.
King of Israel or Rock and Roll (Elvis is a mere Saul to Johnny’s David) these are the kind of men that I understand, even as I strive for a higher goal.