PERSPECTIVE ON MORALITY AND LEADERSHIP : A Biblical Parable for Our Times : King David was forgiven and served his people well; Bill Clinton’s religious foes should allow for the same.

James A. Michener, the author, most recently, of "Mexico" (Random House, 1992), is currently at the Texas Center for Writers in Austin.

In the heat of the presidential election, a woman showed me a pamphlet that had been distributed in great numbers charging that my candidate was an evil man, practically the Antichrist, whose behavior made him unfit to lead this nation. It was signed by one of America’s noisy Savonarolas, who quoted scripture to prove that Bill Clinton was the personification of the Devil and must be defeated.

I was so awed by the force to this condemnation that I was driven to the Bible to see what it actually said about kings, emperors and other heads of state, and the more I read, the more clearly I saw that the premier earthly king of the Bible was David, who led Israel for 77 triumphant years. He was wise, courageous, a born leader, a prudent defender of Israel and withal the “sweet singer of the Psalms.” Throughout his long reign, he served God and his own kingdom superbly. He was the paradigm of leaders.

But morally, he was flawed. In 2 Samuel, it is told how this magnificent king fell into error: “And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house; and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.” She was Bathsheba, already happily married to Uriah, commander of David’s armies.

Despite this, King David conceived such a powerful lust for her that he connived to have her husband sent into battle in which his own troops would desert him. To ensure the success of his diabolical plan, David actually wrote an infamous letter, which was preserved in Jewish chronicles: “Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.”


Talk about a smoking gun that proves an evil act! David put his in writing. His plan worked. Uriah was posted to the most dangerous part of the front; his men did desert him; he was slain, and King David did inherit Bathsheba, who bore him the son Solomon, who became Israel’s most grandiloquent king. And 28 generations later, David, this flawed man, was a lineal progenitor of Jesus Christ himself, who is described in that famous opening verse of the New Testament as “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Certainly God did not approve of David’s behavior in the Bathsheba incident and he sent the Prophet Nathan to excoriate David, which he did in a way that reverberates through the centuries. Using a parable about an unidentified man who behaved abominably against a poor, defenseless man, he roused David’s pity and anger until the king cried out: “As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.” And when he demanded to know who the culprit was, Nathan thundered: “Thou art the man.” But in the end, both Nathan and God forgave David, who resumed his reign with unparalleled success.

However, that wasn’t the end of David’s folly, for late in life he behaved in a manner that would certainly disqualify him from leadership by current standards. His misbehavior is chronicled in the opening verses of 1 Kings. David is now old and worn from long leadership. He finds he cannot sleep at night because his feet are too cold.

The members of his Cabinet solved the problem by combing Israel in search of a young virgin of unusual beauty who would sleep with the king and keep him warm: “So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag . . . and the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him . . . .” The passage does end: “But the king knew her not,” biblical phraseology for “They did not have sexual relations.” That’s the Old Testament equivalent of: “But I didn’t inhale.”


The other day I heard Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) shouting over my radio that he had given away his tickets to President-elect Clinton’s inaugural because he could not bear to witness such a disqualified sinner taking the oath of office to lead our nation for the next four years; other American ayatollahs are predicting catastrophe for the Clinton Administration. They all quote the Bible against my man, but they seem to be using a different Bible from the one I know.

My Bible, the one I was reared on and which I revere, states clearly that King David behaved abominably in the Uriah-Bathsheba affair, but that he proceeded to become unquestionably the greatest leader Israel would ever have and the forebear of Jesus Christ.

If God could forgive David and clasp him to his bosom, I believe he might look with compassion on his servant Bill Clinton as he assumes leadership of the world’s most powerful nation . . . for the time being. Unlike Rep. Dornan, I shall accept my tickets to the inaugural and shall pray for God’s guidance of his other, sometimes flawed, son Bill.