The biblical story of David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12) is one of the more well-known stories in the Bible. In the story, King David desires the wife of Uriah, one of the officers in his army, arranges to have Uriah put sent on a suicide mission, then takes his wife. The passage tells us: “The Lord was angry at what David had done.” (II Samuel 11:27 CEV) So the Lord sends a prophet to face David and announce a terrible punishment for his murderous selfishness and his lack of care for Uriah. One of the lessons of this story is that the righteousness of kings, and thereby all governments, consists not in their right beliefs, but in how they treat their citizens.
If the king or government has full power over its citizens, as some have believed and unfortunately seem to still believe, then this story makes no sense. This story only makes sense if kings and governments are responsible to treat their citizens rightly and God himself shows concern that they do. This story points to the rights of citizens.
The chairman of the board of the Ghanaian organization for which we work once told a group:
We live in a part of the world where the elected become the bosses and the voters become the servants.
The push for democracy in Africa has resulted in a kind of “democracy” that he and other Africans do not find democratic. The story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan is a potent antidote wrong ideas about government. The story clearly makes the king responsible for his citizens, not the other way around. One author has noted that the Old Testament is rich in stories of kings who did the wrong things and ended badly. Maybe that’s why Yale professor Lamin Sanneh finds a connection between having the Bible in one’s language and human rights.
I find it most interesting that it is the stories in the Bible that point to the responsibilities of government leaders most clearly. In fact, based on teaching passages in the New Testament especially Romans 13:1-7, some have concluded that the Bible teaches that we should obey government no matter what. It seems to me that the stories of the Old Testament kings directly contradict some interpretations of Romans 13:1-7.
It is a mistake to see the stories of the Bible as something relevant only to children, or as something less helpful or interesting than teaching passages. It seem to me that some Bible truths are most clearly present in stories and that stories often offer a context for interpreting the teaching passages of the Bible.
Let’s not marginalize Bible stories, make them secondary to teaching passages, or stop efforts to make them available to everyone.