There was a king and queen of Israel during the time of David, but it was not at all as the nation of Israel thought.
I’ll get to them in a minute.
You might recall, deep in the recesses of your memories, that God didn’t want to give the people of Israel a king. God was supposed to be their king, and anybody else was going to be a shallow imitation. But they asked and asked and asked, and God, being the parent that he was, unable to say “No” forever, eventually said, “Ask your mother,” which was also him, so that was confusing, but eventually he relented.
“Fine!” God said, “You can have a king.”
And much like that rare occasion when a child gets rewarded after hearing “No” from their parents a thousand times, the result of the children of Israel getting what they want is a disaster. The line of kings leads Israel through the Promised Land and out of it before you know it.
David was supposed to be the greatest king. He’s the subject of our reading today, but by the time we pick up with the story, we should realize it may have been better if he would have been killed by Goliath long before, because when David falls, he falls hard. The hero-David becomes the villain-David, who uses his power to have an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba, and afterwards, unable to coerce Uriah, her husband, into covering his tracks, he goes and has him killed instead. It’s the kind of thing we would hardly be surprised to hear on the news today, as everybody expects their politicians to abuse their power.
Not everybody! You might say. Surely there are those in power who don’t abuse it, and there are—absolutely—but there are only two paths with power: You either use it and abuse it, or you give it away. Neutrality is not an option—not in this game. Any time a person in power gives away power they are starting down that road toward discipleship, following Jesus who told us that to be a disciple we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow. The problem is that giving that power away also means giving away your influence. History is littered with anonymous people who had power and gave it away, but we don’t know who they are.
Meanwhile, anybody with power who we consider “good”—our moral leadership, you might call them—has figured out how to work this world of transactions and keep enough power to keep doing “good.” This may well be pragmatic, but it isn’t righteousness. At best, it’s making do in a broken world. The paradox of Christian discipleship is that you can’t follow Jesus and retain any power for yourself whatsoever.