Kings, Prophets, and Presidents: A Warning about Power Abuse (Part 1 of 4)

oppression

I never imagined I’d be comparing these two kings of Israel: David, arguably their greatest monarch, and Ahab, reportedly one of their worst! At first glance these two men have nothing in common, until we look at their common abuse of power. Refresh your memory of their narratives here.

Even the best of people are subject to the wiles of power. Please excuse the reminder of the well-known dictum that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Both David and Ahab fell to the basest extreme to which power, if left unchecked, may result: murder!

David’s Bathsheba story is well known. He sees her, wants her, sends for her, sleeps with her, impregnates her, and to cover it up has her husband killed. He robbed something precious from someone else because he could. He had the power and he used it to get his way at the expense of another. He acted as though he were above the law. That’s what power abusers do.

Interestingly enough, when his prophet friend (Nathan) rebukes him he doesn’t even mention the adultery, but focuses his charge on the king’s abuse of power over the powerless. He reprimands his king by use of a parable, which involves a rich landowner who steals and slaughters the one and only ewe lamb of a poor neighbor who cherished the animal and treated it like a pet.

It’s not that David’s adultery was okay with God, but apparently the thing most insulting to him and that which became an occasion for Israel’s enemies to mock, was his abuse of power and privilege. He took something that he didn’t need from someone who did need it. David wanted Bathsheba and used his position to take her, whereas Uriah needed her and was murdered as part of the king’s cover up.

When confronted, David was so callous about his sin he didn’t even get the connection at first between himself and the rich man in Nathan’s parable. He raged about the fictitious landowner until the prophet barked the obvious: “I’m talking about you, stupid! You’re the man!”

David didn’t use his own sword against Uriah. That would have required to get up close and personal to his victim. He ordered his army to do his dirty work. He murdered by proxy. That’s the privilege of power.

Having been the victim of injustice for many years while Saul used his power to persecute him, David wrote a ton of lament and imprecatory songs about injustice, which he seems to have forgotten when he let his own power get to him. The victim became the victimizer.

Fortunately for David this was a temporary lapse of judgment, albeit an enormous one! He was not routinely given to abusing his power like some of the other kings in Israel’s history––Ahab, for example.

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Ahab is known as one of the nation’s most debauched kings and was married to one of the Bible’s vilest women. He influenced Israel toward its baser instincts and was eventually judged severely for his sins.

It’s uncanny how closely parallel his abuse of power is to David’s. He looks out the window of his palace, instead of a UFO (Unclad Female Object) he sees a beautiful vineyard that he wants for himself, has the owner murdered, and takes possession of it!

Like Uriah needed Bathsheba as the wife of his youth, Naboth needed the vineyard that had been in his family for generations as his sole means of support. But when that vineyard struck Ahab’s fancy as a convenient location for his personal garden he and his wicked wife plotted to take it. Thus, we have another example of the blinding and corrupting influence of power and privilege.

As he did with David, God sent a prophet (Elijah) to rebuke Ahab for his abuse of power. He didn’t employ Nathan’s diplomacy with a third person parable. Instead, as was his habit, he got right up in the king’s face and thundered, “You’re in major trouble. You have sold yourself to do evil!”

Like David, Ahab already possessed many times more than any one person could ever use in a lifetime. David, who already had multiple wives and didn’t need another. He just wanted her. And given his position of power, he had no problem taking her. In like manner, from his palace window Ahab saw what he wanted and took it. He had more riches and property than anyone in the country and didn’t need the poor man’s land for yet another garden. He just wanted it. And when at first he failed to get it he pouted like an entitled child!

Jezebel caught him sulking and concocted a plan to have “two scoundrels” bear false testimony about Naboth and then put a hit on him. Once again, murder begins with an abuse of power.

What do we learn about power abusers from these two Jewish kings?

  • Power abusers have more than they need but want what others have and just take it.
  • They keep their own hands “clean” by getting others to do their evil bidding.
  • They have the resources to cover up their sin, at least from human eyes.
  • They have a sense of entitlement and are seldom conscience stricken about victimizing from the powerless.
  • They see injustice when it’s done to others but not when they’re guilty of it themselves.
  • They tend to have to be hit over the head with their own sin in order to repent.
  • Convenience and personal lusts trump the legitimate needs of others.
  • They’re so used to getting their way that they have a tendency to pout when something stands in their way of getting what they want.
  • They need people in their lives that can speak truth to power and boldly bust them on their behavior.

Just in case you can’t think of any personal, social, or political lessons to glean from these two stories, stay tuned for next time!

In the meantime, take a look at: A Comic, a Candidate, and a Few Bad Cops 

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