Clinton & King David by Leon J. Podles

Clinton & King David

Reverend Jesse Jackson has tried to provide some biblical foundation for those who wish that the nation would forgive and forget President Clinton’s behavior. Jackson compared Clinton to another great sinner and penitent, King David. However, those who remember the complete history of that royal adultery will find the comparison somewhat less than reassuring. We, like many others, have grave doubts about the sincerity of President Clinton’s repentance. He is obviously very sorry that he was caught in adultery and the tangle of lies with which he tried to hide it. He may even be sorry that he has caused his daughter great pain. But true repentance requires a changed life, and there is no evidence of that. Moreover, even true repentance did not save David and Israel from the consequences of his sin.

King David lusted after Bathsheba. He had many wives and concubines, but in the season when kings go off to war, he neglected his duties. Lounging around the palace, he was tempted by the sight of Bathsheba and fell. He impregnated her, and tried to conceal the adultery by bringing her husband back from the wars to sleep with her. Uriah would not lie with his wife because he would not live in pleasure while his comrades in battle were in the field, suffering and in danger. Uriah was a Hittite and a pagan. David arranged for Uriah’s death in battle. Nathan the prophet confronted David, and David’s reaction was not to attack the prophet, but to repent. He repented sincerely and profoundly; his psalms of repentance are still said today. But God still punished him. David’s infant son, conceived in adultery, died, despite David’s praying in sackcloth and ashes. Even after he forgives us, God still sends us what Catholics call temporal punishment. God lets justice work its way out in time, perhaps to show us that our sins have consequences, for ourselves and for others.

David’s incontinence had consequences far beyond his lifetime. His children inherited his character flaws. Amnon raped his half-sister, and for this was killed by his brother Absalom. Because of David’s weakness of character, he could not discipline Absalom, and Absalom rebelled. Solomon shared his father’s lack of sexual restraint and introduced idolatry into Israel by his foreign wives. Israel was punished for this idolatry by the division of the kingdom, by the disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, and by the Babylonian Exile. The compilers of the Pentateuch saw the same flaws at work at the beginning of human history, when Adam followed his wife into disobedience rather than obeying the law of the Most High.

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Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in Old English and Old Icelandic from the University of Virginia and is a senior editor of Touchstone. His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine's Press, 2020). He and his wife Mary (author of the Touchstone column "A Thousand Words") are the parents of six children. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

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