America’s Patriots and Heroes Were Not Saints

America’s Patriots and Heroes Were Not Saints

© David Burton 2020

King David

     Today, a manic frenzy is sweeping America to denigrate many of our former heroes, to tear down statues of these early American icons, to erase from mortal memory the names and fetes of these historical figures and even to expunge any trace of them from our national history and heritage. To those who are rushing in their rage to “sanitize” American history, a word of advice: men are not God-like saints – we are all human and even those we revere and eulogize have skeletons in their closets. Those who deserve to be honored should be so revered, in spite of some past real or imagined sins. We need not erase their memories nor whitewash their historical records. We can respect their accomplishments while noting what we today consider their past transgressions. Nothing in life is all black or white – life is mostly shades of gray. Let’s remember that: America’s Patriots and Heroes Were Not Saints!

     King David is remembered in the Jewish tradition as a great hero, psalmist, and a revered leader and builder of the Israelite nation. But, with all his accomplishments, King David was definitely not a saint. In spite of his many grievous faults, King David is still honored and held in esteem by the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Today, we here in America should take note of this fact and we should do the same with those heroes and patriots that have created the best and greatest nation in the history of the world.

     The biblical narrative of the second king of Israel, King David, relates his accomplishments, as well as his sinful transgressions. We should carefully note that the Old Testament tells us of his great deeds, but does not shirk from exposing his human weaknesses and the vile acts that he committed. As readers of the bible, we are expected to accept the facts as they are. We are expected to accept the truth, unpleasant as it may be. We are expected to pass moral judgement on the deeds, but, we are not allowed to erase the facts. We are expected to learn from the truth and not ignore the misdeeds that were committed. But, perhaps the most important lesson that we can take away from the story of King David is that of forgiveness. Instead of ignoring, or erasing the facts of David’s transgressions, the bible teaches us to remember and forgive. Indeed, the Old Testament teaches us “Never forget! ”. Unfortunately, the false message being spread today is “forget and never forgive!”

     So here, amid the calls to: tear down statues, remove historical facts from our collective memories, delete/change the names of places honoring former heroes and icons, rename holidays and invent meaningless new ones – in other words, throw out the baby with the bath water – let’s look back on what the bible tells us about King David. Let’s see if we can learn from what the bible tells us about King David.

     “King David was a man of contrasts. At times he was single-mindedly devoted to God, yet at other times he failed miserably, committing some of the most serious sins recorded in the Old Testament.
     “David lived a frustrating life, first in the shadow of his brothers, then constantly on the run from vengeful King Saul. Even after he became king of Israel, David was engaged in almost constant warfare to defend the kingdom. King David was a great military conqueror, but he could not conquer himself. He allowed one night of lust with Bathsheba, and it had disastrous consequences in his life.
     “Although King David fathered Solomon, one of Israel's greatest kings, he was also the father of Absalom, whose rebellion brought bloodshed and grief. His life was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. He left us an example of the passionate love of God and dozens of psalms, some of the most touching, beautiful poetry ever written.
      - - -
     “David was courageous and strong in battle, trusting in God for protection. He remained loyal to King Saul, despite Saul's crazed pursuit. Throughout his entire life, David loved God deeply and passionately.
     “King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He then tried to cover up her pregnancy, and when he failed with that, he had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed. That was perhaps the greatest transgression of David's life.” (Ref. 1)

     “Whether as the brave youth striding forward to face the giant Goliath, the wise older king composing the immortal Psalms, or the ancestor and model for the messiah, the legend of David has been recited and burnished for nearly three thousand years. Politically, ethnically, religiously—David is central to the story Jews and Christians tell about themselves.
     “This is, after all, the king against which all other kings were measured, the ancestor of Jesus, the person described by God as ‘a man after my own heart.’ Even in his failings — the affair with Bathsheba, most famously — David has become the prototype of repentance and divine forgiveness. [Emphasis mine]
      - - -
     “David did a lot of the things he’s famous for: he did rise from humble beginnings to become king; he did create a new nation; he did inaugurate Jerusalem as a religious center. But to achieve these results, he had to sacrifice virtually all of the values that we want to imagine that our heroes embody.
      - - -
     “But how does someone become king when he’s a complete nobody, from a backwater town in a backwater province, and when, most importantly, he’s not even remotely part of the royal line? The Bible wants us to believe that all the most unlikely things happen to kids from Bethlehem.
      - - -
     “David made Jerusalem into a national and religious center, as tradition holds. But he didn’t build it from the ground up; he took it, displacing its ancient native inhabitants. If we feel ambivalence about the legacy of Christopher Columbus—David is in the same boat. And David didn’t found a completely new religious site; he brought his army and took the ark of the covenant from its local sanctuary. Imagine George Washington forcibly taking the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia when he moved the capital to the District of Columbia; now imagine that people thought the Liberty Bell was the throne of God, and you’ve got the idea.
      - - -
     “What does it mean for us to ascribe legendary status to a man who falls into the categories of murderer, traitor, and usurper? We have invested so much cultural capital in David over the last three millennia. What do we do when our idealized founding figures — against whom we measure ourselves and who help define us, their descendants — turn out to be far less than ideal?
     “Maybe—among other things—discovering the truth about David can be a reminder that there is potential danger in blindly valorizing the world of the Bible, in longing for a return to supposedly purer times, and in creating legends out of mere mortals.” (Ref. 2)

     Today in America, it appears that the lessons of the Old Testament, and the story of King David in particular, are being ignored and discarded. What a Shame! Our “former” American heroes and our founding fathers lived in a different era than today. Socially acceptable norms were not the same. Our men of fame and renown were mere mortals, and like King David, they were not saints. They need to be remembered and honored for the good they accomplished. Has America forgotten the meaning of the word “forgiveness”? Has America, like lambs being driven to slaughter, given into those who would distort and erase history and who would create, in its place, their own politically correct and distorted version?

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  1. Meet King David: A Man After God's Own Heart, Jack Zavada, The Learn Religions,
    12 December 2018.
  2. The King David You Never Knew, Joel Baden, The Daily Beast, 11 July 2017.

  20 August 2020 {Article 430; Suggestions?_49}    
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