Spiritual

The Karma of King David

March 29, 2016
“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind
      The Bible (Hosea 8:7)
 

Introduction

Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

Thou shalt not commit adultery”, says one of the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites through Moses.  It also says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife”.  King David of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel coveted his neighbour’s wife and committed adultery. He followed it up with murder. According to the Mosaic Law, King David should have received the death penalty. But none pulled up the king for his crimes. David thought that he had had his way and escaped without a scratch. But the universal law of Karma would catch up with him.

Religions mostly hold the view that the wages of man’s sins would be settled in the life after death. For instance, the Bible says, “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. Most Indian religious philosophies are of the view that the souls would transmigrate to be reborn based on their ‘karma’ of current lives. But the story of the life of King David seems to suggest that heaven and hell are right here on this earth.  Here is his story in brief and you be the judge…

A Great King Caught in the Web of His ‘Karma’

King David had ruled Israel during the period between 1010 and 970 BCE. He was a handsome man, and a wise and courageous king. As king, David took the nation to the pinnacle of its glory. The Jews hero-worship David as their mightiest king and a valiant leader.  The ‘Star of David’ in the national flag of modern Israel apparently testifies to this belief.
 

David was also a talented songwriter and musician. Many of the Psalms in the Bible are attributed to David. Most of them reveal the poet’s great commitment to the divine. The Bible describes David as a man ‘after God’s own heart’.  Christians believe that Jesus was born in the clan of King David in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophesy.

David had no royal ancestry. He was a shepherd boy who became the hero of Israelites after he had killed the Philistine giant Goliath. He became the King of Israel simply because God told Prophet Samuel of the Old Testament Bible, “Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”…to anoint for me the one I indicate on who would be their ruler” (1 Samuel 16:1). And David was anointed the King of Israel.  David annihilated the enemies of Israel. He captured the city of Jerusalem and made it his capital. Then something happened and his life would change course and devastatingly so. 
 
It was spring – the season of emerging buds. It was also the season of war for the Israelites. Traditionally the king led his forces from the front. But this time, King David chose to stay put in his palace at Jerusalem. The city was full of women whose husbands were away fighting for their king.
 
Late one afternoon the king got up from his bed after a siesta and leisurely walked up to the terrace of his royal penthouse. As he sauntered on the rooftop, his eyes caught a beautiful woman having a bath. The woman was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Uriah was an army officer. Bathsheba was alone at home since her husband was away in the war-front.   
 
King David had at least seven wives and ten concubines already in his palace at that time. Yet, he lusted for his neighbour’s wife. Bathsheba was brought to him. The king slept with her. The next morning, she traced her way back to her home. The king forgot the night and Bathsheba.      
 
Days went by. One fine morning, word reached the King that Bathsheba was with child. The mighty king was suddenly rattled. He had hoped that his illicit affair would remain a palace secret forever. But the pregnancy of Bathsheba upset all calculations. It was scandalous for the King to father a child in his neighbour’s wife. And adultery was a crime punishable with death. The king had to do something urgently to save the situation.
 
Joab, one of the three generals in the king’s army was the David’s hatchet man. The king sent message to Joab directing him to send Uriah back home urgently. The king’s plan was to make the soldier sleep with his wife. That would shift the responsibility for the woman’s pregnancy on to her husband’s shoulders.  It was a cunning but clever plan.  
 
Uriah rushed back to Jerusalem and reported to the King. The King made some casual queries about the war and asked Uriah to go home. But Uriah spent the night in the servants’ quarters. The king was furious when he found out. He sought an explanation from Uriah. He submitted that he did not feel like going home to sleep in comfort when his commander and companions were risking their lives in the battlefield.
 
The King panicked. For once, the King hated a soldier for his commitment to duty. The King thought that getting him drunk might help. So, he detained Uriah for another day of briefing. That evening the King threw a party to which he invited Uriah. The soldier got drunk. Yet he did not go home to be with his wife that night too.
 
The King was desperate. So, the next day David wrote a letter to Joab instructing him to put Uriah in the forefront of the battle and get him killed by the enemy. The soldier carried his own death warrant to his General. Joab engineered a suicidal attack on the enemy. Uriah was placed at the head of the unit. He was killed.  Bathsheba became a widow. And (a compassionate) king married Bathsheba. In due course, her pregnancy became public. No eyebrows were raised. The king thought that he had finally cleaned up the mess his indiscretion had caused. But he was wrong.
 
Shortly after king  David made Bathsheba his wife, Prophet Nathan, a friend and counsellor of the king, arrived at the palace. As representatives of God, prophets usually enjoyed the power to admonish even rulers.  Nathan accused David of adultery and murder. The king confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  The prophet assured David, “The Lord has forgiven your sin.”
 
But David’s repentance did not stop the operation of the law of cause and effect (Karma). The King’s child in Bathsheba was born seriously sick. David fasted and pleaded with God for his baby’s life. But on the seventh day, the infant died. The king’s troubles had only started…
 
Tamar, the daughter of King David, was a beautiful virgin. Amnon, her half-brother desired Tamar. There was no prohibition on a man marrying his half-sister. But Amnon only wanted to enjoy her sexually. So Amnon acted sick and invited Tamar to his house to cook him a meal. She did so. Amnon ordered the servants out. Then Amnon raped Tamar.  The girl was devastated and sat their crying bitterly. Amnon pitilessly pushed her out of his house.
 
Soon, David heard what happened to his daughter.  He knew that the law required the rapist to either marry the girl or face death. But the king did nothing. He allowed his son get away with the rape of his daughter. Perhaps, the burden of his own sins made him indecisive.
 
But Absalom, brother of Tamar, was determined to avenge the abuse of his sister. He decided to kill Amnon. But, it was not easy to kill a prince under the protective ring of palace security. So Absalom bided his time.
 
Some two years later, Absalom announced a party. He invited his father to the party. The king declined as Absalom had expected. So Absalom pleaded with the king to ensure the participation of all the princes. Absalom then arranged with his confederates to kill Amnon. As the party progressed, Absalom signalled his co-conspirators. They pounced up on Amnon and killed him. Absalom fled the country.
 
King David had loved Absalom more than Amnon. But as king, David had a duty to prosecute his son for murdering a prince. However, David grieved the absence of his son Absalom than the death of another of his sons. He had no heart to enforce justice. Immersed in the thoughts of Absalom, the king neglected the affairs of the kingdom. Eventually Joab pleaded with the King to forgive his son. The king did so and Absalom returned to the country.  The king became calmer and returned to his work.  
 
Absalom was an ambitious young man. He knew that his father was no more the bold and aggressive ruler he once was. David was turning a weak king. Absalom wanted to overthrow his father. But there was a problem. Although his father had not punished him for his crime, he had not restored Absalom to his princely status. If he wished to become king, he had to get entry into the palace.
 
Absalom knew that his father mostly went by the advice of Joab. So Absalom sent a message to Joab asking him to arrange a meeting with the king.  Joab ignored the message. Then Absalom asked his servants to set fire to the cornfields of Joab. They burned down his crops.  
 
The news hit Joab like a jackhammer. But he knew that the king would take no action against his son even if he reported the incident to him. So he gave in and arranged a meeting between father and son. David restored Absalom to the privileges of the prince.  
 
Back in the palace, Absalom worked towards his goal of dethroning his father. He began by undermining the power of the king in public and demonstrating how he would make a better king. It was high treason. But the king did nothing to stop Absalom. 
 
Some four years passed. Absalom now thought that the time was ripe for an open rebellion to capture kingship. So, he, along with some 200 men, journeyed to Hebron to plan a revolt against king David. He received support from the people who had nursed grudges against the king. King David heard about his son’s moves. Fearing that Absalom would carry out a surprise strike against Jerusalem, the King fled Jerusalem with his followers, leaving just his ten concubines to guard his palace.   
 
Absalom rode into Jerusalem unchallenged.  He secured the palace and other strategic buildings.  Thereafter, he called his inner circle of advisors to learn their views on the way forward.   
 
The biggest worry for the supporters of Absalom was a future reconciliation between David and Absalom. They knew that if that happens, David would forgive his son but would never spare his collaborators. So, it was necessary for them to make Absalom do something so reprehensible to completely rule out any chance of future reconciliation between father and son. 
 
Ahithophel, the advisor of Absalom, suggested that Absalom publicly rape the ten concubines of his father. Absalom agreed. A tent was erected on the palace terrace (may be from were David first saw the bathing Bathsheba). Absalom raped the concubines of his father on the palace terrace in full public view. This emboldened the people around. They came out openly in support of Absalom.
 
Absalom  already had a 12,000 strong army ready to fight his father. Ahithophel advised Absalom to pursue David forthwith and finish him. With hardly any fighting force around him, King David was highly vulnerable at that moment. Any delay would allow time for the soldiers of David to regroup. Ahithophel told Absalom that once his father’s soldiers get the time to regroup,  Absalom would never overcome David.
 
But Absalom sought the advice of his second advisor who actually was a mole planted by David in his son’s team. This man told Absalom to wait to build a bigger force to take on his father. Absalom took this advice. He did not attack his father immediately. This advisor then sent secret word to David to run for his life.
 
Thus, Absalom missed the opportunity to eliminate his father to become the king. When Ahithophel heard it, he knew that the game was over for Absalom. He also knew that as Absalom’s collaborator, he himself was a dead man. So, he went home, set his affairs in order and hanged himself to death.
 
David regrouped his army. Now he wanted to lead an attack against his son. Yet he had no desire to kill Absalom. And Joab knew it. He also knew that Absalom had to die for his own personal safety. So Joab intervened and pleaded that the King’s life was too precious to be exposed to the dangers of a civil war.  So, Joab led the army against Absalom. King David instructed Joab not to cause any personal harm to his son.
 
The soldiers under Joab chased Absalom.  As the animal on which Absalom was fleeing passed under the tangled branches of a huge oak tree, his long, flying hair caught it and he became trapped in its branches. The animal kept running and Absalom was left hanging in mid-air. The soldiers informed Joab.
 
Joab came rushing in and thrust three spears into the heart of Absalom. His soldiers did the rest. They  threw the body of Absalom into a huge pit and leveled the nearby hill to fill it. David would never see even the dead body of his son. David had used Joab as his killing machine. David had sowed wind. He now reaped the harvest of whirlwind. The king was heartbroken. He cried bitterly. 
 
King David grew old and feeble. He was losing his grip over the affairs of the state. Palace conspiracies on succession were hatched behind his back. David’s son Adonijah, brother of Absalom, decided to make himself king. General Joab, now shifted his loyalty to Adonijah. Eventually Adonijah declared himself king.  But there were another aspirant to the throne. His name was Solomon.
 
Solomon was born to David in Bathsheba after the death of their first child.  Bathsheba wanted Solomon to succeed David as king. Nathan the Prophet colluded with her in this project. (Even holy men knew which side of the bread was buttered!) They approached King David. He issued formal orders declaring Solomon as his successor.
 
David went through a miserable old age.  The hero of Israelites was now  a weak and withering senile.  In the bone chilling cold of Jerusalem winter, the once mighty king lay shivering underneath layers of covers. His servants did not know how to make him feel warm. They brought in a beautiful young virgin to lie on the king’s bosom “that my lord the king may get heat”.  But, Abishag, the charming damsel they brought, did not make the king any warmer. The Jewish joke on this tells that when Abishag returned to her village, she told her friends, ‘Now I understand the difference between, “it was an honour” and “it was a pleasure”’.
 
Adonijah wanted to marry Abishag. So, he went to Bathsheba and requested her to obtain the approval of King Solomon for the marriage. Solomon knew that Adonijah had tried earlier to capture power through a palace coup. Now he wanted to marry the girl who was brought in to provide warmth to his father. Solomon ordered the killing of Adonijah.
 
David realized that he was dying. He summoned Solomon. David told Solomon that Joab was evil. He had killed two army commanders during peace time without cause or the permission of the king. He had killed Absalom. Of course, Joab had also arranged the killing of Uriah for David. David said to Solomon, “Don’t let him die peacefully of old age”. Solomon ordered the death of Joab.
 
In about 961 BCE, David died. He was buried in Jerusalem. After the period of the reign of King Solomon, the Israelite kingdom started its decline. The kingdom would eventually be wiped out from the face of Earth. For some 2000 years, the Jews would remain a nationless people as the ‘Wandering Jew’.  They would finally get a nation of their own with the birth of the modern state of Israel on May 14, 1948.    
 

Conclusion

King David is the greatest hero in the history of ancient Israel. God had described David as a man after His own heart. He was a chivalrous warrior and a courageous conqueror. Jerusalem had remained a non-Jewish territory for some 440 years after Israelites first entered their Promised Land of Canaan (More or less the territory covered by the modern nation of Israel). David conquered the city and made it its capital making it the ‘City of David’.  David was also a great musician composing many of the Psalms in the Bible. The greatness of this shepherd boy turned king is indicated by the fact that one of the well-known titles of Jesus would be, “Son of David.”
 
Yet, there were serious flaws in the character of David. The Bible does not attempt to conceal those blemishes in this hero.  David committed adultery and shed the blood of an innocent soldier to cover it up. His sins brought ruin upon himself, his family and the nation of Israel. Ultimately, he died a miserable old man. An appropriate price was extracted from him for each of his transgressions. Perhaps, the life of King David suggests that the wages of sins are settled right here in this life. And that valour, veneration or penitence does not alter the consequences of one’s actions in this life.
 
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  1. It doesn't mean that the wages of sin are settled right here in this life for everybody. For those who are loved by God and for whom eternity is deserving ,all wages are settled here. But for those for whom hell is deserving as perceived by God, will not be punished in this world. That is what I understand sir.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I thank you for your comment.

    I am inclined to believe that God is a loving and compassionate being. I believe that is the fundamental difference between the Old Testament God and the God that Jesus preached in the Gospel. Why would Jesus let off a woman caught in evil when the Mosaic Law prescribed that she had to be stoned to death? I do not believe in a hell of burning fire and brimstone. I simply cannot imagine such a brutal God when we are taught that 'God is Love'. We ourselves are capable of creating heaven and hell right here in this life by our own thoughts and actions.

    Regards,

    Georgekutty

  3. Sir, but it is written in New Teastament in 2Corinthians 5:10 " For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad".

  4. Sir/Madam,

    I am happy to see your interest in the topic.

    It is not just Apostle Paul but even Jesus himself had spoken more or less implying the same. One such instance appears in Mathew 25:31-46.

    Jesus says,"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Mathew 25:31).

    Honestly, I find it difficult to go by the literary sense of the words.
    The universal law of cause and effect ensures that everyone is rewarded based on his or her actions. But why should we wait until we are dead to be rewarded? Why can't we receive these while we are still living?

    Let us leave aside for a moment the literal concept of heaven somewhere up in the sky and hell somewhere deep down under the earth. (By this time, we all know that there is nothing above and below when the earth is just a minuscule part of the universe suspended in space and staying in its place because of gravitational forces.) I believe that heaven is a place where I would enjoy peace and happiness and hell is where I suffer. I believe that when I love and be kind and compassionate to others, I have heaven right here in my personal and family life. When I hate and do evil I suffer hell right here in this life.

    I have little concern for what happens after death. My interest is in living with peace and joy in this life. I know from my own experience, that I have he freedom to choose either. Love, you choose heaven. Hate, you choose hell. For me it is as simple as that. Remember the words of Jesus, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21).

    Regards,
    Georgekutty

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