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Uriah dying

Uriah dying

The biblical story of David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12) is one of the more well-known stories in the Bible. In the story, King David desires the wife of Uriah, one of the officers in his army, arranges to have Uriah put sent on a suicide mission, then takes his wife. The passage tells us: “The Lord was angry at what David had done.” (II Samuel 11:27 CEV) So the Lord sends a prophet to face David and announce a terrible punishment for his murderous selfishness and his lack of care for Uriah. One of the lessons of this story is that the righteousness of kings, and thereby all governments, consists not in their right beliefs, but in how they treat their citizens.

If the king or government has full power over its citizens, as some have believed and unfortunately seem to still believe, then this story makes no sense. This story only makes sense if kings and governments are responsible to treat their citizens rightly and God himself shows concern that they do. This story points to the rights of citizens.

The chairman of the board of the Ghanaian organization for which we work once told a group:

We live in a part of the world where the elected become the bosses and the voters become the servants.

Scepter of a Ghana chief

Scepter of a Ghana chief

The push for democracy in Africa has resulted in a kind of “democracy” that he and other Africans do not find democratic. The story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan is a potent antidote wrong ideas about government. The story clearly makes the king responsible for his citizens, not the other way around. One author has noted that the Old Testament is rich in stories of kings who did the wrong things and ended badly. Maybe that’s why Yale professor Lamin Sanneh finds a connection between having the Bible in one’s language and human rights.

I find it most interesting that it is the stories in the Bible that point to the responsibilities of government leaders most clearly. In fact, based on teaching passages in the New Testament especially Romans 13:1-7, some have concluded that the Bible teaches that we should obey government no matter what. It seems to me that the stories of the Old Testament kings directly contradict some interpretations of Romans 13:1-7.

Akan chief being carred to a funeral in Kumasi, Ghana

Akan chief being carred to a funeral in Kumasi, Ghana

It is a mistake to see the stories of the Bible as something relevant only to children, or as something less helpful or interesting than teaching passages. It seem to me that some Bible truths are most clearly present in stories and that stories often offer a context for interpreting the teaching passages of the Bible.

Let’s not marginalize Bible stories, make them secondary to teaching passages, or stop efforts to make them available to everyone.

The mouse, the duck, the pig and the cow

Mouce duck cow pigThere once was a mouse who lived in a farmer’s house. One day a spider told him that he heard the farmer saying that he had bought a mouse trap. But the spider did not know where it had been set. The mouse was worried. He had never seen a mouse trap and so would probably get caught in it. He went to consult his wisest friends: the duck, the pig and the cow. They heard him out, thought about the matter and responded: “The farmer bought a mouse trap; not a duck trap, pig trap or cow trap. So this matter is for you to deal with. It does not concern us.”

That night, there was a loud SLAP as the trap went off. The farmer’s wife got up to check the trap. When she reached back into the dark crevasse where she had placed the trap, she found that the trap had not caught the mouse, but a poisonous snake. Not only that, the snake was not dead and it bit her.

The next day, a few family and friends came to console her; some from a distance. The farmer wanted to serve them a nice meal, so he killed the duck.

Unfortunately, his wife did not respond to treatment and was hospitalized. So, more family members came from around the area to see her. The farmer again wanted to feed them a nice meal, so he butchered the pig.

Then the worst happened; the farmer’s wife died. Now many family and friends came for the funeral, even from far away. To make sure that they were well fed, the farmer called the butcher and had him butcher the cow. The guests were well fed.

So only the mouse was left.

The moral of this story: Help your neighbors even with problems that don’t affect you because in the end, they just might. I seem to remember reading this idea in a well-known book:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4 ESV)


I heard this tale from a Ghanaian colleague and I have embellished it a bit from his telling. Many African peoples use stories like this to teach values to the next generation. I have been in villages where everyone sat around after nightfall listening to such stories from the older members of the family.