Our President states that he can pardon himself. His lawyers state that he has the absolute authority over federal criminal investigations and can order them to cease. Because he has the authority to order the end of a criminal investigation, these people maintain that the President cannot obstruct justice even if he ends an investigation because of a “corrupt motive.” Commentators have concluded that these claims are the equivalent of the position that the President is above the law. This has caused me to ponder the Constitution, but it has also caused me to pick up the Bible and read again about David and Bathsheba.
Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was off at the wars when David saw her bathe, presumably sans clothing. David fell in love, or at least lust, and David and Bathsheba got it on. She became pregnant. David was worried that his transgression would be apparent and ordered Uriah back. David expected that Uriah would be horny after the isolated army life and would spend the nights with his wife. Then, it would look like the soldier had fathered his wife’s impending child. Uriah, a remarkably restrained man, however, refused to be with his wife while his comrades were still at the battles, and he was sent back to the war. This time, however, David gave an order to Uriah’s commander that Uriah be sent to a portion of the front where Uriah would be killed. The order was carried out, and Uriah died. David married Bathsheba, and they had a son.
In the story, it seems clear that even though he was king, David broke the governing law (God’s law) when he had sex with Bathsheba. But did he break the law when he ordered Uriah to the front? As king, David had the authority for this order, but he gave the command not in his kingly role as chief of the armed forces, but for the personal goal of having Uriah killed. He did it out of “corrupt motives.”
My favorite Bible states, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” This might seem ambiguous as to what “the thing” was, but the Lord then sends Nathan to David, and Nathan makes clear that both the sex and the battle order were evil. “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and you have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites.” God’s messenger denounces David, even though he was king and could give battle orders, for killing Uriah. He slayed Bathsheba’s husband, even though David did not actually swing the sword, because of his evil motive in ordering Uriah into fatal danger.
The Lord then states the harsh punishments he will visit upon David. David repents, and the Lord forgives, or at least partially relents, and only (only!) punishes David by having his and Bathsheba’s child die seven days after birth. (This raises all sorts of questions about this God. The child was innocent, but He still had the baby die. This was hardly a pro-life stance. Bathsheba has sinned, but only in the adultery, not in the smiting of her husband, yet she suffered the same punishment that David suffered. But these are issues for another day.)
Does this biblical story hold any lessons for Trump? I am not talking about the adultery part. It seems clear that the President does not think of himself as “evil” because of his adultery, and apparently even his religious supporters do not truly think that it stigmatizes him. No, I am talking about the Uriah part of the narrative. David slew Uriah by giving an otherwise lawful order with an evil motive. Should I take that to mean that if the President gives an otherwise lawful order to end a criminal investigation for a corrupt motive, the President would then be obstructing justice? Or should I just conclude that the Bible no longer truly speaks to us?