The King seethed with anger. The audacity of some people is astonishing. But this case was inconceivably unjust. What kind of man would do this? There was not a lot of monetary value attached to the loss. Who could set a price on this kind of loss? Well, he set a price for the perpetrator of the crime. “He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such thing without pity.” Before rendering this judgment he declared the perpetrator deserved death for the crime. But his own conscience did not bother him. Did it?
You Are The Man
The story was a parable. There was no poor man with a pet lamb. There was no merciless and thieving rich person who killed it and served it to his friend. Nathan responds to the sentence David pronounces with “you’re the man.” The backstory is how David tried to cover-up the crime of adultery with Bathsheba by murdering her husband Uriah the Hittite.
A crime that is common knowledge but never spoken about is treated as though it never happened. Nathan the prophet breaks that silence. David admits the crime when it is named. But only when it is named. The explanation for Psalm 51 reads, “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” So, one of the most used psalms in the Christian church, came from David’s anger and later sorrow that was prompted by this parable.
The Appeal To Conscience
Modern people often assume that ancient rustics were brutal people lacking the tenderness brought by our sophistication. I gave up that thought a long time ago. And having worked in rural areas for a few decades, I don’t believe modern people are all that humane.
I had not been in the parish long when one of the leaders of the church stopped and asked, “Do you want to see my chickens?” I got off the porch and into his truck. “Sure.” I said.
I knew what I was getting myself into. He operated a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) for Koch Foods. He had warehouses of chickens who never saw the light of day. Inside, he showed me a panel showed how much water had been used, electricity used, and feed sent to the feeding troughs.
The farmer took me into the main room where literally hundreds of chickens stood all day in a thick layer of excrement. We wore no protective clothing. Our faces did not have masks. But we breathed a lot of dust. I wondered how much of this was from the food, the chickens, and the crap. I asked some questions.
Testing My Conscience
“Am I right that these are meat birds, not raised for eggs?” I asked.
“Are they used for Fast Food?”
“Yeah. These will go to Chik-fil-A.” He replied. I knew my family would not want to hear that.
He explained how the chickens I raised for eggs were different than these birds. He said it this way, “when my chickens are this old they are already twice the size of yours.” The CAFO birds were modified. I would see the trucks go toward the CAFO’s and return with the caged birds for slaughter. I went inside before they returned. The smell was awful.
Months later, a fire destroyed one of the warehouses. It was a four alarm fire meaning four stations were called in to put it out. It burned all night. A few days later the farmer’s mother told me. “I felt so sorry for the chickens. I thought they all burned to death. But he told me they all went to the other end and piled up on each other. Most of them smothered to death.” It was a terrible image of fear and desperation. I wonder where our conscience was.
My own eight birds were pets more or less. My children gave each one a name. Where the CAFO chickens were all white like leghorns, mine were a variety of colors, breeds, and even personalities. I considered this difference.
The Shepherd’s Experience
David knew the sheep of his father’s flock. The sheep were the family’s source of wealth. But, there had to be some who were more like pets than livestock. Human beings long for connection and companionship. David knows this human need. The ewe lamb was the poor man’s solace and friend. The lamb was a source of learning about the difference between needs, wants, and greed. The lamb gave every appearance of reciprocating the care.
I was filling out an application for our marriage license the other day. My fiancee’s dog was watching me intently. He raised his ears when I looked over at him as if to say, “what are you doing?” I chuckled. I am filling out your adoption papers.” I said. “You will soon be mine as well as hers.” He wagged his tail.
King David lacked our scientific knowledge that shows were are genetically connected to every living thing on this planet. He had the traditional training that claimed (as stated in Genesis in the story of Noah) that some of the animals share the same “breath of life” we do. His response to the parable was more than human need being taken into account. The lamb had been mistreated in the process. Nathan used it to find his conscience about Uriah’s murder. I wonder if he ever understood he had also mistreated Bathsheba?