Evangelicals love to compare Trump to King David — but just how similar are they?
Evangelical support for Trump has been strong since he was elected in 2016; despite the former president’s multiple divorces, adultery and profanity, many have stood behind him, justifying their support through comparisons to biblical figures — particularly King David.
In 2016, Jerry Falwell Jr. said that “God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer.”
With the indictment of the former president on Thursday, the comparison seems all the more apt; after all, the charges hang on Trump’s hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who alleges that the two had sex while his wife was home taking care of their newborn son, Barron.
It’s not quite the same as the David and Batsheva story, but there are certainly echoes. Both tried to, in some way, possess and manipulate an attractive woman, and both tried to cover it up. After impregnating Batsheva, David tried to get her husband to sleep with her so that the pregnancy would appear to be legitimate, and then arranged for her husband to be killed. Trump, meanwhile, allegedly ordered his fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay Daniels to stay mum.
For both men, the fallout from their actions has been extremely public. In II Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan, telling David of God’s displeasure, warns him of God’s impending punishment. “You acted in secret, but I will make this happen in the sight of all Israel and in broad daylight,” he says. Trump’s sins, too, will be aired in public, in court; he may even do a perp walk in front of a bevy of press.
But David, upon Nathan’s castigation, instantly admitted guilt and became penitent, saying, “I stand guilty before Hashem.” Trump, on the other hand, has tried to whip his followers into a frenzy over what he is calling a “witch hunt,” and disparaged prosecutors investigating him.
Of course, David was punished for his various sins: the death of his first child with Batsheva, the betrayal of his son Absalom, the rape of his daughter Tamar by his other son Amnon — who Absalom then killed in retribution — and a pestilence from God.
Yet God also blessed him and his lineage; his second son with Batsheva was Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem and became another great king of Israel. Even almost immediately after the incident with Batsheva, David won a great battle and expanded his kingdom.
As sinful as David was, he took responsibility for his actions, and was greatly rewarded as a direct result. God ends the pestilence when David tells God to take him instead of his people, because they are innocent and he is not. After God’s anger with David for his actions with Batsheva, Nathan says the punishment will be lighter because of David’s admission of guilt.
When people compare Trump to David, they imply that, just as with David, God smiles upon Trump despite his sins. They mean that Trump is God’s choice for leader, and that, like David, Trump is ultimately righteous. Both Trump and David may be fallible, but the implication of the comparison is that they are both the chosen messengers of God regardless of their sins.
Trump has missed an important part of the story, though: the apology. Over and over, Trump has denied any wrongdoing and accused his critics of illegitimacy, calling himself a “completely innocent person” and touting his successes. (In 2020, when accused of incitement to violence after the Jan. 6 attack, he said he was “perhaps the most innocent man anywhere in the history of the United States.”)
We no longer live in biblical times, and misdeeds are judged by courts, not God; that means Trump may well be found not guilty of the specific legal charges prosecutors are levying. But even if that turns out to be the case, he’s missing the leadership quality that defined David: humbleness, and a willingness to admit moral, if not legal, wrongdoing.
Still, given Trump’s two impeachments and the many attempts to indict him on a variety of crimes including tax fraud and inciting followers to raid the Capitol, he seems to repeatedly come away unscathed and emboldened, all the more poised to return to leadership. So perhaps the comparisons to David will continue.