The Lamb and the Unacknowledged Self

One of the truly great parables in the Bible is the “Parable of the Ewe Lamb” in II Samuel 12

Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

There are scholars who like to interpret this passage different ways, and I don’t feel competent to argue much beyond what the text clearly seems to say, since Nathan does, ultimately, give his own interpretation for it. However, I would like to consider its effectivity because of the three selves of David.

1.  Self #1. The Public Self. David, hearing this story, injected himself into the story as the hand of justice. This is no surprise. As king, he was the ultimate hand of justice in the Kingdom of Israel. Nathan, then would be the witness to a crime, and David would be the judge.  This is pretty obvious. The office of David is consistent with this, and the role of Nathan as court prophet was probably consistent with this as well.

2.  Self #2.  The Private Self.  David’s history made him susceptible to a message to his “private self.” It is pretty clear from Scripture, that David, even as an adult, identified with his youthful role as a shepherd. This role was emphasized in Biblical description of his early life. He appeared to be proud of his dedication to protecting sheep. If he did indeed write the 23rd Psalm, he even saw God as assuming a shepherding role, like himself. He expressed pride in his self-sacrificial care of the sheep, risking his own life against a bear and a lion. Even years later, David apparently remembered the barbed complaint from his older brother,

“Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” (I Samuel 17:28b)

When David heard the story of Nathan, on a private level, he certainly connected to the story on a different level. He was the poor man who cared for his own dear sheep. The rich man was the wolf or the bear who was coming to snatch that lamb away.

David’s response as the role of judge (his public self) was driven by his private, emotional connection with the poor man.

3.  Self #3. The Unacknowledged Self. David as king, had blood on his hands. In fact, he had a lot of blood on his hands. He also was very rich. And had certainly used that wealth, position, and power to get his own way. It would have been perfectly logical for David to connect with the rich man. Having been a king for decades, and even before that was a common sight in the king’s court, or a military leader for more decades, the most obvious connection to the story would be the rich man. In fact, Nathan identifies him ultimately as fitting that role, to the shock of the king. David was the rich man— his unacknowledged self. David wasn’t wasn’t the poor shepherd. He was the rich tyrant. He was the lion, the bear, the wolf.

So why was David so blind to Self #3? Simple. He identified publicly with his role as judge (Nathan set the stage for that interpretation). He also identified emotionally with the poor man. He was once a shepherd (a lowly role) and most likely identified himself (emotionally) with these roots more than his present situation.

When using stories, to edify, one needs to know what role the person will assume. (Recall the Sawi tribemembers in “Peace Child” who identified with “clever” Judas, rather than “betrayed” Jesus.) The story of the Fall of Jericho has an important lesson for those who hear it. But does the hearer identify with the Israelites marching around the wall, or one of the city dwellers wondering whether they will live to see another day? Perhaps they need to identify with both roles— faithful servant as well as victim.

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