King David and The Good Wife

Often, as I read the Bible, I come to a passage which makes no sense. Something happens, there is a reaction to it, and you are left wondering why. In the olden days (of not so long ago) people would have heavy tomes sitting on bowed bookshelves, and would pull down a version of their favourite commentary to investigate. Today we have Google.

However, the problem with Google, is that usually, you have no idea who has written something. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if someone is giving their own opinion, which is no more valid than your own, or if they are Biblical scholars and know what they’re talking about. And they write with so much authority!

Take a passage I read recently (as part of my task of reading through the whole Bible – which is taking me months). I read an account of King David, before he died, telling his minions to take a census of Israel and Judah, because he wanted to know how many people he ruled. (End of 2 Samuel.) This makes God angry, and there is a plague, which kills thousands of Israelites. Why? What is wrong with a census? I put the question into Google, and came up with dozens of results.

Several people said the problem was David’s reasons for taking the census, that it showed pride in his own achievements. Some people suggested that the problem was lack of trust, or wrong priorities – David was more concerned with how many people he ruled than what God wanted. All sounded very plausible, and were more or less what I’d decided myself.

Then I read another explanation, posted on a website called “”. They came up with a different reason for the census being wrong. They said that in Exodus 30, God had clearly said that no one should take a census of Israel, because Israel belonged to God, and only he could instigate one (as he did when the book of Numbers was written). When the people were counted, they had to make sacrifices, showing that they belonged to God.

So, the reasons for the census (pride, wrong priorities, etc) weren’t the problem. Taking the census in the first place was.

There is also the issue of what prompted David to take the census. In 2 Samuel, it says God incited David to. But in 1 Chronicles (same story) it says Satan incited David to. So, which is correct?

Again, there were lots of answers online, people saying that actually it was God, who allowed Satan to incite David. Or saying that Satan was not a Hebrew word, and that is where the problem lies. However, scholars who actually know some Hebrew point out that actually, the verb ‘to incite’ has no subject in the original text. So it is better translated, “There was who moved David against them,” – which doesn’t make sense. So English translators added what they thought was best. Which means that to be definite in our interpretation of the English translation is foolish. There are, it seems, a lot of foolish people out there.

Which actually, is my point (I know, you were wondering if I had one!) The reason the title mentions The Good Wife, a series on Netflix which I very much enjoy, is there is a character, a judge, who insists that when the lawyers present their arguments, they should always say, “In my opinion.” I think this would be a good rule for people who expound the Bible, whether they do it online or teach, or preach. To give an opinion on part of the Bible, and to say this is absolute, when perhaps you are using a translation (eg, a version written in English) is dangerous. I would even go as far as to suggest it might be wrong. Yet people do it all the time.

My understanding of the ten commandments, is that the second commandment, is relevant here. It’s the one that says, “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20) I was taught that this does not mean casual ‘swearing’, using the name of God as a meaningless word, saying, “Oh God!” when we drop something (though that is also wrong, but for a different reason). It means, do not claim something is from God when it is not. Do not say, “God told me to…” if you’re actually not sure if it was God or your own mind. Do not claim something is God’s word – an absolute explanation of the Bible, if actually it is just your own opinion. Especially if it’s based on a translation.

People should not be so forceful when telling others what they believe, because they might be wrong. To say: “If you want to come to God, you must first say you are sorry, because that is what happened in the parable of the prodigal son,” would be wrong. ( I have explained this in my article on understanding stories : We can be sure of God, sure of our relationship with him, sure of his character. But when we are interpreting the Bible, we should show a little humility.

Perhaps those who take a particular stand on a subject, be it homosexuality, or the place of women, or euthanasia, need to be careful. Yes, we should pray about issues and ask God to guide us. Yes, we should stand up for what we believe is right. But we need to be ever aware that we are standing for what we believe. We do not speak for God. Sometimes we might be wrong. It worries me when I read Christians write about those who disagree with them, referring to them as, “Those who claim to be Christians,” clearly indicating that actually, their own view is correct, their own view is the true interpretation of the Bible, the others cannot possibly be right.

So please, next time you give your view about something, especially in a public forum, remember that it is your view, not God’s. Because, in my opinion, we can never be sure.



Anne E. Thompson is the author of several novels and a non-fiction book, How to Have a Brain Tumour.
Her books are available from bookshops and from Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:


The Rich Man


Once upon a time, there was a man. A very rich man. He was also a very holy man. He trusted God with his life and tried his best to follow what he was taught. The man was now very very old. As the man grew old and weak, he realised that soon he would die. He trusted that when that happened, he would go to Heaven. But he was worried. He did not like the idea of going empty-handed, of not taking anything with him.

“God,” he prayed, “I know that when I die you have promised to accept me in to Heaven. And I know that I am not meant to take anything. But please, could you make an exception in this case? Could you let me take a bag with me?”

Now, God is a kind God, so he considered the man’s request very carefully. He knew that the man had tried his best to follow him during his life, that he had been generous and kind, that he had shown mercy and tried to live a good life. He knew that the man was very worried about this and God didn’t want him to be anxious. So he agreed, he told the man that he could take one small bag to Heaven.

Soon after this, as expected, the man died. He arrived in Heaven, carrying one small bag.

“Oh,” said the angel at the entrance, “you cannot bring that in here. You cannot bring anything to Heaven.”

“Yes, I know,” replied the man, “but God gave me special permission.”

So the angel went to check and sure enough, he discovered that this man was allowed to bring one small bag into Heaven. Now, word quickly spread amongst the angels and saints in Heaven and they all wondered, what had this man brought into Heaven? So they all came, eager to see.

They crowded round the man, peering over each other’s shoulders, jostling for position as the man knelt down and slowly unzipped his bag. There, shining brightly, were four solid gold bars.

There was a moment of complete silence.

Then, perplexed, one of the angels asked, “You brought pavement?”


I love this story. I heard it in church, I cannot even remember who told it but I used it many time when teaching because I think it makes a good point. When we decide to follow God, we sometimes have to let go of things and this can be hard. Whether it is our ambitions, dreams, or wealth , there is actually no point in holding on to them. What God provides is always so much better.


Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this, why not sign up to follow my blog?



Letters to a Sister

Image 1

Thinking about new year resolutions…

Do you swear very often? I try not to but I swear more than Mum and Dad used to. I’m not sure I ever heard Dad swear in anger. I heard Mum about three times throughout our whole childhood, which is pretty impressive really. Each of those three times was at me for something I had done. I do remember one particular incident when she swore at me and Dad came into the hall behind her and I felt positively elated because I knew that he would tell her off. I still got sent to my room, I can’t even remember what I had said or done, but whatever it was, I felt that Mum had been worse because she had sworn. It was such a big deal.

Do you remember at Infant School when if you were heard swearing you had to go to the staff room and rinse out your mouth with soap and water? Tasted foul. (The reason that I know this was your fault – you had told me to put two fingers in my mouth and say “bucket” and I was showing other children on the playground when the teacher caught me!) Not sure you would be allowed to soap children’s mouths today, though I don’t think it hurt us. It also didn’t really stop us swearing, we just made sure that there weren’t any teachers around.

As I said, I can’t remember Dad swearing. I do remember him smoking though. He told me that it was good for his health when he was working late because it kept him warm but that I shouldn’t tell Mum. I was young enough to believe him. It wasn’t until later that I realised that what he was telling me was untrue, we always just accepted what we were told. I sometimes start to explain something to my own children (like that the moon is made of cheese) and I’ll suddenly think, “Oh no, that is rubbish actually.”

I did try to not swear when the children were small and I must have been fairly successful. Someone (stupidly) gave them magnetic letters to go on the fridge and the boys used to write swear words on there because they thought I didn’t know any so wouldn’t realise what they had written. Most of them were spelt wrong. Very disappointing as a teacher.

I don’t think swearing is a good trait, it shows a certain lack of control. I also think it reflects more who you are used to being with, we tend to assimilate speech patterns without noticing. I tell off my children for swearing but it’s not the worst thing they could do.

When we lived in the US, the swear words were different. I was shocked to hear the pastor ‘swearing’ from the pulpit. They were shocked when I ‘swore’ during Sunday School. My children tell me that a lot of the words I think are swear words are now acceptable. I tend to not believe them.

Actually, we did get told off quite a lot growing up, I think perhaps children did in those days. Not just by Mum and Dad either, I remember at the Girl’s Group we went to at church, being told off for giggling. Do you remember that quiz we made up, where we read a Psalm and then read it again with mistakes in it and people had to stand up if they heard a mistake? It was very long and repetitive and we started giggling and the leader told us off, said we should show more respect for God’s word. She was, I suppose, sort of right but now I’m older, I don’t think actually God would have minded two teenaged girls giggling over something that sounded strange. It was the strangeness of the words that made us giggle, nothing really about God.

That’s often the trouble with the Bible, the words sound very strange. It’s easy to forget that they were real conversations, real letters and poems and stories written for real people. Much of it was written by rough manual workers – I bet they swore sometimes.

I have been reading the Psalms again lately. We have just finished studying ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ at church – a study book written by someone whose name sounds like a fungal infection. Anyway, it had some interesting bits but isn’t really my sort of thing. I like to read the Bible alongside some kind of commentary, something that explains the weird phraseology and the context in which it was written. I am using a book by Michael Wilcock, who I don’t think I would like if I met him (a bit bossy and ‘preachy’) but his writing is interesting.

He begins with the first Psalm/poem/song (whatever you want to call it) and he explains the odd word ‘blessed’. When we say “bless” today we either mean it like a pat on the head – “Aw, bless” or because someone has sneezed – “Bless you!” – a throw back to when the plague in 1600’s started with a sneeze, a sort of quick blessing before the person dies. Though sneezing today is unlikely to lead to a quick death. However, Mr Wilcock, the preachy one, defines “Blessed” as : a ‘life of delight and fruitfulness, with a sense of worth’. I like that, I want that sort of life.

I hope your new year is blessed.

Take care,
Anne xxxx


Thank you for reading.

This is a reply to my sister’s letter, which you can read at:

If you enjoyed this, why not sign up to follow my blog?
Then you will receive all my posts by email – usually two per week.