King David well understood the dangers of bazaar gossip, as it would have been in his day, to the established order and the state, to say nothing of individual rulers.
2 Samuel 1.20 “Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.”*
All rulers before and since have attempted to manage the spread of information, some with more success than others. All dictators need, or think they need, absolute control over everything that is said out loud in their nations. Even in democracies, spin doctors hold key positions of power around our present-day ‘rulers’ and seek to ‘bury’ bad news on days of national emergency.
Our hearts leaped when the Berlin wall fell, stone by stone. They leaped again at the beginning of the Arab Spring, when it seemed as if the power of digital media had united those living under harsh and autocratic regimes in a fierce desire to impose real democracy from below, encouraged and spurred on by contacts made on Twitter and Facebook, and tactics planned spontaneously through mobile phones.
It is hard not to smile at King David’s idea of the dire results of allowing news of this unfortunate development to leak out to the general public. It would make the most unspeakable people rejoice – and not just unspeakable people, but even their daughters, just imagine. (I would love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting of King David and Boudicca, or Margaret Thatcher!)
Of course, for Christians, our ‘ruler in heaven’ wants us to do the exact opposite with the information he has made known to us – to give it the widest possible dissemination. How it must have gladdened his heart to see Caxton’s invention of the printing press! And as for the world wide web, while debate continues as to the rightful claimant to its invention, perhaps God is laughing? And if God did not invent Twitter, Facebook and email, he must be surely welcome its potential for good, as do most of us.
Digital media have made it possible for a New York society matron to exchange ideas with the world with a Buddhist monk sitting in Bhutan, for a docker in Liverpool to talk to a professor of metaphysics in Adelaide, and for a Shanghai businessman to discuss football with a Costa Rican artist. It is like those books we had as children, where a variety of tops, middles and bottoms could be arranged in the most unlikely combinations. And yet, however unlikely these combinations might be, they are the stuff of everyday exchanges in the digisphere.
Of course it is possible to use these channels for evil as well as good. But the overriding factor is that we can no longer say, as a British Prime Minister did in the 1930s, that a part of Europe is ‘a far off country, of which we know nothing’. For we are all now ‘a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’
*In case your memory needs refreshing about what it is that we are enjoined not to broadcast:
“David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan… He said: Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!”
The image is via Wikimedia, a stencil of Three Wise Monkeys in Barcelona, Spain.