On Being Cost-Conscious

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A brief meditation on 2 Samuel 23, 13-17 (RSV)

  • 13 And three of the thirty chief men went down, and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim.

  • 14 David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem.

  • 15 And David said longingly, “O that some one would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate!”

  • 16 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate, and took and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the LORD,

  • 17 and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.

Modern economics makes us to believe that economic dealings are a mere question of rationality and of sound reasoning. Economics concerns itself with efficiency and clever calculations. This reasoning and insight points to the western economic system which is formed in modern times.

According to this economic system, everything depends on the economic dealings of the consumer. All that is produced in the market can be sold only if there is a consumer/buyer. The consumer must trade rationally and this could be accomplished only if they are price-conscious. How could one be price-conscious?
The one way to be conscious is on the basis of our interests.

Let us now focus on our text and see David’s behaviour as a consumer.

David became thirsty. He developed an economic need. Then he remembers that he is in the area of the well in his native city, Bethlehem. He longs for a little water from this particular well which has a special meaning for him. To satisfy his need, David could not himself go to the well to drink water: as we could go to a Cafe or Tea shop. He was in a war zone. It is very obvious that David as an army commander could easily send a few soldiers, who would certainly grab this opportunity to impress by fetching water for him from the enemy-occupied territory. What happened is that David actually did not send any one. Three soldiers volunteered to go and fetch water from the well.

David is sure that his soldiers would not only bring the water but also do anything for him. He was the commander. Even though they carried out the requests voluntarily, David remained responsible for what they did because he did not stop them from endangering their lives.

David shows himself to be quite price-conscious. It did not cost anything to him. Perhaps the three soldiers had to postpone another mission in order to fulfil this one. The time and energy that might have been put into the abandoned mission became the “costs” of production in this case. David certainly had to calculate the risk. The action could be risky. But there was a need to be met.

David dealt price-consciously and power-consciously……

Everything goes on well. The soldiers breakthrough the enemy lines, get the water and bring it to David. But now all logic is set aside. David makes them look like fools. The risk taken by the soldiers was in vain and the men are rewarded with nothing but ingratitude. There could have no more an unkind response such as this. David did not want to drink the water.
How could it be? He asked for it and now he throws it away.
He suddenly becomes conscious of something that he did not think of before. That is the liberating tension of this story. He now realises that he had ordered for a very expensive product. The process of its production could have cost the lives of the producers.
David had only concentrated on the price which he himself had to pay, and never thought about the value of the price which the others have to pay. He had calculated his own risk but not of the producer or the worker.

At this moment David turns to the Lord in repentance. He does not offer excuses to the soldiers, whose lives he had endangered in an attempt to satisfy his own personal need.He turns to the Lord.

He pours the costly water out:

“Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. V. 17

David now realises his irresponsible attitude and now he withdraws from the chain of production and consumption and from the power position in which he had allowed himself to be caught. By drinking the water he would have been drinking the blood of the men themselves. David pours the water out to the Lord as a sign of regret and repentance. As a consumer he is prepared to renounce consumption knowing that this type of consumption cost is unacceptable in God’s eyes. A product costs not only what it costs for the individual but also what it costs for others.


Current economic rationality advocates that consumption continues as long as the consumer is willing to pay the price for which she or he is charged. Biblical rationality involves in the calculation of costs before the eyes of God where we see the real components of cost: risks involved and damage inflicted on the individuals religious integrity. It is not the rationality that differs from the modern view point but the machinery used to measure it. This device is not individual interest and the individual power that serves that interest. It takes into account the current situation in the employment of labour and the working conditions under which the product takes form, even if these actual production costs exceeds the price usually paid for the product.

Rational consuming does not simply advise price consciousness when buying. It means cost conscious as well. If the cost endangers the welfare of another then we must renounce consuming. It is possible our economic dealing should lead us towards the establishment of an economic system that allows for the fullness of the life of the other and we who have entered into economic relations with these others need not lose our integrity in the eyes of the Creator.

Material drawn from ‘Economics of Honour’ by Roelf Haan.