20 March 2009
I have always had an affinity for the biblical David, who is second only to Moses in the esteem of the people of Israel down through the centuries. Initially, of course, this personal affinity had everything to do with my sharing his name, an awareness that came already in early childhood. Furthermore, David not only founded a dynasty that ruled for some five centuries, but he was also the ancestor of Jesus himself, "great David's greater Son."
Moreover, I have a great love for the Psalms, many of which are ascribed to David, who, like me, was a poet and musician. The struggles David expresses in these heartfelt stanzas are ones with which most of us can identify in some measure. Finally, I have inherited my namesake's interest in politics. Throughout much of scripture, David is seen as the paradigmatic monarch, a man after God's own heart (I Samuel 13:14), who sang God's praises and led his people to victory against their enemies.
But as I've been reading through the Davidic episodes in I and II Samuel in recent weeks, I've been struck by the recognition that, in many respects, David was not that good a king. His reign was an exceedingly turbulent one, marked by warfare, rebellion and filial betrayal. He was a poor administrator and appears to have been propped up by his powerful nephew Joab, to whom he owed his political position. David loved his sons deeply but seemed unable to control them or to command their loyalty. He allowed his personal affections and private allegiances to overwhelm his public duties, especially as his mourning over Absalom's death appeared to manifest an ingratitude to those who had risked so much to save his throne. Once more Joab had to rescue him from his poor judgement (II Samuel 19:1-8).
Worst of all, David had one of his own soldiers killed so he could take his wife for himself, which incurred the wrath of God as expressed through the prophet Nathan (I Samuel 11-12). Yet David repented and sought forgiveness (Psalm 51 is associated with this incident), which God freely granted while not exempting him from the consequences of this flagrant infraction of his law.
Finally, David appears to have been given to snap judgements based on hearsay, as seen in the case of Ziba's slander of Jonathan's son Meribaal (II Samuel 16:1-5, 19:24-30). In short, even the justice of David's rule is in doubt, in stark contrast to the evident wisdom of his son Solomon (I Kings 3).
Nevertheless, somehow, through all this David remained a man after God's own heart. Despite his evident flaws, he was still chosen by God to rule his people, "for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). Though most of David's descendants were wicked rulers, God remained faithful to his promise to him, maintaining a dynasty that would culminate in the King of kings, whose suffering and death we remember during this season of Lent.
Of course Lent also reminds us of our own sins, which weigh upon us and poison our actions and relationships with others. I personally find it comforting that, if God could love so flawed a servant as David, he can and will love us too, despite our failings. It is this hope of salvation in Christ that sustains us as we near the feast of his Resurrection.
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