Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Solomon & Shimei (part 3 of 3)

Apart from the fact that the machinations of power are quite interesting, and that all of the recorded events of Solomon’s life are fascinating on a number of levels, one might be curious as to why so much time and space (in the Bible) is being given to an examination of the “Shimei situation.”  On the surface, it seems like a reasonable curiosity, but in the face of that curiosity, we cannot fail to notice that Shimei makes three separate appearances within the Biblical record.  Pondering the reasons for that by exploring those appearances is altogether proper and rewarding.  At the same time, we do well to acknowledge that Shimei’s first two appearances occur in connection with the overall Scriptural theme of exile and exodus. 

Our first encounter with Shimei is conjoined with David’s exile from Jerusalem, in subjugation.  The second encounter is coupled with David’s exodus (from exile), as he returns to Jerusalem, his subjugation ended.  The third time that we happen upon Shimei, the story ends with Shimei’s own exile (his death), though he has been given the chance to live a life of exodus in Jerusalem (living within Solomon’s will).  Beyond the overt exile and exodus theme embodied by Solomon’s proceedings in regards to Shimei, we can quite profitably look even more deeply into this matter, and in doing so, discover a microcosm of one of the occurrences with which the grand Scriptural narrative began, as Shimei is demonstrated to be analogous to Adam.  Though the microcosm and analogy are limited in scope, we shall find it to be quite useful. 

Returning to the text of the first book of the Kings, we see that Solomon has summoned Shimei and instructed him to build a house in Jerusalem and live there (2:36a).  Solomon places a commanding addendum to this, saying “you may not leave there to go anywhere!” (2:36b)  Likewise, following His creative act, God summoned Adam and commanded him to tend the garden in which he had been placed, while also instructing him “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17a).  What was to happen to Shimei if he left Jerusalem---if he stepped outside of Solomon’s will and violated his command?  Solomon told him “If you ever do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die!” (2:37a).  Adam, as we well know, in regards to the fruit of the tree, was told “for when you eat from it you will surely die” (2:17b). 

The command of God, like that of Solomon, was quite clear.  Adam, like Shimei, was expected to abide within the given parameters.  Stepping outside of those parameters would result in death.  After remaining faithful to his covenant with Solomon for a period of time, Shimei was told that two of his servants had run away, so he went out after them.  Shimei knew better.  He had observed Solomon’s commandment for three years, but now fell to this temptation to assert his authority as a master.  This parallels Adam’s experience quite well.   Adam, after obeying for some period of time, fell victim to the same type of temptation.  The serpent offered Adam (and Eve, lest we forget) the opportunity to assert themselves as masters (gods) in their own right, which would be especially tempting, seeing as how the Creator had given them dominion over the earth.  The news of Shimei’s excursion beyond the boundaries delineated by the covenant came to Solomon’s attention, as would the actions of Adam.  Solomon summoned Shimei before him and reminded him of the oath along with the penalty associated with the violation of that oath.  Solomon asked: “Why then have you broken the oath you made before the Lord and disobeyed the order I gave you?” (2:43)  The Genesis record has God calling out to Adam, along with Adam’s fearful response.  God asks Adam (as if He did not know), “Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (3:11b) 

The author of the “King-ly” history does not even go so far as to provide us with an account of Shimei’s response to Solomon.  He knew he was guilty.  As we have seen, Shimei’s reward for his violation was death.  Adam, on the other hand, points the finger of blame to Eve, who in turn points the finger of blame at the serpent.  God calls each of the responsible parties to account, just as Solomon had told Shimei that he would be responsible for his own death if he over-stepped the prescribed boundaries, and draws this particular episode to a close by ultimately pronouncing a sentence of death, stating “for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (3:19b). 

Both Shimei and Adam were given the chance to live lives of exodus---enjoying the blessings of life within the boundaries of a willful covenant drafted by their respective kings.  Both Shimei and Adam were tempted beyond the boundaries of that covenant for similar reasons.  In the end, King Solomon was empowered, and Shimei’s final exile was immediate.  If there was to be further punishment for Shimei, then as we previously heard from Solomon, that was the Lord’s business.  Adam’s experience, however, was somewhat different.  According to the Genesis account, Adam lived a great deal of time in his exilic state before the exile of physical death overtook him.  He was first exiled from the garden, forced to consider the exile of creation for which he was responsible, to mourn over the exodus that he had forfeited, and to contemplate the cursing and pain which he had brought to creation.  He would even see one of his sons commit murder.  This punishment from the Lord was probably greater than the merciful death that would eventually come. 

Unexpectedly for us, though this was a likely intention in the construction and presentation of this story, there is much to be gleaned from the accounts of Shimei; for in it, through all its seemingly unrelated twists and turns, we are pointed towards God’s redemption project, and we are reminded of the providence and faithfulness of the covenant-making God.        

Monday, July 30, 2012

Solomon & Shimei (part 2 of 3)

Solomon, at what seems like the first opportunity to do so, does indeed deal with Shimei.  Immediately after reading about Joab’s execution, we find that “Next the king summoned Shimei and told him, ‘Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there---but you may not leave there to go anywhere!  If you ever do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die!  You will be responsible for your own death!’” (1 Kings 2:36-37)  Interestingly, Solomon puts the onus on Shimei for his own welfare and survival.  It almost seems as if Solomon is reluctant to carry out his father’s orders against Shimei.  So mercifully, as would befit a peaceful man, Solomon converts Jerusalem into something akin to Shimei’s personal city of refuge (though he had not killed anyone).  As long as Shimei stays in Jerusalem, no harm will come to him. 

Shimei responds as we might expect, especially in the wake of Solomon having had his own brother executed, along with the general of Israel’s army.  He says, “My master the king’s proposal is acceptable.  Your servant will do as you say” (2:38a).  This is followed by a note that informs us that “Shimei lived in Jerusalem for a long time” (2:38b).  That period of time, we quickly learn, was three years (2:39).  Shimei’s response to Solomon’s proposition reminds us of his response to the returning David.  In that situation, he had said, “Don’t think badly of me, my lord, and don’t recall the sin of your servant on the day when you, my lord the king, left Jerusalem!  Please don’t call it to mind!  For I, your servant, know that I sinned, and I have come today as the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:19-20).  David’s recorded response to Shimei was “You won’t die” (19:23). 

Shimei, above all things, seems to have been willing to follow kingly authority, as evidenced by his words that demonstrated support of an Absalom that had peacefully (and justifiably) taken the throne of Israel, of a David that was returning to the seat of power, and of a Solomon that was now seated as Israel’s king.  Solomon’s knowledge of David’s two encounters with Shimei, the fact that he had probably been a loyal subject of David, and the lingering promise by David that Shimei would not die in relation to the events related to Absalom, likely account for Solomon’s reluctance to deal harshly with Shimei.  In fact, what we can see is that Solomon constructs an entirely new basis for his dealings with Shimei, seemingly unrelated to what has gone on before.  Solomon strikes a deal with Shimei in relation to not leaving Jerusalem.  If he were to leave Jerusalem, it is then that he would die; and his death would be for that reason alone. 

Three years after this agreement is struck, two of Shimei’s servants ran away.  “So Shimei got up, saddled his donkey, and went to… find his servants” (2:40a).  To accomplish this, he left Jerusalem.  He left what was his city of refuge.  “When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem… and had then returned, the king summoned Shimei and said to him, ‘You will recall that I made you take an oath by the Lord, and I solemnly warned you, “If you ever leave and go anywhere, know for sure that you will certainly die.”  You said to me, “The proposal is acceptable; I agree to it.”  Why then have you broken the oath you made before the Lord and disobeyed the order I gave you?’” (2:41-43)  As we can see, Solomon is keeping his dealings with Shimei completely within the context of the oath between he and Shimei.  Though Solomon only entered into an agreement with Shimei because of David’s desire to see Shimei killed, Shimei’s physical fate is not bound up with his “mistreatment” of David.  In effect, Solomon is demonstrating that Shimei has sinned against him, in willful violation of their covenant, and is therefore deserving of an agreed upon sentence of death owing to that violation, and nothing more. 

Though Solomon does add “You are well aware of the way you mistreated my father David” (2:44a), he adds that “The Lord will punish you for what you did” (2:44b).  With these words, Solomon indicates a personal disinterest in what had taken place between Shimei and David, leaving God to arbitrate that case.  He then goes on to say, in further reinforcement of the idea that the judgment that is about to be passed has to do with him and him alone (unrelated to David), that “King Solomon will be empowered” (2:45a).  With that, Solomon, reflecting on the covenantal promise made to David in specific and initial reference to him (Solomon), says “David’s dynasty will endure permanently before the Lord” (2:45b).  The very fact of his rule was evidence of that empowerment, and that in him, the promise to David was established.  Solomon did not need Davidic sanction to thusly deal with Shimei; and indeed, the author of this history goes on to write, “So Solomon,” after ordering Shimei’s execution, “took firm control of the kingdom” (2:46b).    

Solomon & Shimei (part 1 of 3)

Early in his reign, Solomon has Adonijah (his brother) and Joab (general of the army) dispatched.  Following that, Solomon turns his attention to a man named Shimei.  He does so because Shimei is mentioned within his father’s dying words.  David said to Solomon: “Note well, you still have to contend with Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurin, who tried to call down upon me a horrible judgment when I went to Mahanaim” (1 Kings 2:8a).  This is not entirely true, so David seemed to have been employing exaggeration with some effect.  What Shimei is recorded to have said to David was “Leave!  Leave!  You man of bloodshed, you wicked man!  The Lord has punished you for all the spilled blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you rule.  Now the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom.  Disaster has overtaken  you, for you are a man of bloodshed!” (2 Samuel 16:7) 

Apart from a subjective rhetorical flourish when Shimei declares that the Lord is punishing David for the spilled blood of the house of Saul, this cursing by Shimei rings true.  David was not punished for bloodshed related to the house of Saul, but rather, it was the blood spilled within his own house (Absalom’s slaying of Amnon as a result of Amnon’s rape of Tamar), as well as the blood spilled by his own command (David using Israel’s enemies to have Uriah murdered), that had led to the situation which gave Shimei the opportunity to speak forth such words.  Beyond the improper of attribution of the spilling of blood there mentioned, it is difficult to find fault with Shimei’s message to David.  At that point, since David was fleeing Jerusalem, Absalom, by all appearances, had taken the kingdom.  With the peaceful transfer of power, one could easily look upon Absalom’s taking of the throne as having divine sanction. 

With regard to referring to David as a man of bloodshed, it must be said that Shimei does not appear to be incorrect in his assessment.  If we were to look ahead to the first book of the Chronicles, we would there find a record of David speaking to Solomon and saying “My son, I really wanted to build a temple to honor the Lord my God.  But the Lord said to me: ‘You have spilled a great deal of blood and fought many battles.  You must not build a temple to honor Me, for you have spilled a great deal of blood on the ground before Me” (1 Chronicles 22:7-8).  Apparently, God Himself referred to David as a man of bloodshed. 

It’s useful here to consider, if the blood David spilled in battle was (according to the Scriptural record) almost entirely at the Lord’s direction, why that same God would use the fact of spilled blood as a reason to bar David from building His Temple.  The most likely reason is that a temple constructed by a king that was known to have waged vigorous military campaigns, and through those campaigns to have extended his territory and his power, would be seen as a temple constructed in honor of a conquering, warring, subjugating god that would bear a great deal of resemblance to the gods of the surrounding nations.  A temple built to honor such a god would simply be one amongst many.  This point is drawn out by what the Lord is reported to have said to David after making mention of his acts of bloodshed, which was “Look, you will have a son, who will be a peaceful man.  I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side.  Indeed, Solomon will be his name; I will give Israel peace and quiet during his reign.  He will build a temple to honor Me; he will become My son, and I will become his Father.  I will grant to his dynasty permanent rule over Israel” (22:9-10). 

The temple to be built by Solomon would not be constructed by a man of war, nor could it be perceived as a symbol of military conquest, which would have been common in that day.  The Temple that would be honoring to God alone (rather than a temple that would be partly honorific for David) would be built by one known as a peaceful man, though the fact that blood was spilled in abundance at the beginning of Solomon’s reign seems a bit troubling in this light.  Nevertheless, this Temple that was to be associated with rest and peace and quiet would be raised into existence by one about whom God spoke of as being His son.  This Temple would be the symbol of a permanent rule over the people of God, and by extension, over the territory occupied by that people.  Here, the analogies to the One that would eventually come, as a Son, in place of the Temple, and Who would raise up an eschatological Temple to God, are so stark and clear that they need not even be detailed. 

Reverting our attention now to David and his directives concerning Shimei that were passed along to Solomon, we find him moving from a recounting of the Shimei situation in connection with his escape from Jerusalem, to his dealings with Shimei upon his return to Jerusalem, and saying “He came down and met me at the Jordan, and I solemnly promised him by the Lord, ‘I will not strike you down with the sword.’” (2:8b).  To this David added, “But now,” speaking to Solomon, “don’t treat him as if he were innocent.  You are a wise man and you know how to handle him; make sure he has a bloody death” (2:9).  In the record of the Kings, these are the final words of David.  Ironically, and in a way that probably indicates that the author wants this to be acknowledged, these last words of David have to do with him calling for the bloody death of the man that had referred to him as a man of bloodshed.      

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Solomon's Early Struggles (part 2 of 2)

Effectively, Abishag becomes one of David’s concubines, and this is the woman that is being requested by Adonijah.  Bathsheba sees no harm in this, so she passes the request on to her son.  Solomon, somewhat surprisingly, responds by saying “Why just request Abishag the Shunamite for him?  Since he is my older brother, you should also request the kingdom for him” (2:22a).  Solomon goes on to say, “May God judge me severely, if Adonijah does not pay for this request with his life!  Now as certainly as the Lord lives… Adonijah will be executed today!” (2:24a,c)  This can be looked at in at least two ways.  The first way is to see it as Adonijah’s attempt to again partially emulate Absalom (who had sex with ten of his father’s concubines as part of his securing himself as king and reminding the people of his father’s shameful act and the prophecy of Nathan that Absalom fulfilled by this act), as part of his ongoing schemes to gain the throne.  Such thinking is supported by Adonijah’s prefacing his request with “You know that the kingdom was mine and all Israel considered me king.  But then the kingdom was given to my brother, for the Lord decided it should be his” (2:15).  Taking Abishag for himself could possibly give the appearance of Davidic sanction of kingship for Adonijah. 

On the other hand, this can be looked at as a bit of a black mark on Solomon’s early reign, with him following in the not-so-glorious footsteps of his father, and not initially trusting in the faithful and exodus-providing (rescue and deliverance from enemies, both real and potential) God, by seizing upon a relatively harmless request (the request for a beautiful, young virgin that was part of David’s royal harem) as the grounds to carry out a politically calculated execution that would remove a potential challenger to the throne and serve as a warning to the rest of David’s sons that any uprising would not be tolerated, and would be punished severely. 

For good measure, Solomon takes the additional steps of removing Abiathar as priest, while also having Joab executed.  This is another overtly political calculation, as both had supported Adonijah, and because Joab commanded the allegiance of the army.  In his dealings with Joab, Solomon is merely carrying out the dying wishes of his father, who justifies the need to execute Joab by recounting that “he murdered two commanders of the Israelite armies” (2:5b).  David told Solomon that Joab, during peacetime, “struck them down like he would in battle; when he shed their blood as if in battle,” and that by this, “he stained his own belt and the sandals on his feet” (2:5c).  Owing to this, therefore, Solomon is instructed to “Do to him what you think is appropriate, but don’t let him live long and die a peaceful death” (2:6).  How terribly ironic these words must be seen to be as they come from David, who had used Joab as his instrument to murder Uriah, and had used the Gibeonites, during a time of peace and under the pretext of a famine, to murder seven sons and grandsons of Saul.  Solomon is commencing his exodus (entrance into God’s purposes for him) by delivering exile to those that could be perceived as able to thwart those purposes.  He is eliminating potentially subjugating powers.        

Now, we do not want to be too down on Solomon, just as we do not want to be too down on David.  Both were men prone to corruption and failures, as evidenced by the Biblical record that is unflinching and unswerving in its criticism of those that find themselves deserving of such.  We can however, lay bare the lives of both, but the faithful God of Israel is not diminished in the least.  With our first look into the life of Solomon, we find him following what would seem to be the less-than-noble path that had been previously traveled by his father.  Any examination of Solomon would, of necessity, include an examination of the idolatrous, exile generating practices into which he would fall.  However, what we will also find is that Israel’s God, viewed through the life of Solomon, continues to stand undiminished.  To quote the Apostle Paul, albeit slightly out of context as we consider the lives of men that God raised up and anointed, but who often failed and fell, we say “What then?  If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?  Absolutely not!” (Romans 3:3-4a)  God’s redemptive plan, of rescue and deliverance for His image-bearers and His creation, will continue its inexorable and indefatigable march towards its consummating eschatological climax! 

So quickly looking again at Solomon, so as to “rescue” him from consignment to the realm of politically calculating tyrants, we can revisit our analysis of what Solomon had actually undertaken in the executions that he had ordered near the commencement of his reign.  We decided that Solomon began his journey on to the exodus path of God’s purposes for him, and for Israel through his leadership, by bringing about a state of exile (death) for those that might be able to thwart the purposes that had been determined by God; and that he took it upon himself to eliminate those that were potential rivals to his power that could either subjugate him, or alternately, lead God’s people down a path not purposed by the Lord, which could then lead to their subjugation.  Solomon’s “rescue” is accomplished by our acknowledging that in this area, Solomon becomes something of a mimicking forerunner of Jesus.  No, Jesus did not put his political opponents to death, but rather, dealt with the power that stood behind any and all opposition to His purposes (and the purposes of God---recognizing that Jesus, as Messiah, was the embodiment of the Creator God).  That power to which Jesus delivered exile, to which He stood up to eliminate, to which He would not be subject, to which He would ultimately not allow God’s people to be subject, was death itself. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Solomon's Early Struggles (part 1 of 2)

As first Kings commences, we read that “Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, was promoting himself, boasting, ‘I will be king!’” (1 Kings 1:5a)  Along with this, he attempted to partially emulate Absalom’s eminently successful approach to taking the throne, as “He managed to acquire chariots and horsemen, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard” (1:5b).  Additionally, “He collaborated with Joab… and with Abiathar the priest, and they supported him” (1:7), which is also reminiscent of Absalom’s efforts.  Though there are parallels here, they are slight, as Adonijah is merely taking advantage of his father’s age and deteriorating condition, rather than pointing out the injustices (and therefore the increasingly illegitimate and possibly exile inducing rule) of his father, as had Absalom.  Adonijah, though seizing upon the covenantal promise to David, is not doing so within the exile and exodus narrative, and therefore his efforts, unlike Absalom’s, with had actually served to secure the throne in what temporarily appeared to be within the will of God (until he agreed to raise his hand against David after God had already clearly vindicated him), proved to be futile. 

Like both Absalom and Adonijah, we will find that Solomon also relied upon the promise that Israel’s God is reported to have made to David, expecting his kingship to be established, strengthened, and extended, based upon that promise and a record of divine faithfulness.  This extended beyond Solomon himself, as in the midst of the power struggle that commenced with Adonijah’s attempt to establish himself as king, we hear David speaking to Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother), saying “I will keep the oath I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel: ‘Surely Solomon your son will be king after me; he will sit in my place on the throne.’” (1:30)  Now Scripturally, this is the first we are hearing of this promise concerning Solomon as king, though its recitation here seems to signify that it is supposed to be relatively well known.  If it is known, then it serves to explain Adonijah’s efforts to elevate himself as king in the eyes of the people before David’s death and the natural handing over of the throne that would take place at that point.  Up until now, all we know of Solomon is that “the Lord loved the child” (2 Samuel 12:24), which does not provide any direct indication that he is to be king, unless we connect this statement with the promise to David and the “loyal love” of the Lord in connection with the permanent dynasty that God is establishing through David and his sons.

Adonijah, as he is seeking something of an exodus for himself (in a very loose analogy), eventually receives exile for his troubles.  David summons the appropriate individuals and tells them to “Take your master’s servants with you, put my Solomon on my mule, and lead him down to Gihon.  There Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet will anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet and declare, ‘Long live King Solomon!’  Then follow him up as he comes and sits on my throne.  He will be king in my place; I have decreed that he will be ruler over Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 1:33-35).  This directive is carried out, generating quite the great stir.  Adonijah hears about what has happened and quite rightly fears for his life.  He had not won the hearts of the people as Absalom did, knowing full well that the vast majority of the people were going to follow in the direction in which they were led by David.  The result was that “Adonijah feared Solomon, so he got up and went and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar” (1:50), which was an established method of pleading for mercy. 

Solomon’s response to the plea to which Adonijah gave voice while also signifying with his actions, was “If he is a loyal subject, not a hair of his head will be harmed, but if he found to be a traitor, he will die” (1:52).  This was reported to Adonijah, so “He came and bowed down to King Solomon” (1:53b).  Now, the exile that would come to Adonijah would be the ultimate exile of death at the hands (figuratively speaking) of Solomon.  The proximate cause of his death was a request by Adonijah, to Solomon, that was relayed to Solomon by Bathsheba.  That request was “Please ask King Solomon if he would give me Abishag the Shunamite as a wife, for he won’t refuse you” (2:17).  Abishag came onto the Scriptural scene when David, though covered with blankets, could not get warm (1:1).  To rectify this situation, it was decided that “A young virgin must be found for our master, the king, to take care of the king’s needs and serve as his nurse” (1:2a).  It was said to David that “She can also sleep with you and keep our master, the king, warm” (1:2b).  This resulted in Abishag being brought to David.  We learn that “The young woman was very beautiful; she became the king’s nurse and served him, but the king did not have sexual relations with her” (1:4). 

David's Idolatry (part 3 of 3)

David, far from being exempt from these potential judgments, is going to experience them right along with the people.  This gives great weight to the idea that David’s numbering of the army was David’s idolatry, and that the command to number the people was God’s pretext that would enable David to come to terms with the fact of his own idolatrous ways, before God delivered and executed His promised judgments on the whole of His people for their pursuit of idolatrous activities.  David’s response reflected his earlier admission of guilt for his great sin, as he says, “I am very upset!  I prefer that we be attacked by the Lord, for His mercy is great; I do not want to be attacked by men” (2 Samuel 24:14). 

Interestingly, in the midst of being given the responsibility of choosing which curse is going to come upon Israel, due to his and their idolatry, David comments on the Lord’s mercy.  He knows, based on his presumed depth of acquaintance with Israel’s history and their God’s dealings with them, that He will ultimately bring exodus to bear against this temporary form of the experience of exile.   We will also notice, with his statement, that David does not make a choice.  His most recent decision (the numbering of the army rather than the numbering of the people as directed) was quite faulty, so here he leaves the decision in God’s hand, asking to “be attacked by the Lord.”  So the curse of judgment is either going to be the seven years of famine or the three days of plague.  Indeed, the Lord exhibits the previously mentioned mercy, and chooses to deliver the three days of plague, as “the Lord sent a plague through Israel from the morning until the completion of the appointed time.  Seventy thousand men died from Dan to Beer Sheba” (24:15). 

This plague is said to have been carried out by an angel, as we go on to read that “When the angel extended his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented from His judgment.  He told the angel who was killing the people, ‘That’s enough!  Stop now!’” (24:16a)  Naturally, this would serve as a reminder of the angel of the Passover and the angel of death, and of the plagues of Egypt, and of God’s merciful, covenant-based sparing of His people.  Such a reminder fits nicely with the plague-inducing remembrances of God’s commandments against idolatry that were offered in association with potential curses of judgment, seeing as how, as we saw in our most recent look at Leviticus, that the warnings against idolatry are immediately followed by a reminder to keep the Lord’s Sabbaths.  There was, of course, no greater Sabbath for Israel than that of Passover, which as was said, would be called to mind by this angel of death that was visiting a plague upon Israel. 

Further on, attention is returned to David.  “When he saw the angel who was destroying the people, David said to the Lord, ‘Look, it is I who have sinned and done this evil thing!  As for these sheep---what have they done?  Attack me and my family.’” (24:17)  This further confession of sin, with reference to it as “evil,” lends even greater weight to the consideration that David was steeped in idolatry, with this in connection to the power represented by his military might and conquests, for it is idolatry (which serves as the root of a rejection of the weight of glory that attends rightly bearing the divine image and leads to inhuman behavior) that is regularly presented in Scripture as man’s great evil.  Along with this, David’s plea calls attention to the fact that, as king, he represents the people of Israel before God, thereby taking responsibility for the judgment that has fallen, and falling further into the merciful arms of the God of the exodus, in his desire for rescue for himself and his people, from this subjugating power that was sweeping the land as God was being “forced” to act in a way that was foreign to His desires and intentions for this people, this land, and this king. 

In response to this, “Gad went to David that day and told him, ‘Go up and build an altar for the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’” (24:18).  David readily acceded to this directive, proceeding to purchase the threshing floor, so as to build an altar and to make an offering, so that the plague would be removed from the people (24:21).  In addition, from this man David purchased oxen for the sacrifice and items that could be used for burning.  The ground, the animals, and the implements for offering were offered to David free of charge, but David replied that he would “not offer to the Lord my God burnt sacrifices that cost me nothing” (24:24a).  “Then,” we read, “David built an altar for the Lord there and offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings.  And the Lord accepted prayers for the land, and the plague was removed from Israel” (24:25b). 

The removal of the plague, of course, is equivalent to an exodus, as the exile-oriented punishments are brought to an end.  In addition to this, we know that the piece of land that was purchased by David would eventually become the place where Solomon would construct the Lord’s Temple.  Thus, in all of this, as idolatry has been recognized, and as there has been a reminder of the Lord’s Sabbaths, there is also something akin to the reverencing of the sanctuary, so that the people can once again experience the Lord’s blessing.       

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

David's Idolatry (part 2 of 3)

As a result of David’s failure in this area, with his idolatry having been revealed to himself, the prophet Gad goes to speak to David.  It is in the content of what it is that is spoken to David that we find the reason why God was angry with Israel.  Gad was instructed, by the Lord, to say to David, “This is what the Lord says: I am offering you three forms of judgment.  Pick one of them and I will carry it out against you” (2 Samuel 24:12).  What follows, in the choice of judgments given, will direct us to the basis for God’s anger.  In this, we will realize that God was not only angry with Israel, but that He was also angry with David as well. 

“Gad went to David and told him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come upon your land?  Or shall you flee for three months from your enemy with him in hot pursuit?  Or shall there be three days of plague in your land?  Now decide what I should tell the One Who sent me.’” (24:13)  Are these judgments random?  Of course not.  These are a portion of the prescribed exilic curses.  These three potential judgments force us to look to the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (though possibly post-David compilations, though the thoughts therein contained, in conjunction with Leviticus, would reflect the general tradition and operational mindset of the covenant people throughout their history), and to the understanding of their covenant and of the nature of their covenant God within which Israel operated.  In the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we find all of these judgments, both implicitly and explicitly. 

Through Moses, the Lord speaks of His people being “cursed in the field,” with “basket and… mixing bowl cursed… as well as the produce of your soil” (28:16b,17,18b).  In addition, “The sky above your heads will be bronze and the earth beneath you iron.  The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust” (28:23-24a).  Taken together, these things point implicitly to the curse of famine.  We here find that “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies; you will attack them from one direction but flee from them in seven directions” (28:25a).  This points to the optional judgment of Israel being forced to flee from their enemies.  Explicitly, we find that “The Lord will plague you with deadly diseases… He will afflict you with weakness, fever, inflammation, infection, sword, blight, and mildew; these will attack you until you perish” (28:21-22).  Quite obviously, this correlates with the “three days of plague in your land.”  So no, these are not random selections on God’s behalf, but rather, they are overt and direct reminders of His covenant, of the covenant responsibilities of His people, and of the personal and perpetual covenant that God had made with the king that is now being forced to make a choice.  These are reminders of the curses that will come upon the people, and indeed, have come upon the people in various ways and at various times, for their falling into idolatry. 

Deuteronomy informs the people that curses will fall upon them if they “ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all His commandments and statutes” (28:15).  However, the initial presentation of the curses, to be found in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus, is far more direct in speaking to that which will bring these curses that are wrapped up together with the ultimate judgment of exile.  There, we find a greater degree of specificity in expectation, as we read “You must not make for yourselves idols, so you must not set up for yourselves a carved image or a pillar, and you must not place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down before it” (26:1).  To that is quickly added, by way of rounding out the primary things that God is requiring from His covenant people, “You must keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary” (26:2).  Clearly, there is a greater weight of judgment attached to idolatry, which makes perfect sense, especially considering that it was essentially the idolatry of the original humans that brought about the fall of man and of creation, for which Israel has been raised up as a part of God’s corrective measures for His divine image bearers and His once-good world. 

If we take in the grand, cosmic picture, then we will see that the judgments that God is offering to David and Israel here in the twenty-fourth chapter of second Samuel, are, in reality, nothing more than localized manifestations of the curses that came upon mankind and the world at the fall.  Indeed, the curses outlined and presented to Israel in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are actually rather detailed expansions on the initial curses that were spelled out to Adam and Eve---cursed ground, pain, and death.  As it relates to this story, are these not to be equated with famine, to being afflicted with plague, and to being pursued by an enemy?  This presents itself as grand evidence of a consistent and faithful God, as well as evidence that Israel was very much looked upon by the Lord as a second Adam, charged with bearing His image into the world and of reminding the whole of the created order of their Creator God.  It is this fact that informs us as to why Israel’s God looked upon and reacted so harshly against the idolatry on display, while opening our eyes to the deep-rooted redemptive plan that underlies the goings-on of this particular chapter of the story of Israel and of David.     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

David's Idolatry (part 1 of 3)

The twenty-fourth chapter of second Samuel begins by stating that “The Lord’s anger again raged against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, ‘Go count Israel and Judah.’” (24:1)  So David gives an order to his general, Joab, telling him to “Go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beer Sheba and muster the army, so I may know the size of the army” (24:2b).  Now, this is not precisely what David had been commanded to do, which is somewhat telling when it comes to an overall analysis of David’s character, which was seriously flawed.  Yes, David, as the Apostle Paul would say, “served God’s purpose in his own generation” (Acts 13:36a), but this statement is removed quite a distance from the initial report of David before he was anointed to be king, in which Paul presents David as “a man after My (God’s) heart” (13:22).  With this, Paul borrows from the first book of Samuel, where we read about the Lord having sought out, what is perhaps a better translation, “a man who is loyal to Him” (13:14b). 

God instructed David to number Israel and Judah.  In and of itself, this is not a problem.  God has no problem with a census of His people.  In fact, in His law as given through Moses, the Lord gave instructions as to how it was that the census was to be carried out, and what it was that must occur along with the census.  In fact, the book of Numbers, for the most part, is itself a census.  However, we know that the Lord’s anger was raging against Israel, which is an indication that there was a problem with which God intended to deal.  It seems as if God knew that David would not follow the directive that had been given, which might very well be the implication of the author’s record of inciting David against Israel.  Rather than direct a numbering of the whole of the people, David instead asks for a numbering of the army. 

It seems that Joab better understood the Lord’s command than did David, as he replies to the order that has been given, saying “May the Lord your God make the army a hundred times larger right before the eyes of my lord the king!  But why does my master the king want to do this?” (24:3)  It is worth repeating that the Lord wanted His people numbered, whereas David asked for a numbering of his army.  By all appearances here, Joab is aghast at the king’s command.  However, “the king’s edict stood, despite the objections of Joab and the leaders of the army” (24:4a).  So not only did Joab have a grasp of what it was that the Lord wanted, but so too did the leaders of the army, who were likely influenced by Joab to offer their objections to the king.  Ultimately, the record indicates that “Joab and the leaders of the army left the king’s presence in order to muster the Israelite army” (24:4b), so that David, as he said, could know its size.  After a period of time, “Joab reported the number of warriors to the king” (24:9a).  The given report stated that “In Israel there were 800,000 sword-wielding warriors, and in Judah there were 500,000 soldiers” (24:9b). 

David’s response to the report of more than a million soldiers at his disposal is not what one might expect.  Rather than exulting in the power that such a count represented, “David felt guilty after he had numbered the army” (24:10a).  Why would David feel guilty?  Was it because numbering the people was wrong?  Not at all.  Rather, David felt guilty because he commanded something to be done that was not what the Lord commanded him to do, which also served to give him an insight into his own mindset.  As a result, “David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly by doing this!  Now, O Lord, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.’” (24:10b)  What was David’s sin?  Naturally, we can easily make the case that it was disobedience.  God asked for one thing, and David did something different.  This is not difficult to ascertain.  However, there was something more substantial than disobedience.  It was the same problem that we saw with Saul and the situation with the Amalekites. 

God, through Samuel, had given specific instruction to Saul as to how he was to deal with the Amalekites.  Saul only partially carried out the Lord’s command.  This resulted in Saul being rejected by God as king over His people.  So in David’s actions, we see hints of the same thing.  Saul was given a specific instruction, as was David.  Saul followed the instruction to an extent, as did David.  Saul is rejected as king, and David, knowing this story of Saul and perhaps coming to his senses a bit, feels guilty, offering his plea to the Lord for the removal of guilt.  He did not want to be rejected as king (which would be the second time if this occurs after the Absalom situation), and he did not want to be overtaken by the same fate as that which was experienced by Saul.  In connection with what brought about his downfall, Saul was said to have been setting up a monument for himself (1 Samuel 15:12).  In our exploration of Saul’s life in the course of this study, we determined that this was the beginning of idolatry for Saul.  This idolatry is what would result in Saul being exiled from the throne of Israel, as Saul began to operate outside of God’s purposes for him, though he would remain king until his death.  His idolatry led to exile. 

So what was David’s sin---his great sin, as he said?  Of what was he guilty?  Into what had he entered which he now regarded as foolishness?  What did the numbering of the army rather than the people represent?  Plainly and simply, it was idolatry.  His army, which represented his power and his kingdom, had become his idol.  It seems as though Joab and the leaders of the army had a sense of this, but that David was blinded to this fact.  The fact of his own idolatry appears to have dawned upon him when he received Joab’s count.  As we understand this about David, we are now better positioned to understand what it was that caused the Lord’s anger to rage against Israel.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Song Of Exodus (part 4 of 4)

Having gone to such great lengths to identify himself with Israel, and having taken such great pains to effectively insert himself into the public consciousness of the narrative of Israel’s defining event, David then makes quite a bold leap.  We take note of this leap in the context of what it was that would have been crossing the minds of the hearers and readers of this song, in the wake of what has already been said.  

By way of review, we acknowledge that David has called to mind the God of the exodus (2 Samuel 22:2-3).  He has spoken of calling to the Lord, as did Israel in Egypt, with the congruent hearing and deliverance that followed (22:4).  With the language of death and distress, and yet another plaintive calling (22:5-7), he has reiterated his recognition of the God of the exodus, just as we saw the multiplied references to God hearing His people in Exodus.  By referencing the heaving and shaking of the earth, the trembling of the sky, the Lord’s anger, smoke and fire, and fiery coals (22:8-9), he has effectively brought the plagues to remembrance.  Mention of the descent of the sky and clouds at the feet of the Lord (22:10) have called Mount Sinai to memory.  Talk of wings (22:11) reminds the people of the Lord’s carrying Israel out of Egypt as if on the wings of an eagle and bringing them to His mountain (Exodus 19:4), which was spoken by the Lord, to Moses, at Mount Sinai.  A reference to clouds and brightness and fire (22:12-13) produces memories of being closed in at the edge of the sea, with Egypt’s army ready to attack.  Then, of course, David speaks of the parting of the waters in the face of certain annihilation, when he speaks of the depths of the sea being exposed and the inner regions of the world being uncovered by the breath of the Almighty (22:16). 

Having roused the nationalistic passions of those that would be exposed to this song, we then saw that David took the step of identifying himself with Israel, and as Israel, in his personal experience of God’s power, by a direct insertion of himself (so to speak) into the sea that had been opened up for God’s people to cross (22:17-19).  It is following this that we meet up with David’s bold leap.  Because David has recounted Israel’s experience in Egypt, the crying out, the plagues, the physical exodus, the cloud and the fire, the dry-ground crossing, the destruction of Egypt’s army, the deliverance towards the promised land, God’s presence at Sinai, and God’s personal act of delivering His people to Sinai (eagle’s wings), the very next thing that is going to be crossing the mind of the people is the Lord’s giving of the Ten Commandments, along with the incident of the golden calf.  It seems to be relatively clear that David has this in mind; and bearing in mind that he has positioned himself as Israel (he may have been helped along in thinking this way because he too has a special covenant with God), he goes on to say, “The Lord repaid me for my godly deeds; He rewarded me for my blameless behavior.  For I have obeyed the Lord’s commands; I have not rebelled against my God.  For I am aware of all His regulations, and I do not reject His rules.  I was blameless before Him; I kept myself from sinning.  The Lord rewarded me for my godly deeds; He took notice of my blameless behavior.  You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful; You prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent” (22:21-26). 

Is this not bold?  As we consider the natural train of thought that would have been expected based on what had led up to this point, this is quite the surprising turn of events, requiring quite a bit of mental contortions on the part of the hearer or reader.  This is especially so if David has indeed made the effort to identify himself as Israel.  With these words, David makes a clean break with Israelite history, setting up a surprising contrast and pattern of thoughts with which he desired to be associated.  Most assuredly, this was not to be said of Israel in the context of the historical narrative that David has been offering in the course of his song.  According to the historical narrative, it is precisely at this point that Israel stepped back from godly deeds and entered into behavior that was far from blameless, disregarding the Lord’s commands and rebelling against their God and against Moses.  In all honesty, with the rubric of identification employed to this point, David should have here recounted his many failures, entering into self-abasement, rather than traveling the path of self-honor.  The situation with the golden calf is a clear instance of a rejection of the Lord’s regulations and rules for His covenant people, and represented the pinnacle of sin into which they could fall.  It was a display of paramount disloyalty and unfaithfulness, and from the Lord’s reaction, which was a desire to destroy the people and make a new people out of Moses (Exodus 32:10), they stood at a great distance from a state of innocence.  So this is bold indeed, for knowing what we know about David, such words should have been far from his lips, and such thoughts should have been far from his mind. 

With these words of godliness, blamelessness, consummate faith and innocence, David is actually rehearsing what it was that God had intended for and desired from His people, though he himself fell far short of this goal.  Naturally, there is only one individual that could truly and rightly speak these words as the embodiment of Israel.  This self-description would be taken up by the one known as the “Son of David,” who would also be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God, when He would take it upon Himself to do for the world, through Jesus (the representative of Israel) what had been purposed first for Adam, for Abraham, and then for Israel.  Ultimately, He would carry out that purpose and mission through His manifestation, by the Spirit, through His church that would be assembled and sent into the world through the power of the Gospel.       

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Song Of Exodus (part 3 of 4)

David now goes on to say “He reached down from above and grabbed me; He pulled me from the surging water” (2 Samuel 22:17).  Is this not what God did for His people Israel?  David continues: “He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hate me, for they were too strong for me” (22:18).  This too is what God had done for Israel, in rescuing them from Egypt, and effectively overthrowing their empire with the waters that had represented His love and mercy for Israel.  Undoubtedly, Egypt was not going to be overcome by any attempts towards such ends by Israel, for Egypt was far too strong.  Ironically, much of their strength was owing to what the God of Israel had done for Egypt through Joseph, though this had been long since forgotten. 

To what might David have been referring when he uses these words?  To a lion, to a bear, to a giant, to a king, to a son, to a general?  It could be any or all of these things, as David says “They confronted me in my day of calamity, but the Lord helped me” (22:19).  As we have taken a good deal of time examining David’s life, we are not stretching the truth if we are to posit that his life moved from one calamity to the next, a fair number of which (but not all) he brought upon himself.  This cannot be said of Israel in Egypt, as the Scriptures do not give us any indication that the calamity of their oppression in Egypt was something that they had secured through their own doings.  Rather, what we do know about Israel’s sojourn in Egypt is that it was a part of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, that would prove His covenantal faithfulness to those who knew themselves to be descendants of Abraham.  However the calamitous circumstances came about, there would be no doubt that the latter part of Israel’s Egyptian experience, along with the initial portions of its exodus experience, could be reckoned by both David and the people to be situations of calamity in which the Lord must intervene in order for there to be a positive outcome. 

After speaking of his calamity, David goes on to say, “He brought me out into a wide open place; He delivered me because He was pleased with me” (22:20).  This too, God did for Israel, and it could be applied and understood in multiple ways, though it, in context, is most likely still making reference to the crossing of the sea on dry land.  God brought His people through the waters of calamity, rescuing them from their quite strong enemy, bringing them through the narrow passage walled by waters to their left and right (here, we can make an allusion to the “valley of the shadow of death” in the twenty-third Psalm), and setting their feet on solid ground on the other side of the sea, with the long-awaited promise of their inheritance of land set before them.  Moses would say “By Your loyal love You will lead the people whom You have redeemed; You will guide them by Your strength to Your holy dwelling place… You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place You made for your residence, O Lord, the sanctuary, O Lord, that Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:13,17).  With boldness, David declares that the salvations (exodus, redemption, deliverance, rescue) that he had experienced, and which he attributed to the powerful hand of the Lord working on his behalf, was evidence that the Lord was pleased with him.  We do not find the same thing being said of Israel in Egypt, though we do hear God instructing Moses to inform Israel that “I am the Lord.  I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  I will take  you to Myself for a people, and I will be your God.  They you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians” (6:6-7).  Clearly, God was redeeming a people whose purpose was His pleasing.   

So what we see happening here, as we have carefully reviewed the exodus event in connection with David’s song, is David’s attempted undertaking of the embodiment of Israel.  Not only is he placing his story within, and intimately connecting it to Israel’s history, but he is also attempting to define himself as Israel.  With these words, David, along with the author, wants the people to identify his trials with nothing less than what Israel had experienced in Egypt and in their coming out of Egypt.  It is quite the piece of propaganda, indicating that David has learned well from his experiences.  David, quite clearly, wants the people to see him as a Moses figure, which had been successfully undertaken by Absalom.  If the people did, in fact, identify David with Israel, and his overcoming of calamities with the same power that God had put on display on behalf of Israel, against Egypt, then just as Israel “feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31b), then so too would they believe in him.  By this, David would be elevated alongside Moses as the greatest figure in the history of the nation. 

This embodying of Israel, by their king, in which he becomes their representative before the Lord, will carry significant weight in determining God’s future dealings with his nation.  It would also come to be quite crucial in Jesus’ own understanding of Himself and His role as Israel’s king, as we can certainly justly see Jesus seizing upon these words of David’s song that we have reviewed, as well as those to come.  Just as Adam, the first king of humanity, was representative of all humanity, so now David explicitly positions himself as the representative of the people that saw themselves as God’s new humanity, who were being charged (in the line and light of the Abrahamic covenant) to represent the Creator God and to bless all nations accordingly by reflecting the light of His glory into the world.  Jesus will adequately take both of these roles upon Himself, representing Israel and all of humanity before the cross, and representing the new humanity (the people of the kingdom of God which points to the renewed and restored creation) following the Resurrection.    

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Song Of Exodus (part 2 of 4)

In the very next verse, we go on to read “He shot arrows and scattered them, lightning and routed them” (2 Samuel 22:15), which, in an exodus tinged worldview, could serve as an allusion to the movement of the pillar of cloud that served as a shield between Israel and Egypt.  We find written in Exodus that “The angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.  It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night” (14:19-20).  This, of course, took place as “the Lord drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and He made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided” (14:21b).  Here, we note that this is how the Scriptures describe the division of the sea, rather than our commonly-held misperception (however grand the vision may be) that there was an immediate dividing of the waters as “Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea” (14:21a).  With this said, we might rightly wonder if Moses had to keep his hand stretched “all that night,” in a way much like the story of Moses’ raised hands when Israel did battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16). 

What follows from David’s mention of arrows and lightning?  He says, “The depths of the sea were exposed; the inner regions of the world were uncovered by the Lord’s battle cry, by the powerful breath of His nose” (22:16).  By speaking of the event of the parting of the waters, David has now ingeniously latched on to the single most demonstrative of the saving acts of the God of Israel.  In all honesty, who had ever heard of such a thing?  A known human being might as well have died and resurrected to physical life!  Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there are numerous direct references to God’s parting of the sea, so we can be assured that it was looked upon, in the common consciousness of God’s people, as a seminal event in the courses of the histories of both Israel and the world.  Any reference to the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt would certainly bring to mind the crossing of the sea and the resulting defeat of the Egyptian army.  How is that defeat described?  It is written that “The Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:22).  Again, this was after it had been pushed back by a strong east wind “all night.”  Seeing this, “The Egyptians,” perhaps observing this as something of a natural phenomenon, in an apparent forgetfulness of the plagues that they had experienced, “chased them and followed them into the middle of the sea” (14:23a). 

Some period of time after the Egyptians began giving chase, “In the morning watch the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He threw the Egyptian army into a panic.  He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving, and the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s flee from Israel, for the Lord fights for them against Egypt!’” (14:24-25)  However, before the army could complete their flight, having received instruction from the Lord, “Moses extended his hand toward the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state when the sun began to rise.  Now the Egyptians were fleeing before it,” with “it” being the water retreating back to its normal place, “but the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the middle of the sea… not so much as one of them survived” (14:27,28b). 

Following that, we are reminded that “the Israelites walked on dry ground in the middle of the sea, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:29).  The repetition of this material about the dry ground and the walls of water serves to demonstrate just how powerful this act of God on behalf of His people was to be understood, both then and for all time.  This leads into language that describes an exodus within an exodus, as we then read “So the Lord saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians” (14:30a).  Israel was granted salvation in the midst of their salvation.  This would happen numerous times in their history, indicating to them and to us that a life of exodus is what God provides to His people and expects from His people, as they consistently acknowledge His saving power.  This is precisely what would then happen in Exodus, as “When Israel saw the great power that the Lord had exercised over the Egyptians, they feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (14:31). 

Now, why, in the midst of looking at the song of David in the second book of Samuel, even bearing in mind that we have gone to some length to demonstrate David’s desire to connect himself with Israel’s exodus story, have we taken up so much time and space by this inclusion of so much material directly from the fourteenth chapter of Exodus?  Well, it has to do with the verse just referenced, and with what comes next for David, as we reach the seventeenth verse in the chapter of the song of David.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Song Of Exodus (part 1 of 4)

If we situate ourselves with an exodus-oriented approach to David’s song (2 Samuel 22), with the looming specter of exile that stands behind his acknowledgment of the Lord as his deliverer, refuge, savior, and rescuer from enemies, we can move through the song to demonstrate more explicitly the reliance upon the theme. 

It would not be overdoing it for David to call attention to the God of Israel as the God of exodus, as he says “In my distress I called to the Lord; I called to my God” (2 Samuel 22:7a), as this is a recurring theme in Exodus itself.  When we look at Exodus, we are consistently referred back to the Israelite groaning, as we can read that the Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.  I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.  I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land… And now indeed the cry of the Israelites has come to Me” (3:7-8a,9a).  Further on in Exodus, we hear the Lord speaking again and saying, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered My covenant” (6:5). 

Just as Israel groaned under oppressors and cried out to God under the knowledge of His covenant with them, so too did David.  When David cries out in praise, referencing enemies, death, chaos, and distress, he does so under the knowledge that the same God that delivered Israel from Egypt and eventually made him king of Israel, has made a covenant with him.  David can rely upon and trust in that covenant because, again, that God of covenant was and is the God of exodus; and if that God can deliver an entire nation, and raise them up as His people to be a light to the nations (no matter how far short of this ideal they fell), then that God can certainly perform according to His promises to David. 

The Lord spoke to Moses on two different occasions and spoke of having heard the cry of His people, so we hear David, in reference to his own calling upon the Lord out of his distress, saying “From His heavenly temple He heard my voice; He listened to my cry for help” (22:7b).  What happened in Egypt when Israel cried out in their distress and the Lord heard?  He responded with an awesome display of the power of His outstretched hand.  Egypt and Israel saw water turned to blood, frogs covering the ground, gnats on man and beast, the descent of flies, disease on livestock, affliction with boils, the destructive power of locusts, the falling of hail and fire, the land shrouded in darkness, and the death of Egypt’s firstborn. 

What did David see as the Lord’s response to his own call?   How did David describe the result of his God listening to his cry for help?  He would say, “The earth heaved and shook; the foundations of the sky trembled.  They heaved because He was angry.  Smoke ascended from His nose; fire devoured as it came from His mouth; He hurled down fiery coals” (22:8-9).  Yes, David called upon the God of Israel’s deliverance, claiming Him as the God of His own deliverance as well.  We are certainly able to imagine that, if David has successfully brought Israel’s God of exodus to mind with his words to this point, when he speaks of the shaking of heaven and earth, the trembling of the sky, smoke and fire and fiery coals, thoughts of the plagues upon Egypt would not be too terribly distant. 

If thoughts of the plagues of Egypt were close-at-hand, then so too would be thoughts of what resulted from those plagues, which was Israel’s liberation.  What was it that accompanied that liberation that saw Israel marching out of Egypt?  Of course, it was the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, to which we are first introduced in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, at the Red Sea.  The record of Israel’s victory (and Egypt’s defeat) at the Red Sea would be immediately followed by a song of triumph in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus.  David’s song, in the second book of Samuel, heavily mirrors the song that was sung by Moses and the Israelites, and would, quite naturally, because of the explicit connections to the exodus that are being made by David, call to mind the song of Exodus and the events that both preceded and followed from the song. 

It would be shortly following the deliverance at the Red Sea that Israel would come to Mount Sinai.  We read that the Lord’s presence on Sinai was signaled by “thunder and lightning and a dense cloud on the mountain,” and that “Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19:16b,18).  There, God would give voice to the commandments of His covenant, speaking clearly to Moses, for His people, as to what He desired from them.  Before we get to that however, “the Lord called to him from the mountain” and said, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (19:3b-4).  What does David say, when he contemplates the Lord’s deliverance?  With words that will call exodus and Sinai and covenant to mind, he says, “He made the sky sink as He descended; a thick cloud was under His feet.  He mounted a winged angel and flew; He glided on the wings of the wind.  He shrouded Himself in darkness, in thick rain clouds.  From the brightness in front of Him came coals of fire.  The Lord thundered from the sky; the sovereign One shouted loudly” (22:10-14).          

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rooted In A Story

My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior.  You save me from violence! – 2 Samuel 22:3  (NET)

When we read about David’s God as a shield and a stronghold and a savior that saves from violence, we do well to refrain from reading and applying these words in only a spiritual sense.  David’s God---our God---acts within history, and He is to be praised as the Creator, as well as the maker of covenant, and the exerciser of providential power to bring His covenants to pass, whether that be the covenant promises made to Adam, to Abraham, to Israel, or specifically to David.  Once we understand that a God of history has purposes that He is working out, in history, through and for His creation, and once we locate ourselves within that history that ceaselessly points to His redemptive purposes, trusting that He is a God that promises and powerfully delivers on those promises, as the historical record indicates, then we turn the substance of David’s praises inward, with the proper realization that God, by His Spirit, transforms us by being all of these things for us, so that He might make us fit for His service and the performance of His good in and for His world.  If we do not first have a God, as David did, that is rooted in history, then what we have is nothing more than a conjuring of our imagination.  Such considerations should serve as a reminder of the importance of the historical life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. 

David continues on and says, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies” (22:4).  Here, it is appropriate to reflect upon the fact that the king of Israel is the representative of the people.  As the representative of the people, it is incumbent upon the king to know the history of the people, and to connect himself with that history.  David uses exodus language quite heavily in this song of praise.  He couches his song of praise not only in the language of exodus, but in the story of the Egyptian exodus itself.  This serves to demonstrate that the story of the exodus is what gives Israel its purpose and identity.  Separating Israel and its Scriptures and its self-understanding from the story of exile and exodus separates Israel from that which is determinative of its existence, which is why it is so incredibly pervasive. 

Exodus is such a powerful concept that the greatest threat that the Lord delivers against His people is the threat of ending their lives of exodus, and returning them to exile.  If we were to look at it, this would be foundational for the story of Absalom, as he relied upon the story of the exodus, positioning himself as a new Moses, sent to deliver the people from his father, who had become a corrupt and cruel oppressor not unlike the Pharaoh of Egypt (Jesus, of course, also positions Himself as a new Moses, which is a common theme for Israel’s leaders).  In his efforts, Absalom understood and counted upon the people’s realization of the significance of the story, and David experienced the powerful effects firsthand, so it is no wonder that David would make the effort to firmly ensconce himself within this powerful tradition.  If this is true of Israel in the time of David, so also is it true of the Israel of God in this day. 

It is impossible to understand the Scriptures and the mission of the people of God apart from the story of exile and exodus.  So when David says “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies,” he is appealing directly to the exodus tradition.  Because the Egyptian exodus was not an event that had simply taken place several hundred years prior, but rather, was celebrated each year at Passover, and was the context for the life and purpose of Israel, David could make that appeal, fully expecting those who heard this song to see the connection that is being made.  David’s words would cause his hearers or the readers to look back to Israel in Egypt, to hear Israel groaning “because of the slave labor” (Exodus 2:23b).  With this groaning, “They cried out,” calling out like David, “and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God” (2:23b).  They called out because they knew that they had a promise from God.  David called out because he knew that God had fulfilled His promises, and because of that, was “worthy of praise.”  We read that “God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, God saw the Israelites, and God understood” (2:24-25).  As a result, God sent forth a deliverer to rescue Israel from its oppressors---its enemies.  This is how David looks upon his God. 

For David, the God of Israel was, and is, and forever will be the God of deliverance---the God of exodus!  Within this framework, we can now see David position himself as Israel, through the medium of his being their representative, so when we read “The waves of death engulfed me; the currents of chaos overwhelmed me.  The ropes of Sheol tightened around me; the snares of death trapped me” (22:5-6), we hear the words of David and we think of Israel in Egypt, engulfed and trapped by death, and overwhelmed by chaos, in desperate need of the Lord’s salvation, which would be their exodus.  Israel needed deliverance into the Lord’s purposes for them, as did David almost constantly, as do all that call upon His Name.  That is rescue.  That is exodus.         

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

David's Song (part 2 of 2)

It is in response to this knowledge, along with the word that he had received in his inquiry from the Lord, that David summons the Gibeonites and says to them, “What can I do for you, and how can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?” (21:3)  Before going on, we must take note of the explicit connection to the Abrahamic covenant that David is shown to be making.  David, of course, is referring to Israel when he speaks of the “Lord’s inheritance.”  By speaking of “blessing” that inheritance, David invokes the promise to Abraham, which must have been well understood by the Gibeonites (because they lived and served among Israel, and presumably, would have known the story of Israel quite well), that Israel’s God would bless those who blessed Abraham (and by extension, Israel). 

Here, David is seizing on an opportunity.  He is using the famine in a calculated manner for the sake of his own kingship and that of his progeny.  Additionally, he knows that the Gibeonites are motivated by revenge, so in calling to mind the blessings promised (in the Abrahamic covenant) for those that bless Israel (with the king representing Israel in such a way that by their serving the king they bless him, the nation as a whole, and themselves in turn), he is going to turn that mindset of vengeance in his own favor.  After being asked this extraordinarily calculated question by David, “The Gibeonites said to him, ‘We have no claim to silver or gold from Saul or from his family, nor would we be justified in putting to death anyone in Israel.’” (21:4a)  Feigning ignorance of where all of this was leading, “David asked, ‘What then are you asking me to do for you?’” (21:4b)  “They replied to the king, ‘As for this man who exterminated us and who schemed against us so that we were destroyed and left without status throughout all the borders of Israel---let seven of his male descendants be turned over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, who was the Lord’s chosen one.’” (21:5-6a)  In what must have been a considerable exercise of self-restraint in the midst of jubilation, David says, “I will turn them over” (21:6b). 

Once again, let us not forget the calculated measures taking place.  According to the history presented here in this book, David had recently experienced Absalom’s rebellion (with his own temporary deposition from power), along with the issue of Sheba.  Together with that, there were other potential problems and rebellions with which to be dealt, and the most natural direction from which those problems would come would be from the family of Saul.  Indeed, we see evidence of David being inclined to think in such ways, if we look back to his flight from Jerusalem, when he was met by Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth (the son of Jonathan to whom David had extended grace and seated at his table, treating him as one of his own sons).  When David sees that Ziba alone has come to him, without Mephibosheth, bringing him bread, raisin cakes, summer fruit, and wine (16:1), he says, “Where is your master’s grandson?” (16:3a).  Ziba replies by saying, “He remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give back to me my grandfather’s kingdom” (16:3b). 

Though this makes no sense at all, as it was Absalom, David’s son, that was supported by the people and taking the throne, we see David’s willingness to believe such a thing and the ongoing threat of reprisal from Saul’s family implied therein, as he says, “Everything that was Mephibosheth’s now belongs to you” (16:4a).  Now, the presence of Saul’s old enemies provide the means to end this looming threat once and for all.  So we read that “The king had mercy on Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, in light of the Lord’s oath that had been taken between David and Jonathan son of Saul” (21:7), though before he had been willing to quickly write off Mephibosheth and toss him aside as a traitor and conspirator.  Additionally, because Mephibosheth was crippled in his feet, not only would he not be able to rise up to lead an army, but David would also have been confident that the people of Israel would certainly not support one such as him as king. 

Sparing Mephibosheth, the king took seven sons and grandsons of Saul and “turned them over to the Gibeonites, and they executed them on a hill before the Lord.  The seven of them died together” (21:9a).  To go along with that, the Gibeonites left those men there to rot.  For David, problem solved.  However, drawing attention to what could truly have been viewed by the people as a rather despicable, unjustifiable, and clearly politically calculated action on David’s part, a woman named Rizpah, the mother of the sons of Saul that had been executed, “took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock.  From the beginning of the harvest until the rain fell on them, she did not allow the birds of the air to feed on them by day, not the wild animals by night” (21:10).  This was an unforeseen nuisance, and when David is told that this was taking place, he ordered their bodies to be taken, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father in the land of Benjamin.  Thus, David is then seen to be honoring these men.  Most likely, he does this so that he will not simply be viewed as being responsible for their execution though they had done no wrong, especially in light of the fact that God’s law clearly stated that a son was not to be put to death because of the actions of his father, though this was precisely what David allowed to take place because it was a furtherance of his own ends.   

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

David's Song (part 1 of 2)

In the twenty-second chapter of the second book of Samuel, we find what is known as “David’s Song.”  In the first verse we read “David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord rescued him from the power of all his enemies, including Saul” (22:1).  As we will see, David viewed the Lord as the God of rescue from subjugation.  Not surprisingly, in this song David is to be found speaking the language of exodus, as he was patently aware that God’s deliverance (exodus) of His people from Egypt (exile) was the most important and powerful story of Israel’s history, as it acutely connected them with Abraham, which then, in turn, connected them with Adam (as Abraham had been chosen out by God to be His vessel to bring God’s blessing to a world that had fallen into cursing because of Adam). 

So as this song of David begins, we hear him saying, “The Lord is my high ridge, my stronghold, my deliverer” (22:2).  This is pure exodus language, and it points to the fact that David considered his numerous trials and tribulations and circumstances that he often brought upon himself to be akin to the state of exile.  Not only was his God his deliverer (and high ridge and stronghold), but His role as Israel’s deliverer from Egypt was part of what defined Israel’s God for them.  In the exodus, Moses had been God’s instrument for deliverance, leading them to Sinai (a high ridge) and to their promised land (a stronghold).  Beyond that, to further define God’s role as deliverer, one need only look to the history of Israel through the time period recorded in the book of Judges, and the repetitive language of deliverance, as God continually raised up deliverers for His people, to bring them back from their repeated excursions into varying states of exile. 

Continuing his use of exodus language, David says “My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior.  You save me from violence! (22:3)  Shelter and shield and stronghold and refuge---all point to the God of exodus.  If we think back to the ten plagues of Egypt, we remember that the land in which Israel dwelt, and the people of Israel themselves, were spared from the plagues and from their effects.  They were sheltered and shielded.  Their God Himself was their stronghold and their refuge.  Though it is tempting to use these terms in purely spiritual and personal ways, and though it may be entirely proper to do so, we cannot and should not lose grip of the fact that this terminology is rooted, first and foremost, in the history of Israel, as the constant presentation and consistent understanding of the Lord their God was that He was the God of creation and of covenant that providentially entered into history on behalf of His chosen people, in order to further His purposes for them and through them for His world. 

When David speaks of Israel’s God as the “horn that saves me” and “my savior,” he is using language with definite historical reference points.  Remember, the immediate context for the language is that this is a song offered in praise of the God that saved him from all his enemies, including Saul; and the song follows the recounting of David’s long and interesting and rather sordid history.  In fact, it follows immediately upon the stories of Sheba son of Bicri and the vengeful Gibeonites.  In the story of Sheba, we find a mini-rebellion against David following his re-taking of the throne of Israel after Absalom’s short-lived revolution.  David’s response to Sheba is different from his response to Absalom (for obvious reasons---Absalom was his son, the Lord could have easily been fulfilling His promise to David through Absalom’s kingship, the Lord was chastising David for his failures, David has previously experienced an unexpected loss of the people’s support, etc…), as he says to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bicri will cause greater disaster for us than Absalom did!  Take your Lord’s servants and pursue him.  Otherwise he will secure fortified cities for himself and get away from us” (20:6).  As a result, Sheba, though he did gather some supporters (20:14), was struck down relatively quickly.  This was yet another salvation from enemies. 

Following that, we can read about the story of the Gibeonites.  It is said that “During David’s reign there was a famine for three consecutive years.  So David inquired of the Lord.  The Lord said, ‘It is because of Saul and his bloodstained family, because he murdered the Gibeonites.’” (21:1)  The Gibeonites, by way of recollection, were the group of people that came to Joshua and Israel, pretending to be from a faraway land, offering terms of peace.  Joshua and Israel made a treaty with them, and upheld the treaty (though they would become woodcutters and water-carriers for Israel) even when it was discovered that they had lied and misrepresented themselves.  The author here causes us to remember these things (which are obviously closely connected with the exodus and the conquering of the promised land, calling to mind God’s actions on behalf of His people), by writing “The Israelites had made a promise to them” (21:2b); “but,” he goes on to write, “Saul tried to kill them because of his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah” (21:2c).