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).     

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