Tuesday, February 19, 2013

King David; Good or Bad?

I have been very much helped so far this Lent by reading David Runcorn's book on God-centred leadership called 'Fear and Trust'. He tells the story of 1 and 2 Samuel with good insights from that world to today's world and the vision of a theologian who speaks of God at work.

Yesterday he was dealing with the three stories that introduce David to us, the audience.

Now we make a lot of the fact that David was the great king. It was important for the Gospel writers that Jesus, although being of a family from Nazareth, was seen to be born in David's town of Bethlehem and also that Joseph be counted as one of David's line.

Given this great king we might ponder how the Bible introduces him to us. We do well to ponder for it is in an odd way.

Hebrew writing does not need to be linear. We like to harmonise conflicting accounts but the biblical writers do not. They just give us the stories. Three stories. Each one seems to say, 'I am the first.' (This also happens in Genesis where we have two separate creation narratives one after the other without comment.)

So story one is the account of Samuel being sent by Yahweh to Jesse's family because there he has been told he will find the next king and he is to anoint him. Samuel works through the sons until the youngest, David, is summoned from sheep-watching duties. Although Samuel has been told not to look on the outside it happens that David is good-looking after all. He is the one. 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

In the second story the first King, Saul, needs calming - the madness of King Saul will be a theme of the story as it unfolds -  and a son of Jesse (we have just read about him but the passage assumes we don't know who he is) who can play the harp is called for. David pitches up and tenderises Saul's blues. 1 Samuel 16:14-23.

In the third story the  army is struggling with the Philistines and in particular a taunty giant of a man called Goliath. David turns up with food for his brothers who are serving. We are told who he is as if we have not read the previous two accounts. He rejects the iron age armour and uses stone age weapons to defeat this bronze age hero.

Here's a question then. What is the first thing David says in these stories?

In the anointing passage he is silent. In the music passage he speaks only with his harp. In the Goliath story he speaks for the first time, 'What's in it for me?' The great king, the king of all earthly kings, the king everyone wants to say is an archetype for Jesus is on stage and he asks what might be the reward for a bit of giant-killing. Finding out that it will be a cool sum he does the deed.

David is not a nice man. His kingship is ruthless, his relationships manipulative, his adultery legendary, his wives and mistresses more than one of each and his death-bed speech a list of enemies who need dealing with.

And he is what the Bible calls great. A man of faith. A man of obedience to his God. But he was, and you'll need to excuse me here, what we would call today a complete bastard.

1 comment:

Caroline Too said...

Or just a regular, Bronze Age warrior guy?