We started out this Epic of Eden journey looking at “The Great Cultural Barrier,” wrapping our minds around the fact that without the lens of cultural context we will fail to capture all that the Old Testament has for us. Recognizing that Israel was a tribal, patriarchal society helps us grasp depths and truths and nuances we would miss otherwise. (Do you remember Tamar’s story?)
Dr. Richter has also given us some tools to organize our biblical closets – today we get to hang the fifth and final Old Testament “redemptive history” hanger: DAVID.
“The covenant with David is the last piece of the Old Testament puzzle….. [We’ve] learned that the Mosaic covenant established God’s theocratic kingdom on earth and that this kingdom was designed to be administrated by three human officers: the prophet, the priest, and the king. [Now] we have to examine the job description of the last of these three officers, the king, and investigate the life and times of the paradigmatic king: David…. But this larger covenantal administration has a ‘subcovenant,’ David’s royal grant. David’s covenant does not change the identity of the people, place, or presence of the Mosaic covenant, but it adds a critical new dimension—a royal, human representative who stands between Yahweh and his people” (Epic of Eden, 189-90).
Stage Four: David
In her video lesson, Dr. Richter describes David as the “capstone piece of redemptive history.” I’ve seen the word “capstone” in Scripture before, and I’ve made some generalized assumptions about what is meant by a capstone, but I thought it prudent to actually look it up for us today.
“Capstone: the top stone of a structure or wall; the crowning achievement or final stroke.” (Thank you, Dictionary.com).
If we carry out this analogy, let’s think of all we’ve learned about redemptive history as us building a structure…perhaps a house:
- The Garden of Eden is our foundation. The foundation holds all that God wants for and with His creation. After Adam and Eve mess up and humanity gets kicked out of Eden, God waits a long time till he connects once again with a human.
- The foundation established with Adam gets a good cleansing in the flood, so afterwards we can look at Noah as first layers of our walls — something is emerging but it’s not clear what it will be.
- When the time is right, God calls Abraham out to be the father of a nation – the walls are bigger, and we’ve gotten the door, the one that will open wider as God’s plan unfolds.
- God then raises up a redeemer and deliverer in Moses, the one who receives the law from God. Our walls now have windows with which to see into the heart of God.
- Today, we’re getting the roof. David is the finishing piece, the “top stone” of our Redemptive History House…well, at least until the new covenant. 😉
As Dr. Richter says, if David is the original capstone, Christ is the fulfillment!
Tribal League to Monarchy
“So how did we get from the Sinai to the birth of a monarchy? The books of the Bible that detail this transition are the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel” (191).
In short form, Joshua leads our merry band of travelers into the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering, and he assigns land to each of the twelve tribes.
The Book of Judges gives us a glimpse into all the ways Israel lived together, fought their foes, failed to follow God’s law (ie: keep their covenant), and then repented. In fact, Israel cycled through this TWELVE times – so frequently and exactly that we can list the steps of the cycle:
- Israel obeys God and lives in peace.
- The person appointed “judge” over Israel dies, and Israel falls into much sin.
- God gets mad and allows Israel’s enemies to take over.
- Israel cries out under the oppression.
- God hears and raises up a new judge.
- The judge delivers Israel from their oppressors.
- See #1.
This part of our lesson has some deep significance for our understanding of who God is. If you were to ask Christians who believe that the “God of the Old Testament” is different than the “God of the New Testament” WHY they believe that, a lot of them would point to Judges. It’s a harsh, even gruesome book of the Bible. On the surface, God might appear to be a God who is only and always angry and vengeful…nothing like the loving God of the New Testament.
HOWEVER, when we learn about this cycle in Judges and read the passages through the lens of cultural context, we start to see more clearly. At this point of our story, we remember that A) God really wants a relationship with His people and B) He has been implementing a rescue plan to make that happen.
Put all that together, THEN read Judges. And what we see is a God who loves His people so much that no matter how many times they fail to keep their end of the suzerain/vassal covenant, He steps in and gives them another chance. Every. Time.
And if you read very closely this book of Judges, you’ll see that with each cycle the people of Israel grow more and more, well, evil as the cycles progress. By the final cycle we see priests (God’s priests…remember the theocracy?) setting up pagan cult sites; Levites using their second wives to be gang-raped to death, cutting them up into twelve pieces, then sending a piece to each tribe; and God saying they had officially become worse than the Canaanites (Judges 19:27-30). That’s how far they had spiraled.
Now, the twelve judges raised up by God to deliver his wayward people are not litigators as we’d think of judges today, but are more like military leaders who unify the twelve tribes to fight their enemies (192). And by the end of the book of Judges we hear from the author of Judges and from the people of Israel that they see the reason for all their “problems” is the fact that they don’t have a king. (ref. Judges 21:25)
In actuality, “every man did what was right in their own eyes,” but the idea that a king would solve their problems takes root. So by 1 Samuel 8, God gives them what they ask for and has Samuel anoint the first King of Israel, Saul.
God is THE king of Israel, but He was not upset to have a human serve in the office of king. In fact, we can study Deuteronomy 17 and see that the monarchy was God’s idea (195). However, He was upset that Israel asked for a king for all the wrong reasons.
“These folks wanted a king who would conscript a professional army and thereby resolve their ongoing problem with foreign oppression. But what had Yahweh told them about foreign oppression? It was Yahweh’s disciplinary response to covenant unfaithfulness. Thus the solution to the problem at hand was not a king and his professional army, but adherence to the covenant” (196).
From Saul to David
The stories of Saul and David take up much space in our Old Testament, but for the sake of time, let’s summarize their stories by saying the first two kings of Israel could not have been more different.
- Saul is the people’s choice (1 Samuel 8:22); David is God’s choice (1 Samuel 16:1).
- Saul is more worried about his own career and kingdom than God and God’s kingdom (1 Samuel 15:10-11, 24-26); David is not perfect but he never forgets whose kingdom it is (1 Samuel 17).
- Saul cannot keep in mind WHO he works for; David never forgets.
- Saul is insecure and worries much more about what men think of him than what God thinks of him; David is a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
“Saul is letting his insecurities get the best of him. And as 1 Samuel 15:24-31 makes crystal clear, this first king of Israel is allowing his career and his success to become more important than that of the kingdom of God. Saul forgot who he worked for and became confused as to whose kingdom it was” (198).
David as King of Israel
As we read 1 Samuel 16 and 17, we notice that David is “called” three times (known as David’s Call Narratives). Dr. Richter teaches that in doing so, the narrator of David’s story wants us to know three different things about David and his kingship:
- 1 Samuel 16:1-13 – The prophet Samuel, as led by the Holy Spirit, anoints the least of Jesse’s eight sons. This is the famous line where the Holy Spirit tells Samuel that He looks in the heart, and what He sees in David is good and right for the next king of Israel. So in this Call Narrative, David is chosen for his character.
- 1 Samuel 16:14-23 – In this scene, a young David is chosen to play music to soothe Saul’s troubled soul – troubled because the Spirit, the Anointing, and the Power have been withdrawn from him. In this Call Narrative David is chosen as a man of worship.
- 1 Samuel 17 – This is the famous David and Goliath story. Goliath is a giant Philistine (of Greek origin) who is armed with so many things that the Israelites don’t have words for some of it…AND his spear is made of IRON, something that was very new to the world at that time. Saul, as king, should have been the one to stand up against Goliath, to lead his army against the Philistines (200), but it is the young shepherd boy, David, who steps out in faith, trusting that God will help him defeat this enemy. David shows us he is chosen as a man of faith.
There are more “Davidic” stories – like the famous story of Bathsheba – so we are shown all sides of David, never perfect but always anchored in the truth of who God is and whose kingdom he is building. “Throughout this era, every king of Israel will be compared [for good or ill] to David. David is the paradigm, his covenant-loyalty the standard” (206-7).
The Davidic Covenant
The final covenant between God and Israel under the old covenant is David’s. Once David takes the throne and defeats the enemies of both his throne and his kingdom, he builds himself a nice palace.
“Now it came about when the king lived in his HOUSE, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies…” (2 Samuel 7:1).
He and Nathan, his prophet, come up with this idea of building God a permanent home because David has this great palace, but neither of them stop to ask God what He thinks. Oops! But God gives Nathan a vision to remind him that they should consult Him (2 Samuel 7:2-15).
In that vision, God declares that He will establish a HOUSE for David (verse 11). The word HOUSE comes up multiple times in this passage, and what we have is actually some great word play in the original language where “house” can mean “temple” and where “house” can mean “dynasty.”
Seeing the original language, pulling in historical context, and taking the time to put all this together, Dr. Richter helps us see that what God is doing here is pointing out that A) David is really less worried about GOD and more worried about keeping tradition of the day, which would have been to build a temple to the patron god in order to secure the power of that god throughout his (David’s) reign…and beyond. In fact, David wanted a dynasty (202).
What I first read as a very selfless thought has suddenly been revealed as much more selfish. And, of course, God sees it for what it is. David is chastised for being more concerned for his “house” (dynasty) than about God’s “house” (temple).
God calls David on this and basically says, “When I want a temple, I will ask for one. Don’t forget who the real king of Israel is.”
But…God doesn’t end there. He actually speaks to David’s concerns and makes a promise that David’s “house” (dynasty) is secure in Him, that David’s throne will be established forever (203)!
In real time, David’s dynasty lasts over 400 years…which rivals some old Chinese dynasties. But it wasn’t “forever.” So what could God mean? How does God keep His promise?
“Our fledgling king is awarded an eternal dynasty for his outstanding record of personal service to his suzerain. Pay special attention to 2 Samuel 7:14-16. These verses are the very taproot of the messianic hope. Any attentive reader must stumble over the word “forever” in 2 Samuel 7:16. Obviously such a promise reaches beyond David, his children, and the nation of Israel itself. How could Yahweh fulfill such a tall order? The answer, of course, will be by means of a child of David who reaches beyond David and Israel and is himself eternal” (203).
The royal grant is given. The people are the children of Abraham through Isaac. The place includes boundaries promised to Abraham and is secured under David. The presence is housed in the tabernacle, but the tabernacle is now in the capital city (207). Israel rests in peace and prosperity under King David.
King David doesn’t live forever. When his son, Solomon, takes the throne and builds God’s temple, he loses sight of the True King. Then David’s grandson, Rehoboam, takes the throne and manages to take things a step further in the wrong direction. The nation splits…exile looms.
“And as the years go by and the storm clouds continue to gather on the horizon, the same question begins to form itself in the heart of every faithful Israelite: ‘Is there a son of David out there somewhere who can clean up the mess we’ve made, stand against our enemies, and speak up for the voiceless?’ But the sons of David continue to disappoint. And after years of warnings and second chances, the covenant curse is at last enacted and Judah is swept away. The land grant is recalled, the temple is razed, and the proud children of Abraham are slaughtered and dragged off into exile in Babylonia. A broken covenant, a broken dream, a broken people…. Yet even in the silence of exile, the promise of the prophets continues to echo” (206-7).
We have one more post till we wrap up our Epic of Eden study. Next week we will make the leap in Redemptive History to the new covenant.
God is faithful. God is patient. God never gives up. God keeps his promises.
And we’ll see just how He does this in our next post!
Singing His praises,