Tuesday, August 18, 2009

THE LEGACY OF DAVID

The Gospel of Luke records the angel announcing to Mary that she will be the mother of the messiah, sayings, “you will ... bear a son, whom you are to name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever....” The fact that Jesus would receive the throne of David acknowledges an abiding bond between Christianity and Judaism.

Although David is at the center of several entertaining and compelling stories, many Christians fail to grasp the central role that he played in the Jewish heritage. Jesus was a Jew. He lived in the context of the Jewish heritage. It was extremely important to the early church that he came out of the line of David as had been prophesied.

The indigenous tribes were not driven out of Israel when Joshua conquered the promised land. . They were merely subjugated. Nor were the Israelites a truly united people. The land was divided into twelve sectors controlled by tribes which were descendants of different sons of Jacob. There was no single nation of Israel. No single leader.

Consequently the Israelites were plagued by chronic violent conflict with their displaced co-habitants. Tired of defending their new home from a position of weakness, the Israelites formed a single nation led by a king appointed by God.

Saul, the first king, was a capable leader, but he was flawed. David, the second king, finally accomplished the goal of uniting the people of Israel and establishing secure borders. He proved to be a ferocious general, defeating virtually every enemy of Israel at that time. By the end of his life, Israel was a legitimate member of the league of nations. Therefore, David enjoys a position in the history of Israel somewhat akin to George Washington in our country. After all, Washington converted a conglomerate of colonies into a nation.

But David’s greatness was not limited to military and political success. He had abilities that raised him above others. He was a poet. Think about it. How many generals do you know who are poets? I don’t mean roses are red and violets are blue either. His Psalms are read and beloved even today. On the other hand, how many poets do you know who could successfully lead an army into battle? They require different skill sets.

He showed remarkable capacity for compassion and forgiveness. As David’s reputation grew Saul’s jealously matured into a rage, and he sought to kill David utilizing the full strength of his army. Nevertheless, David never wavered in his devotion to Saul, who had been his patron. David declined to kill Saul when he had an opportunity, and genuinely grieved when he died.

David’s complex character is inextricably tied with his moral and ethical lapses, too. The most famous is his liaison with Bathsheba. David arranged to have her husband killed in battle so that he could marry Bathsheba and dump his wife. He was also a terrible father to Absolom.

Despite his failings, David was quick to confess to God and repent. Much of Psalms written by him demonstrates the humility and repentance which were integral parts of his character.

David’s thus presents an impressive blend of paradoxes. A general but also a poet. A powerful king who could be ruthless, but also one who was forgiving and gracious to his adversaries. An enemy to be feared, but a friend of unflinching loyalty. At times heroic and superhuman. Other times, a woeful sinner. Susceptible to sinfulness, but repentant and accepting of God’s punishments.

These paradoxes make him more than a hero. He embraces the noblest ideals of humanity along with the inherent weakness in us all. He was truly a great human being, warts and all.

God rewarded David with a promise that the House of David would be established as the ruling family of Israel. Later God, through Jeremiah, promised that the messiah would come from the House of David. The promise of the messiah carried with it the implicit hope that Israel would return to the glory once brought upon it by David. These two promises became the imprimatur of David’s enduring influence on the course of the Jewish history.

To the Jews, it was imperative that their messiah conform to the descriptions contained in the prophecies. If so, the ultimate emolument of messiahship was the throne of Jesus’ ancestor David. Jesus inherited the throne and carried it to new levels of greatness. The throne was no longer a small kingdom but a heavenly scepter. The reaches of the kingdom were not limited to the land between Dan and Beersheba, but spread to the ends of the earth. A temporal rule was extended to the end of time.

No comments: