Monday, October 15, 2007

Ruling in the Fear of God (II Samuel 20-24)

The end of Samuel feels a bit like an appendix to me. Here we have a bunch of seemingly unrelated items that didn’t really fit in the main stream of the book (though I would have probably inserted the psalm in chapter 22 somewhere before the incident with Bathsheba if I were the editor). There are two rather troubling stories tucked away here that exemplify what made David a man after God’s own heart.

The first is an incident concerning Gibeon. Apparently Saul had tried to wipe them out, even though Joshua had promised to spare them. Now Israel is facing a famine from the Lord in retribution for Saul’s mistreatment of that people. For the sake of justice, David orders seven of Saul’s sons (sparing Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth) to be handed over to the Gibeonites to be executed, strung up, and exposed to the elements.

But Rizpah, the mother of two of them, watches over the bodies day and night to chase away any animals that might desecrate the corpses. It is the last bit of kindness the poor women can offer her dead sons. David hears of it, and, deeply moved, orders the bodies to be taken down and buried with royal honor with Saul and Jonathan.

It’s a picture of David’s awkward relationship to Saul. The Lord had rejected Saul as king of Israel, while Saul continued to commit atrocities more and more worthy of damnation. The fall of his house to David was just and inevitable. Yet Saul, for all his faults, was still the Lord’s anointed. Upon satisfying divine justice, David refuses to demonize his fallen opponents, opting to honor Saul’s reputation beyond the grave.

The second story involves a plague as punishment for a presumptuous censes by David. There are many troubling elements to the story, not least the fact that the Lord himself incites David to take the censes because he is angry with the people for some other reason. Nor is it clear why exactly taking a censes is such a grave sin.

The Lord then strikes Israel with a plague (no doubt substantially altering the censes numbers) while David looks on:
Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house.”
The prophet Gad tells David to make an offering to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Araunah tells David to take the land and the oxen free of charge, but the king refuses. No, the offering must cost him something. He is the king, and these are his people.

It’s a picture of David’s relationship to Israel. Though he is often a great example for them to follow, he also embodies their national sin in his personal choices. And thus his repentance is their own. He is authorized to wrestle with God on their behalf, and say, like any good sea captain to his superiors, “the actions of my crew are mine, and mine alone.”

Oh Israel, here is your king! He judges your wickedness and rebellion, while offering the rebels redemption beyond the grave. He takes your sin upon his own shoulders, calling for God to punish himself on your behalf. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

As I read this, I'm struck (as I'm sure you intended) by David as a TYPE of Jesus, by how truly descriptive the title Son of David is of Jesus.

Well done.

One (un?)fortunate thing about learning to read the Old Testament typologically is that it's hard to resist doing it all the time. You just can't avoid seeing Jesus everywhere!

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