Thursday, August 23, 2012
David: Man After God's Own Heart??
2 Samuel 11-12
David was Israel's second and greatest king. All kings after him would be evaluated in the light of him. He is significant in the developing concept of a Messiah that would come and redeem not only Israel but the whole world. David is a special man in the Bible - in fact he is known as the Man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13.14)! I wish I was known as that. One observer comments "David is seen repeatedly as a gentle, forgiving servant . . . Instead of retaliating for undeserved threats, David responds with mercy . . . David reveals
himself as a deeply sensitive and expressive man of God. In times of trouble David rises above his inner fears and feelings of helplessness to express himself through poetic songs, known as psalms" (LaGard Smith, The Narrated Bible, p. 405). David was indeed a man who sought to serve his Lord but one wonders if we have truly seen and understood his story or have we white washed it?
TROUBLE IN DAVID'S HOUSE
Our meditation arises out of one of the most interesting sections of all the Bible. Second Samuel 9ff is full of suspense and intrigue. Murder and adultery. Rebellion and insurrection. A father fleeing the wrath of his son and a brother raping his sister. Yes, this is surely not a "boring" part of Scripture!
The Books of Samuel and Kings, which together with Joshua and Judges are really one larger work like Luke and Acts, were written during the time of the Exile to help the Israelites understand what went wrong in their country and explain WHY they are where they are at. It was a needed message. The writer lets the reader know that the dye of doom was cast from the very start. Even David, the Model King, had serious
sin in his life. Indeed the Historian devotes half of 2 Samuel to one single incident -- David's sin with Bathsheba and the impact of that sin on David's life and his house. This sin is so embarrassing that the Chronicler does not even mention it! Our author, whose purpose for writing is radically different than the Chronicler, wants us to see that the reason that David was the man after God's own heart was not because he never sinned or was without fault. Rather he is held up because he was willing to repent and humbly admit his sin. That is what the writer is hoping to convey to his audience in his day -- grace will come when we humbly acknowledge our sin -- grace is not dependent upon perfection just a humble heart. Thus David the one who humbly admits sin is the model for the Israelite in Exile ... the message is that 'our" Exile is the fall out of our sin as David's horrendous life was the fall out. BUT Yahweh will do for "us" what he already did for one equally full of sin.
Our story begins in 2 Sam. 11 where the Historian tells us "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army" (v. 1). Already the author has given us a clue that something is wrong -- David has not done what kings do. He did not go out with his men to battle as was his habit, instead he let Joab, his general, lead the men. So David is in the city and not in the field, which leads to restlessness.
We are told that David had insomnia (for whatever reason) and went out for some fresh air. As he went out he spied a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David knew this to be another man's wife (v.3) but was filled with corrosive lust anyway. So he abused his power and he sent orders for her anyway so he could have a fleeting moment of sinful pleasure. Little did he know his life, and family, would shake to its core from this moment of gratification for the rest of his life.
The author hardly spares any details in describing what comes next. Bathsheba became pregnant! She sent word to David (this is obviously some time later -- perhaps David thought he would never be found out).
What do you think the Man after God's own heart did? David did what most men that get caught do: he tried to conceal his sin with lies and cover up. He sent for Uriah. Gave him a supposed holiday pass in the hopes that he would party with his wife. But Uriah was a good soldier and refused to fall into David's scheme and instead slept on the king's door step (v.9).
After repeated attempts to break Uriah's honor -- including getting Uriah drunk -- David finally sent Uriah back to the front with a letter written by the king himself on directions for his own murder (vv. 14-15). So David has used another man's wife for his personal pleasure and gets caught. He now covers up his sins of lust, coveting and adultery with the sins of lying and premeditated murder. David broke nearly the entire Decalogue -- no wonder the Chronicler did not mention this episode in David's life! One almost wonders if he did this on the Sabbath!?
One thing we can learn from David is that sin begets sin and more sin. It becomes a vicious cycle that is so difficult to stop and most, if not all, are unable to. That is why Jesus Christ came. He came to rescue the Davids in this world and provide hope to the Bathshebas who are used up in other peoples webs of sin and deceit. Christ at the Cross broke the cycle of sin and gained victory and graciously gives that victory to us. Praise is due to Jesus!
Needless to say Uriah was murdered as David had plotted. This was premeditated murder in the first degree! And this is the man given the title "Man after God's own Heart." Shocking! But doesn't this give you a little hope? Look at what God did with with David, imagine what he can do with you and me if we allow him too.
In ch. 12 of 2 Sam. the prophet Nathan comes to the king and shares a parable with him about two men and a sheep:
"There were two men in a certain town, one rich and one poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him" (12. 1-4).
David, as king, had the job of protecting the poor and powerless (read Ps 72). His reaction to the story of Nathan shows that he took that task seriously. David's sense of justice had been aroused and Nathan quickly turns that on him and says "You are the man!" (v.7). Nathan has trapped David in his own conscience.
What happens next is important for the rest of the story in Samuel and the first 2 chapters of Kings. The Prophet pronounces four punishments on David for his sin:
1) he decreed the sword would not depart from David's house (12.10). Accordingly, Absalom killed Amnon his half brother (ch.13), Joab killed Absalom (ch.18) and Solomon (the offspring of David's crime) killed Adonijah (1 Kgs 2.13-25);
2) He announced that Yahweh would raise up evil against him out of his own house (12.11). Thus Amnon raped Tamar (ch.13), Absalom led a rebellion against his father (ch. 15), and Adonijah tried to seize the throne in David's old age (1 Kgs 1.5ff);
3) He stated that Yahweh would give David's wives to a neighbor of his, who would commit adultery with them publicly (12.11). So when Absalom seized the throne, on Ahithophel's advice he had sexual relations with his father's wives in the sight of all Israel (16.21-22);
4) He declared that the child born out of David's sin would die (12.14) and he did at seven days of age (12.16-18)
I would not want to grow up in David's family!! As you can see the rest of the narrative of Second Samuel is really about God's punishment for David's sin and it reads like a soap opera (which btw is also relevant to those in Exile). For a moment of pleasure David suffered a lifetime of hell! Do we do that same thing in our lives? Sin has built in consequences that we can not escape.
David was Israel at its best!! And this is the what the Best looks like!! What Hope is there for you or me if this is the best?
GRACE VISITS DAVID
The reason David is called "the Man after God's own heart" is not because he was perfect, flawless or obeyed God precisely. Rather he is given that title because he knew there was only one place to go after we mess up. He knew that even in our sin we must flee to the Lord. David confesses his sin saying "I have sinned against the Lord" (v. 13). The Lord who is rich in mercy forgives David of his sin, but he does not remove the consequences of his crimes against Uriah and Bathsheba. However, inspite of this sin, God says David was a man who had his kind of heart. That I find incredible. God made a promise to David that his throne would last forever because David sought him. This is demonstrated in these line. Feel the remorse of David:
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [hesed];
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak . . .
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within
me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from
me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing
spirit, to sustain me." (Psalm 51. 1-4, 10-12).
David's attitude -- his humble heart -- more than anything separated him from his peers. He KNEW he was a sinner in the sight of God, most of us simply will not admit that. That is what opened him to God's infinite and marvelous grace.
This humility is perhaps the secret of understanding the gracious title given to David. Why? Because Jesus is the very revelation of God - and he "humbled himself." Like a slave he washed the disciples feet, Like a slave he gave up what was his for the sake of a humanity that would never - for the most part - believe. Like a slave he went to the Cross. He was known as the suffering servant. The essence of Jesus was his humility. David demonstrates the heart of God when he HUMBLES himself. He is the living example of the Scripture, "humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he WILL PICK YOU UP . . ."
God honored the sinful - that is Full of Sin - but humble David! Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of God's promise to David. The NT tells us that Christ sits on the throne of David ruling with justice and mercy. The story of David shows us that grace is for those who need it, not for those confident in their own righteousness.
King David's life in many ways reminds me of Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. Here we see the aweful power sin really has. In the life of Schindler we confront the maddening contradictions of the sinful human dilemma just as we do in the life of David. Held hostage in a fallen world, caught in the clutches of the cruelty of Adolf Hitler and captured by his own sinfulness Schindler (and David) represent humanity's best efforts in the face of evil and sin. Schindler could use Jews as slaves to pad his own pocket but also help save 1200 from slaughter in Hitler's death machine. David could be a light to Israel, but neither were able to rescue themselves from life's corrosive and disrupting evil. Yet in spite of his moral flaws, David stands as an `angel' in the midst of despair by being the living demonstration of the marvel of grace in one man's life.
In one scene in the movie, Schindler is at Amon Goeth's villa in Poland and they have a discussion on power. Goeth says power is fear, the ability to take life and Schindler responded with the observation that that is not power at all. Power he said was the ability to punish people by taking their life, yet instead of taking it life is
granted or "pardon" as he put it. That is real power, the ability to forgive -- give life -- when it is not deserved. That is what God did for David. That is what God did for you and I through the Son of David who died to "pardon" us from our sin and give us life instead of death. God could have justly taken David out for his crime yet he forgave and called him "the Man after his own heart."
What do you think is the greater power, to take life ruthlessly or the power to pardon when it is not deserved in any way? How you answer that question reflects how you see yourself in relation to the Cross of the Son of David and your need of it. This is the power of this narrative of shameful power grabs, brutal lust, abuse of women, cold blooded murder, and unbelievable grace ... the Spirit has placed it here for us to ruminate upon.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“Sex becomes a search. A search for something we are missing. A quest for the unconditional embrace. And so they go from relationship to relationship. The search is about that need.
But sex is not the search for something that’s missing. It is the expression of something that’s been found. It’s designed to be the overflow, the culmination of something that a man and a woman have found in each other. It’s a celebration of this living, breathing thing that’s happening between the two of them.” (Rob Bell, Sex God, p. 123)
“KISS ME, make me drunk with your kisses!
Your sweet lovemaking is better than wine.
You are fragrant, you are myrrh and aloes.
All the young women desire you.”
(1.2-3, my translation)
Links to Previous Studies in this Returning to Eden Series:
1 - Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality
2 - Song of Songs & The History of Denying Sexuality
3 - The Song of ALL Songs or Just a Silly Little Love Song?
Links to Previous Studies in this Returning to Eden Series:
1 - Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality
2 - Song of Songs & The History of Denying Sexuality
3 - The Song of ALL Songs or Just a Silly Little Love Song?
A Neo-Platonic Nightmare: Celebrating Sex!
Modern Evangelical and "Church of Christ" Christians have, at times, imbibed a worldview that is on many counts not simply unbiblical but anti-biblical. As noted in the second of these studies (see Song of Songs & the History of Denying Sexuality here) in the second and third centuries Christianity drunk deeply from the Platonic culture surrounding it. This influence is seen in two ways: 1) the Gnostic rejection of creation and the Jewish Creator god with its denial of the goodness of that creation; 2) the denigration of sexuality, sexual urges, and the denigration of women as the agents of Satan for tempting men. Sex became a “necessary evil” for the propagation of the race. The Song of Songs was a clear problem. To fix that perceived problem allegory was resorted too.
Plato in his Symposium, has Socrates waxing eloquently on the status of “love” (for the non-Greek reader the love in the Symposium is eros). At the end Socrates offers the highest form of “eros” in which we get our notion of “platonic love” from. None of the love(s) celebrated in the Symposium is remotely like the biblical notion. Women for Plato were worse than the animals (he says so in another Socratic dialogue Timaeus). The greatest love was the pursuit of wisdom as understood by Plato. The appetites of the body were to be denied for that pursuit … indeed in Platonic salvation the “immortal soul” would one day be set free from the cage of the degrading body.
Modern Christians have, even unawares, often reflected that Platonic outlook. Even as the rest of the world has become “liberated” so to speak the church has remained Victorian. To associate Sexuality and Spirituality is virtually unheard of. The impression that is granted to the world and even to many of our own members is that sex is tolerated (even though everyone does it!) but it is not to be celebrated as a good in itself. And it is a faux paux to let others know you actually enjoy it!
The Joy of It All
How different is the Hebraic worldview from that of many in modern Evangelical Christianity. The Proverbs declare
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times
may you be intoxicated always by
The worldview of Song of Songs is not confined to the Song. Rather the worldview of Song of Songs is the worldview of ancient Israel. The vision of Israel, expressed in the Song of Songs is the redemption of relationships. Rather than being antagonistic to humanity as Gen 3 prophesies, creation is the setting for shalom in the Song for the love of the couple that is as unabashed as in the Garden.
If we believe in the canon of Scripture then the Holy Spirit is not shy about sex. Sexuality is a dominant theme in the Song. It oozes sexuality! This is sometimes obscured because of our Platonic lenses and unhappy English translations. The Hebrew word ‘ahaba is a word that means love. We read in 7.6 (v.7 in Hebrew)
mah yapit u-mah na’amt ‘ahabah ba-ata’anugim
How splendid and how sweet you are, O Love among [all] the delights!
Love is an abstract noun here. But ‘ahaba is a fairly rare word in Song of Songs. But even in 7.6 it is the woman’s physical charms that elicit such an exclamation. But the word that dominates Song of Songs from the vocabulary of “love” is dodim. We encounter this word in the second verse of the book quoted above where I rendered it “lovemaking.” The root dd occurs a total of 36 times in Song of Songs. That this word is explicitly sexual in nature we need only read Proverbs 7.18,
Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
let us delight ourselves with love. (NRSV)
Or the explicit Ezekiel 23.17
And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they
defiled her with their lust …(NRSV)
Though the word may be rendered “love” in Hebrew it is always sexual love. For other examples of dodim in Song of Songs see 1.2, 4; 4.10; 5.1; 7.13; etc 
Here a biblical book literally begins with a description of sexual desire and it is boldly stated.
Equal Opportunity Sex in the Song of Songs
Hers. The Song of Songs has dialogue present between the woman and the man; the woman and the daughters of Jerusalem, and the woman and the night guards. The distribution of this dialogue is far from equal. The woman is far and away the primary speaker approximately 70 percent of the words coming from her mouth. The woman is the primary “actor” in the book.
It is true the man does speak his praise for her in 1.9-11, 15; 2.2; 4.1-7; 6.4-9 and 7.2-10. Yet he disappears (as far as a voice is concerned) completely in chapter 8. Even when he comes to “his garden” it is only at her invitation (4.16-5.1a).
This woman is no passive lady! She does not let him set the agenda so to speak. For example she outdoes his praises for her by bragging on him (1.16-17; 2.3). She begins the Song and she ends the Song. She is the one who speaks its refrains. She is the one who calls on her lover to do things – draw her after him (1.4), be like a gazelle (2.17), to come out to the fields with her (7.12-14), set her as a seal on his arm (8.6) and to flee with her (8.14). She seeks him (1.7). She “seizes” him to bring him into the chamber of love (3.4 & 8.1-2). She is such a powerful presence that in the middle of the Song he confesses to be driven mad by just one of her glances, with but one strand of her necklace (4.9)!!
She is hardly shy or even "polite" about her public praises of her man. Her friends, perhaps tired of her continual bragging about his traits, finally say exasperation (5.9)
mah dodek mi(n)-dod se-kakah hisba’tanu
What’s so special about your lover, that you make us swear in this way?
This is no private conversation the woman is having. She boldly declares “He Rocks!!” Of course that is a loose paraphrase but it captures the meaning quite well. She responds to her "critics" with a gushing report on his uniqueness. To these friends/critics(?) she mentions his gorgeous head (v.11), his eyes (v12), his facial features (v.13), how she loves his puckered lips (v.13b), how hot his body is (v.14b), his legs and voice (vv.15-16). Finally she declares he is simply her “friend” (v.16b). Such discourse was proper for God’s People in Israel. One can hear Plato groaning ... and perhaps not a few church people too! She repeats this public praise of her man to the watchmen.
To say that Song of Songs smolders with sensuality is to make the proverbial understatement. But here is the reality of the situation. This is how God desires our love to be! In the song mutuality is the atmosphere that is breathed between the man and the woman. She is not a passive entity but is the driver behind the entire book.
His. The man is not as articulate in the Song as the woman. However he is not shy about saying things about his isha. In chapter 4.1-7 he erupts like a volcano about her. He unashamedly celebrates (as God directs in Proverbs) the “goods” of his “babe.” The poetry is exquisitely graceful. It is sensuous and replete with erotic imagery and allusions and wonderful word plays. Here is a man who had indeed savored his woman and become “intoxicated” (to use Proverbs 5.18f). He begins with the particle hinneh (2x!). He says
Wow! You are so beautiful, my love
Wow! You are so beautiful! (4.1)
The man is literally arrested at this moment - stopped in his tracks - by what he perceives to be her beauty . She is not just any beautiful woman but his. He takes delight in her beauty. Twelve times in the Song her beauty (Heb, yapa) is proclaimed (1.8; 15 [2x]; 2.10, 13; 4.1[2x], 7; 5.9; 6.1, 4, 10). What the man’s poem revels in is the beauty, the allure, sensuality, and delight he has for his woman’s body. He even praises her breasts no fewer than four times (4.5; 7.3, 7-8. they are mentioned a total of 8x in the Song, 1.13; 4.5; 7.3, 7-8; 8.1, 8, 10).
This last point is more important than we might think. I find this “naked” admiration of the “Shulammite’s” physical beauty refreshing. It reminds us that at the bottom God has created us as embodied creatures, biological creatures. Our bodies Matter! How anti-Platonic and anti-Gnostic. The man’s admiration of his woman’s body leads to the valuation of her .
Wrapping Up For Today
The Song of Songs is powerful medicine in the Word of God for the warped views regarding sexuality both in and out of the church. The Jewish worldview that God created us and made us by intent to be creatures in relationship – even intimate ones – is foundational. The Song is the antidote to perversions of Sexuality whether that is asceticism or what might be called the Porn world.
Sexuality is more than sexual intercourse but intimacy is celebrated as wholesome before God. In the Song sex is good in and of itself. It is not justified on the grounds of procreation but for delight and pleasure.
The Song reminds us of what God had longed for in the Garden of Eden. In our marriages we can participate in and mirror a world that is creational and even redeemed. The Song gives a balanced relationship between the sexes. In our culture in which wives are often treated more as property than partners, the woman is shown here by the Spirit’s intent as the more active partner. It is an egalitarian relationship that exists in this relationship.
The Song has to be used to become effective in counter acting the corrosive effects of a history of misapplication in Christianity. We must become comfortable in reading the book. In our own relationships we should “practice” using exotic metaphors to communicate the wonders and uniqueness of our spouse. What a gift.
1] For more on dodim see Daniel Grossberg, “Nature, Humanity, and Love in Song of Songs,” Interpretation (2005), 229-242.
2] See the excellent article by F. W. Dobbs-Allsop, “The Delight of Beauty and Song of Songs 4.1-7,” Interpretation (2005), 261-277, especially p. 262.
3] See the delightful discussion of this and similar “flavors” in Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, The Erotic and the Song of Songs (Fortress Press, 2000), 105-132.