Posts Tagged ‘David’

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

We can say with certainty that any psalm in our Bible that refers to the temple and its courts could not have been written by David, who lived before its time. The ending of Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, makes it questionable on the list of authentic poems by the shepherd-king. Regardless, the remarkably personal and passionate spirituality that is expressed in this and other poems of the biblical collection form a continuous line of influence from David himself.

For the author of this psalm the house of God is a place of delight, where every creature can find refuge and a beauty beyond words. The poet’s heart longs to be in its sacred precincts, with songs of praise and overflowing joy.

And then there is this: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (the mountain on which the temple stood). As he looks outward to the stream of pilgrims approaching the temple, the psalmist has a vision of the true path of approach, in the heart of every honest and searching soul.

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1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

We can hear the trepidation in Solomon’s words as he dedicates to God the newly built temple in Jerusalem. Yahweh had admonished David earlier for the presumption in his plans to erect a place for the deity to dwell. And what about that? Was God now of a different mind on the subject? A sacred house is acceptable today, but wasn’t yesterday? David couldn’t, but now Solomon can?

There is a rather fascinating undercurrent to the history of Israel’s progress toward becoming an empire like others round about, something of a counter-voice to the entire project. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul king only after God reluctantly gave in to the people’s demand for a royal leader. Previous to that, Yahweh had been their Lord. Even after the throne was established, generations of prophets continued to rail against the corruption of kings, one after another.

Similar criticism sprang up around the plans to build a temple for God in the capital city of Jerusalem. Wasn’t it enough that the nation had set up a human authority in the place of God, and now they want to store Him away inside a shrine where He can be worshiped at their convenience? Later on, the prophet Jeremiah would be especially reproachful of a popular belief concerning the temple, that its presence in the city guaranteed it invincible to enemy attack.

PSALM 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

There is a high probability, although we can’t be absolutely certain, that David wrote this poetic prayer in the aftermath of his moral collapse. We hear in its words a profound sense of guilt and a desperate longing to be made clean. The sin he had tried to hide could no longer be blanketed behind a veil of denial and self-justification. As long as he persisted in walling off this part of himself, he was living a divided life.

For the ego this is rather typical, but for the soul – that dimension beyond our personality where our autobiography is archived and our highest spiritual aspirations are conceived – this divided state is intolerable. Whereas the ego coordinates the multiple roles we play in life, our soul thirsts for wholeness and authenticity. While David’s ego could go on with the charade of self-justification, his soul was tormented and in deep need of forgiveness.

Repentance involves a series of subtler moves beginning with the admission of guilt, and moving on through inner remorse, self-examination, personal confession, acceptance of consequences, attempted restitution, a pledge toward moral improvement, letting go of the past and moving on. The forgiveness of God makes all of this possible by holding before us the promise of freedom, love, and fulfillment.

2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

With God’s curse on David’s house, the morality of Yahweh sounds more like a child’s than that of a mature adult. Because you took Uriah’s wife, other scoundrels just like yourself are going to take your wives and do with them what they wish. Fair is fair. 

A closer consideration, however, reveals something of a deeper truth. What really happens when we commit an act of betrayal, violence, infidelity or deception? We may think, as David apparently did, that the fall-out from such deeds can be contained and managed. When it’s done, we have to allow time for the dust to settle, but after a while we will be able to carry on as if the travesty never happened. Or so we may think.

In reality, every word and deed we release into the world initiates a cascade of consequences. The fundamental rule is that your words and deeds are seeds that sow an inevitable harvest, either for good or evil. Like force fields of moral energy, our human values, choices, and actions produce an accelerating momentum of consequences. When we lie, for instance, we intensify the force of dishonesty in the world. When we break a promise or a vow, we amplify the destructive power of suspicion throughout the human realm.

David’s acts of adultery and murder set in motion an avalanche of consequences that would eventually overwhelm him as well.

2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

“You are the man!” We can imagine David stumbling backwards from the force of Nathan’s words. The shock that David evidently felt shows how far the dissociation from his own sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah had gone. How could he not have seen the parallels between Nathan’s parable and his own recent experience? Part of our attempted ego defense in times we have violated the deeper principles of morality, is the maneuver of “walling-off” and dis-identifying with the part of us that fell to temptation and transgressed the divine laws of well-being. David probably didn’t even see himself as that wretch who had destroyed a man and his marriage.

In just this instance we are given to see the truth-power in a story of fiction. Nathan’s parable of the rich man who took from a poor man the only lamb he owned never happened, strictly speaking. The truth of the story, however, lies at a level below that of factual accuracy. Its truth is that of revelation: pulling back the veil of hypocrisy and pretense that David had hidden his guilt behind. When a story – and most often it is a work of fiction, parable, or myth – brings into the light something unconscious or forgotten, deliberately concealed or dormant as a deeper potential within us, we say it is a ‘true’ story.

Nathan’s parable never happened, and yet is happening all the time.

2 SAMUEL 11:1-15

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

When Bathsheba the mistress discovered she was pregnant by David, she informed him of it. That’s when David’s strategy for self-defense kicked into high gear. He brought Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, home from the battlefront and told him to go to his house and “wash his feet” – a Hebraic euphemism for having sexual intercourse. His hope was that Bathsheba’s pregnancy would be attributed to Uriah’s lucky leave of absence, and that he would get off the hook.

When Uriah refused to have sexual relations with his wife – for it was the time of battle and his compatriots were risking their lives in the field – David got him drunk and tried again, but to no avail. Uriah’s commitment was wholeheartedly to the crown, even as the crown was destroying his home.

As if that weren’t enough, inclination and opportunity intersected one more time and David made arrangements for Uriah to be struck down in battle. Perhaps he was thinking that with Uriah eliminated as a possible witness for the prosecution, he could then foster the ‘leave of absence’ theory for Bathsheba’s motherly state. (Then again, there were those servants who had been with Uriah on each occasion of David’s attempted cover-up.) His window of opportunity for honesty and repentance was quickly closing. Observe the coiling fate of a desperate man!

2 SAMUEL 7:1-14a

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In a time when the gods of other tribes and nations were represented in idols and established in sacred shrines and temples, Yahweh, the deity rediscovered by Moses in the mountains of Sinai, was acknowledged as being not only non-representable but also unwilling to settle down inside the more permanent structures of religion.

Yahweh had cautioned the exodus community against fashioning graven images of the divine likeness. And since the early experience of God took shape during an event of radical transition, as the people were moving from one place to another, the presence of Yahweh needed to be ‘portable’ and not tied down to location. In the forty years of wilderness wandering, Yahweh’s dwelling was a movable tabernacle, and whenever Moses needed to consult the oracle of the deity he went outside the boundary of the camp to the tent of meeting and waiting for God’s word.

There we have some of the essential history behind the conflict between David’s desire to make for God a more permanent dwelling place (temple) and God’s refusal to be clapped up inside a building. David’s intention was innocent enough, and we notice that even the prophet Nathan thought it was a good idea at first. It’s always more convenient to have a place where God stays put.

PSALM 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
    and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
    and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory.

David’s personal experience of God as the expansive mystery beneath and behind everything also had a deeply moral dimension, which must be true of all genuine religion as well. Since God is our name for that which energizes and supports existence itself, there is a recognition in all true religion that our human approach to that mystery requires a sufficient combination of mindfulness, reverence, and moral rectitude.

This is not to say that only perfect people qualify for an experience of God, for that would make the experience a reward for what is sometimes called a “works righteousness.” David is not suggesting that living right earns us a place in God’s favor and accumulates merit for ourselves. Those “who have clean hands and pure hearts” are the ones whose actions (hands) and intentions (hearts) are united in love for God and others.

The reason such persons “receive blessing from the Lord” has to do with the fact that they are the ones whose existence is grounded in a grateful awareness that opens them more fully to the overflowing generosity of reality. In truth, blessings are continuously pouring forth, and God/Love is that in which “we live and move and have our being,” as Paul says. But to see them we need an attention sufficiently liberated from foreground distractions and scattered urgencies. By the path of reverent awareness and wholesome lives we “ascend the hill of the Lord.”

PSALM 48

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
    is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
    the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God
    has shown himself a sure defense.

Then the kings assembled,
    they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
    they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
    pains as of a woman in labor,
as when an east wind shatters
    the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
    in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
    which God establishes forever.

We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
    in the midst of your temple.
10 Your name, O God, like your praise,
    reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
11     Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
    because of your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts;
    go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14     that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
    He will be our guide forever.

Ancient capitals and larger towns were built according to a sacred design and architecture, with the temple dwelling of a patron deity situated at the center and everything else coordinated around its holy space. David’s Mount Zion was the hilltop in the Canaanite city of the Jebusites, taken and occupied by David’s armies and later named Jerusalem, where the high god (El) had long been believed to condescend to the worship and sacrifices of his people.

When David made the city his capital and transported the Ark of the Covenant to the holy precincts of this mythologized mountain, Zion became the symbol and actual touchstone whence the grace and power of the biblical God radiated forth.

Solomon, David’s son and successor, is the one who made the fateful decision to build a temple for God on Zion, which set up the cooperative (but eventually competitive) division of “church” and “state” that some argue gave rise to the otherworldly preoccupations of later religion. For David himself, the mountain represented the “high place” where heaven and earth, the divine and the human, could meet and merge. Politics, commerce, and even private life were to be organized beneath and around it.

2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

If we should try to generalize the significant difference between David and his predecessor on the throne, King Saul, we might see this contrast in the relative depth of each man’s moral and spiritual center. Saul had time and again followed the trajectory of his own impulses and personal ambition, a habit that landed him time and again in troubles of various sorts.

David, on the other hand, although not a perfect man by any means, made it a devotional practice to regularly consult the will of God for the direction of his life. This stereotypical opposition between personal ambition and prayerful discernment in leadership is very evident and relevant to our lives even today. And in addition to looking outward to the social fields of politics, religion, and corporate business for examples of both kinds, we can and should also look within ourselves, for these two poles are present in us as well.

The Israelites saw in David a leader who was deeply grounded in a reality larger than his own ego, and who had an obvious and genuine concern for both their present needs and future destiny as a nation. Saul had been a mere “king” while David was their “shepherd,” with the welfare of his community and obedience to his calling foremost on his mind. David’s popularity was not the outcome of his personal efforts to cultivate the admiration of his people. Rather he was loved because he really and clearly cared.