Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

BIBLE: 2 Samuel 19 - 1 Kings 2

Aristotle once wrote: “For there is required, as we said, not only complete virtue but also a complete life, since many changes occur in life, and all manner of chances, and the most prosperous may fall into great misfortunes in old age, as is told of Priam in the Trojan Cycle; and one who has experienced such chances and has ended wretchedly no one calls happy.” (Ethics, Chapter 9)  This was certainly true of David.  The end of the book of Samuel isn’t the end of David’s life.  His long life doesn’t come to an end until the second chapter of the book of Kings and David has trials and tribulations right up to the very end.  Only then can the reader look back and reflect.  Was David a good king?  Was he a good man?  Like many strong characters, in literature as well as in life, the answer depends on who you ask.  Let’s reflect on David as a king.  Israelites who were followers of the house of Saul wouldn’t have much good to say about David.  To them he was a bloody man and an outright rebel against the authority of Israel’s real king, Saul.  When David had to leave Jerusalem after Absalom’s rebellion, Shimei had this to say: “The Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.”  Another man who never accepted David was Sheba and “he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.”  On the other hand, David had many faithful followers.  When he fled Jerusalem we read that “all the country wept with a loud voice, and… lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him.”  Was David a good king?  What would Uriah say?  Bathsheba?  Joab?  Absalom?  From a human perspective David must be judged on human terms.  From a divine perspective we come to different conclusions.  One of the lessons of the book is that God is working through history for His own purposes, not David’s.  The book of Ruth (right before the book of 1 Samuel) ends this way: “And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  The Gospel of Matthew begins this way: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…  And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias…”  Boaz (Booz) was David’s great grandfather.  He took a Moabite named Ruth as his wife and after a couple of generations David was born.  David was just one link in a long chain of generations.  He was an important link, that’s true, but the meaning of his life can only be viewed within the context of what came before him and what came after him.  An important question remains.  Was this story a story about God working out his purpose in human history?  Or was David’s life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, merely the result of his own human efforts?  David himself has this to say in Chapter 22 (which is also Psalm 18): the Lord has “delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me.  They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay.  He brought me forth also into a large place: he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”  David certainly believed it was the hand of God that delivered him from his enemies.  Modern readers may be more skeptical.  Why would God, if there is a God, delight in a man who committed adultery and then murder to try and cover it up?  What would Aristotle think of David’s ethics?  Would Plutarch use him as an example in his Lives?  The Bible is not a Greek book based on rational thinking.  It’s the story of God’s people told through the lens of human history.  David learned the hard way that God’s ways are not man’s ways; and that everyone, good or bad, eventually goes to his own grave.  “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.”


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