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Saturday, January 21, 2017

A man after God's own heart!

Among the comments about my last post, Dixon Cartwright made an astute observation about the double standard inherent in the insistence of many Christians that David was "a man after God's own heart." Moreover, if one takes the time to survey the many Christian commentaries and sermons on the subject, the truth of this observation becomes apparent. Dixon's point also suggests some other questions:  Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership? These questions demand answers, not justifications or apologies!

In beginning to answer these questions, I think that it is important to acknowledge that most of the folks who hold David up as a fine example of Christian leadership view Scripture through the lens of Fundamentalism. For them, there can't be any contradictions or intrusions of political/cultural bias in "God's Word." However, for those of us who do not share that perspective, it is obvious that the folks who wrote the history of the kingdom period were partisans of David. In other words, they were clearly writing in the capacity of apologists for the man and his actions. If we are willing to acknowledge this and look at the material recorded there with this in mind, we can begin to get a better understanding of David, the men who wrote about him and God's perspective on both.

In short, the folks who wrote the "history" which appears in our Bible had a powerful incentive to justify David's acquisition of the throne and embellish his reputation and accomplishments for the sake of his successors and their continuing rivalry with the northern kingdom. After all, one has to explain the displacement of God's original choice as king:  Saul. And, as all serious students of history know, kings have always been interested in justifying their legitimacy as ruler - their right to rule.

With these considerations in mind, we begin to see that God was one of many props that were employed to buttress the claims of the House of David to the throne. Hence, while David may have been God's choice, it does not follow that God approved of everything he did or supported him in every instance. Indeed, if we give any credence whatsoever to these accounts, we are forced to admit that the chronicler(s) acknowledged that God was displeased with David's adultery, murder and continuous warfare. After all, according to the biblical account, God allowed David's child with Bathsheba to die, permitted him to be temporarily displaced (Absalom) and didn't allow him to build the temple (that honor was reserved for his son).

It also occurs to me that most of the folks who like to talk about David being "a man after God's own heart" fail to look at the context of these remarks within Scripture. In the book of Acts, we are told that Paul was speaking to a Jewish synagogue in Antioch (13:14-16). In this account of his remarks there, we are told that he briefly summarized the history of the Israelites to introduce them to Jesus (verses 17-23). It is in the midst of this summary that Paul quotes from the book of I Samuel about David, Christ's ancestor.

Paul told them that God himself had testified:  "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart." (verse 22). In the remarks that follow this quote, Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's choice - that he (not David) was God's ultimate choice to complete his plans for Israel (verses 23-41). In other words, David is part of a more important story and is really only incidental to the central figure of that story (Jesus). Paul makes David the means to an end.

Now, let's take a closer look at the place in the Old Testament from which Paul extrapolated this quote. In the book of I Samuel, we read that Samuel told Saul:  "Thou has done foolishly:  Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee:  for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue:  the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." (verses 13-14)

Notice first that Paul has attributed to God something that was originally attributed to Samuel. In this passage from the Old Testament, it is Samuel who is describing what God has done. In other words, "Because of your disobedience (Saul), God has decided to find someone who is closer to him - one who thinks more like he does." A little later in the story (chapter 16), we are told that God chooses Jesse's youngest son, David. So Paul gathers all of this together and puts it into the mouth of God (not an illogical conclusion, but the original author does not tell us that these were God's own words).

More importantly, look at the timing of these remarks. Aren't they made at the beginning of David's story - at the time God chose him to be king? In other words, this remark was made prior to the adultery, deception and bloodshed! As a young man - as a shepherd, David was a man after God's own heart. It does not say that the corrupt and lecherous old man who occupied the throne of Israel many years later was a man after God's own heart!

As a matter of fact, the only way that we could possibly hope to make this statement continue to apply to the man he became is by appealing to his willingness to acknowledge his many sins and REPENT of them! Thus we return to the point which Paul was making to the Jews at Antioch: David is not the model/example/end - Christ was/is! According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ was the only man who has ever lived who was truly "a man after God's own heart." Hence, it is inappropriate for Christians to hold this man (David) up as a model for anything other than an example of the way that we should face our sins and repent of them.

In conclusion, my answer to both of the questions which were asked at the beginning of this post (Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership?) is NO. David was a secular leader - he was not a priest or minister. Moreover, even in the biased accounts of his life which we have received via the Bible, it is clear that YHWH expressed "His" displeasure with this man on a number of occasions - most notably in the fact that "He" did not allow David to build "His" temple. We can say that God used him as an example of what not to do and of the way to acknowledge sin and repent of it, but I believe it is a perversion of Scripture and logic to make David a model for what a Christian leader should look like.



2 comments:

  1. This is not meant to answer the main question, but to comment on an assumption you have made. Your conjecture seems to be that people wrote the Old Testament. I could probably arrive at that supposition too except for a couple of factors. First and least, there is what is termed the Bible Code (explained at http://gordon-feil-theology.blogspot.ca/2016/12/normal-0-false-false-false-en-ca-x-none.html). People writing scripture on their own, would not have produced that. Second is the reason described at the third point under the last question at http://gordon-feil-theology.blogspot.ca/2017/01/normal-0-false-false-false-en-ca-x-none.html. In short, Jesus (God) regards the Old Testament as God-inspired scripture.

    Your support of your assertion is that the writings legitimize David’s reign and praise his character. No chance that God actually did fire Saul and hire David? The writings about David’s life are revelatory of his failings. They are graphic. Even at his death, David is seen to get his vengeance on some who had failed him, although he was also protecting his son.

    It is interesting to note that the faith heroes of Hebrews 11 are largely people whose had faults disclosed by the Bible. And I think the point is that God can use anyone. He can turn all to his glory.


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  2. Gordon, If we ignore the fact that the wording of the Hebrew texts has changed over the centuries and that patterns can sometimes be discerned at random in other literature, we still have the problems of internal errors and inconsistencies in Scripture. Aren't you arguing over semantics? Are you saying that God personally wrote the Bible (or significant portions of it)? How can we truly distinguish textual inspiration from inspiration of the author(s)?
    While it is accurate to say that Jesus and Paul regarded the Old Testament as being inspired, it does not follow that they regarded it as flawless. Once again, we are talking about semantics. What does inspiration mean?
    Yes, it is possible (I would say probable when we consider all of the evidence) that God fired Saul and hired David. After all, God's promise to David is employed in the New Testament as the foundation of Christ's story. Nevertheless, that does not mean that everything that was written about David in the Old Testament is accurate/reliable. It does not mean that bias and political expediency could not have intruded on those accounts.
    Finally, God has caused many examples (good and bad) to be recorded in the pages of the Bible for our benefit (things to emulate and avoid). I agree that God can use bad people/situations to further his plans/purposes, but it does not follow that "He" has placed "His" stamp of approval on them or made them "His" representatives/representative of "Him."

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