Posts tagged David
I love this passage from today’s reading:
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. (Proverbs 4:7)
It seems obvious – almost silly – but this is actually a pretty profound statement. You see, the key to becoming wise is that you must seek to become wise. Wisdom, Solomon seems to be saying, is not something that happens naturally or something that will just come to you accidentally. Wisdom must be gotten – it must be pursued. The beginning of wisdom is an active seeking of wisdom.
Step number two on the wisdom learning chart, then, must be “Keep it in your pants.” It’s interesting how quickly Solomon jumps to adultery when discussing wisdom. We must remember that this is a man who had seen the effects of adultery. His mother, Bathsheba, had had an adulterous affair with his father, David. The result was that Bathsheba’s first husband was killed, her firstborn son died shortly after birth and David was disgraced and forever changed.
Solomon had seen the aftermath of adultery. Even though his father and mother were married when he was conceived, he had spent his whole life living in the midst of that adulterous aftermath. He knew how destructive an indiscretion like David’s could be. And so, his advice rings out loud and clear:
But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself. (Proverbs 5:32)
As I read the words of David today, I began to see how he was able to piece together his understanding of God, of himself and of the relationship between the two. You see, David, throughout his life, became more and more aware of his own weakness as well as his own depravity. The confident young boy who defeated a giant became a man who was constantly being pursued by enemies who were stronger than he was and who would soundly defeat him if God didn’t intervene.
David’s ever-growing recognition of this fact and his occasional cries of desperation help to highlight the chasm that exists between the all-powerful God and his weaker people. When faced with that chasm, David is humbled and God is exalted.
Likewise, it seems that David becomes more and more aware of the distance that exists between God’s perfection and purity and David’s brokenness. I suspect that this became even more apparent to David after his indiscretions with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Surely, it was at that point that David realized just how far from perfect he was. Again, David was humbled and God was exalted.
But recognition of these things isn’t really enough. It wasn’t enough for David to realize that he was broken and God was not. The thing that made David such a great man was that he found, in the midst of his brokenness, a strength and resolve to worship the perfect God and to build, brick by brick, an ever-strengthening relationship with him. David chose to not be complacent – to not simply accept his lowly state – but, instead, to constantly pursue God-likeness in himself.
God, for his part, was incredibly faithful to David – not because David was perfect, but because he was trying. So, as David humbled himself before God and as he exalted God with more and more of his being, God, in turn, exalted David. In fact, throughout the history of the people of Israel, there are few who would be spoken of as highly as David.
Psalm 110 is an important “anchor point” in the Bible. It is a text that wasn’t fully understood for several thousand years. The opening line “The Lord says to my lord” is a confusing one since this psalm is attributed to David. David was the king of Israel. He reported to no one – except to God. But this psalm seems to add another layer that didn’t really fit the people’s understanding of the hierarchy of the kingdom. David says that the Lord (God) says to “my lord” (some other person to whom David is subordinate).
It isn’t until Jesus comes along that some light is shed on this passage. In Matthew 22, Jesus asks some Pharisees whose son the Messiah is. Their answer, which would have been the standard answer in those days, is that the Messiah will be the son of David (or descendant of David). Then Jesus quotes Psalm 110 in his answer to the Pharisees when he says:
“How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45)
Jesus shines a light on this passage in a new way that no one has ever seen before. He inserts the Messiah (himself) between God and David, just as David originally intended. I love it when we see echoes of the New Testament in Old Testament writings. It is a reminder of the fact that God knows all and sees all and that he has a plan in place that we know only a small fraction of.
And yet, he uses people like David – and like you and me – to plant little seeds in the world. These seeds are indicators of a future reality that may seem insignificant at the time, but there significance will be realized in the future. Who knows what God may be planting in the world right now that we simply don’t understand.
I wonder if you can call God a liar and get away with it. I mean, as I read Psalm 89, that’s how it reads to me. The psalmist, Ethan the Ezrahite, basically says, “God, you said one thing, but did another.” In Ethan’s eyes, God has not honored his commitment to David, to Israel and to David’s descendants. He is calling out God and asking him why he didn’t honor his word.
This is an interesting approach, especially for some guy named Ethan the Ezrahite, whom nobody I know has ever really heard of. I mean, for Job or David to say these things, at least you recognize that there is a deep relationship with God from which these kinds of back and forth discussions flow. But here’s this guy Ethan calling God out – calling him a liar.
And, while we’re told (much later in the Bible) that all scripture is God-breathed and useful, I don’t think that necessarily means that all of it is necessarily correct – especially passages like this. (Before you get the rope, hear me out.) I think that God sometimes uses our own foolishness and the foolishness of others as a teaching tool. Therefore, including in the scriptures a rant about God being a liar can be a really useful tool for those who have seen God’s faithfulness. It’s as if God said, “Be sure to include Ethan’s words so that later, people can look back and see how foolish they were.”
You see, God had not lied to David, nor had he abandoned his oath. The fact was, God just had a much greater plan in mind – one that was going to take longer than a person’s lifetime to play out – one that would take thousands (maybe millions) of years to play out. And so, what may have seemed like abdication to a man like Ethan (or, at times, to us) was actually just part of the natural ebb and flow of God’s plan.
It seems that David himself actually had a much firmer grasp on this concept than Ethan. Look at David’s words in Psalm 86:
Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness (Psalm 86:11)
Now that is a wise statement and, in two lines, contains more wisdom than the entirety of Ethan’s song. Here, in these two lines, David recognizes that God is faithful (not a liar or one who abdicates his responsibilities), that he is wise (with something to teach), that he has a certain “way” that we are ignorant of and that, ultimately, if we truly understand him, we will realize that we can rely on him.
David doesn’t accuse God of something, but, instead, acknowledges his own inability to understand the situation he finds himself in. And I suspect that it is this kind of clarity and humility that allowed David to become a great leader and a name known around the world for generations, while Ethan sat around complaining.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This has been true for thousands of years. It is also true that dishonest people seem to prosper while honest, hardworking people struggle. We know this. We see it all around us. It is the cause of personal pain and organized revolution. Unlike a Hollywood script, in life, too often we see the bad guy win.
And we see a variation on this theme in the Psalms. Over and over, David and the other Psalmists ask the same kind of question that Job asked – a question that really boils down to: “Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.”
And while much of the answer lies in our definition of “good” and “bad” things, the fact remains that we all know people who are making no effort to serve God and yet seem to have much better lives. The twist that we find in the Psalms, however, relates to the ultimate outcome – the long-term results – of living such a life.
What the Biblical authors like to remind us of is that people who pursue a prize other than God may well receive that prize. However, it is a prize that is fleeting – something that can only be enjoyed for the short amount of years that person has on this earth. God’s prize, of course, is eternal.
And it is from that perspective that David wrote many of his Psalms and which we also read from the other Psalmists as we began today with Psalm 73:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:26-28)