Reflection 7/5: The Story of David
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
This summer, we’re taking a cruise through ancient epic tales in the Old Testament. We can’t help but find achingly familiar the immediacy and poignancy of the human condition—in relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and secular power. We’ve so far only considered the first two of our five stories, but the entire trip will be fabulous.
In these two books of Samuel, the people of Israel want a king to win their wars; and they believe they absolutely must have a king in order to be taken seriously in the league of nations. (God evidently doesn’t count in this earthly realm.) God and Samuel both realize that the wrong king is worse than not having a king at all, but the nation will not be dissuaded. They discover that their king can wage costly, tragic wars; and a preening, self-involved king is provocative and dangerous. Kings can cause troubles almost impossible to solve.
The story of David and Goliath reminds us that justice triumphs over earthly power, particularly when the rightness of our cause engages us with subtle wit, agility, and an on-going conversation with God. David teaches us that being smart and having a good plan is better than being big, hidebound, and fierce.
The story of David and Jonathan raises human friendship to the level of our covenantal relationship with God. Human relationships of both blood and choice are sacred and a blessing. This story is about one’s deciding to fight on the side justice, and the willingness to lay down one’s life for a friend. Jesus would return to these crucial themes in his teachings.
David’s dance of exuberant worship in front of God’s Ark of the Covenant reflects the best of what worship is. Experiencing good worship makes us a little light-headed and even giddy. Good worship, based on our mutual relationship with God—through word, prayer, praise, image, and music—is a transcendent experience. David’s abandon is an invitation to gather together in worship.
And finally, David’s sexual assault of Bathsheba is an expression of his own intoxication with power. The story speaks across the centuries to this #MeToo moment, in which men are finally being held to a higher standard, that rightly insists that they cannot treat women with bullying, betrayal, and boorishness. Retribution will be humiliating and harsh, just as David is punished publicly and mercilessly.
I’m not stretching the points here. These are the kernels embedded in these ancient stories of mythic grandeur and wise parable. The Bible shines brilliant, cleansing light into this very moment and this very time. Every new story is an old story.