Tag Archives: King David

Psalm 18 Royal Thanks at the End of the Journey

Matteo Rosseli, Triunfo de David (1620)

Matteo Rosseli, Triunfo de David (1620)

Psalm 18

<To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:>
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
20 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God– his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God except the LORD? And who is a rock besides our God?–
32 the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great.
36 You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
38 I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
39 For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them.
42 I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
43 You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.
44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.
45 Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds.
46 The LORD lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;
48 who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent.
49 For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.
50 Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

Psalm 18 is nearly identical to 2 Samuel 22 and both probably share a common source. The narrative superscription of Psalm 18 also makes sense when linked to the ending of the story of David (1 Samuel 22 is directly before the last words of David in the books of Samuel). It is a Psalm that looks backwards at the ways in which the LORD has been present in the midst of a life of faith and now at the end of the journey the Psalmist is thankful. Even though the great commandment of Deuteronomy states that a person is to love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul and strength it is unusual for the Psalms to speak of a person loving God and Psalm 18 unique to use loving the LORD as an opening for the words of praise. Most often, throughout the Psalms it is the LORD’s love that is lifted up but now in response to all of the actions reflected upon throughout the Psalm, the singer gushes about the way that the LORD, having protected and cared for them, having rescued them from death and hearing their distress, is now the object of the Psalmist’s love. Like St. Augustine could state in Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rest in Thee.” If David is the author of this Psalm then perhaps this is an illustration of what it means to consider David ‘a man after God’s own heart.’

In several of the preceding Psalms the petitioner has asked God to see and to hear, and now looking backwards they reflect upon the ways that God saw, heard and acted. In that time of crisis, the place where it seems like God may not be listening, it is often hard to perceive the ways in which God may already be at work. Yet, in hindsight the poet can see the movements of God as earth shatteringly powerful. The poet takes up the colorful language of mountains trembling and pulling the rescued one from the cords of Sheol (not hell but the place of the dead-concepts of heaven and hell as dwelling places for the dead are not a part of the early Hebrew expectations).  God is the rock, deliverer, fortress, shield, horn of salvation, the warrior who comes with smoking nostrils and devouring fire, who bends the heavens and brings darkness to the earth, and who can ride upon the cherubs (not the chubby little baby angels we imagine, but creatures that are both terrifying and whose few mentions in the scriptures seem to defy easy definition but they are definitely not human and are used for example to guard the tree of life in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3).

I have written about the image of God as the Divine Warrior in other places (here, here, and here). And while this is an image which can be abused and twisted to any number of negative expressions of religion (especially when that religion is linked to the power of the state and the state becomes enforcer of Orthodoxy) it can also become a potent image for liberation. If we were to look at the story of David, the period where his life is threatened by King Saul or the numerous points in his reign where he was under threat from external or internal forces, the belief that God sustained and watched over him and was able to act in ways against his enemies was a powerful one. This imagery has often been used in positive ways by the righteous in times of persecution. In a world where many people assume God is benign or unconcerned (the opposite view of the Psalmist) the belief that God sees, hears and can act powerfully is a beacon of hope for the faithful.

Much of the language of the Psalms is hyperbolic (exaggerated language which is common in poetry- the mountains, for example, didn’t literally have to shake) and that language can also extend to the Psalmists own righteousness. If we take the story of David, even though he did seek after the LORD, he was far from perfect and his reign was far from always righteous. Yet, the language does echo the desire for what a king should be in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. The Psalms will wrestle with the language of righteousness and unrighteousness and here the Psalmist feels they are in a state of peace with God. God has watched over their estate and prospered them. Perhaps it is an idealization of the difficult past but the trust is that God has viewed the writer as one who is worth saving and worth lifting up.

With the Psalms harkening back to David we need to remember that the poet is not a person who is distanced from the conflicts that were a part of the life of ancient Israel, but rather David and the other Psalmists were likely warrior poets. David was a warrior king, from early in his life he was not only the boy who slew Goliath of Gath but quickly became the leader of King Saul’s army and his exploits earned him both praise and the envy of his king at that point. In 1 Samuel 18: 7 the women can sing as they meet King Saul:
Saul has killed his thousands; and David his ten thousands.
Or as Deuteronomy 20 can discuss the expectation is that the people will be going forth to war and that God will act on their behalf. Psalms like Psalm 144 and Psalm 149 exult in the language of the warrior whose military prowess has been enhance by God. The triumphal language may make us uncomfortable in a context where we thankfully have known peace at home for several generations but this was not the ancient world.

The Psalmist’s faith is a faith that has endured in the midst of trial, conflict and hardship. In the midst of all of the challenges that their life has faced their belief and trust is that God has watched over and preserved them in the midst of all their challenges. Sometimes God has provided them the strength to conquer their enemies and enact vengeance (again even the vengeance is proclaimed in hyperbolic language- beating them fine as dust for example). Sometimes God rescues them in a condition of mortal peril. In all these things their experience is that the LORD is faithful. As St. Paul could say a millennium later:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 31-39

 

 

Psalm 2 – The LORD’s Messiah

  Psalm 2

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
 2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
 6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
 7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me,
“You are my son; today I have begotten you.
 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
 11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling
 12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
  

Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the Psalter and while Psalm 1 highlights one of the major foci of the Jewish people, God’s law the Torah, Psalm 2 focuses on the Messiah, the Davidic King.  Perhaps this Psalm was at one point used in coronations or in some other ritual setting within the nation of Israel or later the kingdom of Judah, and it reflects back upon some mystical time when Israel was an empire that ruled over vassal kings. There is an idealization of the dominion and power of the Davidic kingship which reached its peak under Solomon and would from that point forward be a small kingdom caught among the rise and falls of empires in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Even with the focus on the Lord’s anointed (literally the Lord’s messiah) the focus, as through out the Psalter, is taking refuge in the Lord.

For Christians this is one of the Psalms that has often been read through the image of Jesus, particularly verse 7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you” and while Christians should not forget that this Psalm originally refers back to a Davidic king part of the living witness of scriptures allows people to hear the words echoed in a new way in a new era. Yet if one is going to listen to this Psalm in terms of Jesus one does have to wrestle with the militaristic language of verse 9 (You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel) and yet this is not that much different from some of the triumphal language lifted up by Paul and others in the New Testament.

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath

 

Psalm 1 and 2 taken together lift up the Torah and the Davidic King as two of the foci of the way of life outlined within the meditations contained within the Psalter and yet both Torah and King are to point back to the LORD. The linkage at the beginning of Psalm 1 (Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked) and the end of Psalm 2 (Happy are those who take refuge in him) joins the king and the law together as ways in which God establishes God’s rule among God’s people. As in many of the other Psalms the LORD will laugh at the movements of the nations and empires and for a nation that frequently found itself under duress from other kings and rulers perhaps this Psalm was its own revelation of God’s rule in, with and under the movements of the kings and empires around them. Perhaps like King Arthur for the Anglo-Saxon time it reflects back to the time of the once and future king, the one who was a ‘man after God’s own heart.’ To a simpler or perhaps better time. Perhaps it is a part of the imagination and story that allows the people to maintain their identity in the midst of dispersion and exile, of disillusioned hopes of rebuilding the temple and their loss of power and status in the world. Perhaps this was one more way in which they were able to see the shade pulled back and trust that the LORD was the one who was in control rather than the other gods and lords and powers. And perhaps it is wise to remember that the Psalter is poetry which attempts to express truth that transcends the situation that the people may have found themselves in. Or perhaps a more cynical approach would look at this as a form of self-aggrandizement of the Davidic kings, granting themselves divine authority and  granting themselves a position of ‘sons of God’ in a way that the Caesars in Rome would later do in a different way.

I choose to read this in a non-cynical way. I am certainly influenced by the post-modern hermeneutic of suspicion but at a certain level I have had to learn to trust. To let the words wash over and to listen deeply for the wisdom in the poetry. The God of the Hebrew people, the same God the Christian people would come to know, was deeply involved in the world. Politics and power were not separate things but a part of the engaged and sacred reality of their God who engaged the world.  A God who can laugh at the movement of armies and empires and who is their refuge and strength as Psalm 46 and other places will remind them. Who when the kings of the earth seem to be taking counsel against the chosen people in Zion or in all times and places throughout the world, who still reigns and holds those who rebel against God’s rule in derision. The one who reads and approaches and meditates on the Psalter as a way of understanding how God approached them in the earth find the blessedness (happiness) by taking refuge in this hope, this poetry and this narrative.

 

Images for Transfiguration Sunday, Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent

Forgot to get Transfiguration Sunday, this year from Matthew’s Gospel, out so it is a combined post with a lot of images:

Transfiguration Sunday

The initial reading is Moses being called up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the design of the Tabernacle, etc. I found what I think is a really different image of Moses that reflects the multiple roles he constantly had to do in his time leading the people of Israel.

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

And now on to a few of the plethora of images of the Transfiguration:

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com

 

Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)

Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)

 

The Saviour's Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

The Saviour’s Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Ash Wednesday

There are a lot of images of black crosses and ashes out there, for imagery this time I’m focusing on Psalm 51 which the opening line attributes to David after he is confronted by the Prophet Nathan after he had go in to Bathsheba

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)

 

Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1611)

Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1619)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)

 

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

First Sunday of Lent

Two really rich pictoral readings, the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Matthew’s full temptation narrative

First a couple select images of the Adam and Eve story I found interesting,

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)

 

The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

And the Temptation, where in Matthew there are the three distinct temptations

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

There are multiple artists who have done representations of the three temptations, like William Blake or Peter Paul Reubens, I’m going to just show James Tissot’s interpretation:

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot

 

James Tissot, Jesus Carried to teh Pinnacle of the Temple

James Tissot, Jesus Carried to the Pinnacle of the Temple

 

James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain

James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain

 

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894)

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894), 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Place of Authority: A Brief History Part 2: King, Temple and the Prophetic Critique

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8.10-18

 

At roughly 1,020 BCE a decisive change takes place and Israel enters the time of monarchy.  Power becomes consolidated briefly under King Saul.  Two men, King Saul and Samuel, whose title before had been that of a judge but functioned as a mouthpiece for God at this point, hold the religious and political authority.  Israel begins to act as a powerful actor in the region, constantly moving from one conflict to another, but internal conflict emerges when David emerges on the scene.  Without getting bogged down in the story or trying to parse out what happened historically  by 1000 David would unify his power as king and Israel became for a brief shining moment a power player on the world stage, Jerusalem becomes the capitol, and then perhaps decisively for this era the temple is established under Solomon.   Especially for the Southern Kingdom of Judah this is decisive because the monarchy and the temple become linked as the dominant secular/religious authority. There is a prophetic voice within that critiques the monarchy and temple, but for the most part the people give up a portion of their freedom for the relative security, power and identity of being a part of the unified kingdom of Israel.  That is not to say that family, clan and tribe have lost their power or authority, but that the people become much more linked to the kings and temple than at any previous point in their history.

This is probably a good point for a fun interlude, it is hard for us to imagine being bound in systems where our autonomy is defined so externally.  We don’t have any experience of a monarchical system and so our reaction might be somewhat like the peasants in this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Even a romanticized king when we look from our perspective seems like a tyranny or despot.

Even though King David is often looked upon romantically like the King Arthur of legend, one of the incredible things is that the recorded memory of David includes many ugly situations, many family struggles, many times where he is at odds with the prophetic voice of the time.  The whole Bathsheba and Uriah episode (2 Samuel 10-12), incest within the royal family (2 Samuel 13) and eventually the usurpation of the throne by his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15-19) as well as other internal rebellions are a part of David’s roughly forty years of consolidated rule.  Even though the King amasses incredible authority previously unattainable in anyone’s imagination the constant warfare and internal struggles begin to wear on the people.  By the time Solomon, David’s son, ascends to the throne it is a relatively peaceful time but the energy is directed internally on large building projects, the temple, but also many houses and palaces for Solomon and his entourage. The temple becomes, at least for a large group of people, the central focus of worship, and yet again just like with the idea of consolidating power with a king there is a large amount of space dedicated to the critique of the temple

 King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did the stonecutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.  1 Kings 5.13-18 NRSV

This is a huge commitment of people and resources which are directed internally.  In fact it is such a strain that immediately upon Solomon’s death when Rehoboam takes power the people come and plead for relief:

Your father made our yoke heavy.  Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed upon us and we will serve you. 1 Kings 12.4 NRSV

To which the narrative has Rehoboam reply three days later in our language, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet, you think my father made things hard on you?  Well prepare to be screwed!’ Most translations clean this up significantly…but the little thing that is thicker than his father’s loins is probably not a finger (see 1 Kings 12: 6-15 particularly v.10) Things are not nearly as clean in the Bible as we sometimes want to make them.  The people are offended, the kingdom splits apart and now there are two kings, two places of worship, a prophetic voice that continues to grow louder…but even with this prophetic voice within the Kingdom of Judah in the South and the Kingdom of Israel in the North growing stronger the fate of both nations is linked to the actions of kings and the worship at the temple in Judah and the worship at various sites in the North.  Particularly for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, so long as there is a Davidic king and the Temple who they are as the people of God seems secure.  Yet this too will change….

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com