Bible Study 9.19.11, 9.22.11, 9.25.11 For Worship 10.2.11

Bible Study 9.19.11, 9.22.11, 9.25.11 For Worship 10.2.11

II Samuel 5:1-10; 7:5-17

5:1 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh.

2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you that led out and brought in Israel; and the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'”

3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.

4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.

5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off” — thinking, “David cannot come in here.”

7 Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.

8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would smite the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

9 And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built the city round about from the Millo inward.

10 And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

II Samuel 7:5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in?

6 I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.

7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”‘

8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel;

9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly,

11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men;

15 but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.'”

17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

COMMENTARY

Our scripture is a summary of the career of David as King. He started out according the scripture in Bethlehem as the youngest son of a shepherd, probably a land holder too. Bethlehem was the northern most Town in the Tribal allotment of Judah. Judah stretched from almost Jerusalem in the North to Beersheva in the South, the beginning of the desert. Judah was the largest of all of the tribes, and their land included Hebron, where the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried, along with the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah. Rachel’s tomb is just North of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the separation wall.

There is a combination Mosque/Synagogue built over the cave that houses the graves of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Herod the Great originally built a monument over the Cave of Macpelah, the Cave of the Patriarchs. Archaeology has not revealed much about ancient Hebron, where David may have had a “palace.” There seem to be some remains of a Canaanite Tower predating Israeli occupation. The town was pretty much depopulated during the Babylonian captivity and taken over by the Edomites. Even after the town was placed under subjugation by the Hasmoneans after the Jew won their freedom around 160 BCE, the town remained mainly Idumean.

After the Six Day War in 1967 Israeli Archaeologists had access to the Judean Hill country, and two of them published some unsettling findings for Israelis regarding David and Solomon. Here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article about the research of Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman:

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Seeking to “separate history from legend,” the authors “share the most recent archaeological insights — still largely unknown outside scholarly circles — not only on when, but also why the Bible was written,” discoveries which “have revolutionized the study of early Israel and have cast serious doubt on the historical basis of such famous biblical stories as the wanderings of the Patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan, and the glorious empire of David and Solomon” (p. 3). The Bible Unearthed discusses in some detail the evidence behind these claims, and shows why, although “no archaeologist can deny that the Bible contains legends, characters, and story fragments that reach far back in time. . . . archaeology can show that the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History bear unmistakable hallmarks of their initial compilation in the seventh century BCE” (p. 23). . . .

Thirdly, the Bible tells of the golden age of the united kingdom of Israel ruled over by a Judean monarch, first David and then his son Solomon. It describes a renowned empire spreading from the Red Sea to the border of Syria, the splendor of Jerusalem and the first Temple built by Solomon, as well as other magnificent building projects. This united kingdom then split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Does archeology confirm this picture? Despite legendary exaggerations and elaborations, the authors believe that David and Solomon did exist — but as minor highland chieftains ruling a population of perhaps 5,000 people. No archeological evidence exits around 1005-970 BCE for David’s conquest or his empire, nor in Solomon’s time (ca. 970-931 BCE) is there any evidence of monumental architecture or of Jerusalem as more than a village:

As far as we can see on the basis of the archaeological surveys, Judah remained relatively empty of permanent population, quite isolated, and very marginal right up to and past the presumed time of David and Solomon, with no major urban centers and with no pronounced hierarchy of hamlets, villages, and towns. — p. 132

There is no trace of written documents or inscriptions, nor of the Temple or palace of Solomon, and buildings once identified with Solomon have been shown to date from other periods. Current evidence refutes the existence of a unified kingdom: “The glorious epic of united monarchy was — like the stories of the patriarchs and the sagas of the Exodus and conquest — a brilliant composition that wove together ancient heroic tales and legends into a coherent and persuasive prophecy for the people of Israel in the seventh century BCE” (p. 144).

In the second half of the book the authors sketch the history of Israel and Judah from 930 to 440 BCE based on archeological evidence, comparing it with the biblical account. They show that the northern and southern kingdoms were always separate and independent. Because of topography and natural resources, Israel to the north was always more populous, cosmopolitan, prosperous, and therefore desirable to foreign conquerors, while Judah long remained poor, sparsely populated, and isolated. The Old Testament material about this era was written from the viewpoint of the Judean royalty and Deuteronomistic priests with their religious reforms: insistence on the worship of one imageless God in the Temple at Jerusalem and the complete separation of a united Jewish people from surrounding peoples. There is much evidence that such monotheistic demands were an innovation in both Judah and Israel, where worship of subsidiary gods and goddesses, as well as the heavenly bodies, was traditional. Nor were they adopted widely by the people, who continued to worship using goddess figures in their homes. The Deuteronomistic account, the authors hold, is a cautionary epic joining elements from various regions to serve seventh-century Judean interests. Later, after the Babylonian exile, it was refashioned to meet new (though in many ways similar) conditions, resulting in the accounts we have today.

In summing up the significance of these recent findings, Finkelstein and Silberman maintain that “the historical saga contained in the Bible . . . was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of human imagination” (p. 1), and argue that the Bible’s integrity and, in fact, its historicity, do not depend on dutiful historical “proof” of any of its particular events or personalities . . . The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people’s liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive. — p. 318

For centuries, however, Jews, Christians, and Moslems have believed that events in their racial and religious history are recorded in the Old Testament. Even today many continue to believe that the biblical account is literally true, or at least basically accurate. Scholarly findings in archeology, textual analysis, history, and newly translated ancient documents all point to a reality which may be difficult for many traditional and fundamentalist believers to reconcile with a faith that depends on biblical events, promises, prophecies, and revelations being historical facts. Nonetheless, this knowledge represents a new dawning in our understanding of these religions and their ancient history.

Silberman and Finkelstein’s archaeological theories created an uproar in the Orthodox Rabbinate that supports Israel’s boundaries based upon the scriptural claims of a greater Empire of David and Solomon. This has prompted renewed excavation in the area south of the Temple Mount and in the area of Jerusalem known as Silwan, now designated “the City of David.” Almost every shovel full of earth in Israel uncovers new historical findings, and those findings fuel new modern political controversies. Many of Israel’s land claims are based upon archaeology, and much of the archaeology taking place in Israel today is intended to bolster the claims of the State of Israel. Silberman and Finkelstein may have overstated the case of David the tribal chieftain as opposed to David the King. My own interpretation of the archaeology suggests that David became the tribal chieftain of Judah. He also conquered Jerusalem in a bid to extend his hegemony over the tribe of Benjamin, and perhaps some of the other Northern Tribes. Jerusalem also gave him control over an important trade route bringing in revenue and prestige for his leadership. At some point he extended his leadership over a loose confederation of Israelite hill tribes who he led in battle against the hated Philistines. Having pushed the Philistines back to the coastal plain, David became for a time the head gang leader of the Central highlands.

David’s “rule,” however, always remained rather shaky. His own son very nearly led a successful rebellion against his father. David never consolidated his administration enough to build a Temple in Jerusalem, and when he died he left no clear plan for succession, and the nation nearly collapsed between different competing contenders for the throne and their followers at court. The story of David we have now was not written down until the time of Hezekiah and Josiah, over 200 years after the time of David. The court of Josiah, especially, wanted to read back into David an unswerving devotion to Yaweh. How accurate that memory of David was 200 years later, we cannot be absolutely sure. The court historians of Josiah were critical of Solomon’s marriages to foreign princesses and his allowing the worship of their foreign gods in his court. We can only guess that David’s devotion to Yaweh may have had some historical foundations.

The conquest of Jerusalem was clearly a bid for larger leadership. Sort of like the creation of the District of Columbia, a capital District not part of any of the States, so the conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusites created a capital that had not belonged to any of the twelve tribes. If nothing else, David was a good politician. The legends about David indicate he was a charismatic personality. He was good looking. He was a poet and a musician. He could lead men in battle. David became a romantic hero of the Israelites contributing to the formation of their spiritual identity by beginning to elevate their tribal god to the position of a universal deity.

If you visit Jerusalem today you can walk through the Canaanite water tunnel and see the shaft David and his men shimmied up to get into the City in order to throw open the gates in the middle of the night and take the City. You can also see the wall of the Citadel that guarded the City.

Chapter 7 is an attempt by the court historians under Josiah to explain why the great King David did not build the Temple. During the time of King Josiah all worship was being consolidated in Jerusalem. The sanctuary in Dan had been lost. The sanctuary in Bethel was destroyed by Josiah as well as the other “high places of worship.” When Josiah destroyed the worship sites on the mountain tops, if those priests did not swear allegiance to Josiah and submit to Jerusalem, they were killed. Members of the Bible Study a couple of years ago studying Josiah described him as “intolerant.”

So what if anything can we take away from these scriptures about David? The Israelites were a relatively disorganized group of semi-nomads living in the central highlands of the Western end of the Fertile Crescent. For the most part they did not occupy the more coveted land along the coastal plain. They were also subject to invasion from the South by the Egyptian Empire and from the North by whatever Empire controlled the Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys. About 1100 BCE, during an interlude when both Egypt and the Tigris/Euphrates civilizations were in decline a group of sea people invaded the southern coastal plain. There people were known as the Philistines. As the Philistine population grew, they began to encroach on the central highlands inhabited by the Israelite peoples. There was a desperate need among the Israelites for leadership who would organize them to resist the encroachments of the Philistines. Saul from the relatively weak power base of the tribe of Benjamin tried to unify the tribes under his leadership. He and most of his family were killed at the Battle of Mt. Gilboa. In the wake of this disaster, David consolidated the leadership of the largest tribe Judah. He then extended his hegemony over the tribe of Benjamin and some of the tribes further North, when he conquered the strategic Jebusite City of Jerusalem. In an effort to create a “national identity” he brought the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the only common deity among the Israelites to his new capital of Jerusalem. He then developed the cult of Yaweh as a method of trying to bring greater unity to the Israelite peoples.

Despite David’s efforts to bring unity to the Israelite peoples within 70 years a rival Kingdom appeared in the North of the central highlands under the leadership of Jeroboam and centered in Samaria and the cult centers of Bethel, Dan and Mt. Gerizim. This northern Kingdom overshadowed the Kingdom of Judah for about 200 years, until the Assyrians conquered and dismembered the Kingdom of Israel.

David was an important leader in the history of the development of the Jewish faith. Studying David also introduces into our religious studies the subject of political leadership. We need to give credit to those who composed and gathered together our scriptures that they did not try to hide the failings of David. The David and Bathsheba story would never have been recorded in any other culture of the ancient world. The Egyptians never wrote about the mistakes or failings of their political leadership. We only know of political failures in the Tigris/Euphrates civilizations, because when Empires fell their successors wrote about it. Even in the Greek and Roman world there was precious little written reflecting on the failures of leadership.

Political leadership is important! As frustrated as we can become with our political leaders we should not give in to the temptation to try to compartmentalize religion and political life. Clearly in the United States we have discovered that we need to be able to separate the state from our religious institutions, but we need to still claim a role for religious and ethical insights and values in our political discussions.

SPECIAL FEATURE

Most Sunday School lessons about David have usually focused on the David and Goliath story. (Much of the rest of David’s career is not really suitable for children.) Children can identify with the problem of bullies, and Goliath was an iconic bully, but especially for small children we need to stop short of killing the giant and cutting his head off. Another approach with children is to talk about David as a great leader who also composed prayers and poetry. This might be a good opportunity to introduce children to the 23rd Psalm. The underlying message of the Goliath story or the composition of the Psalms was David’s faith. He loved God and relied upon God for inspiration. We have many political leaders today who wear their “faith” on their sleeves, but don’t seem to be moved by the compassion that should accompany faith.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. When the other tribes came to Hebron to ask for David’s leadership, how long had David been King over Judah?

2. What is the covenant between David and the other tribes?

3. How long did David rule over all the tribes?

4. Who did the City of Jerusalem belong to before David conquered it?

5. What taunt did these people use against David, when he besieged them?

6. How did David attack them?

7. Why did David move his capital to Jerusalem?

8. Why did David want to build a Temple?

9. Why did God seem reluctant to have a Temple built?

10. What promises did God make to David?

11. Who was speaking on God’s behalf?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. What do you think is the covenant that holds the American people together?

2. What do you think is the covenant between the American people and their political leaders?

3. What do you think made David a great leader?

4. Do you think it makes any difference whether David rules an Empire or a few tribes in the hills?

5. What difference do you see between a God who dwells in a Temple and a God who dwells in tents?

6. What if anything do you think changed when the Israelites became a settled people rather than a nomadic people?

7. Verse 16 is the basis for the “House and lineage of David” prophecies that played a role in the church’s claims that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to be the Messiah. Do you think that claim matters anymore?

8. Nathan is the prophet speaking on behalf of God in II Samuel chapter 7. What role do you think prophets may have in our world today?

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