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The Love-Hate For David

Read: 2 Sam 7, 11, 1 Kings 1-2

David is the dominant figure in the Old Testament. We are fascinated, bewildered, sometimes embarrassed, and steadfast in our loyalty to David. He slays Goliath, but violates Bathsheba and Uriah – he’s a “man after God’s heart” but he’s also a cruel and awful King – according to 2 Samuel.

It’s difficult in our cultural context to read the Bible critically and see that David is in fact a dynamic character. 1 Samuel is about the precarious rise of David and 2 Samuel captures the violent fall of David.

Read 2 Sam 7:1-17. There’s a curious power dynamic going on. Who is going to build the house? Is God the builder or the host? It seems David wants to build God a nice house but God is not having that — he commits to be the builder. It’s a sacred covenant.

Most folks stop reading critically at this point — they decide that David is the golden boy and so they move onto the Psalms and straight ahead to Matthew’s geneaology. But resist the urge to do this …. keep reading. Stay alert. Stay safe.

In 2 Samuel 11 David ‘takes’ Bathsheba (she has no say in that matter) after viewing her from HIS roof while she is cleaning up some menstrual blood from her thighs. The point of her bathing isn’t to set us up for a sexy shower romance — it’s to subtly and not-so-subtly inform us that she isn’t pregnant BEFORE being captured by David and summoned to his bedroom. After she gets pregnant, David panics and has Uriah killed. Nathan rebukes David with a parable.

“The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

Most people stop reading after the parable about the innocent little ewe lamb being slaughtered and fed to the king’s guest (i.e Bathsheba was innocent) but notice the second half of the rebuke: Nathan tells David that because David has violated a woman in private, a man will rise up from within his own house and violate all of his wives in broad daylight. Alrighty then. Flip ahead to 2 Samuel 16 and David’s son Absalom is raping all of David’s wives on the infamous roof of David’s house. (Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…where’s the flannelgraph?)

David becomes weaker and weaker, more and more despised and though his own sons are trying to kill him and take his throne God is bound to continue to uphold his estate. Finally, on his death bed, David (with a naked virgin in his arms) is commanding Solomon to kill all of his enemies. This isn’t the golden boy motif we inherited in Sunday school.

So does this make you uncomfortable? Admit it – part of you wants to hate David. But, somehow, you know you’re not supposed to? Well, let’s unpack that feeling.

Here’s the thing about the bible: it’s not a book, it’s a library! It’s not a monolith with a single message — it’s a collection of stories with different perspectives. It’s not a theology manual or an self-help book or a collection of pious stories about the saints.

There are in fact THREE David stories in our bible (and perhaps even more). There’s the David we meet in 1-2 Samuel, and the David we meet in 1-2 Chronicles, and finally the David of the Psalms.

In Samuel, we meet the David of the ‘tribe’ as Brueggemann calls him. This David is the liberator’s David – he is the meek shepherd boy that kills corrupt Goliath’s because this David story has been preserved for us by those who see themselves as powerless yet longing to beat all odds and beat the system. This narrative loves to remember shepherd boy David killing Goliath but becomes very suspicious of David once he himself rises to power and starts taking out little shepherboys (so to speak).

The David memory preserved for us in Chronicles is the true Golden Boy of the Bible — he does no wrong. There’s no mention of Bathsheba or Abishag or any of the shameful corruptions arranged by David. In fact, in Chronicles, David isn’t even the one who kills Goliath! This David is the David of the ‘state’ it’s remembered by those who are already in power and have a desire to preserve the stories that protect and preserve the power. It’s Donald Trump’s David, Joel Osteen’s David — likely your Pastor’s David. Anyone who says, “God got me here, God will keep me here” is less interested in the Goliath story and more interested in the “I will protect your throne and make a great name for you forever” story.

Thirdly, we have the David presented in the Psalms. The praying David – the Pious David – the Pastor David. The community preserving the Psalms for us is a community trying to get back to an equilibrium and out of the rollercoaster of ups and downs of life. This David isn’t interested in political policies and military conquests — he’s interested in the deep groanings of a despairing people.

Admit it: part of you wants to say, “ok so which one is the HISTORICAL David?” but you can’t do that. All three ‘Davids’ are in the Bible — the entire bible is authoritative. You can’t pick and choose. They don’t present the same David. Maybe that’s the WHOLE POINT! The scriptures are a dialogue …. Samuel doesn’t agree with Chronicles. Perhaps we’ve had enough of Christians peeling back the ‘husk’ of scripture to find the nugget of moral truth underneath (DAvid was brave, so you should be brave….David felt bad and apologized so you should also feel bad and apologize). Perhaps the husk is scripture and should be kept in tact.

The scriptures are more a dance, a wrestling match, a dialogue than a rule book for right behavior. Wendy Gritter says it like this:

“Unfortunately, rather than living deeply within scriptural stories in a way that shapes our imagination, we use them in a way that kills it. We reduce these stories to prescriptions for how people in all times ought to behave.” Please, beloved, let’s stop doing that.

The bible isn’t a bar of soap there to wash away your stains. It’s a sword — splaying bone from marrow and revealing all of the parts of us to God’s light.

Do you know what the name “Israel” means? Like do you ever stop to consider the formative story for the entire identity of the people of God? In Genesis 32, a deceptive man literally wrestles with God all night and overpowers God — God asks him to “let me go” and Jacob says, “no — not until you bless me”. So God blesses him and gives him a new name (and a painful hip injury). This is literally the origin story of Israel… Jesus is the King of Israel….. wrestling with God is more than expected of us. It’s the grand invitation: fight for it — don’t walk away when the answers aren’t readily available: get in the ring and wrestle with God. Wrestle with the text — enter the ancient conversation and be pulled into it — let the draw of community dialogue shape your imagination and be blessed.

If you’re having a hard time imaging that the bible doesn’t make sense: consider that you believe in a pregnant virgin, you drink the blood of God on Sundays, you believe the creator of the cosmos was once a new born baby pooping himself. It’s not suppose to make sense …. it’s supposed to strike wonder and awe and shape your imagination.

We believe in a ‘Triune God‘ — a eternal communal whole; a dialoguing diety; a 3-in-1 conversing universing creation into ordered existence speaking the Grand Ecology into the silence — inviting you and me into the Life (the dialogue) of God. You are children of Israel – so wrestle with God. The scriptures are an invitation into an ancient wrestling match – a dangerous, disruptive, intrusive, invitiation to die and rise again.

I can’t count the times people have heard that I’m a biblical scholar and then open the bible to show me some contradiction they noticed and followed it with an “aha! gotcha!” I’m so over it. It’s boring. The bible isn’t ashamed of itself — the bible has nothing to hide — do you honestly think that the generation of faithful believers who combined Samuel and Kings and Chronicles didn’t ‘notice’ that David kills Goliath in one story and not the other? Do you think they looked back a year later and were like, “whoopsie doodle!”? No! They knew full well what they were doing. They chose not to correct it. Genesis 1 doesn’t agree with Genesis 2. Job doesn’t agree with Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John don’t all agree. You think the bible writers could have edited the 4 gospels into one harmonized story? You bet they could have. But they chose not to.

So when you look to Jesus – bewildered, confused, intrigued and you catch yourself joining the ancient voices asking, “Is this the son of David?” Notice Matthew wink at the reader. Ya he’s the son of David — and the Lord of David — he’s the righteous king, wearing his own blood and thorns for a crown inviting you to follow him away from simple answers and comfortable truths and bumpersticker theology, towards a round table with wine from water and the mystery of intimacy and honest friendship, towards daily bread and a robust hope in the midst of uncertainty.

If you understood that the incongruities in scripture were placed there ON PURPOSE how would that change the way you read the bible?

Have you ever tried to defend the integrity of scriptures by glossing over the inconsistencies? Did it work? Was it satisfying?

If you had permission to wrestle with God — what would you fight for?

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