David – a man after God’s heart.
The Bible is filled with strong personalities, but none leads David in the parade. His life was whirlwind from which striking images flash. We see him playing his harp, writing poems, fighting battles, faking insanity and praising God. We watch him cry when he learns of his closest friend death. We see Nathan point his finger at him, accusing him of adultery and murder. We hear David’s guilty, anguished voice crying to God for the life of his infant child. He has survived a huge crisis in his life, but somehow he always came back. He maintained his passionate trust in God. First and Second Samuels do not paint him as a flawless character, nor as a perfect model of strength and courage. David has striking weaknesses. However, he still appeals to us, whatever he did, he put his whole heart into it. In his love for God, he held nothing back.
David, the son of Jesse, became the king of Israel when the rebellious Saul died; his kingship meant the establishing of the golden age of Israel. He wisely ruled the tribes of Israel people and united them into one nation. God gave David everything, his excellent war strategy skills, diplomatic abilities; God blessed him to be a good composer and a musician. David extended Israel’s lands to the far north and was victorious in the battles against Canaanites and Philistines. All these war success brought about prosperity and that amazes archeologists even today.
David inherited the country of Israel in tatters. His fellow southern recognized him as the new king. But Saul’s son, backed by a powerful general, launched a civil war for the throne. This was followed by dishonest struggle that included intirigue, murder and treachery. Even after David’s rivals were eliminated, peace was uneasy. Unless David could heal the wounds of war, resentment might smolder in the hearts of people. David’s decisive actions showed wisdom and firmness. He justly punished murderers that expected his gratitude. He showed respect for his enemies by mourning their deaths. From his first day on the throne, David behaved as the king of all the people, not just his loyal followers. The northern tribes soon came over to him, submitting to his leadership.
David’s next move was to capture Jerusalem. People said it could not be done, but David did it. He made Jerusalem a new political and religious center. Located on the border between north and south, Jerusalem symbolized a new national unity based on trust in God. That was just the beginning. David led the unified tribes to do what they had not even dreamed of: They defeated Philistines finally. Almost overnight, the tiny threatened nation of Israel became safe.
However, David’s reign held ironic tragedies, too. David could lead a nation but not his own children. His ineffective parenting nearly destroyed all he had done, when his heartless son Absalom le a rebellion. David showed himself in this situation as an adulterer and a leader capable of cruelty.
Nevertheless, he was Israel’s greatest king. Even at these lowest points, his great strength of character showed. He was never vengeful with his enemies. He took full responsibility for his mistakes. He managed to remember that he had started out as a mere shepherd. He held power only by the grace of God – and he believed that God had every right to take power away.
Through his love for God and his sense of astonished gratefulness for what God had done for him, David became a living embodiment of the Israel God wanted. Like all truly great leaders, he made his country thrive not just, by what he did, but by who he was. The greatest king of Israel never rebelled against God, but he was more humble than any other man before the face of God.
The Story of Creation
Genesis is one of the most enjoyable Old Testament books, full of memorable stories of people and events. It is a crucial book to know, for the rest of the Bible often refers back to it. Genesis tells the story of many beginnings – the beginning of the universe; the beginning of sin, and perhaps most important, the beginning of God’s work to restore a sinful humanity.
The book breaks into two major sections. The first eleven chapters take a big view. They give the origins of human society, including the familiar stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s ark and the tower of Babel. The most important is the Adam and Eve’s story, though. It was the first sin, it became the emblem of disobedience against God.
Genesis focuses our attention on creative and hardworking God. The word God appears thirty times in the thirty one verses of chapter one. He grabs our attention in action. Genesis is an account of his deeds, ringing splendidly with the magnificent effort of creation. But suddenly the tone of the verses changes. God barely finished creating the universe when human rebellion marred it. Chapters 3-11 portray a series of disasters: Adam and Eve’s rebellion, Cain’s calculated murder of his brother, the worldwide wickedness leading to the great flood, and human arrogance at Babel.
The story of creation is often compared to times of Babylon capture. But is the message also that the universe is accurately described by Babylonian cosmology? This cosmology is completely at odds with that developed by science during the past five centuries, and especially in the twentieth century. If we are faithful Christians or Jews, are we forced to believe the cosmology of Genesis 1 and Babylon and therefore to deny the findings of contemporary physics, astronomy, chemistry, or biology? I do not believe so.
I believe that the message of Genesis 1 is simply that God is Creator, and that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is only the medium by which scripture conveys the message. Written for a people in exile or just returned from exile in Babylon, Genesis 1 describes God’s creation of the universe in terms of the cosmology with which the people were familiar, the cosmology that was taken for granted as part of common knowledge. For the Jews in exile, the story of creation was something to base their beliefs and the whole life on. They did not have any support, except from God, their creator, and all they could see is the example of personages in the creation story. This story helped to live and showed the light were there was not light.
Times of crisis require exceptional leadership. That is why George Washington made so great a president. In order to survive, the fledging United States needed his flawless reputation, his decisive leadership and his wide-ranging talents.
Samuel, similarly, ruled during difficult transition. The last judge in Israel, Eli, had failed, and Philistine armies were pressing in. With everything in flux, the Israelites needed someone worthy of their trust. Samuel was the leader for the times. He oversaw the change from a loose tribal federation to a monarchy. He anointed Israel’s first two kings, wrote down the rules kings were supposed to live by and then deposed one king, Saul, who did not measure up. Samuel ended his long career without a single black mark on his record, and the entire country mourned this death.
Samuel showed remarkable versatility. A lifelong judge, he settled disputes in a regular circuit of Israelite towns. He also gained fame as a prophet, alert to hear God’s word and quick to proclaim it clearly – especially when God entrusted him with key information about the future. Finally, he functioned as a priest, presenting sacrifices and prayers on behalf of God’s people. He considered prayer one of his basic duties as a leader.
Like any good leader, Samuel sometimes had to bring bad news. When he was just a boy, he heard God’s message of judgment against his foster father Eli. Samuel also gave stern warnings about a king’s potential abuses of power, abuses he later had to denounce in Saul. Yet the nation remembered him more for his positive contributions. Taking over the helm when the nation was near disaster, Samuel steered the course faithfully until he could deliver leadership to David, a young man who would become Israel’s greatest king.
Samuel was a highly gifted poet, whose songs of praise enriched the worship, first of the temple, and then of the Christian Church. To rise so high and at so great a cost would have made him strong, one would have thought, to withstand temptation. Although, his powers of resistance were no greater than those of other men. Even when we make full allowance for the age in which he lived, he did not back down when faced with temptation. Despite his frailty, he saw clearly the purposes of God for His people, and foresaw the coming of the messianic King, Whom he in his life so imperfectly portrayed.