Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Last Words of David Devotional, Part 1

Below is the first of a two-part devotional I contributed to the book Ordinary Time. The scripture these devotionals are based upon are from the Hebrew Scripture texts for Sunday, November 26, 2006--the day we celebrate Christ the King.

2 Samuel 23: 1-7

Now these are the last words of David:
The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
For God has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will God not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns
that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed on the spot.

The last words of David. So it all comes down to this: David on his deathbed, weak, breathing shallow. Maybe he is surrounded by advisors, some military men, and a few loved ones. Perhaps his son Solomon is there, feeling the weight of his coming reign. And maybe Bathsheba is there, ever-watchful. David, the great king and poet, the writer of soaring songs and heart-wrenching laments, breathing his last words.

It all comes down to this as he faces the finality of death.

His life passes before our eyes:

We see the boy David, the youngest son of Jesse, outside tending to the sheep as Samuel considers his brothers one by one as possible heirs to Saul’s throne. But the brothers were not to be chosen. Rather, the boy with beautiful eyes is anointed and receives upon himself the Spirit of God, even as the very same Spirit departs from Saul.

There is David now, cowering as he plays his lyre to soothe the tormented Saul’s spirit. And soon we see the small boy facing down the giant Philistine, killing him with a stone, and carrying his head as a trophy for Saul.

We see the love between David and Jonathan, their souls bound together as one.

And there is David the great warrior, slaying tens of thousands, gaining loyal followers, wooing women.

We see David the king, spying Bathsheba on a nearby roof. And we grieve as David conspires to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, placed on the front lines and killed. We lament as David takes Bathsheba with all the authority of a king. And our heads fall into our hands as David indicts himself in response to Nathan’s bold challenge.

Our hearts are heavy when David and Bathsheba’s first-born child dies in infancy. And we marvel at the birth of their next son Solomon because we know his destiny.

Years later, there is David again—outraged at the rape of his daughter Tamar by her brother Amnon. And we want to shake him out of his moral paralysis while he neglects to seek justice for her, “because he loved Amnon, for he was his firstborn.” (2 Sam 13: 21)

How our hearts break when, partly as a consequence to David’s inaction, his son Absalom is assassinated. The world seems to come to a standstill as David cries out in the agony of profound grief: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam 18: 33b)

David the boy, the warrior, the man, the king, the father, now faces the finality of death. And in that moment, the Spirit of God speaks through him. The Rock of Israel gives him a vision of the one who rules justly. This one “is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

The vision is spectacular. It is a vision of new life, of infinite possibility. The land has been quenched of its thirst overnight. The sun now bursts across the sky and catches the moisture still clinging to the grass. The world is bejeweled. There is nothing hidden on a cloudless morning.

Our hearts cannot help but to leap on such a morning as this. We rise, as it were, to the occasion. Such a morning draws us into itself. We experience it as an invitation into the fullness of life. This is the attraction, the charisma of the one who rules justly. There is a beauty to it that sweeps us off our feet, that gifts us with possibility.

David sees the vision and asks, “Is not my house like this with God?” Oh, how he wants it to be so, dear David the boy, the warrior, the man, the king, the father. He remembers God’s everlasting covenant and hopes that surely God sees David’s rule as the light of morning. Still, we hear in David’s question the remnants of his cries. David has witnessed so much loss, been made inconsolable by so much deception, that he cannot quite say with utter confidence, in the stark honesty of the deathbed, that his rule has been like the sun rising on a cloudless morning. He wants to say it with all his heart. But it comes out in the form of a question: “Is not my house like this with God?”

On his deathbed, David must be looking both backward and forward. He must be gathering into his question all of his life’s experiences as boy, warrior, man, king, and father. But he must also be gathering into it all of his expectations for the future. It is not his future, true. But it is the future of David’s kingdom, his beloved Israel. He has already drawn Solomon close to him and urged him to “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God . . .” (I Kings 2:2) Inasmuch as he may have fallen short of God’s vision of a just ruler, David desires Solomon to attain to it.

Looking backward and looking forward, David places his hope in a vision of God’s justice.

Holy Spirit of God, grant me a vision of your kin-dom and enrapture me with the infinite possibility of your bright dawn. Give me the courage and strength to greet this and every dawn in unending hope.

-Jennifer W. Davidson

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