December 14, 2017

Looking for David

Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

• Matthew 1:1

• • •

I have argued elsewhere that the overarching story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world. “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven” is the heartbeat of biblical faith and expectation.

Why then, should anyone be surprised to discover what Pete Enns has reminded us of this week: that the focus of the Hebrew Bible (and the book of Genesis as the particular case we’ve been looking at) would be on royal, kingly matters?

When we recall that it was the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah that survived the Babylonian exile and returned to the land and put the Old Testament as we know it together, and when we remember that the story of Judah culminated in the greatest era of kingship the nation had ever known, under King David, why then should it surprise us if they looked to a brighter future by framing it in Davidic terms?

Ah, but all this requires us to understand something basic about the Hebrew Bible. It was collected, compiled, composed, and edited for those exiles. What we hold in our hands and call the Old Testament is the end result of a long process of passing down traditions and stories and sayings and songs from generation to generation. Most of that process is opaque to us, and the Bible itself doesn’t help us by saying, “So and so wrote this book.” The authors and editors remain anonymous. Nevertheless, whoever they were, they put together (I believe under the inspiration of the Spirit) a finished product, a Book that tells an overall Story.

For sure, it is a long book, a messy book, and a book of alternative voices debating with one another throughout the history of Israel.

  • The book of Joshua presents a much different view of the conquest than the book of Judges.
  • Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy set forth a variety of laws that often don’t mesh with one another.
  • The history books of Kings and Chronicles present contrasting views of Israel’s kings, especially David.
  • A book like Ruth takes a much different view of intermarriage than Ezra or Malachi.
  • Jonah and Nahum argue with each other about how God views nations like Assyria.
  • The pious book of Proverbs is challenged by the alternative wisdom of Ecclesiastes and Job.

But, as Pete Enns has reminded us this week, there is an overall shaping of all this diverse, multivalent material. It starts in the book of Genesis, which I think Enns has persuasively shown points the reader toward the expectation of a king to come from the tribe of Judah who will rule over the nations.

The story begins with a depiction of a royal humanity (adam), formed in the image of God to rule as stewards of creation, and at the start of the story proper, Abraham receives God’s promise that his seed will produce kings. Jacob’s speech at the end of the book promises that the scepter shall find its home among the descendants of Judah.

The Torah ends with Deuteronomy, a book that is characterized more by the scribal Torah interpretive tradition than by royal ideology. That is, its focus is more upon the Word than the King. However, even this book ends with remarkable Mosaic speeches and poems that speak clearly of the eventual exile and hope of return.

The first book in the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the Prophets, contains the oracles of Isaiah, who served in the royal court at Jerusalem, speaking God’s Word to her kings and the nation. Isaiah is, of course, famous for its eschatological message, its promises of a royal figure to come and a new creation.

The Hebrew Bible’s third section, the Writings, is book-ended by Psalms and Chronicles. I have argued elsewhere that the message of the Psalms is designed to encourage faithful anticipation of an ideal King, a ruler for whom the exilic community was waiting, looking, and hoping: the son of David, the ultimate king.

The book of Chronicles, the climax of the Hebrew Bible, provides a sweeping review from Adam to the post-exilic community, with special attention given to David and Solomon and giving a dramatically different portrayal of their reign than we see in the book of Kings. The subsequent history of the kings that followed Solomon ignores the northern kingdom entirely (unlike I-II Kings) and focuses on Judah alone.

Thus, at the least, the major books in each section of the Tanakh (Torah/Prophets/Writings) are eschatological in orientation, and most lead the reader to focus on Judah and God’s royal promises to her.

I would argue that the post-exilic community has shaped the Hebrew Bible in response to the Exile. That post-exilic community that survived and returned to the land was the remnant of the southern nation of Judah. The Hebrew Bible is Judah’s Bible. Those from that community who put these scriptures together, collecting Israel’s sacred traditions, composing new materials, editing them together and shaping them into a “book” did so in order ultimately to bring a message of hope and expectation to those who had returned from exile but who were now searching for national identity and hope for the future.

The New Testament opens as it does because the first Christians saw Jesus as the answer to that search: Jesus the Messiah (the promised king), the son of Abraham (the father of Israel), and the son of David (the model king who suffered yet triumphed).

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    Re: The New Testament taking up the OT’s narrative of “God establishing his Kingdom in this world”: And yet, in an important text, the NT has Jesus saying that his kingdom is not of this world, and strongly implying that it is neither in competition with the kingdom’s of this world, nor does it occupy the same territory as the kingdom’s of this world. In a word, this text, in which the New Testament has Jesus speaking directly to the symbolic representative of all secular rulers down through time, spiritualizes the character and nature of the kingdom over which Jesus reigns. How is the claim of reign over such a spiritualized kingdom the establishment of God’s Kingdom in this world, rather than the enunciation of the relative insignificance of the kingdoms of this world, and the world itself, in comparison with the already existing and fulfilled spiritual kingdom of God?

    • I would answer that by saying that “not of this world” means “not according to this world’s systems”. That is in the kingdom of God the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
      27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. It doesn’t necessarily mean the physical creation, which is still God’s good creation.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> “I would answer that by saying that ‘not of this world’ means ‘not according to this world’s systems’.”

        This is the only interpretation that makes sense to me, given some Jesus’ phrasings that seemed to indicate the Kingdom was also in the here and now (at the time).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Otherwise you can get pulled into Pneumatic Gnosticism, so Spiritual that physical reality ceases to exist.

          “So what if I rack him ’til he die? For I shall have Saved His Soul.”
          — “The Inquisitor”, Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

          • Rick Ro. says:

            I’ve come to the conclusion that we Christians tend to over-spiritualize life events that have a minor spiritual element while under-spiritualizing life events that have a significant spiritual element, and I’m pretty sure that when we think we have it right, we’re probably wrong.

            • So true. In some circles you can’t get gum on your shoe unless the devil put there for a reason . . . or maybe God. While, neglecting the demise of great cultures.

              • Rick Ro. says:

                True (current) story: our church has been trying to sell off a piece of property for five years. We’ve had two potential sales fall through due to various issues.

                I’ve heard some within the church say the devil has thwarted those two sales, while others say God has delayed the sale for some reason.

                I’m kinda like, “Well, I think it’s mainly because life kinda sucks.”

            • StuartB says:

              +1

          • I didn’t realize (or forgot) that Twain wrote that. I think that strange way thinking has been behind many wars and acts of violence. The physical body doesn’t matter. That;’s how the terrorists who use Islam as a basis reason. Blow up a nursery school, if it will save their souls from western culture.

    • Robert F says:

      Sometimes it seems to me that the Church, starting with the New Testament, significantly misunderstood and misinterpreted what Jesus was saying and doing in his life, including his resurrected life. Perhaps we are looking for the wrong thing and in the wrong direction when we look to the horizon of the future for what we call the Parousia; perhaps we are still looking for the King who will ultimately force the world into compliance with his will, but no such King is coming. Maybe the Kingdom Jesus spoke of and pointed to is after all already here among us, and he said, and within us, as he seemed to say in the same words, and always has been. Maybe it’s a spiritual kingdom that will survive when all the world’s kingdoms, and the world itself, have become dust. Maybe the King has put down his arms (if he ever in fact bore them) forever, and the fulfillment of the kingdom is now and here, or nowhere….

      • There are a lot of verses in the New Testament that (even taking preterism at face value) need *really* creative interpretation to make this idea fit…

        • Robert F says:

          Again, I’m wondering whether the NT made major interpretative mistakes in composition and redaction about who Jesus was and what he was doing.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …perhaps we are still looking for the King who will ultimately force the world into compliance with his will, but no such King is coming.

        Somebody tell that to the End Time Prophecy types and their Turbo-Jesus the Destroyer.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Robert, how would you define the word “spiritualize” in the context you are using it? And what does a “spiritual Kingdom” look like? Thanks. I like your comments but they raise questions.

      I like the subject of today’s post and strongly agree with Chaplain Mike’s statement that “the overarching story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world. “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven” is the heartbeat of biblical faith and expectation.” This is one of the most important prayers that we pray.

      • Robert F says:

        David, A “spiritual Kingdom” does is not necessarily an otherworldly kingdom. What could make it spiritual are the values at its center, by which it exists. In fact, by not looking toward a Parousia for its fulfillment, by not looking toward “the end”, the Kingdom of God may exist in the very depth of the world’s immanence, and thereby be more thoroughly invested in the world as it is than traditional forms of Christianity. It finds its God’s reign and realm in the center, not at the periphery. No waiting for Godot.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Problem is, you’re swimming against a current – impelled by generations of Christians – where “Spiritual” is just another word for “Unreal”.

    • Robert, I think we must not see the kingdom as “spiritual” in the sense of “apart from this world” or material or territorial realities. After all, we pray “may your will be done on earth as in heaven.” The contrast is, as Mike the Geologist notes by his quote, between a kingdom that is based on and rules by power, coercion, and violence and one that rules by loving service to others. We look for a kingdom of justice and peace, but it is most definitely IN this world while not being OF this world.

      • Robert F says:

        CM, I don’t know about how we must see the kingdom, but the responses to my comment above all assume that what the New Testament (and by extension the Church) as a whole says about Jesus’ teaching is consonant in essentials with what Jesus actually taught. I’m suggesting that the text I referred to, and others, might actually be dissonant with other texts because what Jesus actually taught was dissonant with the way the NT as a whole (and the Church) came to view him and his teachings, and in these texts we have a small glimpse into what Jesus actually was about. I’m not really concerned with any overlap with Gnosticism, because I’m not of the opinion that the Gnostics were completely wrong, or that the Church was always right in its opposition to Gnosticism. What I do know is this (something you’ve cited on a number of occasions as the major theodicy problem of traditional Christianity): here we are two thousand years later, and still no Parousia.

        As to whether my interpretation is overly spiritual, I think it’s just as plausible to entertain the possibility, or even likelihood, that interpretations which seek to reduce the dissonance of dissonant-sounding texts in the New Testament by interpretations that impose theological harmony are themselves overly spiritualized. If so, the Church has been barking up the wrong tree for most of two thousand years.

        • Robert F says:

          Correction: ….the interpretations which seek to reduce the dissonance of dissonant-sounding texts in the NT by approaches that impose theological harmony….

        • Robert F says:

          To impose theological/interpretative unity on texts that are not in fact unified is to spiritualize them. I’m suggesting that there is evidence in the body of texts that they are not theologically unified; I may be wrong, but I may be right. And there’s that matter about two-thousand years and counting….

          • Why should we assume that there is no unity in the texts? Jesus Himself said He was their unifying principle…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Robert, I think we must not see the kingdom as “spiritual” in the sense of “apart from this world” or material or territorial realities.

        “Apart from this world” and you’re on the road to gargling lye for Mortification with St Rose of Lima.

        “Material or territorial realities” and you’re on the road to the Republic of Holy Gilead.

  2. >> . . . the overarching story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

    The Kingdom of God is at hand! The Good News, the so called Gospel. Plainly announced by John the Baptist, by Jesus himself, and by the crowd of proclaimers he sent out with very specific instructions as what exactly to proclaim. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Christians have either been ignoring this for going on two thousand years, or convoluting it beyond all recognition in intellectual abstractions which take anywhere from a paragraph to a shelf of books to explain. Anything to avoid the plain sense understanding that “at hand” means at hand, soon, arriving at a theater near you, not two thousand years and counting.

    It is true that Jesus spent something like three and a half years explaining just what the Kingdom of God was like. It is true that while he was alive in his body, it had not yet arrived tho it was at hand, soon to be. His last reported words, “It is done!”, swung the gate open, removed the cherubim and the flaming sword from the entrance to Eden, released the captives held in the realm of Death, and anointed us his followers as spiritual kings and priests like Melchizedek to take back the planet from the material Babylonian captivity.

    Two thousand years later we are still fighting amongst ourselves and nattering on about already and not yet. The very great majority of Christians are totally clueless that we are still under Babylonian captivity, and if any such suggestion were entertained the response would likely be to wait for Jesus to come floating down out of the sky and do our job for us. Some, like the zealots and the dominionists, believe we should force it with material force of arms. There is a great awakening beginning to happen with the sleeping giant people of this planet, and so far it is looking like Christians might be the last to open their eyes and smell the coffee. Come Lord Jesus and give us a good shaking!

  3. The very great majority of Christians are totally clueless that we are still under Babylonian captivity, and if any such suggestion were entertained the response would likely be to wait for Jesus to come floating down out of the sky and do our job for us.

    Well, to be honest, given the track record of church history, what confidence can we have that the church will ever get near to accomplishing this goal?

    If Christ doesn’t finish the job Himself some day, it won’t ever get finished.

    Come, Lord Jesus.

    • At the end of the day, the question I need to ask is not how much closer the church got to establishing the kingdom, but how much closer I got. Last I checked I’m not responsible for the church, nor is it beholden to me. What I am responsible for is that which has been placed under my stewardship, this recalcitrant, contrary, selfish, and lazy ego, the material piece of the pie that has my name on it, and that portion of humanity and the planet that I have been given to uphold in prayer. I’m still working on cleaning up my own back yard and giving the neighbors a hand when they need it. Some days are better than others but I’m giving it my best shot, and that’s all that can be asked of me. At the end of the day I ask myself, howja do? I’m running between a C plus and a B minus most of the time and I expect to give a final account some day. I would like to kick that grade up in the meantime. We’ll see. Lord help me.

  4. A messy book yes, for a messy life. Conflicting opinions? Jacob was named Israel after he wrested with God. Maybe the Bible shouldn’t be approached like a movie we lie there and watch. Maybe it’s a perpetual argument we need to dive into head first.

    • flatrocker says:

      >…Maybe it’s a perpetual argument we need to dive into head first…
      all the while shaking our fist at the heavens shouting out “oy vey”

      Somewhere along the way we traded raw emotional connection for reticent piousness. I wonder what we lost.