Wednesday, August 20, 2008

cunning and conviction in David's life

I came back from sabbatical to a teaching programme on the life of David that was in its final stages. I've had the joy of preaching on the succession narrative, that part of the story that runs from 2 Samuel 9 to 1 Kings 2 and answers the simple question 'who will sit on Israel's throne after David'?

Of course, the question is not that simple at all. There is no rule that David's son should succeed to Israel's throne as David was only the second king and he wasn't a relative of Saul. There are a number of contenders - Saul's descendants (only Mephibosheth is in the frame and his claim is dealt with in 2 Samuel 9, though he reappears in 16 and 19) and David's already grown-up sons, Amnon and Absalom. In the end Solomon is the choice and the story explains how.

I've loved this section of OT narrative since Bible college. And preaching it over the past two Sundays has reminded me why. It's a wonderfully written, subtly contrived story of political, theological and emotional depth. Having looked at the story of Mephiboseth - maybe David's high point in the account - and Bathsheba and Uriah - undoubtedly the lowest point to which David sinks; this week I'm looking at the coup of Absalom and its fallout.

I'm using the text to explore the nature of the life of faith when lived in the real world. I will be focusing on two aspects of David - his cunning and his convictions. There is no doubt that David could teach Machiavelli a thing or two about how to get your way in political life, how to survive and certainly how to outmanoeuvre your enemies. At the same time, there is no doubt that his every action is driven by core convictions derived from his faith in God.

The text shows how David's cunning and convictions enabled him to triumph and leave his throne to Solomon. The author of 2 Samuel clearly approves of how David navigated his way through events. What is less clear is what God thinks - and therein lies the brilliance of the story and the wonder of its telling.

It is also where the bear-traps await the unwary preacher. There is a danger that we flatten the story and assume that what happened must be right - must be what God wants - and therefore a few simple lessons of the pious life can be derived from how David lived. It's not that simple or bland - thank God.

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