4. The kingdom foreshadowed: David and Solomon
As 1 Samuel begins, we find Israel dwelling in the promised land, but not enjoying the complete blessings of God. Judges has ended with a terrible summation of the nation: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). When the foolish sons of Samuel look set to take over the leadership of the nation, it is too much for the elders and they ask Samuel to appoint a king so that they can be like the other nations. God tells Samuel that, while this is not only in direct opposition of the definition of Israel as a distinct nation, but is a rejection of his kingship (1 Sam 8:7), the request will be granted—with a warning. Life under the king will be difficult.
The material regarding personal safety and security in this epoch is vast, but perhaps can best be summarised examining two themes. First, a character study of King David, in particular his response to the threats he faced, and second, a brief discussion of the theme of ‘rest’ in the prophets.
After a brief period of success, the period of the monarchy quickly turns bad. Israel’s first king, Saul, rejects God’s rule for his leadership and as a result is rejected by God (1 Sam 15:26). David is anointed in Saul’s place, but for some time this new royal appointment remains a secret. However, God blesses David with some great military victories, and soon David is the Israelite champion, drawing praise from the people as he returns from battle (1 Sam 18:7). Particularly galling for Saul is that in the songs of praise the crowds sing, David is proclaimed as champion and Saul is named as the silver medallist. From this moment on, David is under threat from a jealous and angry Saul (1 Sam 18:9), a threat which is more than once enacted (1 Sam 18:11, 19:10). In response to these threats David flees. (In a following post we will also see Paul fleeing from danger—which raises for us an interesting question of “When to stay and when to go?”.)
However David’s flight does not end the rivalry. While David carries on the real work of the true king, Saul continues to hunt him (1 Sam 23:14), however without success.
This pursuit leads to the famous ‘anonymous ambush’ of Saul by David in the cave (1 Sam 24:1-7), and the subsequent conversation, indicating that David’s principal concern is not the preservation of his personal security through the elimination of his enemy.
Eventually, the jealousy that Saul holds for David is finally ended by Saul’s death in battle (1 Sam 31), and the reaction of David is not one of the finally free quarry, but of a faithful subject mourning for his slain king (2 Sam 1:11-27).
David is quickly publicly anointed as king, but his personal security is soon again under threat. Absalom attempts a coup d’état which is eventually crushed by David and his armies.
Within the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel, we are given the facts, the black and white photos, of the threats and a few insights and reactions, but it is in the book of Psalms that we see the painted canvas, the deep thoughts and responses of David to this situation of personal danger and threat. It is particularly useful for us to examine those Psalms that either explicitly or implicitly indicate a context of threat for David, and to examine his response.
The titles of some Psalms give explicit indications of such a context.
- Psalm 3: A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son
- Psalm 18: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.
- Psalm 52: To the choirmaster, a maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech”.
- Psalm 54: To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?”
- Psalm 56: To the choirmaster; according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.
- Psalm 57: To the Choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.
- Psalm 59: To the Choirmaster, according to Do Not Destroy. A miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.
- Psalm 63: A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
A broadbrush study of these Psalms reveals the following repeated themes:
- David regularly speaks or cries out to God concerning the threats he is under, and often articulates their physical nature (Ps 3:1, 4, 18:3-6, 54:1-3, 56:1-2, 59:2, 63:9)
- David confidently declares that God hears these appeals (Ps 18:6)
- David often uses ‘military’ vocabulary in reference to God’s sovereignty, power and ultimate control of these events: e.g. ‘rock’, ‘fortress’, ‘shield’ (Ps 3:3, 18:2, 59:9, 62:2, 7)
- appeals to God for salvation from threat and enemies, often in the context of God’s covenant faithfulness (Ps 3:7, 18:50, 52:8, 54:1, 57:3, 59:1-2, 10, 17, 63:3)
- records and reflections of God’s action in response to the threat, involving judgement and rescue (Ps 18:7-19, 52:5).
What is perhaps most striking in the Psalms is that, while David does cry out to God for deliverance, it is usually in the context of a reflection on the character and faithfulness of God to his covenant promises. There is frequently a ‘looking back’ aspect of David’s appeals to God, along the lines of “I’m asking these things of you God because you are the God who has been faithful in the past”.
For example, we can see this pattern in the basic structure of Psalm 25, a Psalm of David:
- vv. 1-3: I trust in you, don’t let me be put to shame
- vv. 4-5: Teach me your ways
- vv. 6-7: Remember your steadfast love and mercy
- vv. 8-10: God is faithful, the ways of God are good
- vv. 11-15: Man does well to fear the Lord
- vv. 16-21: Be gracious to me, forgive my sins, deliver me
- v. 22: Redeem Israel.
Perhaps as David reflects on the character and purposes of God as revealed in his past actions and his covenant faithfulness to his people, his response to his present threats becomes clearer.
A significant theme that develops during this epoch is that of ‘rest’. We’ve seen from creation that the concept of rest is critical because it is the ultimate purpose of creation. On the seventh day God rested, and creation enjoyed the blessings of God as it participated in that rest. During the period of the Exodus the promised land becomes a goal for the rescued people of Israel because it is a place where they will enjoy rest.
Of course, once the people enter the land, their disobedience means their experience of the ‘rest’ is short-lived and incomplete, but during this time the prophets begin to speak of a greater hope for the future, a hope that includes the ultimate ‘rest’. As Isaiah speaks of this great hope, he does so using the language of creation, but in a new, ‘new-creation’ way. The description of this new heaven and earth is of a place of gladness and rejoicing (Isa 65:18), where there is no crying or distress (Isa 65:19), where people enjoy the fruit of their labour undisturbed (Isa 65:21-23), and where creation is in Eden-like harmony (Isa 65:25).
At a similar time Micah looks forward to people of all nations coming to the mountain of the Lord to hear the word of the Lord. This will result in peace and prosperity, and we have that beautiful image of every man sitting under his vine and under his fig tree without fear. An image of peace and rest (Mic 4:1-4).
This future that the prophets look forward to has clear implications for the theme of personal security because in it rest is enjoyed. Rest from enemies, rest from persecution, rest from danger. The prophets are very clear that in the future, just as it was in the beginning, personal security will not be an issue.
Perhaps the most significant contribution to our thinking on the topic of personal security from this period is that of our personal response. While our natural response to threat is to avoid it at all costs and to pray along those lines, David raises the possibility of a different approach. Flee? Perhaps. Pray for deliverance? Again, perhaps, but maybe there are also bigger issues to pray for.