When reading scripture, we know our attitude should be one of humble submission and patience. But have you ever felt anger or contempt? We are modern people with our thinking influenced by the “civilised” and “peaceful” culture around us. War and conflict are things we are encouraged to regard as the great evil, to be avoided at any cost. So when we read these accounts of one of the key figures in God’s redemption plan, we are at the very least uneasy. War is not always regarded as a reluctant last resort with the people of Israel. So is David a hero? Or an antihero? In what ways can we learn from him?
To understand the value of 1st & 2nd Samuel, we must first be prepared to admit that conflict is, in this world, unavoidable. Sin must be confronted and dealt with, not lived with. This is a great fundamental lesson which echoes throughout scripture.
David, son of Jesse, is a warrior, and a man of blood. In a lifetime surrounded by conflict, we see David the ruthless prize-fighter, tactical expert, executioner, double-agent, avenger, raider, murderer. When Shimei comes out to disgrace David by cursing him “get out, get out you man of blood, you worthless man”, though we might not agree with his position, we can at least understand it. Maybe the problem is with those people who insist on confrontation and conflict. If we all just “live and let live”, then our blood stays where it ought to be….we hope. Of course, sin, our true enemy, is not content to live and let live. “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you” said Puritan John Owen.
Israel was a place of conflict, and, though it often wearied him, David was not shy of it. Thousands of years later, we still live in the same world of conflict, if we would care to look beyond our own fragile bubbles of security. The conflict that sin brought to the world through Adam’s fall still rages around us. Avoiding this conflict, taking as minor a role as we can get away with…is this what Christians are called to do?
King David, God’s anointed one, was no messiah for Israel. Nevertheless, he demonstrated just about the best a man could be under the circumstances of war, and gave Israel a glimpse of what God’s salvation could look like. He was brave, obedient, sought out and trusted in God, and was astoundingly humble before God on so many occasions. He waged war not just against the enemies of Israel, but also against corruption and godlessness in his own life, and in those close to him. And yet he failed in many ways: chiefly with regards to Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba. It is no coincidence that this terrible situation with its awful, bloody repercussions, was borne from a time when Kings were called to go to war, and yet we found David at home, avoiding it, and leaving others to do his bloody work.
So here we have an example of just about the best, blessed, anointed, Godly human being leading the anointed people of Israel. And even then, it all ends less than well. The people of Israel wanted a king they could put their faith in, and David proved that no human was up to the task.
In chapter 22 of 2nd Samuel, we come across Psalm 18. Why is this the one chosen by the writer to cap off the career of David? In this psalm, we find the correct response to this messy, unpleasant situation of conflict in which we find our world. The ultimate answer is that God is the deliverer. His wrath and justice are the things which will end all conflict in a decisive stroke. And it will be a fearsome thing to behold. Who can stand before it? Our God of love is no impassive bystander as the conflicts of sin rage around the world. His wrath is kindled and one day we will witness its full, devastating effect. After which, no enemy will remain, and lasting peace will be established. It is a fearful thing indeed, and we ought to learn the fear of this God, for he is a consuming fire.
Jesus Christ took the wrath of God upon himself, by his own volition, even though he was the one man who did not need to. And by his sacrifice, we are given the chance to change sides and be reconciled to the great God of the universe, to be called his beloved children. One day, Christ will ride out as the agent of God’s judgement. On the cross, he made himself weak for our sakes, but when he returns there will be no weakness, no frailty. He will be the perfect, all-powerful warrior king, armed and ready to destroy all the enemies of God: those who reject his amazing grace and goodness, and deny his right to be God. David may have failed to be the king he ought to have been, but he was willing to repent and re-acknowledge God’s authority. And therein lay David’s greatness.
Christians ought to have a right understanding of the nature of the conflict we are engaged in. We need to follow Christ’s earthly example of humility, servanthood, self-sacrifice, obedience, holiness and love: this is how we are called to do battle against sin. But we must learn too that we live in a time where God’s wrath and judgement are being held back, and we all need to seek his forgiveness and favour, through Christ, and acknowledge this same Christ as our proven, rightful lord and king. The door will not remain open forever.