Friday, September 08, 2017 - Updated: 10:53 am
QUESTION: I am curious about King David in the Old Testament. He did some terrible things and is really not much of a role model. Why then is he shown as so important in the Old and New Testaments?
ANSWER: David’s first appearance in the Bible is as one of the eight sons of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:1-3). Although the youngest, he is chosen by God and anointed king by Samuel. Throughout his life, David appears to be a man of destiny. Despite many trials and missteps, God’s hand is upon him.
Nonetheless, David is also rightfully characterized as a man of violence. He is portrayed as a warrior who at times seems to show little respect for human life. He is prone to extremes of passion. Yet, there is within him a loyalty toward his people and a faithfulness to God’s commands (at least as he understood them).
These two strains are accurately portrayed in the First and Second Books of Samuel as they frankly describe David with all of his shortcomings. However, the First Book of Chronicles lavishes praise on David to the point of obscuring anything that would place him in an unfavorable light.
This later view should be seen in the context of the times in which it was written. Then it was not expected that Israel’s king would necessarily be a moral or religious leader. David was seen as an ideal king precisely because he united Israel’s many elements, vanquished her foes and established her as a great nation. That was what was expected of a king, and no one else had done as much.
As the kingship of David deteriorated, however, he became more of an ideal of kingship rather than its embodiment in real life. Nathan’s promise to David about an eternal dynasty (2 Samuel 7:8-17) could then be fulfilled by one other than David — one who would come after him. God’s promise would endure and be fulfilled in someone even greater than David who would establish the ideal kingdom of God.
With this hope, it was understandable that the New Testament would see Jesus as the fulfillment of that dream. Jesus, the messiah and descendant of David, would fulfill the promise made to David.
Thus, each of the Gospels (Matthew 22:45; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41 and John 7:42) placed great emphasis on the fact that Jesus was a descendant of David’s royal line. This is nowhere more evident than in the events of Palm Sunday, where Jesus is welcomed into the city of Jerusalem and greeted with the sounds of “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9-15).
It seems that in both testaments, David is viewed in relationship to the God whom he served. David is truly human and afflicted with human flaws. Despite that, he at times does great things. And the Scriptures praise the God who enabled it. But when David sins, he is subject to the same justice all of us face.
David’s importance in the New Testament is seen as the beginning of the dynasty that received its fulfillment in Christ. What we celebrate is the God who brought human salvation through that line in Jesus Christ.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.