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|7th May, 2000|
Australia is searching for a moral leader. The media is looking for someone above politics, who is not tainted by scandal, and who is telegenic by media standards. In sport, we look to Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe. In the field of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples we are looking to Sir William Deane, and in the national field there is a strongly promoted rise and rise of General Peter Cosgrove. People want a leader. The cry is for a king.
1. King Saul.
Israel wanted a king to lead them, protect them, to decide economic policy, to secure their territory and to give the people a feeling of goodwill and success. Saul was that man. He came to power just 3000 years ago. Saul was the first King of Israel. He was successful in binding the tribes together and in pushing back the marauding tribes from the desert, which attacked and sacked isolated farms and villages. The main power in the area at the time was the Philistines. They were strong enough to invade the land whenever they wanted, by reason of their greater numbers and technological edge. The Philistines had developed the art of using metal. They forged sharp iron weapons against which the Israelites had little protection. Saul's leadership had been very important, but it was becoming erratic as he declined mentally into paranoia. After initial success, things soured and he could not fulfil the peoples' desire. A new king was needed. David was that man. David became Israel's second and greatest king.
2. The Prophet Samuel.
God decided to anoint a new King. God told Samuel the prophet, to go to a certain place, tribe, family, and individual and to anoint him as the heir apparent. That was risky business. If King Saul found out, it would be seen as treason and Samuel would be killed. Saul would have power for many years yet. But the young man who would succeed him was already marked out by the anointing. Like Prince William in England, David was still a youth, but the eyes of the community were on him.
1 Sam 16:1-3 "The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king." But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me." The LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." So Samuel went to Bethlehem, in the south to make a sacrifice. He offered up sacrifice, and called some elders and the family of Jesse to a meal. One by one Jesse introduced his sons at Samuel's request. Among all who appeared before him he failed to discover the one he sought. One son was tall and handsome. Perhaps this was the one. I Sam 16:7 "But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
So Samuel asked: 1 Sam 16:11 "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in."
Up to this point the boy's name is not mentioned. But the youngest son is brought in and the prophet immediately recognized him as the chosen of God - chosen to succeed King Saul. Samuel said nothing but poured on his head the anointing oil. David went back again to his shepherd life, but 1 Sam. 16:13, 14 "from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power ... and the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul." This verse is the central verse of the book. From now on David will be seen as rising in power to replace Saul.
3. The Shepherd David.
David rose to power from humble circumstances and amid many difficulties. Later he would capture Jerusalem and establish it as his capital, the City of David. He would unify the nation and build an empire stretching from Egypt to Mesopotamia during a 40 year reign, from 1010 to 970 BC. He was a man of many talents: a shepherd, musician, poet, warrior, politician, administrator, but also a murderer and adulterer. He became the standard for all later kings, and a messianic symbol. In many ways David was a man of our times. His were the moral and sexual dilemmas of the twentyfirst century. The intrigues and entrapment that surround people who would be leaders today, caught up David in his time.
As to his personal appearance, we only know that he was red-haired, with beautiful eyes and a fair face. 1 Sam 16:12; 17:42. David tended his father's sheep on the uplands of Judah. From what we know from later history, he became skilled and protected the sheep from wild beasts. He recalls killing with a club, a mountain lion and a black bear, both common then. 1 Sam. 17:34, 35
His father was chief of the clan Judah. The country round Bethlehem is more fertile than other places and the inhabitants cultivated the soil and bred cattle. David's father also kept flocks of sheep and goats. The flocks were sent out every day to pasture in the valleys attended by armed herdsmen who would defend themselves and their flocks. David accompanied his father's servants in their task. 1 Sam 17:20, 22.
At sunset, he would drive his flock into the zariba for the night and return home. There is indeed, no life more monotonous than that of an eastern shepherd. And like King Alfred, his head seems to have been filled with ideas far removed from his humble task. The chapter ends with a gifted young man, Israel's future king, coming to serve a rejected and dejected ruler who is totally unaware of the implications of his welcoming David into his court. David is not just a country boy who can play the flute and the lyre in a way that could sooth the King's growing headaches and depression. He is the anointed successor to the King who does not yet know it. The suspense builds up until Saul comes to know of David's anointing. He then decides to hunt and kill David to prevent him from being his successor.
Some questions come to mind in this story.
Is it likely a young boy can rise from the farm to become a King? It may be happening in our day. Peter Cosgrove, a country lad, went from being a student to an officer, to winning the Military Cross, to being aide de comp to the Governor General, to being in charge of our forces in East Timor, to being made commander of Australia's land forces, and in two years is tipped to become our Chief of our Defence Forces. And then? Our first President? The right person being in the right place at the right time seems to possess the anointing. Apart from that, David's work as a shepherd was preparing him to lead his nation, although he did not know it at the time. God was working in his life through his normal occupation. His skills, his care for the sheep, his courage in defending them and in attacking wild beasts, his dedication to doing well a boring job, day in and day out, were all part of David's preparation. Psalm 78:70-72 says: "God chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them."
Is there any proof that King David ever existed outside of the Biblical record? Up until a few years ago there was none. Some scholars said the story of the Shepherd boy who became a King was just another example of ancient myth and legend, made up by a country which wanted historic romance behind its tradition.
Like the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, King David was only a collection of myths. But in July 1993, Gila Cook, who was part of an archaeological team working in the ruins of the ancient city of Dan in North Galilee, saw in the rocks that composed a wall that was built in 8th century BC, a broken basalt stone protruding from the ground. As rays of the afternoon sun glanced on it she thought she could see come writing on the rock. She called Professor Avraham Biran over. Kneeling down he exclaimed, "Oh, my God, we have an inscription!" The stone was easily removed. In the sun's rays the letters sprang to life. It was an unforgettable moment of an important discovery.
The stone was a broken piece of a larger monument telling what had happened in the middle 900 BC. A victorious king had attacked Israel, and his forces defeated the northern most city of Dan. The King's general had a stone tablet set up proclaiming his victory. Later the forces of Israel re-captured the city, and the monument was pulled down and used in building a strong defensive wall. The inscription was carved in 885BC. In the broken portion in lines 8 and 9, are clearly the words, "the house of David, the King of Israel." Here was absolute proof in our time of the fact that the great singer of songs, the farm-boy of Bethlehem, was the one who later became the famous King of Israel who ruled for forty years. Later, a descendant, called The Son of David, was to be born in a manger at Bethlehem, and be crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, the city of David. As the hymn proclaims: "Hail to the Lord's anointed, great David's greater son!" (AHB 203)
What made God chose David as Saul's successor? It was not his good looks or red-hair - which in the Middle East was a most rare genetic phenomenon. For God does not judge by outward appearances, as He said to Samuel, but by what is in the person's heart. David had a heart for God, and "from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power." Saul had also been chosen by God, but Saul disintegrated, as he lost God's blessing, as we shall see in a few weeks. Saul's disintegration is also seen today.
It was David's experience as a shepherd that equipped him to be a successful king. That experience also led him to thinking of how God cares for each of us, as a shepherd cares for each sheep in his flock. It was David, who as a shepherd playing his flute while he watched over his sheep, wrote some of the most famous and most loved words in all of recorded history.
Psalm 23 "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." (KJV) David pointed to God's care, and to One who would come to be "the Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of our souls." Heb 13:20.
A Heart Like His. B. Moore Broadman & Holman 1999
The Anchor Bible Dictionary, D N Freedman,ed., Doubleday 1992.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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