David and his shadow of death

I am slowly reading through the Bible and I have discovered that I now have a different view of David than I did a few months ago. Yes, I’ve read First and Second Samuel before, but it’s been a while. For the past few years I’ve mostly hung out in the Psalms or other wisdom books, as they call them. And I’ve been operating under the feeling that David, though a warrior when necessary, was really a tender shepherd, a deep thinker, a God lover, a passionate musician, and a person with deep emotional swings.

Well, those things are true, but while reading about David’s life in the books of Samuel I am seeing a man with a sword who isn’t afraid to use it – except against those he feels God has anointed for kingship or appointed to torment him. Other than that, it was watch out, buddy. He killed many, many people. Men, women, children, whomever the Lord said to destroy.

Yes. The Lord said to destroy.

These books have been difficult to read. My original goal was to read through the entire Bible in a year. We’re in May and I’m not even a fifth of the way finished. One reason (besides laziness) is because when I come to a chapter that disturbs me I put my Bible down for a while, shake my head, and say something like, “My, my, Lord, that was harsh.” It’s almost like I’m tsk-tsking God. Yes, it’s probably tsk-tsking.

Today I was thinking about the time Jesus told his disciples that he was going to die – that he was going to Jerusalem and would suffer and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter wasn’t happy about this. He tsk-tsked Jesus. “Never, Lord!” he said. Jesus had sharp words for Peter and added, “you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter didn’t understand then the purpose of Jesus’s life and death. Maybe Peter, with his Old Testament mind, wanted Jesus to be more like King David – more of a warrior.

Which is funny because my New Testament mind wants David to be more like Jesus – less of a warrior.

Jesus never drew a sword, though he was pierced by one. Jesus never slaughtered whole cities for God’s name, though he did conquer the power of sin forever. In contrast, David lived a bloody life. But it was because of his love and obedience to God. David’s violent work to secure a nation for God’s name was one part of God’s big plan. This was David, the poet-soldier’s role. And he did it well. (Which makes me wonder what “shadow of death” he was referring to in Psalm 23? One caused by his own sword or someone else’s?)

And though Jesus didn’t live a warrior life, he did die a bloody death, also because of his love and obedience to God. Both David and Jesus saved Israel. But in different ways. You can read all about it yourself if you want to.

So who am I to tell God how to work out his big plan of redemption?

I think that while I read the rest of the Old Testament it would be good for me to remember Peter’s scolding and keep “in mind the things of God.” And sure, I don’t have to like all of it, how can I with my cultural bias and my New Testament mind and heart? Even though I may be tempted at times, I will not censure it or shush it, which, I suppose, probably includes tsk-tsking…. Well, as they say, God is God and I am not.

But the Psalms sure are going to sound different with David’s sword clanging in my head.

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