2 Samuel: The Davidic Covenant

The Davidic covenant was the centerpiece of the narrator’s agenda. Everything in the narrative up to this point had been moving in this direction.  David, who proved himself to be a great leader among the Israelites, was legitimately appointed to the throne by the Lord. This is exemplified by the establishment of the Davidic covenant.

2 sam 2The major theological highpoint of the work is found in 2 Samuel 7. This section outlines the covenant between Yahweh and David. This narrative is divided into two parts: Nathan’s deliverance of the prophecy and David’s prayerful response. Verses 8-17 says in part, “I will make your name great…and I will provide a place for my people Israel….Wicked people will not oppress them anymore…I will give you rest from your enemies… The Lord will establish a house for you… I will raise up your offspring to succeed you.” Many of these promises are reminiscent of those given to Abraham in Genesis 17. David humbly proclaimed in verse 18, “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family that you have brought me this far?” This covenant between Yahweh and David highlights what has been promised and what is yet to come.

Israel had grown accustom to insecurity, apostasy, syncretism, and war. However, the Davidic Covenant signified peace and security due to a king who exhibited justice and adhered to the standards set forth by the Lord. The Lord promised in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 that though he may discipline the family line of David, he would never forsake them. In the Davidic Covenant, there are no conditions. The promises made immediately to David were unconditional. David was promised unconditionally that his son would succeed him and serve a full term, but the terms beyond that were conditional on the conduct of his son. The thought that one would later come to fulfill the conditions of the Davidic Covenant is the foundation for Messianic Theology. Jesus is the one who brings forth the renewal of the Davidic Covenant, clearing the way for an eternal kingdom.

2 sam 3Ultimately, David was destined to control the throne, but he did not usurp Saul’s authority. David maintained a stance of nonaggression towards the house of Saul, even when his life was threatened. Though, some argue that the text could be propaganda to legitimize David’s right to rule, the text does not treat David well overall. Thus, one can conclude that there is no reason to suspect that the narrator construed the text to favor David.

The narrative of David’s sin in chapters 11-19 cause the reader to wonder where the wholehearted character of David went. The prophet Nathan rebuked David in chapter 12, detailing the story of two men, one rich and one poor. The poor man had nothing except one ewe lamb, whom he treated like a daughter. When a traveler came, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it. David exclaimed that the rich man be put to death. Nathan, however, explained that David is the rich man. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by striking down Uriah and taking his wife, Bathsheba. Ultimately, David’s sin brought calamity upon his family and posterity. David’s poor judgment documented how human sin and bad judgment jeopardized the Davidic covenant as far back as David himself..

2 samuelA modern reader of 2 Samuel should realize that sin has consequences. Everyone has sinned and must live with the effects of that sin. David’s sin caused calamity upon his family, likewise, a person’s sin increases futility in their life. Though the consequences may not be easily visible, all sin removes humanity for the blessings of covenant relationship with the Lord. Everyone leaves a legacy depending on how they live, ultimately deciding whether or not their posterity will follow God. David is called, “a man after God’s own heart”. God knows every person’s heart, as well as their shortcomings. By pursuing the Lord, one can experience the life that comes for maintaining a personal relationship with God. The modern reader should also take seriously their role in leadership. David’s sin brought a plague upon the Israelites. Leaders are held accountable for how they conduct themselves, whether by faith or unbelief. If one pursues the Lord, they should remain cognizant that other’s view that relationship. One should strive to eradicate sin from their lives, and lead a life that edifies and inspires other believers.

1 Samuel: From Judges to Monarchy

The purpose of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel is to tell the story of the establishment of the kingship covenant with David. When read together, the books of Samuel transition the reader from the period of the judges to the establishment of Israel’s monarchy. The author of the book gives an incredible amount of effort to preserve the fact that David is the true Deuteronomy 17 king for Israel. David is shown to be God’s legitimate choice for the throne, through which a new covenant will be established.

The-Throne-TitleIn regards to 1 Samuel, the true theological high point of the work arises in chapter 8. Samuel was David’s precursor. No matter how well he led the people of Israel, acting like a judge, he was not a king. It was this condition that led to the request by the people that Samuel presides over a change in the form of government, from judges to kings. The elders of Israel asked Samuel to appoint for them a king, one that will judge them like all the other nations. This request displeased Samuel greatly. The reader should interpret this request as a signal that the spiritual condition of the people was steeped in paganism and syncretism. In short, the Israelites were not practicing strict monotheism. Samuel approached the Lord but the Lord responded in chapter 8 verse 7, “Listen to all that they people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” Yahweh tells Samuel to give the people what they ask for, but to explain to them what a king will do to them.

Deuteronomy 17: 15-20 outlines God’s requirements for a king. The Lord says that a king should be an Israelite, should not multiply horses for himself, should not multiply wives, should not increase silver and gold, and should write a copy of the Torah for himself in front of the priests. In 1 Samuel 8:10, Samuel describes a king to contradict each of the requirements set forth in Deuteronomy. Even when there was a human king, he was supposed to be only the representative of the divine king. Saul, the man chosen by Samuel to be king over Israel, ultimately is the wrong man for the job. However, God allows the Israelites to live in the hole that they have dug for themselves to refine their faith.

imagesSaul never developed into a man who sought after the Lord, thus he was a failed leader. One major theme of 1 Samuel is the fact that David did not cause Saul’s failure; rather Saul had disqualified himself before David ever came on the scene. Details in 1 Samuel authenticate David as the true king. In the account of Goliath, King Saul chooses to sit out of the battle. David recognizes that a true leader would be with his troops, and also realizes that the battle is not his, but the Lord’s. David trusts in the Lord wholeheartedly, relying on Him to fight his battles.

A modern reader of 1 Samuel should realize that the Lord gives humanity free will, although He knows what is best. He allowed the Israelites to appoint a king, like the pagan nations, and will allow each person to follow their own plans, which may lead to futility. Oftentimes, a person may believe that they know best. The Lord allows people to dwell in the hole that they dig themselves, revealing that they must rely on Him in order to have a fulfilling life. Through this process, the Lord refines the faith of His people. Despite the faults or short comings of humanity, the Lord will pursue his children. This is evidenced by the fact that God appointed David to the throne to return the Ark of the Covenant, and God’s presence, back to Israel. Ultimately, God will lead us to a place where we can have fellowship with Him.

Covenant Fidelity: The Book of Ruth

The books of Joshua and Judges detail what happens when people are unfaithful to the covenant of Yahweh. The book of Ruth shows that when people are faithful, God is faithful. The book portrays the main character, Ruth, acting out of covenant fidelity towards Yahweh and others.

Ruth 2 Scholars have been unable to identify an author for the book of Ruth. The reader can imply that the times of the judges have passed, and would also be familiar with the person of David. Ruth, a Moabite, is part of a people who trace their lineage back to Abraham’s nephew, Lot. The book is partial in setting, portraying a common people and lacking a villain.  Scholars believe the work to be an idyll, though it is non-fiction.

Many have thought the purpose of the book of Ruth to either be about the king or to discourage intermarriage with foreign countries. However, the true purpose of the work is to identify how faith can survive in the midst of such blatant idolatry and apostasy. The message of Ruth is that God preserved families of faith and that from one such family King David came.

Two main theological themes resound throughout the book of Ruth. The first is the idea of a kinsman-redeemer. Old Testament law provided that if a man died without having a son, his brother would have a son with the widow. This allowed for jeopardized covenant blessings to be redeemed. Ultimately, it is a profound metaphor for the grace of God. Second, the concept of hesed is vitally important to the book of Ruth. Hesed is often defined as ‘mercy’ or ‘lovingkindness’. All characters in Ruth act in covenant fidelity. Thus, it exemplifies hesed on both the human and divine levels. The concept provides for a dichotomy between the books of Joshua and Judges and the book of Ruth.

RUTHA modern reader of the book of Ruth should seek to understand the faith that Ruth possesses. Ruth clung to Naomi, both physically and spiritually, claiming in chapter 1 verse sixteen, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth was willing to abandon the pagan deities and wholly follow Yahweh. Likewise, modern Christians have many distractions in their lives, whether it be work, relationships, cell phones, etc., that keep them from experiencing the hesed of God. Ruth was willing to abandon everything that she had grown accustomed to in order to follow the god of Naomi. The modern Christian should be able to do the same. As Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

History Repeats Itself: The Book of Judges

The book of Judges is meant to show the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant. The Hebrew people insisted that they would forever remain faithful to Yahweh after Joshua renewed the covenant at Shechem, however, pagan practices were commonplace among the Israelites. In the days of Judges, the Hebrew apostasy prevented traditional monotheism. Judges 21:25 says, “in those days there was no king; everyone did as they saw fit”. Thus, the predominate practices in the ANE centered on pagan rituals, meaning, monotheism would have required a significant philosophical shift. People worshiped Yahweh in conjunction with other pagan deities.

cycleThe reader’s view of when the exodus occurred directly impacts their dating of the book of Judges. Scholars cannot precisely date the work with confidence. The book of Judges does not concern itself with the major struggles for power at the time, but instead focuses on the theological implications of history, allowing [the author] to ignore important international events as being superfluous to his purpose. When the Israelites made their way into the land of Canaan, they found numerous city-states.  This was in direct contrast to the tribal structure of the Israelites.

Through their unbelief and propensity to worship pagan gods, the Hebrew people entered a time of cyclical events. Judges 2:11 says “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” It is important to highlight that even in the times of apostasy and unbelief, the grace and mercy of the Lord shone through. Yahweh proves himself to possess longsuffering grace in the face of continual and rampant apostasy and injustice among his people. The Lord is faithful to His covenant.

Through this cycle, the people of Israel would forsake Yahweh through the worship of pagan deities. Next, the Lord would become angry and punish them, sending foreigners to oppress the Hebrew people. Yahweh would call a charismatic leader who would rally the tribes of Israel to defeat the oppressing force, and there would be a time of rest. However, the cycle was soon to begin again. Despite this cycle, there was no consistent basis for ethics and morality. Ultimately, the Israelites were unable to create righteous social order.

covenant judThe role of a judge, or deliverer, had more to do with one’s charismatic ability to lead rather than their ability to function in a civil capacity. The book describes the judges in their entirety, detailing major blemishes of each. The judges were not intended to be spiritual role models, nor were their spirituality necessarily a criterion for God’s raising them up. Instead, the judges accomplished their tasks through the power of the Spirit of the Lord. This is the same spirit that empowered and authorized the prophets. The Spirit was viewed as something like the hand of the LORD. Ultimately, the Israelites’ propensity to have their religion influenced by the predominate pagan deities required the Lord to deliver them from their idolatry.

A modern reader of the book of Judges should realize that life is cyclical in nature. The world revolved on its axis, rotating around the sun. This rotation creates the seasons. Life, much like the examples set in nature, goes through periods of spiritual highs and lows. Each person has forsaken Yahweh in their lives, for one reason or another. Though humanity is in the Age of Grace, the Lord still hates sin. Sin can establish strongholds in the lives of those who are overcome by it. Yahweh, however, has the capability of breaking those strongholds and bringing forth victory in the lives of those who are oppressed. Only He can bring them peace. The Lord is capable and willing to redeem every situation, whether it be through a ‘judge’ figure or through grace. Ultimately, there are consequences for living in chaos and darkness, but the Lord’s Word, as stated in Psalm 119:105, is a “lamp for my feet and a light unto my path”. That path, however cyclical in nature, can always lead back to redemption.

Are we the Main Character, or is God? A look at the book of Joshua

book-of-joshua-e1344706641892Precise chronology of the times of the Old Testament has produced a great deal of uncertainty. In order to correctly interpret the meaning of biblical texts, one must understand the historical context. The Early Dynastic Period occurred before the time of the patriarchs. The Sumerians were responsible for many cultural achievements, including the invention of writing, and made significant contributions to dozens of fields. During the time of the patriarchs, there were many significant rulers, such as Hammurabi. Hammurabi is most well known for preserving 282 written laws. These preserved laws prove that the patriarchs, Egyptians and ultimately Hebrews would have been familiar with written laws. Egypt arose during the Early Dynastic Period as well. it was during this time that the Israelites began to prosper and multiply in the delta region, waiting for the covenant promises to be fulfilled. The Egyptian economy well could have become dependent on the labor of the Israelites. The Judges of Israel arose during the Late Bronze Age.

The reign of David occurred during the Iron Age I. David, who was the first king to abide by the requirements of Deuteronomy, left Solomon an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River to Egypt. One of the next major kings of that time was Nebuchadrezzer. During the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city of Jerusalem was set under siege and surrendered on March 16, 597. Ultimately, leaders such as Darius and Xerxes from the Persian Empire attempted to invade Greece in 490. Xerxes was assassinated, succeeded by Artaxerxes I, who sponsored the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

The historical writings of the Bible are primarily theological in nature. These books offer a common perspective on history and theology. Israel’s history is viewed in terms of loyalty to the covenant. The reader can identify reoccurring formulas which highlight the author’s purpose. From a literary standpoint, each book must be autonomous, though they have characteristics that draw them together. Some scholars argue that the people of the Ancient Near East would not have had a linear view of history. The Israelites needed to conform to the covenant and keep the law (rather than relying on certain rituals) in order to exert some control over history. Ultimately, the Israelites were incredible record keepers. In the ANE, historical writing served as an avenue through which a king could boast of accomplishments. However, the God of Israel is revealed through historical writings. God is revealed as One who has a plan for history and who intervenes to ensure that the plan is executed.

joshua_1_9_by_dmaabsta-d5x08cuJoshua 21:43-45 says so the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; everyone was fulfilled. These verses, are a summation of the theological and historiographical purposes of the book of Joshua. God kept his promises, honoring his covenant with Abraham, which he always intended to fulfill. The Lord had a plan for the nation of Israel, from the time he chose them, and was capable and willing to fulfill that purpose without ‘divine intervention’.

Many who read the book of Joshua have focused their study on Joshua himself. However, this is not an accurate way to approach the book because he is not the focus of the writing. Instead, the focus is Yahweh. Contemporary study of the book of Joshua has focused on composition and historicity. Much like the book of Exodus, scholars disagree on the exact dating of the included events. For those who accept the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, there are no restrictions as to how soon after Joshua’s lifetime the book could have been written. Historians also debate the historical authenticity of the book based on archaeological records. To combat said argument, John Bimson sought to redefine the Middle Bronze Age II, and manipulate the dates for other historical eras. However, most archaeologists believe that these periods cannot be manipulated so quickly and radically.

Before the time of Joshua, there was a political stalemate between the Egyptians, Hitties and Hurriam Empire. These three powers continually shifted military might based on the power and influence of their reigning government. Egypt, the Hitties and the Hurrian Empire were vying for control of the busy Syrian ports and control of major trade routes. As Egyptian influence faded, two key problems arose: city-state began to attempt to enlarge their territory and groups of displaced people, such as the Hebrews, were driving out the current inhabitants (224).

As the stage was set for the Hebrews to enter the Promise Land in the book of Joshua, God revealed himself through the context of military conquest and the person of Joshua. Joshua is not the focus of the material, though he certainly plays a central role in the events of the book. God created the military strategies described in the work, engineering victory and carrying out the ban in defeated cities. Joshua uses military stories to depict its theological themes. Joshua 2:24 says, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands,” reemphasizing the central theme that the Lord is the one who will do the fighting and will enable the Israelites to possess the land. God was also involved in the disposition of the land, fulfilling the covenant promises the Lord made. The Israelites were banished from the Promise Land because of their disobedience. The narratives [of Joshua] demonstrate, more than anything else could, that the Lord was keeping the covenant promises he had made to Abraham. The book also serves to reinforce the fact that the Israelites were to remain wholly devoted to Yahweh, destroying all evidence of paganism in the conquered lands.

meandmyhouseA modern reader of Joshua should realize that Proverbs 21:31 holds true, “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord”. The Lord confirms that he is sovereign and will execute his plan and carry out his promises. Sometimes people look at their lives much like the book of Joshua, they view themselves as the lead character instead of God. Rather, one should be sure to see God in the little things, recognizing that he does not impose into the life of a person, because humanity ultimately is part of the outworking of God’s eternal plan. One must remain faithful and obedient to the Lord, and He will surely lead them, using them to carry out his redeeming plan for humanity. Similar to the book of Joshua, not one of the Lord’s good promises to us will fail.

Deuteronomy: Theological High Points

DeuteronomyThe word Deuteronomy means “repetition of the law”. However, Deuteronomy does not give a “second law” but instead, provides an important summary of the history of the wilderness and organization of the legal material. The structure of the book of Deuteronomy mirrors the structure of a vassal treaty. Scholars have been able to date the book, comparing its structure to the various ANE treaty structures, confidently dating it to the time of Moses. Deuteronomy is an official document ratifying a formal relationship between the Lord and Israel, with the Lord as suzerain and Israel as vassal. The book represents the theological capstone of Moses’ teachings on the law and the covenant.

The structure and organization of Deuteronomy coincide with the Ten Commandments. Thus, for one to truly understand the stipulations in chapters 4-26, one must understand that there are four general issues dealt with in this section: authority, dignity, commitment and rights and privileges. The Decalogue is ‘expanded’ in Deuteronomy, presenting detailed examples of how to obey each commandment.  Yahweh has kept his promises and will continue to do so; rendering Him worthy of the respect and status He demands. God draws key distinctions between himself and the pagan gods of the ANE, such as the fact that God cannot be mediated by an image and that he will not hold those guiltless who do not take Him seriously.

deutScholars have debated the balance of grace and the law present in the Old Testament. However, this would have puzzled the ancient Israelites for whom there was hardly any greater display of God’s grace than that demonstrated in His giving of the law. God’s grace is evidenced in the fact that he chose to reveal Himself and establish expectations for His people. The Israelites were to be a people set apart, righteous in the eyes of God. Thus, the Hebrews did not view the law as burdensome, but instead attempted to achieve all standards set before them.

One of the major theological implications of the book of Deuteronomy is the fact that Yahweh establishes guidelines for a king. The Lord said that a king should be an Israelite, one who does not multiply horses for himself, one who does not multiply wives, or one who is obsessed with silver and gold. Chariots were the major military weapon of the time, meaning that a king should not be concerned about building military might because the Lord will fight on behalf of the Israelites. It was commonplace for kings to exchange women as a sign of their loyalty to one another, thus a king should be focused more on God than he is about obtaining women and many wives. One last major stipulation established by Yahweh is found in Deuteronomy 17:18-20 “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left.” A king should know the Torah, reflect on the nature of God daily, and ensure that his heart says set in the ways of the Lord.

Chart of DeuteronomyThe book of Deuteronomy, in chapters 5-11 set out the basic rules for possessing the Promised Land. The primary threat to the Israelites is the overwhelming paganism present in the ANE. The Hebrew people are to remain exclusive in their loyalty to Yahweh, instructing their children to do the same. Moses recounts the history of the Hebrew people, reiterating the fact that they are called to bear the image of God, possess the promise land, and trust Yahweh. The Lord refines the faith and trust of His chosen people, humbling them to identify what is in their hearts and whether or not they will keep His commandments. Ultimately, the book of Deuteronomy, much like the book of Romans in the New Testament, is one of the most influential theological books in the Bible.

A modern reader of Deuteronomy should focus their study on the covenant form of the text. Adhering to the traditional format of an ANE vassal treaty, even the structure of the book serves to reinforce the idea of God’s covenant with His chosen people. The book recounts and expands on the Decalogue, making it clear that the law was never intended to be a mechanical list of inflexible rules. Rather, it provides entry into the whole matter of true piety and true morality. Deuteronomy is the book that Jesus quoted the most during his ministry. Thus, one can infer that it carries the most relevant theological emphasis for today’s society. God renewed his covenant with His people in preparation of their entering the Promise Land. Likewise, the Lord fulfilled the law by sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Therefore, like the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord has established a new covenant with humanity, offering His gift of salvation to not only the Hebrews, but gentiles as well. Ultimately, one should remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself”, which directly stems from Deuteronomy 6:4,”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” If one truly loves the Lord, they will have an intrinsic desire to obey all that He commands.

Numbers: Theological High Points

numbersThe book of Numbers continues the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, the covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai, and the journey to Canaan. Much like a child, Israel’s spiritual maturity is lacking significantly. Israel is being led by the Lord who is acting like a disciplining parent, concerned with the maturing of His small child. Numbers seeks to describe the wilderness testing and rebellion of God’s chosen people.

Scholars have largely regarded Numbers to be a compilation of four literary sources: P, E, J and two other priestly traditions. Though there are dissenting opinions about the dating of the book, scholars agree that substantial portions of the history and legislation of Numbers originated with Moses during the thirty-eight years of desert wandering. Later redactions and additions may have occurred at the hands of the priests until the canonization of the book in its final form. The literary composition of Numbers seeks to recount the early days of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. The struggle for the promise land is one of the major theological high points of the work. The theological purpose of Numbers is to preserve the accounts of the initial phases of the practical outworking of God’s recently established covenant with Israel. God’s holiness is presented, juxtaposed with the sinfulness of humanity, revealing the necessity for obedience to the commands of Yahweh.

The practical purpose of the work is to organize the Hebrews into an organized community for the fulfillment of the covenant. The purpose of the census in Numbers was threefold: recruiting manpower for war, allotting work assignments and establishing a tax base. Though scholars do not agree on whether the census numbers are symbolic or literal, they do agree that these numbers confirm the fears of Pharaoh in Exodus 1:7 “but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.”

God, through Numbers, is proven to be a God who is patient and faithful, even in the midst of ungratefulness and rebellion. Second, the true nature and character of Yahweh is revealed in the ways in which He chooses to respond to His people. Through the desert experience, God acts as both disciplinarian and provider. The Israelites are forced to rely on the Lord for manna, provided to them daily by the Lord. However, their unbelief and lack of faith causes the Lord to constantly refine and test their faith. Thus, a warning against disobedience is preserved for the Hebrew nation.

The modern reader of Numbers should take into account that Moses appeals to who God is and what God has promised throughout the book of Numbers. God respects and appreciates human culture, choosing to work through it rather than above it. Through Numbers, Yahweh is presented as a parental figure, disciplining his children when they disobey. The Lord tests the faith of His people, refining them like a metallurgist refines iron. The Lord also disciplines, such as in chapter 20 verse 12, but the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Thus, the reader can deduce that God is gracious and all-powerful, requiring obedience to the covenant established with his chosen people. Second, a modern reader can ascertain that when anyone tests God, it is a statement of their lack of faith. Though Israel remains insubordinate and restless despite the provisions from God, the Lord does not turn His back on them. It is evident from the unrest in Numbers 11:1-15 and rebellion in chapters 16-17 that the Hebrew people did not possess enough faith to trust Yahweh. The Lord reminds the Israelites, just like he reminds people today, that he is a faithful God, and that they are a blessed people to whom He is constantly maturing and refining their spirituality.