Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 9

The Monarchy of Israel

Israel's evolution from a tribal confederacy into a monarchy is partly due to their need to maintain a central military authority capable of restraining Israel's surrounding enemies.  We see early in the book of Samuel the repeated defeat of Israel at the hands of various Canaanite tribes, including even the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines (1 Sam. 5-6).  It is in this context of constant military threat, and even annihilation, that Saul, then David, emerges as the king that Israel urges the prophet Samuel to anoint to lead them (1 Sam 8:7).

David became King by divine choice, not heredity.  Under the laws of heredity, Jonathan, the son of Saul, should be king.  Instead, Jonathan recognizes David's divine election and enters a pact with David to protect him against his own father, King Saul, as well as against his own self-interest (1 Samuel 18-20).  David was already the anointed leader of Israel but not yet enthroned when they entered this agreement.  (The delay between divine election and human recognition is an important narrative analogue in depicting the emerging reign of Jesus in the Gospels.  A minority of faithful, valient men surround Jesus just as they did David - confident the nation will eventually recognize what they do.)

David's capacity and excellence in leadership is evidenced in these years through his military  prowess and, in particular, his conquest of Israel's nemesis, the Philistines.  It is also  evidenced by his diplomatic skills.  He chooses Jerusalem as the new nation's capital (rather than his local Hebron) because of its neutral location, straddling the border between southern and northern Israel.  

It was in the context of having defeated most of Israel's surrounding enemies and unifying the confederacy under one national capital, that David meets his greatest battle. In the eight book of Israel's primary history (Samuel) David violates the eight command (you shall not commit adultery).  This episode is sandwiched into larger battle episode, a literary technique known as "intercalation."  IT is designed to help the reader see the inserted narrative in terms of the larger one (2 Sam 11:1; 12:26-31).  David is engaged in battle with the Ammonites.  He has just defeated the Arameans to the North, the Canaanites to the South, the Philistines to the West.  And now his gaze is directed Eastward.  He sees a woman taking a ritual bath, the wife of one of his commanders.  David is about to engage his greatest battle and suffer his - and the country's - most humilating and enduring defeat.

We will explore that battle, and what it reveals about King David and Israel's monarchy,  in subsequent posts.

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