Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (5) David

I really liked the way that Preston Sprinkle dealt with David in his book called Fight. Many Christians assume that because he had a heart for God as a youth that he could do know wrong. Preston explains that David got a lot of things wrong.

Israel’s descent into secular militarism hits rock bottom in 1 Samuel 8. It’s here that Israel explicitly demands a king, “that we also may be like all the nations” (v. 20).

Through and through, Saul represents yet another step away from God’s qualified warfare policy toward a militaristic, king-centered blank check for violence. Samuel’s nightmare about having a king like the surrounding nations becomes a reality. David is Israel’s second king in the monarchy, and in many ways he is God’s corrective for the wayward monarchy. He doesn’t multiply horses or chariots, and he humbly submits to God. In the early stages of David’s reign, God is clearly in charge of Israel’s warfare. Early on, David seems to wage war only at God’s command, as in his early battles with the Philistines (2 Sam. 5: 17– 25).

But something changes with David, though it’s more delayed and subtle than with Saul. Power breeds violence, which breeds more violence and more power. As David continues to wage war against his enemies, he slowly— like Saul— becomes a “me-centered” warrior-king. In later battles with the Philistines, instead of God striking down David’s enemies (2 Sam. 5: 24), it’s now “David” who “defeated the Philistines and subdued them” (8: 1). In fact, 2 Samuel 8’s summary of David’s wars is “a delicate balance between human aggression and divine blessing.” God is mentioned only two times in the chapter. By now David has built a professional army, including a few chariots (vv. 4, 16), and uses excessive violence toward the Moabites in battle (v. 2) even though his own great-grandmother was a Moabite. David has become less concerned with defending the land and more concerned with extending his kingdom to make a name for himself (vv. 13– 14). And in 2 Samuel 10, another summary of David’s wars, God’s name is completely left out. The wars are no longer sanctioned by God. By 2 Samuel 11– 12, David is now waging wars just like the nations— besieging a city outside the land, boasting in his kingly might, and possibly even torturing the city’s inhabitants . The king who once affirmed that “the L ORD saves not with sword and spear” (1 Sam. 17: 47) has now turned to sword and spear, instead of to God, for his military strength. Like Saul before him, David becomes a warrior-king like the kings of the surrounding nations.

Toward the end of David’s life, God confronts him for taking a census. But it’s not just any census— it’s a military census: “Joab, the commander of the army” and “the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel” (2 Sam. 24: 2, 4 ). And when they returned , they counted “800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000” (v. 9). With the census, David wants to “mobilize military power .” And King Yahweh punishes him for it by killing seventy thousand of his people. Once again, God is a warrior against, not for, those who are Canaanized and militaristic. Should we look approvingly on David’s militarism when God opposes it?

Using David’s military exploits to sanction modern warfare— as some Christians do— is a haphazard use of the Bible. Just because it happened (e.g., David torturing his enemies) doesn’t mean it ought to happen. Professional armies, wars unrelated to the land, and king-centered wars do not reflect God’s warfare policy for Israel. God’s critical assessment of David’s military prowess is therefore fitting: “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth” (1 Chron. 22: 8; cf. 28: 3). To be clear, David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13: 14). I’m not suggesting that David was wicked or that God had no purpose for him. But I am saying that David was flawed and in need of grace, just as every other character in the Bible was . And his flawed nature shows up particularly in his later approach to warfare. God used David to further His purposes, but setting David’s militarism as an example for the ages was never God’s intention. (Fight Chapter 5)

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