NOTE: This message was delivered on the Shabbat of June 29, 2013 at Kehilat Sh’ma Yisra’el. It is the third installment in an ongoing Messianic character study of King David. You may also listen to it, if you wish.
This is, as you all know, supposed to be a teaching time. While some of us have been in the Messianic movement for a while, for others, this is all something a bit new. And so, to help out some of our newcomers here today, before we start the formal lesson, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite rules for living as a part of the Messianic Jewish movement.
So listen closely.
1. Remember, if you can’t say something nice, say it in Yiddish.
2. Always whisper the names of diseases.
3. One mitzvah, one good deed, can truly change the world. Two? It’ll just tire you out.
4. When Christians leave, they sometimes forget to say goodbye; but when Messianics say goodbye, we sometimes forget to leave.
5. Remember our closing blessing for Passover: Next year, in Jerusalem. The year after that, maybe a tropical cruise.
6. And finally, the men here will appreciate this last one: there comes a time in all our lives, men, when we must stand up and politely inform are mothers we are now an adult. A good time to do this? Around age forty.
Today, I will be teaching the third lesson in our close study of the life of King David. For those of you who were not here when I delivered the first lesson in March, or the second lesson in April, please know that our community website, ShmaYisrael.net, has the audio from those lessons archived on the site, as well as PDFs of the message notes.
The reason we are studying the life of King David is to grow in our understanding of Messiah Yeshua. The rabbis before Yeshua’s day spoke in the Talmud of the coming of Messiah in two ways. One way they spoke of him, in the Babylonian Talmud, was as Mashiach Bin Yosef, or Messiah, son of Joseph, the messiah who will come, suffer, and die for His people. The more common way they spoke of him, reflected in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, however, was as Mashiach Bin Dovid, or Messiah, son of David, the messiah who will come as a conquering king and establish a kingdom in Jerusalem that will have no end. Every year, in the Torah cycle, we study the life of Joseph, wherein Messiah’s nature at his initial appearance is reflected. The purpose of this study is to balance that out by taking a closer look at the shadows of Messiah’s return, his second appearance, as reflected in the life of King David.
In the first lesson, we studied the historical background and history, from the time of Moses to the time of the prophet Samuel, or Sh’mu’el in Hebrew. We studied this time because David’s role and purpose in the history of Yisra’el cannot be properly understood without studying the context into which he appeared. We took a look at God’s purpose in Yisra’el, how His desire was never to set up an earthly king to rule His people, but to have us all draw close to Him, hear from Him directly, and thus be ruled by Him with perfect obedience.
Yet starting at Mount Sinai, we grew fearful of drawing so close, so intimately, to such a holy God, and so we stood at a distance and asked for a mediator to act as a go-between between God and us. The first, and best, mediator was Moses himself, but since Moses was but a man and could not live forever in that role, his role was passed on to others. Soon the seat of Moses was replaced by regional judges (shoftim) in Yisra’el, but after between three hundred and five hundred years, even those judges became ineffective in passing on their office to successors who would fulfill that office faithfully.
By Samuel’s time, the people demanded the prophet anoint a human king over Yisra’el, so that they could be more like the other nations around them. The first human king anointed by Samuel was King Saul, or Sha’ul in Hebrew, and unfortunately he was exactly what the people had asked God for. King Saul allowed himself to be anointed only reluctantly, and stood at a distance from intimacy with God. In time, this led him to rebel against God’s instructions to him as king, and Saul replaced God’s morality with his own sense of right and wrong. This caused the L-RD to repent that He had ever anointed Sha’ul as king over Yisra’el, and he decided to withdraw His anointing from King Sha’ul and appoint “someone better than you,” in the word of God through Samuel.
That someone better ended up being David, a son of Jesse, who himself was a descendant of Moshe’s sister, Miriam. In lesson two, we studied David’s anointing, but instead of taking office right away, Samuel tells David to return to his sheep and tend them until God showed him it was time to take the throne of Yisra’el.
But now, in today’s lesson, the Torah narrative returns to King Sha’ul. Although God has revoked his anointing over Sha’ul to be king of Yisra’el, that does not mean Sha’ul was ready, or willing, to step down. Instead, he stubbornly retains his title, trying to rule the new kingdom of Yisra’el without the anointing of HaShem. This, of course, is no easy task and it comes with a heavy price.
Let’s rejoin the narrative in I Samuel 16, starting at verse 14:
1 Samuel 16:14
Now the Spirit of Adonai had left Sha’ul; instead, an evil spirit from Adonai would suddenly come over him.
Now, if you’re anything like me, this one verse is enough to just stop you cold. The wording of it is enough to cause someone to wonder what’s really going on here.
I mean, we all know God is holy and righteous, so how can the Torah be teaching us that this evil spirit sent to Saul comes from Adonai? Why, that flies in the very face of… what? Our theology. Right?
And what is theology, but our preconceptions and conclusions about who God is. But since those preconceptions and conclusions are man-made, what are we to do when confronted with a problem like this? We need to dig deeper into the Word and seek to understand the context, history and other elements of the Tenakh that produced this wording.
This one passage, over the centuries, has spawned all sorts of theories as to its meaning. And while we don’t have time to dive in-depth into all of them, let’s take a brief survey of some of the most prevalent theological theories.
Some teach that this passage indicates that God is the originator of all things, both good and evil. Yet if God created evil, how can he be holy? That theory doesn’t satisfy the questions raised by the passage. It simply doesn’t ring true.
Another theory is that while God is not the source of evil, He has ultimate dominion over and can basically give demons and evil spirits their marching orders. This also lacks the ring of truth. The suggestion that God would specifically dictate someone to be plagued by demons acting on His specific orders still attributed a evil to a holy God. Again, this doesn’t have the ring of truth to it.
And this is the challenge with most theological takes that have been applied to this passage; to one degree or another, most theories ascribe some level of complicity in evil to HaShem, which is not acceptable.
Another set of theories explaining this passage try to ascribe some level of error in the translation of the passage. Yet when one studies the passage in Hebrew, the translation is clear: the verbiage, “an evil spirit from Adonai” is spot on. Even in Hebrew, that is how the passage reads.
Then theologians try to point to some sort of error in the Hebrew text. We all know what a dead-end that is. Either the Torah was transmitted generation-to-generation by careful scribes, or it was not. The only way to prove it was an error would be to find a previously-unearthed manuscript of I Samuel that states this passage in different Hebrew words. Yet there no existing manuscript of I Samuel that contains a notably different text of this passage.
Lacking such evidence, there’s no way to prove a mistake was made in recording this passage. We are stuck with the words we have been given for generations: an evil spirit from the L-RD.
That tells me something important: we’re missing some important information. Perhaps what we’re missing is the appropriate context for understanding the wording of the passage.
Now, all Scripture must be understood, first and foremost, in the context of the rest of Scripture. So let’s take a look at how some other passages define God’s relationship to evil. We read this in:
I form light, I create darkness; I make well-being, I create woe; I, Adonai, do all these things.
Let’s also take a look at this passage from:
When the shofar is blown in the city, don’t the people tremble?
Can disaster befall a city without Adonai’s having done it?
And for now, let’s also add one more passage from Lamentations. David’s own son, Solomon, is credited with writing this passage in:
Don’t both bad things and good proceed from the mouth of the Most High?
These passages clarify a rather unique proposition, and one we’re not accustomed to hearing. To some degree, does HaShem have something to do with evil coming into existence? These verses have been in Scripture, but are often ignored because they are troublesome and not easily explained in our day, age, and culture.
Even so, does this mean that God is directly responsible for the current actions of evil? At what point does evil become responsible for reproducing itself?
It’s a difficult question, and one with no easily researched answer. However, I did dig up something that might help us find our footing here. And it’s a quote that might help us understand that we’re framing the entire question in the wrong way.
It’s a quote from arguably the smartest Jewish man of the twentieth century. While he was no theologian, few will argue with Albert Einstein, who once wrote these words:
“Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
This definition seems a good place to start. If evil is simply the result of the absence of God, then all mystery about this passage quickly disappears!
God has indeed withdrawn his anointing, his presence, from Saul, due to his rebellion against God, and his insistence on doing what seemed right to himself, rather than obeying God’s instructions.
Without that presence, that anointing, of God in Saul’s life, then just as darkness results from the absence of light, just as cold results from the absence of heat, so an evil spirit results from the absence of God in Saul’s life.
You see, in light of Einstein’s quote, evil is not so much a created thing that God caused, as it is simply part of the nature of the way God created the universe. When there is no heat, there is cold. When there is no light, there is darkness. And where there is no presence of God and His love, there is evil.
Yet one nagging question lingers. While Einstein’s definition of evil satisfies the presence of an evil spirit in Saul’s life, why does the passage add the words, “from God.” I think there are two responses to this question.
The first response is that one must keep in mind the Torah culture the scribe, Samuel, was a part of. The habits and culture of the Torah society Samuel was part of suggested a people who thanked God for all things, who credited him for everything in their lives.
Ascribing the presence of the evil spirit to anyone other than God would be, to that mindset, like giving credit to someone other than God. Crediting anyone other than HaShem for anything would be edging close to worshipping another God, and that would be anathema to the mindset, culture, time, and people who received the Tenakh from Adonai. It simply would not be done.
This sounds strange to us, today. We tend to thank God for all that is good in our lives, and pray against the bad things, which we typically ascribe to the work of the Adversary of God.
Yet it seems plausible that the people of Samuel’s time were of a different mindset from our own. They thanked God for everything, whether those things appeared to be good or bad, because he is “worthy of ALL praise,” and he is, in fact, the only one worthy of our praise.
The second response is that perhaps another way to understand the passage is to read in between the lines a bit, adding a possessive form and a single word, absence, at the end of it.
This would cause the passage to read, “Now the Spirit of Adonai had left Sha’ul; instead, an evil spirit from Adonai’s absence would suddenly come over him.”
While this possessive form and the extra word are not in the text, I would suggest that it more adequately conveys the understood meaning of the culture that produced it.
Now, with that nagging question out of the way, we can begin to move on in the passage. We read in:
I Samuel 16:15-17
Sha’ul’s servants said to him, “Do you notice that there’s an evil spirit from God that suddenly comes over you? Let our lord now command your servants who are here with you to look for a man who knows how to play the lyre. Then, if the evil spirit from God comes over you, he will play; and it will do you good.” Sha’ul said to his servants, “Find me a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”
Can you begin to get a sense of what is coming, here? God has already anointed David to be king, but David is not yet on the throne. Saul is. It seems like a powder-keg situation. If Saul were to suspect that David was that “someone who is better than you,” he would never allow David near him, out of fear. He would instead order troops to seek out David and put him to death.
Instead, God uses this situation of need in Saul’s life to bring David closer to the throne. We read on in:
1 Samuel 16:18
One of the young men answered, “Here, I’ve seen one of the sons of Yishai the Beit-Lachmi who knows how to play. He’s a brave soldier, he can fight, he chooses his words carefully and he’s pleasant-looking. Besides, Adonai is with him.”
What a sales pitch! And it helps us make sense of why David was out in the sheep fields since his anointing, having the spirit of the L-RD fall upon him with power. While it was beneficial for David’s relationship with HaShem in and of itself, it also spread a good word about David throughout Yisra’el at this time.
He’s brave, he can fight, he chooses his words carefully, he’s a good-looking fellow to have around, and … wait, there’s more! … HaShem, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, is with him!
Who wouldn’t bring the guy in, at least for an audition, with a set-up like that? I’d want to know when he’s coming to Portland so I can go see him in concert myself!
So let’s see what Saul thinks of this proposal. We read this in:
I Samuel 16:19-23
So Sha’ul sent messengers to Yishai saying, “Send me David your son, who is out with the sheep.” Yishai took a donkey, loaded it with bread, a bottle of wine and a kid, and sent them with David his son to Sha’ul. David came to Sha’ul and presented himself to him. Sha’ul took a great liking to him and made him his armor-bearer. Sha’ul sent a message to Yishai: “Please let David stay in my service, because I’m pleased with him.” So it was that whenever the [evil] spirit from God came over Sha’ul, David would take the lyre and play it, with the result that Sha’ul would find relief and feel better, as the evil spirit left him.
One has to admire the beauty of how God can prepare us for things we’ve never suspected we were capable of. Usually, we only get a hint of it near the end of our lives, when most of our living is done and we can begin to detect the tracings of God’s handiwork in our lives.
Here in the life of King David, any of us familiar with his life must be getting thrilled with anticipation. David is destined to be King of Yisra’el, and here he is, learning aspects of kingship from the person currently holding the office. David is destined to write many of the Psalms included in the Tenakh, and here he is, being asked by King Saul to play for him frequently.
If one ever wonders how a simple shepherd could be expected to become king of an entire nation, one need look no further than here: God placed David where he wanted him, so that he could learn all the skills necessary for the ways in which he planned to use David later in life.
His apprenticeship has, indeed, begun, and as for King Saul, who defied the prophet Samuel when he warned him that God had found “someone better than you” to take his place as king, God has hidden His replacement for Saul right under the king’s nose, placing David right where the action is, front and center for everything that is going on, as one of Saul’s most trusted servant.
David, the future leader of Yisra’el, begins to learn how to be king, by being a servant of the king. If that’s not a shadow of our Messiah Yeshua, I think we’d all be hard-pressed to recognize any other messianic shadows. But now, we do recognize it.
When I first began planning this message, I had planned to draw in several verses from the Ha’Brit Ha’Chadasha. I had hoped to explore how this topic with King Saul paralleled the questions people have about whether God still does this with those who have found their salvation in Messiah Yeshua. Yet that is a huge basket of eggs, and to even broach it fairly would require making a study out of that topic alone. In other words, it’s not the sort of question one can treat fairly in the space of a thousand or so words.
And in fairness to the focus of our study, it’s a rabbit trail. So, instead, I decided to leave that topic off the table in this lesson.
The next time I am asked by Rabbi Erez to fill in, we will be moving on to Chapter 17 of I Samuel, a chapter that relates one of the most famous meetings in the life of King David: his showdown with Golyat, more popularly known as Goliath, the giant of Gat.
It’s a fun, exciting chapter, and there’s more to it than the children’s adventure story so many of us were taught as children. I’m looking forward to digging into that with you.
But for now…