NOTE: This message was delivered on the Shabbat of March 30, 2013 at Kehilat Sh’ma Yisra’el. It is the first installment in an ongoing Messianic character study of King David. You may also listen to it, if you wish.
Beginning today, with this message, and over the course of the next few times I am asked to fill in for Rabbi Erez, we are going to be going through a close study I’ve pulled together focusing on the life of King David.
Why, of all the figures in the Tenakh and the Ha’Brit Ha’Chadasha, did I choose to focus on King David? There are many reasons.
First, and perhaps most important, is that Messiah Yeshua is descended from the line of David. Also important is the key role David played in the early formation of Yisra’el; although he was the second anointed King of Yisra’el, he was the first to hold power over what came to be known as the Unified Kingdom of Yisra’el. He played a key role in rescuing Yisra’el from a moment in its history where its continued existence was in doubt. And third, because of the sometimes largely unexplored ways in which David is a shadow of the promised Messiah.
You see, when teaching of Mashiach, even the rabbis of traditional Judaism speak of Him in two ways. The Babylonian Talmud—and only the Babylonian Talmud—speaks of Mashiach bin Yosef, Messiah, son of Joseph, and both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud speak of Mashiach bin Dovid—Messiah, son of David.
So we have these two natures of Messiah written about by the Talmudic scholars. And every year, when we go through the Torah cycle, we can celebrate Yeshua as he first appeared, as Messiah son of Yosef, the suffering servant, the Messiah who would come to suffer and die for His people.
Yet there is this other nature, Messiah, son of David, which is written about far more frequently by the Talmudic sages. It’s the nature in which the rabbis of Yeshua’s time expected Messiah to appear in their day. And yet, because David’s story takes place beyond the life of Moshe, it is outside of those first five books and we are poorer for the less-frequent study of the man who was Yeshua’s great-grandfather several times removed.
Trust me, as we dig deep into the life of King David, we will find a rich storehouse of insight into our Messiah, for David, like Moshe before him, was a type of messiah. So my prayer for this study is that we come through it, over time, not only with a better understanding of David and his role in the history of Yisra’el, but an enriched understanding of our Messiah and savior, Yeshua.
This being understood at the outset, I have to beg your forgiveness when I reveal that, in today’s message, we will study very little of the life of David himself. But for a reason.
You see, to truly understand and appreciate King David for who he was and what he meant to the history of Yisra’el, we must first understand the history and context into which he appeared. So before we begin our attempt to understand David, let us first turn our attention to what came between the end of Moshe’s life, when he turns the leadership of Yisra’el over to Yehoshua, and the time of David first coming to the attention of the L-RD.
If you’ll recall, the book of D’varim, popularly known in English as Deuteronomy, is a recounting of the Torah by Moshe to the people of Yisra’el, as he is about to reach the end of his days and turn the stewardship of the people of God over to Yehoshua—known as Joshua in English. While the book of D’varim shows that HaShem anticipated many things about the future of His chosen people, I want to focus in on one specific thing he anticipates.
Keep in mind, forty years earlier, at Sinai, when God spoke His truth, His Torah, His instructions before the people of Yisra’el, He had communicated to them that the people of Yisra’el were to be unique from all other nations. The original plan—God’s original plan—and the agreement that was made there at Sinai, called for everyone to hear from God directly, and obey him. We read this in:
Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:5-8
Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be a kingdom of cohanim for me, a nation set apart.’ These are the words you are to speak to the people of Isra’el.” Moshe came, summoned the leaders of the people and presented them with all these words which Adonai had ordered him to say. All the people answered as one, “Everything Adonai has said, we will do.” Moshe reported the words of the people to Adonai.
Now, this all sounds terrific. These are the initial terms of the covenant between HaShem and Yisra’el. It’s very much like a contract. Both parties must enter in willingly. And what is outlined here in the terms of the agreement are what each side must do to uphold the agreement.
What is required of the people of Yisra’el? To pay careful attention to what HaShem says and to keep His covenant. The reward that God will provide in exchange is also spelled out: “You will be my own treasure from among all people, and you will be a kingdom of cohanim, a nation set apart.” A more familiar rendering of this verse would say, “You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God would make them that. All that was required of them was to pay attention to God and to keep His covenant.
But let’s be careful here. These are just the terms of the covenant, not the actual agreement itself. The people of Yisra’el, though, are so eager to obey God, so eager to see that promise fulfilled, that they jump ahead of the process and say… “Everything the L-RD has said, we will do!” They agree to the terms of the agreement, before knowing what’s in it. Even a first-year law student will tell you, that’s not an agreement. Not yet.
Even so, God honors their eagerness and proceeds to speak His instructions to them. And, as a nation, every man, woman, and child heard directly from the L-RD that day as He spoke what we now call The Ten Commands. These Ten Commands are a good summary of the Torah, but they are not the six hundred and thirteen commands; not yet, anyway. All the L-RD actually gives are the Ten Commands at that moment in time, which is fine, because they’ve already agreed to do what? To pay attention to God—in other words, to hear His voice—and to keep His covenant—in other words, to follow His instructions. That’s all that was required of them, and this is the first moment of that.
And how did we respond, upon hearing God speak to us directly? We read this in:
Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:18-20 (15-17)
All the people experienced the thunder, the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled. Standing at a distance, they said to Moshe, “You, speak with us; and we will listen. But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die.” Moshe answered the people, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and make you fear him, so that you won’t commit sins.”
Fear, however, was our response. In many ways, it remains our response to this day! When we encounter God, if it’s a moment of praise and worship, we certainly can get swept up in joy and thanksgiving. But what I’m talking about is this sort of encounter with God. When the Holy One of Yisra’el begins to instruct us, and show us our sin, and our eyes are opened to just how far short we fall of His perfect standard of righteousness, well… we respond all too often with fear.
This is why, whenever angels appear to the heroes of the faith, what is the first thing they say. “Peace! Shalom! Do not fear! Do not be afraid!” Even if we are stout of heart, we are much like the prophet, Yishayahu, known as Isaiah, who says in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I come from a people of unclean lips!” When we encounter God in all his holiness, our first instinct, tragically, is to draw back.
And that’s what we did that day. We heard from the holy God, and as our sin was made obvious before us, we cried out, “Moses, you speak to us and we will listen! But don’t let God speak to us anymore, or we will die.”
That’s when one of the most tragic verses of Exodus is written, as we continue on in chapter twenty, where we read:
Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:18(21)
So the people stood at a distance, but Moshe approached the thick darkness where God was.
And see, here’s the thing: in that moment, what did we do? We changed something vitally important. We changed the terms of the covenant. We changed the terms of the agreement. The original agreement was, we would listen to God and obey His instructions. It was not that we would listen to Moshe.
What we did was ask for a mediator between God and us. Someone who could be the go-between. Perhaps even soften the blow. But is that what God wanted originally? No. He wanted to be our God. To speak His instructions to each of us directly. For us to hear His voice and obey His instructions. That was the original agreement. Those were the terms for which the reward was, becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Now, God is a promise keeper. He kept His promise to Yisra’el and, by extension, to all of us. But when one party alters the terms of a contract, what is the next thing that happens? There is a counter-offer made. And yet, in Sh’mot (Exodus), there is no record of God’s response.
Yet in D’varim (Deuteronomy), there is. Moses reveals what was hidden that day. Because that entire generation that stood at a distance from God when He was inviting us to draw near, perished in the wilderness… all but Joshua and Caleb. Every other person over the age of bar and bat mitzvah perished during the forty years that followed, and now, in D’varim, Moses stands before a new generation of Yisra’el, a generation about to enter the land promised to them from Abraham on down to Moshe. A generation that will enter the land without him.
So Moshe reveals God’s response, at last, to the people’s request on that day at Sinai, as we read in:
D’varim (Deuteronomy) 18:15-19
Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him, just as when you were assembled at Horev and requested Adonai your God, ‘Don’t let me hear the voice of Adonai my God any more, or let me see this great fire ever again; if I do, I will die!’ On that occasion Adonai said to me, ‘They are right in what they are saying. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn’t listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me.
So this is God’s response. Not to appoint Moshe as their go-between, as they requested. Because, as good an intercessor as he was, what was Moshe’s biggest failing? He was mortal. He wouldn’t always be with them. Someday, like all of us, Moshe would die.
So HaShem renewed His messianic promise, His promise to provide a “prophet like Moshe” from among them. God promises to put His words in Messiah’s mouth, and Messiah will tell us everything we need to know, every instruction from HaShem. Then we are to listen to Him as we would listen to HaShem.
And from that point on, the words “royal priesthood and holy nation” were not mentioned again until Messiah came, until they were written by Yeshua’s talmidim, Peter, in:
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Why were those words silent until Messiah’s appearing? Because it was only with His appearing that we were once again given a way to hear from God directly. That promise was delayed because we asked for a mediator, and God gave us not the mediator that we asked for in Moses, but the mediator we actually needed, one whose instructions and whose ability to deliver them to us would have no end.
By now, you might be thinking to yourself, well Craig, that’s all fine and well and good… but I thought you were going to teach us today about King David, or at least some of the events leading up to King David, and so far this had been a Torah commentary on Sh’mot and D’varim, which we get when we go through the Torah cycle anyway.
Patience. It’s coming.
So this sets the stage for us. Moshe has revealed this big secret to this new generation of Yisra’el who are about to enter the promised land without him but with God. But there’s another missing piece.
You see, back during the original setting of terms, it was not in God’s design for Yisra’el to have a king, like the other nations had. We were to be ruled solely by the L-RD, and we would have been able to do this successfully, like no other nation, because we would have been hearing from Him directly. But instead of drawing near, we stood at a distance because we were afraid.
So what’s another fallout of changing those terms? Well, without Moses as our mediator between God and ourselves, we were also without a ruler. And although it was not intended in the original design, without God acting as the ruler of our hearts, He knew another desire would eventually overwhelm us as well, and it was this, as we read in:
D’varim (Deuteronomy) 17:14-15
When you have entered the land Adonai your God is giving you, have taken possession of it and are living there, you may say, ‘I want to have a king over me, like all the other nations around me.’ In that event, you must appoint as king the one whom Adonai your God will choose. He must be one of your kinsmen, this king you appoint over you—you are forbidden to appoint a foreigner over you who is not your kinsman.
The passage then continues on to outline the expectations for a king, and what an earthly king must do and how he must act to fulfill the role of earthly king in the land of Yisra’el. And from this, many have concluded that God commanded Yisra’el to appoint a king over them. Yet I suspect this is one of the most misread and misunderstood of all of God’s commands. I’ve read messages where scholars both Jewish and Christian alike stumble over it and assume God wanted His people to appoint a king over them.
But that was not the case; not at all. The verse reads, “When you have entered the land … you MAY say.” Not “You WILL say,” or “you MUST say” or even “You SHOULD say,” but, simply, “you may say.”
That’s the point. He’s not commanding, he’s permitting. In essence, God is saying, “I know that eventually you’re going to want to appoint a king over you. And while it’s not My first choice, since you’re going to do it anyway…because you chose not to hear My voice directly… here’s how you should do it. If you’re deadset on appointing a king over you, at least listen to Me and obey Me by doing it this way.
God isn’t saying, “My intent is, was, and always has been for you to appoint an earthly king over you.” No, His original intent was that He, HaShem, would be their sole ruler, that they would be called out, separate, and unlike the other nations, because they would individually live under the direct instructions of HaShem, hearing from Him moment to moment, and obeying at all times.
Now, on the polar opposite side of things, those who don’t study the Tenakh closely assume that, following D’varim, Yisra’el enters the land and appoints a king over them at the first possible opportunity. This is also mistaken.
First and foremost, Yisra’el must enter and take the land Adonai has given them. This is no small task, and the battle for possession of the Promised Land is a major focus of the book of Yehoshua—popularly known as Joshua.
Even after the victories won by Yehoshua, however, the Land remained fragmented and at conflict with its neighbors. When Yehoshua’s time passed, we entered a period in Israeli history known as the time of the judges.
During this time, Yisra’el is not yet a nation that has settled all parts of the land God had promised them. Conflicts with other people groups, such as the Amalekites and the P’lish’tim keep Yisra’el from truly settling into the land God had promised them. Also, following the death of Yehoshua, there was no one, strong, obvious choice to replace him as the leader of Yisra’el.
Complicating this was the fact that the people had not drawn near to HaShem, and could not hear His voice, so without a central figure like Moshe and Yehoshua, what happens instead is that the L-RD lifts up these regional military leaders who also make rulings in disputes as a judge would.
While this position might sound like a king, it is not a king. In fact, the Torah does not use melekh in reference to these judges, but a different word entirely: shoftim.
Many judges are highlighted in this time in Yisra’el’s history. Among them are Devorah, Shimshon (known popularly as Samson), Gideon, Abimelech, and Eli, to name a few of the more recognizable ones.
In my research, I found great uncertainty as to the amount of time that passed during which Yisra’el was under the leadership of various judges. Some sources claim as few as three hundred years went by between the time of Yehoshua’s death to the time of Sh’mu’el, while other sources claim it was more than five hundred years. Without getting lost in the weeds on such issues, let’s just say that it was somewhere in that range of three hundred to five hundred years. Certainly not at the first opportunity.
The last of the biblical judges is a man who served also as a prophet of HaShem, Sh’mu’el. Sh’mu’el has a rich and meaningful story of his own, and while I would love to go into detail about his early years, for the purposes of this study I will simply encourage you to read the first seven chapters of 1 Sh’mu’el on your own.
The turning point of interest to us, however, is that as Eli’s time came to an end, none of his sons followed in his ways of serving the L-RD and Eli instead trained Sh’mu’el to lead Yisra’el. When Sh’mu’el grow older, it became obvious even his sons were not going to follow in a path of serving the L-RD, as we read in:
1 Sh’mu’el 8:3-9
However, his [Sh’mu’el’s] sons did not follow his way of life; they turned off it to pursue riches, so that they would take bribes to distort justice. All the leaders of Isra’el gathered themselves together, approached Sh’mu’el in Ramah and said to him, “Look, you have grown old, and your sons are not following your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Sh’mu’el was not pleased to hear them say, “Give us a king to judge us”; so he prayed to Adonai. Adonai said to Sh’mu’el, “Listen to the people, to everything they say to you; for it is not you they are rejecting; they are rejecting me; they don’t want me to be king over them. They are doing to you exactly what they have been doing to me, from the day I brought them out of Egypt until today, by abandoning me and serving other gods. So do what they say, but give them a sober warning, telling them what kinds of rulings their king will make.”
Can you imagine any words that might be more heartbreaking for God to speak than that? And they are made all the more heartbreaking when we realize that we were part of that. Each of us, at one time or another, has gone our own stubborn, independent way, choosing not to listen to HaShem, not to allow Messiah Y’shua to be our melekh, our King. At some point or another, each of us would rather have simply “fit in” with the world around us, rather than being “called out.”
In consoling Sh’mu’el, we see that God is longing for His people to acknowledge Him and let Him take control of things once again. He does not want to appoint an earthly king over His people and yet He, as God, is willing to give the people what they ask for. And He even has Sh’mu’el warn them about this, as we read on in:
Sh’mu’el reported everything Adonai had said to the people asking him for a king. He said, “Here is the kind of rulings your king will make: he will draft your sons and assign them to take care of his chariots, be his horsemen and be bodyguards running ahead of his chariots. He will appoint them to serve him as officers in charge of a thousand or of fifty, plowing his fields, gathering his harvest, and making his weapons and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters and have them be perfume-makers, cooks and bakers. He will expropriate your fields, vineyards and olive groves—the very best of them!—and hand them over to his servants. He will take the ten-percent tax of your crops and vineyards and give it to his officers and servants. He will take your male and female servants, your best young men and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will take the ten-percent tax of your flocks, and you will become his servants. When that happens, you will cry out on account of your king, whom you yourselves chose. But when that happens, Adonai will not answer you!” However, the people refused to listen to what Sh’mu’el told them, and they said, “No! We want a king over us, so that we can be like all the nations, with our king to judge us, lead us and fight our battles.” Sh’mu’el heard everything the people said and repeated them for Adonai to hear. Adonai said to Sh’mu’el, “Do what they ask, and set up a king for them.”
So the L-RD grants the people’s request and brings to Sh’mu’el a man from the tribe of Binyamin, named Sha’ul in Hebrew, popularly rendered in English as Saul. At first, it seems as though God has selected Sha’ul, but even as early as his being named as king over Yisra’el, there are signs of trouble from Sha’ul.
After again warning the people that wanting to appoint a king over them may not be a good thing, Sh’mu’el calls for the tribes to reveal the man HaShem has chosen as king, and we read this in:
1 Sh’mu’el 10:20-24
So Sh’mu’el had all the tribes come forward, and the tribe of Binyamin was chosen. He had the tribe of Binyamin come forward by families, and the family of the Matri was chosen, and Sha’ul the son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he couldn’t be found. They asked Adonai, “Has the man come here?” Adonai answered, “There he is, hiding, in among the equipment.” They ran and brought him from there, and when he stood among the people he was head and shoulders taller than anyone around. Sh’mu’el said to all the people, “Do you see the man Adonai has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?” Then all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
Imagine the embarrassment. Sh’mu’el calls for Sha’ul… and he’s not there, but in hiding. Hiding from the very prophet of HaShem who had anointed him king. In this way, Sha’ul is a perfect reflection of the people. Just as the people stood at a distance from God at Sinai when He spoke to them directly, Sha’ul stands at a distance from his own coronation.
Despite this, we are told than when he is found and dragged before Sh’mu’el, that while standing among the people he stood “head and shoulders” above them.
This is God showing them their choice. He has given them a man who is bigger and more intimidating than anyone else. Surely, he looks like the sort of man who would be named a king.
If his hesitancy to show himself on the day of his presentation as king over Yisra’el is troubling, what happens later is even more disturbing. Here’s what we read in:
1 Sh’mu’el 15:2-3
“Here is what Adonai-Tzva’ot says: ‘I remember what ‘Amalek did to Isra’el, how they fought against Isra’el when they were coming up from Egypt. Now go and attack ‘Amalek, and completely destroy everything they have. Don’t spare them, but kill men and women, children and babies, cows and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
In the battle that follows, Sha’ul veers from these orders in several ways. We are told he warns the Keni to leave the area, lest they be put to the sword along with the Amalekites. He takes Agag, the king of the Amalekites, alive and allows him to live. He also takes the best—and even the second-best—among the Amalekites’ sheep and cattle and spares their lives as well.
All of these are ways in which King Sha’ul disobeys God’s instructions and does things a different way—his own way. This causes God to speak to Sh’mu’el and tell him, “I regret setting up Sha’ul as king, because he has turned back from following me and hasn’t obeyed my orders.”
When Sh’mu’el confronts Sha’ul, he attempts to deceive the prophet, first saying that he did everything that the L-RD had ordered him. When Sh’mu’el points out the sounds of extra livestock, Sha’ul makes it worse by compounding his deception, claiming he took them to make of them an offering to God.
Sh’mu’el, however, knows better. He shares what God has shown him, pointing out that Sha’ul took the spoils of the Amalkites when he was instructed not to do so. Sha’ul, now on the defensive, tries to shift the blame onto those under his command, claiming it was the people, not him, who spared the livestock for a sacrifice, though he admits to bringing Agag with him instead of putting him to the sword. Sh’mu’el responds in:
1 Sh’mu’el 15:22-23
“Does Adonai take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what Adonai says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of sorcery, stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of Adonai, he too has rejected you as king.”
And then he delivered the harshest words of all, in:
1 Sh’mu’el 15:28-29
Sh’mu’el said to him, “Adonai has torn the kingdom of Isra’el away from you today and given it to a fellow countryman of yours who is better than you. Moreover, the Eternal One of Isra’el will not lie or change his mind, because he isn’t a mere human being subject to changing his mind.”
With these words, the legitimate kingship of Sha’ul has come to an end. Although he would go on to rule Yisra’el for forty years, his anointing has been taken from him. And what was the reason? Because he refused to follow and do everything that HaShem had commanded him. Sha’ul, in his arrogance, set aside the instructions he received from the L-RD and substituted God’s sense of right and wrong for his own morality.
Certainly, this is something we can relate to. Many of us today, as almost a reflex action, look at certain circumstances or tragedies in the world, mistakenly attribute those things to God, and loudly declare, “Well, I could never believe in a God who would allow” this or that to happen. And certainly, Sha’ul’s instructions from the L-RD were extreme.
But we must remember, Sha’ul was the king of Yisra’el, not a farmer or a shepherd. As the head of state, God offered directions, such as his command to destroy all of the Amalekites, that He would never offer to a believer today who is not a head of state. So Sha’ul’s calling was unique.
Yet, just as he hid himself at the time Sh’mu’el was to anoint him as King, just as we all stood at a distance when God was inviting us to draw near and hear from Him directly, Sha’ul retreats from obeying the L-RD completely and instead does what seems right to him.
This message reverberates throughout these early chapters of I Sh’mu’el. Many times, when Sh’mu’el or his son Yohanatan are considering various options, they set out a plan before their human advisors and are told, “Do what seems right to you.”
Yet doing what seems right to ourselves and obeying the L-RD’s instructions are not always one and the same thing. It’s a lesson that cost Sha’ul his anointing and kingship.
And so, at this time, this is where Yisra’el stands. Surrounded by her enemies, ruled by a king whose anointing has been taken from him because of his refusal to obey the L-RD, the people of Yisra’el are in a perilous position, their success in taking the land promised to Abraham possibly never more in doubt. And yet, did God’s success in fulfilling his promise depend solely on King Sha’ul?
Of course not. As Queen Esther would be told centuries later, the words of her uncle, Mordekhai, could just as easily be spoken to King Sha’ul here. As we read in:
“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction;”
King Sha’ul is proof of that, for us. He failed to obey HaShem, and now the scene is set for help to come to Yisra’el from a different direction.
And the next time I have the opportunity to speak, we will see how that happens as we continue in our study of the life of King David.