Tagged: David

Sermon: King David, Lesson 5 “David and Jonathan”

NOTE: This message was delivered on the Shabbat of December 13, 2014, at Kehilat Sh’ma Yisra’el. You may also listen to it, if you wish.

Shabbat Shalom.

For some time now, we have been exploring together a character study of King David. In previous lessons, we learned about the historical context into which David was born, as well as details of the king that David was anointed to ultimately replace, King Sha’ul. In the most recent lesson this past summer, we looked at the famous conflict between David and the giant P’lish’tim known as Golyat, or Goliath, as he is more popularly referred to. All of those previous lessons can be found on our community website, Sh’ma Yisra’el dot net.

But today we turn our focus to the study of a new aspect in the life of King David, as we focus on his friendship with King Saul’s son, Jonathan. This friendship is of great symbolic significance, especially in the view of David as a shadow of the Messiah. It’s a friendship that is addressed right away as we begin our reading in I Samuel 18, beginning at verse one:

I Samuel 18:1-4
By the time David had finished speaking to Sha’ul, Y’honatan found himself inwardly drawn by David’s character, so that Y’honatan loved him as he did himself. That day, Sha’ul took David into his service and would not let him go home to his father’s house any more. Y’honatan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as he did himself. Y’honatan removed the cloak he was wearing and gave it to David, his armor too, including his sword, bow and belt.

Now, before we delve into the text here from our Messianic perspective, I want to address some of the current cultural controversies that surround this text, so as to avoid the cultural pollution that surrounds it. In recent years, there has been a strong cultural push to normalize same-gender relationships, even to the point where there are those who claim to follow God, who claim the Bible does not forbid the actions of their lifestyle.

While we in this community recognize that this is misleading, often there is pressure not to address such arguments because it might be deemed unfriendly, or even hateful, by others. Yet if we refuse to refute ideas that are untrue, only the ideas that are untrue are spoken, and the silence of those who read the Torah in spirit and truth becomes deafening.

Therefore, allow me to briefly address how this passage has been misinterpreted by some, so that we can set those disruptive ideas aside and appreciate the passage for the powerful teaching it actually is.

One of the leading teachers who addressed the David and Jonathan relationship as being supportive of same-gender attractions is Matthew Vines. While he admits it is speculation, Vines has been frequently interviewed in popular media. In those interviews, he suggests that the relationship between David and Jonathan is one which possibly extended into the physical realm.

Clearly, this is an example of imposing a modern cultural filter over a Torah passage that is a product of a completely different period of time, culture, and context. And frankly, we ought not be surprised.

In our time and culture, especially in the last fifty years or so, we’ve witnessed a societal drift that has not only raised the emphasis on sex, but also more generally on the importance of self over the importance of selflessness, of sacrifice, of the greater good.

As a result of this modern cultural drift, many people are left with a fractured, and ultimately limited, vocabulary when it comes to the topic of love. Remember, we live here among the nations and among their values, a concept known as the Diaspora. And we must remind ourselves constantly that while we live among the Diaspora, we are not part of it.

However, like the generations of Ya’akov who lived among the Egyptians, the longer we dwell among the world, the more challenging it becomes to remember we are not of this world. With each generation, we become less familiar with the types of love that exist outside of romantic love. Too often, if we hear someone utter the phrase, “I love you,” we immediately default to the idea that it must mean physical affection and expression.

That message even worms its way into even the most seemingly harmless examples of popular entertainment. One of my favorite movies from my college years was the Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan movie, When Harry Met Sally. One of the more memorable lines in that film, attributed to Harry, was when he suggested that “a man and a woman can never be friends” because the guy is always interested in something more. While it comes across as a clever line, it is a concept that has polluted male-female relationships by suggesting there is always an agenda. And now that same mentality is used by some to re-interpret the friendship of David and Jonathan.

So, to move past this cultural pollution, it becomes necessary, almost, to speak in a foreign tongue. We must speak in a language many in our current culture no longer understand: the language of love, and the types of love that are not just defined by its physical expression.

First of all, there is no suggestion in the text of a romantic connection between David and Jonathan. If we take a closer look at the text itself, this becomes clearer. Let’s read that first verse again:

I Samuel 18:1
By the time David had finished speaking to Sha’ul, Y’honatan found himself inwardly drawn by David’s character, so that Y’honatan loved him as he did himself.

Now, “loved him as he did himself.” What passage should that immediately call to mind? Why, it’s straight out of Torah. We read this in:

Leviticus 19:18
Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai.

That concept was also reflected by Messiah Yeshua Himself, as we read in:

Mark 12:29-31
Yeshua answered, “The most important is, ‘Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, O Isra’el, the Lord our God, the Lord is one], and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other mitzvah greater than these.”

One basic tenant of Torah interpretation is that we should first and foremost use Torah to explain Torah, and this passage is no exception. The wording of Jonathan’s love for David is almost identical to the Torah concept from the passage in Leviticus.

But what sort of love is “loving your neighbor as yourself,” then? How does it look? How is it to be understood? Well, David himself does a good job of explaining it when he is lamenting over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in:

II Samuel 1:25-27
How the heroes have fallen in the heat of battle, Y’honatan killed on your high places! I grieve for you, my brother Y’honatan, you meant so much to me! Your love for me was deeper than the love of women. How the heroes have fallen and the weapons of war perished.”

So, Jonathan’s love for David here is described as “deeper than the love of women.” Again, this could be twisted in its meaning by teachers like Matthew Vines, but we must understand it not our own culture and context, but the culture and context of the Tenach.

To further explain David’s relationship to Jonathan, I turned to:

The friendship was confirmed by a covenant, Jonathan giving David his garments, sword, and bow, and on several occasions David escaped death at the hands of Saul through the intervention of Jonathan … The disinterestedness of Jonathan’s affection for David is emphasized in the fact that Saul himself reminded him that while he had nothing to gain through David he had much to lose.

We’ve seen friendships confirmed by covenant many times in our study of Torah, most popularly in the covenant made between Ya’akov and Esau, ending their lifelong feud in last week’s Torah portion, VaYishlach, specifically in Genesis 33. So that is suggestive of a covenant of brotherhood between two men who were not brothers by birth.

Yet what can we make of this concept of “disinterested love?” What is it, exactly? When one hears the word “disinterested” in our culture, the mind immediately goes to a one-sided sort of affection; the idea that one person cares about the other, but it is not mutual. But that’s clearly not the case between David and Jonathan. They both made that covenant of brotherhood. So what does “disinterested love” really mean?

Well, it has traditionally been defined as “a loving attraction to a person or thing only because of the love of God,” and “a movement of the heart toward what is found to be good…. an outpouring and progress of the heart toward the good, which aims at union with God.”

The great Jewish rabbi, Maimonides, also wrote of this concept of disinterested love, which for him was Talmudic in origin. He contends that whereas the relationship of man to God described in the Bible is based on reciprocity (man serves God, and God satisfies man’s material needs), that prescribed in the Talmud is based on disinterested love (the service of God for its own sake).

We recognize both of these types of love for God in our Messianic Jewish traditions. It calls to mind, for me, the words of the Dayenu, which means, “It would have been enough.” That song, in itself, shows that it is our desire to worship HaShem simply for who He is. Yet God consistently goes beyond simply existing and does provide for us, even though He does not need to do so to be worthy of our worship, devotion, and praise. Therefore, we sing Dayenu! It would have been enough if this was all you had done, yet you, L-RD, did even more for us.

The concept of worship of God for its own sake is also embedded in the traditional mourner’s prayer, the kaddish, which stands apart from many traditions in its subject matter and focus.

In our modern western tradition, we often spend time extolling the virtues of the person who has passed away, our mind dwelling on fond memories now made bittersweet by that person’s present and future absence from our lives. But does that serve to lift us out of our grief, or extend it?

By contrast, what are the translated words of the kaddish?

They read as follows:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world, which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in our lifetime and during our days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

Now, I came into Messianic Judaism from a background of evangelical Christianity, and the first time I read the Kaddish, I didn’t understand the rationale behind it at all. Where was the talk I was so familiar with, of the missed loved one being in a better place now, and our hope to be reunited with them in the heavenly kingdom? Why, Kaddish mentions nothing about such things! It focused purely on the character and nature of HaShem. At first, for me, it made no sense. It is a prayer that seemed to be generic and off-point, or so I thought at the time.

And then, a few years later, I lost my mom after many health struggles and her final battle with cancer. And I was given the opportunity to go before my Messianic community at the time and recite the Kaddish. And that was when the light, for me, turned on.

You see, it was not the first time in my life I had lost someone, and yet it was the first loss of a parent. And I remember so often, after a funeral was over and people suffering the death of a loved one felt they could speak freely without the fear of creating offense, at these other funerals, people would confide that the words of the pastor, and of friends and family, all rang so hollow. Speaking of fond memories and how much someone will be missed only redirected their minds back to the loss, the very thing that was causing them grief. Words intended to bring comfort only made that grief more sharply felt.

But the kaddish?

There, in the moment of the deepest grief of my life to that point, I stood before my faith community and spoke words extolling the virtues of God, the goodness of His character, which never changes or passes away.

And I got it.

That is why Kaddish doesn’t dwell on the loss, but on the L-RD. Because, in the end, He is all we have that we can cling to and know with full assurance that He will always be there for us. HaShem does not perish, He does not disappoint, He never abandons. Focusing on His goodness does not draw our thoughts back to the source of our grief, but draws them toward the God of Yisra’el, toward the One capable of carrying us through our darkest hours.

If, in our weakest and most distracted moments, we can praise God for His goodness, and acknowledge before our entire community that our trust remains firm in Him, then indeed, the work of healing the grief weighing us down can begin. At those moments, our voices join with all the men of faith down through the ages. With Yonah, who, trapped in the belly of a large fish, in the process of being digested, cried out in spite of his circumstances to testify to the greatness of HaShem. With Yob, who, despite losing everything dear to him in the world, from his wealth to his family to his own health, refused the temptation to curse HaShem and die, but instead testified to the goodness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With Rav. Sha’ul and Rabbi Silas, who, despite being in chains in prison, praised God and testified to his goodness even though they were being held captive.

That is what the concept of disinterested love is all about. It is anything but one-sided. It is declaring the goodness and trustworthiness of God, not because of what you’ve gained by His blessings, but simply because it is true regardless of your circumstances.

So, how does this apply to David and Jonathan’s friendship?

It does nothing less than give us the perfect Biblical, historical, cultural context of how their friendship is described. You see, if teachers like Matthew Vines were correct, then David could never have described his relationship with Jonathan as being “deeper than the love of women.” If their connection was only physical or romantic, it would have to be described as being exactly the same as the love of women. Deeper, in the Hebrew mindset of David’s time, means something beyond physical affection.

Now, in light of our study, we can see that the kind of love Jonathan holds for David has nothing to do with what he can gain by his friendship with David. For there is nothing to gain for the son of a king to befriend the son of a common farmer. In fact, King Sha’ul warns Jonathan of this in:

I Samuel 20:30-31
Sha’ul flew into a rage at Y’honatan and said, “You crooked rebel! Don’t I know that you’ve made this son of Yishai your best friend? You don’t care that you’re shaming yourself and dishonoring your mother, do you? Because as long as the son of Yishai lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be secure.

Modern theologians like Vine look at this passage and assume “shaming yourself and dishonoring your mother” meant the same thing back then as it might be said to mean today, and assume that their relationship was romantic. But the actual conflict is that Jonathan is a prince in Yisra’el, while David is a shepherd, the son of a farmer, and not seen as being the sort of person a prince ought to consider his best friend, because there is nothing for the prince to gain by the relationship, and in fact, he could lose all he has by indulging in that friendship. Why? Because David’s popularity, in the wake of his defeat of the giant P’lish’tim, Golyat, begins to soar. In fact, we read this in:

I Samuel 19:6-9
As David and the others were returning from the slaughter of the P’lishti, the women came out of all the cities of Isra’el to meet King Sha’ul, singing and dancing joyfully with tambourines and three-stringed instruments. In their merrymaking the women sang, “Sha’ul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” Sha’ul became very angry, because this song displeased him. He said, “They give David credit for tens of thousands, but me they give credit for only thousands. Now all he lacks is the kingdom!” From that day on, Sha’ul viewed David with suspicion.

You see, King Saul can sense that David’s popularity is already eclipsing his own. And in the mindset of a king, that represents a threat to their ability to reign. To help us understand this, we should look to a modern parallel.

I was in high school in the early 1980s, when England’s Prince Charles decided to marry Lady Diana Spencer. Few people may remember this now, but the woman who was to become known as Princess Di was not a popular choice among certain members of the royal family. The main concern about her rose from the fact that Diana’s popularity quickly eclipsed that of her husband’s.

Charles, at the time, was not considered traditionally handsome and editorial cartoons exaggerated the size of his nose and ears; by contrast, Diana was considered the more attractive of the pair, and the more she spoke publicly, the more she connected with the concerns of the average British citizen, which only served to push her popularity even higher.

Befriending those who are more popular than you is a sort of threat that we today have a hard time understanding, but was a real concern for Jonathan as the natural successor to his father’s throne. Therefore, his friendship with David was considered shameful not because of some physical relationship between them, but because it created the appearance that even Jonathan liked David more than his own father. Jonathan befriending David would be distantly similar to Malia Obama, the President’s daughter, deciding to hang out with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or Sarah Palin. It’s just not considered to be a good thing to do.

What this tells us about Jonathan is that, despite his own self-interest, which should have led him to stick by his father and speak against the popular David, he instead recognizes the spirit of God at work in David’s life. It is because of Jonathan’s love for HaShem that he holds no grudge or jealousy against David. Instead, he recognizes the blessing of David’s anointing, that the prophet Samuel had performed years before, active in David’s life. Jonathan was in tune with HaShem enough that even if it meant he himself would never be king, he saw God at work in David and found himself supportive of God’s selection of David, even though there was nothing in it for him.

That’s what disinterested love, in the sense that Maimonides taught about it, or the sense that it is expressed in the Torah instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jonathan loved and obeyed God so deeply, that when he recognized God had selected David to be the next king of Yisra’el instead of him, he was able to overcome any petty jealousy and work toward helping bring about God’s will for David.

That’s disinterested love; love with nothing to gain. Loving someone because by doing so, you draw your own life close to God and His will. And that’s the sort of love that Jonathan and David shared, and that’s why it was called deeper than the love of women. Romantic love, even in marriage, is expressed in this world, but Yeshua teaches that the World to Come is so different, romantic love may not even be recognizable anymore. He taught that in response to a controvery about a widow who had had several husbands, and who’s wife she might be in the world to come.

By contrast, loving others because you love the God who gave you both life is a love that lasts into the World to Come, because the true object of that love is HaShem Himself.

How does the love of David and Jonathan help us recognize a shadow of Messiah in the life of David? The parallel is actually quite obvious in light of our study.

For one, Jonathan’s response to David should call to mind the way in which Yeshua’s talmidim responded to His call to them to come and follow Him. They do so without hesitation, without considering even what they are leaving behind, and instead follow Yeshua as soon as he calls them, leaving everything they had known to that point behind.

Without delving into distracting details, King Sha’ul simply represents the present world. David represents the World to Come. And Jonathan represents the whole house of Yisra’el. Simply put, we see a shadow of Messiah in the life of David because, like Jonathan, we must choose where our own loyalties lay. Do we cling to the world as we know it, as represented by King Sha’ul, or will we embrace the promise of the World to Come, the Messiah, represented by David?

If one loves HaShem and obeys His instructions, the choice becomes so easy to make that it is almost no choice at all. We embrace the World to Come, the kinsman-redeemer, who delivers us out of this world and into the World to Come. We embrace Messiah because when we see where the blessing of God lies, that is where we want to dwell, also. Under His blessing, His protection, His promise, His rule.

Shabbat Shalom.

Leaving David…

I’m nearly done with Part 11 of my character study on David and soon we’ll be leaving David behind for one final, new study before we reach Simchat Torah, begin the Torah cycle over, and I start writing Torah Cycle lessons for my bar and bat mitzvah kids.

I never realized when I started that my character study of David would go 11 lessons. I also never thought I’d be just scratching the surface in those 11 lessons, and if I ever come back to the topic once I’m ordained (provided God wills that I become ordained), I could break David’s life down into even more lessons, taught in even greater detail.

So what’s next? I’m not sure yet, but I’m leaning toward a book study focusing on Ruth; after all this time on David, I think it’s time to do something for the young girls in this class. Always nice at that age to have something to focus on other than the latest acne outbreak.

Excerpt from my study on David, Lesson 4

What is the main difference between praying and seeking God? It’s certainly not as obvious as finding the ones who wear luxury watches. Those who say, “I prayed and God answered me,” usually have only sought the L-RD in prayer once, and relied on their first impression of his will; yet this is dangerous, for to truly hear the voice of God, we must be sure that we have set our own desires aside first.

What does the Bible tell us about seeking the L-RD earnestly? We know that it means praying more than once about something; it requires confirming his will and making sure it is He who has spoken, and not just our own fleshly desires. But are there benefits to going to all that extra work, even in moments when time seems in short supply? Certainly there is!

Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those going down to Egypt expecting help–relying on horses; trusting in chariots because they have many, and in the strength of their cavalrymen–but not looking to the Holy One of Isra’el, not consulting Adonai.

What a warning! David had many military assets to rely on in a battle against the P’lishtim, but David, like the prophet Isaiah, remembered the lesson of the Exodus from Egypt. In every way, Pharaoh’s army was better-equipped for battle than were the children of Israel, and yet God led the defenseless Israelites through the Red Sea on dry land, but the Egyptians, who did not honor the Holy One of Israel, he destroyed.

Praying earnestly and seeking the L-RD can also help you to understand some of the injustices of the world, or see events that you do not understand in a new way that leads to better understanding. As it is written:

Proverbs 28:5 Evil people don’t understand justice, but those who seek Adonai understand everything.

If you think seeking God earnestly in prayer is not critical, take his warning from the prophet Amos:

Amos 5:4 For here is what Adonai says to the house of Israel: “If you seek me you will survive;”

Indeed, if David had gone off into battle against the P’lishtim without first seeking the will of Adonai, or had he heeded his advisors and stayed in Y’hudah, out of a motivation of fear, than not only would the city of Ke’ilah and its inhabitants have perished, but who knows? Perhaps Adonai would have allowed David and his men to be overtaken by his enemies. Therefore, we must acknowledge that the truth of the Torah is that seeking the L-RD is more than just saying a quick prayer like we do at the beginning of class, nor is it optional. It is time-consuming and is it vital; tragedy can even befall us if we fail to seek Adonai, and even this brief passage from David’s life underlines the importance of this point.

David’s pre-King life

There is a lot more to David’s life prior to taking the throne of Israel than most Christian churches teach their kids about. Usually they hear about David and Goliath; sometimes they may even hear about David and Bathsheba or about how his son Solomon was allowed to build the temple instead of David.

There’s a lot more to David’s life than is traditionally thought, however, and while serious Bible students know this, it’s a revelation to the average believer who only attends Christian church or Jewish/messianic shul services out of tradition rather than a passionate drive to know more about Adonai.

That’s the thing that’s rewarding about being in a teaching position with my messianic shul; I learn more than I ever have just studying for my own enrichment. It is a trip that requires no Rimowa luggage, per se, but it’s definitely a journey worth taking.

David not illegitimate

It is clear from the Torah text that Jesse was not proud of his son, David. The prophet Samuel had to ask Jesse if all his sons were present before he called David to meet with Samuel. I’ve heard several Christian pastors preach sermons on the topic of David being an illegitimate son of Jesse, but they are missing out on an important truth, since they ignore the teachings of rabbinic sages.

According to Jewish tradition, although Jesse was a largely righteous man, he was not immune to temptation and at one point a slave-girl of his caught his eye and he began to be tempted to sleep with her. What he was not told was that his wife caught wind of his intentions and, secretly, dressed up as the slave girl and took her place on the night Jesse finally consumated the affair.

The affair resulted in a pregnancy, and Jesse’s wife had the baby in secret and gave it to the slave-girl to raise, because she didn’t want her husband to know she’d deceived him and again go lusting after the slave-girl.

So, if the sages are to be believed, and in this case I think they can, David was not really an illegitimate child after all; he was only believed to be illigitimate and Jesse’s wife revealed his legitimacy after David’s anointing to be king.

As a messianic, this holds special significance. David is often thought of to be a picture of what the messiah would ultimately be like, as was Joseph. Here, in this teaching on David’s apparent illegitimacy as well as his actual legitimacy, we have the first way in which his life reflects that of messiah Yeshua.

Like David, Miryam, the mother of Yeshua, had the appearane of an illegitmate pregnancy when the Ruach haKodesh made her pregnant as a young virgin. The single pregnancy gave her the appearance of an illegitimate birth, but anyone who has read the Gospel accounts knows, as Yosef, the husband of Miryam was told by an angel of the L-RD, that Yeshua’s birth was not a result of infidelity, but a legitimate birth after all.

Legitmate or not, of course, they all require baby furniture, so it’s a good thing Yosef was a carpenter.

David older at time of Goliath conflict

The latest topic I’ve taken on while writing lessons for my bar and bat mitzvah class at Kehilat Sar Shalom is a character study on the life of David. One of the things I was somewhat surprised to learn is that David was older than traditionally thought at the time of his conflict with Goliath.

The misconception seems to arise from the fact that he is the youngest son of Jesse, but simply being the youngest does not mean he was 12 or 14 at time time of this battle, as is traditionally depicted. As revealed in the book, The Legends of the Jews, by Louis Ginzberg, David was already 27 at the time of his anointing to be the next king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. This event is recording in I Samuel 16, and his conflict with Goliath comes in I Samuel 17, chronologically a later date than his anointing. So David had to be at least 27 at the time he battled Goliath.

Now there’s something to contemplate when sitting on your shower stool with time to spare as you clean up and prepare for the day ahead!

An evil spirit … from Adonai?

Every once in a while, I run across a word for phrase in the Bible that just throws me for a loop. The most recent example came while I was brushing up on my David character study I’m writing for my Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids.

We know the Bible teaches that nothing evil can come from Adonai our G-d; as a holy G-d, nothing evil can enter his presence.

We also know that King Sha’ul’s madness was probably brought on by both the horrors of war and the rebuke he’d received from Adonai, in which G-d ultimately rejected him as king over all Israel. There’s only so much a flawed Israeli king can take, right?

And then, there it is in front of me. A verse in I Sh’mu’el states that after Adonai’s blessing was removed, King Sha’ul was tormented by, “an evil spirit from G-d.”

An evil spirit? From G-d?

Maybe it’s the translation, but… something fishy’s going on there. Could someone be playing games with our theology…? …No, probably not.

Personally, I think it’s a colloquialism, in this instance. Clearly, King Sha’ul had fallen to some form of mental illness, given that his outbursts of temper stemming from this were often violent, and that David’s music soothed his troubled spirit.

Today’s technology… yesterday?

Back in the times of Moshe, or David, or Yeshua, no one used Cisco networking solutions because they were thousands of years separated from the computer age to begin with. But can you imagine what it might have been like, had Yeshua or Moshe had access to that kind of communication technology?

Sure, it’s a bit of a science fiction concept, but just imagine what records could have been archived, what messages could have been presereved, how many more people could have been eyewitnesses to the miracles of the Bible.

Of course, as King Solomon advises, there is nothing new under the sun; had that generation had access to such devices, I’m sure modern cynicism would have worked its way into the past and allowed folks to conveniently disbelieve, if that was their heart’s intent.