David gives us some of our best children’s stories: the shepherd boy who used his slingshot to kill a lion and a bear when they attacked his flock; the pure hearted youth singing songs of praise and worship with his harp; the bold young man facing down a giant and taking him out with a single stone shot from his sling; the lowly youngest child who was raised to honor above his seven handsome brothers and anointed to be king of Israel.
Remember the song we sang as children?
One little boy named David. One little babbling brook.
One little boy named David. Five little stones he took.
One little stone went into his sling and sling went round and round.
Round and round and round and round and round
and the giant came tumbling down.
The stories about David in the Hebrew Scriptures sometimes sound like tall tales.
There is another David you may recall, another David of legend. You probably sang this David song when you were a child as well:
Born’d on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free.
Raised in the woods so he knew every tree,
Kilt him a bear when he was only three.
Davy. Davy Crockett. The king of the wild frontier.
Real people. Authentic historical figures. But as the stories of their lives were told throughout the years, they became larger than life heroes and the legends around them grew so that it’s not always easy to distinguish the fact from the embellishment.
David is much more than a children’s book character. David is a legendary figure for Israel and the stories of his life are larger than life. As one of the pivotal figures of Israel, he is writ large in 1 and 2 Samuel and in the books of the Chronicles – he is complex and ambiguous.
Walter Brueggemann says the story of David is central to the Jewish texts because David is the pivot of Jewish history. At first these were “no people” and then they were a wandering, homeless people and then they were a loosely knit tribal people.
But it is in David that a new vision emerges: Israel becomes a nation, a united kingdom with a king and a city and a land. It is with David that Israel finds respect among the nations and rest from their enemies. These were, indeed, the “golden years” that came together during the David years.
But there’s another reason why this text is so important to our Jewish cousins. Some 400 years after David, the last king of David’s line was executed by the Babylonians and many of the people of Israel were marched across the Fertile Crescent as captives and plunder. Jerusalem was leveled, the Temple destroyed. Once again they had no home, no land, no center. In this crisis, there was a very real possibility that they would once again become “no people.”
It was during this time of Exile that many of the stories and texts of our Old Testament were collected and compiled and edited into what eventually became Scripture. It was during this time of Exile that the biblical writers took the ancient stories that had been such an important part of their oral history and reflected on their meaning for a new time and a vastly changed circumstance. It was during the time of Exile that Israel began to hope in God’s Messiah, a son of David, to come and liberate them once again.
Even though the dynasty of David would never again look like it did in their golden years, people of faith and flexibility continued to dig into hope, hold on to faith and stand on the promises.
Read: The House of David here.
Read: David’s Undoing here.
Amazigh shepherd playing the flute mountains of the High Atlas, Morocco Photo of Michel Teuler