FATHER’S SONG (8): David Sings the National Anthem

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One divine melody permeates the grand narrative of redemptive history.  In this series, Jeremy is guiding us through the biblical narrative–from Genesis to Revelation–with “ears to hear” the penetrating God-beat keeping everything in sync.

The winner of the second season of the ancient Near Eastern version of American Idol was the electrifying, rags-to-riches shepherd boy from Bethlehem named David. (Though the word “idol” probably wouldn’t be used so loosely among the people of Israel!) David’s first brush with stardom came after his defeat of the the giant Goliath. This would be only the first in a long string of award-winning victories on the battlefield. David became a mighty warrior-king and violent battle imagery would be a prominent theme in many of his future hit singles.  When he wasn’t in battle, he managed to have a productive musical career as well as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1).

Yet, let’s stop for a moment to examine the great shift in mood that is taking place in this ongoing soundtrack to The Father’s Song. If something like Handel’s Messiah captures the majestic mood of the Triune God providentially at work in a world, moving history towards its goal of everlasting justice and universal “shalom”; then the background music to the violent, military sagas of David and his victories over national enemies in the early years of the monarchy sounds more like the abrasive, tension-filled score to the movie Gladiator.

We come to the stories of David prejudiced and already having chosen our side. David fights for the “good guys” and the other nations are the “bad guys.” We cheer and celebrate Israel’s victories and give God the glory. Yet, we must remember the larger goal — the foundational groove — of The Father’s Song we’ve been charting. When the earth and everything in it is finally brought back into harmony with the Father’s Song, then the earth will resonate fully with God’s shalom, and there will be no more battle hymns or military victory marches necessary. A couple centuries later, Isaiah will remind Israel of the ultimate  restorative trajectory of The Father’s Song:

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).

But for now we must endure the battle songs, standing in awe at the gracious forbearance of our God who patiently moves His “peace plan” forward despite this violent, disharmonious portion of the song.  The Father is still orchestrating His plan behind the scenes, working through His chosen yet imperfect nation, Israel, and her valiant hero, King David.

In Search of a National Anthem

Israel becomes a powerful nation under David. And every nation has a national anthem to celebrate it’s foundational values. David is both Israel’s king and famed song writer, to whom many of the psalms are attributed. David’s life is defined by an inward conflict of interests. He is a man torn in two — both “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:13) one moment and a lying, cheating, adulterous murderer the next (2 Sam. 11).

Still, no place is David more conflicted and pulled in two directions than in the songs he writes and the rhythms that guide his life. Israel is God’s chosen nation through whom He will bring the blessings of The Father’s Song to the ends of the earth (Gen. 15). David is Israel’s anointed king, chosen to govern the nation according to the divine rhythms of The Father’s Song. Yet, David’s life and governance is a confusing mix of two seemingly irreconcilable songs. His life sounds like Amazing Grace one moment and like Rage Against the Machine the next.

Under David’s kingship will Israel’s national anthem be a violent song of self-aggrandizing military conquest over national enemies?

“And the women sang to one another as they celebrated: ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him… All Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them in battle” (1 Sam. 18:7, 14).

Or will Israel’s national anthem be one of rejoicing in the justice and peace that God has promised to bring to all nations through the people of Israel?

“How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God” (2 Sam. 7:22-24).

History has proven time and time again that the purity and uniqueness of God’s Kingdom suffers whenever it is co-opted by worldly power-games, humanly guided political agendas and many forms of nationalism.  So, let’s choose our anthem carefully.

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