Advent 4B

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


Lectionary

  • 2 Sam. 7:1-11, 16 and Luke 1:47-55 or Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26
  • Romans 16:25-27
  • Luke 1:26-38




The throne of his ancestor, David

On this last Sunday before Christmas, we are invited to focus on the conception of Jesus and the role played by his mother, Mary of Nazareth, in the story of faith.

Rather than focus on Mary as an exemplar of discipleship, or questions about the conception of Jesus, it may be of interest to explore the theme that Jesus was (in some sense) the fulfillment of the ancient hopes for a Davidic ruler who would usher in an era of peace and blessing.

The historical questions which recent archaeology and biblical research have raised about the empires of David and Solomon need not detain us here. A convenient summary of the issues is available at:




The promise of a successor to David

Our focus this week will not be the historical David, but the theological David -- or even the eschatological David.

We start with the annunciation story created by Luke on the basis of biblical models from the legends about the births of Gideon and Samuel. Note the reference to Mary's child inheriting the throne of David:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, NRSV)

Luke's angel delivers a significant divine promise concerning the unborn child:

... you will name him [Joshua].

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,

and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Considering that Luke is writing this at a time when Rome was highly suspicious of any Jewish figures claiming Davidic credentials, it is all the more amazing that Luke gives his story of Jesus such a political spin. There are reasons for this, of course. One of them seems to be that Luke is setting up Jesus (together with his "cousin" John the Baptist) as Jewish parallels to the twin sons who were the mythical founders of Rome: Romulus and Remus.

The Roman author, Plutarch, writing about 75 CE (and thus well placed to have influenced Luke's literary choices according to both mainstream and radical chronologies for Luke-Acts) describes the many versions of Rome's founders. Note the significant parallels to Luke's description of Jesus' birth, including a prophetic announcement, a virgin who gives herself (sexually in Roman myth, spiritually in Luke-Acts) to the apparition/angel, and the promise of great renown and success for the child to be born of the virgin.

Some again say that Roma, from whom this city was so called, was daughter of Italus and Leucaria; or, by another account, of Telaphus, Hercules's son, and that she was married to Aeneas, or, according to others again, to Ascanius, Aeneas's son. Some tell us that Romanus, the son of Ulysses and Circe, built it; some, Romus, the son of Emathion, Diomede having sent him from Troy; and others, Romus, king of the Latins, after driving out the Tyrrhenians, who had come from Thessaly into Lydia, and from thence into Italy. Those very authors, too, who, in accordance with the safest account, make Romulus give the name of the city, yet differ concerning his birth and family. For some say, he was son to Aeneas and Dexithea, daughter of Phorbas, and was, with his brother Remus, in their infancy, carried into Italy, and being on the river when the waters came down in a flood, all the vessels were cast away except only that where the young children were, which being gently landed on a level bank of the river, they were both unexpectedly saved, and from them the place was called Rome. Some say, Roma, daughter of the Trojan lady above mentioned, was married to Latinus, Telemachus's son, and became mother to Romulus; others that Aemilia, daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, had him by the god Mars; and others give you mere fables of his origin. For to Tarchetius, they say, king of Alba, who was a most wicked and cruel man, there appeared in his own house a strange vision, a male figure that rose out of a hearth, and stayed there for many days. There was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany which Tarchetius consulted, and received an answer that a virgin should give herself to the apparition, and that a son should be born of her, highly renowned, eminent for valour, good fortune, and strength of body. Tarchetius told the prophecy to one of his own daughters, and commanded her to do this thing; which she avoiding as an indignity, sent her handmaid. Tarchetius, hearing this, in great anger imprisoned them both, purposing to put them to death, but being deterred from murder by the goddess Vesta in a dream, enjoined them for their punishment the working a web of cloth, in their chains as they were, which when they finished, they should be suffered to marry; but whatever they worked by day, Tarchetius commanded others to unravel in the night.
In the meantime, the waiting-woman was delivered of two boys, whom Tarchetius gave into the hands of one Teratius, with command to destroy them; he, however, carried and laid them by the river side, where a wolf came and continued to suckle them, while birds of various sorts brought little morsels of food, which they put into their mouths; till a cowherd, spying them, was first strangely surprised, but, venturing to draw nearer, took the children up in his arms. Thus they were saved, and when they grew up, set upon Tarchetius and overcame him. This one Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy.

As an aside, we simply note that Luke chose not to develop the theme of the threat to the messianic child, even though it was present in the Roman parallels and is attested in Jewish and Christian texts such as Matthew and the Revelation to John:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”(Matt. 2:13-18, NRSV)


A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. (Rev. 12:1-6, NRSV)




David in the biblical tradition

The tradition invoked by Luke when he puts the promise of a Davidic imperium onto the lips of the angel Gabriel, had ancient biblical roots.

It is worth noting that Matthew chose not to draw on this ancient tradition, preferring instead to develop the theme of Jesus as a second Moses. Notice how the angelic promise, this time delivered to the father, makes no mention of the Davidic connections:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25, NRSV)

If we look beyond the early Christian texts, we discover a long tradition about the figure of David and an increasing interest in the prophetic and providential dimensions of that legacy.

Prequel - Ruth of Moab

In the little book of Ruth we find the ancient equivalent to a cinematic prequel. Written long after the time of David, this book celebrates the story of a foreign woman (Ruth) who demonstrates exceptional covenant loyalty to her mother-in-law and eventually becomes the grandmother of the legendary King David. Most probably composed as a tract for the times during the dark days of the fundamentalist regime in Jerusalem in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the book of Ruth confronts the covenantal xenophobia of Judaism during the Persian period with a charming story of how Israel's greatest king was descended from a Moabite woman!

Prologue - the rise of David

In the second half of 1 Samuel we find a series of traditions about the rise of David. In a complex chain of narratives the virtues of David and the blessing of his selection by God are celebrated, while Saul's profound unsuitability for the role of ruler is elaborated in various ways. The tradition history of this material is complex, with seemingly older (and shorter) versions being preserved in the Greek textual tradition while the Hebrew text continued to grow with elaboration and supplementation. Although we know that some of the achievements attributed to David in this narrative were originally credited to other heroes (c.f. 2Sam 21:19 where Elhanan was the Israelite hero who killed Goliath), the narrative as a whole reflects the significant position which David had come to occupy in the sacred story of the Jerusalem community at a later stage. Its composition presumably reflects the dominance of the Davidic circle in the 7C BCE, while the ongoing development and elaboration of the story reflects the continued importance of "David" to later generations in Persian and Hellenistic times.

Act 1 - The court history of David

The central chapters of 2Samuel are sometimes known as the "Court History" or even the "Succession Narrative." As descriptions of the contents those two titles work well enough, since this material seems to tell the history of David's court and the central issue in the narrative is the question of succession. We now know that these are not eyewitness accounts, but vivid works of literature. While the historicity of these stories may be no better than the tales of Camelot, the stories tease out the implications of faithfulness and apostasy from certain theological presuppositions: the divine choice of Israel, Jerusalem and David. David has already become a theological symbol and his imaginary empire is more a sign of what may be than a memory of what once was. Nowhere is this more clear than in the extended treatment of Solomon building and dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem, which is recounted in 1Kings 3-9.

Act 2 - The prophetic word

Considering the great significance attached to the developing David traditions, it is surprising that there is not more reference to it in the prophetic literature. The three great prophetic scrolls (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) make some use of this tradition, as we shall see, but the fourth prophetic scroll (The Twelve; better known in Christian circles as the "Minor Prophets") barely makes any mention of it.

The underlying prophetic oracle is not quoted in the prophetic books, but it is provided in the narratives of Samuel and Kings:

Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2Sam. 7:8-16, NRSV)
When Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (1Kings 9:1-5, NRSV)

The words of the earliest of the classical prophets, Amos, now conclude with this seemingly late addition in chapter 9:

On that day I will raise up

the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old;
in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,
says the LORD who does this.
The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be plucked up
out of the land that I have given them, says the LORD your God.

(Amos 9:11-15, NRSV)

Hosea, a prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel, preserves this tradition:

The LORD said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine. And I said to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hos. 3:1-5, NRSV)

In the first part of Isaiah, we find the following classic Davidic texts:

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Is. 7:10-14, NRSV)
The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

(Is. 9:2-7, NRSV)
When the oppressor is no more,

and destruction has ceased,
and marauders have vanished from the land,
then a throne shall be established in steadfast love
in the tent of David,
and on it shall sit in faithfulness
a ruler who seeks justice
and is swift to do what is right.

(Is. 16:4-5, NRSV)

In so-called "Second Isaiah", most likely dating from the time of the Exile, we see the ancient promises to David being applied to the people as a whole rather than seen as a special privilege of the ruler:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

(Is. 55:1-5, NRSV)

The scroll of Jeremiah also makes considerable use of the David tradition, which fits with its setting in the time leading up to and shortly after the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In such circumstances the Davidic dynasty still played a tangible role in the political aspirations of the community.

Thus said the LORD to me: Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say to them: Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the LORD: For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the sabbath or do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear; they stiffened their necks and would not hear or receive instruction. But if you listen to me, says the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but keep the sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited forever. And people shall come from the towns of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the LORD. But if you do not listen to me, to keep the sabbath day holy, and to carry in no burden through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates; it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched. (Jer. 17:19-27, NRSV)
Thus says the LORD: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, and say: Hear the word of the LORD, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation. (Jer. 22:1-5, NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jer. 23:5-6, NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Thus says the LORD: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the LORD chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the LORD: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them. (Jer. 33:14-26, NRSV)

The prophet of the Exile, Ezekiel, gives rather less prominence to the Davidic ruler, but even so there are some classic texts that demonstrate his awareness of the ancient tradition of a special blessing to (and through) David and his successors:

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. (Ezek. 34:23-24, NRSV)
My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations shall know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore. (Ezek. 37:24-28, NRSV)

In the late post-exilic collection known as Zechariah, we find the following:

And the LORD will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah. On that day the LORD will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves. On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. (Zech. 12:7-13:1, NRSV)

While the Psalms are very hard to date, these references to an irrevocable divine promise to David may give us some insight into the function of this royal myth in Jerusalem prior to the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar:

For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations,

and sing praises to your name.
Great triumphs he gives to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.

(Ps. 18:49-50, NRSV)
He rejected the tent of Joseph,

he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
He chose his servant David,
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from tending the nursing ewes he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel, his inheritance.
With upright heart he tended them,
and guided them with skillful hand.

(Ps. 78:67-72, NRSV)
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,

I have sworn to my servant David:
‘I will establish your descendants forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”

(Ps. 89:3-4 NRSV)
I have found my servant David;

with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’
I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever,
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue forever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon,
an enduring witness in the skies.

(Ps. 89:3-4,20-37,49-51, NRSV)
Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,

which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which your enemies taunt, O LORD,
with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.

(Ps. 89:49-51 NRSV)
O LORD, remember in David’s favor

all the hardships he endured;
how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.
We heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool.
Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.”
For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation: “This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread. Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy. There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one. His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.”

(Ps. 132:1-18, NRSV)



Act 3: David as patron of the Jerusalem temple

The final act in the biblical representation of David is the revisionist treatment that we find in the texts associated with the Chronicler: 1&2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. In these texts, and especially in 1&2 Chronicles, the history of Israel is reframed so that everything is focused on the Temple and David is reinvented as the great patron of the Temple. After despatching everything prior to David in the first ten chapters, 1Chronicles then devotes chapters 11 to 29 to the story of David and his preparations for the Temple's construction, while 2Chronicles 2-7 recounts the actual construction by Solomon.

When we add to this the attribution of virtually the entire Psalter to David, we can see how David's legacy was claimed by the priestly aristocracy that ruled the community following the demise of the royal house. Like a long-awaited Messiah, the once and future Davidic prince was projected into the distant future while the clergy got on with the serious business of running the Temple state.

Sequel: David in post-biblical Jewish writings

In The Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (Fortress, 1984), Michael E. Stone surveys the developing David tradition as found in the extant literature from that period.

Stone notes the Qumran text (11Q5) where a list of David's literary compositions is inserted between a citation of 2Sam 23:7 and Psalm 140:

and the wood of an axe, and with fire they are completely burned on the place. And David son of Jesse, was wise, and a light like the light of the sun, and learned, and discerning, and perfect in all his paths before God and men. And YHWH gave him a discerning and enlightened spirit. And he wrote psalms: three thousand six hundred; and songs to be sung before the altar over the perpetual offering of every day, for all the days of the year; fifty-two songs; and for the offerings of the first days of the months, and for all the days of the festival, and for the Day of Atonement; thirty songs. And all the songs he spoke were four hundred and forty-six. And songs to perform over the possessed: four. The total was four thousand and fifty. All these he spoke through the spirit of prophecy which had been given to him from before the Most High. [11Q5 XXVII The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition II,1179]

An earlier discovery from the Cairo Geniza, the Songs of David, may even be one of the compositions mentioned in that Qumran text. Michael Stone comments:

The psalms were expressly destined to be recited day after day and were consequently designed for actual liturgical use. This may be the collection mentioned in the prose list of 'David's Composition' in the Psalms Scroll, where we read that David composed 'songs to sing before the altar every day, all the days of the year.' As in the case of the non-biblical psalms from the Psalms Scroll, the Songs of David are attributed to David himself. Here he appears as a prophet, a universal messianic king who is to teach all the inhabitants of the earth, so that they may return to God's way, serve him truly, and no longer adore the idols.

The Psalms Scroll from Qumran also provides examples of additional psalms composed to tease out the significance of various events in the biblical accounts of David, while perhaps also representing David in ways that resonated with prevailing Greek descriptions of Orpheus the sacred musician:

A Hallelujah of David, son of Jesse.

I was smaller than my brothers and the youngest of my father's sons;
he made me shepherd of his flock and ruler over his kid goats.
My hands made a flute, my fingers a lyre, and I gave glory to YHWH. ...

[11Q5 XXVIII The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition II,1179]

The following examples demonstrate that interest in the coming son of David continued well into the time of Jesus and his contemporaries:

he will build you a house. I will raise up your seed after you and establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me. This refers to the branch of David, who will arise with the Interpreter of the law who will rise up in Zion in the last days, as it is written: I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen. [4Q174 The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition I,353]
The sceptre shall not depart from the tribe of Judah. While Israel has the dominion, there will not be cut off someone who sits on the throne of David. For the staff is the covenant of royalty, and the thousands of Israel are the standards. Until the messiah of righteousness comes, the branch of David. For to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of the kingship of his people for everlasting generations ... [4Q174 The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition I,505]

Finally, we note the expectation that God would raise up a "Messiah of Israel" who would take his place in the community of the faithful, and yet be subordinate to the chief priest:

This is the seating plan of the men of renown,

those summoned to the gathering of the community council,
when God begets the Messiah with them:
the chief priest of all the congregation of Israel shall enter,
and all his brothers, the sons of Aaron, the priests summoned to the assembly,
the men of renown, and they shall sit before him,
each one according to his dignity.
after, the Messiah of Israel shall enter,
and before him shall sit the heads of the thousands of Israel,
each one according to his dignity,
according to his position in their camps
and according to their marches.
And all the heads of the clans of the congregation with the wise men ... shall sit before them,
each one according to his dignity.
And when they gather at the table of community or to drink new wine,
and the table of community is prepared and the new wine is mixed for drinking,
no-one shall stretch out his hand to the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine before the priest,
for he is the one who blesses the first-fruit of bread and of the new wine
and stretches out his hand towards them.
Afterwards the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hands towards the bread.
And afterwards they shall bless all the congregation of the community,
each one according to his dignity.

[1QSa II The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition I,103]




Jesus Database

  • 026 Jesus Virginally Conceived - (1) Gos. Heb. 1; (2) Matt 1:18-25; (3) Luke 1:26-38; (4a) Ign. Eph. 7:2; (4b) Ign. Eph. 18:2a; (4c) Ign. Eph. 19:1; (4d) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1b
  • 007 Of Davids Lineage - (1a) Rom 1:3; (1b) 2 Tim 2:8; (2) Matt 2:1-12; (3) Luke 2:1-20; (4) John 7:41-42; (5a) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1a; (5b) Ign. Eph. 18:2c; (5c) Ign. Trall. 9:1a




Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site

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Music Suggestions

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