Earlier this year I began to novelise my journey of discovering David through the eyes of a fictional character who was grappling with clinical depression. I got 7000 words in, then life got in the way. ‘Chasing David’ is a project I may get back to at some stage, but just now, there are practical reasons why I have chosen to lay it aside. In the meantime (?), here are the big issues I have been through while studying David’s life. If you are learning about him, but are still scratching your head over some areas, you may find some clues here which will help you get unstuck!
- The topic areas I have battled with the hardest include:
Abuse of power: Bathsheba and Census
Lies and escapes to Gath
Ammonites eye for an eye
Empire mentality / warrior traits
Treatment of women: polygamy and equality
End of life instructions to Solomon
Favouritism with tribes
Allowing Joab to retain power.
I know that is an awful lot of negative drama and when I first stood back and looked at all of that, I walked away from David twice, thinking he was a complete jerk. Yet the Holy Spirit kept pulling me back and sending me to the Psalms. Those reflect David’s heart and life in his own words and are a very different picture of him than the books of Samuel and Chronicles, which are others looking in and only telling us what they think should be remembered.
Within the books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles, there are 46 positive events which denote David as a righteous man, and 20 negative life events, of which only 3 list catastrophic sins (Gath, Bathsheba and the census). So if you get stuck judging David on his behaviour with BathSheba, you are ignoring the 46 times David got life right. That is not a balanced way to judge. I had to learn all this the hard way, and the points below are how I got there.
- To stop treating him as just a legend, or muddied sermon illustration. In short, I needed to learn to respect him as if he was alive now and be as fair to the dead, as the Word expects me to be to the living. That taught me that the Word of God has no bounds and that many of us act as Internet trolls do towards people in the Bible. Faceless judging is not righteous, mature behaviour.
- To realise that he went through a maturing and ageing process which affected his attitudes. It turned out that there is a natural curve, with all the usual setbacks and failures we all commonly experience in life. This strengthened my faith that David was not a man-made figure, and increased my security in the validity and genuine spiritual origins of the Bible.
- l had to research the use and abuse of power in relation to what the Torah taught and what David would have been expected to do as a God-fearing servant of the Lord. I was stunned to find that in relation to many areas where he infringed modern International Law and human rights, for his time, he was just, right and righteous.
- I needed to search through the Old Testament and find the references to the love and character of God, so I could understand Him and where He was coming from through the nasty parts of the Old Testament. I succeeded and came out far richer and more spiritually secure than I was before.
- It was necessary to try and step into the shoes of others, such as Michal, Absalom and Joab, and try and understand why they acted the way they did as people. To do that, I went through a lot of psychology lectures to get my head in the right frame of mind and find the words I wanted to describe their experience.
- I had to learn to read Scripture s.l.o.w.l.y. to take in the masses of details and to never believe anyone’s opinion without double checking it. The world is full of misinformation, and I was shocked at how much of the work written about David was supposition which could be debunked by a proper understanding of history, David’s culture and by stopping to look at the Hebrew behind the verse. It takes a lot of time, but any investment in God’s Word is worth it!
- I needed to get deep into the cultural history of Israel and pre-Israel to understand as much as I could about how that culture became who they were and why they did what they did. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, as I have always loved ancient history; but doing this gave my study a solid base, greater depth and many of the Levitical laws finally made sense! I found the answers to mysteries which I thought would become dead ends. Studying David requires theology, anthropology, psychology, political science, some economics and archaeology. Neither Israel or David can be treated as an island, because they were as affected by and immersed in their world as we are in ours. It is a dramatically divergent world from ours and that time invested bought forth gold. I am so glad I did it.
- I had to come to grips with what humility really means and to not fan girl over anyone. David was a servant, not a superstar and I needed to treat him (and Moses) with respect, rather than bias and favouritism. I discovered just how kind, gentle and non-aggressive David was and that stunned me.
My Personal Journey
- I learned that I had to take breaks, especially when researching grief and abnormal psychology, (such as Absalom,) because confronting that level of suffering in real lives is emotionally draining. I have also found that balance enables me to come back refreshed. I am a creative person and to just study and write is frustrating. I need to be able to turn to other projects, and when I have, I come back to learning with a fresh joy and clearer perspective. I also learned to not set deadlines, but allow as much time as was needed and adopt a long-term, open-ended approach.
- I had to learn to set aside writing and publicity approaches, attitudes and ideas that didn’t work (King David Tweets and Chasing David), or stall them for a better time. In any project, sometimes great article ideas don’t come together so well once you get into them, or you realise your limitations and have to stop or reschedule. I haven’t fully abandoned any ideas, as one day, a new approach to an old dead end may appear and be fruitful.
- I had to learn to not lose my temper with secular theologians who critically molest the Word of God as an intellectual pursuit (etc.,) and with misinformed Christians who need patience and empathy. Mastering that will be a long-term struggle. I have had to learn to be careful who I listen to and again, double check every opinion no matter how highly qualified they are, how much I like them or how big their achievements are. I also have to be willing to be told I am wrong by someone who knows more than I do. (That last part I am OK with.)
- Being patient with myself was essential as I have often have to go back and change things I have written after I’d discovered a new key piece of information further down the track. I had to take the stance that this is a learning process and it’s OK to say, “I’m wrong,” and be excited about finding something new out, rather than berating myself for not knowing everything instantly. I also had to give the Holy Spirit time to correct me before I published anything.
- Because I have become very fond of David, I have had a personal need to delve into his areas of sin and properly understand why he did what he did, as the negatives irritate me. I prefer the perfect, squeaky clean hero, but a David like that would be impossible to relate to and would lose his value. I do call sin a sin, however, there is always room for empathy, and as I found with Bathsheba, a lot of room to realise I don’t know the whole story and should hold my tongue/pen/keyboard…
- It was a conscious decision to focus on and write more about the more positive parts of David’s story, as there are plenty of others focussed on judging him. I get greater benefit from studying David’s life by focussing on the areas which build my faith, improve my personal habits and inspire me.
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