David’s Steleae: The Psalms as Public Memorials and Private Prayers

violin-and-psalm“I will tell of the marvellous things You have done.” Psalm 9:1b

“I will exalt You, Lord, because You have rescued me.” Psalm 30:1a

A stele is “an upright stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument, marker, or the like.” [Source: Dictionary.com] They were widely used in the Near East millennia before David, and well after his time. It was standard practice for kings to have steles and statues of themselves made as positive propaganda to support their reign. However, David didn’t follow this practice. In line with the *ten commandments, he didn’t have himself pictured with a representation of YHWH behind him, neither did he carve his achievements in stone. Apart from the book of Samuel and 1 Chronicles, the only memorials we have to David are his Psalms, some of which could be likened to victory steles, and others which have an interesting function.

Roughly half of all the Psalms that are attributed to David were sent to the choir director and made public, and 50% of those Psalms were written when he was in great distress. We don’t know how the other Psalms were used, but it is possible that the ones which have not been specifically marked as “for the choir director” were in his personal collection, then organised into books after his death. His Psalms which are marked as prayers: 17, 86, and 142, were notably not sent to the choir director.

Some of the Psalms that were made public had national themes: Psalm 60 was written while David grappled with Israel’s failures in the battle in the Valley of Salt, and is noted as being useful for teaching; the wording of Psalm 67 is a mix of a prayer and a benediction; and Psalm 58 is an outspoken challenge to the people of Israel on justice [see the final chapter below for clarification]. David also sent Psalm 53 to the choir director, making a public statement of faith with “only fools deny God.”

Using my own classification of the Psalms (I get lost in the theological classifications, so I divided them further for my own use), these are the victory Psalms that David wanted sung before the Lord:

  • Psalm 9: I will tell of all the marvellous things You have done.
  • Psalm 18: When rescued from Saul and the enemies in that period of time.
  • Psalm 20: May the LORD answer all your prayers.
  • Psalm 21: How the king rejoices in Your strength, O LORD!
  • Psalm 30: Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

The Psalms of joy and wonder, plus David’s statements of faith that were sent to the choir director include Psalms 8, 11, 19, 62, 65, 66, 67, 53 and 58.

One thing which occurred to me when looking at which Psalms were attributed to specific events and could be considered memorials, is that there are no Psalms specifically linked to David’s most notable victories such as killing Goliath, bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, or his battle achievements. He didn’t mention God’s special covenant with Him, or his plans to build the temple; (neither did David ask for it to be named after him.) This is a testament to David’s humility, despite the moral dips which occurred with Bathsheba and the census.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

God is always the focus of David’s songs, which is another significant difference between him and any other ruler. He never claims honour or victory for himself. For an example, read the **Code of Hammurabi which has massive chunks at the beginning and end, glorifying and justifying the rule of Hammurabi. For example: “Hammurabi, the prince… making riches and increase, enriching Nippur and Dur-ilu beyond compare… who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon…who enriched Ur; the humble, the reverent, who brings wealth…”

David’s work shows that he was transparent in how he talked about his life in public and that he wasn’t hung up on appearances. He freely admitted his faults and struggles and the glory for his successes always went to the Lord. Psalm 51, which speaks of his correction by Nathan over Bathsheba, and how sin affected him, was made public. Whether that was to address his sin because it was public knowledge, or whether it was to be used as a teaching aid to strengthen the faith of the people and encourage righteousness, or both, I honestly don’t know.

Psalm 3, which was about when he fled from Absalom, Psalm 34 where he escaped from Philistine territory feigning madness and Psalm 52, where he was betrayed by Doeg to Saul, weren’t marked for use by the choir director either. Not using Psalm 52 appears odd, as all the other betrayal Psalms were publicly sung. Perhaps it wasn’t copied or notated correctly, or perhaps David had some private reason for not sending it on? I wish I knew.

These are the Psalms which have a definite event associated with them and could be considered a form of victory stele.

  • 7 – concerning Cush of the tribe of Benjamin
  • 18 – rescued from all enemies and Saul [PUBLIC]
  • 30 – dedication of the temple / house [PUBLIC]
  • 54 – betrayed by Ziphites [PUBLIC]
  • 56 – seized at Gath [PUBLIC]
  • 57 – when fled from Saul and went to the cave [PUBLIC]
  • 59 – soldiers watching his house [PUBLIC]

The last point of interest is David’s request that two Psalms which relate to persecution by Saul, (57 and 59,) be sung to the tune “Do Not Destroy.” Knowing the old title attached to that melody would add a clear message to the Psalm, which would be noted by anyone knowing that piece of music. Other Psalmists also requested the same for their work.

“Do Not Destroy” is also the melody which was selected for Psalm 58: “Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?” In Bible Hub’s interlinear Bible, “ruler” is elem, or congregation. [Strongs Number 482] It is a masculine word, which is culturally correct as the assembly of believers was all male in David’s time. Some Bibles say gods, some say sons of men. There is no correct consensus. It is a source of profound frustration to me that words such as this are so poorly translated in our Bibles, and a reminder to dig deeper to find the true meaning of the Word of God.
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Notes:

*“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

**The Code of Hammurabi translated by L.W. King http://www.general-intelligence.com/library/hr.pdf  and the Louvre Museum’s page on it: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/law-code-hammurabi-king-babylon


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

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“Work the Problem?” What King David and Astronauts Have in Common

work-problem-1“At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.” This quote comes from the movie The Martian, where N.A.S.A. astronaut Mark Watney, must survive on Mars after he is stranded by his crew who presumed he was dead.

I read this quote and it made me wonder how close this is to what David did when he escaped *King Achish of Gath, was persecuted by Saul, had to rescue his family from the Amalekites, and then when he had to ensure that he wasn’t accused of King Ishbosheth’s death. In short, David had a lot of nasty scrapes to get out of, not including the dangers he faced in battle, and the challenges his reign later faced. He was a fast thinker, a diplomat and a problem solver and this saved him from an early death. David “worked the problem” and didn’t give up until he found an answer.

Or did he?

Mark Watney was modelled off the experience of real astronauts who like warrior kings, face deadly challenges in the course of a normal day. Commander Chris Hadfield is a former Canadian Space Agency astronaut. He is the first Canadian to walk in space, and the first to command the International Space Station. In his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Chris shares this:

work-problem-2“I’m not terrified, because I’ve been trained, for years, by multiple teams of experts who have helped me to think through how to handle just about every conceivable situation that could occur between launch and landing… In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts… I’ve learned how to push past fear… People tend to think astronauts have the courage of a superhero – or maybe the emotional range of a robot. But in order to stay calm in a high-stress, high-stakes situation, all you really need is knowledge.”

If there is one thing that David has taught me, it’s to disagree with that sentence.

David didn’t rely on his experience and problem solving skills alone, he bought a more powerful risk management party into the equation.

“Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 1 Samuel 23:4

“David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the Lord his God. Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the Lord, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?”
And the Lord told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!” 1 Samuel 30:6-8
“After this, David asked the Lord, “Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?”
“Yes,” the Lord replied.
Then David asked, “Which town should I go to?”
“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.”  2 Samuel 2:1

“So David asked the Lord, “Should I go out to fight the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” The Lord replied to David, “Yes, go ahead. I will certainly hand them over to you…” 2 Samuel 5:19
“…And again David asked the Lord what to do. “Do not attack them straight on,” the Lord replied. “Instead, circle around behind and attack them near the poplar trees.”
2 Samuel 5:23

“There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.” 2 Samuel 21:1

David was smart enough not to rely on his own abilities, but to ask God for guidance and depend on Him as a partner in battle and life. From the history of Isra’el, David knew that God had delivered His people miraculously many times and David wasn’t a conceited high achiever who believed that he didn’t need that same help.

That was the making of David: more than his prowess in battle, his courage, his charisma or his quick wits. He loved God more than his own reputation and if we do the same, we’ll never be lost or hopelessly afraid again.

“The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
May God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted!
He is the God who pays back those who harm me;
He brings down the nations under me
and delivers me from my enemies.
You hold me safe beyond the reach of my enemies;
You save me from violent opponents.
For this, O Lord, I will praise You among the nations;
I will sing praises to Your Name.
You give great victories to Your king;
You show unfailing love toYour anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.” 2 Samuel 22:47-51

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Notes:

Achish: 1 Samuel 21, then again in chapters 27 and 29; Amalekites 1 Samuel 30, death of Ishbosheth 2 Samuel 4.


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Getting Over (Really) Big Mistakes

Archaeological evidence of Gath, from a lecture given by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Archaeological evidence of Gath, from a lecture given by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Click to watch video.

Two years ago I regained consciousness in a hospital bed, realising that I had deeply traumatised the people I loved the most and that I had permanently messed up my life. No one was ever going to trust me the same way again. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever been through. I couldn’t make it better; I couldn’t hide what I had done wrong, as it was publicly reported. It could affect my future employment potential and could tar my reputation for a very long time.

Thankfully, we don’t all go through experiences quite as dramatic, but regardless of the comparative size of the mistake made, if it feels like a destructive disaster to you, then it’s big and somehow, you have to get past it. That is not easy, especially if it’s had a huge, negative impact on your faith, but it can be done with patience and persistence.

David made a terrible mistake before he became the King of Judah. In 1 Samuel 26:17-21 we see the toll that Saul’s relentless pursuit of David had taken.
“Saul recognized David’s voice and called out, “Is that you, my son David?”
And David replied, “Yes, my lord the king. Why are you chasing me? What have I done? What is my crime? But now let my lord the king listen to his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, then let him accept my offering. But if this is simply a human scheme, then may those involved be cursed by the LORD. For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the LORD’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the LORD? Why has the king of Israel come out to search for a single flea? Why does he hunt me down like a partridge on the mountains?”
Then Saul confessed, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong.”

Despite Saul’s confession, he continued to deploy both his time and his army to try and kill David, his rival to the throne of Isra’el. After years of this, an exhausted David fled to the Philistine city of Gath for sanctuary, where he knew Saul wouldn’t dare to follow him.

To summarise David’s time in Gath, to survive he repeatedly lied to the King of Gath; he raided the people living between Gath and Egypt’s borders to ensure the survival and wealth of his family and his men, and in those raids he killed every man, woman and child to ensure there would be no survivors to dob him in; then he wound up being marched into battle against his own people. David had been leading a precarious double life. The Lord saved him from fighting his own kinsmen, but many scholars believe that it is at least partly because of the atrocities that David committed at this time, that he never got his heart’s desire, to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The young David was still building his faith and learning to tame his tongue and his character. From earlier events, we’ve seen that David was a popular, charismatic leader who could talk his way out of incredibly tight situations. [Ref. 1 Samuel 24:7 and later 1 Samuel 30:6] He was also battling with keeping his temper under control and learning how to be a righteous leader. [Ref. 1 Samuel 29] The fact that he had two wives by this stage (three if you count the exiled Michal,) shows that he was already acting like a man in power and that could easily lead to corruption. Yet, God was using that tough time in exile to build dependence on Him, and to shear off rough edges which could potentially become massive stumbling blocks, had they not been dealt with.

At that time David was also surrounded by several hundred men who maybe weren’t the most godly of influences. “Then others began coming; men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented, until David was the captain of about 400 men.” 1 Samuel 22:2 Perhaps their complaints and suggestions had contributed to him stepping away from having faith in God’s deliverance and escaping over the border?

Despite how badly he’d messed up and how tragic the consequences could have been, there is one thing which saved David from disaster: he always turned to his faith in the Lord.

We see it demonstrated in 1 Samuel 30:3-7 “When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more. David’s two wives, Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel, were among those captured. David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the LORD his God. Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the LORD, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” And the LORD told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”

ichthus_pencGGThis faith always stayed with David and is what kept him from becoming an unrighteous, power-crazed mess as a King, throughout the rest of his life. During the time he was in Gath, his faith would have been pushed to its limits, as the Israelites believed that if they were outside of the borders of their country, God could not reach them. As the Scripture above demonstrates, David believed that within Philistine territory, they were estranged from His delivering power. That a man of God was willing to take that risk and move to Gath shows his desperation. David’s mind must have been blown when he discovered that it didn’t matter where he was, or what he’d done, God was with him! It defied everything he’d been taught and must have been a joyful, humbling realisation.

There are two lessons from David’s experience which can help us get through the gigantic mistakes we’ve made in our own lives, regardless of how great the mess is. The first is get back to the basics of your faith. Get back to prayer, studying the Word of God and asking for help and obeying His lead. You don’t need to engage in any fancy acts of faith, pushing yourself into deeper waters than you feel you can swim in; just get back to a child-like dependence on Him, where you are secure and allow God to build you up again over time.

The second is, listen to the council of righteous people. David had the son of Isra’el’s high priest with him. Abiathar must have been an encouragement and support. In times of great need, we need to be around other Christians with strong faith, who will pray and help us find out how the Word of God applies to our life. The answers are not found in the bottom of a bottle, self-pity or escapism. Spending hours online or watching television won’t assist us: we need good, solid, reliable input from the Christians in our lives that we know have also gone through hard times and overcome them. Saul had killed Abiathar’s family, so he was in the same precarious boat as David; but he still had the Ephod the priests wore; he hadn’t thrown away his faith either.

David got through this trial and more, and in his old age, wanted to keep exhorting the next generation of young people to serve God. In Psalm 71, even as a King, his enemies are still after him, wanting his power, but despite a life of hardship, in verses 7 and 8, David says this:
“My life is an example to many,
because You have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising You;
I declare Your glory all day long.”

Life can be a very long haul, filled with many trials and heartaches, but there will also be many occasions of victory and praise. I encourage you, whatever you are going through, to hold onto your faith, even when you’re in a place where you’re sure God can’t reach you. He will push through; just go back to the basics and pray study and praise your way through. You’ll be stunned at what His faithfulness will deliver for you.

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The image at the top of the post is a screenshot from this lecture on the Philistine city of Gath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAZPJRtdjmk
Aren Maeir | New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel
This is owned by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago


 

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