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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Chronicles 11

 

 

Verses 1-47

DAVID

1. HIS TRIBE AND DYNASTY

KING and kingdom were so bound up in ancient life that an ideal for the one implied an ideal for the other: all distinction and glory possessed by either was shared by both. The tribe and kingdom of Judah were exalted by the fame of David and Solomon: but, on the other hand, a specially exalted position is accorded to David in the Old Testament because he is the representative of the people of Jehovah. David himself had been anointed by Divine command to be king of Israel, and he thus became the founder of the only legitimate dynasty of Hebrew kings. Saul and Ishbosheth had no significance for the later religious history of the nation. Apparently to the chronicler the history of true religion in Israel was a blank between Joshua and David; the revival began when the Ark was brought to Zion, and the first steps were taken to rear the Temple in succession to the Mosaic tabernacle. He therefore omits the history of the Judges and Saul. But the battle of Gilboa is given to introduce the reign of David, and incidental condemnation is passed on Saul: "So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for that he asked counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire thereby, and inquired not of the Lord; therefore He slew him and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse."

The reign of Saul had been an unsuccessful experiment; its only real value had been to prepare the way for David. At the same time the portrait of Saul is not given at full length, like those of the wicked kings, partly perhaps because the chronicler had little interest for anything before the time of David and the Temple but partly, we may hope, because the record of David’s affection for Saul kept alive a kindly feeling towards the founder of the monarchy.

Inasmuch as Jehovah had "turned the kingdom unto David," the reign of Ishbosheth was evidently the intrusion of an illegitimate pretender; and the chronicler treats it as such. If we had only Chronicles, we should know nothing about the reign of Ishbosheth, and should suppose that, on the death of Saul. David succeeded at once to an undisputed sovereignty over all Israel. The interval of conflict is ignored because, according to the chronicler’s views, David was, from the first, king de jure over the whole nation. Complete silence as to Ishbosheth was the most effective way of expressing this fact.

The same sentiment of hereditary legitimacy, the same formal and exclusive recognition of a de jure sovereign, has been shown in modern times by titles like Louis XVIII and Napoleon III. For both schools of Legitimists the absence of de facto sovereignty did not prevent Louis XVII and Napoleon II from having been lawful rulers of France. In Israel, moreover, the Divine right of the one chosen dynasty had religious as well as political importance. We have already seen that Israel claimed a hereditary title to its special privileges; it was therefore natural that a hereditary qualification should be thought necessary for the kings. They represented the nation; they were the Divinely appointed guardians of its religion; they became in time the types of the Messiah, its promised Savior. In all this Saul and Ishbosheth had neither part nor lot; the promise to Israel had always descended in a direct line, and the special promise that was given to its kings and through them to their people began with David. There was no need to carry the history further back.

We have already noticed that, in spite of this general attitude towards Saul, the genealogy of some of his descendants is given twice over in the earlier chapters. No doubt the chronicler made this concession to gratify friends or to conciliate an influential family. It is interesting to note how personal feeling may interfere with the symmetrical development of a theological theory. At the same time we are enabled to discern a practical reason for rigidly ignoring the kingship of Saul and Ishbosheth. To have recognized Saul as the Lord’s anointed, like David, would have complicated contemporary dogmatics, and might possibly have given rise to jealousies between the descendants of Saul and those of David. Within the narrow limits of the Jewish community such quarrels might have been inconvenient and even dangerous.

The reasons for denying the legitimacy of the northern kings were obvious and conclusive. Successful rebels who had destroyed the political and religious unity of Israel could not inherit "the sure mercies of David" or be included in the covenant which secured the permanence of his dynasty.

The exclusive association of Messianic ideas with a single family emphasizes their antiquity, continuity, and development. The hope of Israel had its roots deep in the history of the people; it had grown with their growth and maintained itself through their changing fortunes. As the hope centered in a single family, men were led to expect an individual personal Messiah: they were being prepared to see in Christ the fulfillment of all righteousness.

But the choice of the house of David involved the choice of the tribe of Judah and the rejection of the kingdom of Samaria. The ten tribes, as well as the kings of Israel, had cut themselves off both from the Temple and the sacred dynasty, and therefore from the covenant into which Jehovah had entered with "the man after his own heart." Such a limitation of the chosen people was suggested by many precedents. Chronicles, following the Pentateuch, tells how the call came to Abraham, but only some of the descendants of one of his sons inherited the promise. Why should not a selection be made from among the sons of Jacob? But the twelve tribes had been explicitly and solemnly included in the unity of Israel, largely through David himself. The glory of David and Solomon consisted in their sovereignty over a united people. The national recollection of this golden age loved to dwell on the union of the twelve tribes. The Pentateuch added legal sanction to ancient sentiment. The twelve tribes were associated together in national lyrics, like the "Blessing of Jacob" and the "Blessing of Moses." The song of Deborah told how the northern tribes "came to the help of the Lord against the mighty." It was simply impossible for the chronicler to absolutely repudiate the ten tribes; and so they are formally included in the genealogies of Israel, and are recognized in the history of David and Solomon. Then the recognition stops. From the time of the disruption the Northern Kingdom is quietly but persistently ignored. Its prophets and sanctuaries were as illegitimate as its kings. The great struggle of Elijah and Elisha for the honor of Jehovah is omitted, with all the rest of their history. Elijah is only mentioned as sending a letter to Jehoram, king of Judah; Elisha is never even named.

On the other hand, it is more than once implied that Judah, with the Levites, and the remnants of Simeon and Benjamin, are the true Israel. When Rehoboam "was strong he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him." After Shishak’s invasion, "the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves." [2 Chronicles 12:1; 2 Chronicles 12:6] The annals of Manasseh, king of Judah, are said to be "written among the acts of the kings of Israel." [2 Chronicles 33:18] The register of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel is headed "The number of the men of the people of Israel." [Ezra 2:2] The chronicler tacitly anticipates the position of St. Paul: "They are not all Israel which are of Israel": and the Apostle might have appealed to Chronicles to show that the majority of Israel might fail to recognize and accept the Divine purpose for Israel, and that the true Israel would then be found in an elect remnant. The Jews of the second Temple naturally and inevitably came to ignore the ten tribes and to regard themselves as constituting this true Israel. As a matter of history, there had been a period during which the prophets of Samaria were of far more importance to the religion of Jehovah than the temple at Jerusalem; but in the chronicler’s time the very existence of the ten tribes was ancient history. Then, at any rate, it was true that God’s Israel was to be found in the Jewish community, at and around Jerusalem. They inherited the religious spirit of their fathers, and received from them the sacred writings and traditions, and carried on the sacred ritual. They preserved the truth and transmitted it from generation to generation, till at last it was merged in the mightier stream of Christian revelation.

The attitude of the chronicler towards the prophets of the Northern Kingdom does not in any way represent the actual importance of these prophets to the religion of Israel; but it is a very striking expression of the fact that after the Captivity the ten tribes had long ceased to exercise any influence upon the spiritual life of their nation.

The chronicler’s attitude is also open to criticism on another side. He is dominated by his own surroundings, and in his references to the Judaism of his own time there is no formal recognition of the Jewish community in Babylon; and yet even his own casual allusions confirm what we know from other sources, namely that the wealth and learning of the Jews in Babylon were an important factor in Judaism until a very late date. This point perhaps rather concerns Ezra and Nehemiah than Chronicles, but it is closely connected with our present subject, and is most naturally treated along with it. The chronicler might have justified himself by saying that the true home of Israel must be in Palestine, and that a community in Babylon could only be considered as subsidiary to the nation in its own home and worshipping at the Temple. Such a sentiment, at any rate, would have met with universal approval amongst Palestinian Jews. The chronicler might also have replied that the Jews in Babylon belonged to Judah and Benjamin and were sufficiently recognized in the general prominence given to these tribes. In all probability some Palestinian Jews would have been willing to class their Babylonian kinsmen with the ten tribes. Voluntary exiles from the Temple, the Holy City, and the Land of Promise had in great measure cut themselves off from the full privileges of the people of Jehovah. If, however, we had a Babylonian book of Chronicles, we should see both Jerusalem and Babylon in another light.

The chronicler was possessed and inspired by the actual living present round about him; he was content to let the dead past bury its dead. He was probably inclined to believe that the absent are mostly wrong, and that the men who worked with him for the Lord and His temple were the true Israel and the Church of God. He was enthusiastic in his own vocation and loyal to his brethren. If his interests were somewhat narrowed by the urgency of present circumstances, most men suffer from the same limitations. Few Englishmen realize that the battle of Agincourt is part of the history of the United States, and that Canterbury Cathedral is a monument of certain stages in the growth of the religion of New England. We are not altogether willing to admit that these voluntary exiles from our Holy Land belong to the true Anglo-Saxon Israel.

Churches are still apt to ignore their obligations to teachers who. like the prophets of Samaria, seem to have been associated with alien or hostile branches of the family of God. A religious movement which fails to secure for itself a permanent monument is usually labeled heresy. If it has neither obtained recognition within the Church nor yet organized a sect for itself, its services are forgotten or denied. Even the orthodoxy of one generation is sometimes contemptuous of the older orthodoxy which made it possible; and yet Gnostics, Arians and Athanasians, Arminians and Calvinists, have all done something to build up the temple of faith.

The nineteenth century prides itself on a more liberal spirit. But Romanist historians are not eager to acknowledge the debt of their Church to the Reformers; and there are Protestant partisans who deny that we are the heirs of the Christian life and thought of the medieval Church and are anxious to trace the genealogy of pure religion exclusively through a supposed succession of obscure and half-mythical sects. Limitations like those of the chronicler still narrow the sympathies of earnest and devout Christians.

But it is time to return to the more positive aspects of the teaching of Chronicles, and to see how far we have already traced its exposition of the Messianic idea. The plan of the book implies a spiritual claim on behalf of the Jewish community of the Restoration. Because they believed in Jehovah, whose providence had in former times controlled the destinies of Israel, they returned to their ancestral home that they might serve and worship the God of their fathers. Their faith survived the ruin of Judah and their own captivity; they recognized the power, and wisdom, and love of God alike in the prosperity and in the misfortunes of their race. "They believed God, and it was counted unto them for righteousness." The great prophet of the Restoration had regarded this new Israel as itself a Messianic people, perhaps even "a light to the Gentiles" and "salvation unto the ends of the earth." [Isaiah 49:6] The chronicler’s hopes were more modest; the new Jerusalem had been seen by the prophet as an ideal vision; the historian knew it lay experience as an imperfect human society: but he believed none the less in its high spiritual vocation and prerogatives. He claimed the future for those who were able to trace the hand of God in their past.

Under the monarchy the fortunes of Jerusalem had been bound up with those of the house of David. The chronicler brings out all that was best in the history of the ancient kings of Judah, that this ideal picture of the state and its rulers might encourage and inspire to future hope and effort. The character and achievements of David and his successors were of permanent significance. The grace and favor accorded to them symbolized the Divine promise for the future, and this promise was to be realized through a Son of David.

DAVID

2. HIS PERSONAL HISTORY

IN order to understand why the chronicler entirely recasts the graphic and candid history of David given in the book of Samuel, we have to consider the place that David had come to fill in Jewish religion. It seems probable that among the sources used by the author of the book of Samuel was a history of David, written not long after his death, by some one familiar with the inner life of the court. "No one," says the proverb, "is a hero to his valet"; very much what a valet is to a private gentleman courtiers are to a king: their knowledge of their master approaches to the familiarity which breeds contempt. Not that David was ever a subject for contempt or less than a hero even to his own courtiers: but they knew him as a very human hero, great in his vices as well as in his virtues, daring in battle and wise in counsel, sometimes also reckless in sin, yet capable of unbounded repentance, loving not wisely, but too well. And as they knew him, so they described him; and their picture is an immortal possession for all students of sacred life and literature. But it is not the portrait of a Messiah; when we think of the "Son of David," we do not want to be reminded of Bathsheba.

During the six or seven centuries that elapsed between the death of David and the chronicler the name of David had come to have a symbolic meaning, which was largely independent of the personal character and career of the actual king. His reign had become idealized by the magic of antiquity; it was a glory of "the good old times." His own sins and failures were obscured by the crimes and disasters of later kings. And yet, in spite of all its shortcomings, the "house of David" still remained the symbol alike of ancient glory and of future hopes. We have seen from the genealogies how intimate the connection was between the family and its founder. Ephraim and Benjamin may mean either patriarchs or tribes. A Jew was not always anxious to distinguish between the family and the founder. "David" and "the house of David" became almost interchangeable terms.

Even the prophets of the eighth century connect the future destiny of Israel with David and his house. The child, of whom Isaiah prophesied, was to sit "upon the throne of David" and be "over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from henceforth even forever." [Isaiah 9:7] And, again, the king who is to "sit in truth judging, and seeking judgment, and swift to do righteousness," is to have "his throne established in mercy in the tent of David." When [Isaiah 16:5] Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem, the city was defended [Isaiah 37:35] for Jehovah’s own sake and for His servant David’s sake. In the word of the Lord that came to Isaiah for Hezekiah, David supersedes, as it were, the sacred fathers of the Hebrew race; Jehovah is not spoken of as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," but "the God of David." [Isaiah 38:5] As founder of the dynasty, he takes rank with the founders of the race and religion of Israel: he is "the patriarch David." [Acts 2:29] The northern prophet Hosea looks forward to the time when the children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord "their God and David their king"; [Hosea 3:5] when Amos wishes to set forth the future prosperity of Israel, he says that the Lord "will raise up the tabernacle of David"; [Amos 9:11] in Micah "the ruler in Israel" is to come forth from Bethlehem Ephrathah, the birthplace of David; [Micah 5:2] in Jeremiah such references to David are frequent, the most characteristic being those relating to the "righteous branch, whom the Lord will raise up unto David," who "shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute judgment and justice in the land, in whose days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely"; in Ezekiel "My servant David" is to be the shepherd and prince of Jehovah’s restored and reunited people; [Ezekiel 34:23-24] Zechariah, writing at what we may consider the beginning of the chronicler’s own period, follows the language of his predecessors: he applies Jeremiah’s prophecy of "the righteous branch" to Zerubbabel, the prince of the house of David: similarly in Haggai Zerubbabel is the chosen of Jehovah; [Haggai 2:23] in the appendix to Zechariah it is said that when "the Lord defends the inhabitants of Jerusalem the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them." [Zechariah 12:8] In the later literature, Biblical and apocryphal, the Davidic origin of the Messiah is not conspicuous till it reappears in the Psalms of Solomon and the New Testament, but the idea had not necessarily been dormant meanwhile. The chronicler and his school studied and meditated on the sacred writings, and must have been familiar with this doctrine of the prophets. The interest in such a subject would not be confined to scholars. Doubtless the downtrodden people cherished with ever-growing ardor the glorious picture of the Davidic king. In the synagogues it was not only Moses, but the Prophets, that were read; and they could never allow the picture of the Messianic king to grow faint and pale.

David’s name was also familiar as the author of many psalms. The inhabitants of Jerusalem would often hear them sung at the Temple, and they were probably used for private devotion. In this way especially the name of David had become associated with the deepest and purest spiritual experiences.

This brief survey shows how utterly impossible it was for the chronicler to transfer the older narrative bodily from the book of Samuel to his own pages. Large omissions were absolutely necessary. He could not sit down in cold blood to tell his readers that the man whose name they associated with the most sacred memories and the noblest hopes of Israel had been guilty of treacherous murder, and had offered himself to the Philistines as an ally against the people of Jehovah.

From this point of view let us consider the chronicler’s omissions somewhat more in detail. In the first place, with one or two slight exceptions, he omits the whole of David’s life before his accession to the throne, for two reasons: partly because he is anxious that his readers should think of David as king, the anointed of Jehovah, the Messiah; partly that they may not be reminded of his career as an outlaw and a freebooter and of his alliance with the Philistines. It is probably only an unintentional result of this omission that it enables the chronicler to ignore the important services rendered to David by Abiathar, whose family were rivals of the house of Zadok in the priesthood.

We have already seen that the events of David’s reign at Hebron and his struggle with Ishbosheth are omitted because the chronicler does not recognize Ishbosheth as a legitimate king. The omission would also commend itself because this section contains the account of Joab’s murder of Abner and David’s inability to do more than protest against the crime. "I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me," [2 Samuel 3:39] are scarcely words that become an ideal king.

The next point to notice is one of those significant alterations that mark the chronicler’s industry as a redactor. In 2 Samuel 5:21 we read that after the Philistines had been defeated at Baal-perazim they left their images there, and David and his men took them away. Why did they take them away? What did David and his men want with images? Missionaries bring home images as trophies, and exhibit them triumphantly, like soldiers who have captured the enemy’s standards. No one, not even an unconverted native, supposes that they have been brought away to be used in worship.

But the worship of images was no improbable apostasy on the part of an Israelite king. The chronicler felt that these ambiguous words were open to misconstruction; so he tells us what he assumes to have been their ultimate fate: "And they left their gods there; and David gave commandment, and they were burnt with fire." [2 Samuel 5:21, 1 Chronicles 14:12]

The next omission was obviously a necessary one; it is the incident of Uriah and Bathsheba. The name Bathsheba never occurs in Chronicles. When it is necessary to mention the mother of Solomon, she is called Bathshua, possibly in order that the disgraceful incident might not be suggested even by the use of the name. The New Testament genealogies differ in this matter in somewhat the same way as Samuel and Chronicles. St. Matthew expressly mentions Uriah’s wife as an ancestress of our Lord, but St. Luke does not mention her or any other ancestress.

The next omission is equally extensive and important. It includes the whole series of events connected with the revolt of Absalom, from the incident of Tamar to the suppression of the rebellion of Sheba the son of Bichri. Various motives may have contributed to this omission. The narrative contains unedifying incidents, which are passed over as lightly as possible by modern writers like Stanley. It was probably a relief to the chronicler to be able to omit them altogether. There is no heinous sin like the murder of Uriah, but the story leaves a general impression of great weakness on David’s part. Joab murders Amasa as he had murdered Abner, and this time there is no record of any protest even on the part of David. But probably the main reason for the omission of this narrative is that it mars the ideal picture of David’s power and dignity and the success and prosperity of his reign.

The touching story of Rizpah is omitted; the hanging of her sons does not exhibit David in a very amiable light. The Gibeonites propose that "they shall hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord," and David accepts the proposal. This punishment of the children for the sin of their father was expressly against the Law and the whole incident was perilously akin to human sacrifice. How could they be hung up before Jehovah in Gibeah unless there was a sanctuary of Jehovah in Gibeah? And why should Saul at such a time and in such a connection be called emphatically "the chosen of Jehovah"? On many grounds, it was a passage which the chronicler would be glad to omit.

2 Samuel 21:15-17 we are told that David waxed faint and had to be rescued by Abishai. This is omitted by Chronicles probably because it detracts from the character of David as the ideal hero. The next paragraph in Samuel also tended to depreciate David’s prowess. It stated that Goliath was slain by Elhanan. The chronicler introduces a correction. It was not Goliath whom Elhanan slew, but Lahmi, the brother of Goliah. However, the text in Samuel is evidently corrupt; and possibly this is one of the cases in which Chronicles has preserved the correct text. [2 Samuel 21:19, 1 Chronicles 20:5]

Then follow two omissions that are not easily accounted for 2 Samuel 22:1-51; 2 Samuel 23:1-39, contain two psalms, Psalms 18:1-50, and "the Last Words of David," the latter not included in the Psalter. These psalms are generally considered a late addition to the book of Samuel, and it is barely possible that they were not in the copy used by the chronicler; but the late date of Chronicles makes against this supposition. The psalms may be omitted for the sake of brevity, and yet elsewhere a long cento of passages from post-Exilic psalms is added to the material derived from the book of Samuel. Possibly something in the omitted section jarred upon the theological sensibilities of the chronicler, but it is not clear what. He does not as a rule look below the surface for obscure suggestions of undesirable views. The grounds of his alterations and omissions are usually sufficiently obvious; but these particular omissions are not at present susceptible of any obvious explanation. Further research into the theology of Judaism may perhaps provide us with one hereafter.

Finally, the chronicler omits the attempt of Adonijah to seize the throne, and David’s dying commands to Solomon. The opening chapters of the book of Kings present a graphic and pathetic picture of the closing scenes of David’s life. The king is exhausted with old age. His authoritative sanction to the coronation of Solomon is only obtained when he has been roused and directed by the promptings and suggestions of the women of his harem. The scene is partly a parallel and partly a contrast to the last days of Queen Elizabeth; for when her bodily strength failed, the obstinate Tudor spirit refused to be guided by the suggestions of her courtiers. The chronicler was depicting a person of almost Divine dignity, in whom incidents of human weakness would have been out of keeping; and therefore they are omitted.

David’s charge to Solomon is equally human. Solomon is to make up for David’s weakness and undue generosity by putting Joab and Shimei to death; on the other hand, he is to pay David’s debt of gratitude to the son of Barzillai. But the chronicler felt that David’s mind in those last days must surely have been occupied with the temple which Solomon was to build, and the less edifying charge is omitted.

Constantine is reported to have said that, for the honor of the Church, he would conceal the sin of a bishop with his own imperial purple. David was more to the chronicler than the whole Christian episcopate to Constantine. His life of David is compiled in the spirit and upon the principles of lives of saints generally, and his omissions are made in perfect good faith.

Let us now consider the positive picture of David as it is drawn for us in Chronicles. Chronicles would be published separately, each copy written, out on a roll of its own. There may have been Jews who had Chronicles, hut not Samuel and Kings, and who knew nothing about David except what they learned from Chronicles. Possibly the chronicler and his friends would recommend the work as suitable for the education of children and the instruction of the common people. It would save its readers from being perplexed by the religious difficulties suggested by Samuel and Kings. There were many obstacles, however, to the success of such a scheme; the persecutions of Antiochus and the wars of the Maccabees took the leadership out of the hands of scholars and gave it to soldiers and statesmen. The latter perhaps felt more drawn to the real David than to the ideal, and the new priestly dynasty would not be anxious to emphasize the Messianic hopes of the house of David. But let us put ourselves for a moment in the position of a student of Hebrew history who reads of David for the first time in Chronicles and has no other source of information.

Our first impression as we read the book is that David comes into the history as abruptly as Elijah or Melchizedek. Jehovah slew Saul "and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse." [1 Chronicles 10:14] Apparently the Divine appointment is promptly and enthusiastically accepted by the nation; all the twelve tribes come at once in their tens and hundreds of thousands to Hebron to make David king. They then march straight to Jerusalem and take it by storm, and forthwith attempt to bring up the Ark to Zion. An unfortunate accident necessitates a delay of three months, but at the end of that time the Ark is solemnly installed in a tent at Jerusalem. {Cf. 1 Chronicles 11:1-9;, 1 Chronicles 12:23;, 1 Chronicles 13:14}

We are not told who David the son of Jesse was, or why the Divine choice fell upon him or how he had been prepared for his responsible position, or how he had so commended himself to Israel as to be accepted with universal acclaim. He must however, have been of noble family and high character; and it is hinted that he had had a distinguished career as a soldier. [1 Chronicles 11:2] We should expect to find his name in the introductory genealogies: and if we have read these lists of names with conscientious attention, we shall remember that there are sundry incidental references to David, and that he was the seventh son of Jesse, [1 Chronicles 2:15] who was descended from the Patriarch Judah, though Boaz, the husband of Ruth.

As we read further we come to other references which throw some light on David’s early career, and at the same time somewhat mar the symmetry of the opening narrative. The wide discrepancy between the chronicler’s idea of David and the account given by his authorities prevents him from composing his work on an entirely consecutive and consistent plan. We gather that there was a time when David was in rebellion against his predecessor, and maintained himself at Ziklag and elsewhere, keeping "himself close, because of Saul the son of Kish," and even that he came with the Philistines against Saul to battle, but was prevented by the jealousy of the Philistine chiefs from actually fighting against Saul. There is nothing to indicate the occasion or circumstances of these events. But it appears that even at this period, when David was in arms against the king of Israel and an ally of the Philistines, he was the chosen leader of Israel. Men flocked to him from Judah and Benjamin, Manasseh and Gad, and doubtless from the other tribes as well: "From day to day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God." [1 Chronicles 20:1-8]

This chapter partly explains David’s popularity after Saul’s death; but it only carries the mystery a stage further back. How did this outlaw, and apparently unpatriotic rebel, get so strong a hold on the affections of Israel?

Chapter 12 also provides material for plausible explanations of another difficulty. In chapter 10 the army of Israel is routed, the inhabitants of the land take to flight, and the Philistines occupy their cities; in 11 and 1 Chronicles 12:23-40 all Israel come straightway to Hebron in the most peaceful and unconcerned fashion to make David king. Are we to understand that his Philistine allies, mindful of that "great host, like the host of God," all at once changed their minds and entirely relinquished the fruits of their victory?

Elsewhere, however, we find a statement that renders other explanations possible. David reigned seven years in Hebron, [1 Chronicles 29:27] so that our first impression as to the rapid sequence of events at the beginning of his reign is apparently not correct, and there was time in these seven years for a more gradual expulsion of the Philistines. It is doubtful, however, whether the chronicler intended his original narrative to be thus modified and interpreted.

The main thread of the history is interrupted here and later on [1 Chronicles 11:10-47;, 1 Chronicles 20:4-8] to insert incidents which illustrate the personal courage and prowess of David and his warriors. We are also told how busily occupied David was during the three months’ sojourn of the Ark in the house of Obededom the Gittite. He accepted an alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre: he added to his harem: he successfully repelled two inroads of the Philistines, and made him houses in the city of David. [1 Chronicles 13:14]

The narrative returns to its main subject: the history of the sanctuary at Jerusalem. As soon as the Ark was duly installed in its tent, and David was established in his new palace, he was struck by the contrast between the tent and the palace: "Lo, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord dwelleth under curtains." He proposed to substitute a temple for the tent, but was forbidden by his prophet Nathan, through whom God promised him that his son should build the Temple, and that his house should be established forever. [1 Chronicles 17:1-27]

Then we read of the wars, victories, and conquests of David. He is no longer absorbed in the defense of Israel against the Philistines. He takes the aggressive and conquers Gath; he conquers Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Amalek; he and his armies defeat the Syrians in several battles, the Syrians become tributary, and David occupies Damascus with a garrison. "And the Lord gave victory to David whithersoever he went." The conquered were treated after the manner of those barbarous times. David and his generals carried off much spoil, especially brass, and silver, and gold; and when he conquered Rabbath, the capital of Ammon, "he brought forth the people that were therein, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. And thus did David unto all the cities of the children of Ammon." Meanwhile his home administration was as honorable as his foreign wars were glorious: "He executed judgment and justice unto all his people"; and the government was duly organized with commanders of the host and the bodyguard, with priests and scribes. [1 Chronicles 18:1-17; 1 Chronicles 20:3]

Then follows a mysterious and painful dispensation of Providence, which the historian would gladly have omitted, if his respect for the memory of his hero had not been overruled by his sense of the supreme importance of the Temple. David, like Job, was given over for a season to Satan, and while possessed by this evil spirit displeased God by numbering Israel. His punishment took the form of a great pestilence, which decimated his people, until, by Divine command, David erected an altar in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite and offered sacrifices upon it, whereupon the plague was stayed. David at once perceived the significance of this incident: Jehovah had indicated the site of the future Temple. "This is the house of Jehovah Elohim, and this is the altar of burnt, offering for Israel."

This revelation of the Divine will as to the position of the Temple led David to proceed at once with preparations for its erection by Solomon, which occupied all his energies for the remainder of his life. [1 Chronicles 21:1-30; 1 Chronicles 22:1-19; 1 Chronicles 23:1-32; 1 Chronicles 24:1-31; 1 Chronicles 25:1-31; 1 Chronicles 26:1-32; 1 Chronicles 27:1-34; 1 Chronicles 28:1-21; 1 Chronicles 29:1-30] He gathered funds and materials, and gave his son full instructions about the building; he organized the priests and Levites, the Temple orchestra and choir, the doorkeepers, treasurers, officers, and judges; he also organized the army, the tribes, and the royal exchequer on the model of the corresponding arrangements for the Temple.

Then follows the closing scene of David’s life. The sun of Israel sets amid the flaming glories of the western sky. No clouds or mists rob him of accustomed splendor. David calls a great assembly of princes and warriors; he addresses a solemn exhortation to them and to Solomon; he delivers to his son instructions for "all the works" which "I have been made to understand in writing from the hand of Jehovah." It is almost as though the plans of the Temple had shared with the first tables of stone the honor of being written with the very finger of God Himself, and David were even greater than Moses. He reminds Solomon of all the preparations he had made, and appeals to the princes and the people for further gifts; and they render willingly-thousands of talents of gold, and silver, and brass, and iron. David offers prayer and thanksgiving to the Lord: "And David said to all the congregation, Now bless Jehovah our God. And all the congregation blessed Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped Jehovah and the king. And they sacrificed sacrifices unto Jehovah, and offered burnt offerings unto Jehovah, on the morrow after that day, even a thousand bullocks, a thousand rams, and a thousand lambs, with their drink offerings and sacrifices in abundance for all Israel, and did eat and drink before Jehovah on that day with great gladness. And they made Solomon king; and David died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor, and Solomon his son reigned in his stead." [1 Chronicles 29:20-22; 1 Chronicles 29:28] The Roman expressed his idea of a becoming death more simply: "An emperor should die standing." The chronicler has given us the same view at greater length; this is how the chronicler would have wished to die if he had been David, and how, therefore, he conceives that God honored the last hours of the man after His own heart.

It is a strange contrast to the companion picture in the book of Kings. There the king is bedridden, dying slowly of old age; the lifeblood creeps coldly through his veins. The quiet of the sick-room is invaded by the shrill outcry of an aggrieved woman, and the dying king is roused to hear that once more eager hands are clutching at his crown. If the chronicler has done nothing else, he has helped us to appreciate better the gloom and bitterness of the tragedy that was enacted in the last days of David.

What idea does Chronicles give us of the man and his character? He is first and foremost a man of earnest piety and deep spiritual feeling. Like the great religions leaders of the chronicler’s own time, his piety found its chief expression in ritual. The main business of his life was to provide for the sanctuary and its services; that is, for the highest fellowship of God and man, according to the ideas then current. But David is no mere formalist; the psalm of thanksgiving for the return of the Ark to Jerusalem is a worthy tribute to the power and faithfulness of Jehovah. [1 Chronicles 16:8-36] His prayer after God had promised to establish his dynasty is instinct with devout confidence and gratitude. [1 Chronicles 17:16-27] But the most gracious and appropriate of these Davidic utterances is his last prayer and thanksgiving for the liberal gifts of the people for the Temple.

Next to David’s enthusiasm for the Temple, his most conspicuous qualities are those of a general and soldier: he has great personal strength and courage, and is uniformly successful in wars against numerous and powerful enemies; his government is both able and upright; his great powers as an organizer and administrator are exercised both in secular and ecclesiastical matters; in a word, he is in more senses than one an ideal king.

Moreover, like Alexander, Marlborough, Napoleon, and other epoch-making conquerors, he had a great charm of personal attractiveness; he inspired his officers and soldiers with enthusiasm and devotion to himself. The pictures of all Israel flocking to him in the first days of his reign and even earlier, when he was an outlaw, are forcible illustrations of this wonderful gift; and the same feature of his character is at once illustrated and partly explained by the romantic episode at Adullam. What greater proof of affection could outlaws give to their captain than to risk their lives to get him a draught of water from the well of Bethlehem? How better could David have accepted and ratified their devotion than by pouring out this water as a most precious libation to God? [1 Chronicles 11:15-19] But the chronicler gives most striking expression to the idea of David’s popularity when he finally tells us in the same breath that the people worshipped Jehovah and the king. [1 Chronicles 29:20]

In drawing an ideal picture, our author has naturally omitted incidents that might have revealed the defects of his hero. Such omissions deceive no one, and are not meant to deceive any one. Yet David’s failings are not altogether absent from this history. He has those vices which are characteristic alike of his own age and of the chronicler’s, and which indeed are not yet wholly extinct. He could treat his prisoners with barbarous cruelty. His pride led him to number Israel, but his repentance was prompt and thorough; and the incident brings out alike both his faith in God and his care for his people. When the whole episode is before us, it does not lessen our love and respect for David. The reference to his alliance with the Philistines is vague and incidental. If this were our only account of the matter, we should interpret it by the rest of his life, and conclude that if all the facts were known, they would justify his conduct.

In forming a general estimate of David according to Chronicles, we may fairly neglect these less satisfactory episodes. Briefly David is perfect saint and perfect king, beloved of God and man.

A portrait reveals the artist as well as the model, and the chronicler in depicting David gives indications of the morality of his own times. We may deduce from his omissions a certain progress in moral sensitiveness. The book of Samuel emphatically condemns David’s treachery towards Uriah, and is conscious of the discreditable nature of many incidents connected with the revolts of Absalom and Adonijah; but the silence of Chronicles implies an even severer condemnation. In other matters, however, the chronicler "judges himself in that which he approveth." [Romans 14:22] Of course the first business of an ancient king was to protect his people from their enemies and to enrich them at the expense of their neighbors. The urgency of these duties may excuse, but not justify, the neglect of the more peaceful departments of the administration. The modern reader is struck by the little stress laid by the narrative upon good government at home; it is just mentioned, and that is about all. As the sentiment of international morality is even now only in its infancy, we cannot wonder at its absence from Chronicles; but we are a little surprised to find that cruelty towards prisoners is included without comment in the character of the ideal king. [2 Samuel 12:31, 1 Chronicles 20:3] It is curious that the account in the book of Samuel is slightly ambiguous and might possibly admit of a comparatively mild interpretation; but Chronicles, according to the ordinary translation, says definitely, "He cut them with saws." The mere reproduction of this passage need not imply full and deliberate approval of its contents; but it would not have been allowed to remain in the picture of the ideal king, if the chronicler had felt any strong conviction as to the duty of humanity towards one’s enemies. Unfortunately we know from the book of Esther and elsewhere that later Judaism had not attained to any wide enthusiasm of humanity.

DAVID

3. HIS OFFICIAL DIGNITY

IN estimating the personal character of David, we have seen that one element of it was his ideal kingship. Apart from his personality his name is significant for Old Testament theology as that of the typical king. From the time when the royal title Messiah "began to" be a synonym for the hope of Israel, down to the period when the Anglican Church taught the Divine right of kings, and Calvinists insisted on the Divine sovereignty or royal authority of God, the dignity and power of the King of kings have always been illustrated by, and sometimes associated with, the state of an earthly monarch-whereof David is the most striking example.

The times of the chronicler were favorable to the development of the idea of the perfect king of Israel, the prince of the house of David. There was no king in Israel; and, as far as we can gather, the living representatives of the house of David held no very prominent position in the community. It is much easier to draw a satisfactory picture of the ideal monarch when the imagination is not checked and hampered by the faults and failings of an actual Ahaz or Hezekiah. In earlier times the prophetic hopes for the house of David had often been rudely disappointed, but there had been ample space to forget the past and to revive the old hopes in fresh splendor and magnificence. Lack of experience helped to commend the idea of the Davidic king to the chronicler. Enthusiasm for a benevolent despot is mostly confined to those who have not enjoyed the privilege of living under such autocratic government.

On the other hand, there was no temptation to flatter any living Davidic king, so that the semi-Divine character of the kingship of David is not set forth after the gross and almost blasphemous style of Roman emperors or Turkish sultans. It is indeed said that the people worshipped Jehovah and the king; but the essential character of Jewish thought made it impossible that the ideal king should sit "in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." David and Solomon could not share with the pagan emperors the honors of Divine worship in their life-time and apotheosis after their death. Nothing addressed to any Hebrew king parallels the panegyric to the Christian emperor Theodosius, in which allusion is made to his "sacred mind," and he is told that "as the Fates are said to assist with their tablets that God who is the partner in your majesty, so does some Divine power serve your bidding, which writes down and in due time suggests to your memory the promises which you have made." Nor does Chronicles adorn the kings of Judah with extravagant Oriental titles, such as "King of kings of kings of kings." Devotion to the house of David never oversteps the bounds of a due reverence, but the Hebrew idea of monarchy loses nothing by this salutary reserve.

Indeed, the title of the royal house of Judah rested upon Divine appointment. "Jehovah turned the kingdom unto David and they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of Jehovah by the hand of Samuel." [1 Chronicles 10:14;, 1 Chronicles 11:3] But the Divine choice was confirmed by the cordial consent of the nation; the sovereigns of Judah, like those of England, ruled by the grace of God and the will of the people. Even before David’s accession the Israelites had flocked to his standard; and after the death of Saul a great array of the twelve tribes came to Hebron to make David king, "and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king." [1 Chronicles 12:38] Similarly Solomon is the king "whom God hath chosen," and all the congregation make him king and anoint him to be prince. [1 Chronicles 29:1; 1 Chronicles 29:22] The double election of David by Jehovah and by the nation is clearly set forth in the book of Samuel, and in Chronicles the omission of David’s early career emphasizes this election. In the book of Samuel we are shown the natural process that brought about the change of dynasty; we see how the Divine choice took effect through the wars between Saul and the Philistines and through David’s own ability and energy. Chronicles is mostly silent as to secondary causes, and fixes our attention on the Divine choice as the ultimate ground for David’s elevation.

The authority derived from God and the people continued to rest on the same basis. David sought Divine direction alike for the building of the Temple and for his campaigns against the Philistines At the same time, when he wished to bring up the Ark to Jerusalem, he "consulted with the captains of thousands and of hundreds. even with every leader; and David said unto all the assembly of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and if it be of Jehovah our God let us bring again the ark of our God to us and all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people." [1 Chronicles 13:4] Of course the chronicler does not intend to describe a constitutional monarchy, in which an assembly of the people had any legal status. Apparently in his own time the Jews exercised their measure of local self-government through an informal oligarchy, headed by the high-priest; and these authorities occasionally appealed to an assembly of the people. The administration under the monarchy was carried on in a somewhat similar fashion, only the king had greater authority than the high-priest, and the oligarchy of notables were not so influential as the colleagues of the latter. But apart from any formal constitution the chronicler’s description of these incidents involves a recognition of the principle of popular consent in government as well as the doctrine that civil order rests upon a Divine sanction.

It is interesting to see how a member of a great ecclesiastical community, imbued, as we should suppose, with all the spirit of priestcraft, yet insists upon the royal supremacy both in state and Church. But to have done otherwise would have been to go in the teeth of all history; even in the Pentateuch the "king in Jeshurun" is greater than the priest. Moreover the chronicler was not a priest, but a Levite; and there are indications that the Levites’ ancient jealousy of the priests had by no means died out. In Chronicles, at any rate, there is no question of priests interfering with the king’s secular administration. They are not even mentioned as obtaining oracles for David as Abiathar did before his accession. [1 Samuel 23:9-13;, 1 Samuel 30:7-8] This was doubtless implied in the original account of the Philistine raids in chapter 14, but the chronicler may not have understood that "inquiring of God" meant obtaining an oracle from the priests.

The king is equally supreme also in ecclesiastical affairs; we might even say that the civil authorities generally shared this supremacy. Somewhat after the fashion of Cromwell and his major-generals, David utilized "the captains of the host" as a kind of ministry of public worship; they joined with him in organizing the orchestra and choir for the services of the sanctuary, [1 Chronicles 25:1-2] probably Napoleon and his marshals would have had no hesitation in selecting anthems for Notre Dame if the idea had occurred to them. David also consulted his captains [1 Chronicles 13:1] and not the priests, about bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. When he gathered the great assembly to make his final arrangements for the building of the Temple, the princes and captains, the rulers and mighty men, are mentioned, but no priests. [1 Chronicles 28:1] And, last, all the congregation apparently anoint [1 Chronicles 29:22] Zadok to be priest. The chronicler was evidently a pronounced Erastian (But Cf. 2 Chronicles 26:1-23). David is no mere nominal head of the Church; he takes the initiative in all important matters, and receives the Divine commands either directly or through his prophets Nathan and Gad. Now these prophets are not ecclesiastical authorities; they have nothing to do with the priesthood, and do not correspond to the officials of an organized Church. They are rather the domestic chaplains or confessors of the king, differing from modern chaplains and confessors in having no ecclesiastical superiors. They were not responsible to the bishop of any diocese or the general of any order; they did not manipulate the royal conscience in the interests of any party in the Church; they served God and the king, and had no other masters. They did not beard David before his people, as Ambrose confronted Theodosius or as Chrysostom rated Eudoxia; they delivered their message to David in private, and on occasion he communicated it to the people. {Cf. 1 Chronicles 17:4-15 and 1 Chronicles 28:2-10} The king’s spiritual dignity is rather enhanced than otherwise by this reception of prophetic messages specially delivered to himself. There is another aspect of the royal supremacy in religion. In this particular instance its object is largely the exaltation of David; to arrange for public worship is the most honorable function of the ideal king. At the same time the care of the sanctuary is his most sacred duty, and is assigned to him that it may be punctually and worthily discharged. State establishment of the Church is combined with a very thorough control of the Church by the state.

We see then that the monarchy rested on Divine and national election, and was guided by the will of God and of the people. Indeed, in bringing up the 1 Chronicles 13:1-14 the consent of the people is the only recorded indication of the will of God. "Vox populi vox Dei." The king and his government are supreme alike over the state and the sanctuary, and are entrusted with the charge of providing for public worship. Let us try to express the modern equivalents of these principles. Civil government is of Divine origin, and should obtain the consent of the people: it should be carried on according to the will of God, freely accepted by the nation. The civil authority is supreme both in Church and state, and is responsible for the maintenance of public worship.

One at least of these principles is so widely accepted that it is quite independent of any Scriptural sanction from Chronicles. The consent of the people has long been accepted as an essential condition of any stable government. The sanctity of civil government and the sacredness of its responsibilities are coming to be recognized, at present perhaps rather in theory than in practice. We have not yet fully realized how the truth underlying the doctrine of the Divine right of kings applies to modern conditions. Formerly the king was the representative of the state, or even the state itself; that is to say, the king directly or indirectly maintained social order, and provided for the security of life and property. The Divine appointment and authority of the king expressed the sanctity of law and order as the essential conditions of moral and spiritual progress. The king is no longer the state. His Divine right, however, belongs to him, not as a person or as a member of a family, but as the embodiment of the state, the champion of social order against anarchy. The "Divinity that doth hedge a king" is now shared by the sovereign with all the various departments of government. The state-that is to say, the community organized for the common good and for mutual help-is now to be recognized as of Divine appointment and as wielding a Divine authority. "The Lord has turned the kingdom to" the people.

This revolution is so tremendous that it would not be safe to apply to the modern state the remaining principles of the chronicler. Before we could do so we should need to enter into a discussion which would be out of place here, even if we had space for it.

In one point the new democracies agree with the chronicler: they are not inclined to submit secular affairs to the domination of ecclesiastical officials.

The questions of the supremacy of the state over the Church and of the state establishment of the Church involve larger and more complicated issues than existed in the mind or experience of the chronicler. But his picture of the ideal king suggests one idea that is in harmony with some modern aspirations. In Chronicles the king, as the representative of the state, is the special agent in providing for the highest spiritual needs of the people. May we venture to hope that out of the moral consciousness of a nation united in mutual sympathy and service there may arise a new enthusiasm to obey and worship God? Human cruelty is the greatest stumbling-block to belief and fellowship; when the state has somewhat mitigated the misery of "man’s inhumanity to man," faith in God will be easier.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 11:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-chronicles-11.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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