"Young people today are growing up without an appreciation for the nation's godly heritage."
-- John Lind
Despite his encounter with another man's wife, David, the shepherd-boy turned king, displayed far more virtue during his lifetime than vice. Still, the Bible doesn't gloss over his tryst with Bathsheba, but reveals his sin as completely as it does his performance as military leader and king.
Why, then, was David called "a man after God's own heart" (I Samuel 13:14), and why was he the standard by which all the kings who succeeded him were judged?
David was still a boy when God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint him King of Israel. King Saul was once full of promise, too, but he had neglected to "obey the Lord" (I Samuel 13:13). In contrast, David was quick to repent (Psalm 51) and to seek God's advice from the beginning of his 40-year reign until he anointed his son Solomon to succeed him.
But David had many sons, and royal succession was complicated in those days because having many wives was fashionable, too. We learn about his troubled family life when his son Absalom conspires against him by mounting a challenge to the throne while David is still king.
David mourned this son's rebellion, but never more so than when Absalom was killed in battle against his own army. David had asked his men to "be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake," but they didn't share his loyalty. Few lines in all literature are as heart-wrenching as David's, "O my son, my son... if only I had died instead of you!" (II Samuel 18)
As David neared death, another son, Adonijah, announced that he would be the next king. Fortunately, David learned of this second insurrection in time to anoint Solomon, the intended heir to the throne.
In many ways Solomon's reign was greater than his father's. He exhibited great wisdom, established a model government and built the nation's first temple, palaces and other municipal buildings. We also read the familiar words: "If you follow my decrees and obey my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to your father David" (I Kings 6:12). "But if you or your sons turn away from me... I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them" (I Kings 9:6-7).
Solomon was a good king -- until "he loved many foreign women" whom God had forbidden the Israelites to marry "lest they turn your hearts after their gods" (I Kings 11:1-2). Solomon soon built other temples, this time for the gods of his wives.
The consequences were quick. Israel's former enemies rose up again, Solomon's kingdom was fractured, and one of his own men was chosen king over 10 of Israel's tribes just as Solomon was anointing his son to be the next king over the two remaining tribes.
The divided kingdom had begun. Both kingdoms would fall away from the God who brought them out of Egypt, and into the hands of the Babylonians.
A counterpart to Israel's royal succession could have occurred recently in the Roman Catholic Church. If the Apostle Peter was the foundation of the church, then were not those outside her ordained leaders who were conducting polls and debating what kind of pope should succeed the late John Paul II barking up Absalom and Adonijah's tree?
For all the effort to take such a decision away from God and determine the outcome themselves, one couldn't help but hear the old refrain, "If you observe the Lord's decrees... and walk in his ways, then you will never fail to have a man (of God) on the 'throne.' But if you or your sons turn away from me I will cut (you) off from the (land) I have given you."
Fortunately, following the selection of Pope Benedict XVI, it appears the cardinals, and now the new pope, know exactly what those decrees are.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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