Monday 10 August 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (18/50) – For the Sake of David

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the eighteenth of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

What share do we have in David? What part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!
1 Kings 12:16

It is forty years since David’s death. In spite of his achievements, Solomon’s idolatry has brought down on him and the kingdom the judgment of God (1 Kings 11:9-13).

As the kingdom falls apart, we find ourselves asking ‘Who is in control?’ Even before Solomon’s death, Jeroboam is encouraged to rebel by a prophecy: ‘I [God] am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand, and give you ten tribes’ (11:31).

On his father’s death, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, is crowned king. Jeroboam tries to strike a deal with him but is ruthlessly rejected. The Israelites respond with an immediate declaration of independence: ‘To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!’ But this, we read, ‘was from the Lord, to fulfil the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam…’

Thus, the kingdom is divided, Jeroboam ruling the north (Israel) and Rehoboam the south (Judah). Both ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’. The Bible never suggests that God’s sovereignty nullifies human responsibility. Both nations are ultimately judged.

Israel, conquered by the Assyrians, is dispersed in 722 BC, never to be restored. But the story of Judah is different. ‘For the sake of David my servant’, God says, the southern kingdom will have a future (11:32, 36), but nevertheless, their constant rebellion leads them, too, into exile, over a century later.

But the promise of return echoes through the declarations of the prophets. Ezekiel prophesies (37:15-28) that it is as one nation that the Jews will return from exile, and ‘my servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd’. In spite of the return of Judah to Jerusalem, the true fulfilment of this prophecy begins with the coming of ‘great David's greater Son’*. We immediately think of Jesus’ words (John 10:16): ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also… and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’

As it was for David’s sake that God had mercy on Israel, so it is for Jesus’ sake that he has mercy on us. We cannot earn his favour – it is pure sovereign grace. But we are still responsible for working out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12).

* From James Montgomery’s hymn, ‘Hail to the Lord’s Anointed’.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. As we think about the Israelites’ repeated disobedience and its consequences, do we sometimes presume on God’s grace? How do we understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in our own lives?

2. Jesus said, ‘A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand’ (Matthew 12:25). Do we too readily accept the divisions in the church today? What can we do?

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