Uninvented: King David’s Messy Life as God’s Chosen King

Uninvented: King David’s Messy Life as God’s Chosen King

Reading through David’s life in 2 Samuel impressed upon me again just how Uninvented it is. Until the early ‘90s, many biblical scholars and assorted critics claimed David never existed because there had been no archaeological confirmation that he did. Archaeology finally confirmed David’s existence, but even though archaeology is the Bible’s best friend and confirms its historicity, we don’t need it to confirm it is indeed historical. The more you study David’s life in the wide scope of redemptive history, the more apparent it becomes sinful human beings could not made it up. One could write an entire book under the rubric of Uninvented on the life of David. That David’s life deserves a book-length treatment means a measly little blog post could never do it justice, but I’ll try.

On the surface David seems an unlikely candidate to be God’s chosen instrument to lead his people Israel. I recently wrote about him being the youngest of eight brothers to be chosen by God, and how counter cultural that was in the ancient world, but what seems more counter intuitive is God proclaiming him a “man after his own heart.” When the Lord rejected Saul as Israel’s first king because he had disobeyed him, through Samuel he said the man he sought would be “a man after his own heart” to be “ruler over his people.” When the Lord told Samuel who the replacement for Saul would be, he told him:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

The Apostle Paul confirms the narrative in the New Covenant context saying:

22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

 

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.

But when you read about David’s life, on the surface it’s difficult to see how this adulterous murderer who was a terrible father could be a “man after God’s own heart.” What makes it impossible to make up, to be a story that came out of mere human imagination, is that it goes counter to everything we naturally see as “religious,” as does Christianity properly understood.

Sinful human beings apart from the grace of God see religion as morally attaining the acceptance of God. If we live up to his moral standards, God will accept us, if we don’t, he will reject us. It’s a simple, and intuitive, moral calculation, and it has nothing to do with Christianity. While Christians throughout history have turned Christianity into moralism, that doesn’t make Christianity moralism.

As shocking as this statement will be to most people, Christianity is not about becoming a more moral and better person. Any old religion can do that! Christianity, rather, is about God saving his people from their sins, which is why Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, came to earth, and why he was given his name. If we could gain acceptance before God by being more moral (i.e., by the law), than Jesus came to earth and died for nothing.

It’s only in a gospel context that David’s life and kingship makes any sense at all. As a made-up story, it makes none.

The reason is that if I have moral aspirations to be a better person, David is the last person I would choose. None of us could relate to being a warrior king in the ancient world, but it was necessary for God to establish the nation of Israel in a world where only might made right. But that’s not what makes David impossible to imagine as fiction; it’s his moral failings, and that are massive. I’ll briefly explain what I mean, but when I consider his life, and God declaring him “a man after his own heart,” from a human perspective I can’t wrap my brain around that. It makes absolutely no sense! Rather, you would think God would be embarrassed by the guy. Uh oh, I imagine God saying, I made a big mistake!

The is the story of David and Bathsheba, which every Christian knows, is a great example. It starts out this way.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.

Hmm, why didn’t David go? We’re not told, but it gave him the opportunity to commit adultery, and then this “man after God’s own heart” has the husband killed to keep it quiet. Nice move. But what indicates to us why God chose David is his response when confronted with what he’s done:

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

No justifying, no dissembling, no escaping responsibility, just acknowledging he has sinned, “against the Lord.” What? Wait a second. Didn’t he in effect rape Bathsheba, and have her husband killed? Didn’t he kinda sin against them? In fact, in Psalm 51, David’s great lament about this series of events, he says:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Of course David sinned agains Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite, but it is only God who makes sin sinful. 

Knowing this is why David was “a man after God’s own heart”; he knew salvation from our sin was from God’s mercy and grace alone. He knew we are sinners who can’t save ourselves. That you don’t make up!

The gospel makes absolutely no sense to sinners who are intent on making God accept us based on what we do or don’t do. We, by sinful nature, want God in our debt, not we in his. Christianity is the only religion in the history of the world that introduced mankind to the gospel (good news) of God’s grace, that the only way to have a relationship with our Creator is his completely unmerited favor. That can’t come from mere human imagination, nor King David who proclaims it.

I was going to deal with a couple other issues, but that will have to be in the next post, or two.

Washington at Valley Forge, God’s Providence, and Donald Trump

Washington at Valley Forge, God’s Providence, and Donald Trump

When I turned 60 years old (I still have a hard time imagining such a thing), my wife and daughter gave me a print of Arnold Friberg’s painting of George Washington kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge next to his great white stallion. That was July of 2020, and I had no idea at the time how important that print would become to me. Recently I came across a video of Friberg describing his inspiration for the painting, which he was commissioned to do for the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976:

You’ll remember that summer. We were in the midst of “two weeks to flatten the curve,” which would turn into two years of the Covid nightmare of worldwide government overreach. Looking back, it’s hard to fathom what happened, and I’m convinced it can only ultimately be explained one way:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

This is a well-known verse among Evangelicals like me, and when evil gets to an incomprehensible level to normal people, this is the most plausible explanation. We all know what such evil looks like, but the response to Covid was a horrific example, the consequences of which we will be living with for a long time. I’ll come back to this verse in Ephesian 6 in a moment.

Then, after four years of Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS), another form of incomprehensible evil happened in the presidential election of 2020, which was egregiously, blatantly stolen. You know this is an incontrovertible fact, and I am talking epistemological certitude like knowing the sun rises in the west, because to the media, Big Tech, and Democrats (and far too many Republicans), this is the opinion that dare not be uttered. Then to add insult to injury, we witnessed a quintessential FBI false flag operation, the January 6 “insurrection.” If it really was an insurrection, it was the worst one ever!

Then since the fraudulent president was installed in the White House on January 20, we discovered he really was not the “centrist” he claimed in the campaign, but was committed to finally fulfilling Barack Obama’s dream of fundamentally “transforming the United States of America”:

Americans are now seeing in real time what a disaster Obama’s radical leftist agenda is for the country, and they don’t like it.

I bring these things up not to litigate them here, and whether we agree with each other on the details, or my conclusions, isn’t important. I’m only sharing my response here, and why it’s been life changing for me.

After the election was stolen, God mercifully directed me to Steven Bannon’s War Room, which I’ve watched pretty much daily ever since. I, and millions of others inspired by the MAGA message, were deeply depressed. All I could think is, they got away with it! How could something like this happen in the United States of America! Bannon, thankfully, got me out of the fetal position, and to mix metaphors, talked me off the ledge. Then J6 happened, and that was even more depressing, but that’s when Bannon really shined and in effect started a movement to take back our country from the deep state leftist cabal.

Again, I am not interested in debating any of this, but I do believe those who disagree with me on my overall assessment will agree with me that we are in a definitional moment in American history. None of this would have happened if Trump hadn’t won in 2016, but it’s about far more than him. So, the question for Christians is, what now. This is where I come back to Ephesians 6. Almost all Christians, including me until very recently, quote this verse out of context, and I’m not talking about that chapter, even though the first nine verses point to the larger context. We can’t read verse 12 outside of the context of chapter 1. Paul is praying for the Ephesians (a prayer we should use to pray for those we love all the time), and references God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.” Then he says:

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Boy, how we really don’t believe this. It’s pathetic, actually, and I’m as guilty as anyone. You know why we’re commanded in Scripture to trust God, not worry, “not be anxious about anything,” and “give thanks in all circumstances”? Because of Christ’s kingly rule over all things! If we really trust him, we will have perfect peace. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t quite achieved perfection yet. As long as we live in fallen bodies, in a fallen world, among fallen people, we have to trust him to sanctify us toward that perfection, but it ain’t easy!

But I digress. Back to the painting.

I believe, as did the Founders, that God in his providence allowed America to be founded, and I’m convinced he is bringing us through its re-founding. This is a huge topic for a book I’m working on, but believing this to be true, every morning when I pray, I pray for our country and look at that print. As I talk with God, telling him of my conviction, I fervently pray it would come true. Having a granddaughter now seems to make the stakes a little higher.

We seem to forget the odds against the American colonies in their endeavor to gain political independence from the mighty British Empire. The leaders of “the rebellion” were willing, in the closing words of the Delcaration, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” to give their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. There are millions of Americans today willing to give their all to our little rebellion. From the merely human perspective the Founders had absolutely no chance. The odds are far better for our fight against the secular progressive administrative state, including the secular culture that promotes and worships it. We often can’t see beyond out own winter at Valley Forge, but God in his sovereign almighty power can also bring us to victory to re-found this blessed republic of the United States of America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uninvented: David and Goliath, A Biblical Story too Perfect to be Made Up

Uninvented: David and Goliath, A Biblical Story too Perfect to be Made Up

I haven’t read this iconic story from I Samuel 17 in years, and as I’m making haste in my reading through the Bible this time (as opposed to last time writing through it), I can more appreciate it in the long scope of redemptive history. It fits so perfectly knowing the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and everything in between for that matter. The Lord is amazing. As I’m reading the passage, and marveling at the various dramatic dynamics, I wondered how many movies have been made about it. I would guess quite a few. So, I did a search, and found one called, strangely enough, David and Goliath. The trailer starts with David reciting Psalm 23, then in big block letters: THE IMPOSSIBLE TRUE STORY. I couldn’t say it any better! In a nutshell, that is Uninvented!

Everyone knows the story. Even those who’ve never read it, which is likely most people in our anti-Christian secular age, know it means the little guy overcoming against impossible odds. The Philistines were the scourge of Israel having been in Canaan before the Israelites crossed the Jordan to occupy the land. The two nations had many battles, and in this one the two armies were arrayed on hills facing one another with a valley in between. Saul, Israel’s first king, was leading the army, and there was a stalemate. So every day the nine-foot-tall Goliath would come out mocking and taunting the army of Israel. He made them a deal. They pick one man to fight him, and if he is killed, the Philistines will be the subjects of Israel, if Goliath kills the Israelite, they will be subject to them. This was not good news for Israel’s army:

11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

The uninvented beauty of the story is theological. Yes, it’s inspiring when someone through their own grit and determination can overcome “the giant,” but this isn’t about us, about human ingenuity and our ability to somehow beat the odds. It’s about God! And why it reads true is because of that.

In my last post I explained that God chose the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, David, to be the future king of Israel, and how completely counter cultural that was. Ancient people don’t make up stories where the youngest is the hero, unless it’s true. That unlikely theme continues when we learn that Jesse’s three oldest sons had gone off to war with King Saul, and David is where he always is, tending sheep. The author again points out that David was the youngest to emphasize the contrast in God’s economy. As the Apostle Paul declares in I Corinthians 1:

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

This theme runs throughout Scripture which gives it all uninvented credibility.

The Bible is redemptive history, the long story of God saving his people from their sin in Christ. The Old Testament, including stories like David and Goliath, is not to be read primarily for inspiring moral stories because it’s not primarily about us. It’s about Jesus and needs to be read in light of his declaration in Luke 24 that everything in “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” is all about him! I’m not saying inspiring moral and spiritual stories are not valuable (and can help us grow in our relationship with God), or that the wisdom and knowledge we gain about life and human nature are not important, only those are not the most important things.

One of the many questions we might ask is, what does this say about the nature of our salvation in Christ. Something that’s impressed me this time reading through Old Testament history is how God consistently impresses upon the Israelites their salvation is of him. It starts with their Exodus from Egypt and continues through all the existential battles for Israel’s existence. A phrase reflecting this in Exodus and Deuteronomy is “mighty hand,” as in when Moses told the people:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

When you understand that it is God who saves, you realize the story of David and Goliath isn’t about David! And while Saul and his army don’t seem to get that, David does. He asks, what will be done for the man who kills “this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Since it’s a pretty good deal, David figures why not. One of his brothers sees him asking about this, and he’s ticked off. And guess which brother it is? Yep, the oldest! The contrast is delicious.

Davis is brought to the king, and Saul is doubtful this young shepherd can beat the giant warrior, but David replies:

36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

What an incredible theological lesson. While the army of Israel and their king think the battle is about the giant and them, David knows it is about God who rescues. That has been the theme impressed upon me from Genesis through I Samuel. It’s a shame so many Christians don’t truly get this. It took me many years, decades, to finally learn to get my focus off me and put it on him, on the cross, Christ, God our Savior come in human flesh. Our struggles with sin only appear gigantic when we think they have the power of a Goliath. They don’t! Paul tells us why:

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Praise our Lord of sovereign grace!

Here is an interview with the editor of the movie David and Goliath.

Uninvented: David the Unlikely King

Uninvented: David the Unlikely King

I wrote in Uninvented how impossible it would be to invent the story of David’s choice to be the future king of Israel. What makes it believable, biblical speaking, is that it’s perfectly consistent with God’s choosing those he will use to establish his kingdom on earth, the most unlikely from a human perspective. If you know your Bible, this is not news. However, for those who think the Bible is merely a human book, I encourage them to consider why this is evidence for the veracity of the Bible’s claim to be a divine book.

If it was human, we would expect it to communicate things from a typically human perspective. For example, consistently using weak and terribly flawed people to make a religious story believable is not a good strategy. But the stories told from beginning to the end upend all cultural expectations of the times in which they were written. And not just upend them marginally, but completely and totally. That is a significant fact for the divine historicity of the stories. David’s choice as Israel’s future king is a good example, but several came before.

In the ancient world, the oldest male in the family got all the perks. In the biblical stories, it’s the youngest or younger who gets God’s blessing. If these stories were made up in the ancient world where does this counter cultural message come from if there is no precedent for it? Good question. Without God writing the story, it’s unexplainable. It just is. That’s not a satisfying explanation. God’s purposes in the history of redemption is a much more plausible explanation. So, before they’re even born, God picks Isaac over Esau, the younger over the older. Of Jacob’s twelve sons who will become the twelve tribes of Israel, it is the youngest, Joseph, who ends up of the hero of the story saving Israel from starvation in Egypt. In the Exodus, it is the first-born male who will pay the price of death for the Pharaoh’s sin, not exactly what you’d expect in a culture and society that exalts the first born male.

In the next significant step in redemptive history, there is David, the runt of the litter. The most unlikely of the sons of Jesse to become king of Israel. Saul, Israel’s first king whom he replaces, the prototypical king who stands literally head and shoulders above all his peers, fails miserably. You have to read the story of how the Lord instructs Samuel to pick David (I Sammuel 16) to appreciate how uninvented it would have been in the ancient world; it can only be explained plausibly in divine terms. Samuel gets to Bethlehem, which will be the birthplace of the future Messiah, and picks Jesse because one of his sons will be the future king of Israel. When Samuel sees the most impressive physical specimen among them, he says what any normal human being would, especially in the ancient world: “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” Nope:

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Oh, how guilty we all are of looking on appearance as if that is the true measure of the person. Paul says that since Christ died for us, we no longer regard anyone “according to the flesh,” or in the NIV, “from a worldly point of view.” I gotta work on that!

Jesse then parades all seven of his sons before Samuel, and each one is rejected as not chosen by the Lord. Samuel asks Jesse if these are all the sons he has, and his reply is pure uninvented credible:

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

What? Not only is he the youngest, but he’s a shepherd! A normal career path to king in the ancient world did not go through the sheep pasture. The high school guidance counselor would say that is not a good move. Anyone tending sheep is most certainly not aspiring to be king.

As we know, the Bible is generally sparse in its description of events, partly by necessity. Writing was a laborious and expensive process, so the fewer words to communicate a message the better. What we don’t often see are the psychological and emotional reactions, unless they are necessary to convey something God in his providence felt we need to know. So, I try to imagine the reactions of Jesse and his sons, and their confusion and utter incredulity it wasn’t one of them chosen to be anointed king.

Samuel then tells them to send for David, and I wonder what the time waiting must have been like. This would have been a huge deal, and they all knew it. There was likely jealousy and envy, and more than a little anger, “You mean, that little snot nosed kid over me!” Yep:

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

You imagine dad and the sons thinking, it can’t be! But he’s a shepherd! We can’t know how any of this went down, of course, but given how culturally upside-down and inside-out this was, you just can’t make this stuff up!

 

 

The Powerful Conversion Story of Shia LaBeouf

The Powerful Conversion Story of Shia LaBeouf

God has given us another powerful cultural moment for truth in a most unlikely conversion to Christianity. The other moment I’m referring to happened a few years back in the most unlikely conversion to Christianity of Kanye West. In this case actor Shia LaBeouf has become a Christian of the Catholic variety. If you haven’t seen this discussion with Bishop Barron, it’s well worth the time.

A few years back I started listening to testimonies, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. The creative ways God uses to save his people from their sin is endlessly fascinating to me, and yet more evidence that he is real, and that Christianity is true. Human psychology alone can’t explain it, only God in Christ can.

I was raised Catholic, but when I was 18 became a “born-again” Christian and rejected my Catholic upbringing. For several years in my ignorant youth, I was virulently anti-Catholic, then over time I began to learn about serious Catholics I respected and my attitude toward Catholicism changed. I led my younger cousin to Christ, who had also been a nominal Catholic, but years later he went back to his Catholicism. He tried to convince me that Rome was the true church, but while open to listening to him, his arguments were never persuasive. However, I know God works through the Catholic church and Christians who embrace it, and this troubled young man is a beautiful example of it.

As I’ve grown older in life and my faith, I’ve realized that God works through people who I may think have the “wrong” theology. In doing this, I don’t think they are any less wrong than I think I’m right, but it just matters less to me than it used to. A passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has become more meaningful to me as I realize how little I really know. In chapter 8 Paul writes:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows something he does not yet know as he ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

There is a lot to unpack here, but Paul gives us a perfect perspective on our knowing, in philosophical terms epistemology. This can be a deep and complex conversation and has taken much time and argument in modern philosophy (from Descartes in the 17th century to today), but put simply we can know things. Verse two is not a call to skepticism, that we can’t know, but a call for epistemological humility. True knowledge is possible, but our knowing is always limited because we are finite creatures. And most importantly, our knowing is not the important part of the equation, but God knowing us. We tend to get that very backward.

So, as a convinced Reformed Christian, aka Calvinist, I can still appreciate this discussion between a new Catholic Christian, and a very knowledgeable Catholic Bishop. God’s sovereign power and amazing creativity in bringing his people to himself, i.e., saving them from their sins (redemption applied he accomplished on the cross), never ceases to amaze me. I think Calvin and his followers got it right, that God’s sovereignty applies to his grace as it does to every other part of his character. When you hear Shia LaBeouf’s conversion story I think you’ll agree.