Monday, October 19, 2009

The Davidic Covenant, Part III

After instructing Natan to tell David he will not build "a house for My dwelling", Natan is told to inform David that the tables have been turned: the Lord will build a bayit for David. Of course, we know God does not mean bayit in the sense of a structural house, but a dynasty ('house' has the same double sense in English as well). David is to be assured that his lot is different from the charismatic leaders of Israel's past - who would rise up to save the people from trouble and then pass without an heir to continue their legacy. The House of David would continue on. The first to inherit the throne would build the bayit l'shmi, "a house for My Name". God made a name and a house for David and David's son will make a house for God's Name.

As for David's son, God assures David that he will benefit from a special providence from Him. This providential relationship is expressed through a father-son metaphor. God will be like a father to him and David's son will be like a son to Him. Specifically, in so far as if he becomes corrupt God will chastise him with the 'rod of men' and the afflictions of humans. And, even if he does become corrupt God's chesed - literally: kindness, often used to refer to a b'rit, covenant in 1 & 2 Samuel - would not depart from his line - meaning, David's dynasty would continue uninterrupted in perpetuity.

As for the "son" metaphor I think the sense is clear from Psalms (2):
5. Then He speaks to them in His wrath; and He frightens them with His sore displeasure.
6. "But I have enthroned My king on Zion, My holy mount."
7. I will tell of the decree; The Lord said to me, "You are My son; this day have I begotten you.
8. Request of Me, and I will make nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.
9. You shall break them with an iron rod; like a potter's vessel you shall shatter them."

Commenting on "You are My son", Rashi writes:
You are My son, the head of Israel, who are called in the Torah (Exodus, 4:22), "My firstborn son", and they will endure through you, as is stated concerning Abner (I2 Sam. 3:18): “for God said, etc., ‘By the hand of My servant David shall I save My people Israel.’”, and for their sake, you are before Me as a son, because they are all dependent upon you.

Rashi sounds somewhat convoluted at first. The more obvious interpretation is that the king is called a son because he shares a special providential relationship with God. However, Rashi is reminding us that this simple interpretation would be ignoring God's relationship with all of His people and the true origin of the "son" metaphor. Israel emerged out of a society that deified their king and viewed him as either a son or an incarnation of a god. God tells Moshe (in Exodus, 4:22) that in response to Pharaoh hardening his heart he is to tell him, "My firstborn son is Israel." Though, in a sense, all of humanity and all nations are God's "children" in regards to His providence - Israel is the firstborn - the one God has chosen to impart His inheritance and show special favor. Rashi is saying that the king's status as "son" must be viewed within this context. The king is only a "son" for the sake of the people.

In summary, to understand the "son" metaphor we must take note of the following: a son shares a privileged status: favor, when the son is virtuous (as in Psalms 2 and Exodus 4); chastisement, when he is corrupt (as in 2 Samuel 7); and even the corrupt son does not lose his father's chesed - meaning, the relationship (in 2 Samuel, the Davidic covenant) will never be absolutely severed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Davidic Covenant, Part II

Once the Lord had given David rest from all his enemies it David shared his observation with Natan that it was improper that he, David, should be dwelling in a house of cedar while the Ark of God resided behind curtains. Natan concurred and gave David carte blanche to do what was in his heart. However, that night the Lord told Natan otherwise:

5. "Go and say to My servant, to David; so says the Lord: 'Shall you build Me a house for My dwelling? 6. For I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. 7. In all [the places] wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the rulers of Israel whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying: 'Why do you not build for me a house of cedar?'

The key word here is house (bayit). This "house" seems to stand at odds with the pastorally depicted past of the children of Israel. Permanence is contrasted with transience. The problem seems to be not particular to David but with the very concept of a "house for My dwelling". As David's son proclaims on the day he brought the ark into the Holy of Holies (1 Kings, 8:27):

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple (bayit) that I have erected."