This psalm is opened with the following: “Concerning Solomon. O God, give Your judgments to a king and Your righteousness to a king’s son (Psalms 72:1).” This frames a chapter that goes into great detail on wishes for a righteous king, in this case, Solomon, David’s son and eventual heir. The king is charged with being just, righteous, and caring of the poor as well as the rich. He will be blessed, and envied by other kings and rulers for his greatness. And then the psalm ends. “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are completed (Psalms 72:20).” Now obviously the book of Tehillim, largely attributed to David, is not over yet. There are still 78 psalms to go (but who’s counting?). But it’s interesting that after this list of blessings and hopes for his son, it’s as though his work is finished. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine that what others say is accurate, and our greatest hopes are for our children, and that we’re fulfilled when they’re successful. Therefore, it makes sense that this is the proverbial end of David’s prayers, because when they’re fulfilled, his son is set up for only goodness.
This psalm has a writer and a topic: it’s written by King David, and is specifically dealing with Cush the Benjamite. I don’t actually remember this character – I’m not sure if we came across him somewhere in Nevi’im and I forgot, or if this is the first time he’s mentioned. In this instance, he seems to be someone who is an enemy of David, someone who he is afraid of. “May evil destroy the wicked, and may You establish the righteous, for the righteous God tests the hearts and the reins (Psalms 7:10).” David is calling Cush wicked and asking for his destruction, while setting himself up as righteous and just. While I acknowledge that I don’t know the circumstances of this enmity, based on a great deal of our recent current events, I’m hesitant to approve of this setting up of an ‘other.’ Giving one person a monopoly on justice and denouncing the other one as evil effectively dehumanizes them and makes it that much harder to come to a place of reconciliation. While there are definitely people who don’t deserve our understanding and tolerance (hi, Nazis), on the whole, I believe it’s important to maintain a respect for the humanity in those that we see as other.
Another psalm from King David. “When I call, answer me, O God of my righteousness; in my distress You have relieved me, be gracious to me and hearken to my prayer (Psalms 4:2).” This verse demonstrates to me the close nature of the relationship that David had with God. You have to be personally connected to someone in order to make heartfelt requests of them; in this case David asking God to answer him when he calls in prayer. This makes God intimate, as opposed to an all-encompassing ‘other.’ I’d be too intimidated by my own sense of inferiority to make demands that He listen to my prayers and problems. And not to say that God should be equal to us, but it is nice to think about feeling so close to Him that it becomes that mutualistic relationship, instead of divergent one-way streets.
This psalm gives us some context with its opening verse. “A song of David, when he fled from Absalom his son (Psalms 3:1).” It’s a reference back to the saga that we read about in the books of Samuel, when David, the poet/warrior/king of Israel suffered a rebellion at the hands of his own son. While he was on the run, this is a reflection of his feelings. “I will not fear ten thousands of people, who have set themselves against me all around (Psalms 3:7).” Even though David was fighting an army lead by the ultimate betrayer – his son – his faith in God remained steadfast enough to get him through. David is credited with writing many of the Psalms, so I’m sure we’ll encounter him a lot over the next 147 chapters!
Solomon seems to be establishing himself in the region. “And Solomon reigned over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt, they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life (Kings I 5:1).” I’m not entirely clear on who ‘they’ are in this case, but if Solomon is receiving tribute, he must be doing a good job establishing his authority in the area. He keeps Israel and Judah united, and the kingdom seems to prosper at this point in his reign. And while his kingdom flourishes, so does Solomon himself. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceedingly much, and largeness of heart, as the sand that [is] on the seashore (Kings I 5:10).”
Solomon’s wisdom sets him apart from other men. We are told that he spoke 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs. It’s because of his wisdom that people come to see and listen to him, people from Israel and from the surrounding kingdoms. “And Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the place of his father, for Hiram was ever a lover of David (Kings I 5:15).” Solomon replies to Hiram, and reminds him that David wasn’t able to build a house for God because he was constantly facing wars. But Solomon has a reign of peace, so he decides to turn his focus towards building a Temple for God. Hiram loves the idea, and decides to send Solomon the wood that he needs in order to undertake this project. Solomon sends Hiram wheat and oil in exchange for the wood, and the two kings have peace and friendship. Their people have a joint goal to work towards, which is the creation of the Temple. “And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did hew, and they prepared the timber and the stones to build the house (Kings I 5:32).”
With his son taking control of the kingdom, David is dying. He leaves his son, King Solomon, with his blessings and teachings. “I go the way of all the earth; you shall be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man (Kings I 2:2).” Solomon is charged with walking in God’s ways and following the law, even though he’s the king. In addition to telling Solomon about these otherworldly matters, he also has practical advice about how to deal with Joab, who it seems is finally going to pay for all of the killing that he’s done in his life.
“And you shall do according to your wisdom, and do not let his hoary head go down to the grave in peace (Kings I 2:6).” David emphasizes throughout his instructions that Solomon is wise. This, of course, is the epithet that we associate with Solomon, so it’s interesting to see that it was his own father that gave him that designation. It’s not from God, or from rabbinic tradition, but instead is how his own father thought of him. That’s touching to me for some reason. It makes it all the more personal, a father bragging about his son, rather than a laudatory term that admirers gave.
“And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David (Kings I 2:10).” It’s the end of an era. After forty years as king, David is gone, and Solomon is installed as king. However, his brother, Adoniahu, comes back to Jerusalem at this point. Instead of going to the king though, he goes to Bathsheba, the king’s mother. He claims to come in peace, and asks her to intercede with her son on his behalf in one matter. “And he said, ‘Say, I beg of you, to Solomon the king, for he will not refuse you, that he give me Abishag the Shunemitess as a wife (Kings I 2:17).'” Abishag, as we know, is the girl brought in to be David’s companion in his old age. Bathsheba agrees to the request and goes before Solomon.
Although Bathsheba thought the request was reasonable, her son clearly doesn’t. He sees it as the first step towards asking for the whole kingdom, and puts his brother to death. This is not an auspicious start to the new reign, and the punishments only continue. The priest Abiathar is sent away from Jerusalem for supporting Adoniahu, and Joab, to escape his own demise, goes to the tabernacle so that he won’t be killed. But his ploy doesn’t work. Solomon orders him killed anyway, in order to avenge innocent blood. In all of these matters, Benaiahu is his enforcer, helping Solomon to secure his throne as he assumes the leadership of the people.
The start of this book starts with the end of an era. The end of the time of King David. David is a seminal figure in Jewish history. He’s one of the individuals who truly shaped our collective history and culture. He shaped a nation, so his story never truly ends, because his influence continues, but here we have the beginning of the end of his life.
“And King David was old, he came into his old age, and they covered him with clothes, but he was not warmed (Kings I 1:1).” David’s people want to make sure that he’s comfortable in his old age, so they decide to find a young girl to warm him. This seems a lot more complicated than piling on blankets, but to each their own. They find Abishag, and bring her to David in Jerusalem. “And the young girl was very beautiful, and she was a warmer to the king, and she ministered to him, but the king did not know her (Kings I 1:4).” So their relationship stays chaste, and Abishag truly serves her purpose of warming the king, nothing more.
At the same time, Adoniahu, one of David’s sons, declares that he’s going to be the next king. He looks like his late brother Absalom, and shows some of his personality by getting ahead of himself in his quest for the throne. Joab, and Abiathar the priest, decide to follow this son. At the same time, Zadok, the other priest, Nathan the prophet, along with several other key influential men, stay with David. Adoniahu is busy declaring himself king, but for some reason he marks his brother Solomon has his rival and doesn’t invite him to join in the festivities. “And Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, saying, ‘You have surely heard that Adoniahu the son of Haggith has reigned, and our lord, David did not know (Kings I 1:11).'” Nathan plots to get Solomon on the throne, using David’s elderly weakness as a way to convince him that Solomon is his choice of heir. This seems dishonest to me, even if it’s as a means to a necessary end. I hate when people take advantage of the elderly, using their weaknesses against them.
Anyway, Bathsheba goes along with it, and tells David all that Adoniahu is doing. Together with Nathan, they pressure David, and he promises that Solomon is his choice of heir. “And the king said to them, ‘Take with you the servants of your lord, and you shall cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon (Kings I 1:33).'” It’s in Gihon that Solomon will be anointed as king, even while David lives, so that he can begin to administer the kingdom. It is done, and the people rejoice and sing for Solomon. At the same time, Adoniahu is feasting with his followers when he hears the news. “And Adoniahu was fearful of Solomon, and he rose and went, and he took hold of the horns of the altar (Kings I 1:50).” Solomon promises to be merciful with his wayward brother, so he sends him to his own house, rather than killing him. This merciful act is Solomon’s first one as king, and marks the man who will become known for his peaceful, fair leadership.
God is angry at the people, and His reaction was to tell David to count the people. I’m not quite sure why one is a result of the other, but it’s clear throughout Tanakh that numbering the people is a huge deal for some reason. Regardless of the provocation, David complies, and sends Joab to take a census of the people. “And Joab said to the king, ‘May the Lord your God add to the people a hundredfold of whatsoever they may be, and the eyes of my lord, the king may see it; but my lord the king, why does he desire such a thing (Samuel II 24:3)?'” Joab, like me, clearly doesn’t get why he’s been given this task. But he goes along with it, and goes out to count the people.
We hear about Joab’s travels for a while. It takes him months to complete his task. “And Joab presented the sum of the number of the people to the king; And Israel consisted of eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men (Samuel II 24:9).” These are formidable numbers, showing that the Israelites were a strong fighting force. They were clearly a power within the region under the reign of David.
Things don’t go well though. David deeply regrets numbering the people, and says that he sinned before God in doing so. Again, I don’t know why. Is numbering hubris? Is it something that people aren’t supposed to know? Honestly, it just seems like a practical measure to take, so I have no idea why it’s so upsetting. David is freaking out though, and he goes to a prophet to intercede with God. David is given three choices. He can choose a famine, a pestilence, or war. He decides to take the punishment of three days of pestilence in the land. “So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men (Samuel II 24:15).” I guess the census is no longer relevant, because the people have definitely fallen in number since Joab’s count.
The angel that has brought the pestilence gets a little overzealous. He goes to destroy Jerusalem, but God regrets it. In order to end the chaos, David is instructed to build a new altar to God in Jerusalem – specifically, in the threshing floor of Aravnah the Jebusite. So David goes to this guy Aravnah, and he gives him his property. Well, he tries, but David insists on paying for it, so that no one will be able to say that he built his altar on a place that he got for nothing. So David builds an altar, and the plague leaves Israel.
With this, the books of Samuel are over. It’s always exciting to start a new part of Tanakh, and I have to savor these small achievements, because in a few months the books will each get super long and they won’t come along as regularly. I’m excited to get up to the stories of Solomon, and to see how they measure up to the versions that I learned growing up. Other than that, I’m not sure what exactly awaits in the two books of Kings, but I’m eager to find out. 642 chapters to go!
Just as Jacob and Moses gave long speeches as their final words, David also goes out with profound words. “And these are the last words of David; the saying of David the son of Jesse, and the saying of the man raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet singer of Israel (Samuel II 23:1).” Last words theoretically are the chance for a dying man to share his ultimate wisdom, the things that he wants to linger for the next generation. Therefore, a lot can be understood about a person’s beliefs and priorities by what they choose to say in these moments.
“The God of Israel said, concerning me spoke the Rock of Israel, ‘A ruler over men shall be the righteous, he that rules in the fear of God (Samuel II 23:3).'” Leadership can’t be corrupt if the ultimate authority remains God, rather than the ruler. David always bowed to God, keeping him from being an absolute ruler in a time when most kings felt that they had divine right.
David remembers the brave men that served him in battle and in leadership. It says a lot that even as he thinks about himself, he has a whole list of others to think about too. This, combined with his reliance on God, shows that he was humble, even until the end.
“And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul (Samuel II 22:1).” Does this indicate that in the end, Saul was one of David’s enemies? Or is it not meant to equate the two, but rather to note all that David overcame, both with regards to Saul and his enemies? Either way, this is a song of David, something that I imagine I’ll be typing for months once we get to the psalms. David is a poet and a lyricist, so it’s obviously beautiful, but higher on flowery language than content.
David describes God as his rock and shield, which makes sense, as he’s thanking God for saving him from his enemies. “When I am in distress, I call upon the Lord, yes I call upon my God: and out of His abode He hears my voice, and my cry enters His ears (Samuel II 22:7).” This seems to speak to the very personal relationship that God and David has. David speaking to God is almost like calling a friend who you turn to when things get tough. It’s just that David’s friend has infinite power and the ability to both bless and curse.
God is greatly anthropomorphic in this chapter. David describes Him in humanized terms, which I guess makes sense, because it’s the only way that human beings can begin to relate to an unknown deity. “And He bent the heavens and He came down; and thick darkness was under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub and did fly; He was seen upon the wings of the wing (Samuel II 22:10-11).” God is, of course, everywhere, all the time. So what does it mean for Him to be in a specific place or doing a certain thing? Does this mean that His presence was concentrated there, and therefore that’s where it was felt, or most in evidence? Is David being literal, which would be beyond belief in many ways, or is all of this a metaphor for God’s strength?
“With a kind one, You show Yourself kind. With an upright mighty man, You show Yourself upright. With a pure one, You show Yourself pure; But with a perverse one, You deal crookedly (Samuel II 22:26-27).” This seems to say that God deals with all of us on our own terms. Just as a parent doesn’t parent each of their children the same way, our own behaviors are reflected in how God treats us. We get what we deserve from our relationships with Him. David, having been victorious, knows that he is worthy of his rewards, because God wouldn’t have saved him if he hadn’t been righteous. It must be very validating to have that kind of unshakable faith. I like it because it makes people responsible for their actions, because God’s treatment of us is based on what we do.
God has done a lot for David. “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the nations, and to Your name I will sing praises (Samuel II 22:50).”