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The accession of David to power effected important changes in the social and political condition of the Hebrews. The new monarch was not only a pious man, at all times ready to sing the praises of Jehovah, but also a practical statesman, who detected in political success many other elements besides the miraculous. Whilst, therefore, conciliating priests and prophets with diplomatic tact, he conducted his administration in harmony with the ordinary rules of political expediency, and directed special attention to the arts of military organisation, which have exercised a more important influence on the rise and fall of empires than the prayers of priests or the curses of prophets—but with what results for the Hebrew people?
More than a thousand years had elapsed since Canaan had been promised to the descendants of Abraham, and about four centuries since Joshua had partially conquered and divided the land among the tribes of Israel; and
yet the work of blood was now to be renewed to establish, by right of conquest, a merely mushroom empire, doomed by prophets to disruption within the third generation. We read of David smiting the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites, and rivalling
Joshua in the ferocious cruelties inflicted on men and animals; but what of the tens of thousands of dead and dying Israelites lying on these numerous battle-fields ? It was very well for David to tune his harp and burst into ecstatic praise of Jehovah for placing on his head the golden crown of Ammon; but the sweetest strains of artistic or inspired minstrelsy could not drown the despairing cry of the widows and orphans of Israel, deprived of their natural protectors, and ignorant how soon the Philistines or Ammonites might return, and imitate David by placing them under iron harrows.1
Not only were the Hebrews under David subject to the calamities involved in ambitious wars of conquest, but so great a favourite of Jehovah or His prophets was this most fortunate king, that the penalties for his errors or crimes were inflicted, not on him, but on his irresponsible subjects.
We need not repeat the well-known episode in the life of David which connects his name with the seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, as our present interest lies in the form attributed to divine retribution. David, having been convicted by Nathan the prophet, repented in sackcloth and ashes, and was forgiven, but the weight of punishment was inflicted on the nation in the form of civil war with the king's son Absalom, through which twenty thousand Israelites perished in the wood of Ephraim—a heavy tribute of innocent blood exacted through some incomprehensible principle of supernatural justice.
In 2 Sam. xxiv. 1, we have the abrupt announcement: * And again the anger of the Lord was kindled
1 2 Sam. xii. 31.
against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. Again in 1 Chron. xxi. we read: “And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel.'
It is futile to comment on this grotesque parody of providential intervention in human affairs. If the author of Samuel is correct, Jehovah acted as if he were indeed a spirit of evil; but if the compiler of Chronicles is more worthy of credit, Satan had entered upon the scene to enhance the miseries of a nation whose government seems to have been the pastime of capricious gods and men.
The census of Israel and Judah, whether effected under Divine, Satanic, or human auspices, was condemned as a crime by Jehovah, with optional penalties of famine, military disaster, or pestilence. David accepted the latter, and seventy thousand men of Israel accordingly perished, before Jehovah repented of His cruelty, and stayed the hand of the destroying angel.
When we consider the amount of social misery and domestic anguish involved in the unmerited and yet appalling calamity thus inflicted on the plague-stricken victims of divine wrath, we abandon all hope of verifying in the annals of David the existence of a race divinely chosen for the special favour of the same Deity who, nearly one thousand years later, descended on earth to interpret the providential policy of His Father in heaven, not through the pestilential breath of the destroying angel, but by compassionate alleviation of the sufferings of disease.
David is not only a central figure in the historic drama of Israel, but has also exercised an important
influence on the opinions and practice of modern Christianity.
The story of a man so pre-eminently pious and wicked as David necessarily absorbs the attention of men desirous of reconciling the claims of religion with the attractions of Mammon. They see the Hebrew monarch guilty of errors which shock the proprieties of modern respectability, and yet they are assured on inspired authority that the royal sinner was a man after God's own heart. What therefore is the secret of divine favour? The question is easy of solution. David composed and sung more psalms to the honour and glory of God than all the prophets, saints, and martyrs known to sacred history. If therefore, tempted by Satan, we should unhappily fall into any of the sins of our age by adulterating human food, building with unbaked bricks and untempered mortar, betraying our trust for a commission, or issuing a legally unassailable but morally fraudulent prospectus, let us hasten to the nearest Temple of psalmody, and seek divine favour by singing the praise of the Lord in the most laudatory stanzas of the royal bard of Judah.
As this aspect of the question practically depicts David as the ancient father of modern Cant, it is due to his memory to inquire whether any episodes in his career identify his character with the vice of hypocrisy.
We read in 2 Sam. xx., . There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered, It is for Saul and his bloody house, becau se he slew the Gibeonites.' This monstrous oracle, whether obtained by the divination of Urim or the fanaticism of
prophets, resulting in the cruel murder of seven members of the family of Saul, obviously cloaked the design of exterminating possible pretenders to the throne, in harmony with the immemorial practice of Eastern despots.
In chapter xvi. we find Shimei, a member of the house of Saul, cursing David as the murderer of his family. The king heard this abusive language with a mild humility, worthy of a modern apostle of peace : • Let him alone and let him curse,' said David, “for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look upon mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.' Shimei subsequently made an abject apology, and was forgiven by the apparently magnanimous king. But, when David was on his death-bed, confiding his last wishes to Solomon, he said : ‘And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei, the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim : but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death by the sword. Now therefore, hold him not guiltless ; for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him ; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.' Solomon, accordingly, on the death of the king, took the first favourable opportunity of murdering Shimei ; and the entire narrative thus convicts David of systematic hypocrisy. The dying monarch still further withdrew the veil from his true character by suggesting to Solomon the murder of his old companion in arms, Joab, and the veteran
1 1 Kings ii. 8, 9.