Изображения страниц




Y FAR the greatest of all Israel's kings was David. He is indeed the one of all their heroes to whom the title, great, peculiarly belongs.

Many of their leaders were superior to him in one or another excellence, but none bulked quite so large, or loomed so high, or filled so large a place of varied eminence as he.

Moses or Elijah or Isaiah shone, like stars, in the firmament of heaven, so high they seem to move above the plane of common men. But David is so intensely human, so much a part of this mundane sphere, with its dusty conflicts, its passion and its pains, that we understand him better, and more easily appraise his worth.

He stands as a great land mark in the history of Israel; like some great mountain peak that in height and grandeur dominates the landscape; not all beautiful, not all good, but vast, majestic and impressive, and, on the whole, standing in the sunshine of God's approbation, though sometimes very ugly clouds shut out the favor of God and the respect of men.

Like all men who attain to greatness, David owed much to circumstances that were not at all of his disposing. His boyhood was spent in the open. As the shepherd of his father's flock on the hills of Bethlehem, he found the best environment and the most effective discipline that his time and country could provide. Occupation, responsibility, and leisure happily proportioned are the best possible curriculum for the devolpment of manhood; and when these can be found in the open country, and associated with the joys of home and the kindly discipline of loving parents, there is nothing lacking in the equipment for the training of a

boy. The influence of this occupation is abundantly shown in his whole life, and the fact that they are so carefully noted in the inspired narrative indicates the importance which the author attached to them. The qualities and accomplishments which first brought him into notice were all acquired in this school of his boyhood days. His pleasing countenance, his frank but modest bearing, his physical strength and courage are valuable capital for any young man to start in business with. His musical ability and his skill on the harp and with the sling were the occasion of his coming into notice; and both are typical of the man. He plays, as any shepherd might play, but with such mastery of his art, that, when the occasion came, it found him ready, and he is invited to play before the king. He threw stones as any shepherd boy, but so as to acquire such skill that, when the occasion came, he was able to stake his own life and the honor of his nation on the single throw of a stone from the brook.

When he came to the throne he had already experienced the vicissitudes of a soldier's life, was in fact almost a veteran in the kind of warfare he had to wage for many years thereafter.

The prowess of Saul had broken the force of the Philistine oppression, and though he left the work of liberating Israel unfinished, he had made it possible for David to push the task to its completion. The nation under Saul's brave leadership had become more spirited, more determined to cast off the yoke of oppression, and in this determination were more solidified as a nation than they had been since the days of Joshua.

These circumstances made it possible to establish the nation on a firm basis, but they fell far short of making it easy. They gave David a "fighting chance," but they did not imply that his success was not greatly to his credit. It is possible that a much smaller man might have delivered Israel from the Philistines, but that liberation was only the beginning of David's great achievements. "To form a more perfect union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense and to promote the

general welfare" was only a part of his task. In addition to these, he accomplished other works of even greater magnitude. He established the dignity of his court; he formed alliances with other nations; he made Jerusalem a splendid capital; he fostered commerce and encouraged useful handicrafts. In addition to these enterprises of a political character, he accomplished other and greater works, such as the promotion of arts and sciences and the development of music and poetry. He won the love of his people and the respect of his enemies. In the breadth and variety of his labors he is probably without a peer, and in the quality of his achievements he has hardly a rival. Other kings have won renown in one or other of these fields, but none cut so wide a swath, or did so many things so well.

But the greatest work of his life, and that in which we are interested here, was his contribution to the religious development of the nation, his part in the preparation of Israel for his office as the priest of the world.

In general we may say he restored the order of religion and enriched its service. His bringing up of the ark of God and establishing the sanctuary on Mt. Zion was typical of his life work in religion. He found the whole service in disorder. Eli's sons had disgraced their father's name, and profaned the sacred office; and, even under Samuel, the people did not regain their reverence for the hallowed ordinances; and during the reign of Saul things went from bad to worse.

David's first care was to purify the service, to purge the priesthood and establish rigid discipline within their ranks. Then as occasion offered, he dignified the service and enriched it by the arts of music and appropriate ritual, till it became a solemn and impressive means of religious education, edifying and inspiring; yet restrained from the spectacular extremes, to which an elaborate ritual is apt to run.

But it is in the Psalms that we have the best expression of the religious ideals of David. It is not certain how many, or which,

of the Psalms are of David's authorship; but it is generally agreed that the prevailing tone of Hebrew worship as established in the Book of Psalms is of David's time, and largely due to his direction and example.

Such psalms as the 23rd and 24th, the 31st and 51st and 40th are to this day the high water mark of devotional poetry. A nation that had attained to such conceptions of divine character, and religious truth was already far advanced beyond anything the heathen world had ever attained before that time, or since.

It would take too long to illustrate this proposition here, as we hope to do hereafter. Our present interest is with history; and we are all sufficiently acquainted with the psalms to judge by them of the religious aspirations and ideals to which the people had attained in David's time, and by his help. It is not to be supposed that all the people had attained to such a high degree of religious culture; but the service that was filled with such lofty sentiments, and set before the worshiper such high ideals of spiritual life, must have had tremendous influence; and the response of the people to the hopes thus set before them proves their progress in religious life.

It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the great revelations made in all the ages since that time, by prophets and apostles and by our Lord himself, yet the highest and profoundest of our religious aspirations still find their best expressions in the words of these ancient psalms of David. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" is still the sweetest song in all our hymnal; and the 25th psalm, beginning with the words "Unto Thee O Lord do I lift up my soul," needs no revision to fit it for the use of Christian church. It is right and proper that the Jewish people have ever regarded David as the typical king, the father of their church, and with Abraham and Moses the greatest of their race.

It is true that Saul's heart-breaking task was necessary as a

preparation, without which David could not have done his work. But take him all in all-with all his faults and crimeshe was all that the eulogies of his posterity has represented him to be "The man who was raised up on high. The annointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel."

The Messiah's title "Son of David," denotes much more than a mere fact of genealogy. He was in very fact the direct successor of the great king who did so much to prepare the nation for their office as the priest of the world.


Under David, Israel reached its full maturity. It is now a nation, fully organized and well developed in all the features which mark the Hebrew race down to the present day. Solomon succeeded to a throne of splendid opportunity. For nearly thirty centuries the name of Solomon has been a synonym for wisdom, and his reign the type of kingly glory. So well established is his reputation, that it seems almost sacrilege to question his title to the highest kind of wisdom. It is, indeed, unquestioned that he had, in very unusual measure, that shrewd insight into the obscure depths of things, and that instinctive genius for practical judgment that is very properly called wisdom, though it is not the highest kind of wisdom. His ambition was practical, but it was not lofty. His prayer, when God asked him to choose what he should give him, was "give thy servant an understanding heart to judge the people"; a good prayer, certainly, and abundantly granted; but, for all that, in height and breadth and greatness of soul, he did not even approach the stature of his father David.

His whole conception of life was on a lower plane, his glory is of a more material sort, his religion more external, and his influence entirely worldly.

His reign was indeed remarkable for peace and prosperity;

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »