You can read this through, since often one taught point leads on to another than qualifies it. But for an overview, see the list of what God has taught and for the context in which he taught each thing, see the beginnings and the history. Click here for home page.
The choice of David as a king of Israel was notable. He was the youngest and rather rural. While people tend to look for particular stengths like (in those days) being the first-born, being strong, being tall, being of regal bearing (what ones do we look for today?) God looked "not on the outside but on the heart".
The importance of the heart of a person, as opposed to outward appearance or even immediately seen behaviour, is a main biblical theme. We find it all the way through. What God values is a heart turned towards himself, even if only slightly, and a heart that is good, without guile, of goodwill, and so on.
While it is with David that we have the first clear statement that God values the heart of the person, the theme continues throughout Scripture from then on, and up to the present day. We find references in the prophets to the importance of the heart; the heart turned away from God, the heart of stone, the hard heart, and God's promise through Jeremiah (31):
"I will write my laws on their hearts ...
I will take away the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
This is of particular importance to me. God's law, that is, what God wishes us to do and which I sought to follow, was something that was outside of me, as it were, something in front of my face. I just had to read it and I would know what to do. But I had a problem: some of those things I just did not want to do. So either I forced myself to do them, or I didn't do them and felt guilty. Then I came across two passages, one of which was the above. The other one was in the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi (2:13), where he says
"God is at work in you to will and to work his good pleasure"
The will, the heart; that was my problem. I asked God to do this work in me, to make me willing, inside, for what he wanted. I forgot about it for a couple of months - and then one day I noticed that things I had not wanted to do I now wanted to do. God had indeed changed my will in that area. He had written part his law onto my heart.
No longer was doing God's will a struggle as I attempted to do things foreign to me, it was something that I genuinely wanted to do. It was not that I had developed a new habit, it was deeper than that, deeper than behaviour and feeling: it was that my heart had become oriented towards God, my will had been, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "freely aligned to God's will."
Note the freedom there: our wills are not forced; they are free. It is just that what I now want to do, from inside myself, is what God wishes, so I no longer have to attend to the law that is before my face. This, to me, is freedom that is real and substantial. In those areas, that is, in which my heart does have God's law written on it; there are yet many bits of his law that have still to be written on my heart.
Yet so often today we have still not learned that lesson, that it is the heart that is important to God. We think in terms of behaviour, of knowledge, of character, of strengths and weaknesses - but God looks on the heart.
As mentioned, God adapts to human content. He adapted to the idea of kingship, and incorporated it into his long-term plan for his world. Just as David had been a good king, so God's Very Special Person, his later Messiah, would also be a king - and make astounding demands. God used the human concept of kingship as a metaphor with which to communicate his authority over all nations and over all the world he had made.
Today, we are so used to this, partly because of the influence of Aristotle's rather different notion of monarchianism, that we tend to take it for granted. But not all the world see God as necessarily having such authority. Many need to learn it. And we who know it need perhaps to de-emphasize it in favour of some of God's other characteristics that we have ignored.
There seems to be a general theme throughout GOd's book, the Bible: reality. Be real with God. There is little of the covering up that we find in much writing. There is little hero-worship. It has been said that of all the people mentioned, the Bible shows their sin clearly in all but one (Daniel) and that man is recorded as confessing his own sin.
Reality is also present in the record of the failure of God's people. A piece of propaganda would most probably have tried to show God's people as a better model, as more successful. After all, if we market a service today we show its successes not its failures. The Bible, on the other hand, is honest. And, in showing clearly the failures of God's people, gives a very important communication that we have not yet discussed - the need for a Messiah; see below.
==== add I Jn 1:9 "agreeing with God concerning sin"
During David's reign the songs took on a new theme - a more personal relationship with God. God was king, the protector of his people, but he also could be known personally, and loved. Hints that a loving personal relationship with God was possible and even commanded were there since the very beginning, when Adam walked with God in the Garden, and also in the well-known command "You shall love the Lord your God." But the idea started to germinate and grow around David's time.
This was not just the relationship of obedience to God as a servant, nor of submission (which the Muslims emphasize and is the meaning of the word 'Islam') but one of delight in him. And that not just by the specially chosen individuals, but by anyone with the right heart. While the means to a full personal relationship with God had to wait another thousand years, we find expressions of the joy that God intended for his creation. Such deep joy is to be found only in him. We're on the way back, folks; let's celebrate and worship! Hence the Psalms.
But there was still many centuries to go before it could be manifested in full. But it is a theme that has lasted: personal relationship with God. Several times it has been forgotten, ignored or lost, and God has graciously brought it back. One time he did was via Mother Julian of Norwich. She was living at a time when the majesty and authority of God were emphasized, and God gave her visions of his love, his person-to-person intimate love, that have helped and inspired many since that time. It helped, perhaps, pave the way for the Reformation 100 years later, when the possibility of a personal relationship with God became clear in a different way.
Also mention Ignatius Loyola, who developed a particularly intense personal love for God.
What relevance has this for us? When we in the West think about who is doing evil, tangible evil, we tend to think of terrorists and nasty regimes like that of Saddam Hussein. But from the record of Samuel right through to the exile, there are only a few times when 'worthless men' are mentioned as doing something culpable. The vast majority of blame is directed at the rulers - kings, priests, prophets, and various others who had some influence in the establishment. Next come the people and only last come the terrorists and troublemakers. We have a picture of blame in about the following proportions:
We can see why this should be. When a ruler (political, religious, business, educational, etc.) goes astray from God then they create a climate of opinion that people follow (as well as wielding legal, financial, religious and military power over them). And so, though it is the mass of people who actually carry out the evil practices, it is the rulers who were to bear most of the blame in God's sight. I think that we in the West have forgotten some of this, in our individualistic, liberalistic society.
==== link with holy.
One important lesson the Israelites had to learn - but failed to learn it till they were taken away to exile 1000 years after they had settled - was that they were to remain separate from the surrounding cultures. This was in line with the need for a public model of God and his dealings and his ways.
The idea of deity in the surrounding cultures was of some force to be feared and perhaps used, and one that was essentially tribel. Their notion was that the deity had an honour to maintain, and this was tied up with the fortunes of the nation. They would build magnificent palaces (temples) for their deities - as the Greeks did later on, and as the mediaeval Christian church also did in their cathedrals, and today's rich churches also do.
But God had to disabuse them of such notions. First, he was a humble God. Though powerful and not to be messed around, he did not demand a magnificent palace. Instead, the symbol of his presence, the ark, was kept in a tent, a place of humility. (This also had the important message that God did not 'belong' to any one city or tribe in Israel, but to all.) When King David (see later) offered to build God a temple, God replied that he had never asked for one.
In fact, he allowed David's son to build one, and graciously adapted the concept. (It is likely however that what God was referring to when he said "One of your sons will build me a dwelling place" was his later own Son, but that comes a thousand years later.) What this means is that God, though all-powerful and all-knowing, nevertheless adapts to human beings and human concepts. (Maybe we see in this that God is still honouring the role he set us of responsible managers of his creation, able to create and decide rather than merely follow.) There are other examples. One comes from very early: Cain built a city in defiance of God's statement that he would be a wanderer, but God adapts the concept of the city to be something florious. When the people asked for a king, he adapts the concept of kingship. When Abraham, Moses and later Amos argue with God, he listens to them and changes his mind. proud human leaders refuse to change their minds, but God is humble, and will change his mind.
Actually, this did not start with the prophets, though it became more explicit at that period. Two examples spring immediately to mind. First, Ruth, from Moab, was given access to God, and was the foremother of both David and the Messiah. Second, Uriah, whose wife David stole and whom he got killed, was a Hittite, yet God was concerned about this man. It is especially remarkable because the Hittites were a people whom God had originally ordered the Israelites to utterly destroy - yet God had care for this foreigner. (Incidentally, this shows that God's original order was not a tirade against that people as a race, but rather against the Hittite's culture that was destructive of what was good.)
God's plan was for a model people that would first demonstrate his character and ways - his shalom, health, justice, care, joy, love - and then build bridges to the rest of the needy world, across which they could come to experience it. This is expressed in several places, but very nicely in Zechariah 8:
"The time is coming when people from many cities will come to Jerusalem. Those from one city will say to those from another, 'We are going to worship Jahweh Almighty and pray for his blessing. Come with us!' Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to worship Jahweh Almighty and pray for his blessing. In those days ten foreigners will come to one Jew and say, 'We want to share in your destiny; because we have heard that God is with you!'"
Note the emphasis: not on the Jews as such, but rather on their being a demonstration of God, a centre of God. Note also that God expects the nations to desire right worship and destiny.
But in the first stage where the Jews should be a model, they wanted to build bridges - not to attract other nations to God but because they were attracted by the ways of those nations. And in the second stage where they should build bridges, they wanted to remain separate - not so much to be a model as for more nationalistic purposes.
Sad. However, God knew that such a thing would happen, and had an even better plan - to come into the world himself.
God's special people, Israel, were given all the privileges of a close relationship with God, they were given laws that were the envy of many in the pure picture of justice they expressed, they had miracles performed among them, they received God's words and no other nation had the Living God as its Protector. Yet, as the prophet said, no other nation abandoned its deity for another as Israel did. They had more reason to stay with their deity - since he was the real One - yet they were the ones who left their deity. This showed in unmistakeable terms that even the most privileged human beings still have their hearts turned away from God, in fact our hearts are turned in any direction except towards God.
If even the most priviledged human beings - priviledged to have a relationship with God and have God working with and for them, and to have God teach them - turn away, what hope do the rest of us have? We are all hopelessly and helplessly lost in our apostate tendency. If the most priviledged turn away, so will the rest of us.
That is one of the major messages of the whole history of the people of Israel - we are all lost.
To demonstrate this was a chief among the purposes for which God chose a people Israel. They were to be a public demonstrator not only of the character of God or of a model society, but also of the depths to which human nature had sunk.
God took his time to let his people try many things - different social and political systems, systems of law, prophets coming to point the way, education in home and society, and the long experience of collected wisdom (such as expressed in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes). They had centuries of reward and punishment. As we saw very early on, clearing all the wicked out of the way did not work. But nothing worked. Nothing could keep these human beings, these reprsentatives of the human race, from gradually and yet inexorably turning away from God and God's ways.
The lesson was that humankind is lost.
Unless God himself acts. And act, he did, to save us when we could not save ourselves. In using Israel to demonstrate the true extent of human rebellion, God had given human beings many chances and many centuries to find our own solution and shown that we had failed to come up with any. He thus prepared the world for God's own solution - the sending of he who is known as the Messiah to save us.
When Messiah came, through his life and teaching, he taught us human beings many things that we had not picked up clearly up to that time. But the chief reason for his coming was to be our Saviour. The angel who, centuries later, announced his imminent birth, announced, not a new religious leader, not a new code of morals, not a new law, but a Saviour. And the name chosen for him meant, from its Hebrew roots, 'God (himself) Saves', 'Salvation is found in God'.
There were messages about a truly just king, a deliverer, a suffering servant, a new covenant, and many others. It is almost certain that the prophets who spoke them did not understand. But, as the centuries wore on, these references started to build up a picture of a coming Messiah - one who is specially anointed by God. Tantalizingly brief, they served to stimulate the curiosity of some and the desire for their fulfilment.
In fact, this coming Messiah was to be the culmination and focal point of all his planning. While Israel was a partial model, the Messiah would be a complete model. While Israel was only briefly a God-led people, the Messiah would bring about a new type of people who were God-led. While the sacrifices enabled some relationship with God, it would happen that the Messiah was God's own sacrifice, to end all other sacrifices, and the one real sacrifice of which all the others were merely a token. While the first covenant was with a set-apart nation, the Messiah would bring in an eternal and worldwide covenant. While Israel was one nation, the Messiah's work would benefit the entire world. This much we know in hindsight, but there was still a long way to go.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000. Comments and queries are very welcome.
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Last updated: 16 July 2000 more on Heart; added Wisdom; corrected links. 10 December 2000 renamed 'need messiah' by 'need saviour' and placed it before 'messiah promised'. Removed auto mailto to prevent junk mailings. 12 February 2001 refce to problems and flood. 7 April 2001 better end. 8 September 2001 a html keywd corrected; loyola. 22 September 2002 Julian of Norwich.