Intersection of Merit and Grace; P’s Central Message

1.  In my reading today of The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, Randall continues to affirm his thesis that the History of David’s Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 “emphasiz[es] the intent of YHWH to elect whomsoever He wills, even the least among Israel’s sons, and…de-emphasiz[es] natural rights based on pedigree, merit, ability, and so forth” (163).  According to Randall, “This stands in marked contrast to the Apology of [Hattusili].”

Randall makes a good case that the History of David’s Rise does not defend David’s right to the throne on the basis of his pedigree, for the term “son of Jesse” is often used by characters in the narrative as a pejorative.

But Randall also includes a quote from James Kugel affirming that God in the Bible often chooses people who are undeserving or lack merit.  Kugel states that “it seems that they have been chosen for reasons that are inscrutable, or perhaps for no reason at all, and in this fact the biblical narratives seem to take some pleasure” (169).

I talk some about this issue in my posts, Final Gems from Sommer; A Surprising Choice?; Filling in the Gap and David: Not the Anti-Saul!; Neusner on Foot Moore.  In the first post, I wonder if the narrative presents God’s choice of David as arbitrary and lacking in any consideration of David’s goodness on God’s part.  After all, I Samuel 13:14 says that David is a man after God’s own heart, and I Samuel 16:7 affirms that God looks at the heart rather than outward appearance, indicating that there’s something about David’s heart that pleases God.  And yet, in the second post, I’m impressed by Randall’s argument that David makes many of the same mistakes that Saul does, prompting the question of whether David indeed was good enough to replace Saul as king.

On page 138, Randall acknowledges that there was something about David’s heart that pleased God:  “YHWH sent Samuel to anoint David because there was something in and about the heart of this one among the many sons of Jesse, indeed, among all the sons of Israel, that YHWH saw or found to meet His good pleasure” (138).  But Randall does not really elaborate on this, perhaps because “Neither the narrator nor YHWH explicitly state in I Samuel 16 what it is about the heart that YHWH sees or looks for when deciding whom to reject and whom to choose.”  My Mom once said that God loved David because he was so sorry when he did wrong.

Did God choose David because he was a shepherd, and that would be a job that could train a person to become the shepherd of Israel?  And yet, could God have been the one who providentially arranged for David to be a shepherd, even before Samuel anointed him?  Randall interacts with this question.  On pages 142-143, he appeals to I Samuel 17:37, where David states that the LORD delivered him from the lion and the bear while he was looking after the sheep, and so he is confident that the LORD will deliver him from the hand of the Philistine Goliath.  Was God preparing the shepherd David to fight the battles of the LORD, a key role of the king of Israel?  Randall says that God could have been preparing David to be king even before Samuel anointed him, and yet there’s a possibility that God delivered David from the bear and the lion after the anointing, which is when the Spirit of the LORD comes upon David (I Samuel 16:13), presumably to empower him.

Was there anything within David himself that qualified him before God to be the king of Israel?  Or did God give David his qualifications—by training him, something God could have done with anyone?  Or is it a combination of the two?  God may have observed that David was teachable, which implies that David had qualities, but still needed to grow through training.   

2.  In my reading today of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Neusner wrestles with why priestly ideology emerged from the seventh-fifth centuries B.C.E. and occurs in the Mishnah.  He connects its emergence with the intermingling of cultures, peoples, and races, in part as the result of trade.  He thinks there was thus a push for Israelites to define themselves and to distinguish themselves from other people. 

I’m not sure why this doesn’t sit right with me.  I guess I don’t really see distinguishing Israel from other nations as one of P’s primary messages.  I’ve always seen Israelite purity with respect to the sanctuary as P’s main concept.  But I’m open to learning, here.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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