Church Write-Up: Not Letting God Pass By, and the Question of Whether David’s Hands Were Unclean

I went to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church on Christmas Day.

The pastor shared that he was in the process of editing his father-in-law’s old sermons, and he came across a story in one of them.  In this story, the Prince of Wales accidentally got stranded in the middle of nowhere, and he knocked on the door of a farmer, in hopes of coming inside to get warm.  Irritated, the farmer replied that it was midnight, and he had no intention of letting a stranger into his house.  The prince tried again, and the farmer gave the same answer.  The farmer lost the opportunity at least to get his name in the newspaper in a positive way, all because he was committed to his routine.

Similarly, the pastor said, how many of us let God pass us by because of our preoccupations?  We may by busy, or we may find ourselves obsessing over missed opportunities or resentment after a broken relationship.  In the process, do we allow God to pass us by?

The pastor referred to the story of Michal, the wife of King David, in II Samuel 6.  The Ark of the Covenant was entering Jerusalem, and David danced about with enthusiasm about this.  Michal rebuked David, claiming that he was showing off too much skin to the slave women, and that he was behaving in a manner that was undignified for a king.  She let her prejudices and her bitter feelings get in the way of appreciating the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem.

The pastor shared another story.  Back when he was 17 years old, a guest pastor was preaching at the church that he attended.  This guest pastor was the father of Paul Simon, who would become a U.S. Senator.  (Remember when Paul Simon ran for President in 1988 and wore bow-ties?)  The guest pastor repeatedly said, “Come see the baby in the manger,” and that annoyed the 17-year old.  The 17-year old shared his concern with an elder, and the elder responded that the guest pastor was doing this because he had a son with a learning disability (a brother of Paul), and the guest pastor wanted this son to grasp the Christmas story.  The pastor did not want his son to miss the meaning of Christmas.

The pastor had told the story of Michal because our Old Testament reading was Psalm 24, which talks about the gates opening and the King of Glory, God, coming in.  The pastor asserted that Psalm 24 was written by David in light of the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem, which is in II Samuel 6.  The pastor noted that there is another element to Psalm 24: v 4 affirms that only one with clean hands can ascend God’s hill and stand in God’s holy place.  But David lacked clean hands, the pastor said, for God forbade David to built the Temple because David’s hands were defiled with the massive bloodshed that he committed in war (I Chronicles 17:26-27; 28:3).  The pastor affirmed that Jesus has clean hands, and it is through his act of salvation that we can approach God.

Here are a couple thoughts:

A.  I looked at I Chronicles 17:26-27 and 28:3, and they do not say that David’s hands were defiled with blood.  Still, David was forbidden to construct the Temple because of the bloodshed that he had committed in war.

Years ago, at an independent Seventh-Day Adventist church that I attended, the Sabbath school teacher was interacting with these passages.  He struggled with them.  Why would God disapprove of David shedding blood in war?  Was not David fighting the battles of the Lord, with which God assisted Israel?  Why would David be punished for doing what God wanted him to do in the first place?  The teacher concluded that these passages were not about David’s participation in wars, but rather David’s murder of Uriah to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba and to take her as his wife.

That does not exactly work, though, if you take the biblical stories chronologically and put them together.  God intended for Solomon to be the one to build the Temple before David’s sin with Bathsheba (cp. II Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17; II Samuel 11 is where one finds the Bathsheba story).

(UPDATE: I am having second thoughts about my argument here.  II Samuel 7:1 takes place after God had given David rest from all his enemies, and II Samuel 8 describes David’s subordination of the foreign enemies of Israel.  Yet, after those chapters, there are still wars between Israel and the other countries.  II Samuel is not necessarily in chronological order.  Still, I Chronicles 17:26-27 and 28:3 refer to David’s wars, not his murder of Uriah.)

Within the biblical story, God may have regarded David’s wars as necessary, yet less than ideal, in a less than ideal world.  God wanted God’s Temple to be associated with peace.

B.  The topic of the sermon, not letting God pass us by, reminded me of the last year of my college experience.  What many Christians would call a revival was taken place on the campus.  A Christian group was growing exponentially.  People who did not ordinarily go to Christian activities were attending it.  For a while, I was hesitant to go, on account of my social insecurity and my routine.  The leader of the Bible study group that I attended was a pushy sort, and he was saying that I should go to the Christian group.  Eventually, I went, and I did enjoy it.  In terms of my experience, it set the standard for praise and worship.  I have had decent praise-and-worship experiences since then, but nothing quite like what I experienced in that Christian group.  There was an electricity about it.

There have been many times since then that I have regretted going to that Bible study group.  Had I not gone to the Bible study group, however, I would not have attended the Christian group.  To be honest, even then, I think to myself, “Would that have been a big deal?  It was a group that attracted a bunch of people, for whatever reason.  So what?”  But I think that I was right to be excited about what God was doing on the campus (according to one interpretation of events), and to show my enthusiasm by showing up and singing along.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I 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. 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.
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