April Bible Readings

The Kings

If the Exodus is the great event at the start of Israel’s story, then the high point of the narrative is the Kingdom of David and Solomon. After a rocky start with King Saul, Israel finally looks like it’s living the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and Moses. David and then Solomon rule over a united Israel, the boundaries of which were promised to their forebears. The land is fertile and the surrounding nations come to Jerusalem to participate in the their blessed life. The Temple of Solomon dominates the skyline; God himself is living among his people in a permanent home. Surely, this is Abraham’s covenant in all its glory.

But if we read carefully, we find the authors sounding notes of caution. The problem of sin still haunts the human heart, even the heart of God’s chosen representative, the King. As you ponder Israel’s monarchy throughout this month, consider God’s intent for Israel, and for all of humanity. Fulfilment seems tantalisingly close, and yet it proves unattainable. Why? What is it in the hearts of humans (ourselves included) that always seems to derail God’s promises? Furthermore, ponder God and his determination to bring about ‘good’, even through human weakness. Consider the nature of ‘the good’ which God purposes for his people— what makes it good and would you want it?

Previously…

The great Samuel— Israel’s Priest and the last of the Judges— appointed his sons as priests to lead Israel in his stead. But they did not follow in his ways. In their stead, Israel insisted Samuel appoint them a king, just like all the surrounding nations (1 Samuel 8:4-9). God directs Samuel to anoint Saul as king, even though this represents a rejection of God as their protector and sovereign. Saul’s rule begins with promise but soon disappoints.

Key Moments

Saul vs David: 1 Samuel 26

After God’s rejection of Saul as King (1 Samuel 15:17-29), David is secretly anointed as God’s King-designate, even while Saul continues on the throne. Initially David is brought into Saul’s court as a kind of royal therapist, but soon becomes a famed warrior. Now viewed as a threat, David flees for his life and finds himself an outlaw— even though he insists upon his loyalty to Saul.

Inevitably the reader makes comparisons between King Saul and the future King David: the king ‘just like those of the surrounding nations’ and the king of God’s choosing. What is your assessment of both Saul and David, and their suitability to be the king of Israel? On what basis will you make your assessment?

God’s Covenant with David: 2 Samuel 7

After the death of Saul, David becomes king of a united Israel. God’s people are finally at rest. They are no longer a nomadic people, but a settled nation living in their promised land. Just as God first made a covenant with Abraham, and then the whole nation of Israel, now the covenant relationship encompasses the extended family of God. God’s promises to David are a continuation of his promises to Abraham and will now drive the story. God is still at work setting the world right and he will use David’s offspring for his purposes.

For further thought:

  1. The promises made to David (v8-16) seem to echo the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. What similarities do you notice? What has been added or expanded?
  2. As you consider the promises made to David, what expectations might Israel have of Solomon?

God Blesses Solomon: 1 Kings 4:20-34

The writer of 1 Kings describes God’s blessing of Solomon using language drawn from the covenant with Abraham. Judah and Israel are like sand by the sea (Gen 15:17-21). They are blessed, and the nations of the world are blessed through them. Israel is finally the nation God intended them to be.

God blesses the nations through the wisdom of Solomon. As the rulers of other nations visit or send their envoys (eg 1 Kings 10:1-13), Solomon shares from the abundance of wisdom gifted him (2 Chronicles 1:8-12). In what other ways might the growth of God’s kingdom under Solomon be a blessing to the nations? 

How might God’s kingdom— now expressed through the church— be a blessing to all the nations?

God enters the Temple: 1 Kings 8

The dedication of the Temple is the climax of the story of Israel and an apparent fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. God now has a permanent home among his people in the city of Jerusalem, in the midst of a prosperous nation at peace, a place where the nations can come to worship him. 

Reflect back on the biblical narrative that runs from Abraham, through the Patriarchs to Moses; from the Exodus and Sinai, through Joshua’s conquest, to the Judges and the establishment of the Monarchy: God purpose has been the blessing of his people and through them the blessing of all nations. What has changed along the way? What has stayed the same?  

Shedding Light on the Scene

The rocky start under King Saul: 1 Samuel 12:19-13:15

The authors of Scripture treat Israel’s quest for a king as deeply suspect— it comes from the wrong motive and for the wrong purpose (to be like the surrounding nations, and to fight their battles for them). Israel already had a king, God. The request for another king would seem to be an act of treason. Strangely, God acquiesces to the request. 

Initially, Saul appears to be the kind of king the Israelites were hoping for, and we see the initial defeat of Israel’s enemies. But his desire to please his men exceeds his desire to please God. Under pressure, he takes matters into his own hands and so his family is rejected as the dynasty that would rule Israel.

The narratives of Saul and David are exquisitely written. What details does the author weave into this narrative to reveal the characters of Saul and Samuel? Which details might you research further in order to uncover their significance?

David chosen as King: 1 Samuel 16-17

David seems the opposite of Saul. He is young and unimpressive, disregarded even by his own family. Yet, God looks favourably on him and anoints him king. He does not look merely at external appearances, but at the heart of a person (1 Sam 16:7). Biblically, “the heart” is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life. It is the “home of the personal life,” and hence a man or woman is designated, according to their heart– wise (1 Kings 3:12, etc.), pure (Ps. 24:4; Matt. 5:8, etc.), upright and righteous (Gen. 20:5, 6; Ps. 11:2; 78:72), pious and good (Luke 8:15), etc. In these and such passages the word “soul” could not be substituted for “heart,” although they are sometimes used interchangeably. Conversely, “hardness of heart” evidences itself in distorted views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; self-reliance, pride and conceit; and generally, an inattention to God and his ways.

And God sees the heart— that’s the point. He sees our hearts. And, interestingly, the heart is not fixed. God is in the business of renewing the heart, that it might be responsive and obedient (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26 etc). 

Up to this point in the biblical narrative, the function of Yahweh’s Spirit seems primarily to equip individuals for military leadership (the Judges), and to enable the prophets to interpret visions and messages from God.  The “evil” spirit from God tormenting Saul (16:14-15 etc) can also be translated “harmful”. The result is that Saul’s military leadership is diminished and he is afflicted by a “harmful” spirit. 

The fall of David and the failure of his Family: 2 Samuel 11-18

Sin still haunts our story. In a tragic echo of Adam and Cain, David takes something that does not belong to him and even arranges a murder. He rejects submission to the ways of God to impulsively grasp for the wife of another man. And so, he betrays his kingly duty to model the redeemed life to his people.

This betrayal ripples out into David’s family and eventually the whole nation is embroiled in civil war. Even within David’s extended family, sin and death are still the core problems. If God is going to restore his world through the descendants of Abraham, something radical needs to happen. 

How do you see  the words of 2 Sam 12:11 being fulfilled in the developing narrative of David’s family? What do we learn from this story about where we should place our hope?

Solomon Asks for Wisdom: 1 Kings 3

There is still hope for David’s lineage. Solomon, the son of David, pleases God by asking for wisdom in order to fulfil the role of King. Perhaps under Solomon, Israel can be the people God intended. Perhaps in Solomon, the promises of 2 Sam 7:11b-16 will be fulfilled.

We conclude that the role of King in Israel is not reducible to good governance and military skill. In a theocracy, where God is king over his people, the role of his human representative is as a Prince Regent— an authorised substitute who acts on behalf of the true king. 

Looking Forward and Backward

The Tabernacle: Exodus 25-26

Throughout their desert wanderings, God lived among his people in a tent— the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a temporary house; an anticipation of God’s temple in Jerusalem, which was to be his enduring ‘home address’ among his people. 

Rules for the King: Deuteronomy 17:14-20

The concept of a King over Israel— the right kind of King— was in some way foreshadowed by God’s instructions to Moses. In order to guard Israel’s unique identity and character, the ways in which Israel’s King should differ from those of the surrounding nations.

The Anointed King: Psalm 2

The Psalm was probably sung at the enthronement of the line of Kings following on from David. It speaks of Israel’s understanding of their particular calling as God’s people. After the Exile and the fall of David’s line, the Psalm took on new meaning. It proclaims Israel’s longing for the Lord’s Anointed One to come— the true king who would rule with righteousness.

The Rejected King: Psalm 3

The key to understanding this Psalm is its superscript: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom,” referring to the events of 2 Samuel 15:13-17:24. Following immediately upon the coronation glories of Psalm 2, Psalm 3 displays another side of the experience of the Lord’s Anointed. He is also rejected by the very ones who ought to have embraced his rule, displaying the greatest loyalty and honour towards him. And yet the Lord’s Anointed entrusts himself to God, depending upon him entirely to fulfil his promises.

The Baptism of Jesus: Mark 9:1-11

Jesus’ baptism is presented as some kind of enthronement. God’s Spirit anoints him, and the words of Psalm 2 are spoken over him by the Father. In Jesus, the themes of Israel’s faithful king and God’s presence come together.

The Church and God’s Spirit: Acts 2

At the beginning of the life of the church, God’s Spirit fills believers as he did in the temple in the days of Solomon. The church is now the temple of God. And the nations are drawn into worship. 

Reading the whole Bible

Apr 1: Ruth 1-4
Apr 2: 2 Sam 1-3
Apr 3: 2 Sam 4-6
Apr 4: 2 Sam 7-9
Apr 5: 2 Sam 10-12
Apr 6: 2 Sam 13-15
Apr 7: 2 Sam 16-18
Apr 8: 2 Sam 19-21
Apr 9: 2 Sam 22-24
Apr 17: 1 Chr 1 
Apr 18: 1 Chr 2-4
Apr 19: 1 Chr 5-7
Apr 20: 1 Chr 8-10
Apr 21: 1 Chr 11-13
Apr 22: 1 Chr 14-16
Apr 23: 1 Chr 17-19
Apr 24: 1 Chr 20-22
Apr 25: 1 Chr 23-25
Apr 26: 1 Chr 26-27
Apr 27: 1 Chr 28-29 
Apr 10: Psalm 22-23
Apr 11: Psalm 24-25
Apr 12: Psalm 26-28
Apr 13: 1 Kgs 1-2
Apr 14: 1 Kgs 3-5
Apr 15: 1 Kgs 6-8
Apr 16: 1 Kgs 9-11
Apr 28: Song 1-3
Apr 29: Song 4-6
Apr 30: Song 7-8