Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
[One of us] has proposed studying the Prophets for awhile. I want to continue with Luke meantime, but I hope we can combine both.
I have a couple of thoughts . . . first, it's a worse punishment for David to see his son die because of his deeds than if he himself were punished. So the suffering is intensified through this indirect form of retribution. But even in using the word "retribution" I have hit upon a fault in this line of thinking, which is that it puts God in the unsavory (and ungodlike?) position of punishing an innocent for the misdeeds of another. Hence, I prefer not to think of it along these lines, though of course it is true that the anguish David must have felt knowing that his misdeeds would cause his son to suffer must have been tremendous.
My second thought is that the "child that is born" to David could be understood as Jesus, who was born of the house of David, and/or it could be understood as the entire lineage born of David. I think there is a great deal of mystery in this approach (or at least, aspects that I can't claim to understand) but a certain inherent logic that when the people "scorn the Lord" a twisted, bad result ensues -- not because God directs it but because it flows naturally and inevitably from the twisted, bad behavior. If we focus too much on the individual, it becomes a stumbling block to us, who don't understand how/why David's son must suffer. But if we view it from the vantage point of a nation or tribe, and focus on the interconnectedness of the people of God, it is clearer that wrong behavior ripples out and affects everyone, innocent or not. David has wrought something that is much bigger than he anticipated or wanted. He has hurt his community.
Keeping track of the tribes in the old testament isn't easy. In this case I believe God gave David of the tribe of Judah, the tribe of Benjamin. So the remaining 10 tribes which excluded the tribe of Levi, were given to Jeroboam. Jos_14:4 For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. So you could say there were actually 13 tribes but who's counting?
Making things more confusing Manasseh is broken up into two half tribes, one on each side of the Jordan and Ephraim went astray and sided with Syria against Israel and God disowned them for at least a while.
This likewise seemed wrong to me, viewed as badly-aimed 'punishment.' If a human court were to decide, "Okay, you did wrong and now we're going to kill your baby son," that would certainly horrify people.
Death imposed by human beings is "a punishment." Death imposed by God is a condition of life as we know it. If you can trust God to direct your life, then death doesn't need to be seen as a bad fate for a person, whatever their age. It would sadden others. Again, while it is certainly "a punishing blow" for parents to suffer, it doesn't need to be seen as "a punishment" of them.
In this particular case... The deep background story is that God has chosen this one people as a means of overcoming the inherent "sinfulness" of human beings.
Whatever "sin" means to you, or doesn't, it is clear that David has done something outrageous. It outrages even him, the way Nathan describes the situation.
There's a piece I left out-- describing how David's commander reacts to the order-- He really doesn't like it, but he does it. And reports, ~'If he wants to complain about me putting my troops too close to the enemy wall and losing one of our best fighters, tell him that Uriah the Hittite also died, crushed by a millstone one of their woman threw from the wall.'
We've got this nation, just recently gone from loose tribal alliance to a monarchy... and their first ruler, chosen from them by God, is already abusing his position and insinuating corruption into his own government.
What Katherine Simmons said, about "the interconnectedness of the people of God," really tied this together for me.
Not only are all people interconnected, at a level of consciousness below what we normally feel, but there seem to be more palpable connections between smaller groupings. "We're all telepathic," sayeth Stephen Gaskin. How can this be, when we're so much unaware of it, in normal circumstances? He describes an ego, a personal consciousness, as being 'like a hole in a fence.' The hole may be bigger, so you can see more through it. Or it may be smaller, and show less. But there's a field of mental processes going on behind the fence, what we see being a small part of it.
If a ruler is too corrupt for his nation-- or too good-- They throw him off. Elections make the process easier on everyone, but it will find a way to happen.
David is an appropriate ruler for this people, as they are at the time of this story. His troops bring Bathsheba over for a hot date; probably they ask very politely, but is David a safe man to refuse? His previous career as a cunning bandit chief isn't altogether reassuring. His commander obeys a secret, illegitimate order. Everybody in the kingdom has gossiped about this affair... and can David now adopt this 'son of Uriah'?
And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the House of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam King of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam King of Judah."
If you were a king... and your subjects belonged to a religion centered in your rival's capitol... that wouldn't be convenient. So Jeroboam wants to set up his own state religion ala Henry VIII's Church of England.
The priests who have set up shop in Jerusalem see this as an erosion of their authority and of God's authority. In fact much of what history we have of Israel (that is, the monarchy of the northern tribes) is about power struggle between their kings and their local prophets.
That "golden calf" in Exodus-- probably was incorporated into that story as a priestly allusion to Jeroboam's local cult, with its scandalous practice of allowing non-pedigreed priests.
A "calf" of this sort-- actually a bull-- is one of the ancient traditional symbols of YHYH, so Jeroboam is not really imposing the cult of some unfamiliar god. It doesn't look like most of the ancient tribes of Israel were strictly monotheistic or altogether opposed to idols. But idols do have the feature, attractive to rulers & deplored by the devout, of being very amenable to their owner's interests. Which is to occasion much of the friction between later monarchs and prophets.
This prophet is a supporter of the Jerusalem priesthood. He disapproves so heartily of Jeroboam's religious practice that he has vowed not to eat or drink in his territory.
It gets even stranger, soon!
As thou sayest... whether or not this physically happened, it sounds like Jeroboam lost control here. And there was a definite limit to how much this prophet was willing to 'strengthen his hand.'
Something like: ~I won't say you aren't King here, but I don't hold with your heathen ways.
This soon after all those stories in Judges... there were probably plenty of Israelites (including those in the tribe of Judah) who wouldn't have found anything objectionable in a sacrifice to an image of YHWH ( or 'His consort') but we've got a religious establishment in Jerusalem that strongly favors tightening the rules, enforcing monotheism, keeping out non-union priests.
That sounds like a very self-serving, class-interest sort of religion-- But there is one benefit to an hereditary priestly class: The King can't appoint new ones every time his power conflicts with one of their stands.
Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel. And his sons came and told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words also which he had spoken to the King, they told their father. And their father said to them, "Which way did he go?"
Surely the old prophet of Bethel would have been aware of the danger of fabricating a false story of angelic message to supercede the divine instructions to the man of God not to eat or drink? And why? It sounds like they kept eating after they got the reminder that they had disobeyed. Whose ass did the man of God ride out on? Did he have his own or was it borrowed? If so, did the old prophet keep the extra ass? The old prophet mourns the man of God and wants to be buried with him, but does he feel responsible for the death?
It looks like both prophets start out believing that God favored their particular kingdom. The old prophet from Bethel can't believe that a 'real' prophet could be supporting that Jerusalem cult-- So he doesn't, at first, believe in his rival's message, and sets out to discredit him;
The visitor has been told that the Samaria regime is so corrupt that he shouldn't even linger to eat or drink in its territory. But he accepts the Bethel prophet's authority... rather than stopping to consult God more directly.
I think the old man of Bethel does realize what he's done, after it's too late. If the visitor was misusing his gift... than so was he, and more so! He mourns his 'brother' because he's had to recognize that they did share a common gift, and also its temptations.
After this thing, Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who would, he consecrated to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the Earth.