Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
2 Samuel - I know it might seem to make more sense to start the books of Samuel with 1 Samuel, but I am following Year Two of my scripture plan. I love both books. The story of the transition from the era of "judges" to that of the "kings" is fascinating. We are skipping over Saul's time to the rise of David. The second book of Samuel centers on David's consolidation of power and the later weakening of his rule over the kingdom and his own family.
While David is clearly a "hero," and a man who yearns to be faithful to his God, there is a dark side to the man. He was a war lord who played Saul off against the Philistines, bought the loyalty of the south, exploited the deaths of Saul and Jonathan to become king in place of the rightful heir and perhaps arranged the death of Ishbaal [Saul's son]. Then there are all the troubles he had with his own sons, the restiveness of the northern tribes, and his use of forced labor and a military draft made many unhappy (Lawrence Boadt's Reading the Old Testament, 234). The story of David provides yet another model of the type scripture dwells on—the unfaithfulness and imperfection of man as opposed to the steadfast love and loyalty of the Lord.
2 Samuel 1 – David is in Ziklag after having defeated the Amalekites. A disheveled man comes into his camp and says he knows that Saul and Jonathan are dead. David asks for details, and the man admits to being an Amalekite (a resident alien) and in fact the one who killed Saul.
This is a different tradition from the one in 1 Samuel 31, which told us that Saul fell on his own sword. Or, I guess it could be just a man trying to get in good with David, lying to him that he killed Saul. He tells David he found Saul wounded and that Saul begged him to kill him, so he did (or claims he did) and brought Saul’s crown to David. David weeps and mourns until evening; then he calls the young man to him and asks him how he could have dared to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. In turn he has the young man slain and says, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed’” (1:16). Then he intones a hymn of praise to the fallen heroes:
“Saul and Jonathan, so wonderful and dear; together in life, together in death; swifter than eagles, stronger than lions. . . I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan; how dear you were to me! How wonderful was your love for me, better even than the love of women” (1:23-26).
Mark 6 – Jesus is not accepted in his hometown. While they marvel at his wisdom and know of the amazing deeds of power he has performed, somehow “they took offense at him” (6:3). The result is he could work no great deeds there except for some minor healings, and he was surprised at their unbelief.
He goes out teaching again. This time he sends his disciples out in twos as well, ordering them to take nothing but a staff with them (symbol of their shepherd’s office in his ministry--?) They performed healings and anointed the sick with oil (6:13).
Herod hears of Jesus. Some people think he is John the Baptist raised from the dead; this expectation of God raising His anointed from the dead seems to have been something prevalent at the time. Again, his work among them raises the big question—who is he. Is he John raised from the dead? Is he Elijah? The Prophet like Moses? (16:5) Herod thinks he is John—no doubt his guilty conscience getting after him (6:17). The writer tells the story of John being beheaded at the request of Herodias’ daughter – Herod’s step-daughter (6:17-28).
The apostles return and report to Jesus on all they have done and they get away from the many following them around. The motif of counterpoised solitude and pressing crowds continues here.
The crowds find them, however, and Jesus pities them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34). The first feeding of the multitudes occurs when evening comes. They have five loaves and two fish (6:38). He orders them to sit down in groups on the “green grass.” Everyone ate and all “were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish” (6:43). There were 5000 men here. Then Jesus goes up the mountain alone to pray - like Moses.
I remember an “opening” I had once in Meeting that relates to this passage. I think I was pondering the sense of change that had come over me in the years since I first had come to Christ through Quaker worship and exploration of early Quaker writings. Those early years as a Friend had brought me heart-thumping experiences of His presence in my life. But now, after twenty years, it was rare for me to feel that way, even when I did feel I was given an opening. Meeting felt a little dry in all honesty – why? It came to me then that the “bread” we get from Christ, however small, is completely adequate. We just need a breath of that bread, a touch of that cloak to be completely “filled” and “healed.” He could have “fed” the world on those five loaves and two fish.
Still alone that evening, he sees the disciples at sea, having a hard time sailing against the wind. Early in the morning, then, he starts walking across the water meaning simply to pass them, but they see him and “are terrified” (6:50). He says to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” And then it says they were astounded—not because they just saw him walking on water but because “they did not understand about the loaves [. . .] their hearts were hardened” (6:52).
Again there are huge crowds to deal with, crowds of people seeking his healing touch; they “begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (6:56).