In Psalm 47:5-7 we read that God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. The good news of Jesus is that God’s kingdom is near to us. Through Jesus, we can have the gift of new life – of citizenship in God’s kingdom; of being with God for all eternity. Life in this kingdom, life under God’s authority, is the best kind of life there possibly can be for any human being. Nothing, the Bible teaches, can be greater: we were made to be citizens under God. We were made to be his representatives. We were made for a relationship with God.
One of the things I love about the Christian faith is that it is rooted in history. God has acted in history to bring people back into his kingdom. Israel, God’s chosen people, have a special part to play in this. Out of all the nations, God chose to work through them, to make them a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. They were the ones he chose to make himself known to, so that through them the peoples of the world might know him and be saved. He chose to be their God, and them to be his people. Old Testament Israel was established by God as a theocracy: they lived under God’s rule.
But as we saw last week, the people of Israel wanted better than God. They wanted to be like the nations around them. They wanted a human king. In effect, they rejected God as their king. And in his graciousness, God gave them what they thought they needed. God being God, he can use even our rebellion against him for his own glory and good. (Which isn’t, as Paul reminds us in Romans 6, a good enough reason to rebel against God!) God gave Israel a king. Yet he didn’t give up his own sovereignty over them any more than he has given him his authority over the rest of the universe. Israel’s king was chosen by God, not by either the people or Samuel the prophet. Furthermore, Israel’s King was to rule under God; he was responsible to God, and his reign was dependent upon God. He ruled, as it were, under God’s auspices. In many ways, one could consider him as the mediator between God’s people and God.
But here’s the problem: that first king, Saul, turned out to be a rebel. He thought himself above God. And so God rejected him as king, and chose a new king: David.
In many ways, David was a very different character to Saul. When Saul prophesied by God’s Spirit – everyone was surprised. It seems he hadn’t been known as someone particularly “into” following God. David, on the other hand, was a man after God’s own heart. The youngest of a large family, David had a relationship with God that shines out from his life and the songs that he wrote. Consider just two instances from his life. When confronting the gigantic Goliath, David went out to meet him unashamed, recognising that God was stronger than any mere man. Israel’s forces, meanwhile, had been cowering and hiding away from Goliath: they seemed to have expected defeat, not a great victory from God. Or consider how, after having been annointed as the next king, David was given opportunities, even incitement, to kill Saul and take his throne for himself. Yet he refused to do so, on the basis of Saul being God’s chosen king. He would not do evil by God.
But here’s the problem: just like Saul, David was a sinner and a rebel. The Bible doesn’t shy away from speaking about David’s failures. Many will be aware of the incident where he watched a woman bathing, lusted after her, got her pregnant and murdered her husband to cover it up. But that’s just one example of his rebellion against God’s ways. This weekend, we’ll be looking at perhaps a less well-known incident in his life: the taking of a census, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24. We’ll see how David, incited to sin, does exactly that – knowing full well that what he was doing wasn’t right. And we’ll also see that God cannot be mocked; that sin always has consequences.
But whereas Saul was rejected by God, David was forgiven. Both were rebels, but David was a rebel who repented. Proverbs 24:16 says that the righteous falls seven times and rises again… David was good at falling. But he also knew that when he fell, he should fall also onto the mercy of God, who alone can forgive us and set us on our feet again. We’ll see how David finds himself in the place where God’s justice and mercy intersect; we’ll see his encounter with the grace of God.
At Christmas, we recall how God became incarnate; the King became a man. Just like every king, every human, Jesus knew what it was like to be tempted. Like David, Jesus was tempted and incited to do wrong. But unlike them, he refused to sin. And yet we find him also in the place where God’s justice and mercy intersect. More: we find him as that nexus point. And there, in him, we like David encounter the grace of God.