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121

CHAPTER XI.

ADMINISTRATION OF THE KINGDOM.

2 Samuel viii. 15-18.

If the records of David's warlike expeditions are brief, still more so are the notices of his work of peace. How he fulfilled his royal functions when there was no war to draw him from home, and to engross the attention both of the king and his officers of state, is told us here in the very briefest terms, barely affording even the outline of a picture. Yet it is certain that the activity of David's character, his profound interest in the welfare of his people, and his remarkable talent for administration, led in this department to very conspicuous and remarkable results. Some of the Psalms afford glimpses both of the principles on which he acted, and the results at which he aimed, that are fitted to be of much use in filling up the bare skeleton now before us. In this point of view, the subject may become interesting and instructive, as undoubtedly it is highly important. For we must remember that it was with reference to the spirit in which he was to rule that David was called the man after God's heart, and that he formed such a contrast to his predecessor. And further we are to bear in mind that in respect of the moral and spiritual qualities of his reign David had for his Successor the Lord Jesus Christ. "The Lord God will give122 unto Him the throne of His servant David," said the angel Gabriel to Mary, "and He shall reign over the house of Judah for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." It becomes us to make the most of what is told us of the peaceful administration of David's kingdom, in order to understand the grounds on which our Lord is said to have occupied His throne.

The first statement in the verses before us is comprehensive and suggestive: "And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people." The first thing pointed out to us here is the catholicity of his kingly government, embracing all Israel, all people. He did not bestow his attention on one favoured section of the people, to the neglect or careless oversight of the rest. He did not, for example, seek the prosperity of his own tribe, Judah, to the neglect of the other eleven. In a word, there was no favouritism in his reign. This is not to say that he did not like some of his subjects better than the rest. There is every reason to believe that he liked the tribe of Judah best. But whatever preferences of this kind he may have had—and he would not have been man if he had had none—they did not limit or restrict his royal interest; they did not prevent him from seeking the welfare of every portion of the land, of every section of the people. Just as, in the days when he was a shepherd, there were probably some of his sheep and lambs for which he had a special affection, yet that did not prevent him from studying the welfare of the whole flock and of every animal in it with most conscientious care; so was it with his people. The least interesting of them were sacred in his eyes. They were part of his charge, and they were to be studied and cared for in the same manner as the rest. In this he reflected that123 universality of God's care on which we find the Psalmist dwelling with such complacency: "The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works. The eyes of all wait upon Thee; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." And may we not add that this quality of David's rule foreshadowed the catholicity of Christ's kingdom and His glorious readiness to bestow blessing on every side? "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." "On the last, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." "Where there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all." "Ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

In the next place, we have much to learn from the statement that the most prominent thing that David did was to "execute judgment and justice to the people." That was the solid foundation on which all his benefits rested. And these words are not words of form or words of course. For it is never said that Saul did anything of the kind. There is nothing to show that Saul was really interested in the welfare of the people, or that he took any pains to secure that just and orderly administration on which the prosperity of his kingdom depended. And most certainly they are not words that could have been used of the ordinary government of Oriental kings. Tyranny, injustice, oppression, robbery of the poor by the rich, government by favourites more cruel and unprincipled than their masters, imprisonments, fines, conspiracies, and assassinations, were the usual features of Eastern government. And to a great extent they are features of the124 government of Syria and other Eastern countries even at the present day. It is in vivid contrast to all these things that it is said, "David executed judgment and justice." Perhaps there is no need for assigning a separate meaning to each of these words; they may be regarded as just a forcible combination to denote the all-pervading justice which was the foundation of the whole government. He was just in the laws which he laid down, and just in the decisions which he gave. He was inaccessible to bribes, proof against the influence of the rich and powerful, and deaf in such matters to every plea of expediency; he regarded nothing but the scales of justice. What confidence and comfort an administration of this kind brought may in some measure be inferred from the extraordinary satisfaction of many an Eastern people at this day when the administration of justice is committed even to foreigners, if their one aim will be to deal justly with all. On this foundation, as on solid rock, a ruler may go on to devise many things for the welfare of his people. But apart from this any scheme of general improvement which may be devised is sure to be a failure, and all the money and wisdom and practical ability that may be expended upon it will only share the fate of the numberless cart-loads of solid material in the "Pilgrim's Progress" that were cast into the Slough of Despond.

This idea of equal justice to all, and especially to those who had no helper, was a very beautiful one in David's eyes. It gathered round it those bright and happy features which in the seventy-second Psalm are associated with the administration of another King. "Give the king Thy judgments, O God, and Thy righteousness to the king's son. He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment." The125 beauty of a just government is seen most clearly in its treatment of the poor. It is the poor who suffer most from unrighteous rulers. Their feebleness makes them easier victims. Their poverty prevents them from dealing in golden bribes. If they have little individually wherewith to enrich the oppressor, their numbers make up for the small share of each. Very beautiful, therefore, is the government of the king who "shall judge the poor of the people, who shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor." The thought is one on which the Psalmist dwells with great delight. "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight." So far from need and poverty repelling him, they rather attract him. His interest and his sympathy are moved by the cry of the destitute. He would fain lighten the burdens that weigh them down so heavily, and give them a better chance in the struggle of life. He would do something to elevate their life above the level of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. He recognises fully the brotherhood of man.

And in all this we find the features of that higher government of David's Son which shows so richly His most gracious nature. The cry of sorrow and need, as it rose from this dark world, did not repel, but rather attracted, Him. Though the woes of man sprang from his own misdeeds, He gave Himself to bear them and carry their guilt away. All were in the lowest depths of spiritual poverty, but for that reason His hand was the more freely offered for their help. The one condition on which that help was given was, that they126 should own their poverty, and acknowledge Him as their Benefactor, and accept all as a free gift at His hands.

But more than that, the condition of the poor in the natural sense was very interesting to Jesus. It was with that class He threw in His lot. It was among them He lived; it was their sorrows and trials He knew by personal experience; it was their welfare for which He laboured most. Always accessible to every class, most respectful to the rich, and ever ready to bestow His blessings wherever they were prized, yet it was true of Christ that "He spared the poor and needy and saved the souls of the needy." And in a temporal point of view, one of the most striking effects of Christ's religion is, that it has so benefited, and tends still more to benefit, the poor. Slavery and tyranny are among its most detested things. Regard for man as man is one of its highest principles. It detects the spark of Divinity in every human soul, grievously overlaid with the scum and filth of the world; and it seeks to cleanse and brighten it, till it shine forth in clear and heavenly lustre. It is a most Christian thought that the gems in the kingdom of God are not to be found merely where respectability and culture disguise the true spiritual condition of humanity, but even among those who outwardly are lost and disreputable. Not the least honourable of the reproachful terms applied to Jesus was—"the Friend of publicans and sinners."

We are not to think of David, however, as being satisfied if he merely secured justice to the poor and succeeded in lightening their yoke. His ulterior aim was to fill his kingdom with active, useful, honourable citizens. This is plain from the beautiful language of some of the Psalms. Both for old and young, he had a127 beautiful ideal. "The righteous shall flourish as the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing" (Ps. xcii. 12-14). And so for the young his desire was—"That our sons may be as plants, grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." Moral beauty, and especially the beauty of active and useful lives, was the great object of his desire. Can anything be better or more enlightened as a royal policy than that which we thus see to have been David's—in the first place, a policy of universal justice; in the second place, of special regard for those who on the one hand are most liable to oppression and on the other are most in need of help and encouragement; and in the third place, a policy whose aim is to promote excellence of character, and to foster in the young those graces and virtues which wear longest, which preserve the freshness and enjoyment of life to the end, and which crown their possessors, even in old age, with the respect and the affection of all?

The remaining notices of David's administration in the passage before us are simply to the effect that the government consisted of various departments, and that each department had an officer at its head.

1. There was the military department, at the head of which was Joab, or rather he was over "the host"—the great muster of the people for military purposes. A more select body, "the Cherethites and the Pelethites," seems to have formed a bodyguard for the king, or a band of household troops, and was under a separate commander. The troops forming "the host" were128 divided into twelve courses of twenty-four thousand each, regularly officered, and for one month of the year the officers of one of the courses, and probably the people, or some of them, attended on the king at Jerusalem (1 Chron. xxvii. 1). Of the most distinguished of his soldiers who excelled in feats of personal valour, David seems to have formed a legion of honour, conspicuous among whom were the thirty honourable, and the three who excelled in honour (2 Sam. xxiii. 28). It is certain that whatever extra power could be given by careful organization to the fighting force of the country, the army of Israel under David possessed it in the fullest degree.

2. There was the civil department, at the head of which were Jehoshaphat the recorder and Seraiah the scribe or secretary. While these were in attendance on David at Jerusalem, they did not supersede the ordinary home rule of the tribes of Israel. Each tribe had still its prince or ruler, and continued, under a general superintendence from the king, to conduct its local affairs (1 Chron. xxvii. 16-22). The supreme council of the nation continued to assemble on occasions of great national importance (1 Chron. xxviii. 1), and though its influence could not have been so great as it was before the institution of royalty, it continued an integral element of the constitution, and in the time of Rehoboam, through its influence and organization (1 Kings xii. 3, 16), the kingdom of the ten tribes was set up, almost without a struggle (1 Chron. xxiii. 4). This home-rule system, besides interesting the people greatly in the prosperity of the country, was a great check against the abuse of the royal authority; and it is a proof that the confidence of Rehoboam in the stability of his government, confirmed perhaps by a129 superstitious view of that promise to David, must have been an absolute infatuation, the product of utter inexperience on his part, and of the most foolish counsel ever tendered by professional advisers.

3. Ecclesiastical administration. The capture of Jerusalem and its erection into the capital of the kingdom made a great change in ecclesiastical arrangements. For some time before it would have been hard to tell where the ecclesiastical capital was to be found. Shiloh had been stripped of its glory when Ichabod received his name, and the Philistine armies destroyed the place. Nob had shared a similar fate at the hands of Saul. The old tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness was at Gibeon (1 Chron. xxi. 29), and remained there even after the removal of the ark to Zion (1 Kings iii. 4). At Hebron, too, there must have been a shrine while David reigned there. But from the time when David brought up the ark to Jerusalem, that city became the greatest centre of the national worship. There the services enjoined by the law of Moses were celebrated; it became the scene of the great festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

We are told that the heads of the ecclesiastical department were Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar. These represented the elder and the younger branches of the priesthood. Zadok was the lineal descendant of Eleazar, Aaron's son (1 Chron. vi. 12), and was therefore the constitutional successor to the high-priesthood. Ahimelech the son of Abiathar represented the family of Eli, who seems to have been raised to the high-priesthood out of order, perhaps in consequence of the illness or incompetence of the legitimate high-priest. It is of some interest to note the fact that under David two men were at the130 head of the priesthood, much as it was in the days of our Lord, when Annas and Caiaphas are each called the high-priest. The ordinary priests were divided into four-and-twenty courses, and each course served in its turn for a limited period, an arrangement which still prevailed in the days of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. A systematic arrangement of the Levites was likewise made; some were allocated to the service of the Temple, some were porters, some were singers, and some were officers and judges. Of the six thousand who filled the last-named office, "chief fathers" as they were called, nearly a half were allocated among the tribes east of the Jordan, as being far from the centre, and more in need of oversight. It is probable that this large body of Levites were not limited to strictly judicial duties, but that they performed important functions in other respects, perhaps as teachers, physicians, and registrars. It is not said that Samuel's schools of the prophets received any special attention, but the deep interest that David must have taken in Samuel's work, and his early acquaintance with its effects, leave little room to doubt that these institutions were carefully fostered, and owed to David some share of the vitality which they continued to exhibit in the days of Elijah and Elisha. It is very probable that the prophets Gad and Nathan were connected with these institutions.

It is scarcely possible to say how far these careful ecclesiastical arrangements were instrumental in fostering the spirit of genuine piety. But there is too much reason to fear that even in David's time that element was very deficient. The bursts of religious enthusiasm that occasionally rolled over the country were no sure indications of piety in a people easily roused to131 temporary gushes of feeling, but deficient in stability. There often breathes in David's psalms a sense of loneliness, a feeling of his being a stranger on the earth, that seems to show that he wanted congenial company, that the atmosphere was not of the godly quality he must have wished. The bloody Joab was his chief general, and at a subsequent period the godless Ahithophel was his chief counsellor. It is even probable that the intense piety of David brought him many secret enemies. The world has no favour for men, be they kings or priests, that repudiate all compromise in religion, and insist on God being regarded with supreme and absolute honour. Where religion interferes with their natural inclinations and lays them under inviolable obligations to have regard to the will of God, they rebel in their hearts against it, and they hate those who consistently uphold its claims. The nation of Israel appears to have been pervaded by an undercurrent of dislike to the eminent holiness of David, which, though kept in check by his distinguished services and successes, at last burst out with terrific violence in the rebellion of Absalom. That villainous movement would not have had the vast support it received, especially in Jerusalem, if even the people of Judah had been saturated with the spirit of genuine piety. We cannot think much of the piety of a people that rose up against the sweet singer of Israel and the great benefactor of the nation, and that seemed to anticipate the cry, "Not this man, but Barabbas."

The systematic administration of his kingdom by King David was the fruit of a remarkable faculty of orderly arrangement that belonged to most of the great men of Israel. We see it in Abraham, in his prompt and successful marshalling of his servants to132 pursue and attack the kings of the East when they carried off Lot; we see it in Joseph, first collecting and then distributing the stores of food in Egypt; in Moses, conducting that marvellous host in order and safety through the wilderness; and, in later times, in Ezra and Nehemiah, reducing the chaos which they found at Jerusalem to a state of order and prosperity which seemed to verify the vision of the dry bones. We see it in the Son of David, in the orderly way in which all His arrangements were made: the sending forth of the twelve Apostles and the seventy disciples, the arranging of the multitude when He fed the five thousand, and the careful gathering up of the fragments "that nothing be lost." In the spiritual kingdom, a corresponding order is demanded, and times of peace and rest in the Church are times when this development is specially to be studied. Spiritual order, spiritual harmony: God in His own place, and self, with all its powers and interests, as well as our brethren, our neighbours, and the world, all in their's—this is the great requisite in the individual heart. The development of this holy order in the individual soul; the development of family graces, the due Christian ordering of homes; the development of public graces—patriotism, freedom, godliness, in the State, and in the Church of the spirit that seeks the instruction of the ignorant, the recovery of the erring, the comforting of the wretched, and the advancement everywhere of the cause of Christ—in a word, the increase of spiritual wealth—these very specially are objects to which in all times, but especially in quiet times, all hearts and energies should be turned. What can be more honourable, what can be more blessed, than to help in advancing these? More life, more grace, more prayer, more progress, more missionary133 ardour, more self-denying love, more spiritual beauty—what higher objects can the Christian minister aim at? And how better can the Christian king or the Christian statesman fulfil and honour his office than by using his influence, so far as he legitimately may, in furthering the virtues and habits characteristic of men that fear God while they honour the king?

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