« Prev Chapter IV. David—III. His Official Dignity. Next »

Chapter IV. David—III. His Official Dignity.

In estimating the personal character of David, we have seen that one element of it was his ideal kingship. Apart from his personality, his name is significant for Old Testament theology, as that of the typical king. From the time when the royal title “Messiah” began to be a synonym for the hope of Israel, down to the period when the Anglican Church taught the Divine right of kings, and Calvinists insisted on the Divine sovereignty or royal authority of God, the dignity and power of the King of kings have always been illustrated by, and sometimes associated with, the state of an earthly monarch—whereof David is the most striking example.

The times of the chronicler were favourable to the development of the idea of the perfect king of Israel, the prince of the house of David. There was no king in Israel; and, as far as we can gather, the living representatives of the house of David held no very prominent position in the community. It is much easier to draw a satisfactory picture of the ideal monarch when the imagination is not checked and hampered by the faults and failings of an actual Ahaz or Hezekiah. In earlier times the prophetic hopes for the house of David had often been rudely disappointed, but there had been 162 ample space to forget the past and to revive the old hopes in fresh splendour and magnificence. Lack of experience helped to commend the idea of the Davidic king to the chronicler. Enthusiasm for a benevolent despot is mostly confined to those who have not enjoyed the privilege of living under such autocratic government.

On the other hand, there was no temptation to flatter any living Davidic king, so that the semi-Divine character of the kingship of David is not set forth after the gross and almost blasphemous style of Roman emperors or Turkish sultans. It is indeed said that the people worshipped Jehovah and the king; but the essential character of Jewish thought made it impossible that the ideal king should sit “in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.” David and Solomon could not share with the pagan emperors the honours of Divine worship in their life-time and apotheosis after their death. Nothing addressed to any Hebrew king parallels the panegyric to the Christian emperor Theodosius, in which allusion is made to his “sacred mind,” and he is told that “as the Fates are said to assist with their tablets that God who is the partner in your majesty, so does some Divine power serve your bidding, which writes down and in due time suggests to your memory the promises which you have made.”181181   Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, i. 205. Nor does Chronicles adorn the kings of Judah with extravagant Oriental titles, such as “King of kings of kings of kings.” Devotion to the house of David never oversteps the bounds of a due reverence, but the Hebrew idea of monarchy loses nothing by this salutary reserve.

Indeed, the title of the royal house of Judah rested upon Divine appointment. “Jehovah ... turned the 163 kingdom unto David; ... and they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of Jehovah by the hand of Samuel.”182182   x. 14; xi. 3. But the Divine choice was confirmed by the cordial consent of the nation; the sovereigns of Judah, like those of England, ruled by the grace of God and the will of the people. Even before David's accession the Israelites had flocked to his standard; and after the death of Saul a great array of the twelve tribes came to Hebron to make David king, “and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king.”183183   xii. 38. Similarly Solomon is the king “whom God hath chosen,” and all the congregation make him king and anoint him to be prince.184184   xxix. 1, 22. The double election of David by Jehovah and by the nation is clearly set forth in the book of Samuel, and in Chronicles the omission of David's early career emphasises this election. In the book of Samuel we are shown the natural process that brought about the change of dynasty; we see how the Divine choice took effect through the wars between Saul and the Philistines and through David's own ability and energy. Chronicles is mostly silent as to secondary causes, and fixes our attention on the Divine choice as the ultimate ground for David's elevation.

The authority derived from God and the people continued to rest on the same basis. David sought Divine direction alike for the building of the Temple and for his campaigns against the Philistines. At the same time, when he wished to bring up the Ark to Jerusalem, he “consulted with the captains of thousands and of hundreds, even with every leader; and David said unto all the assembly of Israel, If it seem good unto you, 164 and if it be of Jehovah our God, ... let us bring again the ark of our God to us; ... and all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.”185185   xiii. 2-4. Of course the chronicler does not intend to describe a constitutional monarchy, in which an assembly of the people had any legal status. Apparently in his own time the Jews exercised their measure of local self-government through an informal oligarchy, headed by the high-priest; and these authorities occasionally appealed to an assembly of the people. The administration under the monarchy was carried on in a somewhat similar fashion, only the king had greater authority than the high-priest, and the oligarchy of notables were not so influential as the colleagues of the latter. But apart from any formal constitution the chronicler's description of these incidents involves a recognition of the principle of popular consent in government as well as the doctrine that civil order rests upon a Divine sanction.

It is interesting to see how a member of a great ecclesiastical community, imbued, as we should suppose, with all the spirit of priestcraft, yet insists upon the royal supremacy both in state and Church. But to have done otherwise would have been to go in the teeth of all history; even in the Pentateuch the “king in Jeshurun” is greater than the priest. Moreover, the chronicler was not a priest, but a Levite; and there are indications that the Levites' ancient jealousy of the priests had by no means died out. In Chronicles, at any rate, there is no question of priests interfering with the king's secular administration. They are not even mentioned as obtaining oracles for David as 165 Abiathar did before his accession.186186   1 Sam. xxiii. 9-13; xxx. 7, 8. This was doubtless implied in the original account of the Philistine raids in chap. xiv., but the chronicler may not have understood that “inquiring of God” meant obtaining an oracle from the priests.

The king is equally supreme also in ecclesiastical affairs; we might even say that the civil authorities generally shared this supremacy. Somewhat after the fashion of Cromwell and his major-generals, David utilised “the captains of the host” as a kind of ministry of public worship; they joined with him in organising the orchestra and choir for the services of the sanctuary187187   xxv. 1, 2.: probably Napoleon and his marshals would have had no hesitation in selecting anthems for Notre Dame if the idea had occurred to them. David also consulted his captains,188188   xiii. 1. and not the priests, about bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. When he gathered the great assembly to make his final arrangements for the building of the Temple, the princes and captains, the rulers and mighty men, are mentioned, but no priests.189189   xxviii. 1. And, last, all the congregation apparently anoint190190   xxix. 22. Zadok to be priest. The chronicler was evidently a pronounced Erastian.191191   But cf. 2 Chr. xxvi. David is no mere nominal head of the Church; he takes the initiative in all important matters, and receives the Divine commands either directly or through his prophets Nathan and Gad. Now these prophets are not ecclesiastical authorities; they have nothing to do with the priesthood, and do not correspond to the officials of an organised Church. They are rather the domestic chaplains or confessors of the king, differing from modern chaplains and confessors in having no ecclesiastical superiors. They were 166 not responsible to the bishop of any diocese or the general of any order; they did not manipulate the royal conscience in the interests of any party in the Church; they served God and the king, and had no other masters. They did not beard David before his people, as Ambrose confronted Theodosius or as Chrysostom rated Eudoxia; they delivered their message to David in private, and on occasion he communicated it to the people.192192   Cf. xvii. 4-15 and xxviii. 2-10. The king's spiritual dignity is rather enhanced than otherwise by this reception of prophetic messages specially delivered to himself. There is another aspect of the royal supremacy in religion. In this particular instance its object is largely the exaltation of David; to arrange for public worship is the most honourable function of the ideal king. At the same time the care of the sanctuary is his most sacred duty, and is assigned to him that it may be punctually and worthily discharged. State establishment of the Church is combined with a very thorough control of the Church by the state.

We see then that the monarchy rested on Divine and national election, and was guided by the will of God and of the people. Indeed, in bringing up the Ark193193   xiii. 1-14. the consent of the people is the only recorded indication of the will of God. “Vox populi vox Dei.” The king and his government are supreme alike over the state and the sanctuary, and are entrusted with the charge of providing for public worship. Let us try to express the modern equivalents of these principles. Civil government is of Divine origin, and should obtain the consent of the people; it should be carried on according to the will of God, freely accepted by the 167 nation. The civil authority is supreme both in Church and state, and is responsible for the maintenance of public worship.

One at least of these principles is so widely accepted that it is quite independent of any Scriptural sanction from Chronicles. The consent of the people has long been accepted as an essential condition of any stable government. The sanctity of civil government and the sacredness of its responsibilities are coming to be recognised, at present perhaps rather in theory than in practice. We have not yet fully realised how the truth underlying the doctrine of the Divine right of kings applies to modern conditions. Formerly the king was the representative of the state, or even the state itself; that is to say, the king directly or indirectly maintained social order, and provided for the security of life and property. The Divine appointment and authority of the king expressed the sanctity of law and order as the essential conditions of moral and spiritual progress. The king is no longer the state. His Divine right, however, belongs to him, not as a person or as a member of a family, but as the embodiment of the state, the champion of social order against anarchy. The “Divinity that doth hedge a king” is now shared by the sovereign with all the various departments of government. The state—that is to say, the community organised for the common good and for mutual help—is now to be recognised as of Divine appointment and as wielding a Divine authority. “The Lord has turned the kingdom to” the people.

This revolution is so tremendous that it would not be safe to apply to the modern state the remaining principles of the chronicler. Before we could do so 168 we should need to enter into a discussion which would be out of place here, even if we had space for it.

In one point the new democracies agree with the chronicler: they are not inclined to submit secular affairs to the domination of ecclesiastical officials.

The questions of the supremacy of the state over the Church and of the state establishment of the Church involve larger and more complicated issues than existed in the mind or experience of the chronicler. But his picture of the ideal king suggests one idea that is in harmony with some modern aspirations. In Chronicles the king, as the representative of the state, is the special agent in providing for the highest spiritual needs of the people. May we venture to hope that out of the moral consciousness of a nation united in mutual sympathy and service there may arise a new enthusiasm to obey and worship God? Human cruelty is the greatest stumbling-block to belief and fellowship; when the state has somewhat mitigated the misery of “man's inhumanity to man,” faith in God will be easier.


« Prev Chapter IV. David—III. His Official Dignity. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection