The Sons of Saul and the Son of David.

Christianity, Religion

“There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” 1 Samuel 9:1-2

“And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him….And Saul eyed David from that day on. The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David evaded him twice.” 1 Samuel 18:8-11

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:4-7

There is no doubt that David is one of the most significant figures of the Old Testament. He was a shepherd boy from a small town in the middle of nowhere who became the greatest king in all of Israel’s history, and the model by which all future Israelite kings were measured. David sought after God, and God loved David; so much so that He promised David’s descendants would be on the throne in Israel forever and, one day, the Messiah would come from David’s line.  The Davidic Covenant is one of the most crucial components of the Hebrew Scriptures, and it further highlights the importance of the figure of David.

David was not without his enemies. One of the most intriguing aspects of the early narratives about David’s life is his struggle with Saul.  During the period of the Judges in Israelite history, the Israelites began demanding that they be given a king to rule over them so that they might be like the other nations. God allowed Israel to have a king, after warning them that this would eventually lead to the same sort of oppression they had experienced in Egypt, and the man selected to be the first King of Israel was Saul–a tall and handsome man from the tribe of Benjamin.

Though  Saul looked the part of a king, he possessed no leadership abilities. His reign was marked by constant fighting with Israel’s enemies. Saul often wavered as a leader, and this was ultimately his downfall. Saul’s failures a political leader were made worse by his shortcomings as a spiritual leader. Throughout his reign, Saul moved further and further away from God, at one point going so far as to summon a psychic to summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. Due to his constant rejection of God, God removed his favor from Saul, and God appointed David to be the next king.

David, being anointed as the new king would set the stage for the conflict between him and Saul. As David increased in popularity throughout Israel by his exploits on the battlefield, Saul descended further and further into jealousy, bitterness, and paranoia. Saul became determined to kill David, and for the remainder of his rule as king, Saul and his armies chased David and his men all across Israel. Saul viewed David as a usurper who must be dealt with. Despite Saul’s repeated attempts on his life, David never retaliated against Saul; he still respected Saul as the king and the appointed ruler of Israel. Eventually, Saul would die, and David would become king, and Israel would know a time of peace and prosperity that it would not know again.

In the Book of Acts, we are introduced to another man from the tribe of Benjamin named Saul. This Saul was a zealous Pharisee who viewed with hatred the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. These followers of “The Way” preached that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, the promised Son of David. In just the same way that King Saul became determined to kill the “usurper” David, Pharisee Saul and those with him became determined to root out and destroy the “heretical” followers of Jesus. Saul the Pharisee was present when the first follower of Christ was killed, and he “took much pleasure” (Acts 8:1) in the killing of Stephen. Saul the Pharisee– Saul the Persecutor–was resolved to destroy the followers of the Son of David, just as his forefather was bent on destroying David. He would stop at nothing to stamp out this movement, going as far as to chase Christ-followers all over Israel and beyond, just as David had been.

This Saul–Saul the Persecutor–would make a radical change; he would become a follower of Jesus, the Son of David. On his way to Damascus to round up Christ-followers, Saul encountered someone unexpected–Jesus. This meeting changed Saul–now Paul– and no longer would he hunt down followers of Christ; instead he would go on to be a preacher, missionary, and theologian. Paul traveled throughout the known world, starting churches and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, teaching all that Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of David. Paul would evangelize the Gentiles and would suffer much for the name of Christ: he would survive numerous beatings, whippings, being stoned nearly to death, shipwreck, and being bitten by a venomous snake. He would speak before kings and rulers and philosophers. Paul is proof that God can and will use anyone–even those who fight against Him–to accomplish His will.

The sons of Saul–those who are opposed to Christ– are still hunting down those who follow the Son of David. The world will never be the friend of the follower of Christ. We see how David was treated, how Christ was treated, and how the early church was treated; we should expect no less. The world will always view the radical Gospel of Christ as a threat, and the world will stop at nothing to crush this movement. When we are met with this opposition, we must remember that David never took up arms against Saul. We must also remember that Christ commanded us to pray for and love those who persecute and do harm to us. We must fight back with our love and with our prayers. We must pray for the Sauls who have yet to become Pauls.

Artwork: “Saul Tries to Kill David With His Spear,” Giovan Francesco Barbieri, 1646.

Cut.

Christianity, Religion

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Acts 2:37.

 Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims visiting the city for the celebration of Pentecost fifty days after Passover, and the time was right for a mighty movement of God.  The Holy Spirit had just descended upon the followers of Christ who were assembled there together.  Being led by the Spirit, Peter got up to preach to the masses.

Peter’s sermon was powerful. He began with the prophet Joel and described how the coming of the Spirit fulfilled prophecies made by Joel and signaled that the “last day” had now been reached. He continued on through the Psalms and showed how David pointed forward to Jesus in his writings; showing that Jesus is Adonai and Messiah. Peter proclaimed the good news–the gospel–that this Jesus who was crucified and died was now alive, and that all who called upon His name would be saved.

Peter had come a long way; fifty days earlier he was cutting off the ear of one of those who had come to arrest Christ in Gethsemane. After that, he had denied knowing Jesus–not once, not twice, but three times; he even cursed Jesus’ name with his third denial. Peter was bold and brash, he acted before he thought. Now, only fifty days later–and after being filled with the Holy Spirit–he was preaching the first sermon of the Christian era. He was a fisherman from Galilee, utterly untrained as a teacher, yet he was teaching the Scriptures better than any rabbi had. He had been transformed by the Spirit.

The Spirit moved mightily in those hearing Peter’s words. Acts 2:37 tells us that they were “cut,” literally pierced, to the hearts. They were filled with the conviction of their sins and allowed to see the truth before them that Jesus is the Messiah. This cutting to the heart echoes the Old Testament prophets and is connected to the most fundamental of all Israelite customs: circumcision. We see this merger between the two when Moses commanded the Israelites to “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn,” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Jeremiah echoes this appeal in his prophecies when pleading with the people to repent of their sinful ways.  People needed to change their hearts–cut away the sin and excess– and follow God, yet they could not make this change through their own strength or actions.

The Spirit was the tool by which God would change the hearts of His people. The Spirit is transformative and regenerative. It provided the means of circumcising their hearts, and it presented them with a renewed spirit. Those whose hearts the Spirit cut and transformed would now be able to walk according to God’s statutes and commandments. They would now be able to be His people.

The Spirit is still at work and cutting hearts today. It can still transform lives. It has been poured out upon all mankind and is seeking to circumcise the hearts of those who feel the pierce of conviction. Submit to it, be baptized in the blood of Christ, be filled with the Spirit, and let it prune away the dead sinful skin of your heart. Allow it to transform you, just as it transformed Peter, and just as it transformed 3,000 people who heard him preach that day.

The New Temple(s).

Christianity, Religion

“When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.’”  2 Chronicles 7:3

In all of Israelite culture there was no spot on earth more sacred than the temple in Jerusalem. It was in this place that God’s glory dwelt and where He resided among His people. The temple was represented a “crossroads” of sorts; it was the intersection of two domains: the created world and God’s realm. The temple was where these two places overlapped. In a way, the temple was a mini Eden on Earth where God’s presence was still among His people, though because of our sin, we were not able to enjoy that presence as freely as had been the case in the original Eden.

It was Solomon, son of King David, who built the temple in Jerusalem, and the 2 Chronicles text recounts the events of the temple’s dedication. Solomon delivers an eloquent prayer of dedication in which he questions how the temple can hold God’s greatness when even all the heavens are incapable of doing so, and numerous sacrifices of dedication are offered to God. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes the offerings, and God’s glory descends upon the temple as smoke and fills it. In the 1 Kings account of these same events, it states that God’s presence fills the temple so entirely that the temple priests could not perform their duties.

The people of Israel present that day at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple,  also referred to as the First Temple, would have instantly recognized what the fire and smoke represented, as well we should too. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s presence depicted as fire/smoke again and again. Beginning with the Exodus, we see where God led the Israelites as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, to the Sinai narrative when God’s presence descends upon the mountain as smoke and engulfs it, through the tabernacle—the precursor to the temple—when God’s glory descended upon it as smoke and completely filled it. We see fire coming from heaven once again during the time of Elijah when he challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire from heaven. The false prophets were not able to, but the prophet of God was able to do so. The people of Israel in Solomon’s day, and again in Elijah’s day, knew fire from heaven meant only one thing: God is here.

Sadly, the dedication of the temple was merely a high point in Israel’s spiritual history. Israel would be offering sacrifices—sometimes including their children—to false gods and idols before Solomon was even dead. Even sadder still is that Solomon himself was complicit and active in this pagan worship. Israel would only spiral further and further into sin and idolatry after Solomon died, and roughly four hundred years after Solomon’s death, Israel would be punished for their spiritual promiscuity. The Babylonians would come and destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC, and they would destroy the temple. The building that represented the Edenic relationship between God and his creation, that was the crossroads between this domain and the realm of God, was razed.

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision related to this coming destruction of the temple. Ezekiel was a Hebrew living in exile in Babylon as the result of deportation before the Babylonian Exile that transpired after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. In one of the saddest passages in all of scripture, Ezekiel has a vision of the temple, and the glory—presence—of the Lord leaving departing from it: “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house… And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord,” (Ezekiel 10:18-19). Due to the overwhelming sinful nature of the people, God’s presence could no longer dwell in the temple. The people had defiled it and their hearts, and judgment was now coming.

When the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, many desired to rebuild the temple, and so they did. The Second Temple stood until 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Romans, and would have been the temple that Jesus visited. It was a colossal structure, renovated and expanded by Herod the Great, but nowhere in scripture is there an account like we find in 1 Kings or 2 Chronicles where God’s glory descended upon it and filled it. Aside from an eschatological vision that Ezekiel has late in his prophetic work, God’s glory never returned to the temple after it left.

Or did it?

Throughout the New Testament, Christ makes numerous references to His body being the temple, usually to the scorn of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ indeed was the temple; He was God Incarnate. In Christ, we see God dwelling literally and physically among His people. He was the intersection between the two domains in a way in which a building could never be.

But eventually, Christ returned to heaven, and He has yet to return. The temple in Jerusalem was never rebuilt after the Roman destruction in 70 AD, so what now? Where is the temple? Where does God dwell now? Where does His realm now intersect with ours?

We need to look no further than Acts 2. This well-known text describes the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but look at how that arrival is depicted:

“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them,” (Acts 2:2-3).

The coming of the Holy Spirit is portrayed with temple language; it mirrors the arrival of God’s glory into the temple on the day that Solomon dedicated it. Here at Pentecost, the Spirit isn’t entering a building; it’s entering each of the 120 believers who were assembled there that day—they each became a temple. Throughout Acts, the sign of someone coming to faith in Christ was their receiving of the Spirit, and the same is true today. Receiving the Spirit means you become the dwelling place of God; you become a temple. We see this affirmed throughout the New Testament; Peter and Paul both wrote on this topic. Peter said that we “are like living stones being built up into a spiritual house,” (1 Peter 2:5), and Paul wrote “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you,” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Paul goes on to implore the Corinthian believers to avoid defiling their bodies because doing so would be the same as desecrating the temple building itself. Receiving the Spirit requires one to live differently.

We must remember that we are, as believers, the dwelling places of God. In each of us resides His glory and His spirit. Each of us represents that incredible intersection between His realm and ours. We must live accordingly; we cannot repeat the mistakes of Israel and pollute and desecrate our temple. Instead, we must live worthy of the God who resides within us.

Artwork: “The Second Temple Jerusalem” by Aryeh Weiss