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In preparing for my own teaching, I’ve been listening to some more lectures from Dr Douglas Stuart’s OT Survey course, provided free by Biblical Training.  He has one lecture in particular called Three Kings, contrasting David with Saul and Solomon.  In it, he argues that when the Bible says, “The LORD has sought out for himself a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), it is referring to David not being a syncretist, unlike the other two.

My immediate reaction was, “where is there evidence that Saul was a syncretist?”  After all, it isn’t obvious in the narrative.  There are many faults of Saul explicitly detailed, but worshipping other gods isn’t one of them.  Stuart, however, argues that this was the case.

In 2 Samuel 2, Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, was crowned king and set up as a rival to David.  “Ish-bosheth” means “Man of Shame.”  Stuart’s argument is that no one would name their son “Man of Shame,” that this is a later scribal change to his real name.  His real name is to be found in 1 Chronicles 9:39, “Ishbaal.”  This name means “Man of Baal.”  This, of course, could be taken to mean “Man of the Master/Lord,” referring to God himself.  Or it could be taken to refer to the Canaanite deity, Baal.  Stuart’s argument is that the latter is more likely, since it helps explain why he is called “Man of Shame” in Samuel (scribal change, possibly to avoid the use of the name of Baal in one of the king’s sons, though I think very well could be debated).  Thus, Saul himself was a Baal worshipper, going so far as to name one of his sons in honor of the pagan god.

Proving Solomon’s syncretism proves to be a much easier exercise.  1 Kings 11:4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of his father David had been.”  Here Stuart sees a clear echo of the description of David in 1 Samuel 13, and I’m inclined to agree.

So what set David apart from these two kings, what made him a man after God’s own heart, was the fact that he held “exclusive trust” (Stuart’s term) in YHWH.  For all of David’s faults, and there are many, he never wavered from his faith that God alone was his hope.

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Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

In this portion of the review, I’ve opted to focus specifically on Waltke’s treatment of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants.  I did this for two main reasons: 1) since Waltke’s book is, in part, a biblical theology, I wanted to know how he develops these two covenants and 2) I tell my students every year (ad nauseum, actually) that these two covenants are foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible (more on that as we go along).  

 

 

OT Theology by Bruce WaltkeIn chapter 12, The Gift of the Abrahamic Covenant, Waltke shows us how the story of Abraham and his sons (the patriarchs) connects with Genesis 1-11.  “The story of the Fall [Genesis 1-11] poses the challenge; the patriarchal narratives… are God’s definitive response” (p307).  Much of his treatment of Abraham and his sons is terrific.  For instance, he specializes in the structure of the patriarchal narratives (lovers of chiasms will love this chapter) and offers helpful insights into Abraham’s faith (which is not unwavering, but still commendable).

 

Unfortunately, he doesn’t show how the Abrahamic covenant is so crucial to the rest of the Bible, specifically in the prophets.  How many times do we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”?  How many times do we read prophecies (especially in Isaiah) about the nations being drawn to Israel?  These are bringing us back to the stories of Abraham.  Waltke offers an extended treatment of Romans 9-11, dealing with the relationship of Israel to the church.  I imagine this is in part due to his turn from dispensationalism to covenant theology (one I happen to laud), so he may have felt the need to include this discussion.  But, in the meantime, I felt like an opportunity to do some strong biblical theology was missed.

 

Waltke deals with the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7) in its own chapter (chapter 23).  But unlike his treatment of the development of the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke does in fact develop the idea of kingship in chapter 24, The Gift of Kingship.  He leads off by taking on the notion that kingship is actually seen in a negative light in the Old Testament.  For instance, Waltke also argues, persuasively, that Gideon is hardly a credible person in the narrative, so his complete objection to kingship (Judges 8:22-23) can hardly be seen as the narrator’s point of view (p684).  

 

I highly commend Waltke’s survey of the views of the kingship in the Pentateuch, but I want to move on to how he sees the development of kingship, specifically Davidic, in the rest of the Bible.  He even includes a helpful section on the relationship between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, noting that “the Davidic covenant fulfills, confirms, and supplements the Abrahamic covenant” (p692).  I’m not sure I totally agree with his use of “fulfill,” since while David’s dynasty does fulfill part of it, we still don’t see the nations of the earth being blessed in David or his sons (until, of course, Jesus).  

 

Regarding how the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke states, “I AM promises unconditionally to both Abraham and David an eternal posterity: to Abraham an enduring nation; to David an enduring dynasty to rule that nation.  Indeed, David’s eternal dynasty mediates the kings who I AM promised to give from Abraham and Sarah’s own bodies” (p693).  

 

Beginning on p699, Waltke includes a brief survey of how the prophets, psalms and New Testament develop the theme of Davidic kingship.  When I say “brief,” I really mean it- only 2 ½ pages.  I would have liked more, but I’m thankful for what he included, specifically with the prophets.  He quotes Is 9:6-7, 11:2; Jer 23:5-6; and Mic 5:2-5 to point out to the reader how these recall God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.  Again, while it would have been nice for him to develop this more (and maybe talk about passages like Ezekiel 37:24-28), he gives enough to help the reader make a connection that many of us do not make at all.  But, if we’re paying attention to what Waltke’s point is (that the prophets bring us back to God’s covenant with David) and paying attention when we’re reading the prophets, we’ll begin to see these connections for ourselves.

 

His treatment of the Davidic covenant in the Psalms and New Testament, however, are a bit more disappointing.  He gives one paragraph to the Psalms; the same goes for “Jesus Christ and the Davidic Covenant.”  And in his discussion of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, he actually gives his opinion on why it differs from Luke’s genealogy.  Matthew sets him up for a chance to make a great point for his readers, and he misses it.  Matthew starts with, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  What more could an Old Testament scholar ask for!  I was waiting for Waltke to knock this out of the park, but in the end, he opted to bunt instead.  

 

I started this review noting that I wanted to see how Waltke developed these two great covenants.  As you can tell, I came away somewhat disappointed.  What he does say is great, and there’s much to learn from it, but I can’t help but think more could have been said (yes, in a book weighing in at 1000+ pages).  

 

I’ve thought about whether it’s fair for me to judge Waltke on his discussion of topics that I’m interested in.  But I don’t think it’s simply about my interest level.  The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and the nations being drawn in to God’s people, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to Abraham.  Every time we read in the prophets about the coming king in the line of David, or the psalmists’ prayers for blessings on the king, or the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to David.  So, no, I don’t think I’m simply importing my own wishes on Waltke.  Back on p125-126, Waltke states, “Later texts by charismatic figures- be they prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), prophets historians (e.g., the Deuteronomist and Chronicler), or an authorized exegete (such as Ezra)- occasionally transform the teaching of earlier texts of charismatic figures (such as Moses).”  This was a chance for Waltke to demonstrate that point; I wish he would have taken that opportunity.

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As I’ve taught through portions of 1-2 Samuel (I generally just refer to it as “Samuel”, indicating the unity of the 2 books), I’ve become more and more convinced of the need to read this book as a narrative.  I’m certainly not discounting the historical veracity of it; I’m simply trying to acknowledge that this book, and the stories that make up this book, uses literary and narrative techniques to make it’s point.

For instance, readers are often confused at the end of 1 Samuel 17.  We’ve just read the story of David killing Goliath, but we come across something that seems to contradict the previous chapter: Saul doesn’t know who David is.  Saul asks Abner, the army commander, “whose son is that young man?” (v55).  The problem is this: in chapter 16, Saul is comforted by David’s musical abilities and requests that David be allowed to remain in his service.  He seems to know who David is then, so how is it that only one chapter later he doesn’t have a clue who David is?

Now, some will suppose that the author/editor of the book is a buffoon and unknowingly included a contradiction.  That seems unlikely, since it’s so obvious that you would think that someone would have caught the “problem.”  So, it’s far more likely that the confusion is intentional. 

Is it possible that the author is wanting you to ask this question?  Perhaps you, the reader, are supposed to wonder, “why is Saul asking who David is?  Doesn’t he know already?”

I think this is exactly what is happening here.  You’re supposed to wonder why Saul doesn’t remember David.  And the answer is unraveled in the following chapters, especially in chapter 18: Saul is insane.  It’s not hard to notice, just look at the next chapter.  Saul tries to pin David to the wall with his spear (he tries again in chapter 19).  In fact, Saul tries to spear his own son, Jonathan, in chapter 20.

What I’m suggesting is that the author’s portrayal of Saul is intentionally confusing.  The narrative is inviting you to ask the question: why doesn’t Saul remember David, who just a chapter earlier is favored by Saul?  The narrative works in a way that we ought to expect a narrative to work.  It isn’t through an explicit statement (“then Saul lost his marbles and went nuts”) that we learn of his insanity.  It’s through the story itself that we learn that Saul went crazy.  The “problem” is really no problem at all; it’s neither a contradiciton nor an oversight.  It’s a literary technique used to craft a crazy king.

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