Wednesday, December 20, 2006

With One Voice: David -- Israel's sweet singer and architect of praise

As Reggie Kidd works through his theology of the heart, he comes to a chapter where he focuses on King David. Reggie characterizes David with these two roles -- the sweet singer and the architect of praise. He uses the various portraits provided by Samuel and the Chronicler to sketch these different roles.

Samuel, according to Reggie, was likely composed in rough form during the reign of Solomon -- but reached it's final form (along with 1 and 2 Kings) during the Babylonian exile many years later. The stories of David's suffering, wrestling, repenting, and aching all would have struck a chord deep in the experience of Israel in exile. Characteristic of this narrative is the story of David playing for Saul to ease his suffering (Reggie points us to Rembrandt's painting as a fine portrayal of the human drama involved). We turn to the Psalms to find that there are 13 that are identified as coming from the experiences of David as a servant of Saul..
For instance Psalm 56 was written while David fled to Gath and pretended madness as a means of preserving his life. Even in the midst of such humiliation and degradation, David is able to sing of confidence in the Lord and His trustworthy word. Reggie writes “Within the exercise of crafting words to articulate his situation and express his feelings, David arrives at a deeper sense of the veracity of God himself. He can pretend to be confused – even mad – because he knows God’s Word is true; and what is happening outside himself does not threaten what is true within himself.” (55) Yet another instance where I wish I could write like that. Reggie also looks to Psalm 57 as an example of David's resiliency rooted in the Lord's provision, even in the midst of the adversity of being on the run, hiding in caves. "In a logic comprehensible only to a person who has learned that praise precedes understanding, David says he knows that Saul will fall into a trap of his own making." (56). Praise precedes understanding. I've been meditating on that phrase for a couple of days now. It brings into light the whole compass of Reggie's book -- we don't understand worship and then dispassionately engage it as an activity on par with attending a civic club or an interesting lecture. Rather, we give ourselves to heartfelt praise in trust that the Living One will shape our understanding.
"In the twists and turns of his fortunes -- embraced and then eschewed by Saul, shunted from Moab to Philistia -- David's singing has kept him anchored to a Rock who shows himself 'faithful to the faithful, blameless to the blameless, pure to the pure, and shrewd to the crooked' (Ps 18:25-26). He has been sustained by a vision of a God who saves the humble but brings low the haughty (v 27). Counter to the gloom that progressively consumed Saul and to the impotence that had Saul falling on his own sword (I Sam 31:1-7), David knows a God of light and power." (58) And therein was the difference between David and Saul -- Saul heard the songs of Zion as a refuge for a season in the midst of the pressures of administration and kingship. He looked to David's songs as a distraction to allieve for a time the inner angiush. David on the other hand, put his trust in the subject of the songs -- the singing wasn't totally an end in of itself -- rather it was David's instrument to express his trust and confidence in the midst of adversity. Singing wasn't escape, it was sanctifying.
Reggie shows this not just in his songs of confidence in suffering, but in his songs of penitence in the midst of sin (Ps 51 being the crown jewel of this theme -- but Reggie points out a slew of other songs of confession -- 6, 32, 38, 39, 40, 41, 51, 69. "This is blues of the deepest sort, blues sad enough to find redemption." (60). If David is the sweet singer of the soul, and he spends so much time in confession in his songs, then that in itself ought to train our hearts to greater self-examination and confession. David's songs become a mirror to our own hearts to dare us to look within and see our need for redemption. "In a way that is without precedent in the ancient world, David shows how we can come before our Maker and admit that at our core we are not right. All we have to offer is a song from a broken spirit and a contrite heart, and we can know that if we come in this fashion we will not be torn to shreds. David the singer introduces us to the notion that there is a blessedness that awaits those -- and only those -- who admit that rightness is nowhere within them, who look to God alone to account it to them for no motive besides God's own loving kindness (see Ps 32:1-5, 10-11)" (61).
As we turn from Samuel to Chronicles, the singer role recedes and the architect role comes to the fore. Chronicles was compiled during the restoration of Israel to the land and the rebuilding of the temple. The Chronicler focused on stories of David as a builder. Here we see music all over the place. Reggie shows how the account of the bringing the ark to the temple (I chron 15) is saturated with music (in contrast to the Samuel account where the musical component is played down). Reggie shows how David institutes a special assignment of Asaph and his family for leading the people in songs of praise (I chron 16:7-36) -- including a special song of commissioning. Now David has moved from being a singer to being a patron -- to establishing psalmody and singing as a part of the institutional structure. "David's commissioning of Asaph is the beginning of a whole new epoch of corporate worship. Beyond this particular occasion, David aggressively works to leave Israel with a tradition of praise, organizing the Levites...and setting in place commandments for music-making that would be appealed to in future generations." (67) Like the great patrons of art in the Renaissance, David was not only a sophisticated artist himself, but he understood how to weave it as a part of the institution -- he understood the power of song to shape souls, and paid special attention to keep song before his people.
"As no one before him, David realized that the atmosphere of God's presence -- and it is God's presence that the ark exists to symbolize -- should be made up of song" (68) "The Psalms themselves are as much a part of the building of God's house as anything else is." (68) This shows that togetherness and connnectedness are vital to David -- Reggie shows how the corporate singing of God's praise shows the high value of God's people together and connected in a symphony of praise, rather than a cacophany of solo voices each singing their own tune of self-expression.
The personal and the corporate -- blended together so nicely by Reggie's chapter here. David's songs and stories instruct us in both.
Soli Deo Gloria