david – last words

Well, we come finally to the conclusion of our series on the life of David. Over the past number of weeks we’ve looked at some of the key events in his life and have begun to understand the significance of David in the narrative of the Old Testament. There have been some spectacular failures in his life. Nevertheless, with David we are at a high point in the history of God’s people. Under David there is unprecedented unity for God’s people – there is unprecedented security and prosperity. Even more, as someone after God’s own heart, David embodies the genuine faith of God’s.

So David’s story has prominence in the Old Testament because he represents a golden age in the history of God’s people. But there is another reason that David’s story is told – David also represents the hope of God’s people for the future. The story of David is told time and again, repeated from generation to generation, because God’s people are waiting for a new David, a Son of David in whom a new and decisive high point will arrive for God’s people.

Over the past number of weeks, most of our readings about David have come from the narrative of Samuel. But today, our reading comes from the narrative of Chronicles. Within the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament as we call it, the story of David is told twice – David’s story is told in First and Second Samuel – but it’s also told again in the book of First Chronicles. Now we should be honest and point out that in First Chronicles you get a more gilded perspective on David – a lot of the rough bits are smoothed out in First Chronicles.  But that version of the narrative still offers us insight into David and the importance of David for God’s people.

This morning, as we come to this final installment in our series on David we are looking at the question of succession – the question of what happens at the end of David’s life. It actually raises a serious problem in the narrative. If David is this great king – if David is such a unique character in the history of God’s people – what is going to happen when the baton is passed – when the crown is passed – to the next generation.

This question won’t be entirely foreign to us. In the wake of the recent royal wedding, the whole question of succession came up again in public discourse both in Canada and Great Britain. We heard it asked again whether the crown shouldn’t perhaps pass directly from Queen Elizabeth to Prince William. Since Charles isn’t the most liked royal, and since the royal family seems to need a public relations boost, there is some talk of simply bypassing Charles in favour of his son.

Right at the beginning of our passage, the specter of an unsuccessful transition to the new king is raised. The possibility of failure is raised. David says in his speech to all the assembled leaders of Israel: “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great.” Solomon is young. He is inexperienced. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing. There are important matters that can’t be entrusted to him. The question of succession is a big one for David and Israel.

Now the question of succession is raised in a very specific context – it is raised in relation to the building of the temple. We remember from several weeks ago that David was frustrated that God was still living in a tent. David himself was living in this fine, wood-paneled home – and God was still living in a tent. David wants to build a temple, a permanent home, for God. Now eventually God relents, eventually God gives permission to build a temple. But in First Chronicles chapter 28, God says to David: “You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood.” David’s violence – his implication in war and even in murder – David’s shedding of blood has disqualified him from building God’s house. And so the task of building the temple is passed on to the next generation. It is Solomon who will build the temple.

But here’s where the problem lies: Solomon is young and inexperienced. From David’s perspective, Solomon doesn’t know what he’s doing. So how does David respond? Well David responds by giving Solomon a head start – or gives him a leg up, whichever metaphor we want to choose. David begins making preparations himself so that everything won’t come down on Solomon’s shoulders.

Even if David is not going to be the one who will build the temple – he is heavily invested in the project. Not only is he invested in this important project, but he is keen to get all of the people on board. So he leads by example. From his own store of wealth he gifts of gold and silver and bronze and iron for the crafting of different temple objects. He gives precious stones of every kind for the artisans to work with in crafting items for the temple.  He leads by example, and then asks the people: “Who, then, is going to make a free and generous offering as I have. Who else will commit themselves to God in the way I have?”

The people follow his lead – all of the leaders of Israel make contributions in the way that David made contributions: gold, silver, bronze, iron, precious stones. So the narrator concludes: “And the people rejoiced about their voluntary giving, because they made freewill offerings to Yahweh with a whole heart. And King David rejoiced greatly.”

So there are two things going on here at the same time. On the one hand, David himself is completely dedicated to building a place of worship for God. He is invested in this project. It is a personal ambition of his – an ambition that is in keeping with the glory and goodness of God. It is an ambition that God has accepted and blessed. David makes preparations for building the temple.

But there is another reason that David is making all of these preparations. We go back again to verse 1 of First Chronicles 29: “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great; for the temple will not be for mortals but for the Lord God.”

David knows he isn’t going to be around forever. David knows he is going to die soon. And because he knows he won’t be around, he does everything he can to set things in motion. David is laying important groundwork for Solomon. David is taking action, in advance, so that Solomon won’t be left to do it all himself. To build the temple is a massive task –

it means working with many officials,

it means long-range planning

it means knowing how to respond to unexpected obstacles.

it means motivating and encouraging people

All of this requires a mature and capable leader. And Solomon isn’t yet that leader. So David does what he can to prepare the way for his son – to lay the groundwork.

Now we can think about all of this in the somewhat grand terms of royalty and succession and a massive building project. But we can also think about it in a way that hits a lot closer to home for us – in terms of what parents do for their children. And on this mother’s day, it’s difficult not to think about all of this in terms of the role mother’s play in the lives of their children.

David sets the stage for Solomon – he lays the groundwork for his son’s future. He prepares the way in a world that is full of challenges and possibilities – full of threats and opportunities.

In many ways, that’s the vocation of a mother, also – preparing the way for their children in a world of problems and possibilities. Children by definition are young and inexperienced – recognizing this, the mother’s vocation is to prepare the way for them.

Teaching children what friendship is, so that they will be able to build meaningful relationships.

Helping children discover their strengths, so they will be able to work from their strengths in the future.

Helping them realize their weaknesses, so that they won’t be tripped up by them unawares.

Working through homework with them so that they’ll be prepared as possible for the world of work or learning.

David prepares the way, sets the stage for Solomon’s early years – knowing that he will need all of the support he can get. Parents, mothers, also help to set the stage for the future of their children, for the unfolding of their lives – it is a vital vocation.

But here’s where things get just a little interesting. The first part of our passage for today is all about David’s preparations for the building of the temple. But the second part contains David’s prayer of praise to God. And what is decisive in that prayer is a fundamental letting go on the part of David.

There is, of course, an everyday wisdom which says there is only so much we can do to prepare our children – only so much we can do to get them on their way – only so much a mother can do to assure the protection and well-being of her children. There is a point at which we must let go.

There is a curious and even bizarre story that arose in Italy a couple of years ago that is somewhat instructive here. The mother and grandparents of a young boy named Luca were charged with abuse of their son, not because they had intentionally hurt the boy, but because they had done too much to protect and coddle him. In Time magazine the following was reported:

According to the evidence presented by prosecutors, Luca was not allowed to play with other children, go to church, participate in sports or leave the house before or after school. The boy’s teachers said he was sent to school with his snacks already cut into bite-size portions for him. Investigators say the teachers noticed that he was both physically and psychologically stunted from such around-the-clock doting.

I don’t know how that story played out, finally, but most of us likely react to it in the same way. There is a common human wisdom that reminds us: There is only so much that can be done to protect and provide for and pave the way for our children. They may be inexperienced and vulnerable – they may need our help in setting them on the way – but we all know there is a point at which our provision for them turns from being a help to being a hindrance. This is a common human wisdom – a wisdom that David also no doubt understood.

But it is not this merely human wisdom to which David appeals in his prayer. He prays with these words: “For all things come from you, O God, and of your own have we have given you. For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.”

David has this awareness that without the blessing and provision of God, our lives are like the movements of a shadow-puppet on a wall. Without the blessing and provision of God, the lives of our children are like the movements of a shadow-puppet on a wall. As he puts it: “Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.”

But it is not this depressing, hopeless note that is decisive for David. This depressing, hopeless note is not decisive for the children of God. Why? Because God is at work giving gifts to his people – filling their lives with meaning – with opportunities for love and joy and service – for building God’s kingdom. For this reason, the note on which David’s life ends is a note or prayer for his son:

“O Lord, grant to my son Solomon that with single mind he may keep your commandments, your decrees, and your statues, performing all of them, and that he may build the temple for which I have made provision.”

When we come to the end of our immediate responsibility to provide for, and teach, and care for, and encourage our children – as mothers come to the end of this immediate responsibility – children are not released into a world of mere shadows. They are not released only to their own strength and wisdom. Rather, they are released into the care of God – the God who has shown his face in Jesus Christ. They are released into the care of the God whose kingdom has come and who strengthens our children to walk in the way of the risen Jesus – to participate in the coming of his kingdom.

The parental vocation, the mother’s vocation, in the end is a vocation of prayer for our children – a vocation we all share for the children who are part of the church. Perhaps we can end this morning on a very concrete note – with the suggestion that we take this prayer from First Chronicles 29, verse 19 – that we look it up and adapt it as a prayer for the children in our lives.

“O Lord, grant to my son, my daughter (fill in his or her name) that with single mind she may keep your commandments, your decrees, and your statues, performing all of them, and that she may walk faithfully in the way of the risen Jesus.

Amen.

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