William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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What the judicial functions of these princes exactly were
does not appear, but probably they corresponded very near-
ly to those of the lord lieutenants of counties in Great Brit-
ain, with this difference, that they belonged, ex qfficio, to the
general council or senate of the nation, which was summon-
ed on all occasions of emergency or importance. Thus,
when David formally handed over the crown to Solomon,
we read (i Chronicles xxviii., i) that he assembled all the
princes of Israel. Over and above these princes, he distrib-
uted (i Chronicles xxiii., 4) six thousand Levites over the
land as officers and judges. Of these nearly one-half were
settled among the tribes east of the Jordan, perhaps because,


from their distance from the seat of government, these tribes
were more in need of superintendence than the rest. They
were sent out, as we read, "for every matter pertaining to
God and the king ;" but it would be a mistake to suppose
that they had to do merely with judicial trials. The Le-
vites generally were the health officers of the nation. They
would, therefore, look after all sanitary arrangements, and
take order that the minute injunctions of the Mosaic law in
this department were fully obeyed. They had to do, also,
with the healing art, and formed, in fact, a medical board
over the land ; while again, if we bear in mind that the peo-
ple were by them to be made acquainted with the law of
their God, and that their sacred books were well-nigh the
only books at that time in existence among them, we may
not be far wrong in regarding these Levites, or a portion of
them, as set over the education of the community, and re-
sponsible for the department of public instruction. In any
case, I think there is good warrant for the assertion of Dr.
Blaikie, when he says that "infinitely more was done for the
education and enlightenment of the people than was ever
attempted or dreamed of in any Eastern country. It is no-
' where said whether Samuel's schools received a special share
of attention ; but the deep interest David must have taken
in Samuel's plans, and his early acquaintance with their
blessed effects, leave little room to doubt that these institu-
tions were carefully fostered, and owed to David a share of
that vitality which they continued to exhibit in the days of
Elijah and Elisha."* In addition to what this writer has ad-
vanced, I would remark that the pre-eminence attained by
Solomon in all the branches of education is, to my mind, an
evidence of the advanced condition of the nation generally

* Blaikie's "David, King of Israel : the Divine Plan, and Lessons of
his Life," p. 201.


in this department ; since, unless a good foundation of ele-
mentary knowledge had been imparted to the youth of the
land as a whole, it is hardly possible to account for the ap-
pearance of such a man as Solomon in that age. No doubt
he was endowed with preternatural wisdom. But this, as
is usual in the economy of Providence, would be ingrafted
upon a high degree of ordinary culture ; and the question
forces itself upon the historical student, Who were his tu-
tors, and who taught them ? You do not find the loftiest
mountains rising isolatedly from the centre of some great
plain. The highest summits are never solitary peaks. They
belong usually to some great chain, and are merely the loft-
iest elevations in a country, the general character of which
is mountainous ; and in the same way the greatest scholars
appear, not among an ignorant people, but among those who
have a high average of education, and in countries where a
good substratum of instruction is enjoyed even by the com-
mon average of the community. The historian, Froude, has
put this thought admirably when he says, " No great general
ever arose out of a nation of cowards ; no great statesman
or philosopher out of a nation of fools ; no great artist out
of a nation of materialists ; no great dramatist, except when
the drama was the passion of the people. Greatness is nev-
er more than the highest degree of an excellence which pre-
vails widely round it, and forms the environment in which it
grows."* Now, if these views be correct, the rise of Solo-
mon, who was so conspicuous for his intellectual culture and
scientific attainments, may be regarded as a proof that in the
reign of David, and more particularly, perhaps, in the zenith
of his administration, education was extensively diffused, and
earnestly fostered by him among the tribes.

But David did much, also, to promote the domestic com-

* " History of England," vol. i., p. 74.


fort of the people. It was said of Augustus that he found
Rome brick, and that he left it marble ; and a similar testi-
mony as to Paris was borne to the late Emperor of the
French, by all who knew that capital as it was before he so
transformed and beautified it. Something of the same kind
has to be said also of David. Up till his time, the inhabit-
ants of Canaan dwelt in places which might perhaps be bet-
ter called huts than houses. But when he took possession
of Jerusalem, he not only strengthened its fortifications, but
he also built the city of David, and, conspicuous therein, a
stately palace for himself; nay, he introduced from Tyre arti-
ficers in wood, and brass, and stone, and so adorned his capi-
tal that men could sing concerning it, " Beautiful for situa-
tion, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides
of the north, the city of the great King." " Walk about Zion,
and go round about her : tell the towers thereof. Mark ye
well her bulwarks, consider her palaces ; that ye may tell it
to the generation following."

But besides the influence of all this on domestic architec-
ture, not in Jerusalem alone, but over the whole country, the
prosecution of such labors tended largely to develop com-
merce. The land over which he ruled was principally pas-
toral and agricultural. It produced more food than the pop-
ulation needed. But by the introduction of builders from
Tyre, and the importation of timber from Lebanon, there was
furnished an outlet for their superfluous provisions, while the
general comfort of the people was advanced. This kind of
trade prepared the way for the farther development of com-
merce under Solomon, whose ships went to India, and, as
there is reason to believe, also to China ; while it knit the
Hirams and their successors in close alliance to David and
his sons, and inaugurated an interchange of commercial com-
modities between Jerusalem and Tyre, which we find in ex-
istence even in the days of the Christian apostles.* Then
* See Acts xii., 20.


again, on the principle of letting nothing be lost, David
seems to have put the waste lands under extensive culti-
vation. He had, as we learn from i Chronicles xxvii., 25,
"storehouses in the fields, in the cities, and in the villages,
and in the castles ;" he had a regular staff of men who
did " the work of the field for the tillage of the ground."
He had superintendents over the vineyards and wine-
cellars, and over the olive and sycamore trees, together
with the oil which they produced. There were men over
the herds in Sharon and in the valleys of Shaphat, as well
as over the. camels and asses. Thus, as Blaikie has re-
marked, " Many a hill, under his able management, would
become encircled with vine -clad terraces, and many a
plain formerly abandoned to sterility would rejoice and
blossom as the rose. The king's example, too, spreading
to smaller proprietors, now blessed with peace and freedom,
would effect a revolution in the agriculture of the land."*
Hence the military glory of David's life was not its highest
distinction, and we may warrantably enough regard him as
the inaugurator of an internal civil administration which,
for thoroughness and efficiency, surpassed every thing which
up to his day any country on the face of the earth, with the
single exception of Egypt, had enjoyed.

It is time, however, that we looked to the arrangements

/which David made in ecclesiastical matters ; but before we
enumerate them, we must have a clear idea of the position in
which he stood. He was not merely the king. He was, at
the same time, a prophet as really as either Gad or Nathan ;
and as we saw, at the great festival of the bringing up of the
ark, he arrayed himself in the linen ephod of the priests, and
took part in the offering of sacrifice. Hence, while the ulti-
mate reference of the noth Psalm is undeniably to the Mes-

* Blaikie's " David, King of Israel : the Divine Plan, and Lessons of
his Life," p. 202.


siah, its primary application may well enough have been to
David, who was in some sense a second Melchizeclek a
priest among kings, and a king among priests. It was, there-
fore, by virtue of the union of these three offices in himself,
that he was entitled to take upon him the regulation of the
Tabernacle service, and the setting in order of those things
which in the days of Saul had been too generally neglected,
and allowed to fall into the greatest confusion. As we saw
before, the seat of the Tabernacle was at Nob, or perhaps (as
an incidental allusion in i Chronicles xvi., 39, would seem to
imply) at Gibeon ; but the ark, which was the glory of the
Tabernacle, was not there. That had been for a long time
at Kirjath-jearim ; but David brought it to Jerusalem, there-
by making that city the ecclesiastical as well as judicial cen-
tre of the land. He did not, however, suppress the services
at the Tabernacle, but left Zadok to superintend them, con-
tinuing him as co-ordinate priest by the side of Abiathar,
and allowing the seat of the ancient Tabernacle to sink by
degrees into the obscurity which ultimately enveloped it.
While, however, he did not positively demolish the former
Tabernacle, he devoted special attention to the arrangement
of the services in the new sacred tent at Jerusalem. These,
of course, had to be performed by the priests and Levites.
The special functions of the former were to offer sacrifices,
to burn incense, and to change the shew-bread ; the peculiar
duties of the latter were to perform the lower office of attend-
ing to the outward fabric, and, in general, to do all that was
required to make the public worship of God excellent in char-
acter, decorous in arrangement, and reverent in spirit. But
the Levites had now so increased in numbers, and there were
so many belonging to the priestly family of Aaron, that it was
needful to make some orderly division of the work among

In seeking to meet this necessity, David adopted a plan


similar to that which he had introduced into the army, and
arranged the priests into twenty-four courses, giving to each
its order by lot; and we find that this arrangement contin-
ued in the days of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist.
" Each course served a week alternately, under a subordinate
prefect ; and in the time of Zacharias, at least, the duties of
each individual seem to have been determined by lot; but
all attended at the great festivals."* Of the Levites, who
numbered thirty-eight thousand men of thirty years old and
upward, six thousand were, as we have already seen, told off
as officers and judges, and allocated to different districts
over the land ; twenty-four thousand were appointed to set
forward the work of the Lord, and four thousand were por-
ters ; while the remaining four thousand were appointed to
praise the Lord, with the accompaniment of instruments of
music. These, however, were not all ordinarily needed at
one and the same time, so he divided them also into courses,
of which we have a minute account in i Chronicles xxiii. ;
and there also we have the following most interesting record
of his motive in all this proceeding (verses 25-32): "For
David said, The Lord God of Israel hath given rest unto his
people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem forever : and also
unto the Levites : they shall no more carry the tabernacle,
nor any vessels of it for the service thereof. For by the last
words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty
years old and above : because their office was to wait on the
sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, in
the courts, and in the chambers, and in the purifying of all
holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God ;
both for the shew-bread, and for the fine flour for meat-of-
fering, and for the unleavened cakes, and for that which is
baked in the pan, and for that which is fried, and for all

* Kitto's " Cyclopaedia," article PRIEST.


manner of measure and size ; and to stand every morning to
thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even ; and to
offer all burnt-sacrifices unto the Lord in the sabbaths, in
the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according
to the order commanded unto them, continually before the
Lord : and that they should keep the charge of the taberna-
cle of the congregation, and the charge of the holy place,
and the charge of the sons of Aaron their brethren, in the
service of the house of the Lord."

The arrangements for the musical part of the service
were particularly elaborate, and the twenty-fifth chapter of
i Chronicles is devoted to their enumeration. The prime
leaders the first three were Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun ;
and under these each superintended by a son of one or oth-
er of them, as the lot appointed were twenty-four bands of
twelve each, who are described as " instructed in the songs
of the Lord, and cunning in them." Nay, more, there were,
besides these, three daughters of Heman, who, like their
brothers, were skilled in the psaltery, the cymbal, and the
harp. Under these twenty-four bands of twelve each, were
arranged twenty- four courses, taken by lot from the four
thousand. Thus, as a regular thing, only a twenty -fourth
part of these musicians would be about the Tabernacle serv-
ice at one time ; but as they all came in alternate courses,
the efficiency of each course would be maintained ; so that on
great occasions as, for example, at the annual national fes-
tivals when they were all engaged, the effect produced must
have been at once most artistic and overpowering.

Two things, however, have to be borne in mind about
these musical services. The first is that they were perform-
ed in the open air. The court of the Tabernacle, as after-
ward of the Temple, had no covering overhead. Hence the
high service of a Jewish festival-day would resemble nothing
so much as an oratorio in the open air, when the mingled



harmony of human voices and instruments of music must
have rilled the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and floated, in sub-
dued and solemn tones, over the slopes of Olivet. The sec-
ond thing about these services is, that only the Levites were
authorized to take part in them. Praise, as I have formerly
remarked, was regarded as a sacrifice to God, just as really
as the meat-offering and drink-offering, and only those who
belonged to the holy tribe of Levi were competent to offer
it. They presented it in the stead of the people, and as
their consecrated representatives. Now this vicarious char-
acter of the Tabernacle praise is that which has been done
away in the Gospel Church ; for, through faith in Jesus
Christ, we are all priests and Levites, consecrated, by the
anointing of the Holy Ghost, for the offering of spiritual sac-
rifices. Hence, says Peter, " Ye are a royal priesthood, a
holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the
praises of Him, who hath called you out of darkness into his
marvelous light ;" and to the same effect the author of the
Epistle to the Hebrews has said, " By him, therefore, let us
offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit
of our lips, giving thanks to his name." The little child may
join in the hymn now, as well as the trained singer, provided
only he have a loving and believing heart, and there is no
restriction of any part of worship in the Church of Christ to
any order or class of men in it. But if while praise was thus
vicarious, it was deemed of so much importance, and so much
attention was devoted to the attainment of excellence in it,
ought we to allow it to sink into a subordinate position, now
that it is the common privilege of all believers ? Why should
not all our Christian congregations become as skillful in the
rendering of " the songs of the Lord " as these four thou-
sand Levites were ? Nay, may not every congregation be
instructed by the method of organization which David here
inaugurated ? What is to hinder us, for example, from di-



viding ourselves as a cliurch into twelve, or, say, twenty-four
musical courses, under appropriate leaders, each course in
rotation being responsible for the leading of psalmody for a
certain time, and all maintaining a constant aggregate week-
ly practice, so that on the Lord's Day, as we gather together
here, we shall be just one well-trained and thoroughly organ-
ized choir, raising such a chorus of jubilant praise as shall
be, in some degree, worthy of the priceless blessings for
which we give God thanks ? What is to hinder this ? again
I ask. We want, in the first place, some organizing David,
who shall consecrate himself to this work as thoroughly as
the King of Israel did of old. But we want even more than
that, the spirit of Levitical consecration in the heart of every
worshiper. Ah ! if we but remembered that, as Christians,
we are anointed by God's Spirit for his peculiar- service, and
if we did only faintly realize that the praise of the sanctuary
was a portion of that service to which we have been thus set
apart, we should be more willing to give the time and atten-
tion which are needful to qualify ourselves for it. We have
fallen into the grievous mistake of supposing that the music
of the sanctuary is for human ears, more than for the ear of
God ; and in seeking to please men by it, we have allowed
devotion almost to disappear from it. Nay, we have thereby
come even to displease men by it ; for it is here, as in so
many other things, they who seek human appreciation and
applause as the main end invariably, in the long run, lose
that which they so desired ; while they, who think mainly
and especially of doing honor to God, do at the last receive
also the respect of men. When, in our praise, we can merge
all thought of self in the eager, earnest effort to please God ;
when, feeling that we are singing to God, we try to give him
of our best ; then, also, the ears of men will be turned to-
ward us, and the hymns of the service will, because they are
the sincere expression of our hearts, produce the most salu-


tary impressions on those who hear them, and will be as
much a means of edification and conversion as the prayers
or the discourse. The life of the good man, who is thinking
only of serving God, has often been the means of converting
a soul ; and the song of a devout Christian, who has been
singing only to give expression to his own feelings, has not
unfrequently carried the truth to the soul of him who heard
it. When, therefore, we have such singing in our churches,
we shall hear people say, " I was converted by the singing
of such and such a hymn," just as often as we shall have
them saying, " I was awakened by such and such a sermon ;"
for, as the holy Herbert has said,

"A verse may find him who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice."

I have dwelt more largely on David's administration, mili-
tary, civil, and ecclesiastical, than may appear to you to have
been either necessary or profitable ; but my apology must be,
that I wished in a single discourse to dispose of the whole
matter, so that we may not require to turn aside from other and
more important things to refer to it again. For the same
reason, let me in one sentence epitomize the victories of Da-
vid as they are referred to in the eighth chapter of 2 Samuel.
They were over the Philistines, over the Moabites, over the
King of Zobah, in the direction of the river Euphrates, a cam-
paign in which he encountered the Syrians, and took and
garrisoned Damascus. He likewise grappled with and over-
came the Ammonites, because of a deliberate insult which
they offered to his ambassadors, whom he sent on a visit of
condolence to the king after the death of his father. He
also overcame the Amalekites, and took and garrisoned Edom.
To the war with the Ammonites we shall have occasion to
refer again, when we treat of the darkest spot in David's
history ; meanwhile let it be noted that the 6oth Psalm


was probably written during the war with Edom, when some
reverse had been sustained ; and perhaps we do not err if we
date the aoth Psalm at this warlike era of David's life. By
these victories he greatly extended the boundaries of the
land, while in Jerusalem he strengthened himself by gather-
ing around him, as the members of his cabinet, the wisest and
most eminent men of the nation.

I close with two practical considerations suggested by this
whole subject.

Let us see here the intimate connection between religion,
and the intellectual enlightenment and social prosperity of a
nation. David was a man of God, eagerly anxious in all
things to know the Divine will and do it. He regarded his
position on the throne as a trust which had been given to him,
for the welfare of his people and for the glory of Jehovah ;
and the result of his conscientious endeavors to act up to
his responsibilities was that educational, social, and religious
regeneration which to-night we have been considering. But
this is no solitary instance. Similar results followed the re-
ligious earnestness of Hezekiah and Josiah, in Old Testa-
ment ages ; and in modern times, the nations which have
been blessed with Christian rulers have ever led the van in all
the nobler characteristics of civilization and prosperity. When
an African prince sent a courteous message to the Queen of
England, asking, " What is the secret of England's great-
ness ?" she sent him a copy of the sacred Scriptures, with the
reply, "This is the secret of England's greatness." And if
one should put a similar question in regard to this great re-
public, he might be correctly answered in a similar manner ;
for the character of the Pilgrim Fathers, which was made by
their faith in the Bible, and their devotion to the Lord Jesus
Christ, has stamped itself indelibly on this Western land ; yea,
as it seems to me, in spite of certain recent occurrences, it is
to-day more conspicuous in the regulation of national affairs


than ever. But much yet remains to be accomplished ; and
if we would have a prosperity worthy of the name, it must, as
in the case of Israel under David, be rooted in religion. It
may seem strange, indeed, that in a republic I should seek
to enforce this lesson from the character of a king in a mon-
archy ; but when you regard it rightly, the practical point of
my remarks will only become the more sharp and incisive,
for here the sovereign is the people ; and so their charac-
ter is even more intimately related to the country's prosperity
than is that of a king in a monarchy. They give the tone to
their representatives ; and as water can not rise above its
level, so the morality and patriotism of the members of our
Legislatures and Congress will not be above that of the peo-
ple who elect them. If we wish to purge away all remaining
corruptions, and to take a place among the nations which
shall be at once pure and permanent, we must seek to bring
the sovereign people under the influence of the religion of
Jesus. This is the salt which will at once purify and pre-
serve the State. Hence, while utterly repudiating all sympa-
thy with what is called a national establishment of religion,
we ought as patriots, no less than as Christians, to seek to
have the people thoroughly Christianized. The Gospel is
the grand reformer. The home missionary on our frontier,
the city missionary in our streets and lanes, the humble
Christian worker in all departments of benevolent activity,
will do more, in the long run, to purify our legislatures than
any number of political agitators ; for while the latter are
seeking merely to destroy evils, the former are laboring to
form character, as that alone can be formed to holiness and
integrity, by trust in God and obedience to Jesus Christ. No

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 20 of 36)