This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
ARMY KILLS CITIZENS IN EGYPT
2 Samuel 2:1-11
New English Translation (NET)
David is Anointed King
2 Afterward David inquired of the Lord, “Should I go up to one of the cities of Judah?” The Lord told him, “Go up.” David asked, “Where should I go?” The Lord replied, “To Hebron.” 2 So David went up, along with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelite and Abigail, formerly the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. 3 David also brought along the men who were with him, each with his family. They settled in the cities of Hebron. 4 The men of Judah came and there they anointed David as king over the people of Judah.
David was told, “The people of Jabesh Gilead are the ones who buried Saul.” 5 So David sent messengers to the people of Jabesh Gilead and told them, “May you be blessed by the Lord because you have shown this kindness to your lord Saul by burying him. 6 Now may the Lord show you true kindness! I also will reward you, because you have done this deed. 7 Now be courageous and prove to be valiant warriors, for your lord Saul is dead. The people of Judah have anointed me as king over them.”
David’s Army Clashes with the Army of Saul
8 Now Abner son of Ner, the general in command of Saul’s army, had taken Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and had brought him to Mahanaim. 9 He appointed him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he began to rule over Israel. He ruled two years. However, the people of Judah followed David. 11 David was king in Hebron over the people of Judah for seven and a half years
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Herod’s guilty conscience
14-16 “All this came to the ears of king Herod, for Jesus’ reputation was spreading, and people were saying that John the Baptist had risen from the dead, and that was why he was showing such miraculous powers. Others maintained that he was Elijah, and others that he was one of the prophets of the old days come back again. But when Herod heard of all this, he said, “It must be John whom I beheaded, risen from the dead!”
17-20 For Herod himself had sent and arrested John and had him bound in prison, all on account of Herodias, wife of his brother Philip. He had married her, though John used to say to Herod, “It is not right for you to possess your own brother’s wife.” Herodias herself was furious with him for this and wanted to have him executed, but she could not do it, for Herod had a deep respect for John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and protected him. He used to listen to him and be profoundly disturbed, and yet he enjoyed hearing him.
21-23 Then a good opportunity came, for Herod gave a birthday party for his courtiers and army commanders and for the leading people in Galilee. Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, to the great delight of Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me anything you like and I will give it to you!” And he swore to her, “I will give you whatever you ask me, up to half of my kingdom!”
24 And she went and spoke to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!”
25 The girl rushed back to the king’s presence, and made her request. “I want you to give me, this minute, the head of John the Baptist on a dish!” she said.
26-29 Herod was aghast, but because of his oath and the presence of his guests, he did not like to refuse her. So he sent one of the palace guardsman straightaway to bring him John’s head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison, brought back his head on the dish, and gave it to the girl who handed it to her mother. When his disciples heard what had happened, they came and took away the body and put it in a tomb.
David was a greater man than Herod but not in himself a much better man. Yet David is depicted as the model of a true king, Herod as the image of an evil one. The biblical narrators are clear about the nature of this difference: David with all his faults wants under God to shepherd his people; Herod simply enjoys the benefits of kingship.
The narrative in Samuel shows David moving with careful purpose towards the position to which Samuel had anointed him. He asks questions of God’s oracle -probably by casting lots – and tests the mood of the tribes of Judah and Jabesh, who are happy to accept him as ruler. He tests the water as regards Israel, but backs off when confronted by a determined general who favours the son of Saul. David has no desire to ascend the throne of Israel over the dead bodies of his countrymen. He has confidence that if he waits the people of Israel will come to him. His desire to rule, that is, to take responsibility for, Israel and Judah is stronger than his desire for immediate personal power.
Herod, on the other hand is shown by the only extended narrative in Mark which isn’t about Jesus, as wealthy, luxurious, self-regarding, weak and cruel. For him kingship is an opportunity for personal pleasure and indulgence. Mark is careful not to depict him as a mere brute-the idea of killing the Baptist does not come from him- but rather as a man of infirm will whose family has learned how to manipulate him. He does not want to commit this atrocity but does so because the esteem of rich guests is more important to him than justice.
David’s canny skill which allows him to act when it is time to do so and not before, coupled with his respect for the lives of his people, is something which can be recommended to all seekers of political power, for example to those engaged in conflict in Egypt. It’s clear that President Morsi wasn’t content to have been given power by his people, he changed the constitution so that he and his party could dominate his people. That led to his overthrow. But the latest atrocities by the Egyptian army show that they care more for their own power than the lives of Egyptian citizens.
A greater contrast to Herod is given by Mark in the following section of his gospel. By the story of King Jesus feeding five thousand of his people, Mark sets out a devastating critique of power: a bad ruler feeds on the people (almost literally at Herod’s murderous banquet) while the true ruler feeds the people.
To guide society in feeding all its people is the task of good government. The bible argues that the fundamental beliefs of government and people will determine whether that task can be carried out effectively.