In the 1970s there was a TV series called ‘Roots’, which looked at the history of a black American family, set during and after the era of slavery in the USA. The series looks at the journey of one family and their will to survive, and as a historical drama, it does what history so often does: it homes in on the individual in order to give us a better perspective of the wider issues. We find it hard to deal in the abstract; we need a person and a family to care about in order to understand the complex issues of life and find a pathway to hope and life.
The Bible itself often takes this path, teaching us much about history as it does so, but always looking at history as His Story, God’s story, showing us His involvement in human lives. It starts with the story of God’s creation of Adam and Eve and shows us the consequences of their disobedience; the book of Genesis is lined with named individuals who mattered not only to God but to what happened on earth: Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, and so on. Some of the books of the Bible focus in very clearly on certain people (the books of Ruth and Esther, in particular), showing us how their response to God has influence way beyond their personal lives (both featuring in the lineage of the Messiah.) In other historical books, people again hold great sway: Moses in the Pentateuch and Joshua, then key prophets such as Elijah, Elisha and Isaiah, not to mention the kings of Israel who form the backdrop to 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. David, whose life we are now studying in our Bible studies, is probably the most illustrious and famous of those kings, but it is important to remember that he did not exist in a vacuum, any more than we do.
David was shaped by his family circumstances, by his religious heritage and by what was going on in the world around him (which we tend to term ‘culture’ these days.) There is a tendency nowadays to want to re-write history with the brush of our contemporary age, but that is to fail to take into account a key part of history: understanding what happened in the past and why. It’s not our job to re-write history, but to learn key principles from it.
David was part of the long history of people of faith, people who believed in the God of Israel. As such, he has much to teach people of faith nowadays, for people, despite different cultures and circumstances, are often at heart much the same. Fear, jealousy, covetousness, materialism, love, loyalty and forgiveness are not new to this present century. Persecution, opposition, waiting, injustice and celebration did not cease with the Old Testament, nor even with the period of American history which is the subject of ‘Roots’! The wider issues of what it means to be a human in touch with the Almighty, living in a world that is largely hostile to God, are as relevant today as they were in David’s day. Scripture, therefore, is the perfect place to find and explore our human roots and to see if we can learn important lessons on what it means to live as people after God’s own heart.