For Lent, the BBC dished up for us an anti-Christian fest in ‘The Bible’s Buried Secrets’. To wet our appetite in anticipation of Easter the three programmes questioned ‘Did King David’s Empire Exist?’, ‘Did God Have A Wife?‘ suggesting he did, and ‘The Real Garden of Eden’. That is what the BBC dished up for Lent.
Presented by an atheist scholar the whole idea is the Bible cannot be trusted. I watched the first two programmes but that was sufficient. The presenter came across as if she had made some new discoveries.
Putting something controversial on during Lent was going to attract publicity and an audience. But there was nothing new in the BBC presentations. The Adventist archaeologist, Michael Hasel, wrote an article back in February last year which was published in the Adventist Review, titled, ‘Another Battle Over David and Goliath.’ It addressed the question of ‘Did King David’s Empire Exist’? So it’s not new.
Said Hasel, “In the historical narrative of the Bible one individual attains more prominence, more mention, from Samuel until the last chapter of Revelation. . . . not even Jesus is mentioned as frequently by His name as this individual. His name appears more than 1,100 times in Scripture.”
“He was a great musician, having composed much of the liturgy for Israelite worship that is still sung in synagogues and churches today. He was a poet, a warrior, a great king and leader for his people.
“David as a figure has captured the imagination of millions throughout the centuries and millennia. Artists, such as Michelangelo, have been inspired by his life and personality.
“But David’s centrality in the Bible is exemplified not only in his abilities as musician, poet, warrior, statesman, and hero. His significance is all the more apparent as the pro-genitor of the Messiah. It is through the seed of David—the root of his father, Jesse—that the Messiah was to be born.
“David himself pointed forward in the Psalms to the Messiah that was to come. Both Matthew and Luke include David in their genealogies of Jesus. It was “Joseph, the son of David” who became the father of Jesus (Matt. 1:20, 21).
““Later as Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem in His triumphal entry, the people shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 21:9, NASB).
“David is indeed a most central figure in Scripture.
•Without David, there is no founder of Jerusalem.
•Without David, there is no author for Israel’s worship liturgy.
•Without David, there is no United Monarchy of Israel.
•Without David, there is no Messiah.
“It may come as a surprise to many” says Michael Hasel, “that . . . there rages today an intellectual battle over the history of the early monarchy in Israel. In recent years there have been an increasing number of post-modern scholars who are questioning the historicity of the figure of David himself. They question whether he ever existed.”
And so the BBC joined the controversy by dishing up for us its ‘Easter Fest’ with “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” pretending it was presenting something new, or was the material actually new to the presenter? The Bible was presented as a cobbled together stories and an inaccurate history that has been copied and recopied over centuries so that you would not know the originals if you saw them. The Bible is said to be an unreliable account of history.
There are many replies one can make to the series, and have been made. For now, I’m going to take a passage from the Book of Lamentations as a reply. It is one of those books that adds to the literary value and variety of literature we call the Bible.
The Book of Lamentations is part of the 40% of the Old Testament that is composed in poetry. Its five chapters are a composition of 5 poems, the first four in acrostic form.
The Book of Lamentations is an elegy, or a dirge. It is Jeremiah’s mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It is his lament, hence the title, ‘Lamentations.’
For our own Easter message let’s just share a little time looking at Lamentations 1:12. “Is it nothing to you all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering, that was inflicted on me in the day of his fierce anger?”
What was the reason for Jeremiah’s Lament? From Jeremiah 3:6 through to Jeremiah 7:1-7 we read of God pleading with Israel over her sinful condition and making promises, if Israel would only mend her ways. But God’s overtures are ignored, to Israel’s detriment. Israel’s national security depended on their faithfulness to God. When we get to the end of Jeremiah we see what happened to Jerusalem because of the people’s unfaithfulness. Jeremiah 52:12-14,17-23 is just a page back from our text in Lamentations chapter 1.
We read in Jeremiah 52:12-14:
“On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down all the walls around Jerusalem.” (See the Babylonian Chronicle 5 in the British Museum).
There we have a description by Jeremiah of a real demolition job on Jerusalem and its temple, with all the temple treasures taken off to Babylon. Built by Solomon (and not by David) that temple really represented all that was grand and spectacular about Jerusalem. It was one of the reasons why dignitaries of other countries used to visit Jerusalem, to view its renowned splendour.
Those grand buildings and the splendid sanctuary were raised to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 BC. So in the Book of Lamentations we get the picture of Jeremiah, sitting on the ruins of his once beloved and glorious Jerusalem. All he had foretold had come to pass!
Now back to the BBC programme for a moment on, ‘Did David’s Empire Exist?‘ First of all, David was the warrior king who united the tribes of Israel and subdued and conquered his immediate neighbours. It was his son Solomon who was the nation builder, even although it was never on the scale of Egypt or Babylon or Assyria. As Ian Paul reminds us in his review of ‘The Bible’s Buried Secrets’, Deuteronomy 7:7 and Deuteronomy 9:1-3 doesn’t suggest King David ruled over an ’empire’ in our understanding of the word empire.
Secondly, if Babylon demolished all the buildings of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and then the Second Temple, named ‘Herod’s Temple’, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and before and since the destruction of Herod’s Temple Israel has been the corridor that great nations have travelled through to war with each other, and there have been many wars fought over Jerusalem, with lots of rebuilding, should we really be surprised if there is little evidence of Solomon’s building works in Jerusalem?
In my three visits to Israel and to Jerusalem I would be sceptical of any claims of finds purporting to go back to King Solomon, alone to King David!
So back to Jeremiah’s ‘Book of Lamentations.’ Whatever modern warfare can bring about, in Jeremiah’s day Babylon had achieved just as successfully on Jeremiah’s Jerusalem. The glory of Solomon’s high day was obliterated. Israel would never see such splendour again as Solomon had lavished on Jerusalem some 300 years earlier.
And through the poetic devices of personification, the prophet Jeremiah brings to us a moving picture of his once beautiful “Queen of the nations” – now a bedraggled widow, ravished and plundered by a neighbouring nation. Judah was stripped bare and left without dignity and respect. Jeremiah is left bemoaning the loss of her honour. This is what is described for us in Lamentations 1:1-12.
Northern Israel had gone into captivity in 722 BC, and Southern Israel, Judah, had reached its crisis hour, but had refused to face up to it. Judgement fell, – – and its nakedness and shame was all too painful to bear. For Jeremiah the personal pronouns are more than a poetic device. They may personify Jerusalem in one sense, but in another, it reveals the prophet’s own bruising. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?”
The prophet had invested his whole life for the well being of the nation! But now, with the destruction of Jerusalem went all his own hopes and aspirations. As we read in verse 6: “This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit, my children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.”
Who were Jeremiah’s children? Jeremiah was not married! He forfeited marriage for his particular call by God. Jeremiah’s children were God’s people! Jeremiah was a spokesman for Someone who was more involved than was Jeremiah. God had ordained the nation of Israel personally. He had made the promise of its greatness to His friend Abraham (Genesis 12:1,2).
God had plagued Pharaoh for Israel’s freedom. He had looked after rebellious Israel for 40 years in the Wilderness. He raised up strong leaders to protect His nation in times of distress and trouble. He fulfilled His promise to Israel under King David. That was the time of Israel’s greatest prosperity and expansion. God was Israel’s glory.
And when Israel went into moral decline, and subsequently into political and economic collapse, God was still involved with His people. God did all He could to save His nation from this awful destruction. Besides Jeremiah, God sent the prophets Ezekiel and Habakkuk. God did all He could to warn Israel of the consequences of its sin and disobedience.
When 586BC came, and Nebuchadnezzar marched away with his booty, leaving behind a plundered and ruined city, the people of Israel were not the only ones who were hurt; God was hurt too! Nearly 1500 years of hope and promises were being marched back to Babylon, the land from which Abraham had originally come.
Today, 586BC is just a historical fact. If you go to the British Museum you can see the Babylonian Clay Tablet that records the date and that great and calamitous event in Judah’s history.
But what about God? Do we ever think of God feeling the intensity of hurt the way Jeremiah expresses it? And yet, five and a half centuries later, God was to experience even greater hurt. It involved the rejection and crucifixion of God’s greatest investment in this fallen world.
Ever since the Fall, God has shared in the hurt of fallen humanity. He had promised restoration and healing through great cost to Himself. But, when God actually “gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), that rejection of his love hurt as nothing else could!
The Apostle John captures that hurt in his Gospel, in John 1:10,11 where speaking of the coming of God to this world in his Son he says, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own but his own received him not.”
We can feel the pathos in that statement? We sense the ingratitude and coldness? We feel the rejection and loneliness in those words? It is a painful description of how God has been treated by our world. And when leading thinkers of our age throw their barbs at God and undermine what he has done for this world, and is still doing, God feels the pain. He feels for those people too even although they don’t know it, as well as for those who throw away their eternity on the strength of their words.
While God knows the end from the beginning, and while God has full control in His universe, He is involved with humanity more than we will ever know or understand. God has felt the hurt and pain and sorrow of all mankind. It is well described in Isaiah 53: 3-9. But the intensity of that hurt reached its fullest in Gethsemene, and Calvary.
Jeremiah’s lament over Israel, and for himself and for God, challenges our own tendency to indifference, and to waywardness and disobedience. In this lament we can hear God calling us again. We can hear Him asking us not to ignore His pleas for our salvation as He pleaded with the children of Israel in their day. He offers us eternal security. That eternity has been secured at great cost to Himself.
One day, this old world is going to pass away, along with those who choose to hang on to sin and disobedience. That too will hurt God. He wants us all to be in His New Kingdom. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
The world too is heading for its final showdown with God, as did Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day. It is going to come about by God’s intervention in human affairs (2 Peter 3:3-14).
Did King David exist? As Michael Hasel pointed out, if there is no King David then there is no Messiah. But The Son Of King David exists – He is the Messiah! He is Risen!
There are always going to be those who want to discredit the Bible and its message. It is nothing new. But neither is Easter new with its reminder of what God has done for and is still doing for us. This Easter God’s pleadings are still being made.
The most painful and sorrowful of human experiences happened 2000 years ago. It happened for you and for me, and for anyone who hears His cry through the words of Jeremiah: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?“