King David and the Challenges of Identity, Part 1

 By Jacob Toman

This is part one of a three part series on the topics of identity, people groups, and choices

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to listen in and contribute to several conversations regarding issues of racial inequality. Living in the St. Louis region has meant experiencing the tensions that have been at an all-time high due to the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August of 2014.

I was playing World of Warcraft the night the announcement was made in the Clayton court that Wilson would not be indicted. During my six months in World of Warcraft, most of the general chat was a mixture of people selling items, trolling each other, or discussing in-game related topics. November 25th of 2014 was different. Countless numbers of people were dialoging, but it wasn't about the most recent game patch or new over-powered characters; that night, political issues -- no, not just politics, issues of human identity -- breached the borders of the game.

Issues of identity are nothing new; they predate the long history of racism in the United States and strike at the core of what it means to be human. When we look at gamers in the context of identity, we see both parallels and differences with other minority groups.  As an emerging people group, gamers constantly struggle with identity, purpose, and place within a global society. At the same time, we have to recognize that gamers choose to be a part of this people group, while racial and ethnic minorities don’t have that same option.

Ultimately this study is about groups and choices: the groups that individuals are a part of by choice, and not by choice. It is my hope in this short study to get at some of the heart issues involved with culture and people groups through the biblical narrative of King David’s rise to power.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

David’s rise to power comes as the result of several choices made by people other than David himself. The decision to remove Saul from the Kingship of Israel was God’s choice and occurred due to several poor choices made by Saul regarding respecting God’s chain of command (CoC). We often think of Kings at the top of a CoC, but in the Old Testament monarchy the King of Israel served as God’s representative rather than an independent god of his own. The decisions of the King impacted those around him, and more importantly, reflected God’s attitude and desires for his people. When King Saul disregarded God’s attitude and desires for his people, God rejected Saul as King.

The call on the life of the shepherd son of Jesse was one made by others, on his behalf. Often times in Christian thought and literature the term “call” is used. I’ve found this term has become almost as ambiguous as the term “gamer” and is worth defining here. God called David to the Kingship of Israel by sending a representative whom he had spoken directly with (namely Samuel). When contemporary Christians talk about God’s call on their life, the vast majority of the time the meaning is different than what’s observed in the call of David as King. God calling David to the Kingship of Israel is different than a Christian today feeling, sensing, or following a call in their life. The similarity in the calling that David experienced and the one that we experience today is that a choice is presented in the life of the person by God.

You and I will make dozens of choices today. Some of these choices are based on our own previously made choices, but most of our decisions are based on factors that are out of our control. David wasn’t in control when he was anointed King. God’s choice for David as King wasn’t the result of David’s talents for Kingly leadership (the dude smelled like sheep poop and fought bears and lions; while he is the ideal candidate for an interview with GQ or Art of Manliness, he isn’t what the people of Israel would have considered Kingly), his political alignments were wrong (He wasn’t from Saul’s household and therefore wasn’t in line for peaceful transition to the throne; he wasn’t even from the same tribe or family clan), and lastly (and perhaps most importantly for us in a constantly postmodern identity crisis) David didn’t choose this for himself!

Before you are born there are already hundreds of decisions that are being made all around you that you have no say in. Your family lineage, socioeconomic class, parents, language group, and geographic region are all because of decisions others have made. Once we are born, we take actions every day that are based on decisions we make on a moment by moment basis. There is a noticeable and absolute difference between present circumstances that are based on other's decisions, and decisions that we have made that create present circumstances. In David’s life he was put into a situation of circumstances that he didn’t choose, but he was responsible for what he did in the situation he was placed in.

The distinction between choices we make and the circumstances that we are put into is an important one to make when discussing issues of human identity. To say God has made someone a particular way when in actuality that is a choice on the part of the person, or to misattribute a particular choice to circumstance is nothing less than avoidance. This particular distinction between the choices we make and the circumstances created by others choices is essential in dissecting human identity. Often our understanding of who we perceive ourselves and others to be is based on the choices we make or the circumstances we are in.

You and I are in situations every day that arise both from our own choices and the choices of others. Beyond the situations we are in because of our choices, extends the reality that we are in people groups in a similar fashion. The people groups that we are a part of extrapolate into one of two types:

  1. People groups we actively choose to be a part of.
  2. People groups we are passively included in.

On the night of November 24, 2014 the St. Louis region was burning with passion. People from all walks of life were wrestling with circumstances they were not in charge of. The discussion has continued since that night due to many faithful individuals from a diverse spectrum of people groups. Respecting and recognizing the origin of a people group is key to understanding its innermost workings.

Two questions to wrestle with as the first part of this three-part study comes to a close:

  1. You are not in charge of the vast majority of decisions that get made to determine your circumstances in life. Regardless of where you fall theologically on the topic of predestination, you are a part of groups and are subject to circumstances that are not by your own choice. What people groups are you a part of that you didn’t choose to join?
  2. You are in charge of the people groups you are actively a member of. Just as David had to make a choice about how to respond to his anointing by Samuel, so too you have a choice about how you respond to the life circumstances and people groups you are a part of. What people groups are you actively a member of?