Monday, December 05, 2005

Advent: Week 2 Day 2

The Shepherd, King, and Psalmist: David

Moses died just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan and took possession of their Promised Land. Then that country was divided up, each of the 11 tribes got their own portion. (Levi, the priest-tribe, was the Lord's own; they lived throughout Israel.) The tribe of Judah got a rather southern chunk, within which was a mountain city called Jerusalem.

Many years went by. The people demanded a king. The first one was Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin; things didn't go so well for him. There was a war going on with the Philistines (their name lives on in the term Palestine!) and they had some big ogre (orc? droid? battle-mech?) of a warrior named Goliath....

God sent Samuel to a town of Judah, not far to the south of Jerusalem, called Bethlehem, the "House of Bread". (You may have heard the name already in another context. Now yiou will find out why.)

In that town was a man named Jesse. He had some interesting ancestors: on his grandfather's side he descended from Judah; his grandmother was Ruth (one of the books of the Bible!) he had a rather large family: eight boys, if I recall correctly, and Samuel had to meet every one of the seven. Oh, yeah: the youngest was not there just then, as he was out watching the sheep. But Samuel made them get the youngest back home - and sure enough, he was the one God wanted anointed as the king. This young man was named David.

He wrote (or is said to have written) the Psalms, and probably sang them. Certainly the one which makes very many people think of David is the one which starts "the Lord is my Shepherd". I for one think this one clearly demonstrates an awareness of real shepherding, for no authentic shepherd would try to guard a flock without real weapons at his disposal. (Remember: "you are there with your rod and your staff that give me courage") Hey! There are real wolves and other enemies out there! One of the things I learned not very long ago was a remarkable piece of research which studied the various chants used by Jews in some rather divergent and remote places in the Near East: it was discovered that they sang certain psalms with very similar tunes. Other evidence on this (relating to lack of communication among them, etc) leads to the conclusion that these tunes may actually go back to the tunes used in the Temple! (or perhaps even further back...) the rest of the story is that some of the earliest Christian chants ALSO have melodies like them. Wow, think of it. THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF MUSIC TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

David, as we know, was not exactly the most splendid figure one might want as a king. God told him he would not build the Temple, because he had "bloody hands" - though he did bring peace to Israel. Remember, too, when you hear the genealogy read, that dirty little phrase about "David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. If you don't know that story you need to read it.

Nevertheless: "son of David" was Joseph's "trump card" in his hopeless search for shelter that first Christmas Eve, when he returned to the town of David on Tax Day... And later Jesus would turn quickly, with love, when someone called Him "Son of David!"

Then there is that mysterious symbol, the traditional one from the Jesse Tree, of blue interlocked equilateral triangles, called the "Star of David"... How strange the mathematics of the perfect number six! (But I cannot stop to ponder all that now.) For here, as God promised through the mouth of Nathan, was the next phrase of the great prophesy: From David himself would come forth the ruler whose throne would be established forever. And the symbol reveals the secret: the trinity of earth would be inverted, and combined with the heavenly Trinity, in One who would be David's offspring. Here is GKC, saying it, far better than I can:

If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:186-187]

PS: it is fun and rather easy to make a Star of David with a compass and a ruler.

Before you start, two notes: don't change the compass size while you work. Also, do all the compass work lightly, so you can erase it. (We call that construction work.) The ruler part is the final part, and you can make that in ink when you are done.

1. Draw an outer circle, as big as you want the star to be. (lightly!)
2. Put the point down anywhere on the circle, and swing the pencil so it crosses the circle, marking the two places where it crosses. (do that lightly!) You can mark your starting place #1 (where you put the point down), and the two crossings #2 and #3.
3. Go to each of the places (#2 and #3) you marked, and repeat step 2. If you are watching carefully, you should TWICE mark off the place you labelled #1 - once from each of the two older marks. You will get two NEW marks, which you label #4 and #5.
4. Again go to the the two new markings (#4 and #5), and swing again. If you were careful, they should mark the exact same point, (label it #6) on the opposite side of the circle from your start. When you swing the compass, you will also mark #2 and #3, but you already have done them.
5. Check it - you should now have six points, in pairs at diameters (check with the ruler!) if you want.
6. Now, join the points according to the shape in the above picture. You're going to join 1, 4, 5 together (that's one triangle) and then 2, 3, 6 (that's the other.)

All done.


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