When I first read this passage, assigned to me to learn by heart for an epic Tell of the book of Acts, I was quite puzzled by Peter using David to explain to “those who are Israelites” that Jesus was something special. I tried to just ignore my puzzlement because I figured “reasons”, I figured Peter was using well-known history to just “work the crowd”, then as I studied it, I figured it was a way for Peter to make some good points about Jesus using David’s words. But this morning when I went through the story again, I was again puzzled by the choice of David. And then suddenly I realized: when you are puzzled by scripture, stop and listen. And it was as if my brain exploded with how powerful the use of David was.
Peter makes the point that David was promised by God that one of his descendants would inherit a throne. Peter makes the point that David, himself, however powerful a King he was, died and was buried and we could go and dig him up and check if we wanted to. And everyone in that crowd would, I bet, agree with me that David was the best, an extremely cool guy. When you read Sam 1 and 2 isn’t it just like a movie with action and romance and broken hearts and terrible mistakes and poetry and children rebelling and so on? One of the biggest David stories is David and Bathsheba, which led to David killing a completely innocent man, a completely loyal man, so he could steal his wife. David is so far from perfect. He confesses to God and offers up a clean heart, once Nathan the prophet tells him a little story.
So by using David and David’s words as an example Peter is reminding the crowd not just that Kings and powers and violence and worldly goals might not be the answer, he’s providing an example of a person who had it all, messed it all up, suffered consequences, and asked for forgiveness. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ ” He confessed, he did not deny it any longer, but confessed.
Peter uses Psalm 16, but surely the crowd would, like me, think about Psalm 51. “Have mercy on me, O God…..Create in me a clean heart, O God/and put a new and right spirit within me.”
In using David to point out how their actions (or inactions) led to the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter is also pointing out that God forgives, that one can confess and turn around. Peter is also showing that what King David could not do — create a world in right relation to God with perfect love and harmony. And pointing to Jesus as ascending to a throne that has far more than worldly power, far more hope for everyone, for all the world. Jesus might not have been the Messiah they expected. He might, actually, have been far more.
There’s also the nuance that David’s actions killed his son Absalom, and one of history’s most heart-rending cries is David’s: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son?” A father has lost a son.
There’s just an ocean of story here. I think Peter used David and David’s psalms for all these reasons and perhaps for many more. But certainly, the Israelites in the crowd would have understood all the sub-text. I just love discovering all these connections and inter-links and pushing past my lazy brain, to not settle for “reasons”. Thank you Holy Spirit for breathing into me, illuminating my heart, enriching my soul.
For the glory of God!