Is King David A New Adam?
“David is indeed a cagey and capable new Adam, both tending and defending the new Eden,” so Robert Barron contends in his recent commentary on 2 Samuel (2 Samuel, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 24). According to Barron, David is a new Adam, Israel is the Garden of Eden, and David’s enemies (e.g., the Amalekites, and even Absalom) represent the serpent. This typological approach is an interesting perspective from which to view 2 Samuel. It definitely causes one to think outside of the box. While this might seem like an eccentric approach at first, scholars have noted for years the connections between Genesis and 1&2 Samuel. In fact, Barron’s approach is indebted to G.K. Beale who makes similar comparisons (A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Although Barron’s overall approach has an element of typology in it, it would be unfair to characterize the entire commentary this way. In this post I will explore the connections he makes between King David’s kingdom and Genesis and in a future post I will review and evaluate his commentary on 2 Samuel.
How Does David Function as a New Adam in 1&2 Samuel?
Barron notes that the dominant theme of 2 Samuel is the “contrast between the kingly path taken by Saul and that taken by David” (p. 3). This contrast introduces such questions as: “Does Israel require a king? What makes a king good or bad? How does the kingship of Yahweh relate to human kingship?” (p. 3). To answer these questions, Barron asserts that it is necessary “to return to the very beginning of the Bible, to the accounts of creation and the garden of Eden” (p. 3). Therefore, Barron’s typological approach is borne out of the necessity of understanding the fundamental problems encountered in the initial episodes of Genesis. He notes, as do many commentators on Genesis, the original couple was created to rule over creation. They were given “dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Thus Adam was the first king. Through “tilling” the soil and “keeping” the garden, Adam functioned as a good king. His rule, like that of the God whose image he was created in (Gen. 1:27), was to be benevolent, not oppressive (pp. 4-5).
Unfortunately, the rule of the first king and queen ended in failure, a “consequence of bad leadership” (p. 5). The reason for expulsion from the garden is a result of rejecting God’s word and seeking to “rule without reference to God” (p. 5). At this point, the typological parallels with 2 Samuel become significant. As Barron notes, the theme of 2 Samuel (and we could also include 1 Samuel) is the difference between Saul’s and David’s kingship. Like rebellious Adam, Saul’s offense is a rejection of the word of God (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul is noted throughout 1 Samuel for making his own decisions without reference to God. This insight is very important in understanding the message of 1&2 Samuel correctly. Scholars such as Gunn and Jobling seek to excuse Saul on the basis of misinterpreting God’s/Samuel’s commands. In the view of these scholars, God (and Samuel) becomes a malevolent presence intent on dooming Saul no matter what he does. However, the parallels with Adam, which Barron draws upon, act as a biblical aid in clearing up this scholarly misinterpretation of the story.
In a helpful analogy, Barron compares God and his law to someone seeking to learn piano or golf. The instructor lays down certain rules, if followed, these rules lead to a person finding the freedom to become an excellent piano player or golfer. “The lawgiving instructor is therefore not the enemy of the student’s freedom but rather the condition for its possibility” (p. 14). Similarly, Saul’s rejection of God’s commandments is what makes him a failure as king, just as Adam’s rule in the garden failed because of his disobedience. In contrast, as a new Adam, David is the man after God’s heart. One illustration of this is his treatment of Saul. Barron notes that, “David’s stubborn unwillingness to do violence to Saul is another sign of his kingly worthiness, for it indicates that his actions were predicated not primarily on self-interest but rather on an attentive listening to the voice of God” (p. 15).
Barron also seeks to demonstrate a connection between Adam and David by tracing this connection through biblical history. Following the history of sin in Genesis 1-11, God makes a new start with Abram. Barron states, “Abram will be a new Adam, cultivating a new Eden and expanding the boundaries of that ordered garden to include all the peoples of the world” (p. 6). The promise to Abram of numerous descendants recalls the original command to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply.” “The royal promise is extended to Abram’s grandson” (i.e. Jacob, p. 7). Through Jacob, the nation of Israel is birthed whom Barron sees as a “‘corporate Adam’ endowed with the privileges and bearing the responsibilities of the first tender of the garden” (p. 7). It is through Jacob’s deathbed blessing that, “the kingly task will be passed on to and through Judah and his tribe” (p. 7). Barron continues tracing the theme of kingship by noting, “Throughout these opening books of the Bible, Yahweh has not yet found the king in whom his own divine purposes can become utterly incarnate. Hence Israel’s identity remains compromised and its mission unfulfilled. It is against this rich and complex background that the emergence of Saul and David in the first book of Samuel has to be interpreted” (p. 7). Therefore, “from Adam on, Israel is marked by both good and bad kingship. God (and Samuel) stand opposed to those forms of kingship that mimic the style and substance of the kings of the surrounding nations, but they ardently desire a form of kingship in accord with God’s designs” (p. 8).
Tracing the theme of kingship from Creation to David, not only substantiates Barron’s approach, it also helps to explain what many scholars see as a contradictory view of kingship in 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8-12, scholars frequently note the interplay between positive and negative statements about the kingship. Some are at a loss to explain these seemingly contradictory views, while others see it as the result of a clumsy editor. Barron’s approach demonstrates that kingship has always been a part of God’s plan and purpose. However, it is not simply kingship per se that God seeks to bestow–that is, kingship as defined by the world–but rather a king that would honor and obey God. This is the point of Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12: “If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (vv. 14-15).
Barron also sees his approach as a helpful way of characterizing Israel’s (David’s) enemies. For example, he is hard pressed to understand God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites. “Why in the world would God decree that this beleaguered little people should be ruthlessly and relentlessly attacked?” His answer is to see Origen’s allegorical approach as helpful in this case. “Origen argues that, throughout the Bible, Israel stands for the ways and purposes of God, and the enemies of Israel stand for those powers that are opposed to God” (p. 9). He continues, “These various peoples are symbolically akin both to the tohu wabohu [formlessness and void] (Gen. 1:2) from which God brought the ordered world and to the serpent that Adam rather unsuccessfully managed in the garden. Though it is not entirely clear why this should be the case, the biblical authors seem to isolate Amalek as particularly expressive of this ‘nothing’ that militates against Israel” (p. 10). Although I’m not so sure that “beleaguered” is a correct designation for the Amalekites, nonetheless, I believe he (and Origen!) are correct in seeing these enemy peoples as a manifestation of the “seed of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). As a result of Saul’s disobedience, Barron asks the following provocative questions: “Might Saul’s unwillingness to slaughter the herds of the Amalekites and to put to death their king symbolically represent the sort of confusion in regard to intrinsically evil acts that undermines God’s purposes? And therefore might one come to sympathize with Samuel’s conviction that Saul has, by this act, effectively forfeited his kingship?” (p. 10). In other words, a king who doesn’t protect his people against their enemies, is no king at all. And just as certainly, a king who does not wage war with God’s enemies, cannot be God’s (or a godly) king.
Conclusion: King David is a New Adam
While there were times in my reading of Barron’s commentary on 2 Samuel, that I thought he was perhaps carrying the analogy of David as the new Adam too far, I must admit that I always found his interpretations challenging me to think of this narrative in new ways. The above examples I have given are not an exhaustive catalogue by any means of the comparisons made between David and Adam, but they are enough to demonstrate that such an approach is indeed fruitful. I also believe it proves helpful in getting at the significant theme(s) of 1&2 Samuel which modern scholarly efforts sometimes cloud. Like all typological/allegorical approaches, each interpretation must be questioned and validated. But, as I have written elsewhere (Typology: A Key to Interpreting the Bible), typology is an important method that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. Barron’s commentary is an excellent contribution on Samuel studies and in my next post I will review it as a whole.