Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Mercy of David


Anonymous, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul and Announces the Theft
From Old Testament Miniatures
French (Paris), c. 1244 - 1254
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 638, fol. 34r

“In those days, Saul went down to the desert of Ziph
with three thousand picked men of Israel,
to search for David in the desert of Ziph.
So David and Abishai went among Saul’s soldiers by night
and found Saul lying asleep within the barricade,
with his spear thrust into the ground at his head
and Abner and his men sleeping around him.

Abishai whispered to David:
“God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.
Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear;
I will not need a second thrust!”
But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him,
for who can lay hands on the LORD’s anointed and remain unpunished?”
So David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul’s head,
and they got away without anyone’s seeing or knowing or awakening.
All remained asleep, because the LORD had put them into a deep slumber.

Going across to an opposite slope,
David stood on a remote hilltop
at a great distance from Abner, son of Ner, and the troops.
He said: “Here is the king’s spear.
Let an attendant come over to get it.
The LORD will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness.
Today, though the LORD delivered you into my grasp,
I would not harm the LORD’s anointed.”


 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
(First Reading for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year)
February 24, 2019

Among the heroes of the Old Testament none are greater than David, who went from shepherd boy to giant killer to king’s son-in-law to king through the favor of God.  Furthermore, for the Christian David is one of a handful of figures from the Old Testament who can be considered as forerunners of Jesus (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10).  And, finally, the New Testament holds David to be a blood ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:6).  Consequently, interest in the life of David has been constant throughout the history of European Christian art. 


Master of Simon of St. Albans and Workshop, Jesse Tree
From the Capucin Bible
French (Champagne), c. 1170-1180
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 16746, fol. 7v
Here David can clearly be seen as a crowned, seated, white bearded king, just above the sleeping figure of his father, Jesse.  Above him are his son, Solomon, and above him, his remote descendents, the Virgin Mary and her Son, Jesus.  Other family members sit on side branches of the main tree stem.  

However, not all the stories that the Old Testament tells about David have been treated equally over the centuries.  By far the most popular images of David have been those which tell the story of David and Goliath.  Perhaps it is the drama of imagining a young boy, a shepherd equipped with only a stone and a slingshot, being able to bring down a hulking giant warrior that has insured the appeal.  


David and Goliath
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 160, fol. 135
This story is closely followed by others, such as David the musician, David dancing before the Ark, David lusting after Bathsheba or lamenting over the death of his rebellious son, Absalom.   
David Playing the Harp
From the Luttrell Psalter
English (Lincoln), c. 1350-1400
London, British Library
MS Additional 42130, fol. 13

Occasionally, one sees a picture of some other aspect of David’s life, under the first king of Israel, Saul.  Most often images focus on the dramatic moment when King Saul, having almost adopted David after the battle with Goliath, suddenly becomes overwhelmed by jealousy of David’s youth and multiple abilities, and tries to kill him with his spear (1 Samuel 18:10-12). 
Guercino, Saul Attacking David
Italian, 1646
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica
Only a few pictures that I have been able to find illustrate the passage used in today’s readings, where David and one of his companions, Abishai, sneak into Saul’s camp and penetrate to the king’s tent, where they find Saul and his officers sound asleep.  Instead of taking advantage of the situation to kill Saul on the spot, David restrains Abishai and, to illustrate what he could have done, removes Saul’s water jar and spear, presumably the same one which Saul had used to try to kill him. In the morning, David calls the attention of Saul’s army to his deed and to his mercy, “though the LORD delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the LORD’s anointed”. 
 
Anonymous, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul and Announces the Theft
From Psalter-Hours of Ghuiluys de Boisleux
French (Arras), c. 1243-1260
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 730, fo1. 66v
By contrast to some of the other scenes from the life of David that have entered the western tradition as paintings or as sculpture, the scenes of David’s raid on Saul’s tent and his subsequent revelation of the spear and water jar, occur primarily, if not solely, to the realm of Biblical illustration.  Initially, it appears in the form of manuscript illuminations.  
Anonymous, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar
from the Sleeping Saul and Announces the Theft
From Histoires bibliques
French (Saint-Quentin), 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 1753, fol.  79
Anonymous, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar
from the Sleeping Saul and Announces the Theft
From Toison d'or by Guillaume Fillastre
French (Paris), 15th-16th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 138, fol. 79v



























Bible Masters of the First Generation, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS 78 D 381, fol. 174v
Jean Colombe and Workshop, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul
From Hours of Anne of France
French, 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol. 264r
It also appeared in at least one instance of decorative wall painting, such as the cycle of scenes from the life of David in the Ricci-Sacchetti palace in Rome.

Cecchino del Salviati, Scene from the Story of David, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul
Italian, c. 1552-1554_
Rome, Palazzo Ricci-Sacchetti, Sala dell'Udienza Invernale
Then, as printing became the primary way in which Bibles were disseminated, it appears in prints or in preparatory drawings for prints.  
After Ambrosius Francken I (Published by Gerard de Jode), David Takes the Spear and Water Jar
Flemish, c. 1579
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Jean Theodore de Bry, David Sparing Saul
French, c. 1600
Magny-les-Hameaux, Musee de Port-Royal des Champs
Ottavio Semino, David Taking the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul
Italian, c. 1590-1600
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Caspar Luyken, David Takes the Spear and Water Jar from the Sleeping Saul
Dutch, 1708
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Only in the middle of the nineteenth century was I able to find the first independent paintings on canvas.
Leon Job, David Spares the Sleeping Saul
French, 1849
Paris, Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts

Richard Dadd, Mercy--David Spareth Saul's Life
English, 1854
Los Angeles , J.Paul Getty Museum
I find it interesting that there seems to have been so little interest in this specific passage.  For it is this act, or rather the deliberate refusal to commit the sin of murder, that set David apart from the men of his age, demonstrates that he has been chosen by God as the next king, and continues to fashion David’s future as king of Israel, founder of a line of kings and, ultimately, ancestor of the Son of God.  And that is of far greater interest and value than the story of a shepherd boy who slays a giant with a slingshot and a stone.

© M. Duffy, 2019

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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