I was one of the 27 million who tuned into the first episode of The Bible TV series last week, a somewhat skeptical participant but quickly intrigued by the visualization of my frequently read stories from Genesis and Exodus of the Old Testament scripture. Then I heard from people: churchgoers and those who hadn’t darkened a church door in years, who were amazed by the quality, intrigued by the Message-like storytelling, and inquisitive about what I thought of the interpretation. And my eyes were opened to the opportunity The Church has, if it could only harness people’s desire, their hunger, to learn more about what the Bible has to say about God and what God wants for us. That blew away the critics who focused on what they didn’t like: on creative liberties taken, on perceived defects in the acting and special effects, and on omissions. And it guaranteed I would be watching the second episode.
Tonight, after a quick recap, the series followed through with Joshua’s conquest of Jericho, thanks to two brave spies, the determination of the prostitute Rahab, and the promise of the one true God. Given that it is the grittiest, most SFX-free story we’d seen so far, I was struck by how it conveyed relationships in a way that anyone could relate to (the outcast and despised woman, the hope sought in any way possible, the hearsay of an amazing God and a dangerous people). And then it segued into one of the strangest stories of the Bible, that of Samson, the world’s strongest man who is free of all vices but the one that does him in: lust. (I’m sure someone will be miffed by the casting choice or the depiction, but my bigger question was, why Samson and not Gideon? But it doesn’t change the point. God uses broken people for the good of all.)
While the History Channel’s “other” original miniseries, Vikings, flounders pointlessly, The Bible continues to drive home the working of God in the midst of humanity’s, specifically Israel’s, troubled decision-making and unfaithfulness. We can see consequences arise directly from acts, whether of lust or greed or unfaithfulness, and we can also see the grace of God shining in the midst of our brokenness.
That cycle of faithfulness, unfaithfulness, and grace is evident in the second major arc of the night, as the priest Samuel (William Freeman AKA Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark) first unwillingly taps Saul to be the king of Israel and later David. (It did strike me that the on-again/off-again narration seems to be an attempt at fast-forwarded storytelling more than a necessary tool, but maybe that’s just the Keith David reading. But that’s merely an aside!) David does what he does with Goliath in a reasonably quick depiction, and we’ve got a full-on David versus Saul controversy with the incumbent clearly losing the populace vote. We see the honor of David (as well as his transparent faith) and the accelerating madness (and faithfulness) of Saul, and it makes sense that two people could encounter an opportunity to enter the stream of God’s grace and choose different paths.
Given that the two episodes tonight were called “Homeland” and “Kingdom,” we can see how the people of Noah and Abraham, who were not “landed” folk, came to establish themselves as a people of the land of Israel. We see their movement to that end, as well as the way that David rises quickly from shepherd boy to king, even showing how you can “take the boy out of the country but not take the country out of the boy.” We see how the God who traveled with his people everywhere became a God who had a place of worship—even if the people needed that more than he did.
But ultimately, I love that the “man after God’s own heart” is a seriously flawed human being. I love that the originator of the Davidic line has some issues of his own, and that while we might revere David for who he is, he is by no means perfect. (In fact, we hear Bathsheba tell him that it’s wrong—and we hear Nathan condemn it, too.) Not only is David adulterous but the depiction here shows the closeness of relationship in David and Uriah that makes the transgression even more of a betrayal. Is it really true that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Were Saul and David both done in by their own corruption? Or are they different? (I say yes, but other viewers may disagree. Personally, I object to the lack of the parable Nathan tells as the story allows David to condemn himself. But the main points are definitely preserved.)
In this second episode, we’ve seen the movement of the nation of God to Jerusalem; we’ve seen the cycle of faithfulness and favor, unfaithfulness and disfavor, and finally, redemption. We’ve seen the power of God and the weakness of humanity. We’ve seen the struggle to follow the ways of God, and we’ve seen the grace of God to make God’s followers even more then they ever thought imaginable.
And next week? Jesus is coming…