30th June 2014 | Dave Bookless | 6 comments

King David – eco-poet

David was a man of contrasts and often contradictions: shepherd boy and powerful King; mighty warrior and sensitive poet; saint, sinner and song-writer. I want to suggest adding nature-poet and eco-theologian to that list. Whilst there’s much scholarly debate about the Davidic authorship of the Psalms, I’m taking the canonical line here, working on the assumption (as both Old and New Testaments do) that the 73 Psalms attributed to David and possibly some of the un-attributed ones were either by him personally, or from a Davidic ‘school’ which reflected his views.

‘David in the wilderness with sheep’, by William Dice – National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

One striking thing about the Psalms attributed to David is the nature writing they contain. Here are just a few:

The glaring omission from this list is Psalm 104, the most complete and beautiful nature poem in the Psalms, and quite probably in all ancient literature. It’s only missing because it’s not attributed to David. However it appears to be in direct continuity, in language and style, with Psalm 103 (which is ascribed to David) and more significantly it picks up on the nature themes in the other Davidic Psalms. Whilst Psalm 103 praises God for his acts in history and his compassion towards people, in Psalm 104, humans are but one amongst the many recipients of God’s love and care. Even the lions, which David hunted in his youth and which his culture would have seen as threatening, look to God to provide their food (vs. 21–22). The night belongs to them as much as the day belongs to people and other animals.

The Davidic Psalms are neither romantic urban musings nor tree-hugging eco-spirituality. They are the product of a mature faith in God, rooted in scripture, experience and nature. God is Creator, Sustainer and Saviour not just of people but of all creatures. The Psalms balance a faith that is intensely personal, wondering at how God forms us in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139) and loves and forgives us despite our frequent failings and inconsistencies (Psalm 51), with a knowledge that God’s interests are much wider than our individualistic concerns but include the whole of creation. The church needs more songs and poems like these!

About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation.

View all posts by Dave Bookless

6 responses to “King David – eco-poet”

  1. Jim Hunt says:

    This is great stuff from an A Rocha person. I have met you, Dave, with A Rocha Auckland, New Zealand, and want to add this. I write on Care of Creation in our Diocese and keep reminding people of how much more the telescope and the microscope have shown us, and of tiny creatures in the sea and in the soil that affect everything. King David includes all life in what he says, and we too can marvel at the things we are discovering. What I read into it is that God is now showing us so many things which can help us into the new world of clean renewable energy and understanding more of how things work. God, having made these things, has known about them all the time, but showing them up now is one ore proof of His continuing care. Jim Hunt.

    • I love this comment almost as much as I love the blog post itself! So brilliant to hear Christians engaging with all this.

      • Dave Bookless says:

        Thanks Jim and Joanna for your encouragement, and for your work in New Zealand and in Sheffield! It’s great to see Christians around the world working and praying together on caring for God’s world.

  2. I love the Psalms. In the Psalms David shares so much of human emotion and feeling. As you share, the Psalms also teach us how to see the world and creation. Given the beauty of wonder of God’s creation, it only seems right that we should take care of it.

    For myself, I also love that the Psalms are essentially prayers. They teach me how to speak to and relate to God. These Psalms remind me that creation should be part of my conversation with God.

  3. Naw Ju Paw says:

    Dear Dave
    Thank you so much for your article. I will share it to my community.

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