Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 4, 2021
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Commentary
This is a little text, but it is the exclamation point of the whole David story. He gets everything God promised him, and then some. The boy whom we first met when he was shepherding his father’s flock becomes the King of Israel, the shepherd of God’s flock. And he establishes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. It will become the locus of God’s saving activity and the focus of the biblical hope.
But it wasn’t easy getting here. After the deaths of David’s worst enemy, the mad king Saul, and David’s closest friend, the beloved Jonathan, there were 7 and ½ years of bloodshed and treachery and sorrow. When Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle, a fierce civil war broke out between David and the house of Saul, that is, between Judah in the south and the rest of Israel in the north, as represented by the generals Joab and Abner. The house of Saul refused to cede the throne to its God anointed successor and instead put Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, on the throne. It was not a peaceful transfer of power, but, as the ensuing chapters point out, that wasn’t David’s fault.
Oh, yes, David was involved in the civil war, but he never shed innocent blood. That is, he was innocent of bloodguilt. The writer of the story takes great pains to establish David’s innocence in this respect. As the war progressed, David’s side got stronger, while Saul’s got weaker. Finally, the great general Abner (on Saul’s side) defected to David’s side after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by Ish-Bosheth. Abner brought much of the northern kingdom with him.
When Joab learned that Abner had visited David, he suspected treachery and set out to stop the supposed plot against David. But he had an ulterior motive. Abner had inadvertently killed Joab’s younger brother, Asahel, and Joab wanted revenge. When Joab killed Abner, Ish-Bosheth was left without his greatest defender. Two of his war lords took advantage of the situation, murdering their king and taking his severed head to David in hopes of a reward. What they got instead was exactly the same reward David gave the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul—a brutal execution.
Thus, David has blood on his hands; he is “a man of blood.” But he had comported himself honorably through the whole bloody mess– mourning the death of his chief opponent and his general, as he had mourned Saul; visiting justice on those who laid their hands on his enemies; and refusing to seize the throne that God had promised him. When he finally gets that throne in our text, it wasn’t because David had grasped it; it was a gift from God. David’s honor is intact, so far. We will see him lose it in a few chapters.
But for now, David is the rightful and righteous claimant to the throne. The leaders of the northern coalition see that. So, when they find themselves without a leader, they come, hat in hand, to the man they had fiercely battled. David has been king of Judah for those 7 and ½ years, ruling from the southern city of Hebron.
That’s where the elders of Israel come to David, to invite/implore him to become their king. They have three reasons. First, he is their “flesh and blood.” He is family, a cousin, one of the covenant people composed of the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. Second, he had been their de facto military leader even when Saul was king; Saul may have slain his thousands, but David had slain his tens of thousands. Third, they somehow knew that God had promised David this kingship. “And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”
David is persuaded by their reasoning, even though he knew very well that God had given him this position. Here the human and the divine come together; the leaders plead and God keeps his promises. Thus, the one whom God had anointed by the hand of Samuel all those years ago is now anointed by the leaders of Israel. But first he makes a compact, a covenant, with them. His reign would not be based on power, but on mutually agreed upon responsibilities and promises, that is, on covenant.
The order of words here is significant. David “made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord.” He was the primary partner in the covenant, the sovereign who dictated the terms. Although he was not a typical Middle Eastern strong man, he was in charge. But he was in charge because the Lord was with him. Thus, this covenant was signed and sealed “before the Lord.” It was, in other words, not merely a political and military agreement; it was a theological agreement. Then, before the Lord, David was anointed “king over all Israel.” He was the new Messiach. Exclamation point! God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. This is David’s crowning achievement, the beginning of Israel’s Golden Age.
The next verses (4-5) summarize that Golden Age using a regnal formula found throughout the Old Testament. Beginning to reign in the south at Hebron at the age of 30, he reigned 7 and ½ years down there. Then he reigned for 33 years over all Israel in Jerusalem. Can the number 40 here be an historical accident, when Israel wandered 40 years and Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness?
But wait? How did David come to reign in Jerusalem? Well, that’s another story, and our reading for today inexplicably excises that part of II Samuel 5. And that’s inexcusable, given how Jerusalem looms literally and theologically in the Bible. Verses 6-8 give us a brief account of how David conquered it by stealth rather than sword.
Our text picks up the story with a sentence that foreshadows centuries of history. “David took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David.” There is more in those words than we might guess at first. It was the City of David, not the city of Judah or Israel. Indeed, it was located more or less at the midpoint of the Promised Land, between Judah and Israel. Thus, it was a neutral site, an ancient Geneva, where David could reign in a place that was uniquely his own. What’s more, he let the former residents, the Jebusites, stay in town; one scholar suggests that he kept them around to become the urban officials that the tribal Israelites were not equipped to be. David was not only a sweet singer and a mighty warrior; he was also a wise leader.
Safely and securely enthroned in the fortress of his own city, David expanded the city. It was only 12 acres big when he conquered it, but he took advantage of the steep slopes and cliffs that surround Jerusalem in 3 sides and made it stronger and larger. Thus, by his own ambition and wisdom, David became more and more powerful.
But then comes the concluding sentence of our reading, which puts things back in perspective; “because the Lord God Almighty, Yahweh, God of hosts, was with him.” That is the secret of David’s story. He had a brilliant career because he was always attended by the covenantal Lord of Israel, the commander of the heavenly hosts. Even as Yahweh would take up residence in the temple in Jerusalem, God was with David in person, a foreshadowing of that Son of David who would be called Immanuel.
This is the exclamation point of the great story of covenant faithfulness by both the man David and the God of Israel. David was a man after God’s own heart who remained faithful to God through all the vagaries and depredations of his bloody history (until that awful affair with Bathsheba, which would have dreadful consequences for David’s family and for all Israel). And the God of Israel was faithful to his promises to David. That mixture of human responsibility and divine sovereignty, of performance and promise, of sin and grace is the story of God’s people throughout history. From this we are reminded that our faithfulness matters, but God’s faithfulness matters more, because in the end, it’s all grace.
That theme of grace is underlined in this little text by the confluence of such crucial biblical themes as King, Messiah, and Jerusalem. The stage is now set for the role of Jerusalem in Israel’s subsequent history, climaxing in the crucifixion and resurrection of David’s greatest Son in Jerusalem, and climaxing again when that Son shall return again with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven on the last day. “Of the increase of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
The image of human responsibility and divine sovereignty being interwoven through history and our story reminded me of the poem written by Corrie ten Boom, the brave Dutch Christian who suffered so much under the Nazis.
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
he weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times he weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper
And I the underside
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvass
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned.
He knows, he loves, he cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to him.
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