Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 30, 2024

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 Commentary

Renewed for a New Season

In his commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel, John Goldingay observes the way that 1 Samuel ends with Saul’s death, as though the series has ended.  However, it is renewed for a new season and so 2 Samuel picks up the story in the Fall. You can practically hear the voice-over, “Previously in the books of Samuel…” But now the focus of the story has shifted, from Saul as the primary leader, with David darting around in the shadows to David stepping into Saul’s spotlight.

It would be important to note that, although David was anointed by Nathan midway through 1 Samuel, he wasn’t the king yet.  The first few chapters of II Samuel tell about his earning the trust of the people because it is only these two things together — the internal and external call — that make a king.

Similarly, we talk about the internal and external factors that go into a call to ministry.  You may feel prompted to be a pastor or a group of people might want you to be their pastor but, unless both are present, the way forward is not clear.  It may be helpful to remember and to remind your congregation that this doesn’t just apply to church callings but to everyone.  Frederick Buechner said that “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”  2 Samuel, chapters 1-4 demonstrate the people sorting out their allegiances and deciding whether they want to agree with God’s internal call but offering David an external call to serve as their king.

Goldingay observes, “David becomes king in practice, in Israel’s life, only when the people accept him. That will turn out to be a gradual, human, political, messy, conflictual process.” From a human perspective, especially one that wasn’t privy to David’s anointing, it would be easy to see him as an interloper attempting a coup d’etat over Saul’s household.  All of a sudden, David’s choice to respect King Saul — a theme running through I Samuel — makes perfect sense. “He has submitted to Saul in every way except by letting Saul kill him” so that his past behavior could stand against the narratives that others will over against him in this interregnum period.

A Mourner-in-Chief

In times of great tragedy, we look to those who can show us how to respond well.  Thus, after 9/11 Mr. Rogers came back on the air briefly to remind us that, when we are frightened and don’t know what to do, we should look for the helpers.  You can think, too, of that iconic figure of Jackie Kennedy veiled in black, with young John beside her saluting the flag draped coffin of his father, assassinated president John F. Kennedy, Jr. In recent years, Presidents have gone to sites ravaged by natural disaster or sitting with survivors and parents after a school shooting. Leaders show us how to respond well.

By this analogy, David — who is anointed but not yet crowned King of Israel — leads by example.  David’s example is lament.  Walter Brueggemann argues that grieving a loss is one place where power must be laid down.  Death levels all pretense to hierarchy. “When Israel witnesses David in his grief, it sees David in his fullest, most faithful, most powerful  form. This poem marks a deep, precious, and hurtful moment in the life of Israel…for the length of the song, at least, all the dangerous ambiguity of David’s future is bracketed out. There is a moratorium on power for the full honoring of grief. Such poetry serves to give the community time, space, and means whereby to treasure and to relinquish.”

As a pastor preparing to preach this coming Sunday, perhaps we might wonder whether there is such work for us to do on behalf of God’s people. Again from Brueggemann, “the prospect of public grief is a scarce practice in our society, where we are so engaged in self-deception, pretending that everything is ‘all right.’ Underneath that propaganda, however, we are a deeply troubled community with a great deal of unprocessed public hurt. We have no easy way to process hurt, but this poem is a model.”  Is there grief in your community? How can you lead God’s people into grief, sharing it with them and sitting in sorrow until it is time to move on?


In the United States, this will be the Sunday before our Fourth of July celebrations — an apt but complicated time to reflect Biblically on how we relate to our enemies, those we have won over in war and those lost in the cross-fire of our warring ways, which is what David models for us in his lament over Saul and Jonathan. Even though David was anointed by God and even though Saul had fallen out of favor and God both predicted and provided for his downfall, David “took up this lament.”

How far you can go in making this connection between text and context will vary widely in different settings but it may be important to consider as an aspect of Christian discipleship in the political arena.  There is, perhaps, a growing sentiment that, if someone is our enemy, we can treat them any kind of way.  David would instruct us otherwise. According to one commentator: “just as David refused to do Saul harm when he could so, here he refuses to say ill of him: a nation needs to salute its dead leader.” As would Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. As we in the US prepare to celebrate winning our freedom from England almost 250 years ago, this text brings us to the question of our relationship to those who have died — on either side of battle lines (and those caught in the middle) — and how we are to honor them in obedience to God.


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