Summary: David becomes King by God’s plan but as a result of a series of events which are sometimes ungodly in nature. God is able to use ungoldy actions by sinful men and women to bring about his good purposes in history.
I think it’s easy to have a romantic view of the history of David as King of Israel. It’s such a great story isn’t it? The good looking shepherd boy who becomes king. The youngest son who is chosen and anointed by God to lead his people. The young lad who defeats the battle seasoned giant Goliath. The musician who turns out to be a great warrior. The young king who falls in love with the beautiful Bathsheba. It’s got all the ingredients of a classic chick flick hasn’t it? That is until you read the details of the story. Then you discover that sometimes the fulfilling of God’s plans takes more than romantic wishful thinking. Sometimes overcoming the obstacles requires political acumen and even a strong right arm. And sometimes God’s plans come to fulfilment through the unjust actions of sinful men.
What we’ll discover today is that God is in control of history, but his control of history doesn’t preclude things happening that are outside the way he would have things work. There’s a paradox at work in the history of Israel and indeed in our own history that can cause us great perplexity when we look at the details within the big picture.
Saul is dead. Now nothing stands in the way of David assuming the kingship. David is still living in Ziklag in the territory of the Philistines, so he enquires of the Lord whether the time has come to move up to one of the towns of Judah and make his claim public. The Lord says "Go up." Go to Hebron.
Hebron is near the Oaks of Mamre where Abraham first lived in the land and where he purchased a burial cave for Sarah. It’s also one of the cities that aided David when Saul was chasing him. It’s just south of Jerusalem and is the highest city in Israel. So it’s a fitting place for him to take up residence and to be crowned king. But not yet of the whole of Israel. Politics takes over and it’s only Judah at this stage that recognises his anointing by God.
Now I’d like you to notice how even someone as well respected as David, someone who’s outdone Saul in killing the Philistines can be ignored when it comes to the leadership of the nation.
So why is that? Why is it that someone with obvious gifts, with the clear calling of God can be opposed by God’s own people? If you’ve had anything at all to do with the Diocese of Melbourne you’ll realise that this is a phenomenon that’s still present with us today. Even someone as gifted and personable as our current Archbishop has his strong opponents within the diocese. I’m not talking about people in the media, or people from the gambling lobby or some non-Christian power group. You could expect them to be opposed to someone in the Archbishop’s position, particularly when he speaks out on issues of public importance. But no, I’m talking about our own brothers and sisters within the Church. Why do they refuse to accept his role as our spiritual head? It’s the same question we face here.
Why did the people of the 11 northern tribes take so long to recognise the King that God has provided for them, despite David’s attempts to at least get the people of Jabesh-Gilead on side? Well, the answer lies in the person of Abner. Abner is a politician as well as a general. He has his own agenda for Israel. He wants to maintain his power and influence in the north and he does it by taking one of Saul’s sons and making him king of Israel. Israel is still a disparate group of loosely connected tribes and they seem happy to take Saul’s son as their king if he brings with him Abner and the remains of Saul’s army.
And so begins the first of a number of civil wars that will mark the history of Israel for some years to come.
Abner is matched on David’s side by Joab. Joab and his 2 brothers are the leaders of David’s Guerilla brigade that’s been so successful up to this point in fighting the Philistines and the Amalekites. And Joab is as power hungry as Abner.
The two armies fight it out in the absence of David and Saul’s son, Ishbaal. They begin by organising a battle of champions. Each side selects their 12 best men and they’re sent to fight it out. Well, if you thought the Rugby Union World Cup was tough, it’s nothing compared to this contest. In the end there’s a surprising result. Both sides are killed by each other. Instead of there being a clean cut end to the contest (if you’ll excuse the pun), the result is pandemonium. Both sides pour out onto the field and begin a fierce battle for superiority until in the end Abner’s men are defeated.