Summary: David is first of all the Shepherd King. That is, he rules with humble loving-kindness, reflecting the love and grace of God, trusting him to bring the victories he needs. But secondly he’s, at the same time, a warrior king, using all the military prowess
Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth is dead. David is now free to assume the kingship of all of the combined nation of Israel and Judah. The reason this has come about is that two of Ish-Bosheth’s own men have assassinated their king. You’ll find the story of this murder in 2 Sam 4, where David once again treats such evil doers with the justice they deserve. Just like the Amalekite in ch1 they think David will be please with them for removing his main rival to the throne. They think he’ll reward them for their help. But no, David isn’t pleased with them. On the contrary he’s angry because they’ve killed an innocent man in his own house; in fact in his own bed. On top of killing their king, there’s something outrageous to David’s mind about disturbing the peace, the shalom, of a person’s home. This seems to be part of his outrage as he passes judgement on them.
Like the Amalekite in ch 1, these 2 men have misread David. In fact their misreading is so far from the truth that it’s lamentable. They think he’s a king who’s anxious to gain power over the whole country. In fact they can’t conceive of anything else. But as we discover here, this is far from the case. Instead, he’s a King who lives in a God-alive world. He’s a king with a strong faith in God. Do you remember the definition of faith? Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. David hasn’t yet attained the promise of God, but he knows that God is trustworthy. And he’s willing to wait for God’s time. So here is the first thing we see about David from today’s passage. He’s the waiting king.
The Waiting King
Now think about this. It takes 7 years from David being made king of Judah before he’s finally made king of Israel. What must that have been like? Imagine the patience that was required to wait for God to sort things out; to withstand the temptation to jump in and organise a coup. But that’s what David does. He waits and he waits, until at last the people of the 11 northern tribes come around.
Now notice that this waiting isn’t procrastination. We don’t get a picture here of someone who just can’t make the decision to go for it. In fact just the opposite. He’s quite decisive when it comes to the question of what to do with these two assassins. Nor is he sitting around doing nothing. He continues to consolidate his position as king in Hebron to the point where the Philistines are so concerned about him becoming king over the whole country. But he is willing to wait for the people of the northern tribes to make up their mind. Eugene Petersen describes his waiting as poised submissiveness. It’s a not-doing that leaves adequate space and time for God to initiate actions through others.
And so the picture we have of David continues to grow as we see him waiting with a combination of confidence and humility. Here is a leader without an ego. Here is a king who’s willing to wait until his people are ready to follow him. And not for the last time, might I say.
Well, finally the whole nation of Israel decides to make David their king. Maybe it took the death of Abner for them to be able to think for themselves. Or maybe this was Abner’s final accomplishment before he was killed by Joab.
In any case we find, at the start of ch5, all the tribes of Israel coming to David at Hebron with a message: "We are your own flesh and blood. 2In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ’You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’" They’ve come to the realisation that their destiny and David’s are connected. They share a common bond in their descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And further, they realise that their future success as a nation depends on God and his choice of king. Again, this may be what Abner has told them after he changed his allegiance. But certainly they’ve heard that God has anointed David as their king and are now willing to follow God’s choice.
But notice that in their message they introduce what’s a totally new concept for Israel. David is to be the Shepherd King.
The Shepherd King (v2)
David began life as a shepherd and now he takes on the mantle of the shepherd king. Perhaps we don’t realise the significance of this ascription. We’re so used to the notion of the shepherd as a metaphor for the kings of Israel. But this is the first time the idea is mentioned. Well, God as their shepherd is a title that goes back to Genesis 49. But from here on it’s a metaphor that will be used for the king throughout the history of Israel. From this time on the kings of Israel are meant to reflect the rule of God over his people. So the king should be a shepherd of his people just as God is. Mind you they don’t always do their job of shepherd well, but that doesn’t take away the fact that that’s what they’re meant to be. And of course that’s why when Jesus comes he describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the last and the greatest of the kings, the one who truly shepherds his people the way God does.