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.
But let’s not lose sight of the significance of this reinvention of the concept of King in Israel. You see Saul had spoilt the concept to a certain extent by ignoring God at critical moments and setting himself up as sovereign in God’s place. Remember how he’d even set up a monument to himself on Mt Carmel? But now David is here. And he’s a totally different character.
Now the king will be the shepherd of a nation that belongs to God. His rule will be based on caring and leading, not on bullying and oppressing his people. He’ll reflect God’s loving-kindness towards his people. And so the people make a covenant with David; a contract that sets out the mutual obligations and responsibilities of the king and the people. And so David becomes king of a united Israel at last.
The Warrior King
Then begins the next stage in his rule. Now we see a second side to the picture of David as king. In something of a paradox with his role as shepherd king, we discover that he’s also called to be a warrior king. Not only does he have to show the characteristic of humble loving-kindness in the way he rules his people, he also needs to exercise strength and military power in order to establish the kingdom that God has given him.
Here we’re given just two episodes from the early part of his reign to illustrate his success as a military leader.
The first example comes as he decides he needs to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. Hebron is in the south right in the middle of the region of Judah. Jerusalem is just within the area of Benjamin. So it’s politically expedient to show his solidarity with the North by making his capital within their territory.
But apart from that, Jerusalem is a much better site for a capital anyway. It’s more central, with better communication routes to the rest of the country and it’s much more easily defended. So much so that it’s never been conquered.
In fact the Jebusites who live there think it’s impregnable. They just laugh when David begins his assault on them. They call out "a blind and lame army could stop you from taking our city" But like so many others they underestimate David’s military prowess and the fact that God is fighting alongside him. This is just another challenge for David that will establish his reputation as a great military leader once and for all.
David realises that Jerusalem’s defence has one flaw, one gap that will allow him in. It has a water shaft, which if his men are able to climb it, will allow access to the city and give victory to his men.
David throws the Jebusites insult back in their face. They in fact are the blind and lame. They’re the ones who will be defeated and in the end it becomes a proverb that the "blind and lame will not enter the palace." A proverb, by the way, that will be overlooked a little while later when it comes to recognising Jonathan’s offspring. But I’m sure Guerin will tell us more about that when we get to ch 9. Well, 1 Chronicles 11 tells us that Joab leads the attack and brings them victory.
Having taken Jerusalem, David then sets about making it truly the city of David. He institutes a building program. He strengthens its defences, making it into a city fit for a king. He enlists the aid of Hiram king of Tyre (modern day Lebanon) who provides him with the timber he needs to build a palace, along with carpenters and stonemasons.
And finally he takes more concubines and wives as a way of establishing relationships with other leaders of the tribes and nation around about. Now the question is, does he do this for the sake of political stability or was it perhaps also to boost his own status? Well, in either case, here he makes what’s probably his first mistake. Here he ignores the instructions that God has given for the king. Listen to what Moses had told the people, back in Deut 17:17: "[The king] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself." But David ignored this instruction and the result was that he had many children - who later caused problems for him! But that’s for another day.
Finally we find an account of the final decisive victory over the Philistines. Now it may be that this event actually happens before he takes up residence in Jerusalem. That may be the implication of the references to him going down to the stronghold in the Negev region of southern Judah where he’d been based previously. If he were already in Jerusalem you’d think he wouldn’t need to take the Negev as his base. But it may be that he simply hadn’t yet had time to strengthen the defences of Jerusalem, so he preferred to fight the Philistines in the area he knew best.
In any case we have the description of 2 decisive encounters. They may be part of the same campaign or two separate ones. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that his victory is final.
But let’s notice 2 things about these victories. First, notice that each victory is preceded by prayer. Each time David enquires of the Lord and the Lord tells him to go up and attack. But secondly, notice that in both cases it’s God who gives them the victory. In the first case God says: "I will surely hand the Philistines over to you." The second time he says: "that will mean the LORD has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army." David’s anointing comes from God and so too does his military success. As so often happens in the history of Israel, God brings them victory when their own efforts have failed for so long.
Here it’s almost as if God is putting his seal of approval on the nation’s decision to accept David as King by giving him this victory over the Philistines. Even to the extent of showing his presence with them by the sound of the wind whistling through the balsam trees as though it’s a great army marching. In fact it is. It’s the sound of the army of the Lord going before them isn’t it?
Well, that’s the end of the Philistines. They’re hardly mentioned again, apart from a brief reference in the summary of his victories in ch8.
David is established in Jerusalem, which has now come to be known as the City of David. He’ll continue his reign for some 30 or so years, continuing to show the dual characteristic of both shepherd and warrior king. With success, though, will come temptation as we’ve seen already with the practice of taking wives and concubines. But nevertheless he’ll establish himself as the great King of Israel, the one all others will be compared to until the coming of Jesus Christ, who will be the good shepherd, the true shepherd king who’ll lay down his life for his followers, to bring victory over sin and death.
Let’s finish by noticing these two sides to David’s reign. Two characteristics that on the surface appear to be opposed, but in fact need to be present in anyone who seeks be one of God’s people. 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 that God has given him, using the generals and fighting men that are at his command, to bring about those same victories. As we’ll see in 2 weeks’ time this is so often the case. God builds but the labour is ours.
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