After thirty years of battles and betrayals, David finally becomes the king of Israel, after conquering Jerusalem. His opponents tell him it’s impossible to enter the city, and yet David manages to win the city, and then make it Israel’s new center.
Roger Nam writes on this passage for Working Preacher.
Scripture text can be found here.
Uniting the nation of Israel, under God’s rule, is a chaotic process. Our story gives us a snippet of one of the many battles fought by David before he becomes Israel’s king. Warfare is a bloody undertaking, and the story doesn’t spare the details of betrayals, killings and mutilations. Along the way, David conquers the city of Jerusalem, and turns it into the nation’s capital. As a final sign of triumph, he moves the ark to Jerusalem, dancing with joy as the ark travels.
This fulfills a long-ago provision by God to make David Israel’s king. Years ago (1 Samuel 16:13) God rejected Saul as Israel’s king, and sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the new king. After that time, “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Still, God’s work’s is slow, and years go by before David actually is the nation’s king.
To make David the king, “all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, ‘Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.’ 3So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” God has already anointed David but the voice of the people confirms God’s choice. Valued for his battle skills, David’s greatest triumph comes when he conquers Jerusalem.
The text has some jarring notes, mostly left out by the lectionary selection of verses. The story is written from Israel’s point of view, and so the people who already lived in the “promised land” are just obstacles to be conquered. The mention of the blind and lame in the text is problematic – it hits our ears oddly, with our understanding of people who have disabilities. The word “lame” is rightly disappearing from our common language, and is no longer an acceptable adjective even for something that didn’t go well. And the lectionary stops before the story of the unfortunate Uzzah, who reaches out to straighten out the ark as it travels, and is struck dead by God for touching it. The lectionary leaves these stories out, but they help us understand the multi-layered story of our faith, and the connections between our ancestors in faith and the land around them.
- David has a long apprenticeship before he becomes the king. He first plays the lyre for King Saul when Saul is tormented, and serves as Saul’s armor-bearer (16:21.) Along the way, he sees the stresses of being king, and observes the battles against Israel’s enemies. There’s a long gap between God’s choice of David as the next king, and this story, when he is chosen by the people as their next king. Have you ever experienced a similar gap in your own life – the time between something ending, and something new beginning? Or a time when God was ripening something, and getting it ready? Similar things happen to communities of people. Is God preparing something in your faith community, something that’s taking shape slowly?
- David’s kingship is presented as a choice by God, but also by the people, who come to David and ask him to be their king. My tradition, the Presbyterian Church (USA) understands ordained office, including both ministers and church officers, in the same way. God’s call is confirmed by the voice of the people. How does that dual process work in your tradition? Is the voice of the people a way to reign in our temptation to self-promotion, or self-delusion?
- Long ago, the prophet Samuel warned the new nation of Israel that they didn’t really want a king, but the people insisted. Is there something in us that needs to have someone in charge? What do we look for in a leader? There are different styles of leadership, and the sermon might talk about those in light of our faith. David is chosen by the people for his battle skills. What qualities do we need now, in our faith communities?
What are your thoughts? Join the conversation in the comments below. We’re eager to hear where you’re going this week.
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