DAVID BEGINS HIS REIGN 2 Samuel 1–5
“David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years” (2 Sam. 5:4).Even with the fugitive years behind him, David’s first years as ruler were filled with tension. Don’t expect life to be without struggle despite victories along the way.
David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan (1:1–27). His affirmation as king in Judah (2:1–7) led to lengthy civil war (v. 8–3:5). Abner, commander of the enemy army, decided to go over to David (vv. 6–21). David was innocent of two assassinations, of Abner and of Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth (v. 22–4:12). Nevertheless these deaths ended the war, and David was at last confirmed as king over a united Israel (5:1–5). David captured Jerusalem and made it his capital (vv. 6–16). When the Philistines attacked, David handed them the first in a series of devastating defeats (vv. 17–25).
Understanding the Text
“Go, strike him down!” 2 Sam. 1:1–16 The account of Saul’s death here differs from that in 1 Samuel 31. Why the conflict? This account reports what the Amalekite who brought Saul’s crown to David said, not necessarily what happened. The Amalekite told his story, expecting some reward from David for killing his enemy. Instead David ordered him executed, for by his account he was guilty of murdering the Lord’s anointed. David’s reaction showed proper respect for both God and Saul, and clearly indicated that despite his persecution by Saul, David had wished the monarch no personal harm. “David took up this lament” 2 Sam. 1:17–27. David expressed the pain he felt at the death of Jonathan and Saul in a poem intended to honor them. The poem speaks of his love for “Jonathan my brother,” and also honors Saul for his accomplishments. Like David we need to be big enough to appreciate the good qualities of persons who may be personal enemies. “The commander of Saul’s army. . . . made [Ish-Bosheth son of Saul] king” 2 Sam. 2:8–3:5. The name Ish-Bosheth means “son of shame.” His name was actually Esh-Baal, “Baal lives” (cf. 1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39). The biblical writer was unwilling to honor the name of the pagan deity, and substituted “shame.” Ish-Bosheth was actually a figurehead, even though acclaimed king by the northern tribes. The real power belonged to Abner, the army commander. In the civil war that followed, Abner killed a brother of David’s commander, Joab. Gradually David’s forces gained strength, while the northern armies grew weaker. In this case it is possible to fix responsibility for the civil war on the ambition of one man, Abner. In view of the many lives lost and the disruption of the whole kingdom, Abner deserved the death he would soon receive at the hand of Joab. Abner’s fate illustrates the principle of natural consequences stated by Jesus, when he said to Peter, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). “Abner was very angry” 2 Sam. 3:1–21. Abner’s defection to David was precipitated by Ish-Bosheth’s accusation that Abner had slept with one of Saul’s concubines. Such an act would have had political implications in the ancient world, suggesting that Abner intended to claim Israel’s throne. The army commander did not deny the accusation, but was furious at the implied charge of disloyalty (v. 8). In his anger Abner determined to turn the kingdom over to David, and began negotiations to that end. Abner’s words to the elders of Israel are significant. “For some time you have wanted to make David your king” (v. 17). Apparently only fear of Abner and the Benjamites, Saul’s own tribe, had kept Israel’s elders from acting before now (cf. vv. 19–21). Fear often keeps people from doing what they believe is right. Had the elders of Israel feared God more than mere human beings the tragedy of civil war might have been avoided. “Give me my wife Michal” 2 Sam. 3:13–16. Was it love or politics that led David to demand the return of Michal, the daughter of Saul? The chances are politics played a part, for his marriage to Saul’s daughter strengthened David’s claim to Saul’s throne. In any case, note that Michal was not asked if she wished to return to David or not. On David’s demand she was taken away from her weeping second husband, Paltiel, and marched off to rejoin David. Michal had been used by her father (1 Sam. 18:20–25). Here she was apparently used by David. It’s no wonder that later she became hardened and bitter. We need to be especially careful not to use other people for our own ends. Human beings are to be valued, not used, and their interests are to be considered as well as our own. “Wicked men have killed” 2 Sam. 3:22–4:12. Two assassinations cleared the way for David to become ruler of a united Israel; however, he had no part in either, for each was unjustified. Joab’s main objective in killing Abner was revenge for his brother Asahel, whom Abner had killed in battle. Ish-Bosheth’s assassins hoped to be rewarded for bringing David “good news!” David quickly acted to show his people he had nothing to do with either death. He publicly mourned and honored Abner, and he executed the two men who assassinated Ish-Bosheth. We may profit from the sinful acts of others. But we should never rejoice in them. “They anointed David king over Israel” 2 Sam. 5:1–16. Seven years of civil war were over, and David began a 33-year reign over a United Hebrew Kingdom. His choice of Jerusalem as capital was astute. The city, then occupied by a Canaanite people, lay on the border of the north and south. Its choice showed no favoritism to either section of David’s country. The city was also relatively secure—so easily protected that the Canaanites scornfully predicted the lame and blind could hold it against any attacking force. They were wrong. “The Philistines . . . went up in full force” 2 Sam. 5:17–25. During the long civil war Israel posed no threat to the Philistines. Now, however, they attacked, determined to kill or capture David. The Lord guided David to a decisive victory. It is significant that David did not attack first. He had lived for a time near Gath, and had obligations to its ruler, Achish. When the Philistines attacked first, David was free to carry on warfare with them.
By Their Works (2 Sam. 3–4)
Ever notice how easily people are swayed by words? “It’ll be different when we’re married,” the abusive or jealous suitor pleads. “I’ll never do it again if only you come back to me,” is another popular pledge. “I’m not guilty of any such sin,” is something we’ve learned to question, even when uttered by contemporary TV evangelists. No. Words don’t mean much. What really counts is what a person does.It was the same in those turbulent years of internal strife when David was king in Judah, and Saul’s son ruled in the north. “I’m no traitor!” Abner shouted at Ish-Bosheth (see 3:8–11), and then proceeded immediately to negotiate with David (v. 12). Then Abner himself was deceived when Joab sent him a message in David’s name. Abner returned to Hebron only to be murdered by David’s army commander (vv. 22–28). Back in Israel two more high army officers pretended to visit Ish-Bosheth in friendship, entered his house, and stabbed him in the stomach. The two then hurried to David, announcing a religious motive for their actions. “The Lord has avenged my lord the king” (4:1–8). When there is turmoil in our lives, we can easily become confused. Especially if the people partly responsible glibly confuse issues with words. When that happens, we need to remember that words can be deceitful. The evidence we need to rely on is what a person does, not what he or she says. Archeologists believe the city of Jerusalem looked like this in the time of David and Solomon. The city probably had a population of 3,000–3,500.
In a trustworthy person, words and actions coincide.