From Shepherd to King (6)
“The Throne At Last” 2 Samuel 2:1-7 & 5:1-12
Have you watched children fighting over a toy? It seems as if they operate under the following rules: 1. If I like it, it's mine. 2. If I can take it from you, it's mine. 3. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine. 4. If I saw it first, it's mine. 5. If you are playing with it & you put it down, it becomes mine. 6. If it's broken, it's yours. Yes, children often fight over toys. And adults are not very different. All-too-often adults fight too. Colleagues in the same company or school or factory fight for position or influence or power. Politicians, of course, are renowned for fighting – not with their fists but with their words. In English we have phrases like “political in-fighting” & “character assassination” – terms that reflect how nasty rivalry can become. Many political leaders have come to power after ruthless campaigns – through the violent overthrow of a previous leader as happens in a military dictatorship, or through a bruising election campaign as happens in a western democracy.
Today we are going to see how David finally became king of Israel. However, as we will discover, the way he became king was very different to the way most leaders in history have come to power. David did not become king through hereditary privilege passed down from his father – for he came from a poor country family. David had been a shepherd boy. He did not have any royal blood. And David did not become king through rebelling against Saul who was king at the time. David did become a great warrior, but even when Saul tried to kill him out of jealousy, David refused to take revenge even when he could have done so. David knew Saul was “God’s anointed” & refused to lift a finger against him. Although David was popular with the people he was not elected by popular vote - for in those days Israel was not a democracy. How then did David become king – the greatest in Israel’s history? The story is told for us in 2 Samuel.
1 Samuel, which we have been studying, focuses on the lives of Samuel (the prophet), Saul (Israel’s first king) & David (up until just before he became king). 1 Samuel ends with the tragic story of the death of Saul & his son Jonathan on the battlefield. 2 Samuel is all about David as king & begins where 1 Samuel ends. David is back in Ziklag, the town in Philistine (or enemy) territory where he & his men were living. They hear news of the disastrous battle between the Philistines & Israel. Israel had been heavily defeated. Saul & his 3 eldest sons, including David’s dear friend Jonathan, all lay dead & the Israelite army had fled. Victorious Philistine forces occupied much of northern Israelite territory. Saul’s army general Abner managed to escape with one of Saul’s sons, Ish-Bosheth. They fled to Mahanaim on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Israel was in total disarray.
When David heard the tragic news he wrote a moving lament for Saul & Jonathan. “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How are the mighty fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19) David’s response showed how incredibly forgiving he was. He genuinely grieved for both Saul & Jonathan, though of course he felt the loss of Jonathan most deeply. No one could accuse David of secretly being pleased his old enemy Saul was finally dead. For David it was a day of tragic defeat & loss for the whole nation. David had learnt not to judge even his enemies. What a lesson there is for us in this! So often when people have been unkind, even nasty, to us we secretly wish they would “get some of their own medicine”. In other words, we hope they will suffer in some way for the evil they have done to us. However David was not like this. He felt the pain & hurt deeply but he did not seek revenge. He left vengeance to God.
And so we come to chapter 2. David had known for many years that God had chosen him to be king in place of Saul. Saul was now dead. Surely David presumed the time had come for him to be made king. Yet we notice two interesting facts. One, David didn’t immediately rush into things, & two, he asked God what he should do. V.1 says, “In the course of time, David inquired of the LORD. ‘Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?’ he asked.” David asked God if he should return to Judah. David enjoyed a relationship with God so when it says he asked God it means he prayed, he talked to God. He may also have asked other spiritual leaders what they thought – seeking God’s guidance through listening to godly advice. Now that Saul his persecutor was dead returning to Judah might have seemed the natural thing to do. However David still asked God. You & I can ask God for guidance not only when we do not know what to do. It is good to check with Him even if His will might seem obvious. We can bring everything & anything to God in prayer. Whenever Elizabeth & I set out in the car, even just to go shopping in Albany, we like to commit our journey to the Lord. We ask God to guide us in our daily work. Incredibly, God loves to be involved in the everyday lives of His children. Don’t think you are bothering God by coming to Him. Nothing is too small or too big to bring to the Lord.
Well David’s move back to Judah was actually not a small matter. It was to prove a major turning point in David’s life. What did the Lord say in answer to David’s question? V.1 continues: “The LORD said, ‘Go up.’ David asked, ‘Where shall I go?’ ‘To Hebron,’ the LORD answered.” How fantastic! God told him not simply “Yes, go back to Judah” but God told him which city to go to. He was to go to Hebron. Hebron was the largest town in Judah at the time. It was in a central location with key trade routes passing through. Hebron was the place where 1000 years earlier Abraham had lived & where he & Sarah & other famous Jewish ancestors, like Isaac & Rebekah & Jacob were buried. Hebron had a long & sacred history. Yes, God does sometimes answer our prayers & guide us in very specific ways. I could share many stories from my own experience – even of how God lead us to serve in this church. He is the living God & loves to communicate with His children. He leads us step by step & will continue to lead us as we gladly follow & obey Him.
So David, his men & their wives & families all settled in Hebron. Things moved quickly once David got back to Judah. We read in v.4, “Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, & there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.” Many years earlier, when David was still a teenager, the prophet Samuel had secretly anointed him as the one chosen by God to be the future king. Now about thirteen years later, when David was thirty years of age, he is publicly anointed – inaugurated into his office as king. He was not yet king over the whole nation - only over the tribe of Judah. The nation of Israel consisted of twelve tribes – of which Judah was the biggest. Sometime following the devastating defeat by the Philistine forces, Saul’s only surviving son, Ish-Bosheth, was made king over the other tribes. Though Philistine forces were still in control of key parts of the north, we read in vrs 10 & 11, “Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, & he reigned 2 years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years & six months.”
David did not rush off to attack Ish-Bosheth & his general Abner. He did not try to make himself king over the whole nation. He had learnt to be patient. He had learnt to trust God to do everything in His time & way. His 7 1/2 years as king over Judah gave him time to rebuild part of his homeland that had been left so weak after the reign of Saul. David was able to establish an efficient administration in Judah & was able to work towards the day the nation would be reunited & free from foreign invaders. As we have noticed before in this series, we can learn from David to leave our future in God’s hands. We do not need to get impatient when things do not work out exactly as we might have expected or hoped. Maybe the Lord wants to emphasize this truth to some of us. Let us be faithful in doing what God has entrusted to us now. Let us work with commitment & dedication – whether it is in our profession, or our studies, or being a mother, or building up our business, or serving in the church. Let us be faithful. Let us do our very best – for God’s glory.
David did not have everything easy, even as king of Judah. Not only did he have to contend with the resurgent Philistines, he also had to watch out for Abner & his forces. Abner was a gifted & ambitious army general. He was power-hungry & at first worked hard to mobilize the other tribes against David & Judah. The nation was divided. If David was not careful tribal conflict could further weaken & divide God’s people. Abner initiated a number of attacks against David’s forces which proved deadly - with sad loss of life on both sides. David’s own chief of staff, Joab, was also a powerful & ambitious man. Joab was David’s nephew, son of one of his sisters, & although fiercely loyal to David, he was a difficult man to keep in line. David needed much wisdom. There was a strong rivalry between Abner & Joab.
Sadly tribal rivalry led to war between the two sides. The tribes under Ish-Bosheth & Abner (who collectively became known as Israel) & the tribe of Judah under David & Joab seemed to forget the importance of their unity. They lost sight of God’s plan for them to be the people of God, to settle the land, drive out their enemies & live in peace obeying God’s laws. Instead of working together for this great purpose they fought each other.
There is an important lesson in this for us. If we find ourselves in conflict with our Christian brothers & sisters we need to stop & think. Are we or they trying to build our own kingdom rather than God’s Kingdom? Of course, if people do not share the same vision it is difficult to work together. If people do not accept the truth of God’s Word, they should not be in leadership in the church. Unity & truth are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have true unity without a shared commitment to the truth & without a shared commitment to the same vision. However if true believers do not work together simply because of a clash of personality or because of selfish ambition then something is sadly wrong. Disunity of this sort can destroy the witness of God’s people. The enemy, Satan, loves to stir up rivalry & disunity between Christians for he knows it can destroy the work of God.
I heard a story of two men who met on the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay. They greeted each other with a nod. One of them then said, “Praise the Lord, what a beautiful view.” The other immediately asked, “Are you a Christian?” “Why, yes,” came the reply. The other man said, “So am I” & the two men shook hands warmly. “Are you an evangelical?” asked the one man. “Yes, I am,” the other replied. The two men then hugged each other. “Which church do you go to?” said the first. “I am a Baptist.” “So am I”, replied the other & the two men decided to exchange addresses. “Are you a charismatic?” asked one man. “Yes, I am,” was the reply. The other man then said, “A charismatic! Oh, no wonder a moment ago you said ‘Hallelujah, Praise the Lord,’” & he pushed him off the bridge. I am happy to say this is not a true story, but it does illustrate how easily we focus on our differences. We should rather focus on the many really important things that unite us.
Despite the hostility & rivalry between those loyal to David & those loyal to Ish-Bosheth, the situation was slowly moving in David’s favour. We read in 2 Samuel 3:1, “The war between the house of Saul & the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger & stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker & weaker.” All along David was someone who longed for unity. He never initiated attacks against Abner & Ish-Bosheth though his army chief Joab was always ready for a fight. In fact David was ready to consider a peace treaty with Ish-Bosheth. He worked hard to show to all the tribes of Israel (including his own tribe of Judah) that he stood for unity & equality. God’s people should love & accept one another. Both by his words & by his actions David demonstrated his commitment to the principles of justice & fairness for all. We read that “…all the people took note & were pleased; indeed everything the king did pleased them.” (3:36)
We see here some important principles relevant in building a multi-cultural church, such as our own. Differences such as ethnic background, culture, & language should be bridges to unite us rather than walls to divide us. Together we are far stronger than we are when we are separated. There is a richness in our diversity.
To cut a long story short, a story you can read in 2 Samuel 3 & 4, the day finally came when David was crowned king over all of Israel. David had tried to build bridges to both Abner & Ish-Bosheth but both were now dead. Abner had been murdered by Joab – something that greatly upset & displeased David. Then some of Ish-Bosheth’s own men had murdered him, a crime that also greatly distressed David. However the way was now open for David to be anointed king over all the tribes – over Israel as well as Judah. So we read in 2 Samuel 5:1, “All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron & said, ‘We are your own flesh & blood. In 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, & you will become their ruler.’” Everyone knew of the promise of God to David. From after David had defeated the giant Goliath David had been a hero in Israel. It was only the jealousy of Saul that had driven him into exile. Now, however, without David having to fight for power or position the whole nation wants to make him their king. We read, “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them …before the LORD, & they anointed David king over Israel.” (v.3) Dear brothers & sisters, if God has called you to a certain place or a certain task, nothing & no one can stop you from seeing God fulfil His promise. Not even Satan can stop you. Of course Satan might try to hinder you but God in His perfect time will fulfil what He has promised. In Romans 4:20 & 21 Paul says that Abraham “…was strengthened in his faith & gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” David could say the same about his experience. The Bible goes on to say “David was thirty years old when he became king, & he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years & six months, & in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel & Judah thirty-three years.”
Next week, in our final message of this series we will see how David made Jerusalem the new capital of the united Israel & how with the blessing of God he established the kingdom. What wonderful lessons we can learn from David. As we saw last week, we see the importance of asking God for guidance. And we see the importance of waiting for God’s timing & the importance of working together in unity. Let us be faithful serving with one another in the place God has put us. Let us trust Him that in His time & His way he will fulfil all His purposes & plans for us, our families & our church. We can trust Him to complete the work He has begun.
There is a wonderful verse of Scripture in Philippians 1:6. It says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Lord who has begun a good work in your life & my life will continue that work until it is completed - when we meet Him face to face, when Jesus comes again in power & glory.