Thursday

07 July 2016

"So 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." (v.3)

Psalm: Psalm 116

 

Background

King David - believed to have reigned about a thousand years before Christ - has gone down in history as the most famous king of Israel, and the model of what kingship should be. Christian tradition sometimes speaks of Jesus as "great David's greater Son" (from the hymn Hail to the Lord's Anointed) as his family (through Joseph) was descended from David's line (see Matthew 1:1-16).

Yet David was only the second king of Israel, and this was at a time when people seem to have felt ambivalent about kingship. Initially a loose federation of tribes, it seems that the Israelites were influenced by surrounding nations to create a king of their own. But this concept sat uneasily with their allegiance to Yahweh, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with whom they had a covenant relationship. Could they serve God and also be obedient to a monarch?

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel contain an extraordinary and vivid narrative about the individuals involved at the start of the monarchy in Israel - Samuel the prophet; Saul, the first anointed king who then seems to be rejected by God; and myriad stories about David, including a well-known and much more graphic story of his secret anointing than this one (1 Samuel 16). By contrast, this passage seems to be a more neutral court record. It is significant that David as king is obliged to 'make a covenant' with the people "before the Lord".

It is because these very ancient narratives were written down (and many scholars believe they are some of the oldest texts in the Old Testament) that we know about David's court, but it is important to realise how small and fragile the nation was at this time. It was part of a landscape of tribal groups who were constantly jockeying for territory and fighting localised battles.

The conquest of Jerusalem (itself probably very small at the time) is dealt with in a few puzzling verses about "the blind and the lame" which seems to be a sort of explanation about how a proverb about David arose. It was probably a taunt from the Jebuzites about the pathetic nature of David's army, ie even disabled veterans could defend the city against them. And perhaps they could have done, had not David found the back way in through the water course.
 

To Ponder

  • To what extent do you think the ancient Israelites were right to worry about whether they could really serve both God and the 'powers that be'?
  • The passage says that "David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him." How far is it true to say that being successful is a matter of whether or not someone is filled with God's Spirit?


Bible notes author: Janet Morley

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