16 January 20192 Samuel 5:1-5
King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David as king over Israel. (v. 3)
Psalm: Psalm 49
At long last, the civil war comes to an end. Although it has been clear to us that David is the successor to Saul whom God has chosen, parts of Saul’s kingdom did not agree and had chosen to be loyal to Ishbaal (also known as Ishbosheth), one of Saul’s sons. For seven years the country had remained divided and the fighting had continued with David’s forces gaining the upper hand by a process of attrition. In the face of what appeared to be inevitable defeat, two of Ishbaal’s officers assassinate him. The leaders of the tribes come to David asking him to unite the kingdom as it had been united under Saul. This comparatively brief account probably reflects some protracted negotiations.
In doing so, they make two claims about the legitimacy of David’s succession. First they remind David that he had been Saul’s most successful general (tactfully not adding that it was this that had first made Saul jealous of David – see 1 Samuel 18:8). In the ancient world, as throughout most of human history, the crown and the ability to be a successful military commander have gone together: we shall see later that it is when he retires from being a warrior that David’s troubles begin. Secondly, the leaders of Israel aver that God has chosen David to be their king; apparently, it has become public knowledge that Samuel anointed David in Bethlehem. The anointing at Hebron (v. 3) is a sign of their acceptance of God’s choice.
The writer of the books of Samuel was ambivalent about the concept of kingship; in this passage, he or she lays out what s/he understands kingship to be. Firstly, it is a shepherding role (and we recall that David was a shepherd when he was identified by Samuel as the future ruler). Secondly, the relationship between king and people is covenantal. We are not told the terms of the covenant but we can assume that it was an agreement in which both parties had obligations. Thirdly, all is done under God. The king rules not just because the people accept him but because through him God is exercising authority.
- The metaphor of the shepherd is commonly used of ministers in the Church but perhaps less often of political leaders. Is it still an appropriate image for a Queen, President or Prime Minister? Why do you think so?
- At the beginning of this month many of us will have been at services in which we renewed our Covenant with God. How does our promise to live all our life under God’s authority affect our obligation to those in temporal power?
- The expectation in this passage is for a period of peace after a decade or more of civil war. Think about countries that are places of conflict today and pray for a new future for them.