The second chapter of 2 Samuel begins a new cycle of stories in this book. Saul, the first king of Israel, is dead. He, along with his son Jonathan and two other sons, died in battle at the end of 1 Samuel 31. In 2 Samuel 1, David wrote a lament for King Saul and his son Jonathana lament which concludes their presence in the Samuel narrative.
Hence in 2 Samuel 2, a new cycle of stories begins. A cycle of stories and events that will eventually take us to the enthronement of David as king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5)! And our text marks the beginning of that ascension to the throne.
2 Samuel 2:1-11 is divided into three parts. The key words for you to see in this threefold division are the words king David paired with the phrase house of Judah.
The first section (verses 1-4a) concludes with the words: "David king over the house of Judah." The second section is verses 4b-7 which concludes with the words: "The house of Judah has anointed me king over them." The third section is verses 8-11 and it concludes with the length of time that David was king over the house of Judah. Each section ends by including in some form the words: "king over the house of Judah." Thus in the first eleven verses of our text, the author reminds us three times that David is king over the house of Judah.
How did David become king over the house of Judah? That is the story of the first section of our text (verses 1-4a). King Saul is dead. At the beginning of chapter 2, David is still in Ziklag, the Philistine city where he had gone when Saul was trying to kill him. And the first thing he does in verse 1 is inquire of the Lord, "Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?" And the Lord answers that he should "go up." But in the latter part of verse 1, God not only directs him to Judah, but he directs him to a specific place in Judahto the town of Hebron, a place of covenant significance for Israel. It is the place where Abraham was told by the angels that he would have a son named Isaac (Gen. 18:1). It is the place where Abraham and Sarah are buried (Gen. 23:19). This is the place where God tells David to go; to connect David with the religious significance of the patriarchs before him.
In verses 2-3, David goes to Hebron with his two wives and his men. In verse 4, the men of Hebron and Judah come out and anoint David king over the house of Judah. Thus the first section concludes with David as king of the Southland of Israel.
Now let's skip to the third section of our text, beginning with verse 8. While David is king in Judah, look at what is going on in the other part of the land. Abner, son of Ner, Saul's cousin and the commander of Saul's army, took Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. The name Ish-Bosheth means "man of shame." All of Saul's sons were killed in battle in 1 Samuel 31 except for Ish-Bosheth. The Bible does not tell us why Ish-Bosheth was not fighting the Philistines with his brothers. All we know is that his name means "man of shame" and after his father's death, Abner set him up as a puppet king of Israel.
Now contrast the first section of our text from the third section. It begins with David consulting the Lord in verse 1. Abner does not consult the Lord in verse 8. Instead, Abner is the power broker in our passage. Abner took Ish-Bosheth and brought him over to Mahanaim and he made him king over Gilead, Asher, and Jezreel and over Ephriam, Benjamin and all Israel (v. 9). David is king of the South, and Abner made Ish-Bosheth king of the northeast and all the rest of the land of Israel. Mahanaim, his headquarters, is located across the Jordan River near Jabesh Gilead which means "two armies." Two armies will soon be at war.
The author of our text is setting up the next cycle in the life of King David and the rest of chapter 2. David is currently king of Judah. He is currently in the process of ascending to the throne of all Israel. And with one of Saul's sons still alive, there are two armies headed for war; a war between the house of David and the house of Saul. In chapters 2-5, the author tells us of all the manipulation, deception and murder that will take place between both of these houses in their striving for power. And power always corrupts. What will David do? David has had ample opportunity to take hold of this kingdom on his own. In 1 Samuel 24, King Saul, in order to relieve himself, went into the cave in which David was hiding. David's men urged him to strike down the king and seize the kingdom, but David would not do it. In 2 Samuel 26, he found Saul sleeping out in the open with his spear at his side, and again David's men urged him to strike. But David did not do it. And so the question that our text puts before us is what role will David play in the next few chapters as he ascends to the throne? Do you see how the author is setting you up?
This is where part 2 comes in. In verses 4b-5 when David was told that it was the men of Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead. The men of Jabesh Gilead were covenantally loyal to Saul because in 1 Samuel 11 Saul had organized an army of men and rescued them from the Ammonites. And now forty years later across the Jordan river they are still covenantally loyal to Saul. They risk their lives in 1 Samuel 31 to bury King Saul. David blesses them in the name of the Lord because of their covenant faithfulness to Saul in life and in death and he tells them, "May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness" (v. 6). David uses the same Hebrew word hesed in both verses, which clearly reflects that it is his hope that the Lord will show them the same covenant faithfulness in life and in death that they have shown to King Saul in life and in death. David then concludes in verse 6 with his own promise: "and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this." In other words, David is saying to them that the same hesed covenant kindness that comes from God in life and in death, he too will show to them.
It is clear in our text, that David is not caught up in political games of power. Abner has set up his own kingdom with his puppet king, Ish-Bosheth, son of Saul. Abner will soon march with his men to the edge of the land of Judah and there will be war between the house of David and the house of Saul. In the midst of that war, Abner will kill Joab's brother, Asahel (2 Sam. 2). Ish-Bosheth will confront Abner about sleeping with his father's concubine (2 Sam. 3:1-11), causing Abner to go over to David's side and thus uniting the kingdom under David (2 Sam. 3:12-21). Abner then will be murdered by David's commander Joab, brother of Asahel (2 Sam. 3:1-27). In chapter 4, Ish-Bosheth is murdered by his own men and his head brought to David. The next few chapters are one big cycle of manipulation, deception and murder. Yet in all those stories King David is not involved.
As our text begins this cycle of stories filled with manipulation, deception and murder, King David rises above it all. He sends a message to those loyal to Saul, thanking them for their covenant kindness and faithfulness to their former master, and asking that the Lord show them the same covenant kindness. He then promises them that he will show them that same covenant kindness. In verse 7, David tells them to "be strong and brave for Saul your master is dead." David is acknowledging that he is not their master but Saul's house is. David states that "the house of Judah has anointed me king over them." David is not an Abner. He does not make himself their king. An earthly king would have sent a message to the people of Jabesh Gilead that they should either follow him or be killed. "David is king of Judah! He is in charge now! Choose this day whom you shall serve, Ish-Bosheth or me!" That is the kind of situation that Abner wants to set up. But through it all David trusts in God's plan. David trusts in God's timing. He trusts that God in his good providence will give him the kingdom. And David's faith helps him know that he does not have to play this game of manipulation, deception and murder. That is why God uses the Hebrew word hesed to describe David's words to the people of Jabesh Gilead. Through the next few chapters as all of this develops, David rises above it. He does not fall into the trap. He allows God in his good time to bring about his ascension to the throne. And he keeps the promise of showing covenant faithfulness to the people of Israeleven those who are faithful to Saul.
But this will not last forever. Already at the beginning of this story, we see hints of the end of the story. The David at the beginning of this cycle of stories is not the same David at the end. Not long after David has been crowned king, he too will follow this same path of manipulation, deception, and murder. In 2 Samuel 11, at the time when kings go out to war, David is on the roof of his palace when he sees the wife of one of his mighty and faithful men, Uriah the Hittite. David sends for her and commits adultery with her. When David tries to cover up his sin by getting Uriah drunk and sending him home, Uriah will not go home. David then gives the order to have him killed in battle. And as a consequence of David's sin, Absalom, his own son will rise up against him. Absalom will go to Hebron in 2 Samuel 15 and will declare himself king. King David will be forced to flee Jerusalem and run for his life across the Jordan river because his son Absalom is trying to kill him. Once there, David will set up his temporary headquarters at Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17), the same place as Ish-Bosheth.
The passage before us is the beautiful story of the man after God's own heart that does everything right before the Lord. When, in an effort to gain power, manipulation, deception and murder are ever present around him, David rises above it. He trusts in the Lord and patiently waits for God to work things out. David remains faithful to God and shows the covenant faithfulness of God to the covenant people under his care. But it is also a text which foreshadows the end of David's reignwhen power will corrupt him like all the others, when he takes the wife of one of those under his covenant care and has her husband murdered. It foreshadows a time when David will become a manipulator, a deceiver and a murderer in a quest to hold on to power. As a consequence, he too will flee to Mahanaim.
In the text before us, we have a picture of a king that does everything right. But it also foreshadows everything that David did wrong. David is a great king of God's people, but he is not the savior. The David at the beginning of the story is not the David at the end. Even this story of King David reminds us that he is not God's answer. God would someday send one greater than David, David's greater son. And he too would come down to this earth and be surrounded by games of manipulation, deception, and murderall in a quest for power. When the Pharisees saw all the people that were following Jesus, they saw that they were loosing the grip on their power over the people, and so they plotted to kill him. They tried to trip him in his words so that he would say something against the law. Finally, one of his twelve disciples betrayed him with a kiss. When they came to the garden to arrest him, Peter picked up his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and he healed the man's ear.
Jesus could have called ten thousand angels, but instead he died on the cross for you and me. Jesus rose above the manipulation, deception, and murder all around him. He trusted God's plan. He trusted perfectly in his Father's sovereignty. He would demonstrate the perfect covenant faithfulness to his people in life and in deathall the way to his own death on the cross. This Son of David now sits in the throne room of the heavens and because of what he has accomplished, he shows his covenant faithfulness to you. And just as David said to the people of Jabesh Gilead, so too covenant faithfulness from God comes to you through the Son of David. He is not just king of Judah or Israel; but he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He sits enthroned in heaven on high because he has risen above sin and death and murder and has conquered all things. And you live for him and serve him faithfully without ever having to worry whether the Jesus at the beginning of the story will be the same at the end of the story. He has and always will be faithful to you in life or in death. The covenant faithfulness of God shines from God through him to you. When you pray to him, you can know that he will always be faithful, and that he will always be there for you, so that his love will shine through you to others.
We live in a world of manipulation, deception, and murder. You cannot fly on an airplane anymore without wondering what might happen. You can't invest your money anymore without wondering what might happen. In many cases you can't go to church anymore without wondering what might happen. But you can be thankful that you have a covenantally faithful God and Savior who will always be the same forevermore.
Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Oak Harbor, Washington