God’s work is messy business.
Perhaps this messiness is part of the appeal of the royal succession narratives in the opening chapters of 2 Samuel. The story reaches a crucial point with the initial establishment of Hebron and the subsequent relocation of the capital to Jerusalem. These chapters in 2 Samuel candidly recount all of the tension in the movement of leadership from Saul to David, not merely a change of rulers, but a change in the house and a complete about-face in the previous endorsement of Saul. But in the midst of this chaos, even during the radical takeover of the throne, this week’s passage reminds us that God’s triumph endures.
In light of the overall purpose of the biblical historical narratives, it’s remarkable that the passage does not ignore the chaos. The preceding context of 2 Samuel 5 recounts the paranoia and delusion surrounding Saul and the growing animosity between the king and David with episodes of murder, betrayal, revenge, and sexual misconduct.
2 Samuel 5:1-5 does not make any effort to hide this sordid context, but explicitly acknowledges it with the temporal marker in verse two: “While Saul was king over us.” The reference to Saul brings about memories of the first king’s difficult downfall. The reign of Saul became so oppressive that the people had to be “led out” (Hebrew root yatsa’) a term used in describing the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 22:33, Numbers 23:22, Deuteronomy 8:14, etc.).
So the elders and David come together. All the tribes recognize that they are of the same bone and flesh. Together, before the Lord, they make a covenant, a mutual commitment and promise, as they accept harsh repercussions for breaking the covenant.
The multiple emphases on the place setting of Hebron (vv. 1, 3, 5) forces a harsh reminder of the violence of the royal succession. Hebron was the site of both the decapitated head of Ishbaal, buried next to other murdered potential heirs of the house of Saul. Also buried in Hebron, the maimed bodies of the avengers of David.
But paradoxically, Hebron also indicates God’s faithfulness. The collective memory of Israel saw Hebron as a place of encounter with God during the patriarchal age. In the midst of Abram’s travels, he stopped at Hebron to build an altar, where God re-iterated the promise of progeny (Genesis 13:18), both Sarah and Isaac were buried at Hebron as a reminder of God’s fulfillment (Genesis 23:2; 35:27). Verse five adds the note that Jerusalem would be the next capital, where David would reign for thirty-three years.
2 Samuel 6:1-5 narrates a crucial aspect of the relocation of the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. Politically, perhaps David was finding a more neutral site for the capital to unify the nation. Strategically, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by the natural valleys and contained a sealed fresh water source within the city walls, crucial for defense against bandits and marauding polities. Logically, the movement of the capital signifies a fresh beginning for David.
But most significantly, the biblical texts highlight Jerusalem as the city that was chosen by God. This would be the site for the temple and the palace. God’s story would continuously unfold in this city,
Thus, David’s activities in 2 Samuel 6:1-5 reflect his obedience and leadership as a young king. The verses describe a glorious procession of honor and celebration in transporting the ark of God, to ensure that God’s presence will fill the city of Jerusalem.
But again, this optimistic description of the movement of the ark is marred by the grim events of the surrounding context. Immediately preceding 2 Samuel 6:1-5, David leads two rounds of battle against the Philistines, a reminder of the constant military and religious threat that would plague Israel for generations to come.
And immediately following 2 Samuel 6:1-5, the good intentions and enthusiasm of the ark procession give way to the hazards of disregarding the holiness of the Lord. God, in keeping holiness, must kill the man who touched the ark, and the transport is delayed by several months.
But in the midst of these dangers, the faithfulness of God remains. King David secures his reign and begins one of the longest political dynasties in human history. The ark makes it way to Jerusalem, preceding the building of the Solomonic temple and the worship of the Lord.
These episodes bring an authenticity and power to Psalm 150. Do you think that the Psalmist had it all together when devising the repeating chorus? As the final collation to the Psalms, it is near unanimous that Psalm 150 has a late setting, meaning that it was compiled and placed as the finishing Psalm to the collection, kind of a doxology for the preceding 149 chapters. During this time, Judah was impoverished, oppressed by the Persian Empire, with little hope of restoration of the Davidic line.
Like the preceding passages, despite these troubles, which were neither ignored nor dismissed, Psalm 150 continues to exhort all of God’s people to “Praise him.” God’s work is still messy business.
Holy One of Israel, King David worked hard to return the Ark of the Covenant to Israel so that the people could honor you in your house of worship. Receive our praise in this house of worship, as we rejoice in your presence. Amen.
HYMNS Praise to the Lord, the Almighty ELW 858/859, UMH 139 Praise God, from whom all blessings flow ELW 884, NCH 776, UMH 94
CHORAL O praise God in his holiness, David Willcocks