Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
This pericope focuses on David’s coronation and capture of Jerusalem.
When facing this text the preacher is faced with a choice regarding verses 6-8, left out of the reading according to the lectionary. The first choice leaves things as, skipping the donut hole of verses 6-8; the second reads the whole, verses 1-10. The first focuses on David’s coronation and reign as the LORD’s blessing of him. The second, however, sees a fuller (yes, I vote for option two!) picture, is more honest about challenges within David’s story, especially in relation to Christ’s, and is ultimately less susceptible to error and more preach-able.
While the spirit of the LORD has rested upon David for some time,1 the formal coronation takes place in Hebron. David, now thirty years of age, has proved himself as a leader faithful to the LORD. This should not be interpreted as though David were a figure like Mohandas Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather, David is poet and musician and blood-stained warrior. He is the one who carried Goliath’s severed head back to Jerusalem2 and the one who could play the harp so well as to fend off the evil spirit of the LORD from Saul.3
He is the one who immediately prior to today’s text hears of the vengeful murder of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth (a.k.a. Ishbaal). When the two men who killed Ish-bosheth brought his head to David as evidence of their great act, he rewarded them by killing them, cutting off their hands and feet, and hanging their bodies beside the pool at Hebron. In short, prior to David’s coronation, the LORD’s anointed is no model on non-violence. Yes, he is a great leader, a strong warrior, and a skilled musician and poet. At the same time, he is ruthless and not to be worshipped.
The coronation happens at Hebron. There is no crown or scepter to pass down. Rather, the people recognized the LORD’s anointing of David, the elders recognized him as king, 4 and David made a covenant with them as their leader. If we were to skip the donut hole in the pericope, we would move from David’s coronaton, including the detail that he was thirty years of age when crowned, that he reigned forty years, [donut hole], that he occupied and reigned in Jerusalem, and that David’s greatness was because the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.5
While there is nothing wrong with talking about David’s coronation and reign over Israel, it is wrong to paint the picture too nicely, sterilizing it of its ugly or more challenging bits. “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land…”6 David’s first action as king is to take Jerusalem. And yet again, he proves his military acumen by hitting the city where it was vulnerable — through the water system. As the text recalls, “David had said on that day, ‘Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the blind and lame, those whom David hates.'”7
At this point in the narrative, David’s cunning move of sending his troops in through the water system gets just a bit lost. Our reading needs to come to a screeching halt. David sends his soldiers to attack the blind and the lame, those whom David hates? The text here cries out to be explained if not corrected. The Masoretic Text, where the Ketiv reads “those whom David hates,” also includes a Qere option that is passive, “… the blind and lame, who are hateful to David.” This is no easy thing.
To top it off, the text then builds upon David’s ire with a justification for the exclusion of the blind and the lame from the Temple. “Therefore it is said, ‘The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.'”8
Just who are these blind and lame? It is possible that this is a taunt used by the Jebusite defenders of the city. The city is so well fortified that even the “blind” and the “lame” could keep you out, David!9 It could equally be a slur by David of his enemies, calling them the “blind” and the “lame,” a solution that would mesh with David’s hate of them. However, the etymological move in verse 8b is most problematic, “Therefore it is said, ‘The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.'” Which house is this? It could be the house that King Hiram of Tyre built for David that is mentioned just after this pericope,10 though this is unlikely. More likely is that it is an etymological statement about admission to the Temple,11 even though the Temple is not built until Solomon’s reign.12
With all the difficulties of this text, it is important that the juxtaposition that the text itself gives us of David’s coronation, his conquering of Jerusalem and this oddly prominent prohibition of the blind and the lame from the house (of the LORD) be held together. For, if I may be so bold, the interpreter of scripture, especially for the purpose of preaching, must always work to avoid avoiding the difficulties!
I want to move toward the preaching of this text within the framework of testimony.13 The testimony to Israel’s God in this text — donut hole and all! — is dissonant. David, the unlikely slayer of Goliath, has become king over Israel, and the text testifies that David’s greatness is because “the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.” At the same time, David’s indignation is justification for closing off the temple to the blind and lame. Indeed, there is counter-testimony to this in the Old Testament,14 a counter-testimony incarnate in Jesus the Messiah, son of David, of whom Matthew reports in his version of the cleansing of the temple:
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den or robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.15
11 Samuel 16:13
21 Samuel 17:54
31 Samuel 16:23
4I am reminded of the traditional choice and coronation of the kings of the Scots. As I recall the story from there, each of the Scottish noblemen would bring with them to Scone (pronounced SKOON) a boot full of earth from their reign. They would dump the earth on the place traditionally called Caislean Credi or the Hill of Credulity. It was on this place that symbolized common ground that these Scots “elders” would choose their next king.
52 Samuel 5:10
62 Samuel 5:6
72 Samuel 5:8a
82 Samuel 5:8b
9Something akin to Isaiah 33:23: Then shall indeed much spoil be divided, even the lame shall seize booty. (JPS)
102 Samuel 5:11
11The LXX makes this reading clear by ending verse 8 with “into the house of the LORD.”
12Strange as David’s declaration is, nowhere in Scripture does it say that the blind and the lame in general are omitted from the Temple. There are stipulations against priests who are blind and lame, among other “blemishes,” making sacrifice (Leviticus 21:18), and against making sacrifice to the LORD of any blind or lame livestock (Deuteronomy 15:21). It should also be noted here that there are a number of sectarian text from Qumran that go “well beyond” any biblical texts to exclude the blind and the lame from the assembly, cf. Saul M. Olyan, “The Exegetical Dimensions of Restrictions on the Blind and the Lame in Texts from Qumran,” Dead Sea Discoveries 8 (2001) 38-50.
13A nominal though not substantive nod toward Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997).
14Jeremiah 31:8, and also Isaiah 35:5-6.