Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

David was anointed to be king three times.

July 5, 2009

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Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

David was anointed to be king three times.

The first time, he was anointed by the prophet Samuel, secretly, and at God’s direction (1 Samuel 16:1 — 13). That divine designation and election was prior and most important, but David was also anointed king by a decision of the people.  First it was Judah where David served as a kind of mini-king for seven and a half years (2 Samuel 2:1-4). It was only one tribe, but it was a beginning.

Those first years as king were troubled times.  The eleven other tribes followed after the death of Saul’s surviving son, Ishbaal, who carried on a kind of civil war with David.

But during those troubled times, the house of David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew constantly weaker. Finally, Saul’s son  Ishbosheth was assassinated by two of his own officers. These daring men thought they would be rewarded for their treachery by David, who instead ordered their execution (2 Samuel 4:1-12).

All the tribes of North Israel had no other option but to turn to David. So they all took the humbling trip to Hebron and began negotiations.

They first acknowledged that David was kinfolk: “We are your bone and flesh” (2 Samuel 5:1). Secondly, they recognized his considerable achievements.  “Even when Saul was our king,” they observed, “you were the one who led Israel in battle.” Third, they recognized in him Yahweh’s own choice: “Yahweh said to you: it is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2).

The word shepherd in antiquity was a synonym for king. When we hail Yahweh as shepherd in the twenty-third psalm, that title has royal overtones. “Ruler” also is a technical term, meaning something like “king-designate.”  The one who designates David as king is Yahweh. All that is needed now is the acclamation of the people.

For the next stage of the ritual, David made a covenant with them (2 Samuel 5:3). Elsewhere we speak of the covenant that Yahweh made with David (2 Samuel 23:5).

We are not told what obligations this covenant involved, but it would have likely included judging the people with righteousness and the poor with justice (Psalm 72:2), or defending the cause of the poor and giving deliverance to the needy (Psalm 72:4). David also would be responsible for their economic well-being (Psalm 72:16). All this was done with Yahweh as a witness.

Now it was the people’s turn to act in this ritual, and they are represented by the traditional elders of the community. They anointed David king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:3).

The Bible nowhere explains the exact significance of anointing, and whether it is kings or priests who are anointed.  Some customs in neighboring countries suggest that anointing was itself an act of covenant making. The people too were expressing their loyalty, acknowledging David as king and agreeing to their responsibilities, such as taxes, state work projects, and military service.

In any case, the kings of Israel were always anointed. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the word ‘anointed’ is always modified. The person anointed is the ‘anointed of Yahweh,’ or ‘my anointed,’ or ‘his anointed.’  The possessive pronouns always refer to Yahweh. When later kings are anointed, this no doubt stood as an indication of Yahweh’s choice and the people’s faithfulness. Needless to say, this was not always a perfect relationship.

David ruled for forty years altogether, seven and one half in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. In verses 6-8, David captured Jerusalem, which previously had remained the city of the Jebusites. Located outside the tribal territories, much like Washington, D.C., Jerusalem was literally the City of David. The choice of Jerusalem as capital did not favor one tribe over another.

According to verse 10, David went from strength to strength. In the polls? In military victories? In moral and ethical conduct? Well, yes and no. The writer probes for a deeper analysis: “It was because Yahweh, the God of the heavenly armies, was with him.” This literal translation boldly expresses the power of David’s God.

The short sentence “I am with you” is at the heart of the good news in the Bible. Moses thought up five excuses in Exodus 3-4 about why he should not be the leader in the Exodus. Then God said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12), or “I will be with your mouth” when Moses had tried the lame excuse that he did not know how to talk (Exodus 4:12). Jeremiah had argued that he was only a teenager and therefore could not be a prophet.  God countered, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8). In Matthew’s description of the significance of Jesus, he drew on the old word in Isaiah 7:14, “They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us'” (cf. Matthew 1:23). And the last word of Jesus in that Gospel is: “And remember, I am with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Why is “I am with you” so important? It means that David and all of us later royal and priestly children of God are never alone. However sinful and however lacking in confidence we might be, God is not ashamed to hang around with David, Bathsheba, or us. There is an implicit word of forgiveness in this simple sentence.

Finally, “I am with you” is a word of empowerment. Whether it is the ability to trust, to carry out our day to day vocations, or to face all the challenges of life — including our mortality — God’s “I am with you” means that we have the promise of strength and encouragement to do what we have to do.

How do we know that God is with us? It all starts with our naming at our baptism. Ralph or Marilyn or whoever, you have been marked with the cross of Christ forever. It is Christ’s real presence in the Supper that says to us in ways that we can taste, touch, and smell, “I am with you.”

It is in the assurance of Christian brothers and sisters, in their words of encouragement and forgiveness, and by their witness that we hear God is with us. It is through the frequent use of the Means of Grace that we know God is indeed with us, and we are God’s children. Was God ever more with us than when Jesus was extended for us on the cross?

When a new king arose after Saul, there was the excitement we all feel at the beginning of a new administration, the excitement of our first job, our first love, or each new day. But this excitement is not born just from newness or from refreshment after sleep. It is the excitement that in this new day or new venture that God is with us.

Those words alone were enough for David. They are also enough for us.