Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Everyone loves a good story.

"pilgrim" by Matúš Benian via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.  

July 8, 2018

Alternate First Reading
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Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Everyone loves a good story.

The intertwining of success and failure, victory and defeat make a story unforgettable. Biblical writers, literary geniuses that they were, knew how to keep their readers on the edge of their seats. The story of David takes up so much of the biblical text, it cannot be ignored.

The story of the beloved David takes its reader on a journey of intrigue that rivals even the best modern-day book turned movie. This passage, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, might be called David: A Tale of Two Cities.

Hebron and Jerusalem both have a huge role in the story and life of Israel. Even today, these two cities continue to have an impact that reaches around the world. Hebron on the West Bank and Jerusalem at its center are in the news so often, it is easy to forget that these two cities had an equally important role in the Bible and in the life of David.

The connections to Hebron date back to the life of Abraham. It was here that he settled when he came to the Promised Land. It was here that he purchased some land on which to bury his wife, Sarah. This purchase represents Israel’s first stake in Canaan, a land, promised by God, a land that was already occupied. Joshua defeated the Anakites and designated it a city of refuge. Caleb reclaimed it after it had reverted to the Anakites.

When David was on the run from Saul, he found refuge there. It must have had a special place in his heart for Samuel for it was there that Samuel privately anointed him king while Saul was still on the throne. With so many connections, it is not surprising that David chose Hebron as his capital when he reigned for seven years over two of Israel’s two southernmost family groups. It is here, after the death of Saul’s son, that the elders gathered to make David king of all Israel.

Jerusalem, formerly Salem, also dates back to the time of Abraham. It was here that Abraham presented his gift to king Melchizedek. It was here that Abraham offered his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. The Jebusites controlled the site until David captured it and designated it as his capital.

It was a wise diplomatic move for the city was centrally located and easily accessible from north and south. It would become not only Israel’s political center, but also its religious and financial center as well. David would bring the ark to Jerusalem and lay out the plans for the temple which would be built by his son Solomon. Today the city is important to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Whereas Samuel’s anointing was a private family matter, one directed by God, this time his ascension to the throne is by public acclimation. With God’s favor and David’s success, it seems David could do no wrong. Perhaps, despite God’s warning, kingship isn’t such a bad thing after all. The reader knows, of course, Israel’s unity will be short-lived and the monarchy will come to an end with the Babylonian Exile.

In ancient times assassination and military coup were common. It is noteworthy that while David is a warrior, David’s ascension as Israel’s king involved no bloodshed. It is ironic that immediately prior in 2 Samuel 4, David orders the killing of the two men who killed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth who ruled for two years after Saul’s death.

David is a complicated man. His connection to these two cities illustrates just how complicated David is. Whereas Hebron is a city where David found refuge, Jerusalem is a city he conquered. On the one hand, David respects God’s anointed and refuses to lay a hand on Saul. Yet, he is quick to kill those who kill Saul and Ish-bosheth.

His successes and failures are many. When he succeeds, he succeeds big, for example unifying the twelve family groups, bringing the ark to Jerusalem, and organizing Israel’s worship. When he fails, he fails big, for example his rape/marriage to Bathsheba, his accumulation of wives and concubines, and conducting a census.

Too often his story is told in a way that ignores his failures. However, astute readers know the importance of telling, the whole story, the rest of the story. Even though his story is that of legend, as with all human beings, each story has a unique storyline, a unique combination of ups and downs.

Although legend may have painted a flawless picture, it seems David himself would have embraced all of his story — the good, the bad, and the ugly. From the moment of his anointing by Saul, he embraced the responsibility of kingship. Unlike Joseph who couldn’t keep it to himself, he never bragged about his anointing. Before Saul took note of him, he already knew that however many they were, Saul’s days were numbered. When he played his harp, he already knew. When he slew Goliath, he already knew.

David would know that God’s grace was present through it all. He would know that God is faithful, even when he is not. This combination of the best and the worst, not perfection it seems, is what made him “a man after God’s own heart.”

There are many lessons from the life of David. First, don’t let anyone talk you out of your own story. Embrace your own story, for that is where its power lies. Second, know that God will never leave you. God is with you through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Third, when you tell the biblical story, tell it all, even the difficult challenging unethical parts knowing that when we embrace the fullness of our own stories and of the biblical story our lives are enriched beyond measure.