Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An Unfading Crown of Glory (II Samuel 1-10)

After the death of Saul, David leaves the Philistines and is crowned king of Judah. Abner, Saul’s general, then proceeds to crown one of Saul’s sons, Ish-bosheth, as king over the other tribes. Thus begins a civil war between the house of David and Saul over the throne of Israel.

David comes out on top. Really it is very little contest – David is a great warrior and a strong leader. His general, Joab, proves a suitable second-in-command, consistently beating Abner in battle.

Eventually, Abner mutinies when Ish-bosheth insults him over one of his father’s concubines. David is pleased to have such an accomplished general now on his side, but Joab will have none of it (Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle). He lulls Abner into his confidence, and then knifes him in the gut.

David is apparently not powerful enough to execute his right-hand-man, but he makes it clear what he thinks of such behavior.
Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier. They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.

So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king's will to put to death Abner the son of Ner. And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?...The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!”
Soon afterwards, Ish-bosheth is murdered by his own men. The culprits run to David, expecting a reward, but instead get put to death themselves. Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth expects to be killed, seeing as he is of Saul’s royal bloodline and a potential challenger – but instead is honored by the king as his own son.

Here again, we see the heart of David. Abner may have been his enemy, but he is a prince of Israel. Ish-bosheth may be his rival, but he is the son of the Lord’s anointed. Mephibosheth might be a threat, but he is the son of his dear friend Jonathan. This is not someone consumed by political ambition. This is a king who tends his flock like a shepherd, carrying the lambs in his arms. David loves the Lord, which fuels his love for Israel, and thus he loves even those who might be his enemies.

I can’t help but reflect on the nature of this mercy. It isn’t a sappy sentimentalism – the notion that people ought to be nice to people even if the people aren’t nice. It is a mercy rooted in looking at people on the basis of their standing before God.

Of course, this love for Israel also means fierce fighting against their foreign enemies. Under David’s reign, the Philistines are defeated, the Ammonites are crushed, the Edomites are subdued, the Syrians are routed, and cities like Jerusalem (which never fell in the initial conquest) are finally captured.

In the middle of all this glorious culmination, God himself speaks to David:
I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you…Your throne shall be established forever.
It's a key moment - an expansion of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham. David, deeply moved, and shaking with emotion, replies:
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? …For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God…For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.
Never has there been a leader who mirrors the heart of the Lord for his people so fully. The story has finally moved forward, after stalling in Judges. The conquest is complete, the kingdom is established, and the Lord's anointed is seated at his right hand.

Interesting that Saul had been our American ideal of the "reluctant leader," yet his reign was plauged by ambition. David was the spunky youth who jumped to kill Goliath (making sure he had his facts straight ahead of time about becoming the king's son-in-law for it) and yet his reign is so full of mercy to those who could be threats (even his son who does nearly steal the throne). David is humble and gracious, but is different from the reluctant leader that Saul had been.

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