The David Saga, Episode 7 – Jerusalem

For this week, please read 2 Samuel 5-10. This week’s episode is the apex of David reign. For the only time in our story, David is secure from all his enemies – foreign, domestic, and, more importantly, even himself. Our story today focuses on Jerusalem and gives to us one of the best texts with which to explore the full depth of Scripture – its literal, moral, allegorical, and eschatological meanings.

LAST WEEK: Episode 6 last week was the Battle of Saul’s Succession. King Saul and his son Jonathan, the crown prince, die at the hands of the Philistines in the Battle of the Jezreel Valley. In the aftermath, Saul’s chief military commander Abner reorganizes Saul’s forces, and places Saul’s sole surviving son, Ishbosheth, on the throne of Israel. At the same time, the tribe of Judah anoints David as their king. David’s forces, under the command of David’s nephew Joab, engage in battle with the forces commanded by Abner. It is in this battle that Abner kills Joab’s brother. Over time, Abner’s forces weaken and Abner begins peace-talks with David. These talks are successful, but before they can be finalized, Joab kills Abner in revenge of his brother’s death and to protect his position in David’s administration. Soon thereafter, two commanders in Ishbosheth’s army decapitate their king ending the rule of the house of Saul. The episode ends with David’s disclaiming any responsibility for Ishbosheth’s death and his executing the two men and mutilating their bodies.

THIS WEEK: In this week’s episode, David is anointed king over all of Israel. He takes the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and consolidates all political and religious authority in his new capital city. David also subdues all of the neighboring kingdoms bringing peace and prosperity to Israel. In all of this success, David’s praises and gives thanks to his God.

David’s Anointing: (Ch. 5:1-5)

With the House of Saul destroyed, the elders of the remaining tribes of Israel come to David at Hebron to anoint him king. David makes a covenant with them, assuring them that he will be king of all of Israel and not only his tribe of Judah. David is magnanimous in victory. Although he had the means to lord his power over his fellow countrymen and treat these tribes as simply another conquered people, he sees them as his one of his own and begins the process of bringing about his promise of being a king for all of Israel.

Jerusalem: (5:6-16)

Prior to David, Jerusalem was a tiny backwater town controlled by the Jebusites. When Joshua invaded Canaan, about three hundred years before David, he failed to take Jerusalem. (Joshua 15:63Judges 1:21). Jerusalem gives David two important advantages. First, Jerusalem’s topography on the hillside of Mount Zion makes it easy to defend and difficult to conquer. David is well aware of how easily settlements can be raided by brigands like the Amalekites (or even David’s band of mighty men) or taken in battle against stronger forces like the Philistines. After David takes the city, it will remain unconquered and firmly under his family’s control for the next five hundred years.

Jerusalem also serves the function of uniting the country. Prior to David, the city belonged to none of the tribes. The city sits on the boarder between David’s tribe of Judah and Saul’s tribe of Benjamin. (The book of Joshua puts this city in Judah, and the book of Judges places it in Benjamin.) Therefore, the city allows David to geographically unite these two tribes and the whole nation – not unlike the founding of Washington, D.C.

David, however, must still take Jerusalem. As later history shows, Jerusalem is a difficult city to take. The Assyrians sieged but never took Jerusalem (2 Kings 19), the Babylonians conquered the city only after an eighteen-month siege (2 Kings 25:1-3) and even the Romans took several months to capture the city. How to take the fortified city? Jerusalem’s weakness is its water source. Jerusalem’s water comes from the Gihon Spring which is located in an underground limestone cave just outside of the city walls. The early inhabitants of the city built an underground channel to carry the water into the city. Therefore, instead of attacking the city directly, Joab (1 Chron 11:6) uses this water tunnel to take the city (5:8). We can picture his forces sneaking into the tunnel and then carrying out a surprise attack at the most opportune moment.

Once David takes the City, he goes about constructing his palace with the help of Hiram, King of Tyre. David also goes about building his family taking more concubines and wives into his harem. For a king, a biblical marriage means having as many wives and concubines as the taxpayers can support.

The Philistine War: (Ch. 5:17-25)

During the two year period of the War of Saul’s Succession, the Philistines have been quiet. They control all of the lowlands of Israel along the Mediterranean, and control the Jezreel Valley to the north. The Philistines probably still considered David a vassal or at least an ally. However, once David unifies Israel under his kingship and takes Jerusalem, David now becomes a threat. The Philistines station an army in the Rephaim Valley just south of Jerusalem. As in Jezreel, the Philistines have the tactical advantage in the flat land of the valley. David now has a choice. He can either go to the Philistine forces and renew his vassalage or he can fight and declare his and his country’s independence.

David takes this decision to God. Using the Urim and Thummim, David inquires from God as to his course of action. The answer is to fight. David takes his forces, and using the cover of the surrounding mountains, positions his forces to the rear of the Philistines in a stand of trees. Pursuant to his divine instructions, David stays his forces until he hears the spirit of God stirring in the treetops. At the moment, David attacks with his men and the angelic hosts. David’s forces overwhelm the Philistines. David continues to press the attack until the Philistines have retreated to the primary territory along the coast. Not only did David recover all of the territory that Saul had lost, but the Philistines are never again a threat to Israel. In his first action as the king of all of Israel, David, with God’s help, achieves the main strategic goal of subduing the Philistine threat.

(We will learn more about this war and the exploits of David’s warriors in 2 Samuel 23:8-39.)

The Entrance of the Ark of the Covenant: (Ch. 6):

Having made Jerusalem the political capital of Isreal, David now seeks to make it the religious center of Israel as well by bringing the Ark of the Covenant in the City. The Ark has always indicated the very real presence of God within the Israelite community. It housed the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 40:20). It was from where Moses received the remainder of the law (Num. 7:89). Joshua carried the Ark into battle at Jericho (Joshua 6). Over the years the Ark was located in the northern Israelite city of Bethel (Judges 20:27) and later the town of Shiloh (1 Sam. 4). By the time of David, the Ark had come to rest in the village of Kiriath-Jearim located about seven miles from Jerusalem. (1 Sam. 7:2).

David has successfully consolidated all political and military power in Israel. In bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, he consolidates the religious power as well. David designs an elaborate procession to bring the Ark from Kiriath-Jearimin to the City. The Ark was to be carried on a new cart and all of Israel, led by King David himself, paraded the Ark with song and all types of instruments. This parade was a celebration of the victory over the Philistines, a thanksgiving to God for the victory, and a recognition of the newfound unity of the country. Think of the parade as Thanksgiving, July 4, and Christmas all at once.

During the parade, an ox stumbles, and a man named Uzzah steadies the Ark and is struck down by God. The Ark was to be carried on the shoulders by men and not touched by anyone but the priests. All of the assembled broke this Law, and Uzzah dies. The event rightfully scares David, and the Ark is dropped off at the nearest household. For the next three months, this house is blessed, and therefore David resolves that the Ark will complete its journey into Jerusalem.

In this second parade, men, not beast, bear the Ark. At every six paces, David sacrifices an ox and a fatling. David, once more leading the procession, enters Jerusalem with a great crowd behind him, with dancing and singing and the playing of instruments. Imagine the procession. Imagine the river of blood from the sacrifices. Imagine the tumult of the horns and cymbals. Image the throngs of men entering through the gates of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem David (not a priest) makes burnt offerings and peace offerings and hosts a feast for all (men and women) who are present. Imagine the spectacle of it all.

Michal: (Ch. 6:20-23):

Michal – Saul’s daughter, David’s first wife, the only woman who is described as loving David, and the person who saved David’s life from her father – observes this spectacle. She is appalled and embarrassed. She believes that David has debased himself with the display and overturned all religious conventions by placing himself at the center of it all. She also has seen David usurp her family’s position as kings of Israel, understands that she has been reduced to a political pawn, and is living as only one of very many wives of the king. When David enters his house to bless the household, she confronts him. She upbraids and chastises David for his display. She calls him vulgar, shameless, and contemptible. After her tirade, David corrects her, and she is never heard from again in our story.

Michal’s confrontation with David is the only blemish in tonight’s episode. But this confrontation shows us David’s great weakness in keeping good order in his household. David’s inability to look after his household and his heavy-handedness when he does will one day consume the entire country.

House of God / House of David: (Ch. 7)

David wants to complete the transformation of Israel by building a temple to God. This will complete both his thanksgiving to God and will complete his consolidation of religious power under himself. Israel is now a real kingdom, and like all kingdoms, it needs a temple to its God. At first, Nathan the prophet (the religious successor to Samuel) approves of the project. Of course, Nathan affirms, their God needs a grandiose structure build for God’s glory.

God, however, has a different plan. That night, God comes to Nathan and tells him that David is not the one to build the temple. God tells David “No!” David has shed too much blood and waged too many wars to build the temple. 1 Chron 22:81 Kings 5:3. His hands are unclean. Allowing David to build a house for God will also alter the balance of power between David and God. David, the brash self-confident king of all that he surveys, recognizes his debt to God for his success. If David builds God a house, David begins to repay the debt and the only source of his humility dries up. God knows David’s heart, and knows that David cannot handle the building of the temple.

Instead, God tells David (through Nathan) that David will not build a house (i.e. a temple) for God, rather God will build a house (i.e. a dynasty) for David. God gives the David the promise that, unlike Saul, his house (his descendants) will rule on his throne forever (or at least for a very long time). God promises David that his son will build the Temple and God will be his Father. God promises David that, unlike Saul, God will never desert David nor his descendants. Just as God gave Moses the law at Mt. Sinai to govern his people then, so does God give his people the House of David to rule his people now. Tradition teaches that David wrote Psalm 132 to commit this experience to song.

Mephibosheth: (Ch. 9:1-13)

One of the more touching parts of our story this week that shows the heart of David is the mentioning of Mephibosheth. If you remember back several weeks ago to where David spared Saul’s life, Saul blesses David and requests that David not cut off his descendants. (1 Sam. 24:21). All of Saul’s sons are dead. But there survives a crippled son of Jonathan’s named Mephibosheth. As Israel was fleeing after the Philistine victory in the Jezreel Valley, Mephibosheth was five years old and was part of the exodus. During flight, his nurse who was carrying him fell, causing Mephibosheth to become lame. (2 Sam 4:4). David, remembering his vow to Saul and his love of Jonathan, takes Mephibosheth into his own household and treats him as his own son. David no longer sees Saul’s house as threat and is free to be magnanimous.

David’s Victories: (Ch. 8, 10)

David’s rise to power, not only threatened the Philistines but other regional powers. From Moab and Edom to the southeast, Ammon in the trans-Jordan, and the Arameans/Syrians to the north, David’s rise has upset the regional power structures. Our episode ends this week with a series of stories of David’s victories against these other regional powers. As we read about these various battles, David takes a smaller role in the battles themselves and leaves more of the fighting to Joab. David will soon turn all of the battles over to Joab’s command. In all the wars this week, David’s forces are victorious. The surrounding people become vassals of David bringing tribute to Jerusalem.

This episode ends with David secure in the knowledge of God’s blessing and secure in his new capital city of Jerusalem. All is well with David and he is at rest.

MEANING

In traditional Christian thought, “Jerusalem” is (i) literally the ancient City of David, (ii) morally the duty to construct a just society here on earth, (iii) allegorically the Church, and (iv) eschatologically that heavenly city described to us in Revelation. Think through how David’s capture of Jerusalem and his bringing the physical presence of God into the City fulfills each of these four means of interpreting and applying Scripture. If David represents Jesus (his descendant) and Jerusalem represents your soul, the Church, or our community the meanings become self-evident.

In God’s covenant with David, we also have the messianic promise which Jesus fulfills. The Jewish people under Roman rule were looking for David’s son who would free them from Rome the same as David freed his people from Philistine control. God promised David that his house would rule forever and it is this rule which is fulfilled in Jesus.  

In dealing with the enfeebled Mephibosheth, we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’s interaction with those who are also physically or spiritually crippled.

NEXT WEEK

David is secure in his knowledge that God will forever protect him. David’s enemies, both foreign and domestic, have been defeated. However, David’s most destructive enemy, himself, remains. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” David’s pride, avarice, and lust will put his throne at risk for the rest of his reign. Next week we meet Bathsheba.

Let me announce the decree of the Lord: *
   he said to me, “You are my Son;
   this day have I begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for
   your inheritance *
   and the ends of the earth for your possession.

You shall crush them with an iron rod *
   and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”

Psalm 2:7-9

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