The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

2 Samuel 7 – The Davidic Covenant

Synopsis:

The following essay exegetes 2 Samuel 7. It maintains that the passage concerns the theological issues raised in the book of Samuel of Kingship and ‘rest’ and provides a theological program for them. The reasons for David’s desire to build the temple are explored, and are found to be based upon a secular understanding of temple, contrary to Yahweh’s covenantal purposes for Israel. The rejection of David’s proposal was due to its timing which leads to Yahweh gently rebuking David  and places the notion of ‘temple’ within a covenantal theology which requires the manifestation of ‘rest’. While the author of Samuel seeks to demonstrate that the requirement for rest was fulfilled by David, the final fulfilment of the promises will not realised by a political figure. Rather, these promises find their realisation in Christ.

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Throughout the book of Samuel (referring to 1 and 2 Samuel in their original form)[1] the transition from tribal league to monarchy takes place in Israel’s nationality. In this, any theological issues are raised. The main one being the fate of the previous covenants – Noahic (Genesis 9:9-17), Abrahamic (Genesis 15:18-19); Sinai (Exodus 19:3-6). Since Israel has rejected Yahweh as their King (1 Samuel 8:7), will his purposes as expressed in the previous covenants be fulfilled?

          It is this question that the Davidic covenant seeks to answer forming the theological pinnacle of the book (2 Samuel 7:1-16). Although the word ‘covenant’ does not appear in the account, the dialogue between Yahweh and David is nonetheless regarded as a covenant by other parts of Scripture (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 34-36; 132:12; Jeremiah 33:21) and therefore 2 Samuel 7:1-16 needs to be regarded as a covenant.

The speech by Yahweh (vv6-16) was primarily intended as a rejection of David in response to his desire to build the temple. It is within this rejection that Yahweh’s covenantal purposes are preserved, and a theological program for Israel’s king is developed. By examining in detail Yahweh’s speech to David, and David’s response in prayer, the theological program for Israel and her monarch will be made clear. To understand David’s motives for wanting to build the temple, the events in chapter 6 leading up to the forming of the covenant need to be briefly examined.

          Chapter 6 records David’s capture of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a well fortified Canaanite city in the middle of the territory occupied by Israel. Although Jerusalem (or Jebus) had been conquered previously, Israel had failed to eradicate the inhabitants or sufficiently populate it themselves (Joshua 15:8; Judges 1:8; 19:11) thereby allowing it to become a Canaanite stronghold (2 Samuel 5:6). The capture of Jerusalem provided an ideal place for David to rule both northern and southern tribes as opposed to Hebron in the south. The bringing of the ark to Jerusalem was also advantageous in preserving the old traditions, and helped to ensure tribal loyalties.[2] Historical, the ark had been involved with Israel in the wilderness and finding places to ‘rest’ (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 1:32-33). Therefore, the movement of the ark into Jerusalem would have seemed to indicate a new stage of ‘rest’ for Israel (6:12-15).

It is this manifestation of rest which seems to motivate David to want to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:2). Even though his desires are not made explicit in 2 Samuel 7, they are made explicit in 1 Chronicles 28:2 and 2 Chronicles 6:7. Baldwin asserts that it was the monarch’s duty to build a temple for the god – “… anything less would be a snub to the god who had given him his victory.”[3] In this, Gordon says that David wanted “… to crown his external achievements with the erection of the temple to Yahweh who has granted him his victories.”[4] However, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was not permanent, secured ‘rest’. Notably, ‘rest’ in the unsecured sense is mentioned in other parts of Scripture (Joshua 11:23; 14:15). David’s task in this stage of Israel’s history was to make that rest permanent, as would be prophesied in the latter half of Nathan’s oracle.

It is because permanent rest had not been achieved that Yahweh refuses David as he asks the rhetorical question “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” Understood with 1 Chronicles 17:4, the rhetorical question carries with it negative connotations against David, emphasising his inadequacy to build.[5] The answer to Yahweh’s rhetorical question begins in v11b where the theme of ‘house’ is raised again. However, before the answer to the rhetorical question is given, a historical survey is given (vv6-9a), along with a covenantal theology in which the new covenant between Yahweh and David can be set.

          Yahweh begins the historical survey by appealing to the fact that he had never dwelt in house, nor had he commanded at any stage for a house to be built (vv6-7). Dumbrell states that “For some, the refusal is a prophetic affirmation of Israel’s conquest faith. The older nomadic faith could not entertain the proposal of a fixed residence for the Deity.”[6] However, such an understanding of the verses fails to take into consideration the entirety of the passage that goes on to anticipate the building of the temple, as Dumbrell goes on to point out (v13). This understanding also ignores Scripture’s great care not to locate God, as such that he may be contained. For instance, while Scripture declares that Yahweh’s throne is in heaven (Psalm 103:19), it also maintains that Yahweh is above heaven (Psalm 8:1; 57:11; 113:4). Therefore, just as the heavens cannot contain Yahweh (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Chronicles 2:6; 6:8) yet his throne is in heaven, so to the enthronement of Yahweh in a temple built by man must be considered.

          The problem was not the temple itself. Rather, it was the timing of David’s proposal. Yahweh had not commanded a house to be built because the time had not yet come. Beale, with his theology of temple, perceives before a temple can be built, the opposition must be defeated.[7] Though David had just defeated the Jebusites in chapter 6, there was much more land that needed to be subdued in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant.  As noted before, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was only a temporary rest which needed to be made permanent. This is the reason behind the rejection of David which is made clear in other parts of Scripture as being one who was preoccupied by war (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Chroniclers 22:6).

          Yahweh then goes to review David’s rise to power (vv8-9a). What is characteristic of these verses, along with the previous verses, is the reoccurrence of the personal pronoun ‘I’ followed by an event that has transpired. In this, Yahweh demonstrates that he is the one who has initiated everything that has happened.  None of it can be put down to human initiative. Therefore, neither would the building of the temple come as a result of human initiative. Yahweh would need to initiate the building of the temple, just as he initiated everything else.  It is in the following verses that the prerequisites for building are expounded and the program for the continuation of kingship is given.

The prerequisites for the building of the temple are given in vv9b-11. The allusions to the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants by mention of a great name, place and subjugation of enemies incorporate kingship into the covenantal framework. These promises are expounded further by the Psalmist in Psalm 89. The psalmist perceives the implications of what has been promised at this point in the covenant in declaring that Yahweh will sustain him, Yahweh’s anointed, against his enemies and subdue them (vv20-23). The mention of the exaltation of ‘his horn’ (v25) would also appear to be a reference to his strength and reputation. It would be through David that the promise of land given to Abraham would be fulfilled along with the anticipation of security in the Deuteronomic narratives (Deuteronomy 33:28). Through David, Yahweh would bring an end to the afflictions that Israel had suffered from the nation around her (Judges 2:18; 4:3; 6:9; 10:12). That David would be the fulfilment is evidenced by his actions against neighbouring nations, thereby providing national security and laying the foundation for a permanent rest (2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10).[8] Only in such a political climate can consideration be given to the building of the temple as a symbol of permanency.

Having established that the building of the temple will be as a result of Yahweh’s provision, and David’s responsibility is to make the ‘rest’ secure, Yahweh now returns to the question of ‘house’ (or temple. vv11b-16). In addressing the question, Yahweh declares that he will build David a house (v11b). In this, the word ‘house’ is played upon to give it the meaning of ‘dynasty’. Yahweh is indicating that he will build a dynasty, a royal line, for David in contrast to Saul’s whose line was cut short (1 Samuel 13:13-14). David is to have a son, and through this son, Yahweh’s promise to David of a dynasty will be fulfilled. His dynasty will have a permanence that will permit the building of the temple, as Yahweh declares “He is the one who will build a house for my Name…” (v13a)

          It is important to pause here and consider the phrase “for my Name”. In this phrase, Yahweh is asserting a correct theology of temple. The temple would not be where Yahweh would dwell. Rather, only his Name would dwell. This expression carries with it connotations of ownership thereby asserting Yahweh’s kingship over the land. Within this understanding, Yahweh’s imminence can co-exist with his transcendence.[9] So much so that Yahweh’s transcendence upon his temple does not always warrant the use of the formula of Yahweh’s Name. For instance, when David’s son, Solomon, built the temple as Yahweh had ordained, he spoke of Yahweh dwelling in the temple, only to later acknowledge the impossibility of Yahweh dwelling in the temple (1 Kings 8:13, 17).

          It is also important to consider the identity of David’s offspring (or ‘seed’ AV). As a reader under the covenant of Christ, the references to an everlasting throne and kingdom (vv13, 16), and the relationship between God and David’s offspring (v14), make it easy to the mistake ‘offspring’ is an exclusive reference to Jesus. However, it is difficult to see how the references of wrong doing and punishment apply with this understanding (v14). In Psalm 89, the Psalmist makes references to David’s offspring in plurality and not in the singular – “If his sons forsake my law…” (vv30-32). As Baldwin asserts “… the original implies not one generation but many.”[10] Therefore, ‘offspring’ needs to be understood as David’s descendants collectively, inclusive of Jesus.

          The kingdom promised to David’s son is to be an everlasting kingdom (vv14, 16). Initially, this seems to be contrary to the historical reality that the kingdom of Israel divided in 930 B.C., and the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. followed by the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.[11] However, it needs to be understood that what is being promised here in not a continual succession of Davidic kings. Rather, that Yahweh will always maintain the throne of Yahweh. As to what extent Israel’s king will enjoy the blessings of the promise will depend upon obedience (vv14-15).

          This aspect of accountability is reinforced by the father/son relationship the king was to enjoy with Yahweh. Again, this incorporates Israel’s kingship further into the Sinai Covenant. Historically, Israel has been addressed as Yahweh’s ‘son’ (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1), and these terms of sonship are now being applied to Israel’s King.[12] Just as Israel was liable to observe the Torah on account of exile (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25; 30:1-5), even though the nation of Israel was a fulfilment of Abrahamic Covenant which was also everlasting (Genesis 17:7), so to will the throne of Israel’s king be everlasting, though the king himself will be punished should he fail to observe the Torah as the Psalmist recognises (Psalm 89:30-32).

          It is this aspect of the promise of an everlasting throne that forms the basis for a hope of a return to the Davidic ideals. Despite having been taken into exile, the major prophets anticipated the day when Yahweh will set a descendant of David to rule over Israel (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15:16). However, such prophecy is not fulfilled by a King who merely restores the political status of Israel. Rather, the prophecies anticipate Christ who is the fulfilment of all covenantal theology (Matthew 5:17).

In his response in prayer, David recognises the significance of what has been promised him. David understands that the ramifications of what has been promised go far beyond national Israel. In response, David can only awe the magnificence of what Yahweh proposed to do through him, leading up to the perplexing statement “You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!” (ESV v19).

          Psalm 110, which is consistent with the time of David,[13] can be helpful in understanding this verse. The Psalm is introduced as Yahweh speaking to a superior of David (cf. Matthew 22:44-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35) who “…will guarantee the political extension of Israel…”[14] in fulfilment of the covenant (Exodus 19:3b-6). In this, the unique and privileged identity of Israel is preserved as Yahweh’s covenant people (vv23-24), along with Yahweh’s kingship of Israel (vv24-26).

The Davidic Covenant therefore addresses the issues that have risen out of a diversion from Yahweh’s kingship to a secular state. The covenant incorporates the secular institution of kingship into the purposes of Yahweh paving the way for the Christ who would fulfil Yahweh’s covenant purposes.

Bibliography:

‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dumbrell, W. J.  Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Beale, G. K.       The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Carlson, R. A.    David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964.

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Dumbrell, W. J.  ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 May – August 1980, 40-47.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Soatini, Temanu. ‘The Relationship of the Davidic covenant to the Sinai covenant’. Disservice Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1997.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 19[2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 230[3] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 213-214[4] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 236

[5] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989), 118

[6] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 147

[7] G. K. Beale, The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 63-64

[8] R. A. Carlson, David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, (Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964), 118-119

[9] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, 122

[10] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 125

[11] ‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985)

[12] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 (May – August 1980), 45

[13] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

[14] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

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October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 and 2 Samuel

Synopsis:

          While it seems probable that the author of 1 and 2 Samuel did compile their work from various sources, the simple fact is the author compiled the book of Samuel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to convey certain truths in fulfilment of their own concerns. As interesting as it may be to know where contributions to the book came from, such studies will not assist in understanding the purpose of the author’s presentation of the rise of David, and his relationship with Yahweh. Therefore, this essay will concern itself with the book of Samuel as a coherent work as the author intended it to be read. As such, this essay will consider the relationships between the narratives, and how they communicate that David was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. The narratives concerning David’s anointing, ascension, and the preservation of his kingdom will be considered in detail as motifs for the author’s thesis.

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The purpose of the author’s presentation of David was to demonstrate how David was a man after Yahweh’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Before attention is given as to how the rise of David and the following succession narrative fulfils this verse, the verse itself must be taken into consideration.

          The way the NIV renders the verse – “the Lord [Yahweh] has sought out a man after his own heart” – gives the impression that there is something intrinsically appealing about Yahweh’s selection. Baldwin understands this verse as reflecting positively on David as one who is “… prepared to let the Lord’s will … be a guide for his life.”[1] While this can be said of David’s military campaigns, it barely applies to the rest of his life. Gordon understands this verse as Yahweh choosing a man according to his desires and as opposed to the people’s desires (1 Samuel 8:22).[2] The New Century Version perhaps offers a better rendering – “The Lord has looked for the kind of man he wants.” The lack of intrinsic appeal in David is certainly recognised by himself in response to the promise given him – “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18). It is to this end that the author presents David as having ascended the throne on the basis of Yahweh’s sovereign choice, and not on his astuteness.

Through the presentation of David’s career, the author intends to demonstrate that: 1) David was not an expected, and thereby popular, choice; 2) David’s accession to the throne was not at the expense of Saul’s life, character, or rule; 3) the preservation of David’s kingdom was due to Yahweh’s provision, and not David’s astuteness.

•1.     David’s unexpected choice

David is first introduced into the narrative of Samuel as Yahweh’s chosen during a secret anointing (1 Samuel 16). David’s selection is not expected by all present. Even Samuel, who expected Eliab to be the succeeding king, had to be instructed otherwise by Yahweh (vv6-7). So unexpected was the choosing of David that he was not even presented before Samuel (v10). Instead he was out tending sheep (v11). Upon his presentation before Samuel, David is described as “… the youngest … with a fine appearance and handsome features.” (1 Samuel 16:11-12). This is a contrast to the tall, warrior figure that was personified in Saul that Samuel was originally looking for. The mention of his position in the family, Klein observes, is a continuation of Yahweh choosing the younger over the older in the Old Testament (cf. Jacob over Esau, Genesis 25:23; Ephraim over Manasseh, Genesis 48:8-22).[3] Therefore, by human standards, David would have hardly passed as a king thereby asserting Yahweh’s selection of him. Yahweh’s appointment of David is emphasised by the events and circumstances surrounding his anointing. David is said to have the Spirit of Yahweh upon him (1 Samuel 16:14), and his victory over Goliath is a further indication of Yahweh’s selection of David. [4]

•2.     David’s ascension to the throne

The author goes to great lengths to demonstrate that David’s rise to power was due to Yahweh’s sovereignty. David was liable to the charge of ending the Saulide dynasty (Samuel 16:5-9) Interwoven throughout the narratives of David’s ascension s the testimony from others that David would be King. This again emphasises Yahweh’s sovereign choice (1 Samuel 23:17; 25:31; 28:17), and even that of Saul (24:40).

          The author demonstrates that the relationship between David and Saul did not begin as one of enmity. David is portrayed as a servant of Saul, called to be in Saul’s court to soothe Saul’s anxiety caused by the evil spirit sent from Yahweh (1 Samuel 16:14-23). This relationship was changed at the initiative of Saul. David proved himself to be a mighty warrior, and the singing of David’s praises by the women stirred envy in Saul (1 Samuel 18:5-9). This marked a change in the relationship. The author remarks that, “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12). From this time on, Saul sought to eliminate the threat that David posed. Not the other way around as Shimei had supposed. The author records on two occasions Saul attempted to run a spear through David (1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10), and sent him on dangerous military missions hoping that he would be killed in battle, only to have David succeed in his mission (1 Samuel 18:24-27).

          Having failed to eliminate David discretely, Saul begins a murderous pursuit of David on the basis that David is his enemy (1 Samuel 19:17) which is recorded in chapters 22 – 26. In what shall be called the pursuit narratives, the author does record that on two occasions, David had an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not (24, 26). Instead, David earnestly seeks reconciliation with Saul (24:22; 26:25).

          Interestingly, the two accounts of David seeking reconciliation with Saul are divided by the account of Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25). In this account it becomes evident that vengeful murder is within David’s capability. The main concern in the passage is one of bloodshed which needed to be explained to David by Abigail (v26). Even though Nabal has wronged David, it would be wrong of David to spill blood in revenge, since it is for Yahweh to remove David’s enemies (v33), and this is to characterize David’s rule (v28). It is this insight of Abigail which shapes David’s theology in his next encounter with Saul. Not only does David refuse to take Saul’s life because he is Yahweh’s anointed (v9), he also anticipates Yahweh’s action in his death (v10). Therefore within David’s rise to power, the author acknowledges David’s murderous traits, which reappear in the succession narrative. However, he demonstrates that these have not been employed against the person of Saul thereby vindicating David from being implicated in Saul’s death or the breakdown of the Saulide dynasty.

          When Saul is killed, the author again demonstrates that David is not to be implicated in 1 Samuel 31. It is recorded that Saul died in battle taking his own life after being critically wounded (vv3-4). At the time, David had taken refuge among the Philistines. The author again stresses that David had not abandoned his King, nor his homeland. Rather, it was for self preservation that David sought refuge among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:1). While among the Philistines, David, furthered Israel’s security in the Promise Land under the guise of fighting for the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:8-12), and enriched the towns of Judah with the plunder from war (1 Samuel 30:26-31). Therefore, David could not be charged with conspiring against Israel, or his king, Saul.

          Upon hearing of the death of Saul, David is recorded as being struck with grief along with his men (2 Samuel 1:11-13). Nor does David decorate the Amalekite who brought David the news. The Amalekite gives a different version to the events recorded in (1 Samuel 31:2-6). The Amalekite tells of how he killed Saul and had taken the crown from his head to present to David. The Amalekite’s motive in providing an alternate version would appear so he could earn David’s favour and be rewarded.[5] However, David perceives a greater issue at stake which is expressed in v14 – that the Amalekite had raised his hand against Yahweh’s anointed. Just as David had refused to lift his hand against Saul (1 Samuel 24:6; 26:11), and been kept from bloodshed (25:26, 33), so too he maintains his court with the same dignity. David, after further interrogation of the Amalekite, orders him to be executed (v15). David takes the same action upon hearing the death of Ish-Bosheth from Recab and Baanah (2 Samuel 4:7-12).        

          The author now vindicates David against the charge of eradicating the other members of the house of Saul. While a war does occur between the houses of Saul and David (2 Samuel 2:8 – 3:1), this was not instigated by David. Rather, they were instigated by Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and was answered to by Joab, who was acting as David’s army commander. This is in contrast to David whom, in the meantime, was concerned that Saul had received a proper burial (2 Samuel 2:5-6). In the course of the war, Abner had killed Asahel, Joab’s brother (vv 18, 23) which provoked bitter rivalry between Joab and Abner. While David had managed to form reconciliation with Abner after Abner defected from Ish-Bosheth (3:9-10, 21), Joab had no knowledge of this, and sought vengeance against Abner by murdering him (3:27). Again, the author is concerned to distance David from the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty by including David’s speech in the narrative declaring his innocence, and cursing Abner and his family for his actions (3:28-29). Again the author is concerned to draw attention to David’s grief over the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty (3:31-35; cf. 1:11-12, 17-27). Such actions distant David from the demise of the Saulide dynasty, and demonstrate that David’s ascension to the throne was due to Yahweh’s election of David and not political manoeuvring. As the author records, “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.” (2 Samuel 3:36-37). So David was able to assume Kingship over Israel in place of the Saulide dynasty (5:1-5)

•3.     The preservation of David’s kingdom.

The so called “Succession Narrative” covers 2 Samuel 9 – 1 Kings 2. These chapters contain David’s management of his kingdom after ascending the throne. These are set against Yahweh’s covenant with David which contain the promise of an everlasting throne, and a son who would succeed David and build the temple (7:12, 13, 16). Throughout the Succession Narrative, David and his family are portrayed as having little or no astuteness, capable of deception and being deceived, immoral, and barely able to keep a grasp of his throne or kingdom. While there are many narratives that illustrate this throughout his 2 Samuel, the narratives of the war against the Ammonites, David and Bathsheba, Amnon and Tamar, Absalom’s revolt, and David’s return have all been selected for their interrelatedness, and crucial contribution in their portrayal of David as King.

          David lacks the astuteness that may normally be associated with a king which affects his administration of the kingdom. Upon the death of Nahash, King of Ammon, David sent his condolences to Hanun on the basis of an existing friendship (2 Samuel 10:1-2). While his intentions may have been sincere, his inability to discern the political environment and make effective communications to the Ammonites led to a breakdown in diplomatic relationships (vv3-4). The Ammonites had reason to be suspicious of David. His imperial activities in Moab and Aram (2 Samuel 8:1-9), along with the events of Saul (1 Samuel 11:1-11), provided evidence for the Ammonites to suspect David of ulterior motives. The author records that David also dedicated articles to Yahweh that had been taken from the Ammonites (2 Samuel 8:12). However, Gordon suggests that this was anticipatory of chapters 10-12 as there is no mention of actions being taken against the Amonites in vv1-8.[6] While this oversight led to the continuation of David’s imperial activities in the region against the Ammonites, securing Israel in the Promised Land (2 Samuel 10:7-19), future oversights would result in David’s downfall.

The account of David and Bathsheba marks the low point in David’s moral life (2 Samuel 11). The author informs his readers that the time was spring when it was customary for kings to go to war, though this time, David himself had remained in Jerusalem (v1). This is a variation on David’s activities during war. Previously, David had to “talk his way” into a battle (1 Samuel 17:32-37). The text also gives the impression that he was present on the battle field during his rise to power, the taking of Jerusalem, and expansion of his empire (1 Samuel 27:8; 30; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1-14). Later in David’s reign, the text makes it explicit that David was present on the battle field only to have his men refuse to have his company on future campaigns (2 Samuel 21:15, 17). On this occasion, David had been fighting against the Ammonites with Joab as his proxy while he remained in Jerusalem (10:7). Only when the situation deteriorated for Israel did David join the battle (v17).

          The author records David’s abuse of power to sleep with Bethsheba. Clearly she was not pregnant at the time since she is bathing to become ritualistically clean (v4).[7] It was as a result of sleeping with David that Bathsheba fell pregnant (v5). David realises he is in the wrong and seeks to cover up the scandal by encouraging Uriah to sleep with his wife (vv6-8). Uriah’s character in the narrative is interesting as he seems to personify what David’s conscience should have been. David’s initial cover up failed since Uriah had refused to sleep with his wife because as he explained, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields.” (2 Samuel 11:11). Noble concerns that David had previously maintained and acted upon (2 Samuel 7:2; 8) had now been abandoned by David for lust and the taking of what is not his, while Uriah, a Hittite (vv3, 6, 17, 24), maintains those noble concerns by refusing to take what is rightfully his.

          Having his initial cover up fail, David plots to have Uriah killed in battle by giving instructions to Joab, who does not hesitate to partake in David’s murderous scheme. David’s intention in the death of Uriah was to make it look like he died in battle, while David in his alleged mercy marries the now widowed Bathsheba who was carrying his child to avoid the appearance of an adulterous relationship. Notably, there is no expression of remorse on David’s part as recorded in relation to other deaths, nor any attempt by the author to distance David from the events or justify his actions. It is these adulterous and murderous tendencies that David passed on to his sons who would later threaten David’s Kingdom (2 Samuel 13). Therefore, David’s kingdom did not prevail on account of his morality.

The account of David and Bathsheba is immediately followed up by Nathan, the prophet (2 Samuel 12). When confronted with Nathan’s parable he is unable to perceive that Nathan is about to confront him with his actions concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. This inability will later serve to jeopardise his kingdom with the uprising of Absalom (2 Samuel 14). 

          Absalom’s sister, Tamar, had been raped by Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22), Absalom’s half brother by Ahinoam (2 Samuel 3:2). Absalom was born of Maacah (v3). In revenge, Absalom murdered Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-20), then fled to Geshur to escape justice (v37). However, in escaping justice, Baldwin comments that Absalom also forfeits his succession to the throne.[8] That Absalom is next in line for the throne is slightly puzzling given that Kileab is David’s second born (2 Samuel 3:3). However, there is no other mention of Kileab in Scripture except for 1 Chronicles 3:1 where he goes under the name Daniel. Nonetheless, Absalom would express his kingly aspirations later on in the narrative.

          What began as a friendly gesture by Joab to unite an estranged son back to his father developed into a political uprising which saw David flee Jerusalem. Despite the grievous act committed by Absalom, David still long after him, and Joab sought to reconcile the two men (2 Samuel 14:1ff). Gordon comments that Joab was concerned with more than the reconciliation of father and son.[9] Absalom was now David’s heir-apparent, and needed to be in a position to succeed David. Joab used the woman from Tekoa to exploit David’s weakness in having a lack of astuteness. It is possible that David recognised Absalom’s rite of succession and realised he needed to be located in Jerusalem rather than left in exile. Though Solomon was the one sworn to succeed David (1 Kings 1:13), there is no account of such a promise in 1 or 2 Samuel. Only the general promise that Yahweh would raise up David’s offspring to succeed him (2 Samuel 7:12). However, Absalom had murdered, and thus David may not have considered him to be an appropriate identity for his royal court (2 Samuel 14:24).

          Upon Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, the author informs the reader that Absalom was highly praised for his handsome features which brought him attention and popularity (v25). It is of interest to the author’s presentation that he should make comment concerning Absalom’s appearance now rather than earlier in the narrative. The only other person to be distinguished from all of Israel because of their appearance in the presentation was Saul (1 Samuel 10:23). Therefore the comment anticipates the upcoming actions of Absalom.

          After five years of dwelling in Jerusalem outside the royal court, he forces his way back into the court by providing David with an ultimatum via Joab – “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”‘ Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” (2 Samuel 14:32). While there is no recorded conversation between David and Absalom, it is apparent that David restores him fully with a kiss (v33). This placed Absalom in a position where he was able to openly pursue his kingly aspirations indicated by his acquisitions of a chariot, horses and men (1 Samuel 15:1). He then set about a propaganda campaign exploiting David’s poor administration of justice, whether alleged or actual, for the next four years (vv2-6).[10] The fact there was tension between Judah and the other tribes of Israel upon David’s return from exile may suggest there was some truth in what Absalom was claiming (2 Samuel 19:41-43). With the support of the people, he was able to claim Kingship in Hebron, including support from key personalities from David’s court (vv10-12). Such a political move forced David to flee Jerusalem for the sake of his court (v14). Such a disaster needs to be seen as a result of poor management, and unwillingness to administer justice on David’s part.

          This not only had implications for David’s court. It also had implications for the covenant that Yahweh had formed with David. David’s “everlasting throne” had apparently come to an end (2 Samuel 7:16). David rightly recognised that the covenant would benefit all of humanity. Had this cosmic promise been abandoned because of David’s mismanagement? The answer is a resounding “no” as the author demonstrates Yahweh’s preservation of David.

           Though David has lost power, there are three elements in these narratives that work together to restore David to the throne. Firstly, the actions of Hushai served to give David more time to make preparations for war (2 Samuel 17:7-13). Hushai was effectively planted by David as a spy in Absalom’s court to frustrate the plans of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:33). Hushai did this by appealing to David’s experience and reputation as a warrior making Ahithophel’s plan appear not as well considered, and best not followed (2 Samuel 17:14).

Secondly, David had the support of key people who were able to ensure David’s success. An unnamed owner of a well was prepared to conceal David’s two informers after they had been discovered by a young man who informed Absalom (vv17-19). Support was also given to David from those outside of Israel (vv27-29). This allowed David to prepare for war against Absalom.

Thirdly, just as David did not take the removal of Saul into his own hands (1 Samuel 26:10), David now refuses to end his son’s life (2 Samuel 18:5, 12), though probably more out of fatherly compassion than reverence. Notably, when David does hear of Absalom’s death, he mourns to the point of demoralising his troops (2 Samuel 18:33 – 19:4). David only stops mourning when confronted by Joab (19:5-8). Absalom is removed from power not by the direct intervention of David, rather by the freak accident of getting caught by his head in a tree while ridding his mule, and Joab and his men disregarding David’s command by ending Absalom’s life (2 Samuel 18:9-10). Again, the author distances David from the death of his rivals, and demonstrates that David’s enthronement was due to divine election and not human initiative.

The notion that David’s return to power, and the continuation was based on Yahweh’s intervention is further emphasised by his handling of affairs of Mephibosheth and Joab. In the affair of Mephibosheth, David is unable to distinguish the truth concerning Mephibosheth’s absence from his company when fleeing Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:24-30; cf. 16:104). David’s resolve was to issue a compromised verdict ordering both parties (Mephibosheth and Ziba) to divide Saul’s estate. Again, the promotion of Amasa into Joab’s position (19:13) may have been an attempt by David to reunify the kingdom as Amasa had led the rebel army (17:25). However, this decision would result in another tragedy with the murder of Amasa by Joab (20:10).

Despite David’s faults, one thing may be said for David – he recognised Yahweh’s sovereignty. David knew it was for Yahweh to remove Saul (1 Samuel 26:10). David “inquired of the Lord” before embarking on military campaigns (1 Samuel 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19, 23), and in times of national disaster (2 Samuel 21:10). David was also repented when confronted with his sin as opposed to Saul, who while confessing attempted to justify his actions (2 Samuel 12:13; cf 1 Samuel 15:13-25). However, this seems to emphasise Yahweh’s sovereign choice of David rather than any positive reflection of his character. Before forming the covenant with David, Yahweh had to inform David just how sovereign he was (2 Samuel 7:8-11).

David fulfils the author’s purposes by providing an ideal model for kingship. While David himself is far from being pure and sinless, the most important aspect of David’s reign was that he was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. It is this aspect that makes the office of kingship compatible with the identity of Israel as Yahweh’s covenant people, and provides a theology of messiahship in anticipation of the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant which came in Christ.

Bibliography:

Ackroyd, Peter R., ‘The succession narrative (so-called)’. Interpretation  35 (1981): 383-398

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman. An introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel. Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Klein, Ralph W.  Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel. United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983

Seaton, John.     ‘The rise and fall of King David in the purposes of 1 & 2 Samuel’. Dissertation Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1990.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 105 [2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 134[3] Ralph W.  Klein, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983),  161[4] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 140[5] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 208

[6] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 244

[7] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 253

[8] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 252

[9] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 266

[10] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 270

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Problems of Israel having a King

The Problems of Israel having a King

There was nothing wrong with the idea of Israel having a king. A monarch was to be an extension of Israel’s covenant experience. Kings were promised to Abram by God (Genesis 17:6), prophesied by Jacob (Genesis 49:10) and Balaam (Numbers 24:7), given provision in the law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and the book of Judges ends with expectation of a king (Judges 21:25, compare Deuteronomy 12:8). However, problems with kingship arose when the elders requested a king on ill-founded reasons and motives which opposed the purposes of God for Israel.

          There were two reasons behind the request. Firstly, the priesthood and justice systems had become corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17; 8:3, 5), and secondly, the Philistine threat of Israel’s occupancy of the promised land (1 Samuel 4:1-11, 6:1-12). Israel knew Yahweh had fought wars for her based on his promise of land (Exodus 14:13-24; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:21-22; 7:17-24; 31:6-8; 31:23; 32:29-30; Joshua 1:5-7, 9; Judges 1:2; 6:16; 7:9; 11:29). Israel should have known from her own experience to examine herself as a covenant nation and depend on God for a solution. Instead, the elders of the people decided the best solution to their domestic corruption and the Philistine threat would be to “…be like all the other nations, with a [human] king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

          However, the request opposed God’s purposes for Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), and the statutes for the king prescribed by the law (Deuteronomy (17:14-20). Like the nation of Israel, the conduct of her king was to be different from the other nations. Israel’s king was to ensure her integrity as a covenant nation.

          The request to have a king like the other nations was a rejection of theocratic rule, and would hinder Israel’s capacity to worship Yahweh. This is why Samuel gives a bleak warning of the influence their desired king will have. The appointment of a king, outside the covenant relationship, would see a man usurp the position of God, and provided an oppressive alternative to theocratic rule. Such a king would not satisfy the criteria set by the Law. Acts of worship and gifts prescribed by the law that were offered to Yahweh would now be offered to the king. People, land and tithes that would otherwise be offered to the Yahweh (Leviticus 17:2-8, 27:14-25, 27:30,32) would be taken by the king (1 Samuel 8:11-13, 15-17; 18:2). This king would accumulate wealth and resources for his own use and war campaigns (1 Samuel 8:12), and consider himself above his brothers (1 Samuel 8:17).

          Despite Israel’s rejection of Yahweh as king, Yahweh in his grace gave them a king as the elders desired (1 Samuel 8:7). Within the reign of the first king, Saul took brave men into his service (1 Samue1 15:18-21; 18:2), introduced taxes (1 Samuel 17:25), and usurped the position of God by disobeying Yahweh’s instruction and declaring what was ‘good’ (1 Samuel 15:7-9). People credited their national security to Saul and David (1 Samuel 18:7), not Yahweh. Further to this, Saul thought he deserved more credit than what was given him (1 Samuel 18:8). Later in his career, Saul’s own power drove him on a murderous pursuit of David and his associates (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 20:33, 22:16-19, 23:7-29, 26:1-4,18) illustrating the inequality that had developed between the king and the people and the king’s. All of this illustrated contempt for Yahweh and his law.

          Israel’s second monarch, David, was more of a model king than the first, recognising Yahweh’s rule through the monarch. David regarded Saul as Yahweh’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:6,10, 26:9,11,16,23), though he was anointed as king long before Saul’s death (1 Samuel 16:1,13). David’s reverence of Yahweh and his purposes lead peace and security of Israel (2 Samuel 7:1). However, even this great king did not meet the statutes prescribed by the law. David took eight wives (1 Samuel 18:27, 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 11:27) and concubines (2 Samuel 15:16), and committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). Though Israel’s international crisis had been resolved, corruption was still rife in her administration. King David’s misconduct served to set bad precedents for his subordinates (2 Samuel 13:1-29) which finally lead to domestic turmoil (2 Samuel 13-15).

The solution to Israel’s domestic problems was clearly not to be found in a human monarch. David was not the one to establish Yahweh’s house. Rather, Yahweh would establish his house (2 Samuel 7:11b). Yahweh gives David a history lesson in that it was him who established the nation of Israel and made her prosper, and it was him that made David king over Israel (2 Samuel 7:6-9). As part of the history lesson, Yahweh enters into a covenant with David reciting the historic themes of a name, a place and a people, applying them to the present problem with David. This implies Yahweh was Israel’s true king, and he is the one who will resolve Israel’s domestic and international problems.

The fundamental problem was Israel repeatedly broke Yahweh’s covenant, and moved out of relationship with him. The request for a king was only a symptom of this cause. The solution Yahweh would provide was to fix (nata’  òèÇðˆ) his people into covenant relationship with himself so they could no longer break his covenant and move out of relationship (2 Samuel 7:10).

Yahweh would do this through David’s offspring, or ‘seed’ (2 Samuel 7:12). This ‘seed’ cannot have its reference restricted to any one person or entity. Rather, ‘seed’ needs to be understood in a typological sense, inclusive of Solomon, Israel represented by David’s kingly line, and Christ[1]. David’s line will continue to have a relationship with Yahweh as a son (2 Samuel 7:14, compare Exodus 4:22). This relationship is intimate as it involves the punishment of wrong doing (compare Proverbs 13:24), perhaps alluding to the exile brought on by Israel’s unfaithfulness. Even still, David’s line is assured Yahweh will not withdraw his love from them (v15).

          Even though a temple, or house is built by David’s son Solomon, this is only in anticipation of Christ who would build a bigger temple, manifesting as Yahweh’s kingdom. Christ would be worthy of building Yahweh’s kingdom because of his divine origin, and have an everlasting rule as the divine king, and resolving the broken relationship between Yahweh and humanity.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1]  Delitzsch, F.   Keil, C. F.            “Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes”, Vol. 2. William B. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Michigan – p347

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment