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First Impressions: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

June 30, 2009

This week’s Old Testament text witnesses the culmination of David’s rise to kingship.  He is finally recognized as king by all the tribes.  Previously, the elders of Judah had anointed David king at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1-4).  This week, the elders of Israel do the same.

In order to make better sense of the Lectionary text, I read 2 Samuel 2-4 carefully.  It is the story of the civil war between David and Ishbaal, Saul’s son.  David quickly emerged as the most likely victor, and those who supported Ishbaal eventually deserted him.  Two of Ishbaal’s officers murdered him.  When they came to David with the news that they had slain David’s enemy, David had the officers butchered (2 Samuel 4:5-12).  With this act, David appeared to continue in his loyalty and concern for Saul’s family, even though they had opposed him.

One of my Lectionary group partners, however, has a more cynical take on David’s concern for Saul’s family.  If David allows for disgruntled soldiers to kill the former but disgraced kings Saul and Ishbaal, then what would prevent someone else from killing David if he became a liability?  Instead, David sets up a precedent in his own best interest: hands off the king!

5:1-2 In this week’s text, the elders of Israel came to David, perhaps a little worried about their own future.  David was strong, and with the deaths of Ishbaal and some other key leaders, there was a vacuum of power in the north.  They tried to butter him up: “Look, we are your bone and flesh.  For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who let out Israel and brought it in.”

This first phrase echoes the Creation story, the first man saying to the first woman, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 23).  It is a reminder to David that these elders, who recently supported the other side during the civil war, were still part of the one covenant people God rescued from Egypt.  “David, don’t be too harsh.  We are your own family.”  It may be possible to use this flesh and bone image to talk about family and community.  Communities fight and argue, but in the end there remains something central to their connection—flesh and blood, a common Savior, a set of beliefs, love.  What is the connection that allows us to live together, and how can we use that for God’s good purpose for the Church?

5:2-3 The elders also acknowledge that God had chosen David for the role of king and to be shepherd over the people.  The shepherd image has some sermon possibility, perhaps contrasting David and all other human shepherds with the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  A lot of blood was shed for David to ascend to the throne; Jesus allowed his own blood to be shed (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: First and Second Samuel [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 232-33, 238.).  What can we learn about living our lives as a shepherd who gives himself away rather than seeking power at the expense of others?

5:10 The lesson ends with a statement that David became greater and greater because God chose him and allowed him to prosper.  This is a difficult, if not uncommon, theological image.  We all know from experience that the truth is more complex than that.  Some very faithful people experience far more than their share of pain and suffering.  Others, who deserve only a good kick in the head, seem to enjoy success beyond our wildest imaginations.  In other places, scripture itself takes issue with the idea that God’s favor alone causes good to the good and evil to the evil.  “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  How do we live with this idea that those who deserve good and justice do not always get it?  What is God’s role in all of this?

I am leaning toward the “flesh and bone” image.  I like to preach often on the meaning of living in Christian community.  I think our community has the potential to preach a powerful message to the world by the character of our life together.  What do you think is the main purpose of this text?  Have I missed any nuggets for preaching?

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