Friday, September 30, 2011

Note One

A note on 2 Samuel 8:1
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

This final, decisive defeat of the Philistines is recorded after David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and after God made his promise to build a house for David. For now, we will skip internal affairs and follow David's conquests of surrounding nations until they are finished. After that, we will return to internal affairs and David's family life.

The reference to Metheg Ammah (2 Samuel 8:1) is puzzling. The words may be taken as a place name (as in NIV and KJV), but no such place is mentioned elsewhere. Another possibility is that the words to refer to the "reins of the forearm." This alludes to the way a person controls a horse and suggests that David wrested from Philistia the reins of the land, that is, control of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (Hertzberg as reported in EBC, 1992, p. 903). The NASB takes the words as a description: "the chief city" (literally, the bridle of the mother city) meaning that David took the control of Philistine villages out of the hands of the mother city, which was Gath. 1 Chronicles 18:1 may support this view when it says that David took "Gath and its surrounding villages (literally, daughters) out of the hands of the Philistines."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hall of Fame

Reflections on 2 Samuel 23:8-12 and 21:15-22

Major League Baseball and the National Football League both have a Hall of Fame where the careers and feats of famous athletes are memorialized.  The exploits of David's mightiest men are recounted in the summaries at the end of his life, but those exploits probably occurred during the wars with the Philistines before the fall of their principle city, Metheg Ammah (Gath), mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:1.

MIGHTY MEN.  David's three mightiest men had broken through Philistine lines and brought water to David from Bethlehem.  The first of these was Josheb-Basshebeth (or Jashobeam, 1 Chronicles 11:11), who killed 800 men in one encounter.  The second of David's three mightiest men was Eleazar.  When David's men retreated before the Philistines, he refused to flee and fought alone until his hand was "frozen" to his sword.  When David's men returned, they found that he had already won the victory.  The third of David's mightiest men was Shammah, who by himself defended a field of lintels against the raiding Philistines when the other Israelites had fled.  Through these men who dared to stand when all others fled, God turned the tide of the battle and gave Israel the victory.

GRATEFUL TO THE LORD.  Baal Perazim was near Adullam, where David had earlier hidden from Saul.  Perhaps at this time, three of his soldiers demonstrated their devotion and bravery after David expressed his desire for a drink from the well at Bethlehem, which was occupied by Philistines.  They undertook the dangerous mission, broke through the Philistine lines, and brought David water from the well at Bethlehem.  David was so overwhelmed by their devotion and bravery that he could not drink it.  Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

King of the Mountain

Reflections on 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 1 Chronicles 14:8-17

Because of his higher position, the king on the mountain enjoys a great advantage over his rivals.  However, the rivals are more numerous and with time can dislodge the king at the top.  But then, the new king on the mountain suddenly finds that his allies have turned against him.  His success does not bring rest.  Instead, it invites attacks from all sides.  David's elevation to the throne over all Israel antagonized the Philistines, who like David had been counted enemies by Saul's house.  They were troubled because David had become their chief rival.  They gathered their forces and marched toward Jerusalem from the southwest.  They occupied the fertile Valley of Rephaim (Isaiah 17:4-6) midway between Bethlehem, where they had established a garrison (2 Samuel 23:14), and Jerusalem.  Before the Philistines gained complete control of the countryside around Jerusalem, David took a small force to Baal Perazim, where he could observe the movement of Philistine troops between Philistia and the Valley of Rephaim.

THE LORD BREAKS FORTH.  Although David was accompanied by brave and proven soldiers, he inquired of the Lord before attacking the Philistines.  After receiving God's approval, David attacked the Philistines near Baal Perazim with such suddenness that they abandoned their idols.  David and his men carried off the idols (2 Samuel 5:21) and burned them (1 Chronicles 14:12) according to the Lord's command (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).  After the battle, David noted that the Lord had "broken out against my enemies before me.  Still, one battle seldom wins a war, and the Philistines returned with reinforcements.

THE LORD GOES IN FRONT.  Again David inquired of the Lord, and God instructed David to circle around the Philistines and attack "in front of the balsam trees," that is, probably from the cover of a wooded area in a guerrilla style ambush.  The "sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees" signaled that the Lord had "gone out in front" of them "to strike the Philistine army."  Perhaps as the trees hid David's men from the sight of the Philistines, so the sound in the treetops masked the sound of his men as they moved into position.  Since David had circled around behind the Philistines, they could not flee down the valley westward when they were attacked.  Instead, they had to go north over the hills five or six miles to Gibeon and then westward 15 miles to Gezer on the border of Philistia.

Twice the Philistines had attacked, twice David inquired of the Lord, twice the Lord had led the way, and twice David and the Israelites won the victory.  When Israel sought the Lord's will and obeyed his command to destroy the idols in the land, the Lord blessed Israel and gave them victory.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Obedience and Blessing

Reflections on 2 Sam. 5:6-10 [1 Chron. 11:4-9]

David desired in his heart to fulfill God’s purposes as stated by Moses. Even while in Ziklag to avoid Saul, David was destroying the Amalekites in accordance to God’s command (Deut. 25:17-19), and God blessed David. When David became king of all Israel, David continued to pursue the will of God, and God continued to bless him.

MOVING THE CAPITAL. David needed a capital that was more centrally located, not associated with Judah alone, and more defensible than Hebron. Jerusalem was an ideal site. It lay between the two most powerful tribes of Ephraim to the north and Judah to the south. Although it was in territory assigned to Benjamin (Josh. 18:16; 18:28), it bordered Judah (Josh. 15:8), which was the base of David’s power. Furthermore, Jerusalem was quite defensible because on three sides it could be approached only by ascending a steep hill. The major obstacle to making it his capital was that it was still in the hands of the Jebusites.

UNFULFILLED MANDATE. The Jebusites were “inhabitants of the land,” a phrase that often described the people, including the Jebusites, whom the Israelites were to drive out (Ex. 23:31; Num. 33:52; and Deut. 7:1). Although Jerusalem belonged to Benjamin, the Benjamites had never driven them out (Judges 1:21). Consequently, David was not merely achieving a personal ambition when he conquered Jerusalem, but he was fulfilling God’s mandate to possess the land promised to Abraham’s descendants.

CONQUERING JERUSALEM. Conquering Jerusalem was no easy task. The Jebusites were so confident of their defenses that they tried to insult David by boasting that even the blind and the lame could defend the city against David. David resolved to defeat the insolent “blind and lame” inhabitants. He scouted the city’s defenses and discovered that the city obtained its water from a source outside the city walls through a narrow shaft in the rock upon which the city was built (2 Sam. 5:8). Having discovered the passageway, he called for a volunteer to enter the city through the water shaft and promised the command of the army to the man who first entered the city. Joab accepted the challenge and enabled David’s army to capture the city (1 Chron. 11:6).

BLESSED OF GOD. After David conquered the city, he lived in the fortress (stronghold) and built up its supporting terraces (Millo) and city walls while Joab took charge of rebuilding the rest of the city (1 Chron. 11:8). David did not conquer and beautify the city by his own ingenuity and strength. Rather, he did so because “the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him” (2 Sam. 5:10).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cultural Approval

Reflections on 2 Sam. 3:2-5 [1 Chron. 3:1-4]

Cultural approval does not equal divine approval. The former makes the will of mankind the measure of acceptance and the latter makes the will of God the measure of correctness. God may accept some things that are culturally approved, but he may reject others. David was a man with a godly heart, but when it came to marriage, he did what was culturally acceptable even though it violated God’s law.

MANY WIVES. The Scripture names six sons who were born to David in Hebron, each by a different wife. A man of power and wealth could marry several wives with cultural approval. The marriages confirmed the man’s power and gave him leverage in asserting that power. After Saul gave Michal to another man, David married two women from Judah, one from Jezreel and the other from Carmel, confirming his growing power in Judah. The hometowns of the last three wives are not known.

FOREIGN WIVES. One of the six sons born in Hebron was the son of Maacah. She was the daughter of the king of Geshur, a country east of the Sea of Galilee. Again, marriage to the daughter of a neighboring king was culturally approved. The marriage guaranteed an alliance between David and the king of Geshur, and put pressure on Ish-bosheth, who then had allied enemies to the north and the south.

VIOLATED LAW. Even though they were culturally approved, David’s marriages violated Mosaic Law. First, they violated the law concerning kings, which said the king must “not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” (Deut. 17:17). Second, the marriage to the daughter of the king of Geshur violated God’s explicit command to Israel not to intermarry with the idolatrous nations of the land (Deut. 7:3). Geshur was a territory that the Israelites failed to conquer during the days of Moses and Joshua (Josh. 13:13) so that its people lived among the Israelites for many years.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Inauguration

Reflections on 2 Sam. 5:1-5 [1 Chron. 11:1-3]

In the United States, inaugural activities begin with the president-elect attending a morning worship service. He then proceeds to the Capitol, where he takes the oath of office required by the Constitution. Following that, there is a luncheon, parade, and finally in the evening, an inaugural ball. The inaugural activities culminate a selection process, they focus both on the president’s promise to uphold and defend the Constitution and on his appointment to preside over the government, and finally they celebrate fresh leadership in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the nation. Although the times were different, David began his reign over all Israel in a similar way.

SELECTION. For a long time, the leaders of Israel had wanted to make David their king (2 Sam. 3:17) because even while King Saul had been alive, David had been the most successful military commander against their enemies (2 Sam. 5:2). So, the leaders of Israel went to Hebron determined to make him king (1 Chron. 12:38). Nevertheless, they did not select David merely because he was successful. They also chose him according to the guidelines of Mosaic Law:

You may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.
-- Deut. 17:15
When all Israel came to David in Hebron, they affirmed that they were the same “bone and flesh,” that is, they were brothers. Furthermore, they cited evidence that God had chosen David: the Lord had told David that he would be shepherd and prince over Israel (v. 2). Hence, what happened in Hebron was the culmination of a selection process that included both Israel and God. After Solomon, there is no record of the people seeking the Lord’s choice for king. The next king chosen of God was Jesus.

COVENANT. When all Israel came to David in Hebron, he made a compact or covenant with them (2 Sam. 5:3). The exact nature of the covenant is not known, but Samuel wrote the regulations concerning the kingship on a scroll when Saul was anointed (1 Sam. 10:25). Samuel’s regulations were probably based on Deut. 17:14-17 and designed to prevent the abuses Samuel foresaw in a kingship (1 Sam. 8:10-18). The covenant between David and Israel may have included some positive aspects as well because God had designated David to be “shepherd of my people Israel” (v. 2). One positive aspect, related to shepherding, would be that he promised to lead, tend, and defend Israel with compassion. Another positive aspect, related to Israel being God’s people or flock, would be that he agreed to be faithful as a steward of God. No other covenants between the king and the people are mentioned until Joash became king in 2 Kings 11:17. Today, Christ, a descendant of David, reigns as the Good Shepherd over God’s people on the basis of a new covenant.

ANOINTING. David had previously been anointed both privately and again in the presence of the elders of Judah. This third time, he was anointed in the presence of the elders and leaders of all Israel. Anointing signified more than selection. It signified consecration or devotion to serving the Lord with undivided purpose and energy. Today, Jesus is God’s anointed, and Jesus reigns with undivided purpose and energy until God’s will is accomplished on earth.

CELEBRATION. 1 Chron. 12:39-40 tells us that Israel’s leaders remained in Hebron for three days eating and drinking because there was great joy in Israel when David was anointed king. The bounty and joy shared at this three-day feast were a foretaste of God’s blessings that would follow in a faithful Israel ruled by a king who had a heart like God’s.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Political Favors

Reflections on 2 Sam. 4:1-12

Politicians often publicly disassociate themselves from political action groups that operate illegally and slander their opponents, but they secretly welcome that help and even reward the lawbreakers when they win an election. David was not that kind of man.

FAVORS LOST. Baanah and Recab were from Beeroth, a town belonging to the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:17) in the territory of Benjamin (Josh. 18:25) near Saul’s hometown. Sometime before this, the Gibeonites had fled Beeroth, possibly when Saul killed many of them (2 Sam. 21:1-2). After they fled, Saul may have given their lands to Benjamites such as the father of Baanah and Recab (cf. 1 Sam. 22:7). Whatever favors they had received from Saul and from Ish-bosheth as captains of his raiding bands, they no longer expected those favors to continue.

NEW FAVORS EXPECTED. Baanah and Recab knew Ish-bosheth had no real power without Abner and that the people were eager to make David king. They were sure that Ish-bosheth would lose the throne and probably his life also. Why not make the best of a bad situation? Accordingly, they went to the royal residence and found Ish-bosheth sleeping at midday. They killed him, cut off his head, and took it to David hoping to win a reward when they presented the evidence of his rival’s death. They obviously expected to win David’s favor when they reminded him that Ish-bosheth’s father had tried to kill him. David would surely be impressed that they had acted as God’s agents in avenging “my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring” (v. 8). They confidently awaited new favors from the new king.

JUST REWARD. Their reward was not what they expected because David was not a man whose judgment could be impaired by political favors. He did not need the help of lawless men. He had the help of the Lord who had delivered him out of every adversity (v. 9). Accordingly, David not only disassociated himself from these men who murdered his rival, but he also gave them their just reward. He executed the men who thought that favors could be purchased with wickedness.

Friday, September 16, 2011

End Game

Reflections on 2 Sam. 3:28-39

In chess, the end game begins when the opposing armies have been depleted and one or both kings begin to face repeated threats to their safety. So it was in Israel. There were two kings, and over a period of two years, David’s forces had gained strength while Ish-bosheth’s had weakened. Ish-bosheth was in serious danger of losing his authority over the northern tribes because his military commander, Abner, had decided to deliver those tribes to David.

BIG BLUNDER. The northern tribes sent Abner to David as an emissary to propose making David their king. An agreement had apparently been reached between David and Abner when Joab murdered Abner to satisfy a personal desire for revenge. Suddenly, the allegiance of the northern tribes was no longer assured. They could not be sure that David would treat them justly or that there would be no further bloodshed. Joab’s action seemed to guarantee that hostilities would continue.

DAMAGE CONTROL. David had to assure the northern tribes that he would treat them justly, so he had to deal with Joab. David could not punish him for exercising his legal right to avenge the blood of his brother, but Joab’s motive had been evil, and his method devious. Therefore, David could and did heap upon Joab the curses that God placed on those who did not keep the law (compare 2 Sam. 3:29 with Lev. 26:14-39 and Deut. 28:15-68). Then David shamed Joab by forcing him to participate in the funeral for Abner, while David lavished great honor upon Abner both in burying him in the royal city and by composing a lament for him. Thus, David assured the northern tribes that he and his kingdom were innocent of the blood of Abner, and that evil would not be tolerated even when it was not punishable by law. He and his kingdom would abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law.

TURNING WEAKNESS TO STRENGTH. This section ends with David saying something that is understandable but perplexing when read in the KJV or NIV. He said that though he was king he was actually weak and that Joab and Abishai were too hard for him (v. 39 KJV) or stronger than he was (NIV). The statement is understandable in that David’s hands seem to have been tied in dealing with Joab and his brother, but it is perplexing because it would be unsettling to the northern tribes. How could they hope for security under David if Joab was stronger than the king? While there may have been a hint of frustration in David’s statement, he may have been saying something much more profound. The English Standard Version translates verse 39 this way:

And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!
David was assuring the northern tribes that he was not a severe or cruel monarch like the sons of Zeruiah would have been. God would repay them. Instead, he had conducted himself with gentleness and compassion toward Abner, his former enemy, and he would deal with the northern tribes with the same gentleness and compassion (see Bergen, 1996, p. 315). God would bless that gentleness, so David turned weakness to strength. Everything David did pleased the people.

We often forget that gentleness is stronger than severity. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5 NASB). Jesus, our king, is a gentle monarch. Matt. 12:18-21 (NIV) says of him,

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Power Play

Reflections on 2 Sam. 3:22-27

Just as a hockey team tries to take advantage of extra players on the ice in a power play, so David's nephew Joab used every advantage he could create to avenge his brother Asahel's death (2 Sam. 2:23). He operated on the principle that the end justifies the means.

SUSPICION. Joab was wise in the ways of the nations. His strategies included deception and spying on others. Accordingly, when he heard that Abner had seen David and left peacefully, he accused Abner of spying on David and deceiving him. Perhaps malice made him suspicious of treachery, or perhaps Joab was also trying to make others suspicious to justify what he was about to do to Abner.

ABUSING TERMS OF PEACE. Having decided to kill Abner, Joab took advantage of David's promise of peace and secretly recalled the unsuspecting Abner, whom his men found at the well or cistern of Sirah about two miles north of Hebron. Of course, Joab was defying the king, but he was doing so for the good of the king. The end justified the means in his own mind, and hopefully also in the minds of others.

(UN) LAWFUL VENGEANCE. The real reason Joab secretly defied the king and deceived Abner was his desire to avenge the death of his brother, Asahel, whom Abner had killed in battle. Even though Abner had been in battle, had not wanted to kill Asahel, had tried to dissuade Asahel from pursuing him, and had killed Asahel in self-defense (2 Sam. 2:23), Joab took advantage of the Law which allowed a kinsman to avenge a death until the killer sought protection and a trial in a city of refuge (Num. 35:9 ff.; Deut. 19:1 ff.). When Abner returned to Hebron, a city of refuge, Joab took him aside at the city gate and stabbed Abner in the stomach so that he died of the same kind of wound that killed Asahel. Whether Joab actually killed Abner outside the gate of Hebron is open to question just as his justification for killing Abner is open to question. Nevertheless, Joab seems to have schemed to retain the protection of the Law even while seeking revenge. He bent the Law to protect himself from being accused of unlawful revenge. For him, the end justified the means.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Powers Behind the Throne

Reflections on 2 Sam. 3:6-21

Politics is the maneuvering of people with power for a position of supremacy. Over a period of about two years, David had been growing stronger than Saul’s son Ish-bosheth. The power struggle involved many people behind the scenes, people not sitting on either throne.

ABNER. Abner was Ish-bosheth’s commander-in-chief. Four or five years after the Philistine victory over Saul on Mt. Gilboa, Abner was able to proclaim Ish-bosheth, Saul’s surviving son, king of the northern tribes. He managed to accomplish this even though many of Israel’s elders wanted to make David their king (see v. 17). Ish-bosheth was a weak and incompetent monarch, so Abner became ambitious strengthening his own position.

RIZPAH. Ish-bosheth saw Abner’s power growing and suspected that Abner had asserted it by sleeping with Rizpah, one of the concubines in the royal harem. Whether Ish-bosheth was paranoid about the success of his military commander as Saul had been, or Abner had in fact slept with Rizpah, Abner was insulted. Abner suddenly found it convenient to appeal to God’s promise to David, and he openly declared that he would establish David as king over all Israel. Although Abner openly proclaimed his treasonous purpose, Ish-bosheth was so afraid of Abner that he could not even speak, let alone order his execution.

MICHAL. When Abner sent emissaries to David, he quickly learned that Michal was more important to David than he was. David declared that he would not negotiate with Abner or allow Abner in his presence unless he brought “Michal, daughter of Saul” with him (v. 13). The importance of Michal was reinforced when David sent messengers directly to Ish-bosheth demanding that he order the return of “my wife Michal” (v. 14). In this way, David rejected secrecy in Abner’s negotiations, required public transfer of Saul’s daughter to David’s family reasserting his right to the throne, and insisted that Ish-bosheth publicly acknowledge that his father Saul had no legal right to give David’s wife to another man. (Paltiel was heartbroken, but the heartbreak was of his own making because he had married another man’s wife.)

ELDERS OF ISRAEL. The elders of Israel and Benjamin played a key role in who would rule all Israel. For a long time, they had wanted to make David their king, and perhaps Abner sensed that he could not deliver their support to Ish-bosheth much longer. At Abner’s urging, the elders cast their support to David. Abner undoubtedly felt the euphoria of a power broker, but it was the support of the elders that David wanted, not merely the support of Abner.

GOD. David’s throne was actually God’s throne, and God would give it to whom he wished despite all human schemes. Saul had tried to cut David off from claiming the throne by driving him out of the country and giving his daughter, David’s wife, to another man. Abner had tried to retain royal power for Saul’s family and his own power within that family even though he knew God had chosen David. Michal was a pawn in the hands of those who wanted power, and the elders of Israel followed the lead of Abner despite their private desire to make David their king. Whatever human powers were involved in the politics of the time, God was the real power behind the throne, and he made David king of all Israel.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For Love of Battle

Reflections on 2 Sam. 2:12 - 3:1

All the men who gathered at the pool in Gibeon, just north of Judah’s border and eight miles NW of Jerusalem, were brothers. So why did they fight? Three factors contributed to this fight among friends. First, there were divided loyalties. Those with Abner were loyal to Saul’s house, and those with Joab were loyal to David. Second, there was a perceived threat. Joab undoubtedly considered it a threat to David when Abner moved his army to Gibeon. At the same time, Abner may have considered David’s growing strength to be a threat to the property of Saul’s family in Benjamin. Still, the two armies did not seem overly anxious to fight. The third factor may have simply been the male desire for a contest in which one may prove his superior strength or prowess.

THE GAME. The contest began when Abner proposed that twelve men from each side “compete before us” (v. 14). His idea was that the men would “hold a contest” (NASB) in a kind of sporting event for the entertainment of the onlookers. Undoubtedly, the proposal had been preceded by a contest of words: boasts and insults being shouted between the camps. When the taunting had escalated, the words had to be backed up with actions. The twelve men did not hesitate to accept the challenge. Each one armed with a sword but carrying no shield, grabbed his opponent with a free hand and stabbed him with the other. The “game” ended in a draw.

PRESSING THE ADVANTAGE. None were satisfied with a draw, so the two armies were soon fully engaged in battle. Abner’s men suffered heavy losses and fled before David’s men. Joab’s brother Asahel, a son of David’s older sister Zeruiah, soon found himself pursuing Abner. Abner, an older and more experienced soldier, was better armed, but Asahel was faster. Abner suggested either that Asahel give up his pursuit long enough to better arm himself by stripping a fallen soldier (Bergen, 1996, p. 304) or that he be satisfied fighting a younger soldier more his equal (J.E. Smith, 2000, p. 353). Asahel knew his advantage was his speed and refused to change either his strategy or his objective. Without turning to face his pursuer, Abner thrust backward with the butt of his spear. Asahel’s momentum carried him into the spear which passed through his stomach and out of his back.

VICTORY. David’s men who saw the body of Asahel were shocked at the death of one of David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:24; 1 Chron. 11:26), and their pursuit of Abner’s men was abruptly stopped. The course of the battle, however, was not changed because the other soldiers continued their pursuit and surrounded Abner’s men on a hill east of Gibeah. Abner, who had suggested that twelve men from each side begin the fighting, called upon Joab to end the fighting. Joab accepted the truce because the victory had been decisive. Only twenty of David’s men had died, but 360 of Abner’s men had been killed.

CAUSE FOR REVENGE. When Joab accepted the truce, he apparently did not know that his brother Asahel had been slain. After the dead were identified, he made a quick trip to Bethlehem to bury his brother and returned with the other soldiers to David at Hebron. Abner crossed the Jordan River and returned to Mahanaim, but Joab did not forget him. Despite Judah’s victory that day, Joab was determined to avenge his brother’s death just as Abner knew he would be (v. 22).

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's in a Name?

Reflections on 2 Sam. 2:8-11
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
-- Prov. 22:1

After Saul was killed and Israel defeated on Mt. Gilboa, Saul’s cousin Abner (1 Sam. 14:50), who was captain of his army, regathered his forces at Mahanaim, a town east of the Jordan on the border between Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 13:24-31). There he proclaimed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth king over Israel, probably after he regained control of the territory west of the Jordan perhaps four or five years later. Thus, the civil war between the house of Saul and David would not have begun until David’s fourth or fifth year and ended with Ish-bosheth’s death two years later when David had been king for six or seven years.

THE SURVIVING SON. Ish-bosheth was not, of course, mentioned among Saul’s sons who were slain on Mt. Gilboa. Those sons were Jonathan, Malki-Shua, and Abinadab (1 Sam. 31:2). Surprisingly, Ish-bosheth does not appear in any other lists of Saul’s sons. In 1 Sam. 14:49, they are listed as Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malki-Shua. In 1 Chron. 8:33 and 9:39, they are listed as Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab, and Esh-Baal. The names of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, and Abinadab are consistent. Accordingly, it appears that Ish-bosheth was the same person as Ishvi and Esh-Baal because all include the same root “Esh/Ish.”

AN AMBIGUOUS NAME. Many suggest that Saul named his son Esh-Baal (Youngblood, 1992, p. 823). He probably intended the name to mean “Man of the Lord” as “baal” could mean “lord” as well as “husband” or “master.” However, “baal” could also refer to the Canaanite god worshipped in the region. In order to avoid that association, he was called Ishvi in 1 Sam. 14:49. Ishvi means “Man of Yahweh” (Nelson’s Quick Reference Topical Bible Index, 1995, p. 324). Ishvi would mean the same as Esh-baal, but it would not have the idolatrous associations of the latter name.

AMBIGUITIES MULTIPLIED. Ish-bosheth may have arisen in a similar way. In this case, scribes substituted “sheth,” meaning “shame,” for “baal” to show their abhorrence of anything associated with idolatry (Youngblood, 1992, p. 823). Ish-bosheth, therefore, would mean “Man of Shame.” On the other hand, some have suggested recently that Ish-bosheth means “Man of Strength” where “strength” refers to a divine attribute (Wood, et al., 1996, New Bible Dictionary, p. 518). Even if this were true, it would not have eliminated the ambiguous associations created by the name, but would have multiplied them: Esh-Baal would mean “Man of the Lord/Baal,” and Ish-bosheth would mean “Man of Strength/Shame.” Perhaps the ambiguity of his names suggests the weak, wavering character of Saul’s son who became king for two short years.

Today, the associations that gather around our names during our lives are more important than the meanings of the names themselves. We would do well to reflect on what people think when they hear our names.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Changing Allegiance

Reflections on 2 Sam. 2:1-7

After receiving news of Saul’s death, David inquired of God whether he should return to Judah. God told him to go to Hebron, which was located in the hill country about 15 miles south of Bethlehem. As a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7) and a city designated for priests (Josh. 21:13), Hebron was probably the leading city in Judah at the time. When David arrived in Hebron, the men of Judah gathered there and anointed him a second time making him king over the house of Judah. When David finally became king of all Israel, he had been anointed three times. What was the significance of each anointing?

CHOSEN OF GOD. At God’s command, the prophet Samuel anointed David privately the first time. David had not yet reached adulthood, and he was not proclaimed as king to Israel. The anointing did, however, signify that God had chosen him to replace Saul as king (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13).

RECOGNIZED BY THE ELDERS OF JUDAH. When David went up to Hebron from Ziklag, the men of Judah anointed him as king. This probably was not merely a declaration of their choice as king, but a recognition that God had chosen him to be their king (see 1 Sam. 25:30).

BROADER RECOGNITION SOUGHT. Although David was chosen of God to be king of all Israel, he did not seek to subdue the other tribes through force of arms. Instead, he sought their favor. One of David’s first official acts as king was to promise to show the people of Jabesh Gilead the same kindness Saul had as king, and announced that Judah had already anointed him. He introduced this offer by praising them for taking the bodies of Saul and Jonathan down from the walls of the Philistine outpost at Beth-shan and giving them a proper burial. Eventually, David did win the favor of the rest of Israel and was anointed a third time when all Israel recognized him as the king God had chosen (2 Sam. 5:1-3).

GOD’S CHOICE IGNORED. The three kings over united Israel, Saul (1 Sam. 10:1), David (1 Sam. 16:13), and Solomon (1 Kings 1:39), were anointed privately as an indication of God’s choice. After these three, a private anointing occurred only once when Jehu was appointed to destroy the house of Ahab (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9:6; 2 Chron. 22:7). Gradually, tradition (publicly anointing the oldest son of the king in Judah) and expediency (publicly acknowledging the strongest rival in Israel) became the norm, and little consideration was given to the kind of person God would want to be king.

God's choices don't depend on human recognition. God chose many prophets whom men persecuted, and he chose Jesus whom they killed. Jesus chose twelve apostles without seeking men's recognition, and God gave special spiritual gifts to some people according to his own will (Heb. 2:4). Although God's choices don't depend on human recognition, God does desire our recognition of his chosen leaders. The apostles told the brothers in Jerusalem to choose seven men whom God had filled with the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3). These leaders upon whom God had bestowed his favor were chosen by men to care for the widows in the church. Similarly, elders are chosen from among those whose lives are demonstrations of God's workmanship (1 Tim. 3:1-7). How we recognize leaders should never become a mere tradition. Instead, we should seek and recognize those whom God has chosen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Funeral Oration

Reflections on 2 Sam. 1:17-27

When Anthony gave Julius Caesar’s funeral oration, his rhetoric was crafted more by political considerations than his personal devotion to Caesar. He was not looking back upon the life of Caesar, but looking forward to who would rule now that Caesar was gone. When David heard of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he composed a lament for them that he taught to Israel. It is perhaps natural to ask, “Did David express his genuine feelings or were his words politically motivated?”

BRAVE. Saul had been a valiant soldier and successful commander. He fought successfully against Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:47-48). Jonathan had also been a brave soldier. David compared them to eagles and lions (2 Sam. 1:23). Indeed, Saul was swifter than an eagle when he saved the men of Jabesh Gilead from Nahash, the Ammonite king (1 Sam. 11:1 ff.). Jonathan was stronger than a lion when he put the whole Philistine army to flight (1 Sam. 14:1 ff.). David’s refrain was fitting: “How the mighty have fallen!” David was expressing genuine grief when he wrote this lament.

GRACIOUS. It is a little harder to see why David praised both Saul and Jonathan as “loved and gracious” (2 Sam. 1:23 NIV; ESV has “loved and lovely”). Saul certainly had not been gracious in his treatment of David. Nevertheless, if the people prospered when Saul protected them from their enemies, then Saul might be considered generous. It could then be said that Saul had clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet and finery and adorned them with ornaments of gold (2 Sam. 1:24). Furthermore, both Saul and Jonathan had loved David at one time (1 Sam. 16:21), and David evidently loved both of them. So even though Saul later treated David maliciously, David managed to remember the good in Saul and always showed him great respect. David’s praise was not motivated by a desire to be king.

LOVED. It is easier to understand David’s grief over the death of Jonathan, who had been a close friend for years. Their shared faith and courage made them kindred spirits. They were comrades in arms. Their devotion to each other was born of fighting Israel’s enemies together, enduring hardships together, and overcoming obstacles together. They knew they could depend on each other in whatever physical or spiritual battle they were fighting. Their shared devotion was different in kind than the love of man for a woman. In the midst of battle, that devotion was also greater than the love of man for a woman. David’s lament for Jonathan was not politically motivated.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A "Confession" Gone Awry

Reflections on 2 Sam. 1:1-16

The young man who brought the news of Israel’s defeat on Mt. Gilboa to David was an opportunist. He habitually sought to take advantage of situations to gain wealth or advancement, and he did so without considering whether his actions were right or wrong. Evidences of his opportunistic character are found throughout this episode.

FIRST, the young man said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa” (v. 6). By neglecting to give his reason for being on Mt. Gilboa, he probably raised David’s suspicions about his character. He was not there at the command of an officer. He was not participating in the heat of battle out of loyalty to the king or to Israel. He just happened to be there. He implies he was behind the line of battle because the wounded king saw him when he “looked behind him.” He was probably a human vulture at the battle site merely to profit from any opportunity that might present itself.

SECOND, the young man was an opportunistic liar. Although David had no way of knowing that the messenger was lying, we know from 1 Sam. 31:3 ff. that he was lying. Saul could not have been “leaning on his spear” (2 Sam. 1:6) after he and his armor-bearer had fallen on their swords. What the Amalekite saw was a dead king. No armor-bearer was there to defend the king’s life or honor. Accordingly, when he saw the dead king, he thought it would be to his advantage to confess to David, “I killed him.” He thought he could obtain honor and advancement because he had lived in Israel long enough to know that Saul was the only obstacle to David becoming king.

THIRD, the messenger brought Saul’s crown and arm-band to David (2 Sam. 1:10). If he had killed Saul out of a sense of mercy as he implied, he would have tried to restore the crown to the royal family, or at least to one of Saul’s army officers, without claiming to have killed him. Instead of doing that, he made a much longer journey to take the crown to David. So the crown and arm-band were not only evidence that Saul was dead, but they were also conclusive evidence of the Amalekite’s opportunism.

FOURTH, the young man told David he was the son of an alien or sojourner (2 Sam. 1:13). His father was an Amalekite, a member of the nomadic, warlike tribe that David had been destroying in obedience to God’s command. Perhaps many in his family were opportunists who chose to sojourn in Israel merely to save their lives. (If you can’t beat them, join them.) However, aliens who obeyed Israel’s laws received rights and protections from those laws, so David could not execute the Amalekite merely because he brought bad news.

FIFTH, the Amalekite showed no respect for “the Lord’s anointed.” The messenger’s claim to have killed the king showed that he had no loyalty to Israel’s law or Israel’s rulers. As such, the young man could not claim the protection of that law. In fact, he would fall under the condemnation of that law. His “confession” did not bring him the advancement and honor he anticipated. Instead, it convicted him and brought him swift destruction.