Good morning! In the four chapters for today (2 Samuel 6-9) we see the successive steps that David takes in securing and expanding the kingdom of Israel under his control. The order of action in these chapters—recovery of the ark, devotion to God, military victory, mercy to Mephibosheth—demonstrate David’s priorities. First he seeks to do well in things religious, then military, then personal.
David’s recovering of the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6 has political as well as spiritual importance. He aligns Israel’s most potent religious symbol with his own rise to leadership of all Israel. The narrative highlights two things in particular—both the ark’s latent power, and David’s unrestrained enthusiasm before it. We get a reminder of the ark’s sacred set-apart-ness when Uzzah reflexively touches the ark and immediately dies. God effectively “defends” the ark against casual possession. This is no object to be treated willy-nilly, because it is the manifestation of divine presence. David, displeased and afraid at this turn of events, leaves the ark outside of Jerusalem for three months. But upon seeing that it’s a blessing to wherever it resides, David brings the ark the rest of the way to his capital city, Jerusalem. Great processions with instruments and dance bring the ark along each leg of the journey, with King David ecstatically leading the way. Details of the celebration (music, food, offerings, etc) bring to mind other sacred processions I’ve heard of in Mexico or other parts of the world. While all Israel echoes David’s euphoria, David’s estranged wife Michal scorns him for it because he might have accidentally exposed himself in the dancing. The closing detail that Michal had no children all her life is a sign of David’s neglect and God’s judgment. Much has happened between them since she helped him escape Saul’s attempt to murder him in his bed (1 Samuel 19).
Once the ark has been brought to Jerusalem, chapter 7 emphasizes David’s continuing devotion, service, and connection to God. “The Lord is with you”, says the prophet Nathan, and there’s no assurance more powerful or important in the life of faith. David desires to build a “house for God”, but God “builds a house” for him instead. God declares that a temple is unnecessary now—leave that project for an heir to take up. We read that David’s success is due to God’s favor. Such divine assurance will go with the “house of David” indefinitely. Though wrong behavior by future sovereigns will lead to punishment, we’re told that God’s favor will never leave. David responds with a prayer of boundless devotion and gratitude for such blessings.
Chapters 8 and 9 contrast aggressive, merciless military expansion with an act of personal kindness. David’s prowess on the battlefield leads to victory over the Philistines and the near-neighbor Moabites (with a particularly chilling way of exacting retribution on these, his great-grandmother Ruth’s own people). David also shows no pity on King Hadadezer’s troops and horses, nor the Arameans, nor the Edomites. He leaves garrisons of occupying forces in all these outlying areas, extending the control of Jerusalem by their presence. We’re told repeatedly that these victories are God’s doing. The closing paragraph of chapter 8 asserts that “David administered justice and equity”, showing that he’s continues the historic function of a “judge”. Furthermore, his sons were named priests, which is curious because David’s line comes out of the tribe of Judah, not Levi. This narrative suggests that the ardor of one’s devotion to God is more important than accidents of birth. For the ruling classes in David’s Israel, as in the new movie Zootopia, “anyone can be anything”.
David has shown his take-no-prisoners power on the battlefield, but that’s the face he wears in public. In private, he wants to show kindness to Saul’s family out of regard for Jonathan. Asking around, he discovers that crippled Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, is still alive. David restores in Benjamin the land that formerly belonged to Saul, overseen by the family of Saul’s servant Ziba. Mephibosheth is essentially adopted by David out of love for Jonathan and his memory. We hear mention of Mephibosheth’s son Mica—a sign that Jonathan’s lineage is not lost forever. This personal tenderness adds to the complicated, dynamic characterization of David that has developed over many chapters and that will continue to unfold. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Samuel 10-12. Thanks for reading!