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David: Man After God's Own Heart,
Part IV:
King At Last

A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
July 1, 2012

2 Samuel 5

Right at the end of the book of 1 Samuel, there is a story about how King Saul fell on his own sword and died at the end of a fierce battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa.  And those of you who were here last week know that David would have had plenty of reasons to be glad that Saul was dead.  Three times, Saul had tried to pin David to the wall with his spear.  He had sent him out on these dangerous missions, hoping that David would not come back alive.  And on more than one occasion he had rounded up three thousand hand-picked soldiers and chased David into the wilderness of Judah trying to hunt him down like a dog and kill him.  As long as Saul was alive, David’s life was in danger.  As I said, he had plenty of reasons to be glad that Saul was dead.  And yet, when he got the news, the experience was almost exactly the opposite.  At the beginning of 2 Samuel we learned that David was down in Ziklag where he had just returned from a successful campaign against the Amalakites.  A messenger came running into the camp, gasping for breath, his clothes torn, dirt on his head.  He came into the presence of David and said, I have been with the army of Israel, and with King Saul.  And David said, ‘what news of the battle?’  And the messenger said, ‘bad news, my lord, bad news.  The army of Israel has been defeated.  King Saul and his son Jonathan have been killed in battle’.  David said, ‘how do you know this?!’  And then the messenger told a slightly different version of the story than you have heard before, one in which the messenger himself became kind of a hero.  He said, ‘well I happen to be on Mount Gilboa and I saw King Saul leaning on his spear, mortally wounded.  The tremors of death were already upon him and the horsemen and chariots of the Philistines were drawing near.  He saw me and said to me, ‘take your sword and kill me so that it might never be said, ‘Saul died at the hand of the Philistines’.  ‘And so I did.  I struck him down and killed him.  I took his crown and royal bracelet that was on his arm and I have brought them to you, my Lord’.  And then the messenger waited for the reward that David would surely give him.  But David burst into tears and he tore his clothes and he wept aloud and all those who were with him did the same.  He was inconsolable in his grief.  And only would he had wept all the tears that he had it in him to weep did he say to this messenger, ‘where are you from?’  And the messenger said, ‘I’m a resident alien.  An Amalakite’.  ‘Were you not afraid to lift your hand against the Lord’s anointed?’, David asked.  And the man said, ‘well he begged me’.  And then David said to one of his young men, ‘strike him down since he has confessed with his own mouth that he killed the anointed of the Lord’.  And that’s what happened.  One of the young men there with David struck the messenger down and killed him.  David grieved over Saul and Jonathan.  He wrote a song of lament and taught it to all the people of Judah.  A song in which he talked about Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.  He talked about how the mighty had fallen and how the glory of God had been slain upon the high places.  David’s grief was genuine.  He meant every word he said and yet it was also at the same time a brilliant political move.  His public grief for Saul made it clear that he had had nothing, nothing to do with it.  After he had grieved, he inquired of the Lord and asked, ‘shall I go up to one of the cities of Judah?’  And Lord said, ‘yes, go up’.  And David asked, ‘to which of the cities shall I go’?  And the Lord said, ‘to Hebron, the capital city of Judah’.  And so David went up from Ziklag, along with his five or six hundred fighting men, their wives, and their children.  They all settled there in the city and the surrounding area so that the elders of Judah were trembling.  They came to David and made their covenant with him.  They crowned him king over the whole region, the whole seven part of Israel.  David was king in the south.  And in the north, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, that old war horse general, put one of Saul’s own sons on the throne, Ish-bosheth.  The name means, literally, ‘a man of Ba’al.  The god of the Cananites’.  Years later, when the Hebrew scholars were writing down this part of the holy scripture, they could not bring themselves to write the name Beol in the Bible.  And so they substituted another name, Ish-bosheth, which means ‘man of shame’.  Such was his name and such was he, a man of shame.  A cowardly puppet king that Abner had put on the throne of Israel.  But now there was a king in the north and a king in the south and conditions were favorable for a good old fashioned civil war… which is just what happened.  Abner marched his troops down to the south to the pool of Gibeon.  David called his general Joab, who mustered the troops and began to march to the north.  He met Abner there and for the longest time, the two armies glared at each other across the pool of Gibeon.  Until finally Abner said to Joab, ‘I’ve got an idea.  Choose twelve of your fiercest, fighting men.  And I will choose twelve of mine, and we’ll line them up against each other and they can fight each other and whoever wins, wins it all’.  For some reason, that seemed like a good idea to Joab.  And so he selected twelve of his fiercest fighting men.  Abner did the same.  They lined up against each other and at the signal, each of them reached out for the other, pulled him in close, thrust his sword into the other’s side, so that all twenty four fell down dead.  Well a gasp went up from both sides, and then a shout, and these two armies rushed together with a clash.  The fighting was fierce that day.  But some of you will be glad to hear that at the end of the day the army of the south, David’s Army, had prevailed against the army of the north.  They had them on the run!  Abner was running for his life and Asahel, the brother of Joab, one of the sons of Zeruiah, was right behind him.  Now, Asahel was as swift as a wild gazelle and he was gaining on old Abner with every stride.  Abner shouted back over his shoulder, “Is that you, Asahel?”  Yes.  Asahel, turn to the right or turn to the left to strike down one of the young men, take his spoil.  But Asahel kept coming.  Abner said, don’t make me do this Asahel, don’t make me kill you, your brother Joab would never forgive me.  But Asahel just kept coming and when he got to that place where he was ready to reach out and take hold of Abner and pull him down, Abner stopped short, he thrust backward with the butt of his spear and he ran Asahel through, so that Asahel dropped down dead.  And when the soldiers in David’s army came to that place they stopped and stared astonished.  But Joab and his brother Abishai continued to chase after Abner.  Abner ran and ran until he came to the hill of Amah and Benjamin and all the Benjaminites gathered around him and he turned back and he said to Joab and his brother Abishai, “Why do you keep pursuing me and we do we keep on killing each other, are we not kin?”  Which is the kind of question that should always be asked in civil war, to bring the fighting to an end.  That day it did the trick- the fighting ended.  Joab, Abashai, the army of David went back to Hebron.  Abner and his army crossed the Arabah, went up into Mahanaim, the place where Ishbeol sat on the throne.  But that day Abner lost 360 of his men in the battle, Joab only lost twenty.  But one of them was his brother Asahel.  This civil war went on between the north and the south for years and in that time David made himself strong in the south.  He married wives, he had children, added soldiers to his army.  Abner made himself strong in the north by taking one of Saul’s concubines, Rizpah, for himself.  Now you know that a concubine is not only a beautiful woman, but also a symbol of royal power, only kings have concubines.  And when Abner, the general, did this, took Saul’s concubine for himself, Ish-Bosheth, the king, was offended.  And he came to Abner and said…whaaa…whaa…what to you mean taking Rizaph, my father’s concubine, for yourself?  And Abner was offended.  He said, “Am I a dogs head for Judah?”  Which is an expression we don’t use much these days.  I’m not really sure what it means, even the scholars are not really sure what it means.  But if the dogs head were pointed to Judah in the south, then the only thing that would be pointing north…….would be the other end of the dog.  Abner seems to think that Ish-Bosheth is accusing him of disloyalty to the north, to the household of Saul, and Abner can hardly believe it.  He has always been loyal to Saul, all the days of his life. Am I a dogs head for Judah?  He asks.  And he says to Ish-Bosheth, “For saying this I am going to help the Lord do what the Lord has been doing for a long time now and that is I’m going to help the Lord give the kingdom of Israel to David.  From Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, all of it is going to belong to David.  And Abner stormed out of Baal’s presence and Ish-Bosheth didn’t say a word.  Abner sent a message to David down in Hebron.  He said, “I’m prepared to gather up all the elders of Israel and make a covenant with you to crown you king over the whole country.  And the thing pleased David, but he sent a messenger back to Abner and said, “On this one condition, on the condition that I get my wife back.”  Do you remember, Mikal, the daughter of Saul, whom David had acquired at the risk of his own life?  When Saul was chasing David through the wilderness of Judah, he gave Mikal to some other man who became her husband, someone named Paltiel.  And now Mikal was there living with him.  David said, I’ll make my covenant with you, but on this one condition, that I get Mikal back.  And so Abner rounded up twenty men, he went to Paltiel’s house, he took Mikal, and headed off toward Hebron.  Mikal was glad to go with those twenty, and with Abner, glad to be reunited with David, her husband, but Paltiel, he followed along behind them weeping every step of the way, whimpering like a stray dog.  Come back, Mikal, don’t leave me Mikal.  All the way to Hebron he followed until finally Abner had had enough.  He turned around and said, Paltiel, go home!  And Paltiel did.  So Mikal and Abner and all those twenty men came to Hebron and David received them with joy.  He prepared a great feast and they all sat down together at the same table, Abner to David’s right.  They began to tell those old war stories about the time they had gone out to fight the battles of Israel and come home again triumphant.  They ate, they drank, they made merry, by the end of the evening both David and Abner were feeling very good about this covenant they were going to make.  In fact, they were feeling very good about everything by the end of that evening.  And Abner stumbled out, he went his way in peace. 

And about that time, Joab came in, David’s general, one of the sons of Zeruiah, and he said to David, has Abner been here?  Yes, David said, we’re going to make a covenant, they’re going to crown me king over all Israel!  And Joab said, don’t you know, that he just wants to spy out our positions, he wants to learn what we’re up to.  How could you possibly do this?  How could you betray your own people?  David didn’t know what to say.  Joab stormed out of the palace, he went out and said to his men and said, Go, find Abner, wherever he is, bring him to me.  And they did, they went looking for Abner.  They didn’t have to look far.  He hadn’t made it very far, not in his condition.  They brought him back to Joab, right there at the gate of the city.  And Joab took Abner aside and he said, hello Abner, my name is Joab, the son of Zeruiah.  You killed my brother, prepare to die.  And he pulled a knife from his belt and stabbed Abner in the stomach so that he fell down dead.  When David heard about it he wept and tore his clothes, he said these sons of Zeruiah are too violent for me.  He told everyone in the kingdom to put on sackcloth and ashes and the next day David followed the funeral procession weeping and composing poetry about Abner, this great warrior who had been struck down.  David’s grief was genuine, he meant every word he said and at the same time it was a brilliant political move.  In all his public grieving everybody could see that David had had nothing to do with the death of Abner. 

But Abner was the real power behind the throne in the north and everyone knew it.  And Ish-bosheth, the puppet king of Israel, was shaking in his satin slippers.  Two rogues came into the palace one afternoon while Ish-bosheth was taking his afternoon nap.  They crept into his chamber.  They attacked him on his couch.  They killed him, cut off his head, and wrapped it up in the bed sheet.  They carried it down across the Arabah and up into the hill country Judea, all the way down to Hebron, they knocked on the palace door.  David!  We’ve got something for you.  What, what do you have?  And they held up that bloody bed sheet.  They said look- they put it down, they unwrapped what they had and David looked on the head of Ish-bosheth.  And he looked at these two Rogues who had done this thing and said to them, “The man that brought me word that Saul was dead thought he was doing me a favor, but I commanded one of my young men to strike him down and kill him, how much more when two wicked men have attacked a righteous man while he was sleeping, and killed him?"  And then David snapped his fingers and two of his men came and struck down these two, killed them.  They cut off their murdering hands, they cut off the feet that had brought them to Hebron, they hung their bodies on the wall so that everybody could see that David had had nothing, nothing to do with the death of Ish-bosheth.  It was a brilliant political move.  All the elders of Israel cam together and say to themselves, “When Saul was king, was it not David who led us out into battle and brought us back triumphant?  Did God not call him from shepherding his father’s sheep to be the shepherd over his people Israel?  Let us go to him and make our covenant with him.”  And that’s what they did.  The elders of Israel traveled south to Hebron, the made their covenant with David, they crowned him king over the whole country, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.  David was king at last. 

When you look back over the story you can see that there were three things that might have kept David from being king- Saul, Abner, and Ish-bosheth.  And yet David did not lift his hand against his enemies.  In the end, it was God who made him king over all of Israel.  Those of us who follow Jesus know that he did not lift his hand against his enemies.  He was a son of David after all.  He was like a lamb led to the slaughter.  Like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth.  His enemies struck him down and killed him, but on the third day God raised him up again.  And in the end we believe that God will make him King over everyone and everything, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Every time we celebrate communion we anticipate that day. 

 

—Jim Somerville 2012

 
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