YEAR B: CHRIST THE KING/REIGN OF CHRIST
(Sunday between November 20 and November 26)
2 Samuel 23:1-7
This week we celebrate ĎChrist as Kingí or the ĎReign of Christí. This is the last week of the Christian year and the Bible readings all point toward Jesus as King. In our Old Testament readings these last few weeks we have been directed through the story of Ruth towards David as king. Last weekís psalm (1 Sam. 2:1-10) was an influence on the later Magnificat, the song of Mary. Thus, the connection between David and Jesus is reinforced. Now we read Ďthe last words of Davidí in 2 Sam. 23:1-7 in which the ideals of kingship for Davidís line are stressed. Our thoughts are, therefore, more firmly directed toward the fulfilment of hope in Davidís line that comes with the birth of Jesus.
2 Sam 23:1-7 purport to be Davidís last words and some argue that they are, indeed, very ancient even if not directly attributable to David himself. The poem stands as a companion piece to 2 Samuel 22, another chapter among the appendices to Davidís story. Together they spell out the ideals of kingship. The story of Davidís royal house has been a major focus of our Old Testament readings since Pentecost. Moreover, the poem of Davidís last words stands in conjunction with Hannahís song in 1 Sam 2:1-10, last weekís psalm as noted. They bracket the story of David and kingship in Israel.
However, Davidís story does not end with his last words in 2 Samuel 23. David does not die until 1 Kings 2. Before that we will read a list of Davidís warriors (2 Sam 23:8-39), probably important individuals in his band of mercenaries in early days. In 2 Samuel 24 we read of Davidís census of the people (probably for taxation purposes), his later sense of guilt before the Lord over this, and the Lordís response in anger. This story is connected to the location of the temple to be built by Solomon (24:18). Just as Davidís sin involving Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) shaped the story of conflict in Davidís family which followed over who would succeed him as monarch, so the story of the census in 2 Samuel 24 shapes the early story in 1 Kings 1 where, while David is on his death bed, His advisers and family conspire against each other to get the old kingís blessing. Solomon succeeds in this struggle even though he was not the next in line to the throne. The story of Davidís last days is not a happy one.
The poem in 2 Sam 23:1-7 breaks into several small sections. First, in vv. 1-3a we have a description of David in relation to the Lord: as Ďson of Jesse, Ö the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israelí. Davidís line is briefly noted but the emphasis is on Davidís position vis-à-vis the Lord. Davidís standing in the tradition is not simply a matter of his own status or worth. He certainly is seen, in this tradition, as a righteous individual (v. 3b), but essentially it is the Lordís designation of and favour toward David that is the key to his success. This is further indicated by saying that it is the spirit of the Lord which speaks through David and it is the Lordís word which is on his tongue (v. 2). David is equated with the prophets through whom the Lord works. As Walter Brueggemann says, it is the faithfulness of the Lord that makes monarchy possible, even the ideal of monarchy seen in David.
Verses 3b-6 spell out the effects of Davidís reign. He rules justly in reverence for God. Three lovely similes describe his reign. He is Ďlike the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.í His rule brings life to his people even as the warmth of the sun and fresh rain bring life to the countryside (v. 4). However, in the centre of this section is another reminder that all this is not Davidís own work but that of the Lord who Ďhas made with (David) an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secureí (v. 5). It is the Lord who prospers all Davidís help and desire.
By contrast, the Ďgodlessí are likened to thorns, difficult to handle and destroyed in the end (vv. 6-7). This can be likened to the description of the wicked at the end of Psalm 1 (vv. 4-6). The emphasis in Davidís last words is not so much on what happens to the Ďgodlessí as on the description of them as Ďgodlessí. This is not simply a reference to those not belonging to a certain faith community. It is used in comparison to David and may have even been a reference to his enemies, many of whom belonged to Godís people. The point is that those for whom reverence for the Lord is not at the centre of their life and activities, even if they belong to the same faith community, will not prosper in their endeavours. And this is not simply speaking of prosperity in terms of overt, identifiable Ďsuccessí, be it in terms of wealth, success in work or action, or even in relationships. We must note as above, that this poem is followed by stories of Davidís own displeasing of the Lord, as well as of the political and family turmoil that surrounded him near his death. The Lordís prospering of Davidís desire is neither something necessarily immediate nor tangible.
All of this, while in the first instance a memorial to King David, can be seen to relate to the rule of Christ. The image of King David as light and life giving rain can be seen as an indicator of the nature of the reign of Christ. The portrayal of David as prophet, through whom the spirit of the Lord speaks and whose words are on his lips, can be understood as a foreshadowing of the word of the Lord in Jesus. Indeed the church has seen Jesus as that very word (cf. John 1:1-18). The turmoil that surrounds Davidís last words foreshadows the coming of God in Jesus into a world fraught with pain and conflict. Finally, the reiteration of the Lordís eternal covenant with David also foreshadows the eternal promise of life in the reign of Christ.
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