YEAR B: PENTECOST
(Sunday between July 3 and July 9)
2 Samuel 5:1Ė5, 9Ė10
This passage marks the end of the story of Davidís rise to power as it reports in a summary fashion on his crowning as King of Israel and Judah. The lectionary has chosen to abbreviate the textís report still further, by omitting the three verses which tell of Davidís capture of Jerusalem. This omission is understandable, as these three verses are notoriously difficult to read and interpret. Although the NRSVís translation smooths out many difficulties, there are still many bewildering aspects to this text, like the inexplicable references to the blind and the lame (v. 6).
The reading which the lectionary constructs gives us a brief summary of Davidís coronation (v. 3). It is presented as the result of two groups coming to David to recognize his power, the standard bearers, who recognize Davidís evident military leadership skills, and the elders who anoint David as king. The first part of our reading then concludes with a brief note about Davidís long reign, noting how many years he reigned in Hebron, and how many in Jerusalem (vv. 4-5).
There are two issues which are important here. The first is the choice of Jerusalem; the second issue is raised by the lectionaryís selective use of biblical material. With regard to the first, Jerusalem becomes the capital of Davidís kingdom. It is an interesting choice as a capital of the newly consolidated kingdom. Jerusalem is particularly Davidís city because his personal troops captured it. Up to this point in the story of Samuel, Jerusalem has not been a part of the tribal land of any of the 12 tribes Ė it has always been held by the Jebusites. Geographically, it sits between the territory of ďIsraelĒ in the north and ďJudahĒ in the south. The choice of Jerusalem as a national capital has some similarities with the choice of Canberra for Australiaís national capital. Canberra lies half way (at least figuratively) between Melbourne and Sydney, and avoided the conflict that would arise from the national capital being placed in either city. This is a sound geo-political decision and Davidís following this principle is another strong step in his uniting the kingdom under him. However, there seems to be very little religious motivation for the choice. Whatever the city became, it is not presented at this stage as being a divinely guided choice. It is ironic that so much blood has been spilt over the ages over this ďholy cityĒ, given that its original choice seems to have been made on the grounds of political expediency and geographical realities.
Secondly, the lectionary choices this week, following on from last week, result in a picture of the kingdom moving from Saulís death to Davidís crowning as a relatively smooth transition. The David who graciously laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan appears this week as the natural heir. The intervening chapters present a much more complicated, interesting, if sanguinary, tale. First, David is crowned king of Judah, and starts his reign at Hebron (2 Sam 2:11, as noted in 2 Sam 5:10). At the same time Ishbaal, another son of Saul, becomes King of Israel thanks to Abner (Ishbaalís general), and there is effectively a state of civil war during this time, described in 2 Samuel 2. As 2 Sam 3:1 notes, David steadily gains ground in this war, and a chance arises for a negotiated peace when Abner decides to change sides. This chance is lost when Abner is killed by Joab, avenging his brotherís death (2 Sam 3:27). With Abnerís death, Israel loses hope, and eventually Ishbaal is killed by two of his captains, who in turn are then killed by David when they come to report to him on the death of Ishbaal (2 Sam 3:4).
Each presentation has its own difficulties. The lectionary presentation is smooth, seamless and bloodless. David seems to effortlessly become king, carrying the evident support of God. There are no moral problems facing him or about him and his choices and Godís favour is all-powerful. This choice of readings by the lectionary suggests that Godís favour is something that is evident, and that results in this sort of effortless succession, a reading which is problematic on many grounds. It is evidently not true in the world we live in, and it leads to many difficulties (like deciding that those who are unsuccessful clearly are lacking in some way, and are not favoured by God).
The full text, however, gives us an insight into Davidís difficulties and the desperate struggle in the nation at that time. Davidís rise is slow, bloody and fraught. He is surrounded by honourable men like Abner (who opposes David at the start), and violent men like Joab (who is one of Davidís supporters). David deplores the bloodshed at various points, but also participates in it himself, killing the two captains who killed Ishbaal, just as he had killed the Amelekite who brought news of the death of Saul (see 2 Samuel 1). This picture undercuts the simple view of a theology of success. If God is with David, this seems to have been evident only in hindsight; to the Israelites and Judahites of the day, the world seemed as confused, contradictory, dangerous and violent as our own world does to us. This version is a much more realistic, believable picture of Davidís rise to power Ė but this verisimilitude does not make the picture any more comfortable. It is perhaps this discomfort which should remain to the fore, for that is precisely the context in which the biblical text witnesses to God at work with his people.
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