At first glance this passage might just seem to be a moment of Israelite political drama that’s far removed from our current day. But upon further investigation, this passage stands out in the biblical story line, the history of redemption, as a moment of extraordinary significance. For the first time in history God’s kingdom becomes visible for all to see as God’s chosen king visibly began ruling on earth.Sure Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, the Judges, and Saul were meant to be much but they all failed. Here is David, God’s choice for king. It’s a small beginning sure, David isn’t king over the whole nation yet, he’s only ruling over Judah in the south. So God’s Kingdom here is truly like a mustard seed, seemingly weak and insignificant. Yet in time, despite all appearances, it will cover the whole earth.
That, among much else, is what we’ll see in 2 Samuel this morning.
God’s Kingdom (v1-7)
v1-4a, “After this David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the LORD said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” And He said, “To Hebron.” So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David brought up his men who were with him, everyone with his household, and they lived in the towns of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.”
The long awaited moment has come.After years on the run, David is surprisingly still alive and perhaps just as surprising, he’s still holding fast to his integrity having not killed Saul the Lord’s anointed. But with Saul now dead David knows the throne lies open. So after mourning personally and teaching the people how to lament over Saul and Jonathan nationally, how will David, in all his ambition, move toward the throne? He begins in prayer. Asking the Lord what to do and where to go. We’re meant to see a contrast here between Saul and David. Many years earlier Samuel told Saul in 1 Sam. 15:1, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD.” Listening to the words of God was precisely what Saul didn’t do, time and time again. He began his rule as king because the people ‘asked for’ him, while David begins his rule as king by ‘asking for’ guidance and direction. And David not only listens to God’s guidance, he obeys it as well.
Before he hears the destination, God tells him simply “Go up.” This upward movement is repeated five times in v1-3 and is important not only because, Hebron, the city he’s to go up into is at a higher elevation than the surrounding areas, but “Go up” also refers to David ascending to the throne. And that Hebron is where he’s to ascend up to the throne carries with it loads of meaning. It is the highest point in Judah and therefore was seen as one of the most important places in Judah. And since David is from Judah, was anointed in Judah, and defeated Goliath in Judah, it would make sense for him to first become king in Judah. But more is in view. Hebron was long before the city of Abraham. The Lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah in Hebron with the message that they would one day have a son. Abraham built an altar to the Lord in Hebron. And years later Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, as well as Jacob and Leah were all buried in Hebron. More so, the reason they were all buried there was because Hebron was the only part of the promised land Abraham possessed. Which means the city of Hebron was where Israel’s life in the land of promise began.Is it then any surprise that God tells David to begin his kingship in Hebron? The author of 2 Samuel is wanting us to learn that David’s story and life is linked with Abraham, meaning the promises God made to Abraham about blessing all the families of the earth are continuing to come to pass through David. Hebron was the city where the promises of God began for God’s people, and now Hebron will be the city where the promises of God will continue to flow to God’s people. This link between David and Abraham, by the way, is why we’re not surprised to hear Matthew begin his gospel in 1:1 saying, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
So, just as Abraham did before, David went up to Hebron. He, his wives, his men, everyone within his house. And when they arrived v4 says the men of Judah came, and anointed David as their king. This isn’t a new anointing, or an improvement on what Samuel had done earlier, but an “Amen” or recognition from God’s people that God had already anointed David to be king.
What took place after they recognized David as king? Let’s continue on in v4b-7, “When they told David, “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul,” David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “May you be blessed by the LORD, because you showed this loyalty to Saul your lord and buried him. Now may the LORD show steadfast love and faithfulness to you. And I will do good to you because you have done this thing. Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”
After the men anointed David they brought news to David in v4b telling him they had been the ones to deal rightly with Saul’s body. Why did they do this? Because of Saul’s bravery for them back in 1 Sam. 11. In that chapter we find Saul courageously saving the people of Jabesh-gilead from Nahash the Ammonite who threatened invasion and death. It’s one of the moments in Saul’s reign as king that is exemplary of all a king is supposed to be for his people. He bravely stood up to God’s enemies and defended God’s people and won a great victory. Because of this moment the people of Jabesh-Gilead were pro-Saul ever since. See then, that David’s first official act as king was sending messengers to these men with a message. What was the content of his message?
First, what they did. In v5b we see it. David asks God to bless them because they showed loyalty to Saul by burying his body. The ESV calls their efforts ‘loyalty’ in English but the Hebrew word is ‘chesed’ which means covenant faithfulness, revealing their devoted faithfulness to their former king. What did they do in such devotion? After the Philistines killed Saul and won the battle, 1 Sam. 31 says they cut off his head, stripped off his armor, brought him into their pagan temple, and nailed him to the wall. The men of Jabesh-gilead therefore, having a small chance of success and near certainty of their own deaths, traveled into Philistia, broke into their temple, stole back the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons, carried them back home, and buried them. This is courageous kindness shown to Saul. Contrast their kindness to Saul here with the supposed kindness the Amalekite of chapter 1. He believed he showed Saul by killing him but David kills him for doing so. David responds justly here as well blessing the men of Jabesh-gilead for seeing to the body of Saul.
Second, what God will do. In v6a we see this. For showing such chesed, or covenant faithfulness, to Saul, David says God will show chesed and love to them. Which would have astonished these men. Why? They were pro-Saul! This would’ve made them not only anti-David but David’s enemies. Therefore they probably expected a hostile message from David not a gracious one. It’s as if they read David’s message and said, “Though we were his enemies, David spoke to us of God’s faithfulness and love. How gracious is this king?!”There’s more.
Third, what the king will do. In v6b David gets more specific about how God will show chesed to them again saying something unexpected. The way God will show these men His own faithfulness and love is through David. Or to say it another way, David had just told them that God intends to bring them much good for doing what they did. How were they going to receive the good David said God would bring them? David says, ‘Through me.’ This leads to the last item of the message.
Fourth, what they should do. In v7 David concludes his message to them with a call to embrace him as their king. “…let your hands be strong and valiant, for Saul is dead…” That is a good message. ‘When the Philistines discover what you’ve done you’ll have a need to continue being courageous.’But David continues “for…all Judah has anointed me king over them.” Why this last addition about him being made king? Is David merely doing some kind of political posturing here? Some think so, but I don’t. I think it’s political sure, but it’s a genuine and sincere call to them saying, ‘You were strong to rescue Saul’s body. Now keep showing your strength, keep being courageous, and be the first people in the North to embrace me as king.’It wasn’t underhanded posturing it was a wise move for David. Saul’s leadership had created large divides within Israel and in this message David is extending a hand of friendship aiming to bridge some of these gaps.
We do not know if they heeded this message or not, we don’t hear much about them after this moment. But what we do know is that in David’s message to these men, we see a king extending grace and blessing to those who were once his enemies. What a gospel preview is this? Church, the gospel isn’t a message that says we’re neutral and should come to Jesus because it’s merely the best idea out of many good ideas. No, the gospel is a message that goes out from Christ the King to people who aren’t neutral, people who’re at odds with Him, people who are His enemies. And when those enemies see such grace and follow this King by faith they cease to be enemies and become sons and daughters, loved, purchased, and ever pursued by the grace of the King.
If this passage ended now, all would be well. David has begun ruling on the throne, over part of Israel, and the sense is that he’ll soon be ruling over all of Israel. But with v8 comes a shift from God’s Kingdom dawning on the world to Man’s kingdom rebelling in the world.
Let’s turn to v8-11 where we see…
Man’s Kingdom (v8-11)
In v8 we meet a man Abner. We’ve met Abner before. He is Saul’s uncle (1 Sam. 14:50-51). He was there with Saul when David killed Goliath, and was the very one who brought the then young David to Saul afterwards (1 Sam. 17:55-57). Abner often had a place at Saul’s table, and so he knew David, witnessed David’s rise in strength and favor with the people firsthand, and he even heard Saul confess to David that he would be king one day (1 Sam. 24:20). But now, news had spread that Judah had made David king, and apparently Saul’s dislike for David spread to Abner. How does Abner respond?
“But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years.”
Despite what Abner knew and should’ve done, he rejected God’s king and set up his own king and kingdom in the North. Not all of Saul’s sons, it appears, died with Saul in the battle. Ish-bosheth was still alive, likely because he was too young to be in battle.So Abner took him and made him king. That Abner was able to do this shows how powerful a man he was in the nation. Again we see contrasting images before us. David sought God and submitted to Him by going to Hebron where God made him king over Judah. Abner wouldn’t submit to God, so he brought Ish-bosheth to Mahanaim and made him king over Israel. And as with Hebron before, much is in view with Mahanaim. Long ago in Genesis 32 when Jacob was fearfully returning to reunite with Esau he divided his servants and flocks into two camps and called that place Mahanaim, meaning two camps. Ironically, by refusing to submit to God’s will Abner again divides God’s people into two camps at Mahanaim.Obedience and submission to God is thick in v1-7, while disobedience and rebellion is thick in v8-11. God sets up His Kingdom on earth as God’s chosen king sits on the throne in v1-7, while man sets up his kingdom in response to it, in effect saying to God, ‘You will not reign over me!’
This past week I had an evangelistic encounter that was startling. There’s always a man playing chess outside the coffee shop I frequent and for the past few months I’ve been sitting down with him seeking an opportunity to share the gospel with him. Well when he asked me what I did I knew it could either open or shut a door with him. So I was honest and I told him ‘I’m a pastor.’ He was intrigued and we began talking about the things of God and the details of the gospel. He was flabbergasted that I would believe in things like the sinfulness of man, Jesus as the only way to God, and that I actually claim to know the truth and think others are wrong. We spent a few more weeks going back and forth and we agreed to exchange books. He would choose a book for me to read and I’d choose one for him to read. This past week I brought my book for him. It’s a Ravi Zacharias book called Why Jesus, a great book in my opinion to give someone who rejects the gospel. He looked at it, looked at me, and said he wouldn’t read it because he already knew what it said. I responded and said ‘Isn’t this a two way street? I give you a book, you give me a book, and we read and discuss them.’ He said, ‘Yeah but you’re trying to direct traffic on my side of the street with this book.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that what you’re trying to do on my side of the street as well?’ He did eventually take the book and we’re reading them now, hopefully we can chat soon. I’d ask you to pray for this man. He was appalled that I would try to change his mind, even though he was seeking to change mine.
See in this man’s natural response to God. After Genesis 3 no one is born into this world neutral. Everyone is born at odds with and enemies of God. Our natural bent isn’t submission but rebellion. We see it in Abner here. After seeing God’s king begin ruling and God’s Kingdom becoming more visible, he sought to squash it/stop it/hinder it by setting up his own kingdom with his own king. Like Jesus would later, David truly did come to his own, but was not received by them. How does Abner treat his enemies? He rebels and seeks to frustrate their plans. How does David treat his enemies? He gives them a message of grace.
Look how our text ends in v10b-11, “But the house of Judah followed David. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.”
Though much mess is present the passage begins and ends with David ruling as king over God’s people.
What can we takeaway here?
First, see David’s holy ambition.
Both David and Abner were men of great ambition.On one hand Abner shows us what unholy ambition looks like. He only wanted to serve his own purposes regardless how much division he’d bring to God’s people. On the other hand David shows us what holy ambition looks like. He was anointed, gifted, and called by God to be king. But when the time came he began with God in prayer, seeking how he could be of service, not for his own purposes, but for God’s purposes. Lesson? Needs and issues come up all the times in every church. When you see an issue or a need arise, do you immediately feel called by God to meet that need and begin campaigning to get people on your side? Or do you begin in prayer? The former often hurts God’s Church while the latter greatly serves God’s Church. Friends, ambition isn’t a bad thing, but under the guise of ambition many are often serving their own glory. Bring these things to the Lord, seek Him in His Word, and trust that He’ll direct your ambition in healthy direction.
Second, see God’s Kingdom. Have you heard the phrase ‘the already and not yet?’ It’s a good phrase indicating how the moment of the resurrection of Jesus God’s Kingdom has begun truly, but only partly. We are waiting until He comes back to bring it in full. I think this is a good phrase but I think we can do better. How about ‘the already and more to come?’Let me explain. The ‘Hebron stage’ of David’s rule was exactly this. Small and insignificant from the looks of things. But for those who had eyes to see, the world would never be the same as David takes the throne. He had to have a patient faith during these days of small things, trusting in the promises of God.Even if Abner distresses him. What was true for David then is true for us today, isn’t it? Christ has come, Christ has conquered, Christ has saved us…but we’re also waiting for Christ to come, for Christ to conquer, and for Christ to save us. Here in the in-between many ‘Abners’ will call for our allegiance.And the mess of our sin and the sinfulness of others around us will tempt us to follow them. Don’t.
When life gets hard remember this. Christ reigns. Christ reigns. He is King! We truly live in the ‘already’, and O’ what joy awaits us in the ‘more to come!’
Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 31–32.
John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 70.
John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel, trans. Douglas Kelly, First Edition (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 56.
Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 78.
Davis, 2 Samuel, 35.
Walter Chantry, David: Man of Power, Man of War (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 134.
Debate abounds over Ish-bosheth. Particularly over his name, his age, and the length of his rule over Israel. We should not miss the forest for the trees here.
Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 81.
Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 28–33.
Dr. Mark D. Futato (RTS Orlando) says this often.
Phillips, 2 Samuel, 29.
Davis, 2 Samuel, 37.