The first of the two sections we will look at in this post shows us the House of Saul vs. the House of David. Here we find the setting of the writing of the book of Judges (Ishboseth is king of Israel and David is king of Judah). In the chiastic structure of the book this answers 1 Sam 21-27 where we saw Saul vs. David. The second section we will look at in this post shows David as King.
It begins with David inquiring of YHWH, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” This reminds us of similar questions in Judges. Additionally, the text reminds us that David has two wives – perhaps here to remind us that David is Israel (Jacob had two wives at first). And they went to Hebron, a city of refuge.
Ishboseth means “man of shame.” His real name may have been Esh-Baal (“fire of Baal,” cf. 1 Chron 8:33, 9:39) and shame replaced Baal in the name. “Shame” was a common substitution in Biblical texts when someone was named for a Canaanite Baal god.
As David is Israel, Ish-boseth is playing the role of Canaan (as we saw his father do).
As the chapter unfolds we see a small “civil war” between Abner and Ishboseth’s servants and Joab and David’s servants. It all started out with Abner proposing a contest. 12 against 12, presumably to determine who was the real Israel and it went terribly wrong with all 24 dying and then the tragic death of Joab’s brother by Abner in self-defense (even using the butt of the spear).
Chapter 3 opens, “There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.”
Unfortunately we also see that David is becoming like the kings of the surrounding nations. He has six sons each by different wives:
“And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron” (2 Sam 3:2-5).
Leithart notes that the list shows the succession order except Chileab never is really considered for the throne. This is perhaps because the marriage was more like a Levirate move for David. Thus Abigail is always said to be a widow of Nabal and so if she has a son then that son would be Nabal’s heir and not David’s heir.
Note that at least one of the wives is explicitly for the purpose of an political alliance with Gentiles (Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur). This is probably also true for Ahinoam of Jezreel.
Note also that the ‘paragraph’ is structured like similar genealogies in Genesis with the feature of inclusio (similar beginning and ending).
As the text unfolds Ishboseth accuses Abner of a Reuben-like sin (a political power play involving sex) and Abner responds by changing his loyalties to David. David’s only requirement for this new alliance is that Abner deliver Michal, Saul’s daughter, who had been David’s wife (that Saul had taken back and given to another man). Thus David would now have seven wives. This is not described positively because Michal being taken away causes her new husband grief (2 Sam 3:16), not to mention that it was also probably done for political reasons (she being the daughter of Saul).
Then in typical ANE fashion and intrigue – Joab murdered Abner. It is said to be for revenge because Abner had killed Joab’s brother ‘in battle.’ David made it very clear that he did not sanction this murder and that Joab’s house would be cursed for this atrocity. Still it is a black mark on David for not being able to restrain his family.
Then chapter 4 relates the murder of Ishboseth. Saul and Ishboseth, father and son, both suffered similar ends. And in both situations David sentenced the murderers to death. Unfortunately, David did not do the same for Joab (David’s nephew).
In the second section (2 Sam 5-9) we see David become king of all Israel and we see the conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David and built him a palace. Continuing to prepare us for his fall the text says, “And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet.” [11 sons]
Next we see David inquire of YHWH about attacking the Philistines and when God says to do so, he does and defeats them from Geba to Gezer. The passage has an interesting comment: “And the Philistines left their idols there [at Baal-perazim, which means lord of bursting through, though Baal (lord or master) is often the name of Canaanite gods, thus the text explains the word as “YHWH has burst through my enemies…”], and David and his men carried them away” (2 Sam 5:21). The text means to make fun of idols, with the verb “left” or “abandoned” as a pun on “idol,” and it is the reverse of the Philistines’ capture of the ark.
In chapter 6 we see David moving the ark to Jerusalem. It is instructive that David did not inquire of YHWH concerning this and David did not appear to know the Torah regulations about how it should be moved. They moved it much the same way that the Philistines had moved it back into Israel. It was to be carried by Kohathites, not moved on a cart. As a result Uzzah died when he took hold of the ark seeing the oxen stumbling. And David was angry because YHWH had burst forth against Uzzah (calling the place Perez-uzzah) and bringing to mind what YHWH had done in the previous episode.
Here is where David is finally taught the “fear of YHWH.” The text says, “And David was afraid of YHWH that day…” (2 Sam 6:9). So the ark remained for 3 months in the house of Obed-edom (“servant of Edom”) the Gittite (of the Philistine city of Gath, where Goliath was from) and YHWH blessed that household. The chapter continues with the incident where Michal despises David in her heart because he humiliated himself by dancing before YHWH. The incident closes with the note of God’s curse: “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Sam 6:23).
In chapter 7 we are introduced to Nathan the prophet. David points out to Nathan that David lives in a palace but the ark of God is in a tent. Nathan tells him to do “all that is in your heart, for YHWH is with you” (2 Sam 7:3). But then the same night YHWH spoke to Nathan and says among other things that YHWH will give rest to Israel from their enemies.
“Moreover, YHWH declares to you [David] that YHWH will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.” (2 Sam 7:11-15).
“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).
This covenant with David tells us now where to watch for the seed of the woman.
Chapter 8 relates briefly the conquests of David after this. Defeating the Philistines and subduing them, defeating the Moabites, and Hadadezer the king of Zobah and the Syrians from Damascus who tried to help that king and then Assyria itself. It also tells us of David’s defeat of Edom. Thus Israel became the great regional power during the reign of King David. These conquests take us beyond those achieved by Joshua as David has done throughout this phase of his kingship beginning with the conquest of Jerusalem.
Chapter 9 shows David fulfilling his covenants with Jonathan by showing kindness (chesed or hesed – normally I translate this word “loyal-love” and normally English translations say “steadfast love”) to Mephiboseth. Mephiboseth was lame in both his feet but he was carried to the kings table to eat every meal for the rest of his life.
The story of David is the story of Israel. And we will see that David’s conquest of the land, submission of the region, David’s fall (the next section), the division of the kingdom, and then exile and restoration will be the story of Israel.
Thus the story of what will happen with David in the chapters to come will foreshadow what will happen to Israel in the years to come.
There are some other parallels we might note between what we have already seen and the story of Israel’s past.
For example, even during the conquest of the land there was the portion under Joshua and the portion under the judges. During the time of the judges the tribes were not exactly unified and fought each other sometimes, which resembles what David experienced in his conflict with Ish-boseth.
A second example would be the whole situation with the Gibeonites. Remember that the Gibeonites were a Canaanite nation that tricked Israel into entering a covenant with them. Abner plays the role of the Gibeonite in the story of David. It is no accident that Abner made his way toward Gibeon where he met Joab and his army (2 Sam 2:12-13). And then in the next chapter Abner made a covenant with David. Abner was not trying to trick David, but Joab thought so.
The point being that David’s story has some interesting parallels with how Israel’s story will unfold. Indeed, the story of Israel/David is the story of Jesus who also experienced an exodus in his youth and came and conquered the land and region (though not militarily). The critical difference is that Jesus did not experience a fall. But He did experience the exile (death on the cross) and restoration (resurrection) of Israel.