The Politics of David

2 Samuel 1:1-17

1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days. 2 On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.

3 “Where have you come from?” David asked him.

He answered, “I have escaped from the Israelite camp.”

4 “What happened?” David asked. “Tell me.”

“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”

5 Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

6 “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. 7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’

8 “He asked me, ‘Who are you?’

“‘An Amalekite,’ I answered.

9 “Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’

10 “So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.”

11 Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

13 David said to the young man who brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I am the son of a foreigner, an Amalekite,” he answered.

14 David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?”

15 Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. 16 For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

Yesterday my wife sent me to the grocery store with a list of items to pick up so that she could prepare some goodies for a bake sale at work. The list looked like most any other grocery list. It included things like milk, flour, sugar, and eggs. I was glad that we went over the list before I left home because I noticed that she also wanted me to pick up some butter. I have purchased enough butter in my days to know that all butter is not created equal. So I asked, “Do you want salted or unsalted butter?”

When I got to the dairy case I knew that I was to pick up unsalted butter. The problem is that there are more than just two choices for butter. First you have to know if you are looking for butter, margarine, or one of the many other partially-hydrogenated options. Then you come to the salted or unsalted options. So far, so good. But among the unsalted offerings are sweet cream butter, olive oil and herb butter, and clarified butter. That’s six different kinds of “butter” and we haven’t even gotten to the European varieties yet.

It was so much easier to get the M&M’s for the monster cookies. There were only two options: with or without peanuts. I chose both.

The thing that helped my butter selection process was the fact that all of the butter is stored together, side by side. If I was running back and forth, up and down the aisle, comparing butter, I would have just grabbed the cheapest one and been happy with that. But the butters were together, because though they were not identical, they were at their most basic level, the same.

If there are six different varieties of butter, there are six thousand different varieties of people. And the way I see it, if the butter can all get along, we can, too. More so, as followers of Jesus, we are called to unity.

Unity does not mean agreeing on everything all of the time, and it does not mean that everyone is right. It means that we chose to love one another in spite of our differences (even when we know we are right and someone else is wrongJ).

Today we are continuing our series on the life of David and how he was a man after God’s own heart. I think that David, like God, is one who seeks unity among the people and today I want to look at some of the ways that David brought the people of Israel together.

I rarely have anything good to say about politics. The word itself has a negative connotation in our English language. But the Greek word “polis” literally means city, so politics is simply the art of how to “tick” off an entire city. No, the word politics actually refers to the wise leading of a city or nation-state.

So when I talk about the politics of David, I do not mean to say that David is being less-than honest or that he has only personal gain in mind. As I talk about the politics of David today I wish to show that David was a wise manager, planning his moves in such a way so as to bring unity to the kingdom of Israel.

I want to begin by reminding you that when the Israelites came into the Promised Land they settled the area according to their particular tribe, their ancestral line. Asher settled in the northwest, Judah in the south-central, and so on. There is a fair number of differing opinions on just how united these tribes ever where. We often say that Saul was the first king of the united kingdom, but whether the rest of the tribes fully recognized him as king is debatable.

David was born and raised in Bethlehem, which is in the northern part of the land of Judah. So David was a descendant of Judah’s. Saul was a descendant of Benjamin. I don’t know of any major quarrels between the two family groups, but they were distinct and separate groups.

David seems to be working at unifying the kingdom long before he is even made king. In a monarchy it is usually the offspring of the king and queen that rise up to take the throne when the king and/or queen pass away or can no longer lead. So it was surely expected, especially by the people living in the north in the region of Benjamin, that one of Saul’s children would be the next leader of the Israelites. But we know that Samuel anointed David in the home of his father as the next king. So how can David overcome this issue and simultaneously bring some sense of unity to the kingdom? By marrying Saul’s daughter.

In 1 Samuel chapter 18 we find the story of David marrying Michal. It was a political move for David, a descendant of Judah, to marry Michal, a Benjamite. Not only did he help bring the families together, but as kin to Saul, David now had a legitimate claim to the throne.

But as we read through the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel, we find that after the death of Saul and his son Jonathan, David is not named the king over the entire kingdom of Israel. David is anointed as the king of Judah, his home land. Ishbosheth is anointed king of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Civil war actually breaks out and there is fighting between those who call David their king and those that claim Ishbosheth as king. This is anything but unity. And as anyone who lived in the USA in the years following the Civil War can tell you, the sense of disunity can continue for generations after the war is over.

This war continues until Abner, who was Ishbosheth’s right-hand man, does something that causes Ishbosheth to become quite angry with Abner (let’s just leave it at that), leading Abner to switch sides and cut a deal with David. Unfortunately for Abner, not everyone knows this, and Abner is killed by one of David’s men, Joab. Joab isn’t about to let Abner get away and so he kills Abner.

Ishboseth is later killed in a way that closely resembles his father’s death, killed by some foreigners looking to gain favor in David’s eyes. Eventually, David becomes the king of the unified kingdom in 2 Samuel chapter five.

If we look at David’s ascension to the throne, we can see that he was careful all the way along to make sure to not push the other tribes of Israel away. David does not kill Saul, Jonathan, Abner, or Ishboseth, even though doing so might be beneficial to his gaining the throne. Surely David chose not to kill these men for other reasons as well, but I think he was being very politically savvy in keeping his hands clean.

But David still isn’t done. He continues to do things to bring the people back together. They are just coming out of a civil war and there are relationships that need healing.

When the Israelites took to Promised Land, there were a number of shrines that were established as places of worship. Shiloh was the site of an often-referenced shrine and a few weeks ago we noted that David ate the showbread from Nob. But there really wasn’t a centralized place for worship.

We also know that the city of Jerusalem was not a part of the original land that the Israelites took. It wasn’t acquired until after David became king. David then establishes Jerusalem as the “kingdom seat” and makes it a centralized location for worship. And he does this by bringing in one of the most revered objects in all of the Hebrew tradition: the Ark of the Covenant.

The ark has been in Abinadab’s house for the last 20 years (1 Sam. 7), and it takes another three months to get it to Jerusalem. But when it arrives, the people rejoice and dance. Even the king himself does a little jig, much to the embarrassment of his wife.

Jerusalem is now the central location for Hebrew worship. David tries to build a magnificent temple there, but that won’t happen for another generation. But notice where Jerusalem is located. It is on the boarder of the regions of Benjamin and Judah. Don’t try to tell me that this was not a political move in attempt to unify the nation of Israel, to bring healing following the years of civil war.

David, like the God manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, looked to bring unity in spite of differences.

This past week we as Americans came together in a way that gives me hope for humanity. Christmas doesn’t bring us together anymore because we are all too concerned with getting the best deals on the latest gadgets. Thanksgiving and Easter have just become days to gorge ourselves on too much food. But any time an act of terrorism occurs in our backyard, we slow down and come together. Black and white, young and old, on April 15th, we were all Bostonians. Even allegiances to our favorite baseball teams were set aside and we saw New York Yankee fans standing side-by-side with Boston Red Sox fans.

I would never wish for terrorism to hit anyone or anywhere, but it is clear to me that events like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing brings us together as a country and we focus on what matters the most. People hug their children a little longer, call their friends and family members that they haven’t spoken to in years, and many go back to church to seek answers to the questions that they have. To put it succinctly, we reprioritize our lives.

However, I was listening to a talk show on the radio this week and there was an Indian-American man sharing about his experience following September 11th. He was walking with his white friend one evening when they were approached by a couple of angry men. These men called him names, cursed at him, told him to go back to Iraq, and threatened his life. He was a Hindu and had been living in the United States all of his life, but that really didn’t matter to these people. All they saw was someone who looked different.

This man shared as he was interviewed on the radio that as he heard the story of the bombing in Boston unfolding, one of the first things that ran through his mind was, “Please, don’t let the bomber be a brown-skinned man.” He knew that if the bombers looked like him, he might be in danger again.

I think that these tragedies bring us together, and that is a good thing. But unfortunately, as has been quoted many times, nothing unites a people like a common enemy.

As I look at the life of David, I see him trying to bring the people together through his marriage, through his respect of the other tribes and their leaders, and by bringing their focus back to the God who led them out of Israel.

I keep thinking on Philippians 4:2-6 which says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

I don’t think this is a message that we need to forget our differences and just all hold hands, sing kumbaya, and blow bubbles. I think you all know that I enjoy theology and ethics. I have made it my career to seek to better understand and articulate who this God is that we serve. And I can be pretty passionate about the things that I believe. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still love and support those who believe differently than we do.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Fred, shared recently that he has been really digging into an issue that he previously hadn’t really considered. And this is a pretty divisive issue in the church right now! There is a person at Fred’s church who is a Messianic Jew and has taken a very strong pro-Israel stance on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Fred also has a brother that works for a progressive relief organization who has a very strong pro-Palestinian stance on the same issue. Both men are very committed Christians, but they are on opposite ends on this issue.

Up until now Fred has really avoided the topic with both of these friends. But he felt that just ignoring the division wasn’t really doing him any good. So he has read some of the writings on both sides of the issue. He has gone back to the Bible and really dug into the text. He has prayed about it and he has spoken with his pastor about the issue. And do you know where Fred came out on this issue? He is still undecided.

Perhaps one day soon Fred will pick a side or perhaps he never will. That’s not the point. The point is that he is taking both sides seriously and both sides feel like they have been heard and cared for, like their opinions matter. And even if Fred decides that he disagrees with one of these friends, the fact that he put the work into understanding the other’s perspective should mean something. This is what I think we are to be doing in our work for unity.

David did a lot of things to make the kingdom of Israel come together as one. I assure you that they did not agree on everything all of the time, but they learned to live together in peace. The letter to the Philippians says to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. David was so set on this that it may have influenced who he married. I’m not saying you need to do that, though.

Like the many varieties of butter in the supermarket, we need to learn to exist together. We need to listen and learn from one another, growing together in unity. Even if at the end of the day we don’t agree on everything, we need to continue to hear one another. It is okay to disagree with one another. It is not okay to let these things keep us away from loving God and neighbor.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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