The beginning of 2 Samuel continues the narrative from the last chapters of 1 Samuel. In chapter 1, David has finished his campaign against the Amalekites when a messenger appears:
“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.” 2 Samuel 2:4
This messenger is a scoundrel, and a fool, groveling to win David’s favor. His lips deceive him as he fabricates the story of Saul’s death and his flippant statement that Jonathan is dead weighs heavily on David. While there’s no indication that David knows the truth, perhaps there is some divine discernment in this Amalekite’s testimony. In any case, David’s verdict is swift.
Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. 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.’” 2 Samuel 1:15-16
David grieves for Saul and Jonathan. True to form, he expresses his emotion in song. He demonstrates great respect for “the Lord’s anointed” and his great love for his “brother” Jonathan. David is not looking forward to this day and he does not rejoice that the crazy man is dead.
“In the course of time,” chapter 2 begins, David asks the Lord for direction and is told to go to Hebron where he is officially crowned King of Judah. Meanwhile, Abner is executing his plan on Saul’s side and appoints Ish-Bosheth king of Israel since he is one of Saul’s sons.
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. 2 Samuel 2:8-9
The bulk of the next chapters in this reading is all about the shifting of power in the kingdom. This was a time and age when kings won war by brutal force and women were taken as possessions to quickly expand the king’s offspring. The narrative provides details that are not easy to read, honestly, but part of the story of our ancestors.
We are introduced to Joab at the beginning of this narrative. He’s a mighty warrior that will appear time and time again throughout the course of David’s history. It will be interesting to note his actions as we read through 2 Samuel. It seems Joab is a necessary evil when controlled, but bridling him is beyond anyone, or so it seems.
Abner and Joab meet and decide to have 12 men fight from each camp. “Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together.” 2 Samuel 2:16 The battle begins. Abner kills Joab’s brother Asahel after a chase and Joab is ticked! (Not a good thing for anyone near!!).
Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?” 2 Samuel 2:26
David’s position continued to grow stronger during the civil war between the Israelites. I can only think the Philistines are watching as the tribes of Israel fight each other, hoping they will kill each other off to the point that they can take over when the time is right.
In chapter 3, while the war rages, Abner continues to strengthen his position when we run across an odd encounter between Abner and Ish-Bosheth, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?” 2 Samuel 3:7. Ish-Bosheth is calling Abner out…not a good idea! He has to let Ish-Bosheth continue as king and hold his anger inside.
It seems Abner has a plan to position himself with David, so he sends a message to David to begin negotiations. David responds to Ish-Bosheth, the puppet-king, and demands Michal be returned to him as his betrothed. Yep, David wants another wife. Chapter 3 began listing six sons born to David through six wives, now he gets Michal back.
Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back.2 Samuel 3:16
Abner is in control, let there be no doubt. This is all part of his ploy to maintain his powerful position as head of the army. He goes over to David and is greeted in peace. Joab, on the other hand, is looking for an opportunity to avenge his brother.
Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died. 2 Samuel 3:27
David finds out what Joab did and curses his family, but doesn’t remove him from his position. Hmmm. The subtleties of war? I don’t understand why Joab remains, but his value to David must be greater than his liability. The story continues.
Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!” 2 Samuel 3:38-39
Ish-Bosheth is not much of a leader, one who is referred to as “frightened” several times. Chapter 4 recounts his assassination by Beenah and Rekab. When these two idiots cut off Ish-Bosheth’s head and present it to David, he has them executed, cuts off their heads AND feet and sends a clear signal to those watching, don’t mess with the royal family!
Chapter 4 also introduces Mephibosheth, Saul’s son, who escapes with his nurse, but crippled in the process. We’ll come back to that part of the story later.
Chapter 5 finally crowns David as king, the civil war is over.
When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.2 Samuel 5:3
David goes on to capture Jerusalem and defeats the Philistines in several battles as he wisely inquires of the Lord for guidance.
Chapter 6 includes two particularly interesting points: 1) the ark mishandled and 2) Michal’s displeasure with David’s behavior. David is settling into his new palace and decides to relocate the ark. Apparently, those who got the message didn’t understand the process for handling the ark and they put is on a cart (it’s supposed to be carried with poles, etc.):
When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. 2 Samuel 6:6-7
David is now scared of the ark, so he lets it stay at the house of Obed-Edom for a while. It doesn’t take long for Obed-Edom to begin to prosper (it appears God’s favor is upon them), so David sends for the ark to come to Jerusalem. He’s still frightened of the ark, so he has a parade stop every 6 steps while he dances like a crazy man to show his commitment to the Lord and reverence for the ark. Here’s the second point, Michal is not impressed.
As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. … “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:16, 20
David is not so pleased with her words,
I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.2 Samuel 6:22-23
And so the story of King David begins.