I’ve been reading 2 Samuel lately because I taught through 1 Samuel last fall and I love a good sequel. I won’t be teaching on this one in the next year or so, so this is just for fun. 2 Samuel has it all: intrigue, hidden motive, murder, power struggles, love triangles and weird names (Thanks Ish-bosheth and Asahel!).
Here’s the low down on the first four chapters with a brief recap of what happened at the end of 1 Samuel.
1 Samuel, you know, is the beginning of Israel’s human monarchy. I say human because God has been their king all along but they really wanted what the nations had- they wanted to have a king. So God finally gives them what they want. His name is Saul which in Hebrew is a pun because his name means “to ask.” So when God gives them Saul he literally gives them what they “asked” for. Note to self: when God continually tells you that he is what you need and you keep asking for something else, you might get what you ask for but it might not be the best. How could I have forgotten?
Okay, back to the story. Saul is a king. Over Israel. He’s big and he’s cunning, but he is also deeply paranoid. He’s jealous. He’s on a mission to get rid of anyone who comes between him and his power. So that’s what makes it tough for David. David is adored by the people and he’s better in battle than Saul. (I mean, big, tough Saul hides in the stack ladies purses to avoid going into battle. It’s a pile of luggage actually, but I giggle more when I think of this big strong king hiding under purses – so go with me.)
David finds out Saul is dead in 2 Samuel chapter 1. We, the readers, already knew this because 1 Samuel ends with this news. However, the first few verses of 2 Samuel sends us back in time so we find out Saul wasn’t dead-dead right away. He’s mostly dead and needs assistance to finish what he started. It’s an odd picture because Saul gets hit with a few arrows and is wounded but doesn’t want to go down in history as being humiliated by his enemies (remember, he’s a paranoid fellow) so he decides to ask his armor bearer to finish the job. But his armor bearer was timid so Saul grabs the sword and falls on it. Terrified, his armor bearer jumps on top of Saul, dogpile style, and kills himself. We learn they both die that day at the end of 1 Samuel. But 2 Samuel lets us know there’s more to the story.
In the first view verses of 2 Samuel we come to find out that while Saul is skewered with his armor bearer on top, his life still lingered. An escaped Amalekite (The people defeated by David right before Saul kills himself) found his way away from the battle and saw David and paid homage to him. They get to chatting and David comes to find out this man had just been with Saul. He tells David, “I saw him there on the sword and he called to me so I came over. He asked me to finish the job so it wouldn’t be a slow death so I did what he asked. I took his crown and I brought it to you, my lord.”
The strangest thing happens. David tore his clothes and wept for not only hearing about the death of Jonathan, his best and most intimate friend, but also — Saul. If I were to put myself in David’s shoes it would have looked more like the munchkins in the land of Oz singing with much joy, “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!” and less like a sad funeral. I mean, does David remember having to run for his life for nearly a decade?
A few times David had the chance to kill Saul, but he did not. In 1 Sam. 26:9, while hovering over a sleeping Saul with sword at hand, David tells Abishai, one of his mighty men, “Who can kill the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” David has already been anointed and called by God to be king but rests in the Lord for the timing of it. David isn’t flawless, we know this – we’ll come to see he’s an adulterer and murderer, and lies like Pinocchio when you put his feet near the fire. But here we see David very cautious about making sure the Lord drives the timing. In fact, David will use this phrase more than once to caution and instruct people. We’ll see it again in 2 Samuel 1 when he tells the Amalekite that finished Saul’s death this same thing.
Chapters 2-5 are filled with more of the same. David’s army is growing and after the death of Saul, Saul’s army dwindled. Even though David knew God wanted him to be king nearly 16 chapters ago, the inauguration doesn’t happen until 2 Samuel 5. Up until then David finds out people from his army have killed Abner and Ish-bosheth in an untimely way, not waiting for the Lord to make that call.
A few months ago I was chatting with one of our new pastors, Ben. After our meeting he said a quick prayer that included these words, “Lord, help us not to outpace you.” These words have stuck in my mind like a catchy song on the radio. What an important prayer to pray regularly. How different my life would look (and how contented my soul) if I paused more often to ask the Lord for his leading and direction, but also being willing to wait. Knowing that the future is in the Lord’s hands is very comforting, but it’s also hard while we wait for him to initiate the timing of his promises fulfilled.