The Philistines killed Saul, allowing David now to step into his role as king. Not all will be easy, for Saul ruled in the northern kingdom of Israel and David’s power base was in the southern area of Judah. So, David must now win over the northerners and unite north and south.
The Civil War
Read 2 Samuel 2:1-4
Hebron: Then, the leading city of Judah about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. David’s royal capital resides there for more than seven years (5:5). In the time of Joshua, Caleb and his family settled in Hebron at the time of the Conquest (Joshua 14:13-15).
- What does David become for Judah?
Anointed: Samuel privately anointed David as king (1 Samuel 16:13). Now a public ceremony takes place to formalize David as king.
Excursus: Why is Judah the only Tribe to Anoint Its Own King?
Why would Judah be the only tribe in Israelite history to anoint its own king? What makes Judah different? Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the patriarch of Israel) and his first wife, Leah. Leah bore no more children for Jacob after giving birth to Jacob.
Years later, when the ten older sons of Jacob plotted to kill their half-brother Joseph, Judah was the only one who spoke against it. He suggested, instead, to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:27).
Because of Judah’s character, his father, Jacob, gave him the longest blessing before he died: “Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be at the throat of your enemies, and your father’s sons will bow down to you…. The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:8, 10). So, Jacob’s blessing authorized Judah and his descendants to have extra authority within Israel, where the other descendants of Jacob would even bow down to him.
Read 2 Samuel 2:8-9
Abner: Saul’s cousin and chief military officer (1 Samuel 14:50).
- Who becomes king of the northern tribes, Israel?
Ish-bosheth: Saul’s only surviving son, also called “Eshbaal” (1 Chronicles 8:33). The name is a derogatory epithet, meaning “man of shame.”
Read 2 Samuel 2:12-16
“compete”: A euphemism meaning to “do battle.” The idea is to settle the battle between two select groups of soldiers, 12 from each side.
- What happens to the 24 soldiers, 12 from each side, who battle for their kings?
- After that what happens? Who wins?
Read 2 Samuel 3:1
“long war”: Lasts a minimum of two years when David battles against with Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 2:10).
- What is the general state of events during this war?
Read 2 Samuel 3:2-5
- What do we learn about David’s household?
David becomes the father of six sons by six wives during his time at Hebron. Such a practice of having multiple wives was the custom for kings of the ancient Near East. God’s Law in Deuteronomy, however, does not allow this for the kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-17). Most likely, these marriages were political alliances to secure David’s power base.
Read 2 Samuel 3:12-16
- What does Abner, the lead general for the Northern Kingdom, Israel, want to do?
Michal: Saul gave his daughter, Michal, to David in marriage (1 Samuel 18:27). Later, Saul gave her to another man (1 Samuel 25:44).
- What does David insist first take place? What does this reveal about his character?
Read 2 Samuel 3:20-21, 24-25, 27
- What do others tell David about Abner?
- What results?
Read 2 Samuel 3:33-34
- How does David respond to Abner’s death?
The United Kingdom
Read 2 Samuel 4:1-2, 5-8
- What demoralizes the troops of the Northern Kingdom?
- What happens?
Read 2 Samuel 4:9-12
- How does David respond?
- What does this say about David?
Ish-bosheth’s death is advantageous to David, but it may also spark resentment among the tribes still loyal to Saul’s lineage. From a pragmatic standpoint (not looking at how David despised the way Ish-bosheth died), David needs to distance himself from the killing. Like the murder, the punishment is also quick and gruesome for all to witness. David ensured the head of Ish-bosheth received an honorable burial in the tomb of Abner.
David makes Jerusalem the Capital of Israel
Read 2 Samuel 5:1-5
David makes a covenant with the people, and the elders anoint him king. At the age of 30, this seasoned leader becomes king over all 12 tribes of Israel.
Read 2 Samuel 5:6-10
“water shaft”: Hebrew, tsin-noor. The meaning is uncertain. Most likely, it means “tunnel,” which gave the Jebusites access to the Gihon Spring for water, without needing to venture outside the fortress walls during a siege. David was urging his men to crawl up the underground shaft and to launch a surprise attack on the stronghold from within.
Excursus: Why Jerusalem?
Scripture never explains why David chose Jerusalem as his capital. The political and military advantages of the city are enough in themselves—but David may have seen a sacred purpose for the city. Jerusalem was where Abraham (then Abram) paid tithes to Melchizedek, the Priest-king of Salem, who blessed Abram and then gave him bread and wine (Genesis 14). Here, Abraham went to offer Isaac, where he heard God’s oath to bless all the nations (Genesis 22).
So, David had strong theological reasons for thinking Jerusalem to be the best place as the capital for God’s chosen people. God told Moses, “Go to the place where I will choose my name to dwell,” without specifying a location (Deuteronomy 12:5). Without anything more specific, the precedent set by God and Abraham at Jerusalem seemed a good one to keep.
Read 2 Samuel 5:13
- What again does David do? Why?
“more concubines and wives”: This is beyond the seven wives David already has (2 Samuel 3:2-5, 14-15). 2 Samuel lists a total of 17 sons. 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 names 19 sons born to David’s wives, not counting other children born to his concubines. Oi vey!
David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
The Ark of the Covenant was where God promised to come to His people in the Old Covenant. The Ark was a wooden chest overlaid with gold inside and out. Inside were placed the tablets of the Law (10 Commandments), Aaron’s budded branch, and a jar of manna. On top of the ark was a golden cover, the “mercy seat,” with cherubim on each side with outstretched wings (Exodus 25:10-22).
David wants to bring the Ark to Jerusalem to convert the new capital city into a holy place. But first, he must retrieve it from the defeated Philistines.
Read 2 Samuel 6:1-5
- How do the people traveling to retrieve the Ark respond when they are bringing it back to Israel?
God commanded the Ark to be transported using two golden poles inserted into four golden rings on the sides of the ark. The Philistines, however, used an ox cart (1 Samuel 6:7). So, the Israelites construct a more reverent way to transport the Ark. Uzzah, one of the ark’s attendants, touches the Ark when it seems in danger of falling off its cart. He is instantly killed (vs. 6-7), for God forbade physical contact with the Ark (Numbers 4:15). David now leaves the Ark at Obed-Edom, fearing the wrath of God.
Read 2 Samuel 6:12-19
- What does David wear and what does he do?
Excursus: What’s going on with David acting as a Priest?
The ark comes to Jerusalem in liturgical procession. Here, we see David having other roles than king. He assumes the role of head celebrant, performing the sacrifices, (vs. 13, 17), wears a priestly vestment, a linen ephod (vs. 14, 1 Samuel 22:18), and gives the benediction (6:18; Leviticus 9:22; Numbers 6:22-27). David came to Jerusalem dressed as a priest-king, blessed the people. and gave them bread and wine. In him, we see shades of Melchizedek, who predated the Levitical Priesthood.
David takes a giant step forward in realizing God’s covenant with Abraham. God initially wanted the people of Israel to be royal priests—not kings at the edge of a sword but kings who would rule through priestly service and teaching (Exodus 19:3-6). David symbolized God’s intended role of the nation.
The city, Jerusalem also provides a link, connecting Melchizedek, David, and Jesus. All three were there and all three offered sacrifices there. These sacrifices were not according to Levitical priesthood set forth in the Mosaic Law. When David goes to Jerusalem and offers a sacrifice, he sets the stage for the self-offering of Jesus in His crucifixion at Jerusalem.
Additional Reading from the Psalms relating to David ruling as King: Psalms 60 and 110.