Of all Israel’s heroes the greatest is David—the teenage giant-killer who became king. The book of 2 Samuel is the story of his reign, which lasted forty years.

God’s blessing marked the first twenty years of that reign, the years of David’s triumphs as he went from strength to strength.[1] At first he ruled only part of the country: Judah. Elsewhere, the recognised king was a son of Saul named Ish-boseth. But after civil war broke out David gained the ascendancy until he became king over all Israel. A string of military successes extended the nation’s borders, and David made the newly-conquered city of Jerusalem his capital. It was a wise choice, located as it was at the border of the two sections of his realm. To Jerusalem David brought the ark of the covenant, placing it in a tent there. Thus he made Jerusalem the nation’s worship-centre as well as its capital. Things were looking bright.

Sadly, the trend didn’t continue. Triumphs gave way to troubles and God’s judgment marked the next twenty years.[2] The Bathsheba affair started the decline, bringing a heap of trouble in its wake. On top of that, David’s son Absalom led a rebellion against his father’s rule, and this, in turn, triggered a second rebellion led by Sheba the Benjamite. Things were in chaos. Then, as if all this were not enough, God judged David for taking a census of the people. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with censuses, but in this case it was David’s way of saying he no longer needed to lean on God because he had a nice big army to support him. God couldn’t let him get away with that. Big trouble all round.

So his reign falls neatly into two parts: part one is God’s blessing and David’s triumphs, and part two is God’s judgment and David’s troubles. Let’s take a look at one incident from each of the two periods. We will start with the Bathsheba affair from the second period.[3]

From the flat roof of his palace David spotted her bathing. Filled with lust, he summoned her to the palace. Predictably, he ended up having sex with her, and she became pregnant. His enquiries revealed that her husband was Uriah, a soldier in David’s army, and at that time he was away at the battlefront fighting the battles of the man who had just got his wife pregnant. So David, the army’s absentee Supreme Commander, arranged for his general to post Uriah to the front line where, true to plan, he got killed. Problem sorted.

Let’s just pause here and rewind the video a bit to see how this episode began. David, we discover, hadn’t been where he should have been. This was springtime, ‘the time when kings go off to war’. True, Israel was at war, but for some reason the king, instead of being out there leading his troops, was at home in Jerusalem—ogling a naked woman. There’s a lesson here: are you where God wants you to be right now? If not, you could be heading for trouble. Not necessarily of David’s kind, of course, but you can’t take the right next step if you’re not in the right place to start with.

It was David’s eyes that led him into trouble. He should have turned away when he first spotted Bathsheba bathing. Because he didn’t, his lust for her prompted him to enquire who she was, and from there it was a small step to abusing his royal position by having her brought to him. Sex was now inevitable. David doubtless hoped that this would be the end of the affair, but Bathsheba’s pregnancy put paid to that. Learn from his folly. Take care what you let your eyes settle upon—you are responsible. If you’re male, take a leaf out of Job’s book: he said, ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl’.[4]

One sin, as always, led to another. David’s adultery with Bathsheba led to an act of deceit. He summoned her husband Uriah from the battle-zone, ostensibly to present a report on the progress of the military action but really to get him to spend the night with his wife so that he would think the child was his. David was disappointed: Uriah’s sense of solidarity with his fellow-soldiers caused him to sleep rough rather than go home to the matrimonial bedroom. So David moved from deceit to outright corruption: he got him drunk and urged him to go home to Bathsheba. But even that didn’t do the trick. The only option left to David was murder by proxy. Uriah carried his own death-sentence back to the battle where, on David’s orders, General Joab put him in the line of greatest danger and the poor guy got killed. What a dreadful sequence of sin! If only David hadn’t committed that first sin, the rest might have been avoided.

Anyway, David did ‘the decent thing’ by marrying the now-widowed Bathsheba, who bore him a son. But this step wasn’t enough to put everything right: the record states that ‘the thing David had done displeased the LORD.’[5] David still needed to face up to his sin, and it was the prophet Nathan who came at God’s behest to challenge him. To his credit, the king repented.[6] He discovered that the words ‘I have sinned’, spoken to another person, marked the beginning of the healing process. You may not be comfortable with the Roman Catholic institutionalisation of this practice, but confession has a sound biblical basis. ‘Confess your sins to each other,’ urges James, ‘and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’[7] Is this something you personally need to do? God, we read, forgave David—and he will forgive you, too, if your repentance is genuine. So for King David that was the end of the matter.

Or was it? The sin was certainly forgiven, but even forgiven sin has its consequences, and three ill effects would flow from David’s sinful actions. The baby born to him and Bathsheba would die;[8] violence would afflict David’s life and family—in time, three of his sons died violent deaths;[9] and just as David had violated another man’s wife, someone else would in due course sleep with his wives.[10] Sowing and reaping indeed. And all this from a moment’s lustful looking! So avoid sin at all costs; its consequences are out of all proportion to the way it starts.

Now let’s leave these sobering reflections and move on to consider an incident from the first part of 2 Samuel—the period of God’s blessing and David’s triumphs. It is the heartwarming story of Mephibosheth.[11]

David had earlier been bosom friends with Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Sadly, father and son had both died in battle, leaving David heartbroken. Now, as king himself, he decided to see if there were any surviving relatives to whom he could show kindness for Jonathan’s sake. His search-team found a surviving son of the late Jonathan: Mephibosheth, a man severely disabled in both feet and living in obscurity. David moved this nobody into the royal residence and made him a somebody, providing him with wealth, servants and a permanent seat at the royal table.

It is a wonderful tale of grace. At the start of the story Mephibosheth was a no-hoper, with nothing going for him at all. Consider the many negatives. For a start he came from the wrong background: the family line of failed King Saul. Saul was now out and David was in. Not good. Then Mephibosheth had a severe physical handicap—in those days a serious disadvantage[12]—and the nature of it was such that it couldn’t easily be hidden. To get around he had to use crutches or perhaps even drag himself along the ground. An additional pain was the fact that his suffering was the result of someone else’s mistake: he must often have felt resentful of the nurse who had dropped him in infancy and wrecked his feet. And now he had received a summons to appear before the new king. To his mind that could mean only one thing: he was about to get the chop in a purge of the former king’s relatives—in that era this was the usual way of pre-empting a coup on behalf of the old regime. No wonder Mephibosheth staggered into King David’s presence shaking with fear.[13]

There’s a picture here. This wretched man is you in your fallen condition. You, like him, were a complete no-hoper. You came from the wrong background, the line of Adam, the dethroned king. You were disabled by sin, and your handicap, like Mephibosheth’s, could not be hidden. Like him, too, you were in this predicament because of the mistake of another, who in Eden plunged his progeny into sin. Worst of all, you could expect only death, in the ultimate sense of separation from God, making you one of ‘those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’[14]

But Mephibosheth became the object of grace! Grace is undeserved favour, and he got it from David by the bucketful. He had no claim on the king at all, no family connection and no reason to expect his favour, yet David moved him into the royal palace. Previously he had been living in the house of Makir in a place called Lo Debar.[15] Those names tell us something about his poverty-stricken existence. Makir means ‘hireling’, a poor person with no regular job or means of support, and Lo-Debar means ‘without pasture’, that is, a dry and barren place—a lifestyle about as far from that of the royal palace as one could possibly imagine.

David showed him kindness, of course, for the sake of someone else: Jonathan. And he didn’t stint on it: ‘I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’[16] This was a formal adoption. Eating at the king’s table didn’t just make Mephibosheth a house-guest; it represented a completely new and permanent status as an adopted member of David’s family—he ‘ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.’[17] And, as the icing on the cake, when he sat at David’s table his deformity was out of sight; to all intents and purposes he was whole again. None of this he deserved, but all of this he enjoyed, thanks to the grace shown him by King David.

Already, I’m sure, you are seeing glimpses of your own happy situation as a recipient of the grace of God. Like Mephibosheth, you had no claims on God’s favour, no meritorious works to offer, nothing at all. Yet God sought you out in your ‘house of Makir at Lo-Debar’, that place of spiritual poverty and barrenness, showing you kindness for the sake of Jesus, the one who died. And he restored to you all that your father Adam lost through sin: dignity, authority, power, status, victory...and more besides! As Isaac Watts put it:

In Christ the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
[18]

Best of all, God has adopted you into his own family. You are not just a house-guest but enjoy a new and permanent status as a child of the living God.[19] You live in his house and eat at the King’s table, where your spiritual deformity is completely hidden from view. You deserved none of it, but you enjoy all of it, thanks to his amazing grace!

God’s grace to David was no less amazing. We see it, for instance, in David’s biblical reputation. In spite of his glaring faults and failures, all faithfully recorded in Scripture, David remains on record overall as a man of God. Luke notes that he ‘served God’s purpose in his own generation’,[20] and the writer to the Hebrews, cataloguing some of the all-time greats from the Old Testament era, says, ‘And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets…’[21] That’s encouraging. It tells you that God is more concerned to retain the memory of your Christlikeness than of your failures—grace indeed.

His grace to David appears, too, in the royal house he gave him, his dynasty. We noted earlier that David brought the ark of the covenant to his new capital, Jerusalem, where he placed it in a tent. He was understandably keen to promote it from a mere tent to a house—a proper temple, a house for God. But the Lord said no; his son Solomon would do that. Instead, God would turn the tables and establish a house for David, in the sense of a royal house or dynasty. What’s more, that dynasty would last ‘for ever’.[22]

And did it last for ever? Well, after David’s son Solomon a line of Davidic kings ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah until the exile to Babylon, ending with King Zedekiah. The dynasty lasted, therefore, about four centuries. That was a long time by ancient standards, but it falls well short of ‘for ever’. But here’s where the New Testament sheds vital light on the issue. There we learn that the real fulfilment was to be a spiritual one, in the person of Jesus Christ, who in the New Testament’s opening verse is called ‘Jesus the Messiah the son of David’.[23] Gabriel promised Mary that God would give to the son she would bear ‘the throne of his father David’ and that he would reign there ‘for ever’.[24] This theme was central to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost: ‘We all know,’ he declared, ‘that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah…’[25] Paul was equally clear, urging Timothy to ‘remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.’[26]

So God did indeed fulfil his promise of a Davidic king who would rule for ever, and he fulfilled it in a far grander way than David could ever have imagined. David himself had ruled over a little Middle Eastern kingdom; Jesus rules over a kingdom that is vast, worldwide and constantly growing.

The inter-connected stories we have looked at demonstrate grace from start to finish. King David showed grace to undeserving Mephibosheth. God showed grace to David in that, in spite of the Bathsheba business and all his other faults, he promised him an enduring dynasty. And through Jesus, who is David’s greater Son, God has shown grace to millions of undeserving Mephibosheths like you and me.

Never get over-familiar with grace. Never let yourself become blasé about this privilege of being in the King’s family and sitting at his table. Let his grace surprise you daily. Respond by praising him, by living in a manner befitting a child of the King, and by proclaiming his grace to those still scratching out an existence in Lo Debar.

Copyright © David Matthew 2009

 

 

 

 

1. Chapters 1-10

2. Chapters 11-24

2 SAMUEL

King David And His Dynasty

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

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3. See 2 Samuel 11:1-17

2 Samuel

4. Job 31:1 NIV

5. 2 Samuel 11:27

6. His prayer of repentance is recorded in Psalm 51.

7. James 5:16

8. 2 Samuel 12:13-14

9. 2 Samuel 12:9-10

10. 2 Samuel 12:10. Fulfilled during Absalom’s rebellion.

11. See 2 Samuel 9:1-13

12. How he came to be handicapped is described in 2 Samuel 4:4.

13. 2 Samuel 9:7

14. Hebrews 2:15

15. 2 Samuel 9:5

16. 2 Samuel 9:7

17. 2 Samuel 9:11

18. From Watts’s hymn Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun, verse 5.

19. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5

20. Acts 13:36

21. Hebrews 11:32

22. 2 Samuel 7:16

23. Matthew 1:1

24. Luke 1:31-33. Note also the cry of the crowds on Palm Sunday, Matthew 21:9.

25. Acts 2:29-31

26. 2 Timothy 2:8

The gist of this article

Israel’s second king, David, is their greatest national hero. He wasn’t perfect, though, and he had major troubles as well as major triumphs. But his heart was for God and he came through with God’s blessing. You can do the same!