Day 73—The Split Kingdom—“Doing Good” 2 Samuel 1:1 – 4:12
March 14, 2021, 6:22 AM

Day 73—The Split Kingdom—“Doing Good” 2 Samuel 1:1 – 4:12

A lot puzzles me today, but one thing goes straight to my heart: David’s lamentation over Saul and Jonathan. We know this is a genuine, heartfelt loss for David. Twice he has saved Saul’s life, and with Jonathan he had pledged a life covenant of friendship. The loss of these important men in David’s life deeply affected him and he created a song of mourning and lament that he instructed the entire nation of Judah to learn from that time forward: “How the mighty have fallen and the weapons of war perished!” (2 Samuel 1:27)

Well, the weapons of war didn’t perish that quickly, as we continue to read. In fact, the continued ‘war play’ and resulting deaths in this passage prevented me from falling asleep last night. I wanted to stop after David’s song, wanted to give myself time to be steeped in loss and to try and experience the depth of David’s mourning, but so quickly we have two kingdoms jockeying for position. And this, my friends, is the beginning of the split in kingdoms into Judah (the house of David) and Israel (the house of Saul).  While the nations eventually unite under King David, it will not last and we will read about David’s son, Solomon (peace), whose death cemented the two nation split in approximately 920 BCE.

But here we are—silly war competitions have deadly consequences and old losses and deaths are carried until they are avenged. The first contest between David’s men and Saul’s men results in what seems like a quick and mutual bloodbath (how I hate using that word on an early Sunday morning!). The conflict is even given a battle name—the Battle of Gibeon (the Valley of Sharp Swords). And from that point, we read about the tumble of Saul’s reign and the rise of David, but not without consequences.

The enmity between Abner (son of Ner) and Joab (Yahweh is Father) led to the death of Abner, which caused David to lose hope that he would ever have a united kingdom because the murder of Abner could have catastrophic consequences on the goal of creating one unified “kingdom. David again mourns this death and tells the people that their violence surpasses even his understanding, but it is not over. Ishbaal (man of Baal) is soon executed by his own soldiers, and ironically, David again mourns, but answers violence with violence.

This is a tricky cycle in the ancient kingdom. The avenging of the death of a family, as we saw with Abner and Joab, and the avenging of a murder outside the context of war, as with Ishbaal, were closely tied into this society where might was right. But there was also a code for righteous death, particularly death in battle. Saul and his three sons were mourned at their deaths, but this was the price of battle, and, in fact, the goal of battle which was to unseat a ruler and potentially kill him (yes, it was always a ‘him’ at that time) in order to take over his reign.

As David establishes his new kingdom, his goal was to establish a united front where he welcomed into his own ranks those who had served Saul well and fairly. But the human heart is so much more complicated and to switch allegiances is not easy, and to be an equitable king has always been, and will always be a great challenge for the men anointed into these positions. Our reading today ends in the retributive death of those men who killed Ishbaal, making an example and a spectacle of their deaths to warn others.

I found myself thinking a little bit about King George in Hamilton as I read this, although David is nothing like him. I realized the overarching challenge of kingship and how the control of power defines a ruler. “When push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love…dah dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah dah de dah dah…”

We still see a culture of power that destroys in our own world. I picture prominent politicians saying “If I could just get rid of this opponent or that enemy, then I could really accomplish…” However, the preferred method of death is character assassination, verbal assaults and war chests of money that can effectively out-advertise an opponent.

The very next verses we read tomorrow will begin with David’s anointing as King of all Israel, effectively uniting the northern and southern kingdoms, but as always, it will not be without bloodshed, moral failings or continued defense of lands and people groups. Yes, it was a very different time, but the challenges we see in David’s kingdom will relay oddly familiar events that we still wrestle with today.

David will be a good king, but as God warned, the only true king is God himself.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

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