2 Samuel 6
The most famous and most highly revered king in all of Israel’s history. The king of Israel’s golden age, Israel’s Arthur (or perhaps we should say Arthur is England’s David). THE king of Israel. THE shepherd boy who killed a giant with a sling and a stone. THE man after God’s own heart.
I love reading about David’s flaws because there are SO many. David’s heart was like God’s in many ways, but his faith was a little shaky at times. He lied and got caught in his web of lies. He got mad when people insulted him. No, he got murderous when people insulted him. He married far more women than is wise (read: more than one), he got divorced, of sorts, and his ex-wife remarried, and then he came back and forced her to come back to him again…it was messy. And let’s not forget the Bathsheba incident.
He was a terrible father. Probably because he had too many kids. Probably because he had too many wives. His kids went around raping each other and killing each other and usurping from each other and him – I mean, really. His family was a mess.
As imperfect as many of his choices turned out to be, though, David did one thing very well: he feared the Lord. Turns out that’s the most important thing. I know some of us have gotten confused.
See, in David’s time, there were some pretty hooky false religions. Truth be told, there still are today. But back then, atheism wasn’t really a thing, at least not officially. Every nation had their “gods” that they worshipped, and religion was – and is, and has always been – a very powerful thing.
That’s not to say the gods of the religions had any real power, because they did not. The Lord ridicules them, saying they are nothing but wood or stone, and that was true. I think there were plenty of people even then that could see that, people who professed and lived out their religion, but did not believe. Soldiers. Politicians. Leaders. Skeptics.
But even those who did not believe in religion, I think, found it a powerful – and useful – thing. There is nothing in the world that exerts as much power over its followers as a religion. If I say the gods require more offerings, and you believe me, my paycheck just got bigger. If I say your child will die if I do not bless him, and you believe me, you will pay me whatever I ask to do so. If I say the gods have crowned me king, and you believe me, you will bow to me without question. And questions are treacherous things.
I suspect, and I will tell you why, that many kings of that time used their people’s religion to their own ends; to consolidate power, and prevent uprisings, and excuse whatever injustices they might commit. And I think to some extent their elite – their generals and their nobles and their advisors and their priests – knew this, and expected it. And I think they expected it of David, too.
What strikes me as I read through the beginning of 2 Samuel is the lack of integrity David’s men expected from him. It is amazing to me how poorly they understood him, even after having been led by him for so long. Twice when Saul was alive, God allowed David the chance to kill Saul or spare him. How many times did David tell his men they were not to lay a finger on the Lord’s anointed king, and how many times did they see him example that?
So why, then, did the man who came to David claim to have killed Saul?
So why, then, did the men who killed Ish-Bosheth son of Saul expect a reward from David?
For the same reason Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant.
They didn’t actually believe God was real.
But here’s the thing – David never spared Saul because he was afraid of Saul. He never spared Saul because he liked him so terribly much, either. In fact, he never spared Saul because of Saul at all. David spared Saul because he feared the Lord. Time and time again, his choices reveal what he actually believes: God is very, very real. It is best not to stand on the wrong side of Him.
His choice to spare Saul’s life is directly contrasted by the sentiments of his men; “Master, today the Lord has given Saul into your hands!” Yay, finally! Let’s kill him and make you the king and be done with this! This is where David’s hours and hours out in a field praising God and meditating on His law could no longer be hidden, his and God’s little secret; those hours became obvious for all to see when He refused to take what on its surface appeared to be an opportunity for justice and saw, instead, an opportunity for mercy. He knew God well enough to know that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. WHOA.
This is how David became THE king of Israel. The kings all around him used their gods to their own political ends, but David would not. The people David led expected David to pretend to be religious when it was convenient to him, like Saul did, and like the rulers of the other nations did. But David was not pretending, because he knew more than they did about God. He’s REAL.
And God – is not – to be used.
Let me say that again in case you read it too fast.
Our God – is NOT – to be used.
David seemed to be the only person at this time who understood that. When Saul’s killer came and confessed, when Ish-Bosheth’s killers came looking for accolades, when Uzzah reached out his hand and touched the ark – they, each of them in his own way, revealed the unbelief in their hearts.
James says it this way – “Faith without deeds is dead.” What James does not mean is that our actions save us. What James does mean is that our actions reveal us. David’s actions revealed his belief in God and his knowledge of God’s character. The others’ actions revealed their lack thereof. And in a matter of chapters, we know who invested his free time, and who wasted theirs.
What do my actions reveal?
I think most of us (myself included) may want to invest a little more.