July 4, 2021

“Great David’s greater Son” (2 Samuel 5:1-10)

A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler

2 Samuel 5:1-10

A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler

Sunday 4th July 2021, The Fifth Sunday of Trinity

2 Samuel 5:1-10

 “Once in royal David’s city, stood a lowly cattle-shed…”

 “O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home…”

 “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son!”

Three familiar hymn lyrics. Three references to David. Three different expressions of the significance of King David for Christian faith.

Sometimes I’m asked why we read the Old Testament and what it’s significance is for us today. Surely the crowning of an ancient King, and the founding of an ancient city, both of which are told in today’s reading from 2 Samuel, surely they are of no more significance than, say the story of Pharoah Rameses, or the Emperor Augustus?

But of course, the hymns we love to sing are strong evidence that these stories remain important. They are important for Christians today because they were the stories that the early church explored to make sense of their experience of Jesus. If we want to understand who Jesus was and who he is for us, understanding the history and theology of the Old Testament will help immensely. So, this morning, some history and some theology.

Theologically and historically, this morning we’re in the heart of the story of one of the most important Old Testament characters, King David. Along with Moses, David is the figure in the Old Testament that most inspires the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus. In our reading, we come to the moment where the whole of the 12 tribes of Israel unite under King David. We’ve already heard that David emerged from nowhere, anointed by Samuel in Bethlehem, royal David’s city. His shadow kingship, in a time where Saul the first king was increasingly anxious and ineffectual, even paranoid, led him to emerge as the slayer of Goliath. With the death of Saul, which David mourned in last week’s reading, a period of instability follows as war breaks out for the succession between the party of Saul – the ten northern tribes under the leadership of Abner and Ishbosheth – and the party of David – the two southern tribes under the young warrior. With the elimination of David’s rivals, and with no obvious candidates to contend with David, the tribes of Israel come to David at Hebron and petition David to take the crown. The passage we have today sees first, the culmination of the journey from Samuel’s anointing of David to his eventual accession as the King of all Israel and, second, the foundation of David’s capital, Jerusalem, which he takes from the Jebusites, ensuring, like Washington DC in the modern era, that the future capital is not associated with the history of either of the warring parties. We’ll return to Jerusalem later: there are plenty of hymns about that too.

We might ask ourselves ‘why David?’ I’m sure the people of his day wondered the same thing, as he rose from obscurity, the eighth son and shepherd boy of his family. But, whatever the mystery of that, those who petition him to be king see something in his origins worth focusing on: “For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel out and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.”

We are more familiar with shepherd language of course, but it is worth seeing how it begins here with David and becomes increasingly developed in the centuries that follow. The leaders of the nation want a king who will do what shepherds like David do for the sheep: guard them, feed them, nurture them and protect them. David is the shepherd boy who is now the shepherd king, the shepherd of Israel. A good shepherd exists for the sake of the sheep and this is how David should rule. Later on, as David’s story begins to go wrong, a prophet called Nathan will call him to account by telling him the story about shepherds and sheep.

When the early Christians reflected on the life and experience of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and recalled and shaped his words into the Gospels we have today, they saw in David a model of shepherd-leadership. At the time they were expecting a Messiah, an anointed King like David, who could lead them, unite them and guide them, be a David-like shepherd-leader. Even today, Jewish expectations of The Messiah remain focused on a king like David. For Christians, they saw Jesus as a David-like king, but one who would and could go further than David and lay down his life for the sheep, pushing the shepherd-king idea to its absolute limits. So when we call Jesus ‘King’, we are invited to think of him in the tradition of David, a loving and guiding shepherd. And when we call Jesus ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’, it is through the lens of David who unifies, who cares, who nurtures, who leads as one chosen by God. This is the person whose name we lift up in worship: a king like David, although (as we shall see in the coming weeks) from this moment on David’s reputation is much more mixed. A king like David, yes, but in Jesus we say “Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!

The other part of the story, the history and the theology concerns David’s conquest of Jerusalem and its foundation as the capital of the unified nation. Our appointed reading today omitted the difficult verses in the middle of the story, partly because they are difficult to intepret. But, if we’ve learned anything from the Black Lives Matter movement recently, it’s that honesty about our history should be paramount. If the editors who put 2 Samuel together included the verses, so should we. The history that led us to Jesus is not straightforward, any more than the multitude of ways in which his message has been corrupted for political and military gain since is.

But the end of our passage sees David securely in Jerusalem, the beginning of a reign of some decades, more of which we shall hear in the weeks ahead, warts and all. But, this passage is also the beginning of a theological story about the significance of Jerusalem, as well as a historical story that resonates, for good and for ill, down to the present day. What are we to make of the exclusion of the blind and lame? Heaven knows.

Theologically, Jerusalem, or Zion as it is also known, marks the place where God and humanity will most powerfully meet. Whereas the people of Israel had had the Ark of the Covenant as a sign of God’s commitment and presence to them, now they will have this place, and due course, a temple on it. It will be besieged, conquered, rebuilt and destroyed. It will be the place where sacrifice is offered – and the only place where sacrifice is authorise. It will be the place where countless pilgrims come to worship, including a young boy from Nazareth, whose own destiny will be caught up in its. He will enter it as King, weep over its faithlessness, prophesy its destruction and be killed outside its walls. From there, risen from the dead, he will send out his disciples to share his message as Messiah and King with the whole world, and there they will receive power from God to do this.

The emerging vision of this place is of somewhere where old hatreds and enmities will be overcome and God’s rule established in the new life that Jesus offers us. Scripture will speak not of old Jerusalem, but of new Jerusalem, where the excluded blind and lame are welcomed and included. This goes way beyond anything that David could imagine or achieve. But, in order to appreciate it fully, we do well to remember that it begins in this moment. The promise of the gospel takes shape in this passage: a King like David, a New Jerusalem.

So when we sing the hymns of David, we remember a young boy, plucked from obscurity, who through his own cunning and skill, becomes the ruler of Israel. But we do much more than that because, as the author of our reading today knows all too well, “David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” Because of this deepest truth about David, we see the hand of God in history, working unseen and visibility through the lives of fallible but chosen David. We see God working in Jesus most perfectly, opening the promises made to David to us all through the Messiah. And we believe, firmly and truly, that God is at work in and through us too, that we all may come to the New Jerusalem.

 

 

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