We’re going to start with a bit of a history lesson which is important for understanding the context of early Israel. The history is long and complicated. This video gives a synopsis of what was happening before David came to power.
The passage from 2 Samuel comes in two chunks. Following Saul’s death and the civil war, there was a void in leadership. David was able to step in as king of Judah. In between these two pieces of scripture we find the story about the capture of Jerusalem and then David returns the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant was where the tablets with the Ten Commandments were stored. This Ark travelled many miles before it came to Jerusalem with David. It symbolized God’s presence on earth and was central to the worship life of ancient Israel. It was carried around while the people wandered in the wilderness. It was captured by the Philistines and eventually brought to Jerusalem by David and eventually found its way into the temple of Solomon many years later. When Jerusalem fell in 587 (about 400 years after David) the Ark disappeared with only rumours of where it might have ended up.
So that’s the history lesson out of the way. What does this story and this history have to do with us so many millennia later?
David was portrayed in the scripture in a very human way. He had lots of blood on his hands from the various battles and he ordered many deaths. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband, Uriah, killed in order to cover his tracks and claim her. He wasn’t a nice king. But David was also known for writing many of our psalms and for praising God. In this passage we see David praising God with music and dancing as the Ark of the Covenant is returned to Jerusalem. It is his sense of worship, his commitment to God and his ability to unify Israel for the first time which identify him as an ideal king within Ancient Israel.
With David returning the Ark of the Covenant there is a sense that the Israelites have finally made it. They have a king. They have a capital city in Jerusalem. Their sacred objects have been returned in the Ark. They are a real country and their God has finally come through for them.
The people remember wandering in the wilderness, all the battles and conquests that brought them into Canaan – the promised land, the difficulty and pressures from other countries around them, and a civil war. And yet all that is snatched away again as history unfolds and Israel is conquered and many of the people are exiled.
There is a longing for the glory days under David. How often do we find ourselves looking back and longing for what was? How often do we find ourselves looking for a central object or practice on which to focus our worship? How often do we seek to find a perfect moment where it feels like “we made it?”
This story of history suggests that we can never return to the past. As much as the people wanted another king like David, once he was dead and buried, that part of history was over. People have continued to seek another king who would follow in David’s tradition. We see in the stories of Jesus a direct connection to David through the genealogies which trace Jesus’ descendants back to David and also in how Jesus is referred to as Son of David. But Jesus was a different kind of king. Jesus was a king who didn’t rely on his military might. He didn’t have his hands covered in other people’s blood. Jesus relied on the power of God’s spirit working through him to heal and to transform systems of injustice.
As Christians we identify Jesus as a king. Most of us would not want to go back and live in Jesus’ time and yet Jesus—as king—is alive and present with us. What qualities or values does Jesus have to pass on to us? What is it about the kingdom that Jesus was creating that we want to embody in our own time and place?