MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
As we’ve seen in 1 and 2 Samuel, there’s more written in scripture about David than anyone except Jesus of Nazareth. This study of David and Old Testament kingdoms raises questions regarding oppression and warfare, and I may attempt next week to address some of those issues.
Chapter 8 of 2 Samuel deals with conquests that brought peace in the kingdom, united under David’s rule. When the children of Israel entered the Promised Land from Egypt, they were organized as twelve tribes, each descending from a son of Jacob. Strife from within and without had kept God’s people under oppression for centuries.
The first fourteen verses detail David’s systematic defeat of Philistines, Moabites [related to David’s great-grandmother Ruth], Aramites and Arameans [connected with Syria] and their allies the Edomites. “And the Lord helped David wherever he went. So, David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people” (2 Samuel 8:14-15).
Through violent times, David secured his country’s borders and established an administration under Jewish law. Other legal systems in the region, such as the Code of Hammurabi, outlined different rules for nobles, common people, and slaves; but the Ten Commandments and the Law given to Moses was no respecter of persons. David himself became a judge in Israel, taking direct personal responsibility for the welfare of his land. See also 1 Chronicles 18:14.
In addition to subduing tribes, David recognized the value of metals, and he brought back to Jerusalem large amounts of bronze (verse 8). He found an ally in Toi, king of Hamath who sent his son with additional gifts of gold, silver and bronze (verses 9-10) which were all dedicated to the Lord. Those were vicious times, which creates difficulty for many of us. David’s reign began at the conclusion of fifty years of warfare and oppression by the Philistines, and he was able to consolidate the tribes and secure their borders. He was skilled in war, and also in politics, but the only way all this could be accomplished was with the hand of God.
David put in place a more complex, capable administration than Saul had in ruling Israel. He retained Joab as commander over the army. Jehoshaphat served as recorder, similar to secretary of state. Zadok, a Jebusite, and Ahimelech who was Jewish served as co-priests, which may have been a concession to the people who had previously occupied Jerusalem. Seraiah and Benaiah were appointed to the positions of personal secretary, and head of the palace guards, while David’s sons were ministers out in the provinces (2 Samuel 8:16-18). The Philistines were never incorporated by David; only defeated, subdued and pushed to the coast.
Saul’s kingdom had ended abruptly when he and Jonathan died (1 Samuel chapter 31), and was soon followed by the death of a second heir, Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel chapter 4). The next chapter contains an interlude, as we learn more of Saul’s grandson and Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. You may remember the covenant made between the two friends, where Jonathan said to David, “‘We have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever”’” (1 Samuel 20:42).
This story, often taught in Sunday school, illustrates the sacredness of promises made. Mentioned earlier (2 Samuel 4:4), the lad around age five had been injured when his nurse fled with him after Saul’s defeat, and Mephibosheth was made lame in both feet. It also introduces a faithful servant, and even provides his name.
Saul and Jonathan by this time had been dead for years, but David asked, “‘Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David” (2 Samuel 9:1-2).
Mephibosheth as an heir might have tried to claim inheritance in the kingdom, but several references to his lameness in both feet indicate he was not seen as a threat. He was a child when injured, and by this time may have been in his mid-twenties. David inquired of Ziba where he was, and he sent to have Mephibosheth brought from east of the Jordan River to the palace.
Arriving before the king frightened and humble, Mephibosheth instead received blessing and generosity (2 Samuel 9:6-13). Ziba, along with his sons and his servants, was placed in charge of caring for Mephibosheth’s resources, and Mephibosheth became a regular part of the king’s household.
David kept his promise, believing that his character and relationship to God were more significant than worrying about the potential threat of Saul’s heir living in Jerusalem. The story is a reminder of the importance of commitments made, and how we can seek to honor them.