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David's Triumph and Tragedy (1): 2 Samuel 5-6

H A Barnes, Westhoughton


Jerusalem, with Mount Zion prominent within it, stands on the summit of a high ridge of the Judean hills, at about 2,500ft (800m) above sea level. God desired this place for His habitation, but human failure had denied it to Him for a long time. But there came "a man", David, "after his own heart", an anointed man, who would rectify the situation, and Zion, the centre and symbol of opposition, became His city, the city of David, and then God revealed to him His love of the place. What others had lived with (regarding the rebellious Jebusites) as a shame for hundreds of years, David turned into success in one day.

However, when David then sought to do God's will (i.e. bringing together the royal throne and the divine throne, the ark) in his own way, he learned that God's scripturally-revealed way is only set aside at one's peril. David's ingenuity had indeed found a way to get his soldiers into the city of Jerusalem (via a water gutter or tunnel), but similar creativity could not replace divine instruction when available in the Scriptures, in the matter of finding a way to bring God's ark into the city. David's joy turned to despair, and he wondered how he was ever going to get the ark to Jerusalem. Indeed, it was only divine grace and mercy that eventually brought this about.

Chapter 5 is about Israel's humiliation removed, while chapter 6 is about David's human wisdom refuted. In chapter 5 David was sensitive to God's desire, and that brought blessing; in chapter 6 he was insensitive to God's written word, and this brought judgment.

Background History

God's dealings with Israel with respect to Zion had really started long before, as Nehemiah noted years later: "[Thou] foundest [Abraham's] heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the…Jebusites…to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous" (Neh 9.8). Here was God's ancient promise, which eventually became His matter of fulfilled prophecy, but Abraham's seed, the nation of Israel, failed to enter completely into the good of it, since Zion - a fortified section of Jerusalem - was indeed part of the land of the Jebusites. Here was divine sovereignty stating that ultimately the divine promise would come true, and it was the Israelites' for the taking, but here also was the human responsibility of every generation of the sons of Israel, until Jerusalem was completely conquered. After initial failure, it took a man of the spiritual vision of David to take up this challenge. It eventually emerged that God all along had great thoughts about Zion, and David had entered into them early, following his spiritual instinct. God's promises to us are because of the absolute faithfulness of His Son: in Him they are "yea...and Amen" (2 Cor 1.20). However, as was the case for Israel, many of these promises have to be entered into personally for us to enjoy them, and thus bring glory to His name and pleasure to His heart.

The mountain-dwelling Jebusites (Num 13.29), were one of the seven nations that were greater and mightier than Israel (Deut 7.1), but it was nevertheless Israel's solemn responsibility to "utterly destroy them; namely…the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee" (Deut 20.17). Notwithstanding, along with God's exacting command went His many encouraging promises, for instance that His Angel would "go before thee, and bring thee in unto…the Jebusites: and I will cut them off" (Ex 23.23), and that He would "drive out…the Jebusite" (33.2; 34.11). In fact one of the great acid tests of their knowledge of divine approval was - according to Joshua – "Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the…Jebusites" (Josh 3.10).

In fact most of the city of Jerusalem (also called Jebus, Judg 19.10) had already been taken from the Jebusites and burned, when the Lord instructed Judah to fight against the city in the original conquest of Canaan (Judg 1.8). However, not all the Jebusites were driven out: some had successfully resisted and still lived on in the stronghold of Mount Zion, which was the heavily fortified upper part of the city of Jerusalem towards the south of the eastern hill of the city. Jerusalem was right on the border between Judah and Benjamin; however, earlier, both tribes had failed to capture it completely (Josh 15.63; Judg 1.21). The Jebusites then lived on among them, and their presence was a constant witness to Israel's weakness. Other peoples lived among the Israelites as "thy stranger that is within thy gates" (Ex 20.10), but not as independent, sovereign communities, as "this city of the Jebusites" (Judg 19.11). This state of affairs was to last for around 400 years, and in fact got worse, for we eventually read the opposite, that "the children of Israel dwelt among the...Jebusites" (Judg 3.5), without separation or strength. The situation persisted until David of Judah - having finally triumphed over the house of Benjamin (Saul) - won Jerusalem for the unified kingdom of Judah and Israel, when eventually he was accepted by both tribes.

With the whole nation now united behind him David had enough force to take away the on-going shame of Israel and Judah, as well as gaining a capital city in a convenient place. Of course there was opposition: the Jebusites had said, "Thou shalt not come hither" (1 Chr 11.5), and insulted and taunted David by saying that even the blind and lame in their front line were enough to hold back the invaders from their great stronghold. However, David saw that although the city fortifications were indeed very formidable, a water shaft (see the New Scofield Reference Bible) was a way in for his soldiers, and he commanded them to use that route to invade the city.

Joab, David's nephew (compare Abner, Saul's first cousin) distinguished himself that day and made his name as a mighty warrior, and afterwards David and Joab built the city of Jerusalem - the Jebusites had only occupied the fortress - since the rest of the city had been destroyed much earlier. David thereafter grew greater and greater and it was clear that the Lord of Hosts was with him (1 Chr 11). Jerusalem and its growing size and fame was but a reflection of David's own growing strength, as it had previously been a symbol of Israel's continuing shame.

After the capture of the fortress of Zion, there were Jebusites living among the children of Israel, Ornan (otherwise called Araunah) for instance (1 Chr 21), but not in independence and rebellion, as they had been as the occupants of Zion. They were now strangers "within thy gates", observing the law (Deut 31.12).

To be continued.


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