By J.R. Miller
2 Samuel 2:1-10
Saul was dead. David was out of the country when the fatal battle on Mount Gilboa was fought. Indeed, he was with the Philistines when they were preparing for the battle. He had been dwelling in their country as a place of refuge from Saul, and when the Philistines were gathering at Aphek, David seems to have intended to go with them to fight against his own people. But some of the princes of the Philistines objected to the presence of David and of his men in their army, mistrusting them, lest they might prove adversaries in the day of battle. The king apologized to David for not allowing him to remain to join in the battle, and then sent him away.
We can scarcely understand how David could in any case have gone with the Philistines to war against his own people. It certainly was well that he did not go, when we consider the results of the battle. There seemed also a Providence in his return to Ziklag, for he was just in time to go to the rescue of his family, who had been carried away in his absence.
David learned of the death of Saul from an Amalekite stranger, who came to him with his clothes torn. The story the Amalekite told concerning his own part in the tragedy of Saul's death, seems to have been fabricated for the purpose of winning favor with David. In wandering over the field of battle, he had found the corpse of Saul and stripped it of its ornaments. With these he hastened to David, and invented his fictitious story in the hope of securing an additional reward for having with his own hand, rid David of his bitterest enemy and removed the obstacle which stood between him and the throne. But he had made a grievous mistake in his estimate of David. David may or may not have believed the man's story--but he took him at his word and visited upon him instantly the penalty of his impious crime.
David's lamentation for Saul and Jonathan, is full of tender words. Not a breath of bitterness against Saul is found in it, and David's love for Jonathan is beautifully expressed. Dean Stanley says of this elegy: "It is needless to dwell on the poetic beauty, the chivalrous loyalty, the tender love--which characterizes this most pathetic of funeral odes. Saul had fallen with all his sins upon his head, fallen in the bitterness of despair, and, as it might have seemed to mortal eye, under the shadow of the curse of God. But not only is there in David's lament, no revengeful feeling at the death of his persecutor, . .. but he dwells with unmixed love on the brighter recollections of the departed. He speaks only of the Saul of earlier times, the mighty conqueror, the delight of his people, the father of his beloved and faithful friend; like him in life, united with him in death. Such expressions . . . may fairly be taken as justifying the irrepressible instinct of humanity which compels us to dwell on the best qualities of those who have just departed."
For many years David had been waiting to become king. He had waited very patiently and had made no effort to hasten the Providence of God. Now Saul was dead, and David knew that the kingdom was to be his. Still he shows the most obedient and patient spirit, not taking even a single step until he had inquired of God concerning his duty. We get a good lesson here. We should always wait for God, never hurrying His Providences. We should ask for guidance continually, not entering upon any course until we have sought the Divine direction. There is a Bible word which counsels us to acknowledge the Lord in all our ways, promising that if we do this--that He will direct our paths. We should move reverently through this world, praying continually, "Show me the way." In even the smallest matters, we ought to seek to learn God's will, and then we shall be sure of blessing.
The Lord commanded David to go up to Judah--and with his family, he went to Hebron. "And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." It takes a long while to make a good man. It is interesting to think of the training of men for important positions. The making of Peter or John or Paul occupied a long while, and the process was by no means easy. It is especially interesting in this connection to think of the making of David. God was a long time in preparing him to be king. He was anointed by Samuel, and thus set apart for his office when only a shepherd lad. He was not then fit to be a king. He knew something about taking care of sheep--but nothing about governing men. It was necessary that he should be trained. Soon came the challenge of Goliath, when David showed his skill and courage. Then he was taken into Saul's court, where he learned much about men and the ways of kings.
The friendship of Jonathan brought a new experience into David's life, an experience which proved most enriching. The envy of Saul seemed a bitter and cruel thing to break into such a happy career as David's. It seemed to set him back in his preparation and to block his way to success. But no doubt this, too, had its place in his training. It taught him many lessons. He learned from it patience in enduring wrong and injustice. He learned self-control, one of the most important lessons anyone can learn, for if one cannot control his own spirit--he cannot be a leader of men, nor can he ever make the most of his own life. Saul's bitter enmity drove David away from luxury and refinement, where his experiences were rough and hard. He hid in caves and on the mountains. He learned how the common people lived, and was taught sympathy with men in their hardships and trials. No doubt, David was a better king afterwards, because of his long years of persecution and exile. He learned also the art of war through his experiences during this troublous period. Living constantly in danger, he was trained to watchfulness and alertness. He became wise and tactful also in dealing with men, and was thus fitted for the place he afterwards filled as king of a great nation. In all this and in other ways--was David trained and prepared for his duties as king. Then, at last, God called him to the throne.
We must not think it strange if we are called to endure trials, disappointments, hardships, temptations and sufferings in our earlier years--for it is in this way that God would train us for noble character and for large usefulness. The life that is all ease and luxury, with no hardness, no strain or struggle, no trial of endurance, no wrong or injustice, may be the most pleasant--but it is not being most effectively trained for beneficent service.
A deed of heroism and loyalty stirs the people to patriotic admiration wherever it is wrought. Evidently the people were proud of what the men of Jabesh-gilead had done. David was not long in hearing of it. "They told David, saying, The men of Jabesh-gilead buried Saul." We have already learned that when the Philistines found the bodies of Saul and his sons on the battlefield of Mount Gilboa they carried them away and hung them on the wall of the town of Beth-shan, exposing them to public gaze. This was their way of exulting over their victory.
Jabesh-gilead was a town east of the Jordan, which Saul had once helped in time of trouble, delivering them from cruel enemies. The people remembered this old-time kindness, and now, when they heard that the bodies of the king and his sons were exposed in such an inhuman way, they determined to rescue them from this dishonor. Accordingly, they entered the enemy's lines, and removing the bodies from the wall, took them away and burnt them to save them from further indignity and dishonor, and buried the ashes under a tree. We should keep ever warm in our hearts the memory of kindnesses, and never should fail of gratitude to those who have done deeds of love for us. It would make this a sweeter, happier world--if all men were ever mindful of the kindnesses they have received from others.
When David learned of the kindness that the people of Jabesh-gilead had shown to the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, he was very glad. So he sent messengers to say to them, "May the LORD bless you for being so loyal to your king and giving him a decent burial." This praise of the people of Jabesh-gilead showed a noble spirit in David. We must remember how Saul had treated him, trying to kill him, hunting him among the hills as if he had been a wild beast, driving him from the country, and compelling him for seven years to live as an exile. Yet through all these years, David had never shown any resentment towards Saul. He had never once retaliated nor sought in any way to do harm to Saul. Twice, at least, he had spared the king's life, refusing to injure him when Saul was in his power. Through all his bitter experience, David's heart remained gentle, free from resentment or bitterness. Now, when he learned of the honor which had been shown by the people of Jabesh-gilead to Saul's dead body, his heart was glad, and he was deeply grateful, as if the kindness had been shown to his own father.
All this is evidence of a noble and magnanimous spirit in David. It is the very spirit which Jesus a thousand years later commended as that which belongs to the kingdom of heaven. The problem of true living--is to keep the heart always sweet, whatever the circumstances and experiences of life may be. We all need to cultivate generosity and large-heartedness. Nothing reveals finer nobleness of character than such a spirit shown to one who in his life had been a bitter and relentless enemy. Yet it is not natural to endure wrong without resentment, to return love for hate, kindness for unkindness. Only those whose hearts are under the influence of Divine grace are capable of such love.
"And now that Saul is dead, I ask you to be my strong and valiant subjects like the people of Judah, who have anointed me as their new king." Thus David took the opportunity to say a word of cheer to the men who had proved themselves so loyal to their king, exhorting them also to continue to be brave and strong for their country. That was good counsel to give to the people of Jabesh-gilead. It is good counsel to give to the young men today, for courage is one of the finest qualities in true manhood. Thomas Hughes puts it down as the first element of a manly character. Neither do we need to wait for war to give us opportunities to be valiant and courageous. There is a higher courage than that which shows itself in brave deeds on the battlefield. It takes courage to be true--amid the world's many temptations to be false. It requires courage to do what is right--when all the people about us are doing things that are wrong.
It requires courage to confess Christ before the world. It is not hard to rise up in a company of Christian people and be received into their number as a church member. All about the young confessor, then, are those who are in full sympathy with him--his friends, and other Christians who love him and are ready to help him, to cheer and encourage him and stand by him in all his life. The hardest test, however, in confessing Christ is out in the world, where sympathy is lacking, when upon every side are those who have no care for spiritual things, and often are openly hostile to the religion which they represent.
We all need to have our hands strengthened continually, even for common life and service--but much more for duty and faithfulness in the face of opposition and enmity. When human encouragement is lacking, we are sure that God will stand by us and make our hands strong by His own strength. We are set to fight the battles of the Lord. We have victories to win against evil, against wrong. It takes courage to be a true man, a true woman, in this world. But God will help us if we trust Him and lean upon Him in all our weakness and need.
David did not find an unobstructed way to the throne. Saul was dead--but there were those who were not willing that his dynasty should perish with him. Abner was the captain of Saul's army, and, besides, was a relative of the king's. After the fatal battle on Mount Gilboa, Abner took Ishbosheth, and under military power made him Saul's successor. "Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul's army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel." In a sense the crown belonged to Ish-Bosheth. He was the natural heir to the throne. If Saul had been a good king, the throne would have continued in the family. Thus we see how Saul wronged his own children by his unfaithfulness to God.
Every parent has a large responsibility for the good, the success and the honor of his children. He should pass down to them the privileges and blessings which he himself has enjoyed. If he fails to do this--he has sinned against them. It was not God's plan that Ish-Bosheth should be king, since, on account of Saul's disobedience, the kingdom was taken from him and given to David. It was the ambition of Abner, the general of Saul's army, that sought the promotion of Ish-Bosheth against the Divine will. He was fighting against God in trying to continue the house of Saul.
The true King in this world, the only one who rules by Divine right, is Jesus Christ. All who reject His sway are in rebellion against God. All who try to advance any other one over Christ are resisting the Divine government and sway. We must bow to the Messiah and own Him as our Master and our Lord!