David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “May you be blessed by the Lord, because you showed this loyalty to Saul your lord and buried him. Now may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you. And I will do good to you because you have done this thing. Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.” (2 Samuel 2:5-7)
Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 2. We begin today a new series in the life of David entitled, A Leader You Can Follow. I want you to know why I have been drawn to these chapters, so that we will all see how they speak to our lives today.
We Need a King!
1. A Solution to the Leadership Problem
When God’s people came into the Promised Land, each of the tribes, with the exception of the Levites, received a portion of the land. Each tribe was governed by their elders. If one of the tribes was attacked by an enemy, the alarm would be raised and the other tribes would come to their defense. But there was no national structure to bring them together.
These tribes were a loose association bound by family history. There was no standing army. There was no strategy for national defense, just twelve tribes helping each other out on an “as needed” basis.
The problem with this was that some tribes didn’t pull their weight. If, for example, there was a problem for the tribe of Naphtali in the north, it would be in the interest of their near neighbors, Asher and Zebulun to come and help. But when the call for help reached the tribe of Rueben in the southeast, you can imagine how people would wonder, “Do we really need to go? Can’t the people on the ground sort this out? What has the tribe of Naphtali ever done for us? Why should we go and fight for them?”
In the absence of a leader who could bring people together, the people of God pursued the interests of their own tribe, and this was why they became isolated and it was easy for their enemies to pick them off and overrun them.
God’s people realized that they had a problem and they identified the answer: We need a king! We need someone who can unite us as one. We need someone who can secure our defense and govern with justice.
“There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20).
2. The First King Was a Disappointment
The first king of Israel was a man by the name of Saul. He came to the throne on a wave of popular support. But he proved to be a big disappointment.
Saul became unbearably arrogant, even setting up a monument to himself (1 Sam. 15:12)! He was foolish (1 Sam. 13:13) and deceptive, and over time he became increasingly unstable and unpredictable in the things that he said and did.
God’s people had wanted a king to deliver them from their troubles. What they found was that the wrong king made their troubles worse.
3. God Had Another King in Mind
Early in the reign of Saul, God said to the prophet Samuel, “I have provided for myself a king” (1 Sam. 16:1). God had another king in mind who would better reflect his own heart. And at the direction of the Lord, Samuel anointed David.
David got people’s attention when they heard the story of his great victory over Goliath, and as David’s popularity grew, Saul became jealous. “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14), but the Lord was with David (1 Sam. 18:12).
4. Two Very Different Kings
Saul repeatedly tried to kill the man who would become his own successor. He was relentless. So for years David lived on the run, hiding wherever he could find refuge. In fact, Saul hated David. But David never hated Saul. David honored Saul as the king for as long as Saul lived, and refused to raise his hand or even his finger against him.
When Saul died, David was in exile. At that time, God’s people were divided, demoralized and utterly defeated. Their enemies had triumphed. There was no one who could bring them together until David became their king.
David was without question the greatest of all the Old Testament kings. Under his leadership, the twelve tribes, which had been independent and isolated, were united as one people. Enemies who had oppressed the people of God were pushed back, a kingdom was established, and God’s people prospered. The story of how all this good came to God’s people is told in 2 Samuel.
5. We Need Leadership that Unites Today
We are living at a time when we desperately need leadership that unites. In every sphere, we see anger and conflict. Where are the leaders who can bring people together?
Churches are looking for leadership that unites. An elder from a church calls me and he says, “Our church has gone through a difficult time. We need a pastor who can bring people together around a common vision. Do you know anyone who could do that?”
We need leadership that unites in every sphere of life. How do you bring people together in a marriage or in a troubled family? What does leadership that unites look like in business, industry, education, and politics?
Here in America we say, “Out of many, one.” But how does that happen? How do we get beyond the power of special interests, the rule of the loudest voices and seek the common good? That is exactly what these chapters before us address.
We are looking at the story of how David was able to unite a nation. What we will discover is that godly leadership is more than having confidence and strength. It took wisdom, courage, skill and great perseverance to bring people together.
This was not the work of days, weeks or months. It took years (2 Sam. 5:5). But by God’s grace, David did it, and it was the greatest accomplishment of his life. If you are going to be a person who exercise influence in the lives of others, you are going to have to commit to the long haul. These chapters are the story of how God’s people were brought into the best years they ever knew.
One more thing to say by way of introduction: The life of David falls into three parts.
- Trials – when he was hunted and persecuted by Saul (1 Sam. 16 to 2 Sam. 1)
- Triumphs – when he established the kingdom (2 Sam. 2-10)
- Troubles – that came through his own sins and folly (2 Sam. 11 to 1 Kgs. 2)
These chapters that are before us are the high point of David’s life. Here we see David at his best. Here he points us most clearly to Jesus Christ.
The Bible does not present David as a paragon of virtue. He had many sins and failings, and the Scripture does not hide them from us. In these verses, we are told that David had two wives – Ahinoam and Abigail (2 Sam. 2:2), and, as we will see, there were more later. This was obviously in direct contradiction to the pattern for marriage that God made clear in Genesis and to the pattern God set up for kings (Dt. 17:17).
David needed a Savior as much as we do. That is why he called the Messiah who was to come “my Lord” (Psa. 110:1). In David’s life we see glimpses of the great king who was to come – King Jesus. It is an anticipation of the great king who gathers a people from every tribe and nation, delivers them from the enemy who enslaved them, and makes them one under his sovereign rule.
I chose the title: A Leader You Can Follow, first, because David models godly leadership in these chapters, and second, because he points us to Jesus Christ, the great king who invites us to live under the blessing of his rule. He is the leader that, by his grace, you may follow.
Who Will Receive God’s Anointed King?
After this David inquired of the Lord,
“Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (2 Samuel 2:1).
- The King Begins with Prayer
David inquired of the Lord (2 Samuel 2:1).
The first thing David did was to seek the face of God in prayer. Whenever a season comes to a close and a new season begins it is an important time to seek the Lord in prayer. “After this,” that is after the death of Saul and the mourning that followed, “David inquired of the Lord” (2 Sam. 2:1).
Years had passed since Samuel the prophet anointed David as the future king. David had known for a long time that this was God’s calling on his life. But for more than a decade he was a king without a people. And the question, after Saul died, was very simple: Are there any people anywhere who would welcome David as their king?
“Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (2 Sam. 2:2). Judah was David’s own tribe and it made sense that he should go there first. “But would there be any, even among my own people, who would welcome me as their king? Or would it be that I would go to my own people and my own would receive me not?” to quote the words of John about Jesus. Yes there were. They would welcome him in Hebron.
2. A Picture of Faith
“Go up… to Hebron” (2 Samuel 2:1).
Hebron was where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived centuries before. It was hardly a major city. One commentator describes it as “a provincial backwater.” But David went to Hebron, and we are told “the men of Judah came, and they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2:4).
Now remember that God had already anointed David as king through the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16). So when the people of Hebron anointed David, they were agreeing with what God had already done.
This gives us a marvelous picture of what faith means for us today. Long ago, God anointed his Son Jesus Christ as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). God has anointed him king.
When you crown Jesus Christ as the king and lord of your life, you are agreeing with what God has already done. Faith is agreeing with God about Jesus.
The anointing at Hebron is a great moment in the flow of the Bible story because here, for the very first time, there was a small community of people on earth who lived under the rule of God’s chosen king. God’s anointed king reigned in Judah, a tiny postage stamp on the map, but here were people who, after years of waiting, lived under the rule and blessing of God’s anointed king!
By the way, that is what a church is. What is a church? It is a gathering of people who are committed to living under the authority of God’s anointed king.
3. Two Groups of People
But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul… and he made him king over… all Israel… But the house of Judah followed David. (2 Samuel 2:8, 9, 10)
At this point in the story, David had one tribe for him and eleven who were against him. There was one tribe who was saying, “He is our king!” And the other eleven tribes either didn’t care or were dead set against him. And the task before David was to bring people from every tribe under the blessing of his rule!
It was the same in the ministry of Jesus. Before the day of Pentecost, the Apostle John was one of 120 people huddled together in an upper room, fearful and feeling overwhelmed by the power of their enemies and the vastness of the unbelieving world.
A generation later, God gave John a vision that he wrote down in what we know as the book of Revelation: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:9-10).
This journey from the hundred or so in Jerusalem (who owned the rule of Jesus) to the multitude than no one could number (who rejoice with him in heaven) – we are part of this journey. This journey is foreshadowed in the story of how people from the north, south, east and west joined the small band at Hebron in embracing David as their king.
This is the story of a great king and two groups of people – those who are for him and those who are against him – and how this king reaches out to win his enemies in order to make them his friends, and how people come into God’s kingdom today. It speaks volumes about how we are to pursue our mission in a world that does not love or honor our king.
An Invitation to Live Under the Rule of the King
When they told David, “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul,” David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead (2 Samuel 2:4-5).
1. Loyal to the Old King
The people of Jabesh-gilead were hard core supporters of Saul and there is a reason for that. A brutal enemy, by the name of Nahash, who could only be described as a terrorist, came to Jabesh with his military.
Nahash gave the people of Jabesh-gilead two choices: “I will wipe you all out. Or I will make you my slaves. And because of this compromise, if I make you my slaves, I will gouge out the right eye of every person in town first to mark you as my slaves.”
When Saul heard about this, he came with an army and delivered these people (1 Sam. 11). They never forgot what Saul had done for them, and they were intensely loyal to him.
2. The “Commando Raid”
Years later, when Saul died on the field of battle, the Philistines took his body and put it on display in the temple of one of their gods, so that Saul didn’t have a proper burial.
When the people of Jabesh-gilead heard of about this, they were outraged, and they organized a kind of commando raid. Going into enemy territory, they retrieved the body of their dead king and gave him a proper burial. It was a daring and dangerous mission, but they did it out of love for Saul. This is what was reported to David.
Think about it. The people of Jabesh-gilead were Saul’s people. Whatever Saul was for, they were for. Whoever Saul was against, they were against. And for years, the person Saul had been most against was David.
3. A Hostile Audience
Jabesh-gilead is the most hostile audience for David among the 12 tribes. And David says, “Let’s go talk to these people first.” None of this “low-hanging fruit” stuff!
So these hard core supporters of Saul were the least likely to accept David as their king. And when David was told, “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul” (2:4), he sent messengers to these people who were least likely to accept him as king.
Think about the people in your life who are the least likely to embrace King Jesus? How would you approach them? How would you try to win them? David gives us a marvelous example here of winning the least likely with grace.
4. The King’s Message
Put yourself in the shoes of the people of Jabesh when the messengers arrive. They have been sent by David who has been crowned as king by some people from his own tribe. What would you expect to hear if you had been loyal to Saul, who for years had tried to destroy David? “You were for Saul, so I am against you. May you be cursed by the Lord… your days are numbered and I will destroy you. My kingdom has come!”
But that is not what the messenger of this king says. David sent messengers to Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “May you be blessed by the LORD, because you showed this loyalty to Saul your lord and buried him. Now may the LORD show steadfast love and faithfulness to you. And I will do good to you because you have done this thing” (2 Sam. 2:5-6).
Here is a king who goes to the people most opposed to him, and he says, “You were for Saul, and Saul was against me, but that does not mean that I am against you! I will do you good! What I seek is that God’s blessing will be on you!”
An Invitation for You
I want to speak directly to those who are least likely to welcome Jesus Christ as king. You may have set yourself against Jesus, but that does not mean he has set himself against you.
King Jesus reaches out to the people least likely to welcome his rule. But if you have set yourself against Jesus, it is natural for you to assume that he must be against you. People who resist Jesus often assume that his message is “I hate you and I will destroy you.”
But what we are seeing is that God’s anointed king reaches out to you and says, “I will do you good. And I have come to bring you into the blessing of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness!”
Then David gives a great invitation: “Therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them” (2 Sam. 2:7).
“Saul your lord is dead!” (2:7). The kingdom you lived for is passing away. You know it. What you have looked to for support is no longer able to help you. A new kingdom is rising, and there is room in this kingdom for you! This is the word of the king who lives! What you are giving yourself to has no power to defend you or to help you. But I will do you good!
When you believe that Christ will do you good, you will be ready to embrace him as your king. But it takes courage to switch sides. David knows this and that is why he says, “Let your hands be strong and be valiant” (2:7).
If you grew up surrounded by Christian faith, but you chose to move in another direction, it will be no small thing for you to own Jesus as your king. You have become used to keeping him at a distance. You have come to believe that he is against you and that if he ever got hold of you, he would make your life miserable.
But today he says to you, “I will do you good.” And if you hear this and if you believe it, you will submit yourself to live under the blessing of his rule, and you will join with the people who own Jesus as their king.
If you were brought up with up with a different faith, or with no faith at all, it will be no small thing for you to take your stand with Jesus Christ. You may have been very far from Jesus, but that does not mean that Jesus is very far from you. He invites you to live under the blessing of his rule, and he says to you today, “I will do good to you.”
You may be saying, “Why would he want to do good for me?” That’s grace! We were enemies of Jesus, but that does not make him an enemy to us. While we were still his enemies, Christ died for us.
So, this grace is what makes the response of faith possible! When you know and believe that Jesus Christ will do you good, you will freely and gladly submit to his rule! Knowing that he has come to do us good is what we discover at the cross.
So here is the whole Bible story in a nutshell: There is a great king anointed by God and two groups of people – some are for him and some are against him. This king reaches out in grace and mercy to those least likely to receive him and he speaks words of grace: “I will do you good. There is room in my kingdom for you.” He comes so that you may be blessed by the Lord.
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world, through him, might be saved. May his grace give all of us the courage to stand with him as our king and then to be messengers of his grace for a very angry and divided world, so that people from every tribe and nation may come under the rule of God’s anointed king, so that he may do them good.