Commentary on 2 Samuel 5-6 (David Becomes King over Israel)

Following the death of Saul in 1 Sam 31 (around 1010 BC), David is anointed king over the tribe of Judah. The other tribes, however, give their fealty to Saul’s remaining son, Ish-Bosheth. This is the situation for 7 years, until Ish-Bosheth is killed by two assassins. It is important to note that David has nothing to do with the assassination and he, in fact, has the assassins executed for their deed.

This brings us to chapter 5 in 2 Samuel. In verses 1-5, the leaders of the northern tribes agree to anoint David king over all Israel, citing both his military career and, more importantly, that God Himself had chosen David to rule Israel. David had ruled over Judah for 7 years and would rule over all Israel for 33 years.

After David becomes king over Israel, he decides to move the capitol to a neutral site between the northern and southern tribes of Israel, to Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem is still occupied by the Jebusites in a seemingly impregnable fortress. David and his commanders figure out how to get into Jerusalem, apparently, by climbing through tunnels that carry water to the interior of the fortress. The over-confident Jebusites are defeated and David renames the fortress the City of David. All of this success comes because God is with David.

David’s power and prestige grow so much that at some point during his reign, the king of Tyre, a distant city on the Mediterranean coast, sends a team of builders to construct a palace for David in Jerusalem! The only reason the king would do this is out of fear and respect for David.

Unfortunately we also learn that David followed the conventions of the day by taking numerous concubines and wives in order to secure treaties with neighboring rulers. Recall that Deut 17:17 forbade kings of Israel from taking many wives, a command that David is clearly disobeying and that will lead to great suffering during his rule.

Finally, in verses 17-25, David scores two major victories against Israel’s long-time enemy, the Philistines. In each case, David first inquires of God what he should do before making a move. God gives David specific instructions to defeat the Philistines and David exactly follows those instructions and meets with overwhelming success.

In the first battle, the Philistines are beaten so quickly that they leave behind their official idols which represented the gods they worshiped. How the tables have turned! It was the Israelites who were beaten badly years before by the Philistines (see 1 Sam 4:11), and who left behind the Ark of the Covenant.

Chapter 6 tells the story of how David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the new religious and political capitol of Israel. Recall that after the Philistines returned the ark to Israel, it had been kept in a private residence, the house of Abinadab.

David decides to send a large military escort to move the ark, no doubt because he was afraid that the escort would be attacked. Remember that the ark contained the written contract between Israel and the Lord, was a place of divine revelation, and was the Lord’s throne. Robert Bergen, in 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, writes, “An object of such overwhelming significance would certainly make a valuable prize for the Philistines and was worthy of the massive protective force called up by David.”

Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, guide the ark along the road, as oxen pull the cart on which the ark rests. Tragically, in verses 6-7, Uzzah reaches out and touches the ark to keep it from falling when the oxen stumble. God strikes Uzzah dead because of his “irreverent act.” Why did God kill Uzzah for his seemingly good deed?

Dale Ralph Davis, in 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible Commentary, writes:

We must recall that Yahweh had long ago given specific instructions to Moses and the priesthood about how the ark, among other items, was to be transported (see Num. 4:4–6, 15, 17–20; and 7:9). The rules were: no touch, no look, no cart. The priests were to cover the sacred furniture after which they would assign Levites of the Kohathite clan to carry such items (hence, implicitly, no carts). The Kohathites were not to touch or look upon the sacred items ‘lest they die’ (Num. 4:15, 20). Clearly, Yahweh did not want them to die; his kindness was written all over that warning. So it was not as though David and Uzzah and company had had no warning. Yahweh’s blow was scarcely arbitrary.

David, fearing God’s wrath, halts the parade and sends the ark to the house of a man named Obed-Edom for safe keeping until David can figure what went wrong. For three months the ark resides there and blesses the household.

When David hears of the blessing of Obed-Edom’s household, he assumes that the timing is right to move the ark again. Even though the text does not explicitly say, we are to assume that the ark is transported correctly this time.

Take note of David’s role in the moving of the ark. He wears a priestly ephod, he dances and rejoices in front of the ark, he places the ark in a specially made tent, he sacrifices burnt and fellowship offerings before the Lord, he blesses the people of Israel in the name of the Lord, and then he gives bread and cakes to everyone present at the celebration.

David’s actions portray him as both king and priest. Was he overstepping his authority? Dale Ralph Davis explains:

David is not arrogantly infringing on the priests’ office; clearly, he views himself as ‘the humble and serving priest of the true King.’ Nevertheless, we should not miss this glimpse of the king in a priestly role, for we will meet it again in prophecy (Ps. 110:1, 4, and Zech. 6:12–13), and yet again in person, in Jesus, David’s Descendant, our reigning king and interceding priest.

In verses 16, 20-23, we read about the reaction of Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife, to his dancing in front of the ark. She accuses him of “disrobing in the sight of the slave girls” and acting in a manner unfit for a king. David reminds her that he was chosen by God, not her father, and that he was celebrating before the Lord, not before slave girls. Robert Bergen provides further commentary:

David rejected Michal’s slanderous accusations; ‘it was before the LORD’ (v. 21)—not the young women—that David was celebrating. Furthermore, his actions were appropriate for one who had been ‘appointed’ by the Lord as ‘ruler over the LORD’S people Israel.’ David’s celebratory acts earlier in the day expressed the king’s unbridled joy in having been selected by the Lord for such significant service. Besides, assuming he was dressed as a properly outfitted Yahwistic priest, David’s energetic dancing could not have exposed his nakedness and so violated the Torah’s requirements (cf. Exod 20:26) since he was wearing a linen undergarment. In rejecting David, Michal was also rejecting the Lord because it was he who ‘chose’ David in preference to Michal’s ‘father or anyone from his house’ to lead Israel. More probably, Michal’s rejection of David actually was symptomatic of an underlying problem in her relationship with God. . . .

As a result of this incident ‘Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death’ (v. 23). In the Torah a blessing associated with obedience to the Lord is a fruitful womb (cf. Exod 23:26; Deut 7:14; 28:11). To an audience knowledgeable of the Torah, Michal’s unproductive womb would have been interpreted as a curse sent against a disobedient wife—not as evidence of a husband’s neglect of a marital duty. Michal’s lack of faith would mean that the house of Saul would be forever separate from Israel’s eternal royal dynasty.