Questions and Reflections

Category: 2 Samuel

A Reflection on David and Jerusalem

Our first reading is 2 Samuel 5:1-7,9-10.

Jerusalem wasn't always an Israelite city. Even after the Israelites moved into the Promised Land (Canaan), Jerusalem remained a city in someone else's hands. When David arrives at the gates of the city, it is own by the Jebusites. Not much is known about them but scholars believe they were not the original founders of the city and probably lived in the city only a short time before David arrived. David, after a successful series of military victories, is crowned king at the city of Hebron. Although Scripture doesn't tell us initially why he marched to Jerusalem, later chapters will make evident that David was being politically astute in this choice. He picked a city that no one tribe had claim over. The city, also, is close to the traditional border between the Northern and Southern tribes and is also very defensible. With the city secure, David begins to fortify his new capital, turning Jerusalem into the city of David. 

With Jerusalem's capture, the city begins to be the political and religious center for ancient Israel. Even after a later civil war and the splitting of the kingdom into two (The Kingdom of Judah, centered around Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Israel centered in the North), the religious focus for the rest of scripture is Jerusalem. Even when we meet prophets who preach only in the Northern Kingdom, we read their stories with Jerusalem-oriented eyes. As Christians, we hold Jerusalem close because it was the site of Jesus' death, resurrection, and where the early church community first gathered. We also see in Jerusalem a hope for tomorrow. The end of Revelation, the last book in our scriptures, points to the heavenly Jerusalem descending to the earth. 

Jerusalem is more than a city. Jerusalem is where Jesus walked and God promises to dwell. Jerusalem is a city of hope, a vision of what God is working in us and in our world through Jesus Christ. David's capture of Jerusalem is leading us to the vision of Revelation 21, the new Jerusalem, where God dwells among us. This vision of the future isn't only for the future. It's also a vision for the present. We aren't only Christians. We are also a people of the Resurrection and of God's unfolding future. Jesus isn't just for tomorrow. Jesus is also here, today, in our world and in our lives. The heavenly Jerusalem started with David's work but continues in us because we are, through baptism, bound with the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The new Jerusalem is here so let's live like it truly is.


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A reflection on 2 Samuel 18: David vs Absalom's Revolt

A reflection on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

A month ago, I met with the Woodcliff Lake Police Department. I was doing a ride-along, touring the jail, meeting officers, and taking a ride with an officer during a patrol. When I asked my ride-along partner about challenges in the community, I heard four things. The heroin epidemic is real and police officers recently started carrying Narcan to treat Heroin overdoses. The department is struggling interacting with folks suffering mental illness. The officer was glad to share that he feels that drunk driving incidents have dropped in the 20 years he's been on the force. But he did mention one issue, off the cuff, that is always in his work. This issue has been consistent in quantity, and intensity, for 20 years, crossing all races, backgrounds, and whether someone is rich or not. He was talking about domestic violence. 

The story we read in 2 Samuel today is an attempt by the lectionary to condense 6 action-packed chapters into one short reading. Sexual and domestic violence (again) is tearing David's family apart. David's eldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. David refuses to punish Amnon so Absalom, another of David's sons, kills Amnon. Absalom flees but returns at David's request. Absalom, however, doesn't remain quiet. He raises an army, claiming he can be a better king than his father, and drives David out of the country. However, to cement his claim as king, Absalom commits his own sexual violence on David's concubines. David responds by sending his generals to defeat Absalom, asking them (in today's verse 5), to not kill his son. Joab doesn't take David's word seriously and, after Absalom's army is defeated, Absalom is killed. David, once again, loses a son. The cycle of violence continues devouring his family, countless soldiers, bystanders, and women. 

David's story is a difficult story because it is an honest story. Domestic and sexual violence is a reality that too many deal with everyday. The violence cycle passes from generation to generation, with children inheriting the violence of their parents. The church struggles with how to address this. Culturally, it sometimes feels like we just have to accept this reality as "the way it is." But I don't believe the story is recorded in scripture for our mere acceptance. David's story does what the gospel does: bringing light to the stories we ignore or are in darkness. This reality isn't what God wants and we're called to stop the cycle of David's violence. We're called to be like the king David - Jesus. We're invited to change our society so that the cycle of violence ends, domestic and sexual violence committed by men is stopped, and for all victims of this violence find healing, wholeness, community, and hope.


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Reflection on 2 Samuel: David and Nathan

Our First Reading is from 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David's violence continues this week and today's last verse comes quick. Nathan, a prophet, arrives at David's house and tells a story. David, not realizing that the story is about him, believes that the villain in the story should be punished. He convicts himself. Nathan quickly condemns David for his taking of Bathsheba. David, in a moment of realization and truth, quickly confesses. And then, in just a few words, Nathan absolves him. This absolution feels a little too quick.

But maybe that quickness is part of the point. God's forgiveness can only happen quickly. It trumps our expectations or even our ability to ask for it. Just as God can create the world in an instant, so can God grant forgiveness in an instant as well. God's love comes suddenly and powerfully. 

Yet God's forgiveness doesn't mean that the consequence of David's actions are washed away. The story of David's life after this point is full of death, violence, and rebellion. More women are attacked and David's own sons turn against him. Violence, instead of life, is the hallmark of the rest of David's kingdom. 

When we forgive others, we don't invite the community or others to forget what happened. The consequences of hurtful actions still linger and these consequences need to come about. Forgiveness doesn't focus on consequences; it instead focuses on life. Forgiveness provides the space where we can embrace God's future rather than our past. Forgiveness can come quickly or take years to develop and no one is allowed to tell others how, or when, they should forgive. God forgives David quickly because God is a God of life. God refuses to be focused on death and brokenness. God, instead, embraces life and new possibilities. With God's help, and God's grace, we might be able to embrace those new possibilities too.  


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A reflection on 2 Samuel 11:1-15: David and Bathsheba

Our first reading is from 2 Samuel 11:1-15.

When it comes to Bathsheba, we can't read this story as a love story. David and Bathsheba didn't meet at a party or at a gathering with friends. David spotted her, desired her, and ordered her soldiers to take her. In this story, Bathsheba doesn't speak. We don't hear from her perspective. All we see in the story is that the soldiers came to take her and she went with them because she didn't have a choice. David's power allowed him collect women and so he did, with Bathsheba as his victim today. She returns home, washes, and eventually realizes she's pregnant. David does all that he can to separate the pregnancy from him before arranging for Bathsheba's husband's death. This is not a beautiful story and it's difficult to witness David's actions here and align it with the image of the little shepherd boy who defeat Goliath so many years prior. This Scripture, when read closely, focuses solely on David. He, and he alone, is responsible for his actions. 

So what do we do with this text? It's part of Scripture so we can't ignored it. It's part of our heritage and proclamation as well. It's also a piece of Scripture that is lived out in the lives of women and girls all over the world who are raped and assaulted. Scripture doesn't try to run away from the human story. Instead, it reflects honestly the darkness that exists in our world. 

Maybe one thing to take away from this text is the fact that we know Bathsheba's name. Scripture is notorious in not recording the names of women. Even Jesus's ministry among women and with women supporters is not recorded fully. But in this story of violence, Bathsheba's name is there. We know her husband and have hints about her family life. She's not just an object but is a person with a name, history, and story. She's known. And that knowing is not just something that God does. We're called to be like God and know others. Women are not objects. David's actions are not holy. His exercise of power in this way is not what God wants. God wants all to be known and to thrive because, when we follow Bathsheba's story, that's what happens to her. She thrives in spite of what David does to her. But thriving after violence isn't God's desire. God's hope is that violence doesn't start at all. 


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A Reflection on 2 Samuel 6: David and the Ark

Our First Reading is from 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.

When you think about Indiana Jones, what do you think of? I think about his clothes: that whip, the hat, and that leather jacket. They are fantastic. But beyond his wardrobe, what makes Indiana Jones great is also just how terrible he is as an archaeologist. He breaks rules, taking objects away from where he found them before he properly records where it is found and why it was created. He's obsessed with objects but not with the people who created them. Indiana Jones is terrible at his job - but he sometimes does get something right. At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Ark of the Covenant is about to be opened, Dr. Jones tells his companion to close her eyes because God's presence isn't only wonderful. It's also dangerous.

Today's story from 2 Samuel shows David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem. The Ark traveled with God's people ever since God delivered the ten commandments to the Israelites. After they were smashed on the golden calf, the pieces were gathered up and placed into a large box. The ark is part of God's stuff, containing God's word, promises, and presence. David desires to bring God's stuff into David's capital city. But this journey has issues. In the verses we don't read today, a man is killed when he touches the ark. The ark brings blessing and also danger. David doesn't know what to do so he hesitates before deciding that the Ark needs to come home.

As members of Christ's body, we talk a lot about God's presence. We ask for God to be with us in our worship,homes, and families. But God's presence can also be a fearful thing. To have God present means that we have to give up our control. When the Creator of the Universe is present, we can't really compete. But our Sin is that we still try to. We know that God can bless us but God's presence also undermines our own power and control. Our control is a scary thing to give up. But the beauty of our relationship with God is that our fear doesn't define God's love for us. Instead, God promises to come us anyways and it's up to us to embrace this God who loves us even when we don't love God


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A reflection on 2 Samuel 1: David and Jonathan's Death

Our first reading is 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27.

Last week we saw David defeat Goliath when Saul's army cannot. This is how we're introduced to Saul and David's relationship. And now, this week, we skip over much of the story and learn that Saul and Jonathan (Saul's son and David's best friend) are dead. David and Saul had a complicated (to put it lightly) relationship but David and Jonathan were different. They were best friends. Their friendship is one of the few times when scripture talks about what friendship is all about. Jonathan, as Saul's Son, and David, as Saul's enemy, were in a complex web of politics and situations. Yet their friendship glows throughout the story. They truly love each other. But now, Jonathan is gone. David, his heart broken, sings a true lament. He doesn't pray for help or ask God to change the situation. Nothing can change that Jonathan has died. All that remains is pain. So David can do nothing else but sing one of the most lyrical and poetic songs in the Old Testament. 

This is one of those pieces of scripture that we shouldn't try to explain away. We can sometimes try to put this song into its proper place inside the plot. We want to know what happened before and what happens next. We skim over David's song because we are busy getting to the next thing. But whenever there is poetry in Scripture, that's an opportunity for us to stop. Instead of rushing through the words, we're invited to hold these words close to us and sit with what God is showing us. Poetry and songs can reach us in ways that stories can't. We shouldn't rush through the poetry to get to the other side.

So, I invite you this week, to re-read this piece of scripture and just hold it. David experienced God's glory and presence in the person of Jonathan. This is what friendship can be in God's creation. How are we experiencing God's glory in our relationships and how can we reflect that glory so that all who know us see God too?


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A Reflection on 2 Samuel 7

Do you remember your first house? 

When I was born, my family lived in apartments. Every year, when the lease was over, my folks would pack up and we'd all move to a new place nearby. I was too young to really form lasting memories of these apartments. Only foggy images of living rooms, alleyways, and bedrooms linger in my mind. 

But I do remember our first house.

When I was five, we packed a moving truck full of our belongings, jumped on an airplane, and flew to the magical land of Colorado. We stayed in a hotel for awhile while my parents shopped for a house. It took a few weeks but then they found it. I remember when I first walked up the driveway, past the small new tree and the sod-less lawn, and walked through the front door. We were home. 

Our reading from 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16 today is rooted in the concept of homes. In Hebrew, the word for home can mean many things. It refers to palaces, houses, and dynasties for kings. The word is centered on the permanence such structures have in our lives. When we own or live in our home, we have ownership over it, a commitment to it, and, above all, we have apresence in the home and the home has a presence in us. A home makes us feel incredibly rooted and connected to what's around us. 

This passage is about God's continual commitment to the people of Israel. Like the homes in our lives, God promises to establish permanence for Israel and to be a permanent presence in Israel's life. The verses not included in today's reading (verses 12-15) continues the shower of promises. And these promises are unconditional. God leaves space for judgement of course. If David or his descendants fail to follow God's commandments (especially placing their trust only in God), they will be disciplined. But the scope of God's promise is epic. Promise, instead of judgement, is the center piece of God's relationship with God's people.

Christmas is almost here. The baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are about to make their home in a stable for a night. God's presence and permanence is manifested in this temporary place. Let's welcome God as God makes a home in us.


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