1 Samuel ends with the death of King Saul, who has lost the plot spiritually: 2 Samuel begins with David, his successor, lamenting over his death before taking the throne, first in Hebron, anointed to rule over the tribe of Judah, and then eventually in the newly-captured city of Jerusalem to reign over the whole nation. There is of course some infighting between Saul’s supporters and David’s, but pretty quickly things settle and David begins what will go down in history as the golden age for Israel. Two key events have great significance for David’s reign. Firstly the Philistines are defeated. For years the nation, which, like Stoke-on-Trent, was an agglomeration of five cities, have been thorn in Israel’s side: we have already seen the trouble they got Samson into, and David’s defeat of their champion Goliath. But from now on they get hardly a mention, as they cease to be much of a problem ever again to Israel.
As a result of this, secondly, the Ark of the Covenant, that important symbol of God’s presence with the people, which had been captured and carried off by the Philistines, is brought back to its home, which is to become the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, it seems almost disappointing that David himself did not build the Temple, but we are told that it was his idea. So his reign becomes symbolic of everything going right at last, with royalty and worship established in the new ‘City of David’.
But it isn’t very long before the ‘warts and all’ picture of David begins to emerge. Under the surface we have a king with not enough to do turning lustful eyes towards another woman, leading to intrigue and murder. Meanwhile conflict between various individuals demonstrates something of a leadership vacuum, leading eventually to rival claims to the throne, even from within David’s own family. The book ends with David ready to step down, and the next episode of the history begins with David old and frail, although still sharp enough to make sure that his son Solomon succeeds him.
So what we have is 2 Samuel is a portrait of a strong and godly yet flawed leader. The Bible is never a book of pure hagiography, and whitewash is never applied to its characters. Yet what we do see is David’s basic integrity: when confronted with his sin he repents quickly and thoroughly, and right to the end of the book he is still a worshipper at heart, someone who celebrates and depends on his courageous friends and colleagues, someone who has God’s desires for the nation deep in his spirit. That fact that he loses the plot sometimes should only encourage us, because we do that too, but it doesn’t mean we’re bad people, or that our attempts to live the Christian life are all in vain. In fact David, hero though he was and remains, struggled with all the things which trouble us: sex, family conflicts, the use of power, personal enemies – all the stuff of daily life. Like David we will not always get it right first time: like David may we always have the grace to deal with what we do wrong, coming quickly to God in penitence and receiving quickly his forgiving and redemptive grace.