After this David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?’ The Lord said to him, ‘Go up.’ David said, ‘To which shall I go up?’ He said, ‘To Hebron.’ So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.
When they told David, ‘It was the people of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul’, David sent messengers to the people 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 too will reward you because you have done this thing. 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.’
But Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbaal son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and over all Israel. Ishbaal, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for two years. But the house of Judah followed David. The time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
David begins this next stage of his life well; he seeks God’s guidance over what he should do and where he should go. In obedience he journeys to Hebron in Judah, where he is formally anointed as king by public ceremony. We should note that he’s accompanied by two wives; but nothing is said of Michal. David commends the people of Jabesh-Gilead (east of the Jordan in the north of Israel’s territories) for the loyalty they had shown to Saul while he was king; but tells them of his own elevation in Judah. Clearly he hopes to bring them on side in his service.
Not everyone is in tune with God’s purposes however, and the leader of Saul’s army has other plans. He proclaims one of Saul’s surviving sons, Ishbaal (whose name implies allegiance to the Canaanite gods), as king in Gilead over five named northern tribal areas of Israel. His reign will be short lived; but tribal conflict will continue and seven and a half years will pass before David is accepted as king anywhere beyond Judah.
We need to recognize that however confident we may be that we have discerned God’s purposes for the next stage of our life (as individuals or churches), other people may have different visions about the future course of events. It is foolish to ignore their perspective, or to attempt to impose our ideas by claiming some kind of divine right. It may take time but it is far better to seek a way forward that can be embraced by all parties, than to enter into a period of conflict that might ultimately result in schism (as happened between Israel and Judah after Solomon’s death).
Sadly tribal loyalties still threaten God’s intention that the Church should be one (John 17:22) for the sake of the world.
Loving God, grant us clarity of vision that we might each discern your purposes for our lives; but also grant us the wisdom to pursue your calling with an openness and sensitivity to others who may see things differently. Grant us patience to await your timing. May love for one another and love for your world save us from becoming divisive in our eagerness to do your will. Amen
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge