2 Samuel 6:1-19

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Old Testament: 2 Samuel 6:1-19

Background to the Book of Samuel:  (What is happening in Judah at this time?)

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty-five chapters are given to these three people and forty-seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who were settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had achieved the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Second, we follow the narrative as it tells of the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel we read of the rise and fall of David's reign.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BCE


1004 - 965



Context of 2 Sam 6:1-19

We are not so surprised at the depth of David's grief expressed in the lament when we read about his relationship with Jonathon in 1 Sam 18-31 in which they covenant with each other three times. 1 Sam 31 tells of the death of Jonathon, two of his brothers and their father Saul at the hands of the Philistines. The Philistines cut of their heads and hung their bodies from the walls of a town nearby. This is a particularly abhorrent practice to the Israelites and some valiant men from a nearby town took the bodies down burned them and buried the remains under a Tamarisk tree at Jabesh. This was the end of that section which concentrated on the rise of David and Saul's decline. The new section goes from 2 Sam 2 - 2 Sam 8 often titled Kind David

The death of Saul did not stop the fighting between those who barracked for Saul and those who backed David. 2 Sam 2-5 tells the story of the ongoing fight between the two sides. Saul's commander Abner initially supported the sons of Saul and was instrumental in making Ishbaal King of Israel. A protracted period of war ensued and might have carried on longer except Ishbaal accused Abner of seducing his concubine which resulted in Abner swearing an oath to God and stating he would accomplish for David the throne of Saul. Very stupid accusation by Ishbaal - it lost him the vital support of a very competent commander of his forces. During this period of war David was busy on the home front by his six wives each giving birth to sons. When Abner made his proposal that he would bring the house of Saul over to David, David insisted he bring him his wife Michal. David accepted Abner and appeared to trust him, but when David's commander, Joab heard of Abner's transfer he secretly set up a meeting and killed Abner for revenge of his brother's death. David lamented the death of Abner. Two captains of Ishbaal decide to kill him, take his head to David and expected a reward but David is still consistent and condemns the manner in which Ishbaal is killed.

One of the most brilliant acts by David was immediately after his enthronement as King of all the tribes he marched on Jerusalem and took this amazing city. Strategically it straddled the geographic line between the tribes of Judah and Israel and it had no prior importance in either of their traditions. The city of David was its name and here was born eleven more children to David from various wives and concubines. The children are named but not those who gave birth to them, as was the case in 2 Sam 3.

After the defeat of the Philistines (2 Sam 5:17-25), David turns his attention to the transportation of the ark up to Jerusalem, which is the text for today. This is followed by David's suggestion that he build the temple and the story of God speaking to Nathan, which contradicts David's desire.

Insights/Message of 2 Sam 6:1-19

Literary: The main topic in the set verses is the transfer of the Ark from BaaleJudah to Jerusalem. It is accepted by many scholars that this section originally was part of story in 1 Sam 4:1b-7: 1. There are some difficulties with this theory when one looks at the names of the guardians and the place, which are different in both stories. However, it is helpful to read the earlier material, a summary is given below. It gives us knowledge about how the Israelites view the Ark and the role it played in their lives. The ark is brought up from Shiloh to lead the people into battle. When the Ark is captured by the Philistines the Israelites lose their battles and it remains in the hands of the Philistines for seven months. The people in Beth-shemesh found its presence unbearable after its recapture and it is taken by the people of Kiriathjearim and left in the care of Eleazar.

Verse one with its 30,000 chosen men indicates this is going to be a military operation. It is a lot of men to bring an Ark from a farm where it has been placed for twenty years. Maybe the numbers represent how important an event this will be.

Maybe the Ark was left for so long because it failed to bring victory in the battle at Ebenezer or more likely the Philistines had control of this part of the country until David won his final battle.

In verse four, it seems quite reasonable that the words "and Uzzah walked by the side of the Ark" which have dropped out do go with "and Ahio went in front".

The section omitted from the lectionary tells of the peculiar and to us rather horrible picture of God who kills someone because they try and save the Ark from falling onto the floor. One has to read these verses to understand some of the actions in vv.12-19. The anger and action of God shook David so much he left it in the care of a Philistine who maybe was a sojourner after the Philistines had been defeated. It does seem odd to leave the Ark in the care of a hated foreigner. Or if one was truly sceptical, we could think that David hoped the ill luck that appeared attached to the Ark could be incited on to a non-Israelite.

The story is resumed after David sees that the house of the Gittite is blessed. However, he was taking no risks and six steps after setting off and God hadn't done anything awful, David made a sacrifice just to make sure. David was clothed in an ephod that indicates he was functioning as a priest. When Saul did this he was condemned. This journey of the Ark is interrupted by v.16, which brings Michal, Saul's daughter and David's first wife into the picture. We know from the verses after the lectionary reading that Michal has changed her feelings for David. Early in the narrative about the rise of David, she saved him from her father's desire to kill him. Here, she spoke against David's exuberance and dancing as he led the Ark into Jerusalem and David was quite cruel in his response. This sub plot ends with the abrupt statement that Michal had no child. There was not going to be any of Saul's blood in the line of the Davidic kings.

David had already pitched a tent in Jerusalem for the Ark. This has no relation to the Tent of Meeting that is referred to earlier in Exodus, but simply a place for the Ark to rest until the temple was built. A further sacrifice of thanksgiving is made and food is distributed to the people. It has reminders of a covenant celebration in which food and hospitality is part of the sealing of the relationship.

Psalm 24 is described as a Psalm of "Entrance into the Temple". It begins by acknowledging God as creator and continues with a description of who will be able to ascend the hill to the temple (v.4). This Psalm is chosen because of its association with David's ascent to Jerusalem with the Ark.

Message: Within the history, which the author is writing about the kings, and the role they played in the downfall of Israel and their eventual exile in Babylon these chapters are very important theologically. Several prophecies come true for David (2 Sam 3:18). He defeats the Philistines at the end of 2 Sam 5. It is a fulfilment of the promise to Moses that God would bring them into the land and there would be rest from the enemies all around. The next lectionary reading picks up a further important prophecy about David and his house. It is important to show to the people the theology of prophecy/fulfilment. God's word comes true and this history demonstrates that fact time and again. It conveys two important points that both challenge the people and reassure them. One is that they have to listen to the prophets because they convey God's word, which they say, will come true. So if there is a prophet speaking in their own time, which may be a long way from when this history was written it is saying to them, listen to your prophets in your own time because this history shows that when God speaks it comes true. Furthermore it can act as reassurance that they can hold onto a prophecy or promise because what God says comes true and if they are in a bad situation and a prophet is offering hope or the reassurance that God is with them, they know they can cling onto this because again their history shows them the truth and the way God has acted in the past.

David remembers the Ark and the role it has played in the life of the people as they travelled in the wilderness and how it led them into battle. He brings it into Jerusalem, thereby establishing that Jerusalem is the spiritual centre as well as the governing centre of the new Kingdom. David is confirmed also in his priestly role as he functions on 2 occasions as the presiding priest. He is king and priest; Saul was specifically denied both roles.

David is very clever politically at this point in his career.

I would like to spend a few lines on the theology involved on the verses omitted from the lectionary reading. In the worldview of that time a sacred object could bring good and harm. It was not meant to be touched by a common person and when this occurred as with Uzziah, he died because of God's anger and the punishment of death was for his breach of etiquette. It reminds me a little of the incredible outburst by the British papers when Paul Keating (then Prime Minister of Australia) touched the Queen on the back. The outburst was as though God had struck him dead.

We have to remember this was the understanding of the time. Now we eat what is sacred (the body and blood of Christ) and it is meant to be life giving not a means of death. Since the advent of Christ we see a compassionate God who would not act in this way towards people. We still treat certain objects with due reverence, but it is not a matter of death if by accident it gets dropped or used for another purpose.
The people of Israel learnt that God both travelled with them and was present in the temple. We believe this as well. The Spirit of God and Christ is present wherever we are and in worship, especially as we participate in the communion service. The question is raised about whether some places like churches are more sacred than others because God is present. I don't think it is to do with the level of God's presence, but rather in very old churches where people have prayed for centuries there is sense of people's faith and loyalty as a presence and witness. It reminds we are part of a living tradition of faith.

The celebration of thanksgiving (2 Sam 6:17-19) is a reminder to us that we thank God for all we have been given especially as this is celebrated as a community in the Eucharist. We are not Jews and do not have the set rituals for sacrifice. It was an important part of their life in which there were detailed rituals for every occasion. It is not the place to go into detail here about the theological importance of the various sacrifices, but it is having the willingness to recognise that it was part of their history and relationship with God, the same God we worship. The delightful hospitality, which is spoken of in v.19, is part of our tradition.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading:No particular motifs or quotes used in this week's readings

Resources/Worship for 2 Sam 6:1-19

Worship: The symbolism of the journey and bringing the Ark into the church could make a very good action as the story is told.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2
Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: