By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: I Samuel 20.12-16; 24.16-22
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Samuel in conjunction with this article.
A Man of His Word
Last month we began a study of the books of Samuel and focused primarily on Saul (Sha’ul). This month we will continue our study by looking at II Samuel. When one opens to II Samuel and begins, the reader is thrown into a situation that, unless they had read I Samuel or at least the closing chapters, cannot be fully appreciated. We need to recall that originally Samuel was one scroll, not two. This one, two book break makes a difference for us; we also need to recognize that this artificial break was introduced long ago. Why does it matter that we speak of it? To answer that, consider the article’s title and introductory thoughts.
David, a Man of Covenant
To open up and begin reading King David’s life with II Samuel does a mis-service to him and to our understanding. As one opens and reads II Samuel, David carries out what seems to be a rather gruesome act. It is our goal to better understand this act, and to do that requires us to investigate items in I Samuel and have a brief understanding of covenant.
To shed light on II Samuel, we must, at least, refer to I Samuel 20.12-16 and 24.16-22. The information of these two passages is critical for understanding David’s actions in II Samuel 1. While each passage has context that surrounds them, time does not permit us to investigate. However, we need to see that within those larger contexts David made a covenant with Jonathan and then swore to Saul.
David’s covenant with Jonathan, I Samuel 20.12-16 (KJV):
And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee; The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father. And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not: But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David’s enemies.
What we can see is that Jonathan made a covenant, an agreement, with David. This agreement is for David to be kind to Jonathan’s family. However, it is also interesting that David, prior to Jonathan’s request, himself refers back1 to the previous covenant that he and Jonathan had made.
In the passage of I Samuel 24.16-22, Saul has David swear, which is a type of agreement (covenant) that David would not kill Saul’s descendents or remove Saul’s name.
But to understand the ramifications of covenant, we must understand that when the ancients made a covenant, they would prepare a fatted animal, slaughter it, and divide it in two. Upon this action, each party was saying to the other, “if I fail in my part of the agreement, you may do to me what we did to this animal.” Knowing this, covenant means more than we may have realized. David agreed and swore to two members of Saul’s family to do kindness. And since David is a leader, this means those under him act on his authority. So, if one under David’s authority kills Saul, or one of his family members, it could be seen as authorized by David, and therefore breaking covenant.
David, a Man Keeping Covenant
So when we open up to II Samuel and find David executing the man who claimed to have killed Saul, which he did not,2 it seems cruel, but is not. David is simply keeping his agreement with Saul and Jonathan. Why? Because the man claimed to have acted on behalf of David, consider II Samuel 1.6-10 (CJB):
The young man who had told him said, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa when I saw Sha’ul leaning on his spear. The chariots and cavalry were bearing down on him. He looked behind him, saw me and called to me. I answered, ‘Here I am.’
He said to me, ‘Who are you?’ and I answered, ‘I’m an ‘Amaleki’
He said to me, ‘I’m in agony, and I’m going to die, but I’m still alive. So please, stand next to me; and kill me.’
So I stood next to him and killed him, because I was sure he was so badly wounded that he couldn’t live. I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.” [emp. rah]
What we see from this passage is that the man claimed to act in favor of David, in doing so, this creates a violation of the covenant that David made. There are other lessons to be learned, like going against the Lord’s Anointed, but in many respects our moral dilemma is abated when we see that David is most likely protecting his covenant with Saul and Jonathan. To further reveal David’s attention to his covenant, consider how he shows kindness to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth in I Samuel 9.1-13.
Samuel described David as a man “after [Jehovah’s] own heart”.3 Perhaps it is David’s willingness to maintain covenant and to do his best to carry out covenantal agreements that demonstrates his heart to be like Jehovah. Jehovah does not break his covenant; He is always faithful. While David committed egregious sin and had a family ruined in many ways, David still seems to be a man of his word.
In an era such as ours, how valuable does a person’s word(s) become – most precious. By our words we commit ourselves to action or inaction, even if it is showing up on time. People are disappointed and hurt when we commit and fail, no matter the reason. We need to be mindful of what we say because we may be committing ourselves to an agreement, and we should not re-nig on the agreement. May the Lord bless us and may we become even more attentive to our covenants, becoming better men and women of our word.
1 “David’s reference to covenant.” I Samuel 20.8; covenant established in 18.3
2 “Saul’s death” I Samuel 31.4-6
3. “Jehovah’s heart.” I Samuel 13.13-14