top of page

Proper 9B Alt 1st Reading

This week’s Old Testament reading focuses upon David’s rise to kingship through his consolidation of the twelve tribes of Israel into a single kingdom. Having already become king of his own tribe of Judah, David now becomes king of the other eleven tribes as well. Our text concludes that David increasingly became great as the LORD was with him. Because the larger context of this passage shapes the meaning of the text, we will briefly turn our attention to the narrative context before exploring the text itself.

The Broader Context

This week’s reading particularly should consider the broader narrative within which it is placed. While this week’s passage recounts the northern tribes’ (Israel) acclamation and anointing of David as king, two other anointing ceremonies of David have already occurred. Indicating that among Jesse’s sons, David was to be Saul’s successor, the prophet-judge Samuel immediately proceeds to anoint David as king in his hometown of Bethlehem (1 Sam 16). As this first anointing of David was confined to a family setting in the small town of Bethlehem, Saul continued to function as king. As the spirit of God came upon David and departed from Saul, an evil spirit from the LORD overtook Saul (1 Sam 16:13-14), and a lengthy narrative of Saul’s battle against David ensues throughout the remainder of 1 Samuel. The second anointing of David as king occurs in 2 Sam 2:1-4. Following Saul’s death, David’s own tribe of Judah gathered in Hebron to anoint him as king of Judah. David carried out his role as king of Judah for seven and a half years prior to becoming king over all twelve tribes. During this period, the family of Saul (particularly Ishbaal) continued to reign over the other tribes.

In this week’s passage, David emerges to become king over “all Israel” (all twelve tribes) as the other eleven tribes anoint David as their king. It is appropriate for us to hear this passage from the perspective of an imminent reality: this consolidation/unification was to be very short lived. Within two generations, ten of the twelve tribes broke away during the reign of David’s grandson Rehoboam. As the rupture of the covenant community took place, the call to division and separation emerged: “What share do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David” (1 Kgs 12:16).

By the time our text was completed and certainly by the time it functioned as scripture, the fragmented and divided people of God would most certainly have asked (as do the people of God today, perhaps): “Were we ever one? Were we manipulated into unification? Were David and his family ever a part of our family?” In subsequent generations as prophetic voices envisioned the reunification of the divided children of Jacob, skeptics might have asked: “Why should we imagine a future in which opposing parties are reconciled and become one? Is there any centrifugal force that brings us back into oneness, or is the centripetal force of separation the final word? Can diversity and unity coexist?” Throughout the story of the people of God across the millennia, these questions of a community diverse in background and tradition yet one in the blood that flows through their veins, have reverberated from generation to generation. In the midst of this context, is it possible that this odd Old Testament text just might speak a transformational word of hope and a challenge of peace?

The Biblical Narrative

Prior to our present text, a number of significant events have occurred after the death of Saul: David’s grief, death of legitimate heirs to the throne, revenge against assassins of Saul’s son Ishbaal. The text is careful to demonstrate that David’s rule over the eleven tribes did not emerge from David’s engagement in violence, coercion, or disrespect of Saul and his family. As we turn our attention to the passage itself, one might think that the text’s focus is on David