Once in Royal David’s City
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Once in Royal David’s City

2 Samuel 5:6–16  (ID: 3467)

When David finally became the new king of Israel, he fulfilled God’s purposes by driving the Jebusites from Jerusalem and establishing the city of Zion as his own. Alistair Begg emphasizes that from the outset of his reign, David’s significance came from his dedication and service to God’s people. In this way, David foreshadowed the future Christ, who will one day create a new Jerusalem, a heavenly city in which He will rule and reign eternally as God’s perfect King.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 5

The King and the Holy City 2 Samuel 1:1–6:23 Series ID: 109015

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, we’re going to read again the passage that we read this morning from 2 Samuel and chapter 5, and I invite you to follow along as I read. One of the things that perhaps has struck you about this is that we’ve been waiting for a very long time for this event, and there is so much that has gone on behind the scenes, but when it finally comes, it is described in such short order, isn’t it? You know, I think, you know, if Hollywood got ahold of this, they could really make something of it, but it just seems so almost inconsequential in the way in which it’s recorded. There’s something about God’s mastery of understatement, I suppose.

“Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.”’ So … the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

“And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who [had] said to David, ‘You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off’—thinking, ‘David cannot come in here.’ Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, ‘Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack “the lame and the blind,” who are hated by David’s soul.’ Therefore it is said, ‘The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.’ And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

“And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house. And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.”

“And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet.”

Well, we just turn to the Bible. A brief prayer:

Father, thank you for this passage of Scripture. Come and help us both to speak concerning it and to ponder it, and to have its truth carved into our very being. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, we’ve read these verses both in the morning and again now in the evening, this morning trying our best to do something with the first five verses and leaving arguably the harder verses for the evening hour. When we come to the sixth verse, we are introduced to David’s first action as the anointed king of Israel. And in much the same way that we’re in a transition now in government—there have to be certain things put in place, and people wait to see, “I wonder what this new president will do or what he will say” and so on—in the same manner, this great move, this great shift amongst the people of God, the combining of the tribes of Israel, the gathering of the North and the South together, all of this taking place in Abraham’s city of Hebron, and it is with a sense of great anticipation that the people must have looked to see what David would do.

And without any indication of some form of transition, we’re told straightforwardly that “the king and his men…” And if you think about “the king and his men,” we probably should think in terms of the people that he had with him when he was involved in seeking to stabilize his existence, moving around when he was being pursued by Saul—a group of individuals that by any standards were not particularly impressive in terms of their background, but they were David’s men, they were servants of David, and they were his supporters. And I would imagine that he takes a group of them… They’re not identified. They are here in the Bible as “his men.” We’ll find out one day who was exactly there, perhaps, if we have occasion to ask. But they “went to Jerusalem,” and they “went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites.”

Now, you might say to yourself immediately, “That’s a strange beginning. Why not do something, as it were, positive?” Well, in actual fact, it is positive. It is positive in a negative kind of way. The interesting, or an interesting, aspect of this is that we have only been introduced to Jerusalem on one occasion before this in the entire story that we have considered. And if this were class, then I would ask for somebody who might volunteer and tell us where we met Jerusalem before. And somebody, some bright spark—probably a lady—would say, “Well, I remember that it was in 1 Samuel chapter 17, where David has defeated Goliath, he has taken off his head, and the text reads, ‘And [he] took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem.’”[1]

If you remember that occasion, you remember we said, “But wait a minute, how could that possibly be? When did he do that? How did he do that?” And we said, as we have had occasion to say throughout these studies, that often chronology is sacrificed or is set aside for the impact of the event itself. And what is actually being made clear is that in one sense, David’s journey—we’ve said that it begins in that secret anointing earlier on—but there is a sense in which David’s journey to Jerusalem began with taking off the head of Goliath and proceeding to make his triumph clear by finally producing it here in Jerusalem.

“David Took the City”

Now, as I say, this passage is not the easiest. And instead of getting caught up in certain minutiae, I want the focus to be on David. The focus is on David, then it’s on the city and so on. But I found it helpful just to keep a number of phrases in my mind, and the first is this: where we’re told that “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” Now, you’ll see that that is there in verse 7. And it was in dealing with the Jebusites that he established himself in this way.

It may be tedious for you. I’m going to tell you what these references are, and I don’t want you to go on a paper chase with me, necessarily. But it will be helpful, at least if you take notes at all, to make note of these things so that we might understand the context.

Way back in the book of Genesis, in God’s covenant with Abraham: “The Lord made a covenant with Abram”—this the end of Genesis 15—“saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river [of the] Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.’”[2] “You are going to have that land.” When you go into the book of Exodus and we have the encounter with Moses and the burning bush, this is what we hear: the Lord says, “I[’ve] surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt … [I’ve] heard [the] cry because of their taskmasters. I know [of] their sufferings, … I[’ve] come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and [a] broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”—here we go—“to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”[3]

And God gave to his people the responsibility of making sure that they took that land from those people, because it was God giving it to them. But when you read on through the story—and we can’t go through all the books of all the Old Testament—but when you come to, for example, the book of Judges, which gets us fairly close, in Judges we read, 1:20, “And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak.” Here we go: “But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” The Jebusites were a minority group, a part of Canaan.

The righteous wrath of God is set firmly in the context of the immensity of God’s redeeming love.

And so, David comes to the position of God’s king, and essentially, his first action is to right the wrong of the failure of the people of God throughout a long period of time essentially to accept God’s promise and to fulfill God’s purpose. And his action as to how he has accomplished this is described for us here: he “said on that day, ‘Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the “lame and the blind.”’”

Now, this—when I said to you that this was one of the more difficult passages, it is textually a very difficult passage. If you use a number of translations of the Bible, you will discover that only maybe one or two of them come close to translating this verse in the exact same way. And as a result of that, when you read the commentaries, some of them go on for a very long time, and some pastors might be tempted to go on for a very long time, explaining about getting up the water shaft and all that kind of thing. When my wife said to me, “What are you going to do with that?” I said, “Well,” I said, “it’s sort of like the itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout.” She said, “How could that possibly be?” I said, “I’m only kidding. I’m only kidding. I’m not going to do very much with it at all.” Why not? Because we don’t know. So why would I use up your precious time, and mine too?

What we’re being told is that in a strategic way, in a way that is not immediately obvious to us in the way that it is being recorded, David took care of a situation that should have been taken care of a long time before. And he did it in response to the fact that the Jebusites were not exactly what you would call hospitable characters. In fact, they regarded themselves as impregnable. They thought—and this is the significance of the statement here: “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off.” In other words, “We don’t even need to defend ourselves against you. We could actually use people who are infirm, both in terms of their inability to see and in terms of their inability to move. And if we were to put an army together like that,” say the Jebusites, “there is no chance of you ever being able to do anything here at all.”

Well, of course, you know, somebody who took the Philistine’s head off is not going to immediately bow down to that kind of intimidation. And this charismatic character, David himself, now the anointed king of Israel, is not going to settle for that. And he doesn’t settle for that.

You see, what these Jebusites did was simply this: that they underestimated God’s king. They underestimated God’s king. And I will not sidestep, except to say this. Note the fact that that is true throughout our world today: that God has set his king in Zion, on his holy hill. The nations of the world—and I’m quoting, really, or referring to Psalm 2, which is pivotal in all of these considerations—the nations of the world rage. They “plot in vain.” They “set themselves … against the Lord and against his Anointed,” saying, “We’ll just burst his bonds and cast him away.” And “He who sits in the heavens laughs,” and “the Lord holds them in derision,”[4] and so on. The Jebusites underestimated the Lord’s king, and today, so do people.

Well, he is the king. And so David has come to fulfill God’s purpose—which, of course, is exactly why Jesus came: to fulfill God’s purpose. And in the new Jerusalem, God’s promise which he made to Abraham will be fulfilled: that the people that he has promised will be assembled, opposition will be completely put down, and the blessings promised to the nations will then be apparent. “Oh,” you say, “that might explain why it is that you began in Revelation chapter 21.” Well, yeah, that’s very perceptive of you. That is exactly why I did. Because when you read, you see, this…

Here’s the fundamental principle in this whole study: “the significance of Jerusalem for David’s kingdom”—“the significance of Jerusalem for David’s kingdom”—“is the key to understanding” the new Jerusalem in God’s purposes.[5] In fact, to get that wrong leads to all kinds of affairs, to which we may come back. But just to make the point here, as we began in Revelation 21: David comes to put down the opposition and to establish God’s promise. Revelation 21: “And I saw no temple in the city”—we won’t pause on that—

for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. … The city has no need of sun or moon …, for the glory of God gives it[s] light, and its lamp is the Lamb. [And] by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. [And] they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.[6]

And all opposition at the same time will be put down. And that is why verse 8 reads, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, … all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Now, you see, the righteous wrath of God is set firmly in the context of the immensity of God’s redeeming love. And as I say to you, when you read these verses, and particularly when you come, for example, to the question of Jerusalem and, in a moment, to the issue of Zion… When I came here a long time ago in 1981, there were more questions addressed to me on these subjects by the elders at that time than by any other subject at all. It was quite fascinating to me: “Well, what do you think about Jerusalem?” “Pardon?” “What do you think about Zion? What do you think about this and the next thing?” “Goodness,” I said, “I don’t know what I think about a lot of that.” Well, that was rather disappointing. You’re supposed to know exactly what you think about that. In fact, when I thought about what I thought about it, I thought I better not even say what I think about it, because they obviously think something that I don’t think.

And here, right now, today, in reading this, you can’t read it apart from reading your newspaper, apart from watching CNN, apart from forming certain positions on this subject. And to get it wrong has not only political implications for us, but it has particularly theological implications. We look forward not to going to Jerusalem in the Middle East—although you may like to go there for a visit. “We look forward to the new Jerusalem because of the significance of the old”[7] Jerusalem—the Jerusalem to which David has now come, to which he has carried the head of the Philistine king, and which is very clearly now “the stronghold of Zion”: “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.”

Now, you’ll be interested, perhaps, to know that this is the first time that we have a mention of Zion in the Scriptures. And once again, Zion is a tough one and gets people up on their hind legs for all kinds of reasons. Zion came in Solomon’s time to be referred to the hill which was on the north side of the city—so, the Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, and so on. It then came to be a reference or a synonym for the city itself. And when you read, for example, in the Psalms, it actually is a synonym in certain places for the inhabitants of the city, so that the people themselves are referred to as “Zion”—Zion bursting out into praise. Well, clearly, not the walls are bursting out in that case, but those who are the inhabitants of Zion.

And some of you who’ve lived long enough will remember, as I remembered—in fact, I suggested to Ruth we might even make an attempt at singing this, and she advised me better, and so we’re not singing it—but if you lived through my era, you remember singing this song from Psalm 48. We used to sing, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praiséd.” I always thought that was kinda cool, you know.

In the city of our God,
In the mountain of his holiness.
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion, on the side of the north,
The city of the great King.[8]

That’s that song, yeah? I hadn’t a clue what that was about! I really didn’t. I think I made a note of it: “Beautiful for situation.” I get that: “It’s a nice spot, apparently. Maybe I’ll go there some time.” It’s taken me a long time to figure it out. What are we talking about here?

Mount Zion, in the far north,
 the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
 has made himself known as a fortress.[9]

Now, it is in this context that we have to tackle this response concerning the blind and the lame. Sometimes when you have a passage like this to expound, you wish that it sort of didn’t say some of the things that it says. They said, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off.” “Well, if you want to go up by the water shaft,” David says, “you can attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” And this gave rise to essentially a proverbial statement, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

Well, what are we to make of this? First of all, “the blind and the lame” is terminology that came from the Jebusites. It did not come from the Israelites. And it may well be that what they’re doing is they’re saying, “You refer to yourselves as ‘the blind and the lame’? Well, we are opposed to the blind and the lame, insofar as they are you,” that they are the Jebusites.

We also, when we come to a difficulty like this, have to interpret Scripture with Scripture. We say, “Can I read on further in the story and see if there is any evidence of this notion of David hating the blind and the lame?” Well, of course, when we read on (and we won’t have to go too far), we’ll discover the particular care that he took for one who was lame—namely Mephibosheth, one of the sons of Saul himself. So we do know that he was deeply concerned about that. We also know that in the case of Jesus, he was committed to dealing with the blind and the lame, and when the apostles hit the Jerusalem streets after Pentecost, one of the first dramatic moments involves a lame man, remember, looking: “What do you have for me?” They said, “Well, silver and gold we have none, but such as we have we can give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”[10]

So, when I put all of that together, and when I think about what I’ve just said concerning understanding what’s going on in the old Jerusalem in light of what will happen in the new Jerusalem, well, I understand this: that the words of the prophets find their fulfillment ultimately in that new Jerusalem. For example, Isaiah 35:5:

[And] then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
 and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
[and] then shall the lame … leap like a deer,
 and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
 and streams in the desert.

Well, it’s like we’ve often said. In terms of prophetic fulfillment, there are various points along the way. And certainly there is fulfillment of that in the time of Jesus, as we’re noticing. But ultimately, it is when, as we began in Revelation 21, when all the tears are wiped away, when there is no sickness, when there is no cancer, when there is no pain, when all of that is gone.

And so, whatever is happening here in terms of this terminology, we ought not to press it to a conclusion that is unwarranted. But just recognize that what is recorded for us is that David deals with, he takes action on, something that needed to be fixed, he does so in such a way that it is fixed, and as a result, in verse 9, he “lived in the stronghold,” he “called it the city of David,” he “built the city all around from the Millo inward.” The Millo was either some kind of fortification, or it was representative of the terraced slopes that were there. Again, archaeology can only help us so far.

God Made David Great

But what we do know is recorded for us then in verse 10: “And David became greater and greater.”

“Well done, David! You’re really doing a great job. You’re quite a fellow, David. We’d like to interview you. We’d like to have a podcast with you, David. And we just really have one question for you: We’d like you to tell us the key to your triumph. How is it that you, David, the eighth son of a no-named Bethlehemite, are now the most significant person in the entire land? How did you do it? What are the keys? What are the principles?” Well, of course, the answer is there in verse 10: “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” The hosts, the God of hosts, the powers, the unseen powers of the universe that are under the control of God, he’s sovereign over it all. And it was this “the Lord, … God of hosts” that was with him.

David’s life and the trajectory of his life can only be explained by seeing his place in God’s purposes.

You see—and this is true not only of David’s life—but David’s life and the trajectory of his life can only be explained by seeing his place in God’s purposes. Now, you just think about that for a moment: the significance of his life and the trajectory of his life is only explicable in light of the part that he was given to play in the purposes of God. Actually, it’s reminiscent of what was said concerning Samuel. Yeah, it’s similar to that kind of summary statement, isn’t it? You remember all these months and months and months ago? “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.”[11] You see, the influence that David was able to wield was on account of the presence of God with him.

It’s a principle, isn’t it, in the entire Scriptures? It’s Isaiah 66:2: “This is the one to whom I will look,” says the Lord, “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word”—unlike Saul, who wasn’t humble, he wasn’t contrite in spirit, and he didn’t tremble at God’s word. He’s gone! He’s kaput! David is still here. Why? Because at least to this extent, there he is. How do you explain the impact and the trajectory of this strange child who’s grown up to be a strange individual wearing a strange outfit and eating at Whole Foods and chewing on various things? He was vegan before there was vegan, you know. John the Baptist: How in the world—what do you make of John the Baptist? Well, it’s Isaiah 66:2, isn’t it? The Lord is accompanying him. “I’m not worthy do his sandals.”[12] “I must become less and less; he must become more and more.”[13] Well, I think that’s it. That’s it in a nutshell.

Now, turn the camera to verse 12: “And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.” In other words, again… It’s wonderful, isn’t it, how often we’re able to go back to Hannah’s prayer, in verse 10, where it says, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed”?[14] And this is exactly what has happened, hence this summary statement there in verse 12: “David knew…” He knew! Now he was on the receiving end of international recognition. Hiram, the king of Tyre, he “sent messengers to David,” presumably congratulations: “Glad to know that you’re now the king. I’ve sent a few trees for you, and also sent some of my carpenters and my masons. We’d like to put a place together for you.” Tyre, out on the coastline there, to the present day.

Now, Hiram, of course, was a king. You remember what they wanted? “We would like to have a king like all the other people have a king.”[15] There’s no indication here that Hiram was on the same sheet of music as David in terms of submission to God and the purposes of God and everything else. He was just a prosperous fellow that lived out on the coast who recognized that it would be a strategic move on his part, either politically or economically, to take the initiative and reach out to David in this context. And for David, of course, it was quite a fillip, wasn’t it? It was a wonderful thing: “Not only do the people of Israel, the tribes of Israel, recognize me, but I’m now recognized on an international basis.”

Well, just a comment: generosity may actually come with an accompanying danger. You see, when you read on in the story—and we’ll find this out when we get to 1 Kings… (Joke, just to see if you’re still here.) But when we get to 1 Kings, we’ll discover this: that Hiram was still around in Solomon’s day. And the impact of the alliances was detrimental to the cause of God in that time. And so, although there was presumably nothing at all to this, ostensibly, in the appearing of Hiram or in the generosity of Hiram, alliances that in the first instance may prove to be harmless may in time prove to be harmful.

But David recognized the providence of God: “David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel.” You think about that. You think about all the things in the background that we know that have been involved in him becoming the king over Israel: all the fights and the wars and the jealousies and the animosities, and all of the skullduggery that is represented in the movements of people and their coming and their going, and all of this in the great jigsaw puzzle of life. Yes! Yes. And in and through it all, the Lord “established him king over Israel.” That’s actually why we sang the song,

All the way my Savior leads me,
[Guides] each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.[16]

“When my miserable heart would stumble and my heart would fail, he provides for me.”[17]

That’s David’s testimony. It’s the right testimony. It’s the testimony of the child of God, be it a king or not. The ways of God, as Motyer says, are undeniably odd, but they are sure. And “David knew that the Lord had established him [as the] king [of] Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom.” His kingdom was getting stronger and stronger. David was becoming more and more significant. He was becoming greater and greater. He would be in the newspaper. He would be on the news. He would be the talk of the town: “Look at what has happened. The Jebusites are gone. They’ve done an amazing raid; they came up through a water shaft,” whatever it was. And all of this is going on. That’s quite a buzz to deal with! I presume so—to have those kinds of accolades. He knew that God had established him as the king and that he had exalted his kingdom not for the sake of David’s profile but for the sake of God’s people.

God made David great in the service of his people. That’s the significance of him. And that, actually, is the entire significance.

Now, that again is a fundamental principle. We skipped over it this morning in a way that was my mistake, where, at the beginning of the chapter: “And the Lord said …, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people.’” “My people.” When you’re the pastor of a church, they’re not your people. They’re the Lord’s people. It is the Lord’s church. It is the Lord’s body. David is not put in a position of prominence and usefulness to satisfy his own ego or to establish his significance in the course of history. His significance, the trajectory of his life, is sublimated under the overarching purpose of God, which from Abraham’s day was to put together “a people that are his very own.”[18] And it is that which is happening here. God made David great in the service of his people. That’s the significance of him. And that, actually, is the entire significance.

Now, we need to wrap it up. Constantly we need to be drawing the line forward from here. So, the significance of David the king was in relationship to his service and commitment to the Lord’s people. Well, that is, of course, what we find in Jesus, isn’t it? That he came as a king, not to be served but to serve; not to establish his profile—in fact, often he would not be able to be picked out in the crowd—but “to give his life a ransom for many.”[19]

The City of God’s King

So, you see, the significance of Jerusalem here, in this section of Scripture, its significance, its importance, lies in the fact that it was the city of David—i.e., it was the place where God’s king reigned. And I say to you again, the point and purpose of hearing about the old Jerusalem is so that our vision and our understanding of the new Jerusalem may be brought into focus.[20]

Now, there are a variety of views, and they’re represented in our own congregation, and I understand that. And for that reason, I would never want to in any way be coercive, as if I even could, concerning these things. But I do want to encourage myself and you to think out the notion of Jerusalem in light of the unfolding revelation of Scripture, so that we understand the old in the light of the new, so that we understand the most Jewish book of the New Testament as a help to us in figuring out what’s happening in the kingdom of God when the kingdom of God is David’s kingdom.

So, for example, Hebrews chapter 12: “You have come…” Present tense; he’s speaking to them:

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, … and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.[21]

In other words, he says, “We have moved on from there.”

When we read the last book of the New Testament, we find that the same is true: “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”[22] We already read from 21:2, and when you read on in that chapter, you find again the same thing, as I read it: “I saw no temple in the city.” The city has no need of that. How can that possibly be? “Oh, but,” my friends say, “but you’ve gotta understand the temple. You’ve gotta understand the mount. You’ve gotta understand Zion.” Well, I’m trying to understand. And as I read my Bible, this is what I’m discovering.

“Oh,” you say, “well, you’re just emphasizing that so that you can skip the final part?” What final part? Oh, yeah, you mean about the concubines? No, I’m not trying to skip that. No. As we said this morning, David is not the perfect king. And the word of the Lord concerning the king was very, very clear: “And you as king shall not acquire many wives for yourself, lest your heart is turned away, nor acquire for yourself excessive silver and gold.”[23]

Well, Samuel, remember, had given a warning about that, and we quoted it this morning from 1 Samuel 8: “You know, if you go with this king idea,” he says, “a king, if he’s not the right guy, he will take, take, take.”[24] This comes again and again, the verb. Now look at verse 13: “And David took…” “And David took more concubines”—they come first—“and wives from Jerusalem.” Who were the inhabitants of Jerusalem when he moved in to clear them out? The Jebusites. Either out of sexual desire or political intrigue, there is little doubt that those who were included in this company were outside the boundaries of that which God would accept for his king. And when we read on, we discover that it is this very thing which brings about the collapse of Solomon. And while we cannot lay the collapse of Solomon at David’s feet, I suggest to you that the seeds of his failure are right here at the end, in verse 15 and 16. You see, the best of men are men at best.

Well then, what should this cause us to do? Well, it should cause us to look for a perfect King. It should cause us to look for the new Jerusalem. And one of the reasons, I think, that this kind of emphasis was stronger in an earlier day was because of the hymnody. Some of it was kind of Victorian, and some of it was rather maudlin, I suppose. But a hymn that I don’t think is sung very often is quite fascinating in this regard when we think in terms of “Okay, so where should I fix my gaze? Well, I should fix my gaze on the one who is the perfect King. Where is that perfect King? Well, he has gone to heaven. Where am I going? I am going there as well. Are you going to Jerusalem? No. It’s a new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven, not the old Jerusalem.”

And a fellow like Rutherford, the great Scottish pastor, his journals were filled with stuff like this. And a Presbyterian friend of his, the wife of a Presbyterian minister, took his journals and wrote a thirty-five-verse poem on the strength of this material, which ended up being for us a hymn of just a few verses. And some of you from a different background will know this hymn. It begins,

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
[And] the summer morn I’ve sighed for,
[And] the fair sweet morn awakes,

and so on. But it has… Its focus is there, you see:

The king there in his beauty
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between.

Rutherford says, “I’d be prepared to die seven times if it meant that I would waken up in the presence of the one who is the perfect King.”

The Lamb with his fair army
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

It’s just wonderful.

The bride eyes not her garment[s],
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I [won’t] gaze [on] glory
But on my king of grace;
Not [on] the crown he [gives me],
But on his piercéd hand;
[Because] the Lamb is all the glory
[In] Immanuel’s land.[25]

Some of our Christmas carols are marginal, and many of them have just been reduced to folk songs. People don’t even know what they’re singing about. But I think the best of them take us from beginning to end. And when we sing, as we’re going to do in a moment from now, we sing the carol which is grounded, if you like, in 2 Samuel 5: “Once in royal David’s city”—of course, Bethlehem is referred to in that way—“stood a lowly cattle shed.” And it goes through the course of things, and it says, “And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love.” See, we’re not just looking in Bethlehem, in a stable. No, our eyes will see him “through his own redeeming love,” because our Lord, “so dear and gentle is [the] Lord in heav’n above.” But it doesn’t stop there. Cecil Frances Alexander, who’s writing this for children, concludes it with this verse:

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We will see him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high,
When like stars his children crowned
All in white shall wait around.[26]

My friends, I, along with you, am living through these days. I find them profoundly distressing. I find it disheartening. I find that there is, like, an unseen blanket which hangs over the affairs of time. I’m not reduced to tears over it, but like you, I am not unaware of it. And on a daily basis, I have constantly to say to myself, “Chin up. Get your eyes where they need to be. Look to the new Jerusalem. Look to the perfect King. Certainly don’t look to the political shenanigans of Western Europe or the United States or anywhere else, for that will be a basis of discouragement.” And perhaps you will remember to say that to yourself—sooner rather than later.

Father, help us to turn our eyes upon Jesus, to “look full in his wonderful face,” that “the things of earth” might “grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”[27] For it’s in his precious name we pray. Amen.

[1] 1 Samuel 17:54 (ESV).

[2] Genesis 15:18–21 (ESV).

[3] Exodus 3:7–8 (ESV).

[4] Psalm 2:1–4 (ESV).

[5] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 154.

[6] Revelation 21:22–26 (ESV).

[7] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 161.

[8] “Great Is the Lord, and Greatly to Be Praised.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[9] Psalm 48:2–3 (ESV).

[10] See Acts 3:2–6.

[11] 1 Samuel 2:26 (ESV).

[12] Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27 (paraphrased).

[13] John 3:30 (paraphrased).

[14] 1 Samuel 2:10 (ESV).

[15] 1 Samuel 8:20 (paraphrased).

[16] Fanny J. Crosby, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” (1875).

[17] Crosby. Paraphrased.

[18] Titus 2:14 (NIV).

[19] Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 (KJV).

[20] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 154.

[21] Hebrews 12:22–24 (ESV).

[22] Revelation 14:1 (ESV).

[23] Deuteronomy 17:17 (paraphrased).

[24] See 1 Samuel 8:11–17.

[25] Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).

[26] Cecil Frances Alexander, “Once in Royal David’s City” (1848).

[27] Helen H. Lemmel, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” (1922).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.