September 20, 2020
Saul’s defeat and death paved the way for David’s reign—which also eventually crumbled. So why should we spend time considering Israel’s Old Testament kings in the first place? Alistair Begg pauses to answer this question at the outset of a new study in 2 Samuel. Since David’s story points forward to Christ, it’s an essential part of the whole Bible, which in turn contains the great story at the very center of world history: that of Christ and His eternal kingship.
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from 2 Samuel and chapter 1, and we’ll read from the first verse through to the end of verse 16.
Second Samuel 1:1:
“After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. … On the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. David said to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ And he said to him, ‘I have escaped from the camp of Israel.’ And David said to him, ‘How did it go? Tell me.’ And he answered, ‘The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.’ Then David said to the young man who told him, ‘How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?’ And the young man who told him said, ‘By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and [he] called to me. And I answered, “Here I am.” And he said to me, “Who are you?” I answered him, “I am an Amalekite.” And he said to me, “Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.” So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.’
“Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. And David said to the young man who told him, ‘Where do you come from?’ And he answered, ‘I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.’ David said to him, ‘How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’ Then David called one of the young men and said, ‘Go, execute him.’ And he struck him down so that he died. And David said to him, ‘Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have killed the Lord’s anointed.”’”
May God bless to us the reading of his Word.
Father, we acknowledge our need of you, all day, every day, when we open up the pages of your Word, that in reading words we might meet Christ, the living Word. And so we humbly ask that you will enable us, that you will come and quicken my mind and control my tongue and open my heart, open our hearts, and fill us afresh with the wonder of your grace, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, I think it’s fairly obvious—I think I’ve made the declaration—that having made the journey through the thirty-one chapters of 1 Samuel, we’re turning the page and embarking on a journey that hopefully will take us through the twenty-four chapters of 2 Samuel. What happened all the way up until the end of Samuel 1 had very much to do with the coming of David as the king and the death of Saul as the one who has failed. And that is exactly where, as we begin 2 Samuel, we find ourselves: “After the death of Saul…”
Let’s just read that first verse again: “After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.” Let me ask you a question: I wonder, am I the only one who, in turning to the Bible like that and reading what I have just read, am I the only one who hears a voice inside my head that goes along these lines: the voice says, “Are you kidding me? With all that’s going on in the world, and with all that’s happening in the private world of individuals,” the voice says, “are we really going to keep our focus on these events which took place approximately a thousand years before Christ?”
Now, it may be that that has never occurred to you. It certainly was drumming in my ears as I was studying this week. Along with that, the question “What possible benefit may come from, for example, considering the fact that ‘David remained two days in Ziklag’?” Now, here we are, dwellers in the twenty-first century, with everything that is unfolding for us—the concerns of life, our children, their future, our past, our finances, our employment, everything—and here we’re going to have a study under the heading (and this is the heading) “Two Days in Ziklag.” It actually sounds like an article in a travel magazine, doesn’t it, where you have that “Two Days in Copenhagen,” and it tells you how you can spend them, and where you can go for coffee, etc.? “Two Days in Ziklag.”
Well, insofar as you may have thought along those lines, or certainly are thinking along them now as I have introduced the notion to you, it’s a good moment for us to remind ourselves of what we’re told in the Bible about the nature and purpose of Old Testament Scripture. And this, of course, is a familiar verse to us now, from Romans 15, where Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And what Paul is actually saying there is God continues to speak through what he has spoken.
So, from that conviction we then turn to, for example, the opening statement here in 2 Samuel. And in it we’re told just essentially three things.
First of all, we’re reminded of the fact that Saul is dead, and all of the tragedy that is wrapped up in that—what we studied last time and what we needn’t rehearse now. He had been rejected by God, and God had chosen a replacement for him—namely, David. And while Saul’s reign, if you like, was collapsing, David was triumphing.
And so we’re told of the death of Saul, and we’re told also of the triumph or the victory of David. We’ve had that recorded for us: “when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites.” And as we read that and pondered it, we realized what an impact had taken place as a result of what they had discovered when they went to Ziklag. Remember, they went back there, and they found it had been burned down, and their women and their children had been taken away, and David and his men had gone to sort that out. Well, now we’re told that he returned and he remained two days—a time for respite, time for reflection, and also a suspenseful time for David. Because we know, as the readers, about the death of Saul and how it has happened, and David does not yet know about that. He’s not yet aware of the outcome. He needs to inquire about it. And the answer that he gets is very different from what the narrator has told us already in chapter 31.
We’re going to have to leave the arrival of that man who has come “with his clothes torn” and dirt in his hair as a sign of mourning, as a sign of contrition; and the reason we’re going to leave it for the moment is because I want to deal with that voice in my head. I want to deal with that question: Why spend time on a consideration of the story of the kings of Israel? In fact, somebody wrote to me in the last couple of months and said, “I listened to your talk. Why don’t you get out of there and into the good stuff in the New Testament? Why don’t you get out of those ancient stories and go where the gospel is found?” Well, I’ll leave aside that comment. I didn’t reply to it, because I felt that if I did, I might not do a very good job.
Well, the answer, in short order, is this: Why would we spend time doing what we’re doing? Because the story that we have rehearsed and the story that we’re about to follow here in 2 Samuel is an essential part of the story of the entire Bible—is an essential part of, in fact, the history of the world. It is an essential part of the history of the world, because at the center of the history of the world is the story of Jesus Christ. The story of David ultimately can only be understood in light of all that follows in terms of the King who comes.
Now, we wouldn’t have a difficult time explaining the significance of David to our neighbors or our friends. People come back from visiting Tuscany, and they will say that they had been in Florence, and we ask, “Did you see Michelangelo’s David?” And if they were prepared to stand in line, as others of us have done, their answer would be “Yes.” And there in that amazing marble, seventeen-foot-high rendition of David, the king of Israel, people day after day there in Florence stand and gaze at a block of marble carved so magnificently and depicting the one who is at the very center of the story that we consider now.
Along with that, if you have Jewish friends, as I do, you will know that they understand and are happy to make much of the fact that David is without question one of the most important figures in the whole of world history. And yet, even when I talk with my Jewish friends about these things—even perhaps when we realize that there in the center of Jerusalem, the old hotel stands as a tribute to the place of David in their history; it is the King David Hotel. Impossible to go there and miss it! But when I say, “Well, how does David fit in to the great scheme of things?” often they simply stare blankly.
Now, the reason for that is because we need our Bibles in order to understand this story. Remember the question in the back of my mind: Why would you even consider the kings? Well, because the story of the kings, and particularly here of David the king, is at the very heart of the story of world history.
I was thinking this morning as I drove in that the navigational system that many of us have on our cars is, of course, remarkable. You can take it down to, for example, the intersection here between Pettibone Road and Root Road, and you can zoom in on it down to a position of probably about a hundred feet. But when you travel, perhaps, with your grandchildren in the car, you can zoom it out for them—zoom it out to show where Pettibone Road fits in the greater Cleveland area, where that fits in Ohio, where Ohio fits in America, and indeed, depending on the system you have, you can spin it all the way out and see where America fits in the entire world.
Now, I mention that because having read 1 Samuel, we know that the death of Saul paves the way for David’s reign. But we also know—as we scale back again—we also know, because some of us have read ahead, that David’s reign will also crumble, that he will also fail, and that even when it transitions to Solomon, his son, early on in Solomon’s kingship, the dream will be over. And the question will then still remain: Where or in whom are we going to discover the kingly rule of God? All right?
And in the midst of all of that, you then have the words of the prophets. And when you read the words of the prophets, in the midst of all of they are saying, they are announcing the fact—for example, in Isaiah and in Jeremiah—they’re announcing the fact that out of a dry ground, as it were, there will be a root that emerges, a righteous branch, a fresh shoot, a new shoot. And from whence cometh it? It comes from the tree of David. It comes from the Davidic tree. And when this one comes, say the prophets, he will set things right.
Now, remember, we’ve scaled way back. We’re standing way back. We’re now at the end of the Old Testament. We’re now, as it were, looking into the four hundred years of the intertestamental period. Now we have come to the end of the Old Testament record, with the news that there will be one who comes who is the great King over all. And we look around and hear the story, and we listen as people tell one another about it. And there’s just year after year of silence, four hundred years of silence. Where is the one who was promised? Where is the King? Who is the King? Who will come?
And then, after these years of silence and in the midst of darkness, a forerunner comes. A baby is born—remarkable story of his birth; you will remember it. And we’re introduced to him in John’s opening chapter of his Gospel: “He was not the light”; he “came to bear witness about [that] light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” And, of course, you will remember that in the birth narratives… In fact, Matthew’s Gospel begins “Here is the gospel of Jesus, the son of David.” “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And Jesus stands forward, and what’s his message? “When he heard that John had been arrested … Jesus began to preach, … ‘Repent, for the kingdom of [God] is at hand.’”
Now, remember, here we are: “After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.” In that pregnant pause there, in anticipation of the third day, all of the hopes and dreams and longings are contained, if you like, in that—waiting for the moment when in the gospel of Mark, Mark records Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled.” “The time”? What is fulfilled? Well, right at the heart of that lies the reign of Israel’s most significant king, a thousand years before this. A thousand years before this. Mark 1:15: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe … the gospel.”
Now, we need also to answer another question. And I do this, again, purposefully. If this is tedious to some, let me simply apologize. But it occurred to me as I was studying this week that for all that we’ve said about kingdom and about kingly rule and about a King who reigns and a King who comes, without being unkind in any way, as Americans, we don’t do kings. In fact, the very Declaration of Independence took on George III. And when the words were penned, you know, “We believe that all men are created equal,” that was in many ways a rebuttal of the whole idea of a king and of a kingdom! America is founded on the basis that we will not have anything to do with kings or kingdoms. And so I said to myself, “Well, I’m not sure that people listening to me have processed or are processing what is being conveyed here.”
So what is the kingdom of God? Well, the kingdom of God, in essence, is God’s own rule. It is the reign of God over all: over individuals and over nations and over history and over everything. And when you read of it in the Gospels—as Jesus begins here in Mark 1, for example—it quickly becomes obvious that God’s rule, in the Gospels, is never a realm. It’s never a place. It is his ruling over history.
Now, why is that important to understand? Well, because if we get it wrong, we will inevitability view God’s kingdom in geographical and in sociopolitical terms—which I must say to you is largely what many who profess to be followers of the truth of the gospel actually see it as. And the reason is because when you read the Old Testament—for example, you read the Psalms, and it talks about Zion, and it talks about Jerusalem, and it talks about the place, and it talks about the land, and it talks about the nation, and it talks about the territories—you say, “Well then, what are we to do with all of those national and territorial pictures?”
Well, the first thing we need to do is think. And when we say to one another that we believe the Bible literally, we need to understand what we’re saying when we talk about “literally.” What does it mean to believe the words of the psalmist concerning Jerusalem literally? What was Jerusalem? The place of the temple, the place where God met with his people. How is that fulfilled today, literally? The answer is it is fulfilled Christologically. It is fulfilled in Christ. That is why Jesus makes the point very clearly that his kingdom, he says—this is John 18—his kingdom is not of this world. He said, “If my kingdom was of this world, then my disciples would fight.”
And when you read on through your Bible—and we’re way back here in the navigational system. You say, “Some of us are lost in the navigational system!” Stay with me. When you go on from the Gospels and you go into the Letters, what do you have described? Well, you have the kingdom of God inhabited by a redeemed and a believing people who already live in the heavenly realms—you know, classically, in the book of Hebrews and in chapter 12. Chapter 12, and he’s talking about what God did in the past at Mount Sinai, and he says, you know, on that day you couldn’t even come close to the circumstance there, because you would tremble with fear and you would be caught up. And he says, “But here, listen,” verse 22: “But you have come,” past tense, “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, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” He’s writing to the Jews of his day, the converted Jews of his day, and he says, “You’re already there. You’re already there.” You have the same thing in Ephesians chapter 1.
Now, what that essentially means is this: that in the coming of Jesus, God has begun to establish his rule presently. “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, because,” says Jesus, “I am the King.” And then, when you go to the miraculous deeds of Jesus—when you see immediately in Mark’s Gospel the casting out of demons and the healing of people and so on—it is pointing to the reality of the person of Christ, that he is the one who is the embodiment of all that the Old Testament anticipated.
And so that which has begun in the present will be established one day openly and universally. If you like, you could draw a line between Mark 1:15 and Revelation 11:15. That’s what it is. So, Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand.” Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Now, that’s as far as I should go on this, and probably as far as you have patience for. I hope in some measure that at least gets you thinking, gets us thinking.
Let me make three observations, and I’ll stop.
Here, then, in the story of the kingdom of God, is our message. This is our message. Why is it our message? Because it is the message that we have been given by the King to proclaim. The apostles understood this. And that is why when you read the preaching of the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles, you discover that this is what they’re saying.
For example, when Paul goes to Ephesus in chapter 19 of Acts, it says that “he entered the synagogue and for three months [he] spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” “Reasoning and persuading with them about the kingdom of God.” In other words, he wasn’t saying—and don’t misunderstand me when I say this—he wasn’t saying, “Have you invited Jesus Christ into your heart?” No. He was saying, “I need to explain to you the whole panorama of God’s purpose.”
In fact, Acts ends in that way. This is how Luke records the ending of Acts: “Let it be known to you that [the] salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” And then, of Paul: “He lived there two whole years”—“two days at Ziklag,” “two whole years”—“at his own expense, and [he] welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ,” who is the King, “with all boldness and without hindrance.”
Now, we have an indication of how he would go about that, because we have some of his sermons, we have some of his addresses: to Felix, to the governor, to Festus, and so on. And what did he do? Well, he explained that the reality of God’s rule over the world was established in creation. Was established in creation. That’s why we sang about it this morning. Genesis 1 and 2: God created the world. His kingly rule was established over the world that he had made. Into that world comes disruption, comes rebellion—Genesis chapter 3–11, and the implications of that.
Yet despite that, Paul would have said, God, realizing that people had turned their backs on him, he still expressed his love. And he promised to bring his blessing. And he promised it to his servant Abraham, who came from a pagan background and was called out of Ur in the Chaldees. If Paul was preaching, he might have said, “He came from a pagan background, I came from a religious background, but we’re both in the same continuum.” He would have told them that God, who had made this promise to Abraham, was the one who redeemed his people from another king, the pharaoh, from Egypt. He would have told them that even when they were out of there, they became a disobedient bunch, and although he gave them judges, that there was no king; everybody did what was right in their own eyes. “And that’s why,” he would have said, “that’s why they asked for a king.” Because they thought if they had a king, they would be fixed. They could be like all the other nations of the world: “Give us a king so that we can be like them.” He gave them a king. But he gave them rules for how the kingship would work. That king failed to fulfill those rules. So he promised another king, David. He failed. Solomon took his place. That collapsed. The prophets came, declaring a righteousness in this King.
Now, here is one of the encouragements that I had this week when that voice was in my head, saying, “Are you really going to deal with this kind of stuff?” Did you pay attention to what happened in the Abraham Accord, where the signing of something took place that was of political impact in relationship to the nation of Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain? And so, with great cause for celebration, those pieces of paper were signed. Our good friend Melanie Philips commented on this, and she wrote, and in her piece in The Times during the week, she was actually explaining where the Arabs came from. She was quoting from Genesis! And as I read on and marveled at her grasp, as she spoke again about the nature of peace, “Oh,” I said to myself, “Melanie, there’s a missing piece in this peace. And that peace is only found in Jesus.”
Now, unless we are prepared to do the hard work of thinking, we will be left simply trotting out the routine mantras with which so many sound their cause. But when, for example, you think about who is then represented in God’s promise to Abraham, again, as with David, you need your Bible. And this is what it says. Galatians 3: “The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’” plural, “referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” “Who is Christ”! There is no possibility of making sense of this entire panorama of world history apart from all that is wrapped up, if you like, in “two days at Ziklag.” Jesus is Abraham’s offspring. He is the son of God. And therefore, all who are in Christ through faith are Abraham’s offspring and therefore the sons of God.
You see this? “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There[’s] neither Jew nor Greek, there[’s] neither slave nor free, [neither] male [nor] female.” It doesn’t mean there are no Jewish people left or there’s no difference between boys and girls. No! The reality is that “you are all one in Christ …. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, [and you’re] heirs according to [the] promise.”
That is why, my dear friends, when we think of our Jewish friends—and I grew up with these boys and girls at school. A third of my class, probably. On Friday afternoon they went—and they kicked me out, because it was Sabbath time, and they didn’t want the little cheeky gentile in there—and they gathered, and I would see the candles in their room, and I would think, you know, “Look at all these things you have.” And I thought, “I wonder what’s happening as they’re reading, and reading the story of the Scriptures.”
And then, as I became older, and I realized what Paul, the great converted Jew, had to say of these things: how he told of the fact that when they read from the Scriptures in this way, even the gospel was veiled—veiled to those who are perishing, because “in their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of … unbelievers.” And even, he says, when they read in the Law, there is a veil that remains. Their minds, when they read the old covenant, the same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
Well, you know, our time is gone, so we will stop, and perhaps we’ll pick it up here.
But not only is this our message, but this is also our mission. This is also our mission: that the gospel of the kingdom is to be proclaimed throughout the whole world as the testimony to the nations, and then the end will come. That’s Matthew chapter 24: the gospel of the kingdom to be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.
Why would you be studying the first verse of 2 Samuel 1? Well, because it’s about David. And because David cannot be understood without our Bibles. And because our Bibles introduce us to the fact that not only do we have a message to proclaim, but we’ve been given the whole gospel, given to the whole church, to take to the whole world. And frankly, the commission is for members only. For members only. Only those who are citizens of this kingdom may proclaim it to others and invite others to join them.
“Faith and hope has come to you in the gospel,” says Paul. “You’ve been delivered from the domain of darkness. You’ve been transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption,” or freedom, “and the forgiveness of our sins.” So when we pick up the narrative—as we will do next time, God willing—we do so in the awareness of two things: that the kingdom of God is actually what all of this history is about, and also that the kingdom of God is the answer—is, if you like, the ultimate solution—to all of the world’s troubles; a kingdom which comes first in the person of Jesus, then proceeds through the proclamation of the gospel, and then, and only then, after these, will it come openly and universally.
Well, I wonder, are you then able to sing praise to Jesus the King?
A brief moment:
O God our Father, in a multitude of words, we pray that by the Holy Spirit we may so navigate our way through all of this that whatever else we understand, we grasp that Jesus is the King—that he is at the very center of your plans and purposes for all of time in all of the world. How vastly different is this from the perspective of our contemporary thought, where Jesus is forced to fight for a place on the ground of gods and deities and ideas and philosophies. O God, encourage us that one day at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow. And until then, let us be about the business of the kingdom. Thank you for a song to sing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Romans 15:4 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 30.
 See Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5.
 John 1:8–9 (ESV).
 Matthew 1:1 (paraphrased).
 Luke 2:11 (ESV).
 Matthew 4:12, 17 (ESV).
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 John 18:36 (paraphrased).
 Acts 19:8 (ESV).
 Acts 28:28 (ESV).
 Acts 28:30–31 (ESV).
 See Judges 21:25.
 1 Samuel 8:5 (paraphrased).
 Galatians 3:16 (ESV).
 Galatians 3:26–28 (ESV).
 Galatians 3:28–29 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV).
 See 2 Corinthians 3:15.
 See Matthew 24:14.
 Colossians 1:13 (paraphrased).
 See Philippians 2:10.
Copyright © 2020, 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.