But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” (2 Samuel 21:17 NIV)
Having affirmed his rule over Israel after the Absalom and Sheba, David’s reign features two intriguing episodes recorded in the twenty-first chapter of 2 Samuel.
Famine Relief and Saul’s Legacy
It’s interesting that it takes David three years of a famine before he enquires of God as to what’s going on. The reason God gives for it is even more interesting. The sins of Saul – his very shadow still affects David’s rule. The way David chooses to address the matter, too, is very conciliatory again preferring to seek what’s right for the benefit of the injustice the Gibeonites endured.
The decision he has to take, however, cannot be treated lightly. Offering seven members of Saul’s family to hand over to their certain deaths has an impact on the family they leave behind. It’s remarkable seeing the response of Rizpah at the thought of her sons being sent to their death and her desire even in death to see her offspring still covered and honoured evoked something in David to show similar honour.
As he was told of what Rizpah did to respect the bodies of her dear ones, so it stirred David to remember the proper honour due to his predecessor, Saul as well as to Saul’s son and David’s dear friend, Jonathan. It was not enough to have their bones kept elsewhere – it was fitting that these beloved men in Israel were given proper state burials.
Even in death, the love and respect a person gives can make a lasting impact on the lives of others.
David’s Warfare Relief
The second episode in this chapter marks a crucial change in the role of King David. It had been alluded to earlier in the advice Ahithophel had given Absalom. It was also implicit in David not going out in sorting out Absalom’s rebellion. Yet it took an encounter with the old enemy – the Philistines – for the army to recognise something new about the King.
As the Philistines came against Israel, one opportunist in particular saw that the best chance of gaining the defeat of Israel was to snuff out David, himself. It took the intervention of Abishai to rescue David from a potentially fatal encounter. Now, however, it was clear that David’s strength was not in engaging in active warfare. As the critical figurehead for the nation, his place was better served in being protected, rather than being the protector on the battlefield.
This episode is illuminates a truth of the changing roles we play in life and being aware of those changes so we can respond in order. This can sometimes be noticed as we get older and more tired. It can also be noted as we see how others respond to us. As these and other factors change we can learn for ourselves and others that it’s not always wise to maintain the same role. Sometimes to win the war we must let others do the fighting for us.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden