The Lord’s discipline upon David was both formative and punitive. When David was on the run from Saul, he had done nothing to warrant the treatment he received. In those days, the Lord trained David as His servant so that when David became king, he would be prepared to trust in the Lord and glorify Him. When David transgressed with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan informed the king of the reprimand the Lord had issued against him: “The sword will never leave your house because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to by your own wife” (2 Sam 12:10). Thus, beyond portraying a sordid moral picture of the royal family, the drama from the Bathsheba incident onward reveals a power struggle within the line of David. This too was part of the retribution David had earned from the Lord.
In 2 Samuel 20, the author records that David’s domestic political difficulties did not end with the death of Absalom. The king’s delayed return to the throne after the death of his son broke the fragile bond between the north and the south. The author wished to root his audience in the historical situation by using the temporal conjunction, “Now,” at the beginning of 2 Samuel 20. It was during that fragile period following Absalom’s death that “a wicked man, a Benjaminite named Sheba son of Bichri, happened to be there. He blew the ram’s horn and shouted, ‘We have no portion in David, no inheritance in Jesse’s son. Each man to his tent, Israel!’” (2 Sam 20:1). This was serious. As a result, “all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the men of Judah from the Jordan all the way to Jerusalem remained loyal to their king” (2 Sam 20:2). Though David set Amasa as commander of his troops, in an act of vengeance Joab killed Amasa while they were supposed to be fighting against David’s northern opponents. Thus, beyond having to endure difficulties with the northern tribes, David had to watch as his appointed military commanders in Judah engaged in their own civil war.
In 2 Samuel 21, the author records some of the final accomplishments of David’s administration. Ever concerned for justice and mercy, and prompted in this instance by the famine in the land, David sought to balance the scales in favor of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites had been nearly exterminated by Saul (2 Sam 21:1-11; Josh 9:3-17). David demonstrated patriotism toward Israel, arranging for the proper burial of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 21:10-14). Finally, David went out to battle (2 Sam 21:15-22). Forming an expansive bookend, the author recorded that David’s final battle experience was against Philistine giants. Although the Philistines boasted of several giants in this campaign, the outcome was no different from when David executed Goliath (1 Samuel 17); those on the Lord’s side were victorious.
These scenes of David’s life highlight again the magnificence of David as king of Israel. Nonetheless, with each passing day his strength was waning—as the author made clear in 2 Sam 21:15, saying, “The Philistines again waged war against Israel. David went down with his soldiers, and they fought the Philistines, but David became exhausted.” This points to the reality that although David had regained his prominence in Israel, he was a temporal king. Remember what the Lord had promised him through Nathan the prophet, saying, “When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12-13). In the storyline of Scripture, this sets in bold the eternal reign of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus would sit on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:30-33), anticipating Jesus’ resurrection. In the prologue of Romans, Paul wrote that the gospel he preached concerned Jesus Christ, a descendant of David according to the flesh and the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4).