Monday of Week 3 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-7,10

Up to this point, David had been king of only Judah, the southern kingdom of the totality constituted by the territory of the Twelve Tribes. But now he is also chosen as king over Israel, i.e. the northern kingdom as well.

David is approached by the representatives, including elders and armed soldiers, of the tribes which made up the northern territory known as Israel. They give three reasons why they should recognise David as their king.

First, David himself is one of them:

…we are your bone and flesh.

Even though unity between the north and south had been destroyed in civil strife after the death of Saul, they still recognised the blood relationship.

Second, during the reign of Saul, it was David who led the armies to war and brought them back – often victorious.

And third, because the Lord had said earlier to David:

It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.

David now makes a solemn agreement with them in the presence of the Lord, accepting to be their king while they accepted their responsibilities and allegiance to him. For the third time, he is anointed king (the first was by his family in the presence of Samuel and the second by the people of Judah). So, while David was elevated as king over Judah by his tribe and later became king over Jerusalem by conquest (as we shall presently see), his rule over the northern tribes was by virtue of a treaty of submission.

It was to be the beginning of a long reign, lasting altogether 40 years – seven years over the southern kingdom of Judah and then 33 years over both Israel and Judah. There is one kingdom, but the old divisions remain. David is called king over “all Israel and Judah”. The two parts will be plagued by internal strife between the two parts until they finally break up in a permanent division.

The second part of the reading briefly describes one of David’s most significant accomplishments, making Jerusalem his capital. Its capture actually took place after David’s victory over the Philistines, which is described a little later on.

Jerusalem, a fort city built on a hill, was at this time under the control of the Jebusites, a Canaanite people. One can understand why David would have wanted control of it. Anyone who held that hill controlled the countryside all around and so it changed hands many times.

The site was first occupied in the third millennium BC and was already a royal city in the time of Abraham. It was located on the border between Judah and Benjamin (where David came from), but was controlled by neither tribe. At the time of the conquest when the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, both Judah and Benjamin had attacked the city, but it was quickly lost again to the Jebusites. It was even sometimes referred to by the name of Jebus. The Jebusites were a Canaanite people inhabiting the area in and around Jerusalem.

Standing on high ground with very steep sides, the Jebusites regarded the city as impregnable. Hence their jibe that it could be easily defended even by the blind and the lame. But capture the city David did. And, for the first time in the Old Testament it is called Zion, a name whose meaning is not known. Little did David know the long history it would have down to the present day. A city that is full of significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. For those with interest in this topic, see the interesting note on the choice of Jerusalem as capital and on its development over the centuries during Old Testament times found in the New Jerusalem Bible in a note about the 2 Samuel 5:9 verse.

The city David conquered covered somewhat less than 11 acres and could have housed not many more than 3,500 inhabitants. By locating his royal city in a newly conquered town on the border between the two parts of his realm, David united the kingdom under his rule without seeming to subordinate one part to the other.

The city that David captures is, as we have just noted, for the first time called “Zion”. Originally the name appears to have been given to the southernmost hill of the city on which the Jebusite fortress was located. As the city expanded (from the days of Solomon onward), the name continued to be applied to the entire city. And from this point onward, it is also called the “City of David”.

For us, it is a city forever linked with the life, death and resurrection of our Saviour, himself a direct descendant of David. One prays that one day it might become a symbol of unity between the followers of the Book – Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The word ‘Jerusalem’ contains the word salem, which ironically means ‘peace’. It is the same as the Hebrew shalom and the Arabic salaam. Shalom was the greeting the Risen Jesus gave to his disciples and salaam is the word by which Arabs greet each other. In the Malay language, used in Indonesia and Malaysia, the greeting word is selamat. In the Philippines the same word means ‘thanks’. All the religions of the Book are based on a commitment to peace and harmony. As the hymn says:

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

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