Unpacking 2 Samuel

First Readingshutterstock_8632135
November 24, 2013
2 Sam 5:1-3

Historical Context

This brief reading narrates the last of David’s three anointings as king. The prophet Samuel had originally anointed David years prior, when he was still a teenager and living in his native village of Bethlehem (1 Sam 16). That anointing set off a chain of events and military victories that eventually led David to reign as king. The trouble was that Saul still reigned as king and was seeking to kill David. Fortunately, David was able to outwit Saul, stay alive and respect Saul’s office as king of Israel. Saul eventually died by his own hand after losing a battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 31:4). After Saul’s death, the men of Judah anointed David as king in Hebron, a city south of Jerusalem (2 Sam 2:1-7). But at this point, David ruled only a fraction of the whole kingdom, just the southern part. Simultaneously, a son of King Saul, named Ishbosheth, was anointed as the king over the rest of the kingdom, Israel in the north (2 Sam 2:8-10). This dual kingship lasted for seven and a half years (2 Sam 5:5) until Ishbosheth was assassinated. After his death, the kingless men of northern Israel come to David at Hebron and finally anoint him king over the whole land. At last, David’s kingdom is consolidated and he reigns over both Israel and Judah.


In the Bible, people who are selected for certain offices receive an anointing, usually just priests and kings. Anointing in biblical times would consist in pouring oil on the head of a person. The Lord appointed the prophet Samuel to anoint the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David. Later, the hereditary king would be anointed probably during a coronation ceremony (e.g., 1 Kgs 1:34). Oil was a precious commodity in the ancient Near East, since it was difficult to produce—olives had to be painstakingly cultivated on trees and laboriously pressed—vital for food, and therefore expensive. Oil played a ceremonial function in many Temple rituals. From our perspective, anointing a man king would be similar to a presidential inauguration or a swearing-in ceremony. But in the case of the ancient Israelite kings, the king was appointed by God, not by the people. The people of Israel anoint David king only to acknowledge his kingship and pledge their submission to God’s appointed ruler.


After the elders anoint him, David makes a covenant (translated as “agreement”) with them. A covenant was an elective agreement between two parties in which each is obliged in some way to the other. Covenants were usually ritually enacted with oath-swearing. In this case, the elders oblige themselves to obey David as king and, most likely, to offer him troops when needed. As king, David is obliged to rule the people and to protect them should they come under attack.

David’s “Career Path”

When the prophet Samuel first anointed the young shepherd David, the idea that he would really become king of Israel must have seemed far-fetched. David could have dismissed the whole affair and gone back to the fields for good. But instead, he pressed forward to fulfill God’s calling on his life. He gathered followers and worked hard to establish himself as the next king of Israel. After Saul’s death, David could have thought that the wait was over, but he only became king of a portion of the land. Not until seven and a half years later would he become king over all of Israel. To me, this illustrates that sometimes God places a calling on a person that does not come to full fruition for years. It is easy for us to get impatient with God’s timing and “suggest” to him better and quicker ways of going about his business. But if we look at David’s life, he learned how to be a shepherd by taking care of sheep and how to be a military commander by leading his band of men. These two “vocations” are exactly what he is called to embrace as king. The Lord speaks to him as king, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” The two things that he was trained to do and experienced in are the two things he must do as king from now on: be a shepherd and military commander. This shows that God can arrange the timing just right to prepare us for what he has in store.

Christ the King

The feast for today is “Christ the King,” which was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in the wake of World War I. Pius XI emphasized that Christ was “king of hearts” and that he holds all power in himself: the legislative, executive and judicial powers. This reading about David’s kingship appropriately links to Christ’s kingship since Christ rules as Son of David, fulfilling the promise of an everlasting throne to David and his heirs (2 Sam 7:16). This kingship of Christ is on display in the gospel reading for today (Luke 23:35-43). Here, Pilate has a notice posted on the cross that reads simply, “This is the King of the Jews.” (The “INRI” sign on any crucifix is just a Latin abbreviation for the title Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.) What he intended as a mockery is grimly ironic. Jesus is the true Son of David, the worthy heir to the throne, whose kingship surpasses that of David. And like David, Jesus was anointed before his exaltation (John 12:3).


In today’s Old Testament reading, the elders of Israel finally anoint David as king over all Israel. He makes a covenant with them to establish bonds of mutual obligation. His becoming king fulfills the plan which God had called David to and prepared him for. Lastly, David foreshadows Christ the king who is also anointed and recognized as the Son of David, the true King of Israel.

Editor’s Note: Unpacking the Old Testament is a new series by CatholicBibleStudent.com‘s Dr. Mark Giszczak. Dr. Giszczak is here to help us all come to a richer understanding of what can otherwise be a very daunting collection of books, the Old Testament. Look for his column every Friday from Catholic Exchange. 

image: Shutterstock

Dr. Mark Giszczak


Mark Giszczak (“geese-check”) was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. He studied philosophy and theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI and Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute of Denver, CO. He recently received his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. He currently teaches courses in Scripture at the Augustine Institute, where he has been on faculty since 2010. Dr. Giszczak has participated in many evangelization projects and is the author of the CatholicBibleStudent.com blog. He has written introductions to every book of the Bible that are hosted at CatholicNewsAgency.com. Dr. Giszczak, his wife and their daughter, live in Colorado where they enjoy camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

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  • Vince Contreras

    These articles are fantastic and very helpful, Dr. Giszczak. I look forward to seeing more of them in the coming weeks. Thank you.