A Meditation on 1 & 2 Samuel

Kevin J Youngblood

YHWH forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, YHWH’s anointed, to harm him with my own hands since he is YHWH’s anointed!

(1 Sam 24:6; cf. 26:9; 2 Sam 1:14, my translation)

David had a lot of political enemies and his career was riddled with lethal rivalries that pitted him against some of the most ruthless foes imaginable, some of them even from within his own household. A consistent motif, however, in the narrative of 1 & 2 Samuel is the respect, love, and concern David showed for even his most vicious opponents. The first and most obvious example is Saul whose jealousy drove him to stop at nothing to eliminate David and the threat he posed to Saul’s political ambitions. More than once Saul’s determination to kill David required him go into hiding for extended periods of time, living life as a hated and hunted refugee.

On two occasions David was presented with a golden opportunity to kill Saul in an unguarded moment and was encouraged to do so by his band of followers (1 Sam 24 and 26). Nonetheless, David refused both times convinced that to do so would encroach on the divine prerogative of enthroning and removing kings in YHWH’s own time and in YHWH’s own way. Furthermore, when news of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths reached David he genuinely grieved BOTH their deaths and even composed a lament commemorating their bravery (2 Sam 1:17-27). Rather more extreme and surprising was David’s response to the messenger who brought him this news and claimed credit for hastened and ensuring Saul’s death. Though this messenger probably expected a reward for eliminating David’s political foe, he received a death sentence instead for daring to “bring harm to YHWH’s anointed with his own hands.”

Saul’s death, however, was by no means the end of David’s struggle to realize YHWH’s purpose that he become king over all of Israel. Though Judah readily acknowledged David’s kingship at Saul’s death, Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, stubbornly held on to the doomed dream of a Saulide dynasty. Thus a bitter civil war ensued between Judah under David and the other tribes under Ishbosheth with Ishbosheth being assassinated by two of his own soldiers. These two brought Ishbosheth’s head to David again expecting a reward but instead were killed for their disloyalty and treachery! How did David treat his political enemies? With respect!

This left one surviving member of Saul’s house who could conceivably attempt to revive the Saulide dynasty and keep causing problems for David – Mephibosheth the crippled son of Jonathan. Instead of hunting down and eliminating this potential rival, however, David instead invites him to live under his care and protection, to eat regularly at his own royal table and to receive back as his rightful inheritance whatever property of Saul may have been seized as plunder (2 Sam 9:6-13)! Of course, this could simply be a case of keeping one’s friends close and one’s enemies even closer, but that is not how the text presents it. And, yes, 1 & 2 Samuel is probably, in part, a pro-David political narrative that was likely used as propaganda, but that does not mean it isn’t true nor does it mean that it isn’t also God’s word for God’s higher purposes. How did David treat his political enemies? With compassion!

Finally, we come to Absalom, David’s own son, who conspired against him, temporarily usurped David’s throne, and sent David, once again, into hiding. Another bitter political war ensues this time tearing David’s own family apart. Nonetheless, when the dust settled and David’s throne was rescued from Absalom’s cruel conspiracy all David could think about was the welfare of his son – “Is all well with the young man Absalom?” Sadly, the answer was no. Joab in his unrelenting and thoughtless zeal killed him without hesitation. David grieves as only a father can, wishing desperately that he had died in Absalom’s stead. How did David treat his political enemies? With respect and compassion.

This meditation makes me think of the present state of our politics and convicts me of what is obviously missing and has been missing for a long time – mutual compassion and respect for our neighbors, our family members, our fellow citizens despite our political differences. This is not to say that our political differences don’t matter. They do. Some of them matter a great deal. But there is something that matters more – our integrity and our humanity. Political animals have neither. David was not a political animal and we shouldn’t be either. David has something to teach us this Advent Season. There is a reason why YHWH favored him, why Scripture commemorates him as a man after God’s own heart despite his obvious flaws and failures.


Forgive us for the way we treat our political enemies. We demonize and dehumanize them in a way that breaks your heart and diminishes ours. Forgive our misplaced zeal that is more concerned with scoring political points than with bearing witness to the crucified and risen Lord. Lord Jesus, Son of David, thank you for navigating this world’s political maze with such wisdom and grace. You evaded every political trap your enemies set for you except for the cross which you transformed from their political trap to your own means of disarming the principalities and powers and rescuing us from own addiction to politics and power. Holy Spirit, do in us what you did in David. Teach us to treat our political enemies with compassion and respect.