Forming Faith Blog

The Shepherd King (2 Samuel 5, 6)

What is God’s intention for leadership? With the example of King David, it’s clear: a leader should be a caring shepherd for others.

A shepherd leading sheep across a dusty road.
From Ruth to David

Last week, we heard the heroic story of Ruth and Naomi, two women who saved themselves from hardship. We now skip a few generations and pick up with Ruth the Moabite’s great-grandson David, the shepherd boy who will be king.

But before we get there, we have some historical ground to cover. At the end of the age of the judges, a baby was miraculously born to a previously infertile woman, Hannah. She gave him into the service of the high priest and the tabernacle. Samuel was special, possibly only the second judge of Israel to also be a prophet (the first being Deborah). And Samuel led Israel on God’s behalf for many years. But the Israelites grew sick of being different than their neighbors and whined to Samuel to give them a king like everyone else (1 Samuel 8:4-22). That was not a good idea, as they would be replacing God not a judge. After a stern warning from Samuel, God gave them a king in the person of Saul.

Things went well at first, but Saul became selfish and impatient. One time, instead of waiting for a delayed Samuel to sacrifice to God on the eve of battle, Saul did the sacrifice himself. God rejected Saul as king and sent Samuel to anoint a new king, a young shepherd named David son of Jesse of Bethlehem.

A Shepherd’s Work

As was not atypical at the time, Jesse (son of Obed, son of Ruth) owned sheep. And David, Jesse’s youngest of eight children, seemed to be the primary shepherd by the time he enters the story. But what does a shepherd do? Well, as the name suggests, a shepherd herds sheep. But a shepherd does more than just move sheep around occasionally. From my understanding, herders (at that time) basically live with their charges. There’s a closeness, an intimacy, that develops between shepherd and sheep. They get to know each other. The shepherd is the sheep’s provider and protector. Without the watchful eye and ready hand of the shepherd, the sheep would get lost and become delectable meals for nearby predators.

The Two Kings

Now, Samuel had anointed David as king while Saul was still on the throne and none the wiser. Awkward. David was even a resident in Saul’s palace and best friends* with Saul’s son Jonathan. But after one too many jealous death threats and spears thrown at him, David leaves and has grand adventures with a band of merry men (okay, I might be getting my stories mixed up). Eventually, Saul and the rest of his family fall in battle, and it’s finally David’s turn to lead.

Shepherd as King, King as Shepherd

We are now (basically) at the point of our first reading in 2 Samuel 5. David is being anointed king over Israel. The elders quote God and say:

“The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.”

2 Samuel 5:2b

I have never formally studied Hebrew, but my understanding is that this quotation utilizes a common form of repetition where the same thing is repeated in a different way.

You who shall be shepherd of my people Israel,

you who shall be ruler over Israel

So, here God is basically equating a shepherd to a ruler. You might say that God is telling David that he should apply the lessons that he learned as a shepherd to his new calling as the ruler over a whole nation (of people). What lessons would those be? What does this tell us about God’s way of leadership? A ruler after God’s own heart must not be what Samuel warned the people about in 1 Samuel 8:10-18: someone who uses their power without regard to the people, often for their own gain.

A ruler should be someone who—in the words of the Good Shepherd hundreds of years later—will be the servant of all.

Ideal Not Actual

One question is: is this what David actually does as king? Well…kinda, sorta, not really. At least in the stories we have in Scripture, David does a better job serving and worshipping God (see 2 Samuel 6) than serving his people. You can especially see this in his crimes against Bathsheba and Uriah. But God wants a shepherd king, even if this true King doesn’t show up in history until hundreds of years later.

Faith Formation Connection

What can you do with these texts? In this post, I didn’t cover 2 Samuel 6:1-5 or Psalm 150, though I touched on them four years ago. If you want to focus on the shepherd king, you can challenge your faith formation participants to consider how they can be shepherd (servant) leaders in their own lives. With the other two texts, you can focus on worshipping God with dance and music, or even writing your own psalms. No matter what, encourage people to interact with you and each other!

Serve God, serve others,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

*This is vast understatement, as the two young men’s souls were bound together in a covenantal relationship (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Take that as you will.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Write a Psalm” from our Living the Word: Small Groups resource.

Order Faith Formation Resources

It’s not too late to order 2023-2024 resources, and the Winter quarter begins on November 26th! Are you still looking? Order easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources now for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)!

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Advent series!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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