The One Commandment

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The commandment that matters

(h/t: Cheezeburger)

2 Samuel 10: By half measures

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This chapter appears to be an expansion of the summary given in 2 Sam. 8, with far more details.

To start with, we find out how the war started. Nahash, the Ammonite kind, has died and been succeeded by his son, Hanun. Hearing of his fellow king’s loss, David sends some consolers up to help console him.

David, you see, wishes to be nice to Hanun, “as his father dealt loyally with me” (2 Sam. 10:2). Whatever the story of this loyalty, it’s clearly been lost. The only story we have involving Nahash takes place in 1 Sam. 11, where he was harassing Jabesh-gilead and gave Saul the opportunity to achieve his first military victory.

Ammonite kings can be rather scary.

Ammonite kings can be rather scary.

So unless by “dealt loyally with me,” David means that they opposed Saul, we must assume that the verse references a lost story. Or, perhaps, the explanation was added to explain David’s actions.

Either way, the explanation fails to convince the Ammonite princes, who suspect that the consolers are actually spies, sent to suss out information behind enemy lines. Hanun is swayed by their concerns and, when the consolers arrive, he shaves off half their beards (that is, half a beard from each man) and cuts their clothes in half so that they are naked below the hips. It is like this that he tosses them back toward Israel.

Symbolically, the consolers have been “unmanned” (beards being a symbol of manliness through much of the Middle East even today). The consolers are too ashamed to return home, so David tells them to wait in Jericho until their beards have grown back in – Jericho being “on the road between Ammon and Jerusalem, and was a frontier city before David’s conquest of Ammon” (New Bible Commentary, p.306).

It’s unclear what the consolers really were, or what their function might have been. I got a kick out of imagining David sending a squad of therapists up to Ammon, though I suspect that they were really just messengers meant to convey David’s condolences and perhaps bring gifts of some sort. It could also be that they were professional mourners, though this seems less likely.

War, war never changes

Whether or not David’s motives were as pure as the narrative tells us, there’s no question that Hanun has delivered a fairly major insult. It would be extremely difficult for David not to respond and still save face. The Ammonites seem to realize that they’ve made a mistake right quick, because they call out to the Syrians (or Arameans) for help (the word “hire” is used – 2 Sam. 10:6 – so it could be a mercenary situation rather than an ally one).

You’ll remember that the Syrians were the other major enemy in 2 Sam. 8, though that summary hadn’t explained that they were brought into conflict with David through the Ammonites.

The Syrians of Bethrehob and Zobah sent 20,000 footsoldiers (presumably the same 20,000 footsoldiers who joined David’s side in 2 Sam. 8:3-4, though the cavalry and charioteers aren’t mentioned here), the king of Maacah sent 1,000 men, and the city of Tob sent 12,000 men.

The narrative places David in a retaliatory position. The Ammonites amass their army because they know that “they had become odious to David” (2 Sam. 10:6), yet David does not act against them until he hears that they have been amassing an army (2 Sam. 10:7). It’s a little confused and, once again, has the feel of pro-David propaganda.

For unstated reasons, David does not go himself. Rather, he sends Joab to command the army in his place.

The Ammonites take a defensive position at their city gates (even though the narrative tells us that they are the aggressors), while the Syrians are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. This means that when Joab and the Israelite army arrive, they are surrounded – the Ammonites ahead of them, the Syrians behind.

Joab’s brilliant tactic is to split his army in two, commanding his own portion against the Syrians while the second half, led by his brother Abishai, focuses on the Ammonites. If either side struggles, he says, the other is to come to its aid.

This turns out to be unnecessary because the Syrians flee as soon as Joab advances. Seeing their allies/mercenaries leave, the Ammonites also flee, hiding inside their city. With that, Joab returns to Jerusalem.

Sore losers

Upset by their defeat at the hands of Joab, the Syrians re-muster. Their king, Hadadezer, sends for the Syrians on the other side of the Euphrates to help him (whereas in 2 Sam. 8, the impression was that he was trying to consolidate power by uniting the two banks of the Syrian culture group).The Far Shore Syrians are led by Shobach, Hadadezer’s commander.

This time, it seems that David heads out to take care of business personally, and he meets Hadadezer’s army at Helam. The Syrians are once again routed, and David kills 700 chariots and 40,000 horsemen (if this is meant to be the same campaign as the one in 2 Sam. 8:3-6, the numbers are quite different), and Shobach is mortally wounded.

In the aftermath, it seems that the Syrian vassals abandoned Hadadezer and pledged their allegiance to David instead, and the Syrians decided to stop helping the Ammonites.

It’s clear that there are similarities to the battles of 2 Sam. 8, and many of the same players are apparently involved, though the details are sufficiently different to allow for the possibility that different campaigns are being described.

2 Samuel 9: So that I too may go and worship him

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Apparently, from here until the end of 2 Samuel (with just a smidge of 1 Kings), we should be getting a continue and largely unedited section of Early Source. According to Collins, this section is “often identified as the ‘Court History of David’ or the ‘Succession Narrative'” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.123). The former is rather self-explanatory, and the latter because it tells of David’s eventual fall and the rise of Solomon.

To start us off, David asks a very suspicious-sounding question: “Is there still any one left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake? (2 Sam. 9:1).

Yikes!

Given the unfortunate fates met by Saul’s other family members, it sounds an awful lot like David wants to make sure that no one else might be brought up to challenge him. Or, as my New Bible Companion puts it: “In the ancient world kings were accustomed to exterminate all members of a previous dynasty” (p.306). If you’ve been reading ahead, you might also notice how similar David’s words here sound to Herod’s in Matthew 2:8.

The stated purpose of the search, however, is to honour David’s loyalty pledges to Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1-4; 1 Sam. 20:14-17; 1 Sam. 20:42).

2 Samuel 9 - MephiboshethThe search turns up Ziba, one of Saul’s former servants, who knows of one remaining descendant: Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, the boy with the crippled legs from 2 Sam. 4:4. His nurse had fled with him around the time that Saul’s dynasty officially crumbled and David took over. Since then, they had been hiding in the house of Machir, son of Ammiel, at Lodebar. David sends for him.

When Mephibosheth arrives, he is understandably terrified. He falls on his face before David and “did obeisance” (2 Sam. 9:6). But David reassures him that he has no evil intentions, and only wants to care for him. He promises to give Mephibosheth title to all of Saul’s land (presumably his personal demesne in Benjamin), and to give him a permanent place at the royal table.

Mephibosheth appears appropriately humble, asking who he is that David should be so kind, calling himself a dead dog, all that usual convention.

It’s worth noting that even if David hasn’t (not) sent assassins after Mephibosheth, having him at his table doesn’t necessarily indicate that his motives are pure. As Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic puts it: “Reading between the lines, this kindness also keeps a legitimate claimant to Saul’s throne in check.” Bringing Mephibosheth into the palace makes it easy to keep an eye on him, and to limit his ability to be in contact with any unsavoury sorts who might like to form a rebellion around him.

It’s an interesting window into courtly life that David appoints Ziba and his family to care for the land he’s given to Mephibosheth (indicating either that courtiers were not in the habit of looking after their own lands, or that Mephibosheth’s movements were being restricted).

Ziba’s job is to “bring in the produce, that your master’s son may have bread to eat” (2 Sam. 9:10), indicating that the (perhaps compulsory) place at the table didn’t come free. My New Bible Commentary explains this by saying: “Presence at court would rather increase tan diminish his expenditure” (p.306). This may mean that courtiers were expected to contribute to their upkeep – which may not be unreasonable depending on the size of the court.

Despite possibly being a sort of gilded cage, Mephibosheth’s position at David’s table apparently increased his social status, making him “like one of the king’s sons” (2 Sam. 9:11).

To close off the chapter, we are told that Mephibosheth had one son: Mica.

Noah’s test results

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SMBC

(from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Click the red button on the page for an additional punchline!)

Priestly Matters

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In 2 Sam. 8:18, we learn that David’s sons are serving as priests. Previously, we’ve read that only the descendants of Levi could serve as priests (as, for example, in Numbers 18). As David is, in fact, from the tribe of Judah, this poses a rather serious continuity problem.

I’ve seen some apologetics claim that this is a translation error, and that it should rather say that David appointed his sons to oversee the priests. Of course, that doesn’t address the other breadcrumbs.

Genesis and Judges seem, to me, to be the most folk books we’ve read so far, showing us glimpses of the popular religious expression. What we see in both books, but that is largely lacking in the more urban/establishment books, is the presence of individuals setting up their own personal shrines. In Genesis, the characters are semi-nomadic, and seem to be dotting the landscape with altars. In Judges, we see the beginning of more settled, permanent installations, such as Micah’s shrine in Judges 17.

High PriestIf we assume a nomadic/semi-nomadic origin for Israel, we could be seeing the process of settlement and the evolution of belief. This is further illustrated when Micah replaces his own sons as priests with a dedicated professional, giving us the term “levite.” This could be a story illustrating the beginnings of the priesthood as a dedicated vocation in Israelite society.

In a nomadic culture, it’s rare to fine specialization. When camp needs moving, everyone needs to help. When sheep need tending, everyone needs to pick up a crook. It’s only as societies settle that agriculture can support a class of people providing services that are not directly related to the acquisition of food.

If we make further assumptions, it could be that, as the priest cast came to hold more power, they consolidated by making the position hereditary. Perhaps even to prevent precisely what David does – rulers setting their own sons in the priesthood, which could lead to the same family controlling both the secular and religious life of the nation. It’s quite possible, then, that the tribe of Levi was formed sometime after David, taking over what had been a more generic term for priest, and constructing a tribal identity that fit with the cultural and cosmological milieu.

It could also be that there was a nomadic tribe of Levi that, when it finally came down to settle, found it more expedient to serve as priests than to fight established communities for patches of land.

There’s also an evolution from regional worship to a more centralized cult, giving us the possibility that the term “levite” (and the definition of the levite’s role) may have originally had more pronounced regional variations, hints of which remain in the stories collected in the Bible. We may see a hint of this in the different uses of the word “ephod” – which is used variously to mean an item of clothing, an object made of metal, or a divination tool. It’s possible that the term had cultic significance, but that what it referred to differed by region. Or perhaps it referred to a whole class of objects and garments associated with ritual.

Certainly, it’s clear from 1-2 Samuel that tribal heredity was not a requirement at the time of the events being described, but we also see that this was a concern for later contributors. For example, Samuel’s father is explicitly an Ephraimite in 1 Sam. 1:1. Given Samuel’s later role, however, it seems that a group of contributors were uncomfortable with him having so much religious authority without being a Levite. So the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:22-27 makes him a descendant of Kohath, turning him into a proper Levite.

This may have been the case with Eleazar, as well. In 1 Sam. 7, Abinadab appoints his son, Eleazar, as a priest and caretaker of the ark. In 2 Sam. 6:3-4, however, Eleazar is not listed as one of Abinadab’s sons (who are given as Uzzah and Ahio). It’s quite possible that multiple people have been named Eleazar, and that perhaps he’d died prior to or been absent from the events described in that chapter. Or, it could be that Eleazar was known as an early priest of the ark, and was written into Aaron’s family at a later date.

There’s frustratingly little evidence from which to draw conclusions, and it doesn’t help that the texts have been periodically edited so that clear chronologies are difficult to tease out. I think, however, that it’s reasonably clear that the priesthood evolved over time – from a role assigned to a member of the family, to a mostly hereditary profession.

2 Samuel 8: Israel’s Board of Directors

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In this chapter, we get what appears to be a summary of David’s reign, focusing mostly on his military exploits. We find out, for example, that he captured Methegammah after finally defeating the Philistines. If you’re anything like me, you probably sighed with relief, glad that the intense suspense over the fate of Methegammah is finally over.

Or perhaps you looked online and found that the correlating passage in 1 Chronicles 18:1 replaces Methegammah with “Gath and its villages.” Depending on chronological order, this may help to explain how a Githite – someone from Gath – like Obededom came to be trusted with the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6.

David them defeated Moab. As I learned in reading World War Z by Max Brooks, to decimate means to kill one in every ten, usually as a punishment for the group. If that sounds terrible, gird your loins. David has the Moabites lie on the ground in three lines. He then kills two of the lines and makes the third his vassals.

This strays quite far from the prescribed rule in Deut. 2:9 – “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle, for I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” It’s also a little odd given David’s own apparent connection to the Moabite Ruth, as given in Ruth 4:17, and his trust in the Moabites to keep his family safe in 1 Sam. 22:3-4.

Of course, it’s not too far off from Judges 3:28-30, and Saul’s own enmity in 1 Sam. 14:47.

King David In Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber, c.1635-1640

King David In Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber, c.1635-1640

Next, David defeats Hadadezer, son of Rehob and king of Zobah, the only named individual enemy in this chapter. We are told that he had attempted to restore his power at the Euphrates (though we don’t know how or why or when he lost it). David met him there and took 1700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, who apparently willingly join the Israelites.

He also keeps enough horses for 100 chariots, but hamstrings the rest. The Israelite antipathy toward chariots from Joshua 11:6 is clearly still live and well. I’ve read but not confirmed that much of ancient Palestine’s terrain, being rather hilly, was unsuitable for chariots. This would also have meant that the Israelites would not necessarily know how to use them effectively. Ultimately, it clearly wouldn’t have made sense for David to keep the chariot horses, and leaving them would have place them back into the hands of his enemies, so I understand the logic behind disposing of the horses in some way, though hamstringing seems a little cruel.

After David defeats Hadadezer, the Syrians of Damascus come to his defense. Of course, David beats them as well, slaying 22,000 Syrians.He then puts garrisons in Aram (where the Syrians were from), making the Syrians his vassals.

We also find out that David took several golden shields from Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem, which immediately made me think of Pontius Pilate’s golden shields, though I suppose the tone of the event was likely quite different. David also pillaged a lot of bronze from Hadadezer’s cities, Betah and Berothai.

But it wasn’t all conquering and bloodshed! When King Toi of Hamath heard about David’s exploits, he sent his son, Joram, to David as an emissary. Joram greets and congratulates David, because Toi and Hadadezer had been at war, and the enemy of my enemy is apparently my friend. Joram brought with him gifts of silver, gold, and bronze, which David dedicated to God along with all gold and silver he’d pillaged from the subdued nations, listed here as Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and Hadadezer (who continues to be, inexplicably, a personal enemy).

According to my New Bible Commentary, the mention of Edom here may be in error, as the Hebrew reads “Aram”/Syria (p.305).

We find out that David is making a name for himself, that he slew 18,000 Edomites, and that he put garrisons in Edom and made them his vassals.

David’s Cabinet

To close off the chapter, we find out about some of the key players in David’s administration:

  • Joab so of Zerniah was in charge of David’s army.
  • Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was David’s recorder.
  • Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were his high priests.
  • Seraiah was secretary.
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada was in charge of the Cherithites and Pelethites (possibly a foreign mercenary contingent).
  • David’s sons served as priests.

The mention of Ahimelech here may be an error, since paternity is reversed in all previous mentions. This isn’t definitive, though, since it’s always possible that Abiathar had a son, named after the child’s grandfather, who succeeded him.

Zadok’s paternity is interesting, since Ahitub is named in 1 Sam. 22:20 as the father of Ahimelech. While it’s completely plausible that this is just a coincidence, it may indicate that Zadok and Ahimelech are related to each other in some way, possibly brothers or cousins. Or it could be that records were kept well enough that names were remembered, but not so well that anyone could recall who was supposed to fit where, so that multiple authors arranged them in different combinations to construct conflicting genealogies.

The mention of David’s sons serving as priests is an interesting one, since David is so explicitly not a Levite. In combination with David taking a central role in the cultic procession of 2 Samuel 6, Abinadab’s charge of the ark and the naming of his son, Eleazar, as its caretaker in 1 Samuel 7, we can see clear evidence of how the priesthood evolved over time in ancient Palestine. Assuming, of course, that David’s sons were priests of YHWH.

As for Zadok and why there should be two high priests, my New Bible Companion presents the following theories:

It has been widely conjectured, however, that Zadok was not even a Levite; he may in that case have been priest in Jerusalem to ‘God Most High’ (Gn. 14:18) before David’s capture of the city (as H. H. Rowley suggested). But an equally attractive possibility, which accepts the biblical genealogies, is that Saul had made Zadok high priest after the Nob slaughter. It seems considerably more likely that David should have tried to placate the followers of Saul, by uniting Saul’s high priest with his own, that that he should have accepted the pre-Israelite (?Jebusite) priest of Jerusalem. One might add that since David himself seems to have become in some sense a priest-king, ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Ps. 110:4), there will scarcely have been any place in the hierarchy for an existing Jerusalem priest. (p.305-306)

2 Samuel 7: A tale of houses

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In this chapter, we have a brief interlude in which David frets that he hasn’t done enough for God. Ever the humble (or, perhaps, cautious) king, David is concerned that his cedar house (I assume this is the one built for him by King Hiram of Tyre in 2 Sam. 5:11) might upstage God’s little tent.

He decides to check in with God, this time using a prophet named Nathan instead of his normal liaison, Abiathar. Nathan agrees with David, or at least seems to recognize that David can apparently do not wrong (SPOILERS: So far!) in God’s eyes. “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the Lord is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3).

Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits, 1671

Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits, 1671

Either God changes his mind, or Nathan spoke in his name without actually consulting him. Since Nathan is never really rebuked for advising David falsely, either he is as unimpeachable as David, or God changed his mind. Either explanation is troubling, and there’s no discernible reason to have included Nathan’s bad advice in the first place.

The first night after Nathan tells David to go ahead and build a temple, God speaks to him (probably through a dream) saying that no, he doesn’t actually want a temple, thank you very much. He has always lived in a tent, he says, and never has he wanted more. Rather, he has a plan: when David is dead, an offspring of his will be raised up to build God a house (SPOILERS: He’s talking about Solomon).

Even though God claims here that he’s always lived in a tent, that was not the impression I got of the ark’s digs in Shiloh, where Eli is able to sit “by the doorposts of the Lord’s house” (1 Sam. 1:9) and where Samuel is able to “[lie] down in the temple of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:3).

God goes on a bit about covenants and establishing thrones and all that usual stuff, which Nathan dutifully reports back to David.

David then fills up the rest of the chapter with a speech of his own about all the wonderful stuff God is doing for him and how wonderful he is for condescending to reveal part of his Plan. There’s loads of “forevers,” which is rather ironic as I read this over two thousand years after the “forever” monarchy was destroyed.

A land of many houses

The word “house” is used over and over again throughout the chapter, and it’s obviously intentional, a play on words. David is concerned that his house (palace) is too shower, but God tells him to focus on building his house (dynasty) rather than God’s house (temple), but David is humble and asks “what is my house” (family status) in 2 Sam. 8:18.

What’s going on?

So what is this chapter doing here?

It could be an attempt to explain history. In the last chapter, I wondered if the stories about Michal were meant to defend David against the charge that his marriage had been an act of political manoeuvring. Here, it could be that the exchange with Nathan is meant to explain why David – who is portrayed as being so devout – never got around to building God a temple.

There also seems to be some speculation that the Deuteronomist editor has had a hand in this chapter. According to Collins:

But 7:13a, “He shall build a house for my name,” is widely recognized as a secondary addition. That the house will be build “for my name” is a trademark of Deuteronomistic theology. Presumably, then, the reference to Solomon was added by a Deuteronomistic editor, and the basic oracle was older.

[…]

In Deuteronomistic theology, covenants are conditional. The fortunes of the king depend on his observance of the law. The idea that God had promised David an everlasting dynasty by the oracle of Nathan was probably an established tradition in Jerusalem. The present formulation of the promise has been edited by the Deuteronomists, to emphasized that the king was still subject to punishment. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.125)

As Collins points out, however, much of the oracle has a more unconditional feel to it, more Genesis 15 than Deuteronomy. Still, the evidence for a Deuteronomist edit is, apparently, controversial.

Ark Speed Bumps

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Ark-speed-bumps

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

2 Samuel 6: Dirty dancing

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David’s political enemies have rather conveniently met their ends, and David’s power base is now fairly well established in Jerusalem. His next step is to consolidate his power even more strongly by taking control over Israel’s religion.

David brings 30,000 soldiers with him when he goes to reclaim the ark. Since there’s no mention of fighting and no apparent reason to worry about an attack, it seems probably that the soldiers are more of an honour guard for the ark, and the number is meant to show the extent of David/Israel’s devotion.

He goes with the people who were with him from Baalejudah, a place name we haven’t encountered before. My Study Bible suggests that the name is “either an error or another name for Kiriathjearim” (p.382).

If you’ll remember from 1 Samuel 7 that the ark is being kept by Abinadab and his son Eleazar, who are apparently acting as impromptu priests. It’s still there when David comes for it, and Abinadab’s sons – Uzzah and Ahio (perhaps Eleazar was sick that day) – are in charge of driving the cart bearing the ark. Like the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6, the Israelites use a new/virgin cart for the job. Perhaps the Philistines had attempted to mimic an Israelite practice, perhaps the Israelites adopted it from the Philistines, perhaps both were using a tradition that was floating around in the area, perhaps the later authors/editors projected the practice back onto both… I think it’s clear that there are many possibilities, even without the mention here of dairy cows. The idea that a new cart should be used is fairly basic symbolic stuff, so it’s entirely plausible that the same tradition would arise independently in more than one culture or cult. God stuff is too special to just re-use that old cart with the chip in the wheel that you have lying around.

The ark’s procession was apparently a pretty significant event. Not only did it have a 30,000 strong honour guard, it also had the entire “house of Israel […] making merry” (2 Sam. 6:5) with music and shouting.

The accident

Unfortunately, the ark cart (arkart?) starts to tip when the oxen stumble at Nacon. Presumably hoping to prevent disaster, Uzzah puts out his hand to steady the ark and is stricken dead. When this happens, the area is renamed Perezuzzah, or “breaking forth upon Uzzah.”

The obvious objection to this story goes something like this: “Would God have rathered Uzzah simply let the ark fall to the ground?”

Of course, we all know the answer to that. We’ve seen enough to know that good things don’t come to the people who let the ark fall off a cart. So why was Uzzah punished for surely preventing some massive plague?

I’ve used the analogy of radioactive material before. In the context of many of these stories, God is power; pure, raw, wild power. When someone is tasked with transporting radioactive materials, they need to have the proper training, the proper equipment, and the proper containment procedures. Similarly, God needs his trained handlers all wearing regulation safety clothes, his lead-lined box, his property procedures.

It’s like the ending of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the end (spoilers don’t count on 30 year old movies that you should have seen a hundred times already anyway), when the ark is opened, Indy knows that the power contained in the ark doesn’t discriminate between goodies and Nazis. A breach of protocol – in that case, seeing the power – means melty-face, no matter who you are.

That’s the ark.

David, understandably, is pretty freaked out by the incident and decides that maybe having the ark under his control isn’t worth all the risk. Instead of bringing the ark all the way to Jerusalem, he dumps it on Obededom the Gittite. He’s a “no nukes is good nukes” kind of guy.

At least until he finds out that Obededom’s household has been blessed and is prospering in the three months the ark has been kicking around. Suddenly, David is interested again.

No information is given about this Obededom other than his identity as a Gittite, and that his name apparently means “worshipper of Edom” (New Bible Commentary, p.305), presumably the name of a deity. Gittites are from Gath, though, which suggests that he might have been a Philistine (Gath is one of the five cities of the Philistine pentapolis). So why was the ark of the covenant left in the hands of someone who was a Philistine and possibly not a YHWHist?

It could be that David was so freaked out by the ark that he decided to dump it back into Philistine hands, hoping to give them another good dose of tumours or haemorrhoids or whatever happened in 1 Samuel 5. It could be that this is an alternative “how we got the ark from the Philistines” origin story. It could be that Obededom was a friend of David’s from his Philistia days. My Study Bible brings up another possibility: “Gath means ‘wine press,’ and there were several towns by that name in Israelite territory” (p.382).

The second leg

After three months and no disaster, David returns to Obededom to collect the ark. It’s unclear how Obededom felt about having the instrument of his prosperity taken away from him so soon, though I’d like to think that he was well compensated for the danger of housing the ark.

David Dancing Before the Ark, by C Malcolm Powers

David Dancing Before the Ark, by C Malcolm Powers

Once again, the ark sets out accompanied by much fanfare. This time, it makes it only six paces before David starts making sacrifices. Instead of the whole band, this time they have only horns and loads of shouting. The centrepiece of the parade, though, is David himself, who dances ahead of the ark wearing a “linen ephod” (2 Sam. 6:14). “Ephod” clearly has multiple meanings, since it’s hard to imagine David dancing around while wearing the box that houses the divination stones. Rather, it’s likely something akin to the apron-like garment described in Exodus 28:6-14.

Which segues nicely into a tangent. The ephod tends to be something worn by priests, and David is making sacrifices (something that landed Saul in a great deal of hot water in 1 Sam. 13:10-13). By participating in this way, David seems to acting in the role of priest. The evidence of changing rules regarding the priesthood is something I’d like to come back to in a later post.

There’s a tradition that has David doing his ark dance wearing his ephod and only his ephod. This is because when the ark approaches Jerusalem, David’s wife Michal looks out the window and “saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16).

The ark is housed in a tent – a nomadic symbol appropriated by city dwellers. David make some more offerings, then distributes all the food. Finally, he goes home to bless his household, but Michal intercepts him.

She reprimands him for “uncovering himself” (2 Sam. 6:20), suggesting that he really was wearing nothing more than an apron. She seems particularly piqued that he did this before the eyes of servant girls, acting like a vulgar fellow rather than a king. David retort that he was not uncovered before servant girls, but rather before God, “who chose me above your father” (2 Sam. 6:21). In the marital biz, we call that the “point of no return.”

So was David naked?

I think that there’s some wordplay here. It’s hard, of course, to read the text in this way because of the language barrier, but I think it’s possible that we aren’t meant to read “uncovering” literally. Rather, it could mean that David is appearing stripped of his regal accoutrements, like “one of the vulgar fellows” (2 Sam. 6:20). He’s also stripped off his regal dignity, perhaps taking up a position in the crowd, among the servant girls.

This interpretation makes sense given David’s reply, that he was not uncovered before the servant girls, but rather before God. In other words, it isn’t debasing himself before the people, but rather taking up his appropriate status before God.

I suspect that there’s also meant to be something of a joke here about jealous wives, given that only the servant girls are mentioned.

With a final comment about how the servant girls appreciate his actions even if his wife doesn’t, the fight appears to be over and we’re told that “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Sam. 6:23). Though, again, pieces are missing from the story. Did God support David’s actions and rebuke Michal for complaints by cursing her with bareness? Or are we to understand that this fight severed their relations permanently? In other words, is Michal’s apparent barrenness God’s doing, or David’s?

Why was Michal angry?

We might ask ourselves why Michal was angry at David. A literal reading of the passage has Michal seeing her husband prancing about near-naked, upset that he’s revealing himself to other women. In this reading, Michal is the jealous wife.

If David’s “uncovering” has to do with a failure to act/dress in a manner befitting a king, Michal’s concern becomes far more understandable. After all, the monarchy is still young, and the first two kings – Michal’s father and brother – didn’t fare too well. Given that her fortunes are tied to David’s, it makes sense for her to get antsy at any display of weakness or un-kingly behaviour.

Her complained may also be religious. Ishbosheth, her brother, is elsewhere called Ishbaal, and her nephew, Mephibosheth, is elsewhere called Mephibbaal. This suggests the possibility that Saul’s God was not YHWH, at least not exclusively. Michal’s anger therefore might be due to her husband’s blasphemy.

A final possibility is that the whole episode is propagandistic. David’s rise to power, even sanitized as it is in the text, suggests an awful lot of opportunism. His enemies just happen to be assassinated, he just happen to be forced to fight as a mercenary for the enemies of his country, etc. It might be said that he only married Michal so that he would have some claim to Israel’s crown.

This possibility gets refuted in 1 Sam. 18:20, where the author is very careful to point out that it is Michal who initiates the affair between them. David didn’t marry her for political expediency! She married him for love!

Here, the story of her complaint could have been invented (or reinterpreted) to explain her being set aside. It’s conceivable that David, now secure with his crown, had no more use for her, so he essentially abandoned her. It could even be that she (and her family) had supporters who complained about it and accused David of political manoeuvring.

Special documentary about Kush

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A friend sent me a link to this National Geographic special about the Cushite dynasty in Egypt (content is US/US proxy only). You can watch the full documentary on the PBS website, here. There’s also a lot of very interesting information about the Ancient Egyptian propaganda machine.

As far as I can recall, we’ve only met the Cushites on two occasions: In Genesis 10, Cush is listed as a son of Ham, and the father of Nimrod, the great hunter. According to my study Bible: “An old fragment of tradition relates how Nimrod, a successful warrior, built a kingdom in Shinar (Babylonia) and Assyria.” In the documentary, they talk about the conflicts between the Cushite dynasty in Egypt and the Assyrians.

The second mention comes in Numbers 12, where Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is described as a “Cushite,” and his siblings don’t seem to like her for this reason. Suggesting, perhaps, that their dislike for her was a race issue.

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