2 Samuel 22-23: Of champions and praise

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The following chapters contain two poems (one in each), followed by a list of David’s champions. The first poem, found in 2 Samuel 22, is nearly identical to Psalm 18. There are also several similarities to the poems of Moses from Deut. 32 and Deut. 33, such as the references to rain and the comparison between God and a rock.

The first poem

The first poem is a song of thanksgiving to God for delivering David from his enemies. Given the specific mention of Saul as one of them, my impression is that the poem was meant to have been written shortly after Saul’s death.

"[God] rode on a cherub" (2 Sam. 22:11)

“[God] rode on a cherub” (2 Sam. 22:11)

God is variously described as a rock, a shield, and the agent of David’s delivery. He also seems to be described as a sort of storm god, which may be an insight into early conceptions of Yahweh.

It’s all well and good until we get to the bit about why God did all these things and it becomes rather clear that David is either delusional, or he wrote this very early on:

He delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. (2 Sam. 22:20-22).

You know, except that bit where God cursed him to be endlessly troubled after he stole another man’s wife and then had him killed.

Whether or not it was actually written by David, however, is highly questionable. There is, for example, a reference to the Temple in 2 Sam. 22:7, which won’t be built until after David’s death. That makes the insistence that David’s enemies were smashed because of David’s perfect righteousness all the more headscratchy, since the business with Uriah must have taken place already. It seems that the propaganda machine was well underway in Ancient Israel.

The second poem

The second poem claims to have been composed by David as his last words (like Jacob’s words in Genesis 48, or Moses’s final blessing in Deuteronomy 33). In this poem, he claims to be channeling God directly – something that David has otherwise been unable to do, relying instead on priests and prophets. In this poem, it seems that David is claiming to actually be a prophet.

My study Bible notes that this poem appears to have been corrupted and may be only a fragment. It describes the benefits of a worthy ruler, reiterates the “everlasting covenant” (2 Sam. 23:5) that God has made with David, and condemns “godless men” (2 Sam. 23:6) that must only be dealt with using violence.

It’s rather ironic, and perhaps intentional on some editor’s part, that the poem describes a just ruler as being “like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:4), given the story we just had in 2 Sam. 21 about a famine that may have been caused by a drought. Since it was determined to be Saul’s fault, the placement of this poem appears to be a little dig at Saul’s expense.

David’s champions

The second half of 2 Sam. 23 lists David’s various champions, organized into two groups: an elite force called The Thirty, and a super elite force called The Three.

The Three:

  1. Joshebbasshebeth the Tahchemonite has the honour of being both the chief of The Three, as well as the member of David’s entourage with the most unpronounceable name. He killed eight hundred men at the same time using only a spear.
  2. Eleazar, son of Dodo, son of Ahohi, stayed at David’s side when the Philistines attacked and the other Israelites fled. Together (though presumably with a bit of help), they managed to defeat the Philistines and win the day.
  3. Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite, also stayed at David’s side in a similar encounter against the Philistines (or perhaps the same one). Once again, they won despite the odds.

Before we launch in to the names of The Thirty, we’re first told a story in which there was a Philistine garrison in Bethlehem, David’s home town. This may refer to the same conflict we read about in 2 Samuel 5:17-26.

Around harvest time, David wished out loud for some water from the Bethlehem well. He was overheard by the top three of The Thirty, here unnamed, who then sneaked into Bethlehem, drew water from the well, and brought it back to David. In a bit of a jerk move, David poured it on the ground instead of drinking it, saying that he was offering it to God rather than drinking “the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives” (2 Samuel 23:17).

After that story, we get a list of The Thirty:

  1. Abishai, Joab’s brother, is the chief of the band. Though he was able to kill three hundred people with a spear, this was not enough to make the cut for The Three.
  2. Joab’s other brother, Asahel, is named as one of The Thirty, suggesting that either David’s champion order began really early (since Asahel was killed in 2 Sam. 2:23, before David became king of Israel), or, according to my study Bible, he may have been included “on an honorary basis” (p.410).
  3. Benaiah, son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel, killed two “ariels” of Moab. My study Bible merely notes that the word’s meaning is unknown, though my New Bible Commentary says that the literal meaning is “lion of God” – guessing that Benaiah either fought literal lions, or else there was a kind of Moabite warrior that was “referred to metaphorically as lions” (p.314). He also fought a lion that was definitely literal, in the snow no less! Then topped it all off by killing a handsome Egyptian. The Egyptian had a spear while Benaiah had only staff, but he managed to wrestle the spear away from the Egyptian and kill him with it. This is presumably the same Benaiah who had charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites in 2 Sam. 8:18 and 2 Sam. 20:23.
  4. Next is Elhanan, son of Dodo of Bethlehem – who is either the brother of Eleazar or there were two guys named Dodo running around.
  5. Shammah of Harod.
  6. Elika of Harod.
  7. Helez the Paltite.
  8. Ira, son of Ikkesh of Tekoa.
  9. Abiexer of anathoth.
  10. Mebunnai the Hushathite.
  11. Zalmon the Ahohite.
  12. Maharai of Netophah.
  13. Heleb, son of Baanah of Netophah.
  14. Ittai, son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites.
  15. Benaiah of Pirathon.
  16. Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash.
  17. Abialbon the Arbathite.
  18. Azmaveth of Bahurim.
  19. Eliahba of Shaalbon.
  20. The sons of Jashen.
  21. Jonathan.
  22. Shammah the Hararite.
  23. Ahiam, son of Sharar the Hararite.
  24. Eliphelet, son of Ahasbai of Maacah.
  25. Eliam, son of Ahithophel of Gilo. This may be the same Eliam who is named as Bathsheba’s father in 2 Sam. 11:3.
  26. Hezro of Carmel.
  27. Paarai the Arbite.
  28. Igal, son of Nathan of Zobah.
  29. Bani the Gadite.
  30. Zelek the Ammonite.
  31. Naharai of Beeroth.
  32. Joab’s armour-bearer.
  33. Ira the Ithrite.
  34. Gareb the Ithrite.
  35. Uriah the Hittite. I wonder if a clever author/editor placed Uriah last on the list to draw attention to him, given the story we have involving him.

The text closes off by telling us that there were thirty-seven in all. This appears to have been an editor’s insert, perhaps attempting to explain that the name, The Thirty, was a rounding. Even so, arriving at that number involves a bit of guesswork. For example, it could be that Joab, as the commander of all David’s forces (2 Sam. 20:23), was implicitly included. With him and the assumption that Jashen had two sons, we arrive at thirty-seven.

According to my New Bible Commentary, Jonathan (#21) should be the son of Shammah, which would remove Shammah from the list. The book also suggests that The Three should be included in the number. It’s all very muddled.

Judges 15: A disastrous booty call


When we last saw Samson, he’d left his own wedding in a huff and his bride, not wanting to waste a good party, married his best man instead. Unfortunately, no one thought to tell Samson that.

As Judges 15 opens, we return to our hero as he’s dragging a kid down to Timnah as a gift for his presumed wife (what happened to flowers or chocolate?), thinking about how he’s totally going to “go in to” her (Judges 15:1).

You might be wondering why Samson thinks that he’s married, considering how the wedding ended. According to my study Bible, Samson may believe himself to be in a marriage “of an ancient type in which the husband comes only from time to time to visit his wife, who continued to live with her parents” (p.314).

As for the goat offering, we’ve seen this before in Gen. 38:17, where Judah offers to pay Tamar, whom he thinks is a prostitute, with a goat in exchange for sexual services. As my study Bible puts it, “A kid was perhaps the usual gift for sexual intimacy” (p.314).

So Samson either knows that he’s not really married and has decided to treat his bride like a prostitute, or he thinks that he’s in a special one-john-only type of contract. There’s no indication that this is what his bride thought she was getting. Quite the opposite, the fact that she assumed Samson had abandoned her and so she decided to marry someone else instead strongly suggests that she believed herself to be in what we would consider a “regular marriage.”

So Samson gets to his father-in-law’s house (so called because it is extremely difficult to find meaningful descriptives for these nameless characters!), goat in hand, and asks to “go in to” the man’s daughter.

Samson and the Foxes, Oktateuch, Vatopedi monastery, 13th century

Samson and the Foxes, Oktateuch, Vatopedi monastery, 13th century

For some reason, the father-in-law is apologetic when he tells Samson that his bride has remarried, but offers him her younger sister instead. This father of the year seems to have no compunctions about giving his daughter to a man who doesn’t even communicate enough to establish what kind of marriage he’s getting into, leaves his own wedding in a huff over the outcome of a riddle that he proposed in the first place, and then returns only for a booty call.

Samson, somehow believing himself to be the wronged part, is so angry that he catches 300 foxes, ties them into pairs by the tail, and sticks a torch between each pair. Having lit the torches, he release the foxes into the Philistine fields, setting them (and their granaries) on fire.

I don’t think I need to explain why this is a mega-douche thing to do.

Unfortunately, the Philistines blame Samson’s father-in-law and his daughter for having “angered” Samson (remember the rule: It’s always a woman’s fault), so they burn the family alive.

To his credit (sort of), this also makes Samson angry. It’s also possible that he’s just always angry and just looking for excuses. He vows to get revenge, which he then does, by smiting the Philistines “hip and thigh” (Judges 15:8).

That done, he goes to a cleft of the rock in Etam, which I take to mean that he goes into hiding.

In the cleft of the rock

The Philistines raid the area of Lehi (which means “jawbone” – remember that) in Judah. The people of Judah, perhaps cowered by superior Philistine material culture, ask them why they are raiding. The Philistines answer that they have come for Samson in revenge for what he’d been doing in Timnah.

Three thousand men of Judah go up to Samson’s rock cleft (they must have heard of his volatility) and ask him why he had to go and antagonize the Philistines. To this, Samson replies: “As they did to me, so have I done to them” (Judges 15:11).

Except, not. All they “did” to him was assume that he no longer wanted a woman he abandoned, and then not take her away from her new family when he changed his mind. For this, he burned down their fields, jeopardizing their lives and livelihoods. After that, the story is just an object lesson on the way that violence begets violence. Samson is not the victim in this story.

But he does at least agree to let the men of Judah bind him and bring him down to the Philistines, so long as the men of Judah never raise their hands against him. Keep him mind, though, that according to Judges 14:19, he’s somewhat recently murdered thirty men of Judah (Judges 1:18).

The men of Judah agree and tie Samson up. But when they get to Lehi and the Philistines rush out to meet them, Samson hulks out, breaking his bindings, picking up the “fresh jawbone of an ass” (Judges 15:15), and killing one thousand people with it.

As Javerbaum puts it, “Whoa, when did my Bible turn into a comic book?” (The Last Testament, p.120).

You’ll probably note that this sounds a little familiar. Shamgar, one of our previous judges, killed a mere 600 Philistines with an oxgoad in Judges 3:31.

When he’s done with the killing, Samson delivers his “hasta la vista” line:

With the jawbone of an ass,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of an ass
have I slain a thousand men. (Judges 15:16)

My study Bible says that this is a pun, as “the Hebrew words for ass and heap(s) [are] identical” (p.314-315). Essentially, that second line potentially means both “I have heaped up their corpses” and “I’ve made them into donkeys.” At least, that’s my best guess at the joke.

Just to reinforce the point, Lehi (“jawbone”) is renamed Ramath-lehi, which apparently means “jawbone hill.” I’m guessing that this is a geographical Just So story, perhaps in which a hill is said to have grown over the “heap” of corpses.

Thirsty Work

It seems that killing a thousand men at once with the jawbone of a donkey is thirsty work. But this is Samson, so of course he can’t just go get a drink, or even just tell God that he’s thirsty. No, he must be a poor beleaguered victim:

Thou hast granted this great deliverance by the hand of thy servant; and shall I now die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised? (Judges 15:19)

God, displaying far more patience than I do around that whiny sort of tone, creates a spring from which Samson can drink. The area is therefore renamed Enhakkor’e, or “the spring of him who called.”

You’d think this would be the end of Samson because he is claiming to have successfully delivered Israel and the chapter ends by telling us that he was a judge for 20 years. You might also be slightly panicking because, hey, isn’t there supposed to be a whole thing with Delilah cutting his hair? Well, fear not, we still have a whole other chapter of our biblical comic book hero!