1 Chronicles 18: A Nation At War

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This chapter very closely resembles 2 Samuel 8. In fact, they are (very nearly) identical in their descriptions of David’s military exploits.

We encounter our first difference in the very first verse. After defeating the Philistines, David takes control of Gath and its villages. In 2 Sam. 8:1, David takes control of Methegammah, instead. This could be a correction on the Chronicler’s part, as Biblehub suggests that the name is, actually, no name at all, and should have been translated to read that David “took control of the mother city” rather than rendering the phrase as a proper noun. To complicate matters, the Septuagint version of 2 Sam. 8:1 reads that David took tribute from Philistia, with no mention of a city at all.

David’s next exploits are against Moab, whom he defeats and makes his vassals. The 2 Sam. 8:2 version is far more gruesome, reading: “He also defeated the Moabites and, making them lie down on the ground, measured them off with a cord; he measured two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death, and one length for those who were to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.” It seems that the Chronicler kept the first and last parts of the verse, but struck out that nasty middle bit.

But why? Why was David so cruel toward Moab (particularly as his own ancestress, Ruth, was a Moabite, and the Moabite king sheltered David’s parents while he was on the run from Saul (1 Sam. 22:3-4)? And why did the Chronicler omit the detail? I think it likely that the second question is answered by the fact that the first can be asked.

As for the first, James Pate mentions an answer given by Rashi: “According to Rashi, the reason that David had an ax to grind against Moab was that, when his family was there taking refuge, the Moabites slaughtered all but one of David’s brothers (the one survivor being Elihu, who is mentioned in I Chronicles 27:18).”

The Hadadezer Chronicles

The next section of the chapter focuses on King Hadadezer of Zobah, who came to the Euphrates to build a monument (1 Chron. 18:3), or perhaps to restore his power (2 Sam. 8:3). This sounds like a possible contradiction, but really isn’t. It’s the flag principle of ownership, where planting a flag or building a monument is a statement of ownership over the surrounding area.

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

David defeats the Philistines, by master of Otto van Moerdrecht, c.1430

This seems to have been too close for comfort, as David went on the attack. The blow was devastating, with the Israelites heading home with 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 infantry that had recently belonged to Zobah. The number is a little scaled down in 2 Sam. 8:4, where only 700 horsemen are taken (though the Septuagint translation agrees with Chronicles, perhaps indicating that the inflated figure was the original one). Having little use for chariots in the Israelite terrain, David hamstrung all the horses, saving only enough to power 100 chariots.

The Syrians (or Arameans, if you prefer) try to help Hadadezer, but David killed 22,000 of them, defeating them so completely that he was able to place Israelite garrisons in Syria and it his vassal.

We also learn that David was able to capture a number of golden shields that had been carried by Hadadezer’s servants, bringing them to Jerusalem. A golden shield is a purely decorative item (a metal as soft as gold has very few practical uses), and I wonder if they had been brought as part of some sort of ceremony to consecrate Hadadezer’s intended monument. In any case, they ended up in Jerusalem.

David was also able to take a great deal of bronze from Tibhath and Cun, two of Hadadezer’s cities. In 2 Sam. 8:8, the two cities are named Betah and Berothai. The 2 Sam. 8 reference ends here, with David acquiring the bronze. Here, however, the Chronicler adds a detail: That this bronze would later be used by Solomon in making the bronze sea, pillars, and vessels for his temple.

The final chapter in the Hadadezer saga involves Tou, king of Hamath – who appears as Toi in 2 Sam. 8:9, while the Septuagint version of the same verse agrees with the Chronicler. It seems that Tou and Hadadezer had been butting heads quite a bit lately, so Tou is quite pleased at David’s success. To thank him, he sends his own son, Hadoram (or Joram, as 2 Sam. 8:10 would have it) to David along with a large gift of gold, silver, and bronze.

Along with Tou’s gift, David dedicates all of the gold and silver he has managed to carry off from his wars to God (his wars against Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and Amalek are all listed).

Further Details

Of the Edomites, we learn that they were defeated by Abishai son of Zeruiah, who managed to kill 18,000 of them in the Valley of Salt. After this defeat, David was able to place garrisons in Edom and the Edomites became his vassals. Interestingly, the verses (1 Chron. 18:12-13) are identical, word for word, to those found in 2 Sam. 8:13-14, with one little exception: 2 Sam. 8 gives the victory to David, not to Abishai (Abishai is not mentioned at all in 2 Sam. 8).

This isn’t a contradiction, since we commonly attribute victories to particular generals or, going a step higher, to monarchs, rather than to the individuals that make up the army. The contradiction disappears as soon as we acknowledge that everyone higher up the chain of command from grunts gets a claim to credit in our silly hierarchical systems.

What’s interesting about the passage is that it is the author of Samuel who credits David, while the Chronicler hands the victory over to Abishai instead. Given the Chronicler’s fawning over David, it just seems rather odd that he would take this one little deed away from him.

We are told that “David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and equity to all his people” (1 Chron. 18:14). James Pate rightly wonders if this justice and equity was applied to the conquered lands as well, given that it comes at the close of a list of conquests. To resolve the issue, he posits that “maybe the point of v 14 is that David could finally devote his energies to reigning now that he had subdued any external threats to Israel’s security.”

I suspect that’s probably what was meant, though I would expand it a little. I think that David’s conquests (and the bringing of riches into Jerusalem) were seen as part of David’s administering of justice and equity. By winning his wars, he brought honour and riches to the nation, elevating it and its people.

The chapter closes with a list of David’s cabinet:

  • Joab son of Zeruiah had control of the army;
  • Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the recorder;
  • Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests (Abiathar is named as Ahimelech’s son, not his father, in 1 Sam. 22:20 and 1 Sam. 23:6, though it’s not inconceivable that a grandson might share a name with his grandfather);
  • Shavsha was the secretary (Shavsha’s name seems to vary quite a bit. He appears as Shisha in 1 Kgs. 4:3, Seraiah in 2 Sam. 8:17, and Sheva in 2 Sam. 20:25. My New Bible Commentary explains this with the possibility that he was a foreigner, with a name that Hebrew scribes weren’t quite sure what to do with (p.379));
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada had control over the Cherethites and the Pelethites;
  • And David’s sons were the king’s chief officials (a change from being priests in 2 Sam. 8:18, undoubtedly due to the Chronicler’s discomfort with the idea of Judahite priests).

1 Kings 1: Unruly Sons

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1 Kings opens with a greatly aged King David, who is no longer able to keep his own body warm. As a solution, his court decides to find a beautiful maiden (because of course she has to be beautiful) upon whose bosom David might be warmed. They choose a woman named Abishag the Shunammite, and we are assured that she passed muster as far as beauty is concerned (no comment on her breast temperature, though, which I would have thought the more salient information). Perhaps in an attempt to make this sound a little less skeevy, the text assures us that, while Abishag tended to David, “the king knew her not” (1 Kgs 1:4), in the biblical sense, as it were. I’m not sure whether the comment is meant to provide additional evidence of David’s frailty (as Brant Clements of Both Saint And Cynic puts it, the verse could be implying that “the king’s sexual prowess has abated”), or to clarify that Abishag was brought in solely as a fleshy radiator and did not have any official status as royal wife/concubine.

Adonijah’s Succession

With David so weakened, it’s time for another one of his sons to make a play for the crown. This time, it’s Adonijah. If you will remember from way back in 2 Samuel 3, David’s sons are, in order of birth:

  1. Amnon, son of Ahinoam of Jezreel: Murdered by his brother, Absalom, for having raped their sister, Tamar.
  2. Chileab, son of Abigail: Never mentioned again after 2 Sam. 3:3. Presumably dead in infancy.
  3. Absalom, son of Maacah and grandson of Talmai, king of Geshur: Took the crown by force, then killed in the ensuing battle.
  4. Adonijah, son of Haggith.
  5. Shephatiah, son of Abital.
  6. Ithream, son of Eglah.
  7. Solomon, son of Bathsheba.

Based on the actions of Absalom and Adonijah, there seems to have been an assumption of primogeniture (and I’ve already mentioned my suspicion that Absalom’s murder of Amnon had more to do with his later power play than with Tamar). Given that the people wanted a warrior king who would defend the Hebrew nation against Philistines and other external threats, its perfectly conceivable that Adonijah honestly did believe that it was time for his father to retire and leave the ruling of the country to his eldest son.

And Adonijah wouldn’t have been alone in thinking that, as the text tells us that he had the support of Joab and Abiathar, the priest. He may even have had implicit approval from David, since we’re told that he gathered together chariots, horsemen, and fifty infantrymen as part of his retinue, and David never said a word in rebuke.

Either way, the whole succession narrative sounds positively Welsh in its messiness.

Adonijah’s ascent didn’t go uncontested, however. He was unable to get the support of Zadok, Benaiah, Nathan, Shimei, Rei (the only novel name in the list, my New Bible Commentary suggests that it may be “‘Shimei the friend’ following Josephus, since each of the other persons in the verse has a descriptive title,” p.325), and David’s “might men,” leaving most of David’s inner court against him.

We’re told that Adonijah made a sacrifice at the Serpent’s Stone, inviting all his brothers (except Solomon) and all the royal officials of Judah (except Nathan, Benaiah, or the “mighty men” – most of the people who refuse to support him). Interestingly, though not explicitly excluded, no mention is made of Israelite royal officials, suggesting that perhaps the confederation that had united the two halves of the Hebrew nation was, at least at this time, dissolved. The fact that he explicitly did not invite Solomon suggests that perhaps he had already identified him as a threat (or perhaps Solomon was invited, but he eventually became king and uninvited himself to place the brotherly rift firmly on Adonijah’s side).

Adonijah’s sacrifice appears to be a coronation ceremony, or else he was ordering it with the authority of a king, because his kingship seems to have been viewed as a fait accompli at this point.

Behind the scenes

Nathan turns to Bathsheba, convincing her that Adonijah’s succession puts her and her son, Solomon, in danger. Given Adonijah’s lack of support and the general violence with which succession has so far been taking place in this infant nation, his expression of concern seems quite legitimate. While primogeniture seems to be assumed, Israel/Judah is now on its fifth king and the other two eldest sons who were crowns were rather violently – and fatally – deposed. Getting rid of any other serious contenders would certainly be appealing to someone in Adonijah’s position.

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

What’s really interesting about the scene, if we accept Nathan’s sentiment as genuine, is that Nathan is the one who originally condemned David for his relationship with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. Yet here he is, on Bathsheba’s side. However much guilt and punishment is heaped onto David for his lechery, none of the blame seems to be placed on Bathsheba (except the loss of her first child, though that is framed as a punishment for David – not for her, however much grief is splash damaged onto her by it). To me, this suggests that the author(s) did not understand Bathsheba’s participation in the affair to be consensual.

Nathan tells Bathsheba that Adonijah has become the king without David’s knowing, strongly suggesting that he as all but retired and is no longer paying any attention to the affairs of state. This inattentiveness could be why the names of inner circle are repeated so frequently – they were known because they were the ones doing all the work.

Nathan’s plan is to have Bathsheba approach David and remind him that he had promised her that Solomon would succeed him (which, if true, would explain the gaps in the courtier support for Adonijah, as well as any urgency Adonijah might feel in disposing of his little half-brother). Why then, she is to ask, is Adonijah the king? Then, while she is still speaking with David, Nathan will burst in and confirm the news.

When Bathsheba enters David’s chamber, we’re told that Abishag was in the middle of “ministering” to him (1 Kgs 1:15), which could not have been a particularly comfortable situation for Bathsheba. The scene reminds me of Lord Robert Arryn breastfeeding on his throne in Game of Thrones. Still, no mention is made of her reaction and she follows the plan. She seems to imply that the whole situation is caused by David’s failure to tell his subjects who will rule after him – a very legitimate accusation.

Finishing up, she tells David that she and Solomon will be “counted offenders” (1 Kgs. 1:22) when David is dead. It’s unclear whether she means that Adonijah will want to have them put well away from anywhere where they might cause harm, or because she intends to press for Solomon’s succession, which would make him a rebel if primogeniture is assumed without the old’s king direction. It is not explained why, if David hasn’t publicly declared Solomon his successor, Nathan knew of his apparent promise to Bathsheba.

When she is done, Nathan asks for an audience and tells David of Adonijah’s sacrificial ceremony and the support he has already gathered. He plays innocent, asking this is all part of a plan David has failed to mention to his servants (an accusation, since if this were truly what had happened, it would mean that David had put his followers in the position of having to choose between supporting a claimant against David, or failing to support David’s chosen heir).

As in Genesis 27, when Rebekah similarly secured a younger son’s inheritance, the plan works and David is moved into action.

Getting the right man for the job

David sends for Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah, instructing them to bring Solomon to Gihon (on David’s own mule, no less!), so that Zadok and Nathan might anoint him as king. Certainly, crowning Solomon now, while David is still alive, would eliminate any confusion as to whom David supports. It would also force Adonijah to actually rebel against an anointed king if he intends to press the issue, rather than simply positioning himself as the heir apparent (as he seems to be doing, whatever Nathan and Bathsheba say). He intends to formally retire and have Solomon “be king in my stead” (1 Kgs. 1:35 – noting that he would rule over both Israel and Judah, while Adonijah only seems to have Judahite support).

My study Bible notes that Gihon would have been chosen because, while not visible from Enrogel – where Adonijah is having his festivities – is “well within earshot” (p.415). That means that when Solomon is anointed and they do the whole shtick of blowing the trumpet and proclaiming him king, it will be heard by Adonijah and all of his supporters.

They follow David’s instructions, accompanied by the Cherethites and Pelethites (who appear to be the royal guard – together with David’s mule, they are clear symbols of Solomon’s legitimacy).

As planned, Joab hears the uproar of Solomon’s coronation and asks about the noise. While he is still speaking, Jonathan, the son of Abiathar, approaches, and Adonijah assumes that he must be bringing good news. Jonathan disappoints, however, and informs Adonijah that his little brother beat him to the punch.

Adonijah’s guests, clearly realizing their mistake and the danger in which picking the losing side has placed him, tremble and scatter. Of course, whatever danger the guests are in would have been greatly multiplied for Adonijah, and he knows it. So he grasps at straws – or, rather, at the horns of the altar (my study Bible describes them as “projections resembling horns at the four corners of an altar” (p.415-426) in what appears to be a form of claiming sanctuary (a tradition that had clearly fallen out of favour by the time Exodus 21:14 was written). He refuses to release the altar until Solomon swears that he will not kill Adonijah with a sword – which seems absurdly specific, and gives Solomon a really obvious means to get away with killing Adonijah on a technicality.

Solomon agrees, but only if Adonijah is a “worthy man” (1 Kgs. 1:52). The meaning is unclear, but my New Bible Commentary says that “the term suggests a man of wealth, not one living on the king” (p.325). Whatever it means, Adonijah apparently passes the test, and he is sent home (suggesting, perhaps, that his remaining there would be compulsory).

2 Samuel 20: Joab is just not having it

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Now that he’s back in Jerusalem, David’s first order of business is to deal with those pesky ten concubines who’ve been raped (2 Sam. 16:22) because he abandoned them (2 Sam. 15:16). Obviously, they can’t be comforted and then welcomed back into the household! No, instead David shuts them away in a house, under guard, until the day they die.

The fact that anyone would see David as good man or good king when he shows himself, again and again, to be so casual and cruel toward the women subject to his power (and even those under his protection in a patriarchal society) is absolutely sickening. Whether it’s locking away these concubines because of their rape (which only happened because he abandoned them in the first place), or his indifference to the rape of his daughter Tamar, or his questionable behaviour toward both Bathsheba and Abigail, his treatment of Michal, David is outrageous in the way he treats women.

Sheba’s Rebellion

Meanwhile, the unrest continues. The Benjaminites, still clearly put out by the loss of the crowd, produce Sheba, son of Bichri. When he rejects David’s kingship, we’re told that “all the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 20:2) joined him, while Judah remained loyal to David.

David tasks his new general, Amasa, with gathering up all Judah’s soldiers within three days so that they can deal with the rebellion. For reasons unstated, Amasa fails to do this in time – was the task impossible? Did he try to sabotage David’s efforts by dallying because his loyalty remains with Absalom? Did he just fail due to incompetence? The text never tells us, even though the reason behind Amasa’s failure utterly changes how we can interpret this chapter.

Realizing that Amasa does not have this situation under control, David asks Abishai to handle it. Why Abishai, rather than his brother Joab? Some of the commentaries I’ve read say that David is trying to push Joab out because he is still angry about Abner’s murder in 2 Samuel 3:27 (the idea being that Joab had too much power to simply be dismissed, so David is trying to slowly exclude him from the clique, Queen Bee style). Other commentaries claim that David may have been too proud, after dismissing Joab in favour of Amasa, to admit that he’d made a bad call and bring Joab back.

It could also be that, after setting Joab aside for political reasons (bringing in Amasa, who had been Absalom’s general, may have been a move to bring the rebels back on his side), he may have wondered if he could still trust him. Would Joab still be on his side after being so cruelly treated?

Abishai heads out with the Cherethites and Pelethites. Whether or not with David’s blessing, Joab tagged along too. Or, perhaps, did more than just tag along, since he quickly took charge and Abishai falls into the background.

Met along the way

Amasa, still afield, meets up with the rebel-hunters in Gibeon. Joab, in a move that would have Harlequin readers quivering, “took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him” (2 Samuel 20:9), then, during their embrace, stabbed him in the stomach so hard that Amasa’s entrails spilled out.

Joab, it seems, did not like being replaced.

Still, his anger seems focused on Amasa, rather than on David. In fact, the text gives us the possibility that he killed Amasa not because he was replaced by him, but because he failed to rouse the army quickly enough. In other words, this could be yet another example of Joab getting rid of someone who has made themselves a liability to David. And, of course, it also gives us the possibility that David was behind this murder as well – Amasa fought against, David, after all. It could be that David made him a general to assuage those who had gone to Absalom, but had no intention of letting him go unpunished.

Joab leaves Amasa’s body in the middle of the road. He posts a man over it to tell people who remain faithful to David to join Joab – presumably the men in Amasa’s band. Eventually, we’re told, someone decides to drag Amasa’s corpse off the road and into a field, covering it with a cloth.

Joab & co. carry on after Sheba.

The end of a rebellion

Joab chases Sheba all the way to Abel of Bethmaacah, where his retinue has apparently dwindled down to his own clan (the Bichrites). It seems that the claim that Sheba was joined by all of Israel was hyperbolic. It could be that the verse only meant that Sheba had followers from several different clans (indicating that this was not a single clan’s rebellion), or it could have been intended as anti-Israel propaganda.

Joab at Abel, from the Morgan Bible, c.1240-1250

Joab at Abel, from the Morgan Bible, c.1240-1250

When Joab arrives, his retinue knocks the city walls down. Before they can do any more damage, however, a local wise woman calls out to Joab. It seems from her words that Abel had a reputation for wisdom, and was perhaps a place that people would go to for conflict resolution. Given this, would Joab truly destroy the city?

Joab is swayed without any fuss, and offers the wise woman a deal: He will spare the city, so long as they hand over Amasa. The wise woman agrees and, soon, Amasa’s severed head is tossed over the city walls to Joab.

His task done, Joab returns to Jerusalem – apparently never considering that David might be angry with him for killing Amasa, or that he might not be getting his old job back just because Amasa is dead. The fact that he is, in fact, restored lends credence to the idea that David, for whatever reason, implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) condoned Amasa’s murder.

It’s worth noting that, once again, Joab has been used to put down a rebellion. In A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins notes: “As in several previous incidents, however, Joab and his brother are the ones who shed the blood. If there is guilt because of violence, it can be imputed to them rather than to David” (p.129).

David’s cabinet

To close off the chapter, an editor put in a note about the composition of David’s cabinet. It’s mostly a repeat of 2 Samuel 8:15-18, though with a few notable differences.

Joab, once again, is listed as having command of Israel’s army (note the name “Israel,” which once again seems to refer to the whole nation including Judah, suggesting a different author/editor from the last few chapters). In fact, this may be the reason for the inclusion of this note – to explicitly show that Joab has returned to his former position.

Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, is still in control of the Cherethites and Pelethites. Jehoshaphat is still recorder. Zadok and Ahimelek are still priests.

Adoram is a new addition, having been appointed as overseer of forced labour. Seraiah the secretary, however, has been removed from the list.

Finally, we are told that David’s personal priest is Ira the Jairite, replacing David’s sons. This may be a reference to the fact that David’s sons have, for the most part, met their ends recently.

2 Samuel 15: Of spies and conspiracies

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Last chapter ended on a bit of a high note – Absalom and David reconciled, and it seemed to be an end to the troubles. But Nathan’s curse said: “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Sam. 12:11). The troubles are far from over.

The kisses have hardly cooled before Absalom gets himself a chariot and horses, plus fifty men to run in front of him. This could be a personal body guard in case someone figures out what he’s up to, the start of a personal army, or perhaps a bit of glitter to help convince people that he’s a real contender.

He also got into the habit of rising early to stand by the gate, stopping the petitioners coming to see David for judgements. Like any good canvasser, he complains to them that David still hasn’t appointed underlings to hear petitions. I suppose the idea is that David has just exported the local judge model to the national monarchy without putting anything in place to accommodate the larger scale. I guess that the king who’d rather lazy about on his rooftop than lead a war campaign is similarly motivated to take care of administrative minutiae.

If only he were in charge, argues Absalom, everyone would have access to justice!

The complaint seems to have a good deal of traction because he manages to steal “the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6) on this strategy alone.

He carries on that way for four years (or perhaps forty, which is what most translations say but makes little sense in context – it’s more likely that the “four” recorded in the Syriac translation and Josephus was the original intention). Absalom is clearly a very patient person when setting fields on fire is off the table. He did wait two years to kill Amnon in 2 Sam. 12:23!

Having finally gathered enough support, Absalom asks David for permission to go to Hebron. He claims that he had made a vow while in Geshur that, should he and David ever be reconciled, he would go to Hebron to worship God. David might have wondered why Absalom decided to wait four (or forty!) years to fulfil his vow, but apparently it doesn’t occur to him.

Paul Davidson notes that the phrasing Absalom uses in Hebrew is “Yahweh of Hebron” (2 Sam. 15:7), implying a local deity, or perhaps a local variant of YHWH. This, and other passages, implies that “the worship of Yahweh was geographically restricted.” That would explain why it’s plausible for Absalom to claim that he promised the Hebron YHWH a worship, and therefore couldn’t fulfil the vow at home in Jerusalem.

David gives his permission and Absalom goes, taking with him two hundred guests who knew nothing of his plans. He also sent out secret messages to the tribes of Israel, telling them to shout “Absalom is now king in the North! (or, at least, Hebron!)” when they hear the sound of trumpets.

While offering his sacrifice in Hebron, Absalom sent for Ahithophel, David’s counsellor. Interestingly, it seems that he may have been Bathsheba’s grandfather (my study Bible finds the connection by comparing 2 Sam. 11:3 and 2 Sam. 23:34).

Being David’s counsellor and father-in-law, it seems strange that he would so readily defect. Unless, of course, David had raped Bathsheba. In that case, he may have been willing to join just about anyone who stood a chance of punishing David. Or, if we want a more patriarchy-friendly explanation, he could feel that David’s relationship with Bathsheba tarnished her relationship.

Absalom’s choice of Hebron is an interesting one, since it’s the city from which David challenged the remnant of Saul’s dynasty. One theory is that Hebron is resentful that they supported David when he needed an Israelite foothold, but were passed by when it came to choosing a capitol. It could also be a literary fabrication, having Absalom’s career mirror David’s. We’ll see more examples of this as we read on.

While in Hebron, Absalom’s conspiracy gains strength.

The flight

A messenger lets David know that Israel is siding with Absalom. For some reason, Absalom was able to gather nation-wide support over a period of four years, but at least David finds out now. Better late than never. He flees from Jerusalem.

It’s unclear why David chooses to leave Jerusalem. It could be that he felt he had a better chance fighting in the open field, or perhaps he was hoping to avoid fighting his son, or perhaps he wanted to spare the city a siege, or maybe he feared that the city could contain spies, or perhaps it’s just plot critical that he be out of the city and the author took a couple shortcuts to make it happen.

Absalom and Tamar, by Guercino

Absalom and Tamar, by Guercino

He takes the royal household along with him, all but ten concubines. These, he leaves behind because he’s a complete jerk who has demonstrated again and again that he doesn’t care much for the safety of the women around him – at least not since taking the crown. I mean, really, to “keep the house” (2 Sam. 15:16)? As if he didn’t know what would happen to them.

He brings along Cherethites, Pelethies, and all six hundred Gittites who had come with him from Gath. I found it rather surprising just how many Philistines David has kept around. It’s also interesting that, in 1 Sam. 28, the Philistine king Achish had an Israelite bodyguard, and now that that same Israelite is himself a king, he has a Philistine guard.

As his retinue leaves the city, David hangs back, presumably to see who is coming along or perhaps as some heroic “last man in” sort of thing. Ittai the Gittite comes marching by and David asks him he would come along rather than “stay with the king” (2 Sam. 15:19). Already, he seems to be acknowledging his son’s claim! Perhaps displaying his intention not to fight, or his concession that he deserves what’s coming to him.

Ittai is a foreigner, and he only arrived in Jerusalem the day before. David protests that he doesn’t want to drag him right back out again, especially since he doesn’t know where they will be going or what the conditions might be like. But Ittai refuses to stay, he will stand by David. Notice that, once again, David finds loyalty with the Philistines.

Abiathar and Zadok come out with all the Levites and the ark, but David sends them back into Jerusalem. This seems to be an expression of his remorse, since he says that he will return to the ark (and, therefore, to Jerusalem) if God favours him. In other words, he is showing himself willing to accept the punishment he has deserved. Or he’s being cocky, certain that he will win the conflict.

But there’s another motive. The priests each have a son (Jonathan is Abiathar’s, Ahimaaz is Zadok’s). Between the two priests and their sons, David sets up an impromptu spy network that keep him updated on Absalom’s doings.

The Mount of Olives

David and his retinue make their way up the Mount of Olives, weeping and barefoot, their heads covered. David finds out that Ahithophel has defected, and he prays that his counsel will become terrible. This is in contrast to the hints that he has resigned himself to Absalom’s rule (such as his calling Absalom “king” above).

When he reaches the summit, where there is apparently a shrine, Hushai the Archite meets up with David. His clothes are rent and there’s dirt on his head, symbols of mourning, and he asks to come along.

David sends him back, however, telling him that he would be a burden if he came along. Presumably, Hushai is meant to be very old, or perhaps disabled in some way. David has found a use for him, however. Hushai is to pretend to defect, and to volunteer his services as counsellor to Absalom. By giving bad advice, he will counteract Ahithophel’s good advice, evening the playing field. Plus, once he has wormed his way into Absalom’s inner circle, he’ll be able to play the spy and report information to Zadok and Abiathar.

Hushai agrees, and he returns to Jerusalem just as Absalom arrives.

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 Cherethites 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)