1 Chronicles 11: David’s uncomplicated rise

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Skipping straight from Saul’s death in the last chapter to David’s ascension as king, the Chronicler leaps right over the succession conflicts of 2 Samuel 2-4. In this narrative, David’s rise was effortless and conflict-less.

Right from the start, we see all of Israel congregating in Hebron to declare David as their new king. Repeating their speech almost verbatim from 2 Sam. 5:1-3, they reinforce David’s claim by saying that he had truly been the one leading them from the start, even while Saul was king in name. They make a covenant with David, and Samuel anoints him.

1 Chronicles 11 - Samuel anointing DavidWith all of Israel on his side, David turned toward Jerusalem. The Jebusites taunt David, saying that he will never enter his city. But then, wooops, he conquers it anyway. Parts of the story are copied word-for-word from 2 Sam. 5:6-10, except that all references to David’s hatred for people with physical disabilities are replaced by his vow to promote the first person to kill Jebusites (or perhaps to rush forward at the Jebusites) to the rank of chief and commander. This seems like a fairly awful way to pick leaders, given that leadership skills aren’t terribly correlated with “rush into battle and kill stuff” skills. I get that the point is to reward bravery, but this seems like the Peter Principle in action. The point is only more clearly made when we find out that it is Joab who goes first, earning his place as chief. And we all know how well that turned out (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).

My New Bible Commentary notes that Joab’s promotion here would seem to conflict with 2 Samuel, where Joab is already functioning as commander prior to the taking of Jerusalem. Yet, “the commander-in-chief of the king of Judah would not automatically have become commander-in-chief of the king of all Israel” (p.375). In other words, it’s possible that Joab was already commander, but had to re-earn his position in the new national government. Assuming historicity for a moment, this doesn’t seem unreasonable.

James Pate notes a problematic difference between this chapter and 2 Sam. 5:6-10: Whereas in 2 Samuel, David seems to have chosen Jerusalem as his capitol because it was centrally located and because it did not belong to any particular tribe (therefore avoiding the argument of favouritism), the Chronicler gives David complete support from all Israel before he turns to Jerusalem, and in fact shows a pan-tribal attacking army. So why, then, would David have needed to take Jerusalem? Pate discusses the issue in his post.

Once David took Jerusalem, it began to be known as the city of David. He and Joab then set to work repairing the city (and presumably building it up), and thus did David become ever greater.

The Mighty Men

The rest of the chapter lists the men of David’s elite army. It is nearly identical to the list found in 2 Sam. 23:8-39, though with additional names added to the end. One theory is that the 2 Samuel version ended with Uriah to rhetorically underscore the evil that David had done to him in 2 Sam. 11, whereas the Chronicler may have been working with a more complete list.

We begin with the elite of the elite, known as the Three. The group’s leader was Jachobeam, a Hachmonite, who once killed 300 enemies with his spear at one time (the number is 800 in 2 Sam. 23:8, but the difference could be caused by confusion with another warrior, Abishai, who killed 300 in 2 Sam. 23:18 and 1 Chron. 11:20).

The other two members of the Three are mashed together here, apparently due to a scribal error. In 2 Sam. 23:9-12, we learn of two members of the group: Eleazar son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. In the 2 Samuel version, Eleazar was with David when they defied the Philistines. The Israelite army was routed, but Eleazar kept fighting until his arm grew weary – long enough to win the battle. When the Israelites returned, it was only to strip the dead. As for Shammah, the Israelite army was again routed, but Shammah stood in a plot of lentils, defending it until the Philistines were defeated.

The Chronicler’s version, however, tells us only of Eleazar, and how he was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines gathered against them. Even though the Israelites were routed, he stood his ground in a field of barley and defeated the Philistines. It’s rather easy to see how a scribe’s eye might skip in two such similar stories.

Before getting into the Thirty, we learn of three men from the band of Thirty (there’s no indication that they are the Three) who came to David while he was in hiding in the cave of Adullam (his stay is narrated in 1 Sam. 22:1-5) while the Philistines occupied Bethlehem.

David seems to have been feeling rather sorry for himself, and said (with much sighing, I imagine) that he wished he could have some water to drink from one of the wells of Bethlehem. These three members of the Thirty heard him (or perhaps overheard him, depending on the interpretation) and took it upon themselves to go fetch that water for David. So they snuck through the Philistine guards, into Bethlehem, and drew the water.

When they returned, however, David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it onto the ground, saying: “Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?” (1 Chron. 11:19). How David looks in this story depends entirely on the reader’s interpretation. If he had asked his men who fetch him the water, then his actions are just awful. But if he was just moping about, feeling sorry for himself, and they happened to overhear him and did something foolish that he hadn’t wanted them to do, then he is some degree of less awful. At least no Beckets were killed this time.

The chief of the Thirty was Abishai, Joab’s brother. Like Jachobeam, he too killed 300 enemies at one go with a spear. The other member of the Thirty whose deeds are worth mentioning is Benaiah son of Jehoiada, of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s bodyguards. He killed two whole ariels of Moab, which I’m sure is very impressive whatever an ariel is. He also killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen, the significant of which is lost on me, but I’m sure that too is very impressive. He also duelled a very large Egyptian who wielded a spear like a weaver’s beam. Benaiah lunged in with his staff and, snatching the oversized spear from the Egyptian’s hands, killed him with his own weapon.

The rest of the Thirty are given as a simple list:

  1. Asahel brother of Joab
  2. Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
  3. Shammoth of Harod
  4. Helez the Pelonite
  5. Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa
  6. Abiezer of Anathoth
  7. Sibbecai the Hushathite
  8. Ilai the Ahohite
  9. Maharai of Netophah
  10. Heled son of Baanah of Netophah
  11. Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites
  12. Benaiah of Pirathon
  13. Hurai of the brooks of Gaash
  14. Abiel the Arbathite
  15. Azmaveth of Baharum
  16. Eliahba of Shaalbon
  17. Hashem the Gizonite
  18. Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite
  19. Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite
  20. Eliphal son of Ur
  21. Hepher the Mecherathite
  22. Ahijah the Pelonite
  23. Hezro of Carmel
  24. Naarai the son of Ezbai
  25. Joel the brother of Nathan
  26. Mibhar son of Hagri
  27. Zelek the Ammonite
  28. Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab and son of Zeruiah
  29. Ira the Ithrite
  30. Gareb the Ithrite
  31. Uriah the Hittite
  32. Zabad son of Ahlai
  33. Adina son of Shiza, the Reubenite, who was a leader among the Reubenites and was accompanied by 30 of his brethren
  34. Hanan son of Maacah
  35. Joshaphat the Mithnite
  36. Uzzia the Ashterathite
  37. Shama son of Hotham the Aroerite
  38. Jeiel, Shama’s brother
  39. Jediael son of Shimri
  40. Joha, brother of Jediael, a Tizite
  41. Eliel the Mahavite
  42. Jeribai son of Elnaam
  43. Joshaviah, also a son of Elnaam
  44. Ithmah the Moabite
  45. Eliel
  46. Obed
  47. Jaasiel the Mezobaite

These are, of course, way more than thirty men. It seems that the name of David’s elite company was chosen for its neat roundedness (or perhaps its accuracy at some earlier date).

History Channel’s The Bible: Episode 4, “Kingdom”

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This is my review of the History Channel series, The Bible, episode 4. You can read my reviews of episodes 1 and 2, and episode 3

The last episode, “Homeland”, ended with the Israelites asking Samuel for a king, and Samuel anointing Saul. In this episode, we get a look at Saul’s reign, his fall, and the rise of David, ending with a look at Solomon as a child.

When I started watching the episode, I accidentally opened episode 1 instead, and I noticed something new about the opening. A title card reads: “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world.” The narrator then begins by describing the Bible as if it were a single story, “the most powerful story of all time, it continues to shape our world.” It’s painfully clear from this that the makers of the story don’t see the Bible as a collection of stories, but rather as a single narrative culminating in Jesus. We’ve seen this throughout the last three episodes, with Jesus being shoehorned into the narrative.

The narrator betrays the makers’ politics when he continues, “[The story of the Bible is] the foundation of our governments, the blueprint for our laws, a sacred guide for life’s journey.” Not only is the statement false, it is precisely what people say when they want to argue in favour of putting biblical commandment monuments in government buildings.

Saul’s Reign

The episode begins with a theme-setting question: “Is any man good enough to rule God’s kingdom?” Spoiler alert: The answer is No.

We find Saul hiding behind some rocks, spying on an enemy encampment. The show doesn’t explain why the Israelites are fighting, or what is going on. We know from 1 Sam. 13, however, that Saul has been attacking the Philistines, and the Philistines have raised a very large army to retaliate. The size of this army has the Israelites concerned.

Saul asks out loud, “Where is Samuel?” He explains for the audience’s benefit that Samuel should be there, and that he is needed to make a sacrifice before the Israelites attack. With that bit of exposition out of the way, he declares that he can’t wait any longer.

Just as he is slitting a goat’s throat, however, Samuel casually strolls in, then acts terribly shocked that that the party has started without him.

In the last episode, Samuel was portrayed as power-hungry. He is resentful when the people ask for a king, and grows even more so when God agrees to give them one. He is only tentatively pacified by the reassurance that he can, at least, continue to lead in a religious capacity.

Samuel doesn’t come out looking any better in this episode. His lateness goes completely unexplained. When Saul explains that they’ve been waiting for seven days, and that his men are deserting, Samuel ignores that he is the cause of this. Instead, he replies, “Then be a king, leave the job of priest to me. Do you think God values your sacrifice more than mine?”

His reply is absolutely full of problems. Firstly, the people are deserting because their faith is wavering. A king can only do so much, and it’s likely that Samuel’s absence is being interpreted as God’s absence. When he tells Saul to leave the job of priest to him, he ignores the fact that he hasn’t been doing his job. He never showed up! If he’s not going to be the priest, why should he be upset that someone else has stepped in to fill the void? The final part of his statement is a complete non sequitur. Nowhere is it suggested that Saul believed his sacrifice to be better, simply better than nothing.

Samuel comes off looking like a power-hungry, resentful, neglectful, incompetent douche. This is, actually, fairly faithful to the biblical representation of him. I’m actually rather surprised that the series didn’t try to whitewash him, perhaps by adding a very good reason for him to be late.

Before the interaction is over and the Israelites go to battle, Samuel spits out a command that they are to kill absolutely everyone and everything, then scowls at Saul while the narrator tells us that, “a new era is beginning, one of prophets and kings. They must work together to secure the promised land.” It’s hard not to hear the doom in that pronouncement as we see Samuel’s utter contempt for his king.

The Israelites fight while Samuel stands on a hill, watching the battle. Unfortunately, he sees the Israelites take a prisoner, and the next scene begins with him shrieking at Saul: “You had ONE task, ONE simple command, from God!! Destroy everything!”

Saul argues, claiming to have followed God’s commandments. To this, Samuel replies in full sarcasm mode: “Then what is this bleating of goats in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle, wailing of lambs? Can the dead cry out? And who,” he points to the prisoner, “is this pagan king?” Saul claims that the king was being saved only temporarily, that he would be killed later, but Samuel is having none of it. He slits the king’s throat himself.

Samuel doesn't like to share.

Samuel doesn’t like to share.

As in the text, it is at this battle that Saul loses his dynasty. Samuel declares: “Your descendants could have ruled for over a thousand years, but today God has forsaken you.” This is fairly similar to his pronouncement in 1 Sam. 13:14, except that Samuel had made this pronouncement prior to the battle, and I do not recall Saul being guilty of keeping livestock from a battle.

I mentioned when I was reading 1 Sam. 13 that Samuel’s reaction here seemed to be another manifestation of his jealousy. He hadn’t taken well to losing secular authority, but had at least retained religious authority. Seeing Saul step into that territory as well seems to have enraged him.

In the series, Saul seems to agree with this assessment. He isn’t sure whether Samuel is speaking as himself or for God, out of personal jealousy or in his capacity as a prophet.

As Samuel tries to turn away from the interaction, Saul holds on to his scarf, ripping it. At least, I think it’s his scarf. The ripping takes place under the camera’s frame, and – despite the tearing sound – Samuel’s clothes do not move as though they were being held with enough force to rip (which, by the way, would be quite a lot of force – way more than movies ever seem to assume).

In any case, Saul comes away with a piece of Samuel’s clothes in his hands. When Samuel sees this, he says: “God has torn your power from you.” Clever, clever.

Incidentally, this interaction is not found in the text in relation to Saul/Samuel, but I think it may be a reference to something that happens much later, when Solomon is king. In the story, the prophet Ahijah tears his garment into twelve pieces in order to show Jeroboam than the nation would be torn (1 Kgs 11:29-32). Jeroboam would then go on to found the Northern Kingdom after Solomon’s death.

This section of the episode closes with a very disturbed Saul, asking himself if he’s been to hasty. He decides to ask Samuel for forgiveness, but learns that Samuel is already gone. Saul clutches poignantly to the torn piece of robe.

Enter David

The portrayal of David in the episode really isn’t flattering, though I did find it quite close to the text.

The narrator tells us that, as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God sent Samuel out in search of a new king. Both scene and narration make it seem as though God had chosen Saul, but that’s failed so now he will let Samuel choose the next king. It’s a little odd.

He really just can't stop squinting.

He really just can’t stop squinting.

In any case, Samuel is walking about when he comes upon a teenaged shepherd killing a wolf with a sling. Despite the fact that David’s introductory dialogue is terribly awkward and he can’t seem to stop squinting, Samuel decides that he should be Israel’s next king. I can’t help but wonder if the show’s Samuel deliberately chose the least likely candidate as a form of revenge for his loss of status.

In any case, Samuel anoints David and tells him that he will be king of Israel “once Saul is dead.”

In the next scene, we return to Saul in the aftermath of Samuel’s departure. Jonathan is disturbed that Saul seems so troubled despite their great victory. In response, Saul says that he’s just tired and needs some sleep.

Despite the fact that he is sleeping in the next scene (having troubled dreams in which he calls out to God for forgiveness), the narrator assures us that some time has passed. That’s good, because it helps to explain why David is in the room playing his harp.

It’s a fairly damning scene, as we see David looking longingly past a sleeping Saul at his crown while the narrator tells us that he has entered Saul’s court and resides there as “a king in waiting.” Whether intended or not, that colours everything that follows.

In another battle against the Philistines, Goliath reveals himself. It’s rather amusing as he isn’t particularly tall (maybe a head taller than the fairly uniform Israelites, but I’m often a head taller than everyone in female crowds, and it’s not unusual for my spouse to be able to spot nits in most crowds), yet his footsteps make this incongruous booming sound.

Goliath steps out in front of the Philistine army and asks for an Israelite champion willing to fight him.

Jonathan offers himself up first – a detail absent from the text – but Saul forbids it. No one else comes forward. In an effort to rouse a volunteer, Saul declares that any man who defeats Goliath will be very rich. Still, the Israelite lines are silent. Goliath taunts them.

Then David, his pubescent voice cracking and positioned in the background so that he appears very small beside Saul and Jonathan, calls out that he will do it. Saul protests, “You’re no soldier. You’re a shepherd!” To which David replies: “As I protect my sheep, God will protect me.” This will become a common taunt from David, a reminder to Saul that God has switched favourites.

Saul tries to give him a shield, but David throws it aside, picking up a rock instead. As he approaches Goliath, he mutters out a “here though I walk in the shadow of death, I fear no evil” speech. This is, of course, from Psalm 23 and doesn’t appear anywhere in the book of Samuel. It’s hard to deduct points, though, since tradition does attribute the psalm to David.

Predictably, the Philistines start laughing when they see David approach. For some unexplained and absurd reason, Goliath then removes his helmet, giving David a clear shot at his head. There’s no reason for him to do this except to give David a clear shot. I suppose its possible that they wanted to use the act to show how little of a threat Goliath considered David to be, but it’s just so incredibly silly. They could have just as easily not given Goliath a helmet at all, as Saul doesn’t wear one in his battle scenes.

We get a Raiders of the Lost Ark set up where David is loading his sling as Goliath swooshes his sword around, then BAM! It’s all over in an instant as David bonks him. Unlike Indy, David then runs up and beheads Goliath, holding up the severed head and unleashing a mighty pubescent roar.

In some rather ham-fisted foreshadowing, Saul calls David his “wolf in shepherd’s clothing,” and says that “you’ve saved my kingdom!”

Next comes the Hakuna Matata-style growing up scene, as David transitions from boy to man while fighting Philistines, as the narrator tells us that he fought on Saul’s behalf “for decades.” In the end, “he becomes a warrior, a leader, a hero.”

The Souring

We immediately see that Saul knows David’s destiny, or at least suspects it. As Saul marches in a parade through his city while the people throw down flower petals and chant his name, David comes into view looking somewhat sour. But then, someone cries out that David has killed tens of thousands, and the crowd shifts to chanting David’s name. In an instant, David goes from looking rather miffed to grinning, raising his arms to accept the praise. The taunt is one that is repeated a few times in relation to Saul and David, such as in 1 Sam. 18:7. We’ll see it repeated a few times in the show, as well.

Jonathan perceives that his father is unhappy with the crowd’s turning, and tries to pacify him, saying that David does deserve their praise. Saul replies: “He’ll want my crown next.” The last shot of the scene is of David smirking, like he’s thinking, “Yeah, yeah I will.”

In the next scene, David is lounging with Jonathan and Michal, and the two men appear to be boasting of their military prowess while Saul hides behind a column, listening. Saul calls David forth, spitting the chant back at him: “So, once again you are our champion. You have killed thousands.” Jonathan, who is apparently completely tactless in this show, calls out a correction: “TENS of thousands!”

Saul sarcastically expresses his gratitude for David’s service, to which David says, “The Lord blessed us all.” The way he says it feels like a jab, as he can’t seem to be able to stop smirking whenever he speaks with Saul. He knows that Saul no longer has God’s blessing.

In his best creepy voice, Saul tells David that he will reward him with Michal. Far from happy or even smug, David looks completely freaked out by this announcement. At least until Saul asks for 100 dead Philistines in exchange (which, frankly, doesn’t seem like much for a men credited with killing tens of thousands).

David's madness-inducing smirk.

David’s madness-inducing smirk.

Jonathan and Michal are concerned, but David is cocky. He assures them that he will return and, with an ominous glare at Saul, he adds, “God willing.” Again, he knows that he is God’s chosen, and Saul knows it, too. David repeatedly throws it in Saul’s face throughout the episode.

With one final smirk, David heads off to battle. As they watch him leave, Saul says to Jonathan, “You love him like a brother, don’t you?” Jonathan gazes wistfully after David as he replies that he does. Saul continues, “As Abel no doubt loved Cain.” Jonathan’s portrayal is an odd one. It seems rather terrible to say that he acts gay, but the subtext certainly seems to be there in the way that he looks at David. I’m surprised, given the incentive to “no homo” the Jonathan/David relationship.

In any case, Saul continues on about David wanting the crown, while Jonathan protests that he is loyal. And yet we, the audience, saw the way that David looked at Saul’s crown in an earlier scene. We know that Saul knows exactly what is going on, and that Jonathan has been deluded (either by himself or by David).

When David returns, he brings “trophies taken from each of [the Philistines’] bodies.” No mention is made of foreskins, and Saul never asks for such trophies (and, in fact, seems rather disgusted to be presented with them.

There is a discrepancy in the text regarding how many foreskins David needed to collect; 2 Sam. 3:14 claims that it’s 100, while 1 Sam. 18:27 puts it at 200. The show fudges this by having Saul ask for 100 dead Philistines, and David bringing back 200 foreskins. With his signature smirk, he tells Saul that “God was with me.” There it is again, that reminder that God’s allegiances have shifted.

Michal is presented to David, but Saul throws a spear at them before they’ve left the room. Jonathan asks: “Father, what demons possess you? Without him, we would all be slaves and you would not be king.” To which Saul replies: “And with him, you never will be.” What Jonathan blames on demons, the text blames on an evil spirit (1 Sam. 16:14-16).

A little later, a man goes to Michal, informing her that Saul wishes to see David. She replies that it’s impossible, that David is not well. During the interaction, Saul is skulking behind a curtain, spying on the interaction. When Michal replies, however, Saul flies out in a rage. He pushes past his daughter and finds the apartments empty. Jonathan and Michal are both defending David, and this further enrages Saul.

The whole narrative is played as though Saul is deranged and paranoid, yet David has been anointed as the future king, and the look he gave Saul’s crown was unmistakable. He is continually smirking at Saul and goading him, reminding Saul that it is David who now holds God’s favour. It feels an awful lot like David is gaslighting Saul, making him seem crazy to the point that his own children turn against him.

As Saul chases after David, there is a brief scene where slaughters the priests (the story is taken from 1 Sam. 22).

In the next scene, Saul leaves his guards to go on a little stroll. It’s as ridiculous here as it is in 1 Sam. 24. What guards would let their king wander about in the wilderness alone? With bandits nearby? Saul continues to be portrayed as losing his mind, as he talks to himself in a distorted voice (a standard movie convention to show psychological slippage). And his guards, seeing him in this deranged state, decide to let him just wander off.

Saul enters a cave and starts to pee. As he does so, David does the worst sneaking job ever to get up behind Saul and cut off a piece of his clothes. Despite this making a rather loud fabric-tearing noise, Saul notices nothing. He also notices nothing as goes to leave the cave with David standing out in the open right behind him. It is only when David calls out that Saul notices him. Is he meant to be drunk? It strains credulity.

As in 1 Sam. 24, David shows his piece of robe to Saul as proof that he could have easily killed him, yet didn’t. He plays the innocent as he declares that “only evildoers do evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.” This is doubly ironic with Uriah standing right beside him (not to mention a terribly naive statement).

Saul shrieks at him, but for once David keeps his smirks and jabs to himself. When Saul asks him if, “when you have my crown, will you not kill my descendants?” David swears that he won’t. Of course, he will. His followers will murder Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 4, and he’ll hand several of Saul’s descendants over to the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21. Yet the show makes David seem sincere here. For the first time in the entire episode, David is playing the part of the wrongfully accused.

Here, the show does some conflating. It has David’s companion ask him why he would spare Saul’s life, as Abishai does in 1 Sam. 26 when he and David sneak into Saul’s camp to murder him, but David changes his mind at the last moment. Only in the episode, Abishai doesn’t exist and the companion is Uriah.

In answer to the question, David says: “Because he’s one of the anointed. It’s up to God to decide his destiny.” The look Uriah gives him is absolutely precious. It perfectly conveys the message: “What if God’s destiny for him was for you to kill him, though?”

Ep4_04

In the next scene, Saul is stabbing his food with a knife when Jonathan runs up to him, screaming “father father father” the whole way. He warns Saul of an approaching Philistine army, but Saul is so paranoid that he can only mutter on about David.

The portrayal is different from the one we get in 1 Sam. 23, where Saul doesn’t seem to hesitate at all before he abandons his chase of David to take care of the impeding Philistines. Here, however, Jonathan must convince him that it is his duty to defend his kingdom before he agrees to go.

This battle is conflated with the one in which Saul dies. David’s stint as a bandit and his joining the Philistines are both completely erased. He is simply an Israelite on the run from a mad king, and that’s that.

The battle itself is somewhat different as well. The Israelites are losing and, as they try to run away, Jonathan is killed by an arrow. The Philistines then immediately hold back to give Saul time for a monologue in which he blames himself for the terrible losses.

Incidentally, this is precisely why you never put your king and his heir in the same battle. It’s a rooky mistake, forgiveable only because Israel is still new to this whole monarchy thing.

In any case, Saul is so repentant that he commits suicide. He is never injured, and his suicide is out of remorse rather than fear of capture, as it was in 1 Sam. 31.

Saul’s crown dramatically rolls away from his body, and is picked up by an Israelite soldier. The soldier then brings it to David, and tells him of Saul and Jonathan’s death. As he presents the crown, he begins to giggle, and it is this that offends David rather than the messenger’s claim that he had personally killed Saul (as in 2 Sam. 1). Rather than order the messenger killed, as he does in the text, David simply commands him out of his sight.

Once they are alone, Uriah falls to his knees and declares David king.

David’s Reign

David’s reign, as the narrator tells us, begins with the need for a capitol. In the next shot, a band of Israelites are crawling through one of Jerusalem’s water supply tunnels, likely about to get terrible rashes from the chaffing of their wet clothes and armour.

The scene is ridiculous. In a rather pathetic attempt to add some drama, the show has David’s group encounter a grate barring their way. David’s companions are at a loss, they have no idea what to do next! Thankfully, David displays his brilliant mind by figuring out that they can just swim under the grate.

Okay, so why was that grate there? If it only goes partway and is no barrier whatsoever to invaders, why was the grate placed there in the first place?

It’s not a dramatic moment when there is such a cheat-y solution. It’s just absurd.

It doesn’t get any better after that, either, as David and his band slosh around Jerusalem, leaving a trail of wet footprints that go completely unnoticed by the world’s worst guards. When David opens the gates, the Israelite army is able to rush straight in. It seems that they had been waiting just outside – a whole army literally at the gate – and the guards hadn’t noticed a thing.

There’s some more conflation as the scene switches straight to the ark being brought into the city and David dancing before it. They did make him bare-chested, but he is far from nude!

While in this state of undress, he encounters Uriah and his wife. He makes eyes with Bathsheba, and tells Uriah that, “your wife is far too pretty for you.” The rape is somewhat foreshadowed when David, taking Bathsheba’s hand to lead her into a dance, asks Uriah if he minds – never giving Uriah a chance to respond. Bathsheba does, however, saying “I mind.” David doesn’t seem to care, and pulls her into the dance anyway.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

As they dance, David’s eyes linger on Bathsheba, and she instantly stiffens. The camera switches to Uriah, who appears to be getting worried, then back to Bathsheba as she pulls away from David. She looks incredibly uncomfortable as she returns to Uriah, though he just grins on apparently willing to overlook what his king’s presumption.

David, completely unperturbed, dances on into the ark’s tent and declares that “now God is truly with me!” It seems odd that he’s allowed in there.

As the scene was playing out, I was worried that Michal’s fight with David would be fit into it. It would have been easy to play her anger as simple jealousy at seeing David dancing with another woman. While I’m not particularly happy with her being completely written out of the scene, at least they didn’t go in that direction.

The adultery angle is an interesting one. In the show, it’s not clear that David is cheating on his wives, since it isn’t really clear that he has any. Only Michal has been introduced (Abigail is entirely absent), but she was merely promised by Saul, and that only moments before he flings a spear at them both. The only suggestion that their relationship might be more than platonic comes when Michal is guarding the door to David’s apartments, which might suggest that they are her apartments as well. Yet there is no wedding scene, no point at which she is referred to as David’s wife, and she is completely gone by the time Bathsheba enters the scene. Since David is never shown with any other woman, it would be easy to conclude that he was simply a bachelor when he met Bathsheba.

In any case, the next scene finds David on his rooftop, playing with a maquette of Jerusalem. He has a little clay temple, and is trying to find an ideal site for it when he sees Bathsheba bathing. The camera lingers on her, representing David’s gaze. I was very relieved that the show’s creators didn’t make Bathsheba into a temptress. She never looks back at David, and never even seems aware that he is there. The scene makes it clear that he is being a creepster, while she’s just trying to enjoy a bath.

David’s voyeurism is interrupted by Nathan. David tries to deflect the fact that he’s been caught by pointing out his plans for a temple. “For the Lord,” he insists. It’s well done the way he wears the mantle of godliness, insisting that he is on his roof to do God’s work, to protect himself from the fact that he’s just been caught spying on a bathing woman. I think the show’s creators wanted to highlight that David wanted to build the temple for selfish reasons, rather than as a proper tribute to God, but they inadvertently made a fairly powerful comment about “godly men” as well.

Nathan, of course, is having none of it. He tells David that he’s had a dream from God, who says that David’s house will rule Israel forever (the term isn’t fudged, despite everyone watching knowing that this is false – I found that interesting), but that it will be David’s son who will build the temple.

My temple?” asks David, incredulous. “God’s temple,” corrects Nathan. David quickly accepts his chastisement and thanks Nathan. As soon as Nathan leaves, David goes back to perving on Bathsheba.

That night, David is lounging on his roof when a servant announces that Bathsheba has been brought, “as requested.” She is very formal, addressing David as “your majesty.” He insists that she call him David, trying to make it personal. She pulls back again, mentioning her husband, asking if there’s been news of him. David says that there hasn’t been, and reminds her that he’s very far away. He leers at her, invades her personal space. She’s stiff and clearly uncomfortable. He starts touching her cheek, and she firmly tells him that she is “loyal to my husband.” Captain Grabbyhands asks, “what about your king?” The meaning is clear – as king, he can command her to submit.

David is absolutely disgusting. In a final effort, Bathsheba tries to pull away. “This is wrong!” she says. “No one need know,” answers David, and the scene fades to black. The narrator announces: “Bathsheba becomes pregnant.”

I’m glad that they did the scene the way they did. Too much pop culture portrays Bathsheba as a temptress, or at least as a willing participant, and I’m glad that they made it so clear that what happened was a rape.

In the next scene, David has sent for Uriah and asks him how the war is going, how’s Joab, how are the other soldiers? All fine, says Uriah. As in the text, David tries to send him home to sleep with Bathsheba, hoping to cover up the timing of her pregnancy, but Uriah refuses. “This is a holy war, how can I go to my home and spend the night with my wife?” David tries the same trick he tried with Bathsheba: “Man to man, who’se to know?” But Uriah is firm, “I will know.” He seems very confused, but as with the ark parade, he is willing to ignore everything and his grin quickly returns.

The narrator cuts in to inform us that David can’t, actually, force Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba. Instead, “he finds another way to conceal his adultery.” The use of the term “adultery” is rather iffy here, given that he didn’t just cheat on Uriah. I mean, yes, technically, it’s adultery, but it’s also rape. He’s raped Uriah’s wife, and that term always takes precedence over the victim’s marital status.

As in the text, David sends Uriah back to the battlefront with a letter for Joab in which he instructs Joab to send Uriah to the most dangerous battlefront and abandon him there. As in the text, Joab shows absolutely no remorse or hesitation. He simply reads the letter, then tosses it in the fire before walking away.

In the next scene, David and Bathsheba are presented as a happy couple, standing close together in a beautiful garden, holding their baby. Nathan interrupts the scene, asking David, “You think you can just sweep everything you’ve done under the carpet? […] You think God doesn’t see everything?” David and Bathsheba both immediately look at their baby, and they know. They know.

David is seated before the ark, pleading for his son’s life, when Bathsheba walks in crying. “First my husband, now my son. We are cursed,” she says. David turns on Nathan, crying out: “But I was anointed! God blessed me!” This detail is an invention of the show, and a silly one at that. How could David believe that his anointing granted him immunity after seeing what happened to Saul? I could understand remorse, I could understand a lament that he had allowed himself to believe himself “too big to fail,” but this statement to Nathan is just silly. Likely, it was only inserted so that we could get Nathan’s reply: “A king is never above his god.”

But never mind, all is well because Nathan promises them another son.

Sure enough, in the next scene David and Bathsheba are hanging out in the sun again, this time with a young boy, Solomon. The child is playing with David’s temple maquette, hammering in for the audience that he’s going to be the one to build the temple.

But, cycling back to the episode’s thematic question, the narrator tells us that “Solomon will build God’s temple. But, like his father, he will find it impossible to obey God’s commandments.”

2 Kings 16: Redecorating

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For this chapter, we head back to Judah, and to King Ahaz.

Ahaz came to his crown in the seventeenth year of Israel’s Pekah, when he was twenty years old. He lasted a total of sixteen years, during which he did not impress our narrator in the least.

Of his bad deeds, we learn that he sacrificed his own son. Or, made him “pass trough the fire,” which certainly seems to be a euphemism for child sacrifice. Not all interpretations agree, however, as I noted when the phrase appeared in Deuteronomy 18. It could also refer to some sort of trial by ordeal or a symbolic action. This might find some support in Numbers 31:23, when talking about symbolically passing objects through fire in order to consecrate them. Those objects that would not survive the fire were to be consecrated with water instead. It’s not inconceivable that the same intention of the consecrated “object” making it through the fire intact applied to the child sacrifices as well.

Our narrator here tells us that this practice was once common among the original inhabitants of the area, before God drove them out to make room for the Hebrew people. Certainly, we’ve seen the practice of passing children “through fire” associated with Molech, as in Leviticus 18:21.

In addition to this, Ahaz is described as walking “in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kgs 16:3) – which presumably refers to the worship at idols – and worshipping personally at the high places and under every green tree (it’s hard to imagine how he had time for anything else if he really was worshipping at every green tree!).

Conflicts

Meanwhile, it seems that Syria and Israel have been harassing Judah (led my Rezin and Pekah, respectively). They get as far as besieging Ahaz, but fail to conquer him.

The harassment is enough that it apparently gives Edom the opportunity to take back Elath and expel all the settled Judahites in the region.

2 Kings 16Clearly desperate, Ahaz appeals to Assyria’s Tiglath-pileser for air, offering a tribute of gold and silver from both temple and royal palace. Tiglath-pileser accepts the offering and takes Damascus from Syria, killing King Rezin and taking the locals captive. This practice of taking conquered peoples out of their homelands is a growing theme, as we’ve been seeing.

Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tiglath-pileser, and there sees the local altar. He’s so impressed with its design that he sends a model back to the temple priest, Uriah. By the time he returns to Jerusalem, his own version has been completed, and he has it installed in temple altar’s place (moving the original altar to the north side of the new addition).

The wording here was a little fuzzy to me, but it seems that Ahaz has the original altar continue to be used for all the regular sacrifices, but he reserves the new altar for his own personal use – which appears to be divination.

While he was at it, he made a bunch of other decorative changes to the temple, generally taking things down. This was done “because of the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 16:18). I initially interpreted this to mean that he had entered a vassal contract with the Assyrians, and that one of the terms was the importation of the Assyrian national religion. However, my study Bible sees it to mean that many of the temple installations were removed as further tributes to the Assyrians (or perhaps part of the original tribute, but simply presented out of chronological order).

My New Bible Commentary notes that, from this point onward, Judah was a vassal state of Assyria.

As per our formula, the chapter closes with the death of Ahaz and the ascension of his son, Hezekiah.

1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

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The following chapters take us into the first few decades after the deaths of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Important dates are given as references to the Xth year of the other half’s king’s reign – an interesting relational dating system that could only work in a divided monarchy. By necessity, this means that we skip around in the chronology a little. The story begins in Judah for Abijam and Asa, then moves up into Israel for Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab.

Abijam

Abijam came to power in the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, and ruled a total of three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, who seems to be identified by some with Absalom, making Maacah David’s granddaughter.

Of Abijam’s reign, we’re told only that he failed to live up to David’s greatness – though at least here, for once, the narrator admits that David’s greatness was slightly complicated by that whole Uriah business (1 Kgs 15:5). We also learn that hostilities continued between Israel and Judah during his reign, with the rather out-of-place verse: “Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (1 Kgs 15:6). It may be possible to explain away by seeing Rehoboam as a reference to his family rather than to the individual, but this seems a stretch. Given that the wording is very similar to 1 Kgs 14:30 and that the verse is not found here in the Septuagint, it seems likely that it’s inclusion here was in error.

No information is given about the circumstances of Abijam’s death, but he only ruled for three years.

Asa

Asa gets the best assessment of anyone in these two chapters. He is crowned king in the 20th year of Jeroboam and ruled for a rather impressive forty-one years. Weirdly, though he is described as Abijam’s son, his mother is also Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Either this is an extraordinary coincidence, terribly incestuous, or there’s an error somewhere – it could be that Maacah’s name is duplicated, or that Asa and Abijam were brothers.

The narrator’s principal definition of an awesome king is that Asa cracked down a bit on non-approved cultic practices. Namely, he put away the male cultic prostitutes (no word on the female ones), and removed his mother from her position as Queen Mother because she had commissioned an Asherah – which Asa had cut down and burned. He also brought votive gifts to the Temple, both his own and some from his father. His only failing was that he didn’t take down the high places.

During Asa’s reign, the king of Israel – Baasha, whom we’ll learn about shortly – built Ramah, barring the border between the two nations and apparently serving a defensive function. Given its proximity to Jerusalem (about 8km, or 4 miles), this may have been an aggressive structure as well, or at least perceived as such. In response, Asa took all the silver and gold from both Temple and palace treasuries, and brought it to King Benhadad of Syria. It seems that Benhadad had been supporting Baasha, but he was successfully bribed to switch sides – conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelbethmaacah, all of Chinneroth, and all of Naphtali.

Defeated, Baasha stopped building Ramah. It’s also implied that, as a consequence of this defeat, he dwelt in Tirzah – suggesting that perhaps he was building Ramah with the intention of moving Israel’s capitol there and had to retreat back to Tirzah, which we know from 1 Kgs 14:17 was the current capitol. Once Baasha had retreated, Asa ordered all of Judah (“none was exempt” – 1 Kgs 15:22) to carry away the stones and timber of Ramah, using them instead to build Geba in Benjamin and Mizpah. It seems that few lessons were learned regarding the dangers of conscription.

In his old age, Asa suffered from diseased feet, which my New Bible Commentary speculates may have been dropsy (p.340). After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoshaphat.

Israel

Nadab

Back in Israel, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab, in the second year of Asa’s reign. The narrator found him unworthy, and so, apparently, did others. He only managed to rule for two years before Baasha, the son of Ahijah of Issachar, revolted and killed Nadab at Gibbethon. It’s not spelled out, but since we are told that Gibbethon belonged to Philistia, it seems probable that Baasha took advantage of the battle to turn on his king.

Baasha

Baasha was crowned in the third year of Asa’s reign, and his first act as king was to slaughter all the remaining members of Jeroboam’s house – not an uncommon practice when trying to found a new dynasty. He ruled a total of twenty-four years, with Tirzah as his capitol. Of course, our narrator was no fan.

During Baasha’s reign, there was a new prophet: Jehu, son of Hanani. He was no fan of Baasha either. He prophesies that God is displeased that Baasha is no better than his predecessors and, as punishment, will see his house utterly destroyed.

Elah

In the 26th year of Asa, Elah inherited the crown of Israel from his father. Unfortunately, his reign was troubled from the start. While he was getting plastered, Zimri – the commander of half of Elah’s chariots – murdered him. It seems significant that Zimri commanded only half of the chariots – I’m not sure if this would have been common practice, or if this is meant to signify that there were already divisions happening.

Either way, Elah was deposed in the 27th year of Asa.

Zimri

While clearly a go-getter, Zimri failed to get all his ducks in a row before taking the crown through murder. After only seven days, during which he just barely had time to murder every male kin and friend of Baasha’s dynasty, he fell.

Elah’s troops had been encamped at Gibbethon, perhaps continuing the conflict that saw Nadab’s death. When they heard of Elah’s murder, they made their commander, Omri, king. Omri brought the army back to Tirzah and besieged the city. Clearly seeing that he wasn’t going to hold on to the power he’d only just taken, Zimri set the citadel of the king’s house on fire, with himself inside.

Just as a point of interest, the term used for the men associated with Baasha’s dynasty in 1 Kgs 16:11 in the King James Bible is “one that pisseth against a wall.” This is, apparently, how men are to be defined by people who clearly never met a woman who does a lot of hiking or camping.

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Omri

Despite having the support of the soldiers under his command, Omri’s transition was not particularly smooth. Half of Israel followed Tibni, son of Ginath. While Omri defeated Tibni, the fact that Zimri’s rise and fall occured in the 27th year of Asa yet Omri’s reign is not said to have begun until the 31st year of Asa, it seems that the conflict between the two men lasted four years.

We’re told that Omri reigned a total of twelve years, six of which were in Tirzah. Yet to make the numbers of work, four of those years would have been the years of civil war, giving him only two solid years in Tirzah. After that, he bought land from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on it the city of Samaria. Not only was this the new capitol of Israel, Israel itself soon came to be known as Samaria.

Despite the text’s assessment of Omri as evil, he seems to have been quite important. From Micah 6:16, it seems that he was known for instituting some kind of legal reform, though no details are preserved. Omri is also the first Hebrew king for which we have direct non-biblical evidence:

The Moabite Stone, which was discovered in 1868, tells of the conflict between Mesha, king of Moab, and Omri, who humbled Moab for many years but was eventually defeated (ANET, 321). The inscription is remarkable for the similarty it shows between the religion of Moab and that of Israel. Mesha acts at the behest of his god, Chemosh, just as the Israelites act at the behest of YHWH. Most remarkable is that Mesha boasts of having slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Nebo, “for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh.” Omri’s son, Ahab, is mentioned in the Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser as having contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers to an Aramean coalition that halted an Assyrian advance (ANET, 279). Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as “the house of Omri” long after Omri’s descendants had ceased to rule. Omri and Ahab were kings to be reckoned with. There is much more evidence outside the Bible for their power and influence than was the case with Solomon. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137,138)

Ahab

In the 38th year of Asa, Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab. Though described by the text as just the absolute worst, Ahab seems to have been able to maintain a bit of stability in the unstable nation of Israel, ruling for an impressive twenty-two years. He was married to a woman named Jezebel, whose name should be familiar to any cultural Christian. She was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidonia and, through her, Ahab came to serve Baal. Not only does he make an Asherah, he also builds a temple for Baal in Samaria. As in the case of his father, we have an independent attestation of Ahab’s existence.

Somewhat out of place in this narrative, we get a note about a man named Hiel of Bethel who rebuilt Jericho. We’re told that the foundation of the city came at the cost of his first-born son, Abiram, and that the gates were built at the cost of his youngest son, Segub. This is all, says the narrative, a fulfilment of Joshua’s prophecy, given in Joshua 6:29. The most charitable reading has the two boys either having their deaths attributed to the construction (as we saw Bathsheba’s first son’s death attributed to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12), or perhaps both sons assisted in the construction and died accidentally. There’s no reason to assume that Joshua’s prophecy predicted a future event, as opposed to Joshua’s prophecy, written after the events, describing events that it full well knew would come later when Jericho was rebuilt.

A third possibility, and perhaps the likeliest, was that these were ritual killings, human sacrifices intended to bless the construction. These sorts of sacrifices (both human and animal) have been found in much of the world, and knowledge of them survived in folk mythology even longer (as we see in this German legend). The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying quotes a book by Nigel Davies:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981, p. 61)

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.

2 Samuel 12: I shall go to him, but he will not return to me

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David is the king and, with Uriah disposed of, he may believe that no one can hold him accountable for his crimes against Bathsheba and Uriah. Enter the prophet Nathan.

You may remember Nathan from 2 Samuel 7, where he mysteriously replaced Abiathar. This time, he’s come with a story:

There are two men- a rich one and a poor one. The right one has many herds, but the poor man has only a single ewe, who seems to be kept more as a pet or as part of the family than as livestock. One day, a traveler goes to the rich man, but the rich man isn’t willing to kill a lamb to feed him (as would be the requirement by hospitality customs). Instead, he takes the poor man’s ewe and slaughter’s it.

David is outraged by the parable. He believes that the rich man should repay the poor man four fold – which would be in keeping with Exodus 22:1 – though he adds that the death penalty should be added as well. This is not just for the crime itself, but because the rich man “had no pity” (2 Sam. 12:6). In other words, the greater crime is the injustice, the exploitation of the vulnerable by those with social power. Sound familiar?

Then Nathan reveals the great twist: “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). He continues, God gave David so much, including “your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom” (2 Sam. 12:8), and he would have given even more if it hadn’t been enough. Yet still David was not satisfied, and he murdered Uriah using the Ammonites as his sword (the imagery is beautiful, if sad). Now, as punishment, the sword will never leave David’s family. David’s wives will be taken from him and given to others. This will be done openly, in contrast with David’s cloak and dagger methods.

There’s a couple interesting things going on here. The first is the idea that God provided David with his many wives. As Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity explains, this runs rather counter to the claim that there is no part of scripture that affirms polygamy.

Another is Nathan’s approach. Rather than come right out and condemn David, he prods David into condemning himself. This doesn’t look like judgement from on high, but rather an appeal to David’s own sense of justice, urging him to use that moral compass he has been neglecting lately.

This could be a testament to David’s sense of justice, and to Nathan’s trust that David would perceive and judge his own flaws if they are pointed out to him. Of course, it could also be a testament to how far David has fallen, that Nathan may be afraid to come right out and judge him without testing the waters first. I suspect the former, as it reads more like an attempt to show that David, while clearly in the wrong, has not lost his humanity.

When David admits that he has done wrong, Nathan reassures him that he will not have to lose his life, though that is the punishment prescribed for both Uriah’s murder (Lev. 24:19-21) and for the adultery (Lev. 20:10). Instead, God will allow him to live, but kill Bathsheba’s baby instead.

It’s unclear what the death is supposed to mean. It could be a substitutionary death, where David’s sins (and, therefore, his punishment) are transferred to the baby, so it is the baby who must die guilty (though this would directly contradict Deut. 24:16). Or, it could be that David’s punishment is the loss of a son. Either way, it’s absolutely terrible. It really only makes a difference from a white tower theological perspective. Now I need to go give my baby a quick hug before going on.

The illness

My baby has now been hugged and gone back to laying railroad tracks.

Back in 2 Samuel, Bathsheba’s baby has fallen ill. David fasts and lies on the ground all night, and the elders of his house worry about him. They try to make him rise and to eat, but he refuses. This apparently goes on for seven days before the baby dies.

Thou shalt not commit adultery, by Baron Henri de Triqueti, 1837 (Bronze bas-relief panel on the door of the Place de La Madeleine, Paris)

Thou shalt not commit adultery, by Baron Henri de Triqueti, 1837 (Bronze bas-relief panel on the door of the Place de La Madeleine, Paris)

Having seen David’s apparent grief during the child’s illness, his servants are reluctant to tell him of the baby’s death, they fear that David might harm himself. Yet David hears them whispering and guesses the cause, and he surprises everyone by getting up, having a bath, then going out for some nosh.

The servants are surprised by David’s behaviour, and they ask him why he performed his grief while the child is alive, but appears perfectly fine now that the child is dead. David explains: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22-23).

I suspect – I hope – that this is an editorial insert to make some theological point. Otherwise, the callousness of David’s speech is just heart-rending. Yes, it’s true that his grief now wouldn’t solve anything, but that’s not the purpose of grief! It is not generally a performance ritual designed to achieve some end!

Perhaps even worse is what is hinted about his treatment of Bathsheba. She has recently lost her husband, has possibly been raped, and has just lost her baby. So “David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son” (2 Sam. 12:24). It’s possible, of course, that she really did feel comforted and that the sex was consensual, but I have a hard time imagining that to be the case. At the very least, it seems to me that Bathsheba would be having some very complicated feelings about why her baby had just died – even if her initial sexual encounter with David really was adultery and not rape.

I’ll note, too, that Bathsheba is mentioned twice in the chapter, once as David’s wife and once as Uriah’s. It struck me that perhaps one editor wanted to emphasize her relationship to Uriah (his wife, present tense, not his widow as is used for Abigail), pointing to the illegitimacy of David’s marriage to her.

Bathsheba’s second child is named Solomon, and Nathan tells David that God is a great fan. In fact, he’s so pleased with the baby that he decides to name Solomon Jedidiah, or “Beloved of the Lord.”

Bathsheba and the baby are both entirely absent from this chapter, despite figuring prominently. Only once is Bathsheba named, and her son never is. Her seven days of sitting by her ill child, hoping and despairing, raging at her impotence to save her baby while her husband lies around in the dirt instead of being at her side… None of that is mentioned. Her grief when her child finally dies is never mentioned, except to reassure us that David consoled her before he knocked her up again.

It could have been such a human story. David could have wailed beside his wife, perhaps fell at her feet in remorse for his part in the child’s death. Instead, he washes himself and has a bite to eat while she is surely in another room crying over her still baby.

It’s horrible. And it’s horrible that Bathsheba’s experience of the story is so much as hinted at.

The capture of Rabbah

Perhaps to reassure us that the punishment is done (at least so far) and that God is still on David/Israel’s side – because, surely, that’s our primary concern – the narrative veers off to the battlefield to tell us that Joab has taken “the city of waters” at Rabbah (2 Sam. 12:27). This apparently refers to some defensive structure protecting the city’s water supply. With it now in Israelite hands, the siege won’t last much longer.

Joab sends a message to David with the news, and encourages him to come quickly to finish the job. If he doesn’t, Joab will take the city himself and give it his own name. Here as elsewhere, Joab strikes me as a really sarcastic, hostile guy. I feel like he knows that David is cavorting about in Jerusalem when he should be leading his army. Perhaps because he literally got away with murder in 2 Sam. 3, he thinks that he can get away with his open disrespect of the king.

David either doesn’t pick up on Joab’s tone or still feels like he can’t challenge him. Instead, he picks up his army and heads up to Rabbah to join Joab’s forces. They take the city.

David takes the crown from the Ammonite king, or perhaps from their god, and puts it on his own head. The New Bible Companion offers this explanation for the confusion: “Their king (Heb. malkām) was evidently understood by LXX as the name of the Ammonite deity Milcom” (p.307). It could be, then, than David removed the crown from an idol. Given its weight – a talent (or about 65 pounds) of gold, set with a precious stone – seems to favour that interpretation. Its hard to imagine a king using such a crown as part of his every day wear. Though, of course, it could also be a ceremonial crown, or perhaps the weight is exaggerated.

The Israelites took a lot of spoil from Rabbah, and enslaved the inhabitants. The army then continued on and did the same to the rest of the Ammonite cities before returning to Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 11: The Golden Boy falls

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I never learned about David and Bathsheba in Sunday School (inappropriate for young ears and all that, better to focus on family-friendly material such as the crucifixion of Christ), but it’s hard to grow to adulthood as a “cultural Christian” without having at least heard the names. What I didn’t know until I started studying the Bible, though, was the context of the story and its aftermath.

It’s clear from the outset that David will not look good in this story: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle” (2 Sam. 11:1), David stays behind in Jerusalem. Instead, he sends Joab out to fight the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah (the Ammonite capital) in his place. No reason is given for the neglect of his duties, but the image of him arising from his couch late one afternoon (2 Sam. 11:2) makes it seem like he’s just lounging around. How far the mighty have fallen!

Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi

Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi

So he finally gets up off his couch and takes a walk on his roof. While there, he sees a beautiful woman bathing. We are only told that she is bathing, but there is a note later on that she “was purifying herself from her uncleanness” (2 Sam. 11:4). While the detail is provided later on, it seems that the consensus assumes that it explains her reason for bathing – she would be following laws like the one outlined in Lev. 15:19-24, washing herself after menstruation.

Whatever her reasons for bathing, the reading that she was doing it to seduce men while her husband was away at war requires an awful lot of reading into the story. A woman bathing is bathing, not trying to seduce men. A woman wearing a tanktop in summer is trying to keep cool, not trying to seduce men. This is an idea that my culture seems to have quite a bit of trouble with.

When he sees her, David falls in lust and asks for her identity. Finally, she is revealed to be Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite. Despite behind a Hittite, Uriah is currently off with Joab fighting the Ammonites on David’s behalf.

David sends messengers to Bathsheba and “took her,” but also “she came to him” (2 Sam. 11:4). I’m not sure what to make of the fact that David’s taking of Bathsheba (clearly a euphemism) occurs first, before Bathsheba comes to him. But even if she did come to him, he is the king and he has made a demand of her. Given what happens later on in the story, it’s easy to see how Bathsheba (again, assuming that she responded to David’s invitation) might have felt like she had little choice.

It is here that we get the note about her purifying herself from her uncleanness, which gives us the possibility that her uncleanness was adultery, which raises the question of why David is not required to perform any similar purification.

After the encounter, Bathsheba learns that she has become pregnant so she sends word to David.

The problem of Uriah

Bathsheba’s pregnancy poses quite the problem for David. With Uriah away, it will be obvious that he did not father his wife’s child, and suspicion might be cast toward Israel’s loafing king whether Bathsheba speaks or not.

David’s first plan to hide his doings is to create another plausible scenario by which Bethsheba may have become pregnant – so he calls Uriah back from battle. His cover story is that he wants Uriah to give a battle report (though it seems a little strange why he thought that asking for Uriah specifically would go unnoticed).

David then instructs Uriah to head home and wash his feet, which I took to mean that David was encouraging Uriah to relax after a long journey (which could include having sex with his wife), but my pervy New Bible Companion goes straight for the most explicit interpretation, calling it an “idiom of the time” (p.307).

There’s also a mention of a present, which I assume was meant to mean that David had sent a gift to Uriah’s home to reward him for the news he brought, but could be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bathsheba.

Uriah obeys his king and leaves, but doesn’t go farther than David’s front doorstep. Rather, he spends that night at David’s door.

The next morning, David asks Uriah why he hadn’t gone home. Uriah asks David how he can go to his own home and eat, drink, and sleep with his wife while his brothers-in-arms camp in the open field (interestingly using the phrase “Israel and Judah” – 2 Sam. 11:11). The criticism seems rather pointed since, of course, David got himself into trouble doing precisely that.

Uriah also references the ark and people in booths, which may suggest that enough time has passed for it to be the Feast of Tabernacles, and perhaps this provides another reason for Uriah’s abstinence.

A third possibility comes from Exodus 19:15, where soldiers are asked to abstain from sex before battle. It’s possible that Uriah is mindful of this, since he intends to return to the battlefield once David excuses him.

David tries to salvage his plan by making Uriah stay one more day in Jerusalem, channelling Lot’s daughters (Gen. 19:30-38) and trying to get Uriah as drunk as possible. But Uriah is steadfast in his refusal of conjugal visits.

Plan B

Realizing that his first plan isn’t going to work, David goes a little more extreme in his efforts to cover up his infidelity/rape. When he sends Uriah back to the field, he sends him with a letter to Joab. The letter Uriah carries, unbeknownst to him, instructs Joab to send Uriah to the front lines and abandon him there.

Joab proved his willingness to kill for David in 2 Sam. 3, and David’s willingness to use him for the same purpose here casts a suspicious light on the spin in 2 Sam. 3. As Tim Bulkley puts it: “Up to now, David the Death Machine has been a death machine in the service of God. This is his first killing for his own benefit, and it marks a turning point in his story.”

But Joab apparently realizes how obvious David’s plan would be, and he improves on it. Instead of abandoning Uriah at the front lines, he instead assigns Uriah to a group that he knows to be especially “valiant” (2 Sam. 11:16) – read “foolhardy.” As he had planned, the “valiant” men face sallying Ammonites, pushing the enemy back to the city walls but dying to archer fire in the process.

Joab sends a messenger back to report on the battle to David, but anticipates that David may be angry that he had allowed the Israelite army to get so near the city walls. He anticipates that David will cite historical precedent – when Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth got too close to a wall and was killed by a woman dropping a millstone onto his head, from Judges 9:53. If David raises this objection, the messenger is to drop the ultimate bomb – sure, we lost some guys, but Uriah was among them.

As a side note, it is interesting that Jerubbaal’s (Jg.7:1) name is here given as Jerubbesheth. It seems that the author(s) of 1-2 Samuel are fairly consistently erasing Baal from people’s names, replacing it with “bosheth,” which means “shame.” Given that it suggests that these characters (or, at least, their parents) were not the YHWHist monotheists the narrative would like, the motivation seems rather obvious.

Joab’s concerns are misplaced, however. David seems quite happy with Joab’s aggressive attack on the city, and asks the messenger to encourage him on.

My New Bible Companion raises (but does not agree with) the possibility that Joab’s anticipation of David’s reaction may have actually been David’s reaction, misplaced. This, apparently, has “some LXX support” (p.307).

The widowed

There’s no murder of a married man without leaving a widow. When Bathsheba hears of Uriah’s death, she goes into mourning – as was proper. As soon as the required mourning period was over, however, David swoops in and “brought her to his house” (2 Sam. 11:27). He marries her and she bears a son, but this is no happy ending. The chapter closes by telling us that David’s actions have angered God.

Throughout most of this chapter, Bathsheba is passive. David sends for her, David marries her, David takes her. Nowhere do we hear Bathsheba’s perspective on the relationship. Did she want to sleep with David in the first place? Did she want to marry her husband’s murderer? We never know, because the record doesn’t seem to care. David’s crime is not rape, but rather having sex with another man’s wife and then murdering him.

Certainly, it’s obvious that their relationship is no love affair. When Bathsheba realises that she is pregnant, she sends a messenger to let David know. They are not pursuing a relationship, she needed messengers to communicate with her “lover.” Or, as Tim Bulkley puts it:

This is no great love affair. This is not a case of two lovers who can’t keep their hands off each other. In ancient epics or modern films, somehow or other that kind of love affair would excuse infidelity, somehow, but not here. There’s no love lost here.

Reading between the lines, the impression I get is that David saw Bathsheba, raped her, then hoped to go on as though nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the pregnancy became evidence of his actions, so he went about trying to cover it up. This even explains why he only waited the minimum time required before marrying Bathsheba – her pregnancy imposed a time limit.

If David’s willingness to use Joab to murder his enemies cast suspicion on the spin of 2 Sam. 3, then his behaviour regarding Bathsheba casts suspicion on the circumstances of his marriage to Abigail in 1 Sam. 25.