Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is not this the son of David? (2Sam 7)

Chapter 7 is extremely significant, and the reason it is significant is also the reason that the SAB is wrong about failed prophecy in this particular case.

David comes to be speaking to the prophet Nathan one day, and he says that he feels bad that the ark is kept in a tent while he lives in a palace, hinting that he would like to build a temple. Nathan thinks this is a great idea, and encourages David. It's worth noting that Nathan says "for the LORD is with thee", because later, God seems to speak to him in a dream and correct him; since the idea sounded good, Nathan assumed that God would agree. Although the SAB did not mark it as such, some might be tempted to think of this as failed prophecy, but it's rather a failed prophet.

God gives a message to David that he is not to build a temple, but that a descendant of David's would instead build a temple, and God would establish the kingdom of that descendant for ever. The SAB says of this passage, "God says that Solomon's kingdom will last forever. It didn't of course. It was entirely destroyed about 400 years after Solomon's death, never to be rebuilt." This is only half right.

Yes, Solomon's kingdom only lasted about 400 years after Solomon, but that's not the point. The prophecy concerns a descendant of David, but it doesn't say which descendant. The assumption that it's talking about Solomon may seem reasonable, since he inherited the throne of David, but there is something deeper here, and while you may have already guessed where I'm going with this as a Christian, I do think that even Jews accept this interpretation with the exception of the specific fact that I claim here: this prophecy is concerning Jesus of Nazareth.

Matthew 1:32-33 says of Jesus, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Acts 2:30 says of David, "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne" Sound familiar? This prophecy is not of Solomon, but of the eternal kingdom of the Messiah that is to come some day, Christians of course believing that person to be Christ Jesus.

The SAB asks, "Does God lie?" Well, the issue is not so pressing in this case, as David is not necessarily making a blanket theological statement so much as affirming that he believes in this prophecy. I'll leave the larger issue of God's willingness/ability to lie for a another time.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The LORD separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD (2Sam 6)

In chapter 6, David decides that it's time to send for the ark and bring it to Jerusalem. This prompts a question of timing of this event, about which I have already given an opinion.

Now, the manner in which this happens is important. As the Philistines did when they had the ark and wanted to get rid of it, the Israelites get a new cart, load it up, and bring it along. This is a problem. When the ark is to be moved, the proper method of transport is supposed to be having it carried on foot by Levites. The Philistines, between the fact of their being (relatively) ignorant pagans and perhaps the more important fact of them not having Levites were able to get away with loading the thing on a cart. For the Israelites, handling the ark of God in such a cavalier manner led to God's wrath striking down Uzzah.

Where exactly was it that Uzzah was struck down? I don't see this as a problem the way the SAB does. While we are given two names for the location of this event, the fact that this account and the one in 1Chronicles 13 were written far apart in time may mean that the place was known differently at the later date. Childon was probably a descendant of Nachon, and both of them at various times owned a threshing floor at the place called Perezuzzah. (Edited to add that the name "Perezuzzah" was clearly a name given to the place because Uzzah was struck down there, so the name came after the incident.)

So eventually, they seem to get it figured out, and they transport the ark on foot, making sacrifices to God along the way. David comes along with the procession, dancing as it goes. Now, I'll admit that what's going on here is not completely clear, but I don't agree with the SAB's reading, neither that there might have been something wrong with David dancing, nor that David was somehow nude. Note that it does not say that David was naked, but rather that he was clothed in an ephod, which was a priestly garment. I think Michal was simply, for some reason, feeling that David was making a fool of himself by the way he was acting, which she felt was improper for a king. David's reply is that he doesn't care what people think, he just loves God.

Now the final note of this chapter says that Michal "had no child unto the day of her death." The SAB makes a surprising evaluation of this fact, calling it a contradiction (which I don't think it is, more in a moment) but not marking it with "Injustice" or "Women", which I probably would have. The Bible seems to be suggesting that Michal was made infertile as a punishment for arguing with her husband, which seems a bit extreme to me, but maybe there's something to this story I'm missing. (It might be that David simply never had sex with her again.) As for the contradiction, I assume that the children that Michal is reported to have had were all born before this incident.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself (2Sam 5)

Finally in chapter 5, David becomes king over all of Israel, and remains king for 40 years. This prompts the SAB to see a possible contradiction in certain events that occur in the reign of David, particularly the eventual rebellion of Absalom. I don't think I buy the logic here; if anything, it almost seems worse than the SAB is insinuating. 2Sam. 15:7 says "And it came to pass after forty years..." I say, counting from when? In the immediate context, it sounds like Absalom spent 40 years kissing up to the people, which could have happened starting before David became king, or a long time afterwards, as one might wonder how he could be doing the stuff described in that chapter while his father was on the run from Saul. On the other hand, the 40 years in the context in this chapter could mean that David was king for 40 years until he was deposed temporarily by Absalom. In any case, I don't see any of this dating to be clear enough to base a contradiction on.

Apparently, one of the first things that David has to deal with as king is some sort of challenge on his authority by the Jebusites. On the face of it, it does sound fairly cruel, but I'm not sure what's going on here at all. Are the Jebusites telling David he has to kill his own people? Are they using their own disabled population as human shields? I don't know, so I'm not sure how to comment on it. The SAB calls it violent and unjust, and I'm inclined to agree that far.

David builds himself some sort of palace, and takes more women, neither action being commented upon here, but I believe the latter being condemned elsewhere. With more women come more children, and a list is given here; the SAB points out this list doesn't match other lists, and once again, what can I say but they sure don't match. It may be that none of the lists is meant to be exhaustive, but then one might ask why, and why the particular names on each list? I certainly don't know.

So the Philistines come up and move in on David, and David inquires of the Lord if he should respond. God says yes, and vows to help, exactly as the SAB says. As I've said before, if the land is being invaded, why shouldn't they defend themselves and why shouldn't God help them do so? And when they find the Philistines' idols left behind, why shouldn't they burn them?

The Philistines come back, and this time God gives David some tactical advice, which for some reason the SAB finds absurd, but who would be better at giving tactical advice than an omniscient being?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died (2Sam 4)

In chapter 4, we learn of the odd story of how Ishbosheth becomes worried and weakened when he hears that Abner is dead, and so two of his captains come into his house when he's resting in the middle of the day, and they kill him. They take his head and bring it to David, which really seems like an obviously stupid thing to do given the way David has reacted so far to people who take it in their heads to commit violence to help him. Indeed, David reminds these guys of the fate of the Amelekite who killed Saul, and then orders them killed and their bodies mutilated. As I said before, David is probably in part motivated by setting a precedent that regicide will not go unpunished in Israel.

So long as I didn't already comment on it, and this post is so small, the phrase "under the fifth rib" is, I imagine, a Bible-ism for "in the heart".

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Now these were the sons of David (2Sam 3)

In chapter 3, David gets busy being king and having lots of kids. David has six sons, each by a different wife, and for some reason the retelling of David's family in 1Chronicles 3 gives one name different. It might be a nickname or something like that, but I really have no idea what the story is here.

A really strange story here is the story of Abner and his turning his allegiances to David. Apparently, Abner sleeps with one of Saul's concubines, which worries Ishbosheth (as I think I mentioned elsewhere, it was apparently a custom of the day for a king who conquered another to sleep with the defeated king's concubines to show he is taking the old king's place), and Ishbosheth asks what's going on. Abner flips out and goes over to David's side. (One might wonder if Abner sensed he was on the losing side, and wanted to switch to keep what power he had as a military leader.)

David tells Ishbosheth that he wants his wife Michal back, and Ishbosheth retrieves her. Her new husband Phaltiel is clearly very unhappy about this, but is unable to do anything about it. We're never told whether David did this out of love or out of a sort of display of authority, but we were told earlier that Michal did love David, and perhaps she still does. Something that the SAB does not note here is the fact that a man whose ex-wife has remarried is not allowed to take her back (Deuteronomy 24:4). Since there doesn't seem to have been a formal divorce in this case, it's not clear whether David might be breaking the law in this case.

Now, when David tries to make peace with Abner, Joab hears about it and is very displeased. He goes behind David's back and kills Abner in revenge for the killing of his brother Asahel. David denounces Joab's actions and pronounces a curse on Joab's house. Now whether or not David was right to give this curse (and whether it was really meaningful) is a matter of opinion, but I think I can see David's motivation for being angry with Joab. After all, Abner was offering a chance at peace and a (relatively) bloodless uniting of the kingdom of Israel under David, and Joab messed it up.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

And all his house died together (2Sam 2)

So in chapter 2, David finally becomes king officially. However, at apparently around the same time, Abner decides to declare Saul's son Ishbosheth the king. No doubt Abner, being a close relative of Saul, would prefer to keep the monarchy in the family.

This does present a problem for the SAB though, in that according to 1Chronicles 10, "all [Saul's] house died together" during the battle that saw the death of Saul. One of the things that can be said in reply to this is that it may not be clear what comprises Saul's "house". It's well established elsewhere that at least one of Saul's grandchildren is alive, and as I just said above, Abner is a relative of Saul. One might consider the idea that his "house" is his royal line, but even that is problematic, as Ishbosheth not only survives, but briefly sits on the throne. It might also be that Saul's "house" refers to men in his family of the proper age to fight in wars, but since Ishbosheth is somewhere around forty years old when Saul dies, this seems highly unlikely. While one can also sometimes find some ambiguity in the word "together", I don't think that's going to suffice here either, as clearly Isbosheth lives at least two years after Saul's death. The only real room for ambiguity in the language here that I can see is in the word "son", which as has been mentioned several times is a much more fluid word in Hebrew, capable of referring to any descendant. If Ishbosheth was Saul's grandson, perhaps there is no contradiction, but there's really no indicator of such an idea other than the fact that it might solve this issue, and that Ishbosheth doesn't seem to ever be mentioned until this point. In short, I don't know what to make of the claim of 1Chronicles 10:6.

A strange story follows. The armies of David and Ishbosheth meet together in Gibeon, and Abner suggests "Let the young men now arise, and play before us." The play turns out to be lethal, and in short order, twenty-four men are dead. Is this a "cruel game" as the SAB says? Maybe. The way it sounds to me is that the idea was to have a relatively non-violent wrestling match, and it turned sour, as every single one of the men was set on treachery against their opponent. Indeed, this is a violent event, and one that doesn't make much sense, especially since there are no formally declared hostilities between these two armies.

The next notable event in the plot is Abner's killing of Asahel, the brother of Joab. This seems to be clearly a case of self-defense, as well as a killing in the midst of battle, and yet Joab later seeks revenge for this act. Once all the fighting is done on this particular day, Ishbosheth's soldiers lose 360 men, while David loses only 20.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings (2Sam 1)

As 2Samuel (which, as I think I said earlier, was not really a separate book originally) begins, we have yet another story about Amalekites. An Amalekite comes to David and claims that he has killed Saul, prompting the SAB to ask how it could be possible for an Amalekite to exist, given the history of various attempts throughout the reign of Saul to obliterate them. Note however that right here in this chapter, the very first verse mentions David's "slaughter of the Amalekites". I think it would be quite a stretch to claim that the author of this passage didn't notice this juxtaposition as he wrote it. That being the case, I take it as my understanding that all these military attempts at wiping out the Amalekites keep managing to miss a few. David has clearly missed at least one.

Although I already addressed the issue of how Saul died, there's some interesting language here that may further shed light on the matter. If this is a true story, (and once again, with no corroborating witnesses, this may be a fabrication) then Saul's last words were, "Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me." This indicates to me that Saul wanted to be dead, but wasn't, which may fall in line with my suggestion of a failed suicide. Furthermore, the Amalekite says, "So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen:" which indicates to me that Saul had sustained mortal wounds before the Amalekite got there. Actually, if we assume that the story from the last chapter is true, then this story meshes with it pretty well, and for that fact I'm inclined to believe the Amalekite's tale.

The Amalekite delivers the crown and bracelet that Saul was wearing to David, apparently knowing that these royal things now belong to him, and perhaps hoping to be treated favorably for being the one who killed Saul. David is not pleased, even with it supposedly being a mercy killing, and orders one of his men to kill the Amalekite. I don't really know why David would do this. It may link back to the reasons I formerly discussed as to why David himself refused to lay a finger on Saul. Violent? Definitely. Unjust? I personally agree with that assessment. Intolerant? Maybe if we're assuming that David's killing him at least in part for being an Amalekite.

David composes a little poem as a eulogy for Saul and Jonathan, talking about what great warriors they were, and how Saul made Israel into a great nation. Also, he speaks of the great love he had for Jonathan, which need not be interpreted as sexual love.