Thursday, September 28, 2023

Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan (2Samuel 24)

Once again, 2Samuel chapter 24 is almost certainly not chronological; this census was probably late in David's life, but not right at the end. Who tempted David to number Israel? As I mentioned in a previous chapter, there's no contradiction here if you understand the Jewish concept of Satan being the servant of God. God had a hand in this, but Satan did the actual tempting. Has God ever tempted anyone? While I think you can dismiss "lead us not into temptation" as a technicality, it leaves us with two verses to deal with, as I'm coming down on the side of "no". I think one of the hardest things in translation is the issue of how close in meaning the words "tempt" and "test" are. I don't know how this plays out in the Hebrew and Greek, but I suspect the line is blurry, especially when here we're comparing across languages. I guess the thing I'm left with is to say that taking the KJV literally, you would have to say there is a contradiction here. Is it OK to take a census? This is one where the answer is "it depends". It's generally understood (and it seems to be the case from context) that David took a census in order to find out how many fighting men he had, even though Israel was not at war. He either intended something that God disapproved of, or perhaps he was showing a lack of faith that God would protect him. Moses's censuses were for various reasons, and commanded by God, while Solomon's census was apparently of slaves to plan out a work project.

How many valiant men drew the sword in Israel and Judah as counted by Joab? Yes, this is contradictory, and I have no idea why. It's worth noting that while the SAB says these numbers are ridiculous, this is probably not active soldiers, but rather all men in Israel who could potentially serve in a battle. I already answered whether David sinned in 2Samuel chapter 22, where the answer was "yes". How many years of famine? Yes, a straight up contradiction.

Is God merciful? Wow, this is a deep question, and unfortunately highly subjective. I think it's most problematic when a number of verses say things like, "his mercy endureth forever." I think it can clearly be said that God's mercy is limited, which would contradict a claim like that. Are the claims that God is merciful opinion? I could claim that, but unfortunately, not only are many of these claims by prophets, but a handful are from God himself! I think the best I can say is that it's subjective, and a lot of people are going to find the verses in the "no" section to be rather convincing, but I would claim that in most of those cases it's clear from context that the things God did in them came after a great deal of mercy.

Does God repent? I actually addressed this extensively in Genesis chapter six, but it's worth revisiting. There are two different ideas embodied in the term "repent" that need to be delineated. One is the idea of changing one's mind about the rightness of a thing; the other is the idea of deciding to cease an action that one has been doing. The former is definitely something God does not do, while the latter is something God has done many times in the Bible. If one understands that this distinction exists, threre is no contradiction. How much did David pay for the threshing floor? Yes, a rather striking contradiction here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

All the mighty men of valour (2Samuel 23)

2Samuel chapter 23 only opens with a contradiction if you assume all of this is chronological, which, as I said in the last chapter, I don't believe to be true. What were the last words of David? This chapter claims these verses were, 1Kings 2 does not make such a claim.

How many men did the chief of David's captains kill? This seems possible to be a contradiction, but notice that the names are different in 1Chronicles 11. It seems more likely to me that David had two different chiefs at different times. Admittedly, "Hachmonite" and "Tachmonite" look very similar in Hebrew, although 800 and 300 do not. I should also note that with these numbers being so round, probably both 800 and 300 are rounded up.

How many mighty men did David have? I always find it interesting when a supposed contradiction comes up in a single narrative; I usually assume that there's a misunderstanding rather than an actual contradiction. So what is going on here? Was the author of this chapter bad at counting? If, indeed, there are 36 here, I have a suggestion: David was #37. It's a real possibility, but now I'm going to immediately pivot and give what I think is an even better idea: Joab. Joab is only tangentially touched on in the list here, but it seems rather likely given Joab's track record throughout the story of David, that Joab would be considered one of the "mighty men". The person who wrote this may have felt they included Joab since his name appears in there twice.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

David did that which was right (2Samuel 22)

One important thing to say about 2Samuel chapter 22 is that it's out of chronological order. It's been a while since I read 2Samuel, but I seem to recall the last few chapters are a bit of a muddle, and while I don't know about the scholarly consensus on this, I've always suspected that they were added on later. This may make sense of a few issues in the text.

So this is pretty much a psalm. There's going to be some poetic license. There's a lot of flowery speech about God's nostrils and riding on cherubs. Has there ever been a righteous person? Yes, but there is some subjectivity in the term "righteous" that muddies the water here. Sometimes we're talking about being completely righteous and innocent before God, that is, a person has not personally sinned. Sometimes the word "righteous" is used to describe something that a person seeking righteousness will do. Also, the Jewish concept of being "righteous" was largely different than the Christian concept, although there is overlap. The Christian doctrine of "original Sin" suggested that being fully righteous could only be attained through a positional righteousness with respect to Christ, nonetheless Jewish understanding of righteousness was also in part about attempting to grow closer to God. That being said, there's something about being "righteous" that is largely about trying to do right in both religious traditions, although sometimes the term is used to refer to someone who is completely blameless. See? Clear as mud! So, as for the "No" verses: As I've said before, Job is not a theologian, and he's talking from a place of great despair throughout his book. Isaiah is probably talking about the current state of the people of Israel, although many people do interpret this verse to be a universal decree, which is not necessarily a problem; compared to God, humans' acts of righteousness are comparatively "filthy rags." The verse in Isaiah chapter 41 may be similar, but it's worth noting overall that Isaiah has verses on both sides here, so it's unlikely his intentions are contradictory, especially since it appears that even just earlier in chapter 41 Isaiah is talking about "the righteous man". Romans 3:10 is Paul quoting from Psalm 14, which is translated differently in the KJV, and I believe is hyperbole, but Paul is trying to make a point about the law, and the impossibility of man fulfilling it, therefore full righteousness is only truly possible through the grace of God.

Did David sin? Of course he did, but yes, this deserves some examining. Probably the number one thing to say about David is that generally, people don't consider killing people in the course of warfare to be a sin; it's pretty clear David didn't. That's not the source of the contradiction, however. Yes, David sinned in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, and he at least felt that he had sinned in performing a census, although the latter is less clear. I believe that this chapter was written before Bathsheba, so while realistically, it's unlikely David was perfect, he had no significant sins at the time this was written. On the other hand, 1Kings was definitely written after David sinned, so what can be said? Something that is very important with respect to sin in God's eyes is repentance, which David was genuinely very good at in all the instances where he was called out. In the Jewish Law, when one sins, if one then repents and gives the proper sacrifice, then one is following the Law. It's really for this reason that David is often brought up as an example of righteousness; not because he was perfect, but because he sought the will of God.

The SAB marks other matters in this psalm with a number of things that are subjective, except for violence, but once again, we're talking about warfare, and scientific issues, but as I've said many times before, in poetry, there's a lot of flowery speech that isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Gibeon had made peace with Israel (2Samuel 21)

2Samuel chapter 21 is where we finally get to the famine which was somehow caused by Saul's actions. As I discussed to some extent in chapter twelve, I don't really have a good explanation for why people are being punished for Saul's sin long after he's dead, nor why the proper response was to kill some of his descendants. I'll freely admit this seems unjust and cruel, but maybe I'll check out some commentaries and leave more thoughts in the comments. (Oh, and the SAB is right that there is no record of Saul killing Gibeonites; I guess they don't list it as a "contradiction" because there's no verse that says this to contrast with. I suppose that's more of an "omission".) I also just noticed that it's a bit odd that the Gibeonites say, "...neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel..." and then request killing some men in Israel.

I answered whether all of Saul's family died with him in chapter two. I answered how many sons Michal had in chapter six, but the supposed contradiction raises another question: who was the father of these five sons, since David was Michal's husband? Did David sacrifice his own sons, or did Michal somehow have five sons in the brief time she was married to Phalti? Either answer is strange... I answered who killed Saul in 1Samuel chapter 31, with further commentary in 2Samuel chapter 1. The answer was, "It's complicated..."

Does God approve of human sacrifice? The simple answer is no, but there definitely is a lot to be clarified. Yes, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but he never intended him to go through with it. Yes, it talks in Exodus and Leviticus about devoting firstborn sons to God, but that was never understood to mean child sacrifice, and in fact, the verse in Leviticus is in the same chapter as an explanation of how you redeem a human being that you have vowed to the Lord. I admittedly don't know what is going on in Numbers 31, but it actually doesn't specify that the women were killed, only that they were "the LORD's tribute", which could mean just about anything. (Perhaps they were destined to marry Levites?) I addressed Jephthah's supposed sacrifice of his daughter when I covered Judges eleven, where I pointed out that there's no indication God approved, and it's possible that the "sacrifice" was that she would be an eternal virgin. The killing that Josiah did was about punishing idolatry rather than giving a human sacrifice to God. Yes, Jesus was in a very real sense a human sacrifice, but in a special way that is an exception to the general rule.

The chapter ends with some giant killing, and the SAB asks, Who killed Goliath? and Whom did Elhanan kill? Now, both contradictions are fixed by the words in italics, which makes a good time to stop and talk about italics in the KJV. The KJV throughout its text has words in italics, and I think it's a great thing that other versions should have (and a few do); they indicate words that the translators put in for clarity that aren't technically in the original manuscripts. The words "the brother of" aren't in the Hebrew, and aren't even in the Greek of the Septuagint. They are nonetheless added to most translations because of the text at 1Chronicles 20:5 to avoid these two contradictions. It's reasonable to assume a scribal error here because of this. I find it interesting that the KJV is full of italics, but as far as I know the SAB only points them out here because setting them aside allows for two contradictions to be added to the text. Anyway, there's some interesting stuff here about giants; when it says someone is a "son of the giant", they probably mean Goliath. The man with the extra fingers and toes is odd, but this is not an unheard of mutation.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

And the king left ten women, which were concubines (2Samuel 20)

While 2Samuel chapter 20 is more action-packed than the previous chapter, there's not a lot here to cover. The fallout of the argument from the end of the last chapter is that a man named Sheba blows a horn and yells to the Israelites that David is clearly king of just the tribe of Judah, and the other tribes should abandon David, so they all leave. As almost a side note, David takes the ten concubines that Absalom had sex with and puts them away somewhere separate where he never has sex with them again.

David tells Amasa to assemble the troops and go after Sheba for being a troublemaker. They go after him, but on the way, Joab kills Amasa. (Joab really has this tendency to kill people who have offended him and/or David against David's will.) When they come to the city where Sheba is, they lay siege to it, and try to break down the wall. A woman comes to the wall and asks Joab what the meaning of the attack is, and Joab says that they really just want Sheba. So the people of the city chop off Sheba's head and throw it down to Joab. Joab blows a horn, and the army goes back to Jerusalem.

They brought him to Jerusalem (2Samuel 19)

The SAB marks 2Samuel chapter 19 as "boring", and yeah, it probably is; but what do you want, more mass killing and rape?

David is still mourning Absalom, and Joab goes to find him and says essentially that it's looking bad that he's mourning someone who wanted him and his family and friends dead, and if he wants to stay king, he needs to buck up and go talk with the people. So David goes and sits by the gate of the city, a traditional place for leaders to be, and the people notice and come to him. David sends word to the tribe of Judah (his own tribe) and asks why they haven't sent for him to come back, and tells Amasa that he will be the head of the army in Joab's place. They send for David, and he goes back to cross the Jordan.

A bunch of people show up at the crossing. Shimei shows up with a thousand Benjamiites and apologizes for the way he treated David on the way out. Mephibosheth shows up and says that he has been slandered by his servant. David is not in a mood for revenge at this moment, so he forgives them. An 80-year-old man named Barzillai, who helped David when he was in exile, shows up to see David back to Jerusalem, at least part of the way. David returns to Jerusalem, and there's a bit of an argument between the men of Judah and the men of the rest of Israel over who is more loyal, which apparently leads to problems in the next chapter.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

King David mourned many days for his son (2Samuel 18)

2Samuel chapter 18 opens with David finally organizing his retaliation against Absalom. He apparently still has thousands of men on his side, and he divides them into three armies. The men tell him to not fight because his life is more important than theirs, and so he stays behind. 20,000 men are killed, probably mostly by David's soldiers. I think that verse eight is really saying that the slaughter was worse just because they were fighting in the forest, not that the forest literally killed people.

Now Absalom comes riding on a mule, and he gets his head caught in some tree branches. This is supposed to be ironic, because one of the things people admired Absalom for was his huge head of hair, and it proves to be his undoing. So somehow, he's left there by himself just hanging by his hair, and a man reports this to Joab, who gets angry with the man for not taking advantage of the situationa5 and killing Absalom. The man replies that David told everyone that no matter what happens, not to hurt Absalom. Joab clearly doesn't care, and stabs Absalom in the heart with three arrows; ten men with him also attack Absalom. Joab blows a trumpet and the fight ends. They throw Absalom's body in a pit and cover him with stones. I addressed whether Absalom had children in 2Samuel chapter 14.

A man wants to run to David and tell him the news, but Joab stops him, because he knows David won't be happy (and perhaps he wants to make sure the king doesn't know who struck the killing blow), but then he tells a different man to run and tell David. In the end, both men go, David finds out, and he appears to be heartbroken.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

And Ahithophel said unto Absalom (2Samuel 17)

So, there's not much in 2Samuel chapter 17 so I'll make it short. Ahithophel suggests a battle plan to take down David. Absalom wants to hear what Hushai thinks, and Hushai suggests a different plan. Everyone likes Hushai's plan better, supposedly because it's God's will for Ahithophel to be a failure. Hushai sends word to David to plan accordingly, and David successfully hides. Ahithophel commits suicide. The SAB marks this suicide as injustice, but I don't know what's unjust about suicide, as one does it to oneself. In my opinion, this is more absurd than unjust; I mean, Ahithophel gets rejected a total of one time, and he ends his life over it? What the heck? Who was Amasa'a father? I notice that in this chapter, Amasa's father is said to be Ithra, while in other places, it's Jether, but Ithra and Jether are just alternate spellings of the same Hebrew name. I don't think there's an easy answer, it's just an error in one place or the other.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite (2Samuel 16)

There's an interesting vignette at the beginning of 2Samuel 16 with Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. He shows up with a bunch of supplies for David, and David asks where Mephibosheth is. Ziba explains that apparently Mephibosheth is taking Absalom's insurrection as an opportunity to get political power (for who knows what reason), and David tells Ziba he can have all of Mephibosheth's property.

Then we see another interesting vignette with Shimei, some relative of Saul, who comes out to yell curses at David and throw rocks. Abishai asks to go over and kill Shimei, but David says to leave him alone, because maybe he deserves what Shimei is doing. This is interesting, because Saul was told to kill Agag, and failed to do so in a timely manner, and Haman, an Agagite, tried to kill the Jews in the book of Esther, but he was thwarted by Mordecai, a descendant of Shimei (see Esther 2:5). The SAB does point out that David asked Solomon to kill Shimei when he was on his deathbed, but perhaps by that time, he felt it was clear he had God's favor, and clearly Shimei was not doing the will of God, but just being an asshole.

So the chapter ends with Absalom arriving in Jerusalem, greeted by Hushai, David's spy. Hushai assures Absalom that he serves whoever the people choose as king. Ahithophel suggests to Absalom that he have sex with the concubines that David left behind, which, as I've pointed out before, was a common thing for new kings to do when they had conquered the former king. Indeed, as the SAB points out, this was foretold in chapter 12, and was said to be the consequences of what David did with Bathsheba. (See my interpretation of this "punishment" there.)