In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, we continue on the ruinous journey through the Deuteronomistic History as our troop leader Pete fearlessly guides us through the book of 2 Samuel. Join him as he attempts to answer the following questions:
- How did we get the name “Deuteronomistic History” and what does that mean?
- What is the point of the Deuteronomistic History?
- Is 2 Samuel a violent book?
- Where and how and by whom was 2 Samuel written?
- What are some of the scholarly issues and debates surrounding the book?
- What kind of evidence in 2 Samuel points to a propagandist spin from the writer on David’s behalf?
- How do scholars interpret the validity of the claim of a united monarchy in the Deuteronomistic History?
- What happens during the “good years” in David’s kingship narrative?
- What happens during the “totally crappy years” (as Pete has deemed that section) in David’s kingship narrative?
- How does 2 Samuel end?
Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.
- A lot of study has been done on the Deuteronomistic History with its distinctive concepts and vocabulary, and this theory is considered one of the key insights of modern scholarship. — @peteenns
- Second Samuel is part of a larger corpus of material that has a shared theological outlook. — @peteenns
- Both 1 and 2 Samuel are written from a later point of view after the monarchy ended, and likely during or even after the Babylonian exile itself. — @peteenns
- These books are, at the end of the day, pro-David propaganda. It’s a little more complicated than that, but what we see basically is a defending of David’s legacy and, some would say, a spinning of David’s legacy. — @peteenns
- As is the case with virtually every book of the Hebrew Bible, 2 Samuel is considered by scholars to be a compilation of older material that has been brought together into one narrative. — @peteenns
- Like the other books of the Deuteronomistic History, 2 Samuel was not composed out of whole cloth by one person in one sitting. It has a complex prehistory. — @peteenns
- These condemnations of all this killing that benefits David is cited by many scholars as evidence of the writer’s propagandistic spin on David. — @peteenns
- I encourage readers to see 2 Samuel not as a standalone book, but as part of a narrative of Israel’s (largely failed) monarchy. And all this is fueled by the theology of the book of Deuteronomy. — @peteenns
Mentioned in This Episode
- Class: Summer School 2023 July Class “Heaven and Hell in Black Theology”
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You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
And I’m Jared Byas.[Intro music begins]
Hey folks, it’s just me Pete here on the podcast today, but before I get started, I want to mention our July summer school class called “Heaven and Hell and Black Theology: Discussing Heaven and Hell Through the Lens of the Oppressed.” And it’s going to be led by Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman, who teaches constructive theology, ethics, and African American religion at the Yale University Divinity School. Now the class is pay-what-you-can, as they always are, until the class ends, and then it costs $25 to download. And it’s happening—let me give you the date. Are you ready? Are you writing this down? Here we go—July 26th, from 8-9:30pm, Eastern Time. But don’t worry, if you can’t make it live, you can still buy the class during the pay-what-you-can window, and you’ll get the recording to watch afterward. And you can get access—did you know?—to all our classes for $12 a month, just $12 a month, by joining our community the Society of Normal People. Now for more information and to sign up for summer school, go to www.TheBibleForNormalPeople.com/SummerSchool. Alright, now that we’ve got that out of the way today, I’ll be continuing our ruinous journey through the Deuteronomistic History by taking a closer look at 2 Samuel. Okay folks, let’s jump in.[Transitional music plays over teaser clip of Pete speaking] “Kings win wars if they have divine favor. They lose them if they don’t. See, success in battle is evidence of God’s stamp of approval. This once enslaved people who spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness and who put up with generations of judges that came around now and then to rule them? Well now they have their king. They have their man—a man after God’s own heart. What could go wrong?” [Ad break]
Okay, now, you may remember from previous episodes that the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings are referred to in biblical scholarship as the Deuteronomistic History. It’s a mouthful, right? Well, why are these books called that? Because they advocate a theological perspective that is promoted in the book of Deuteronomy. Namely—this is the big deal here, folks—namely the importance of proper worship of God, which is the centralization of the worship of God in the temple, rather than you know, in high places that might be scattered around the country. So you centralize worship, big, big deal for the Deuteronomistic historian, and for Deuteronomy. Then you have the king’s obligation to uphold that. That’s the king’s job, among other things. And you also have a system of rewards and punishments from God for Israel’s obedience and disobedience concerning worship. Now those themes, they find their way prominently into the Deuteronomistic History. In fact, they’re the basis by which the kings of Israel in the north and Judah in the south are judged. And a lot of study has been done on the Deuteronomistic History with its distinctive concepts and vocabulary, and this theory is considered one of the key insights of modern scholarship. And I mentioned this mainly just to encourage readers to see 2 Samuel—today’s topic—not as a standalone book, but as part of a narrative of Israel’s monarchy, and I’m going to say, largely failed monarchy and all this is fueled by the theology of the book of Deuteronomy.
Now, there are a few more housekeeping things we could look at here, but I would just be repeating what I said in Episode 241, the episode on 1 Samuel. So it might be a good idea, if you haven’t already, to listen to the first part of that episode. And what I call the “Five Fun Facts” for 1 Samuel that I discussed there, and those facts are relevant for 2 Samuel as well. And let me just list them here as a quick reminder, and then move on to 2 Samuel itself. One of those Five Fun Facts concerns, what I just mentioned, the Deuteronomistic History. Second Samuel is part of a larger corpus of material that have a shared theological outlook. The other four of the five are as follows:
1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book and not two.
1 and 2 Samuel are anonymous, that’s another point.
Third point is both 1 and 2 Samuel, are written from a later point of view after the monarchy ended, and likely during or even after the Babylonian exile itself.
And the fourth point is that these books are, at the end of the day, pro-David propaganda. It’s a little more complicated than that, but what we see here basically is a defending of David’s legacy and some would say a spinning of David’s legacy. Alright? So again, listening to the first few minutes of episode 241 might be worthwhile if this interests you. And yeah, in fact, you know, many people have told me those few minutes have changed their lives, saved their marriages, made them filthy rich, so it’s up to you if you want to go back and listen to it.
Alright, so as is my habit, let’s begin with a 30,000-foot overview of the book. And I divide 2 Samuel’s 24 chapters into four sections. And the first, chapter one through chapter five verse five, this first section recounts David’s struggles with Saul’s legacy, as he attempts to consolidate power. Now, you remember that King Saul was killed in battle at the end of 1 Samuel, but the path to kingship is hardly a smooth one for David. But eventually he does come out on top. And that leads to the second section, which begins at chapter five verse six, and it goes through chapter 10, which we can call David’s good years. Everything is going well and it looks like David’s going to be just great. You know, just what the doctor ordered, a king to govern justly and obediently to God. Remember that refrain from the book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes because there was no king.” Well, David seems to be solving that problem, at least for a few chapters.
See, the problem is what follows next is chapters 11-20—that’s section three—are what scholars refer to by the highly technical term, “David’s totally crappy years.” Mainly because they are totally crappy for David and he deserves everything he gets. And the precipitating factor is the whole Bathsheba thing which we’ll get to. Now, basically, public David is pretty good but private David is a disaster. Then the fourth section, chapters 21-24 brings the story of David toward a close by listing some of his exploits, and why, you know, despite the totally crappy years, he is still “the man.”
So FYI, David does not die at the end of 2 Samuel—it would be sort of neat if he did, literarily neat—but he doesn’t. For that we need to wait until 1 Kings, chapter two, because his death is all wrapped up in the succession of Solomon’s narrative, which is how 1 Kings begins. Which is filled with all sorts of intrigue to be sure, but that is for the next episode.
Now before we touch down on some of the specific stories of these four sections, let me add a couple more thoughts to help orient us toward the book. One thing to mention—and it’s hard to miss this if you just sit down and read 2 Samuel—but one thing to mention is that this book is pretty violent. And on a personal level, not simply the battles and things like that but on a personal level, we read of 12 rapes, one suicide, seven murders, and 10 executions. Some of them happen in rapid succession, some are more spread out. But there was a lot of violence, this is not a happy time. So be ready. You know, if you’re reading 2 Samuel on your own, just be ready to watch people drop like flies, or get abused, or that sort of thing. The Bible’s a violent book, folks. I hope that’s not a shock, but a lot of that comes out.
So, okay, another issue concerns the composition of 2 Samuel, which means how it was written, how it came to be. And as is the case with virtually every book of the Hebrew Bible, 2 Samuel is considered by scholars to be a compilation of older material that has been brought together into one narrative. And one of those sources that scholars talk about is referred to as the “Court History” of David, or the “Succession Narrative” of David, and that’s chapters nine through 20, and then skipping 21-24, goes into 1 Kings 1-2. They deal with the backstories of David’s consolidation of the throne and his legacy. Now, some scholars see this as a separate source which arose independently, and that might be roughly contemporary with David because they provide a more intimate portrait of David focusing on, you know, the disasters of his private life. And you may notice that this source—which is chapters 9-20, this Court History, as it’s called—it spans the end of what I’m calling part two, and then all of part three in my outline. But—maybe this is too much math and who cares—but don’t let that throw you. The outline I gave you, those four sections, follows the flow of the story, not the sources that are there. The sources have been woven into the story as a whole and that’s really what I’m trying to stick with here.
Another source may be section four, chapters 21-24, because they read like a collection of deeds of David that occurred earlier in his reign, and are sort of tacked on here as an addendum to tie up loose ends and wrap things up.
Now you can make of this theory of sources what you will, and you may or may not find them convincing, that’s fine with me. But just know that they do make sense to a good number of scholars who work in this area, and we can assume, for good reason. See, like the other books of the Deuteronomistic History, 2 Samuel was not composed out of whole cloth by one person in one sitting. It has a complex prehistory before they even get into the hands of an editor and then the form that we know them today. And I think, you know—not just I think, but this is pretty standard in biblical scholarship—the book itself provides clues that have led scholars to draw this conclusion of sources because there’s an unevenness, abrupt changes, and things like that.
Okay, enough of all this stuff. So let’s look at some highlights now from these four sections that will give us a sense of the book as a whole, and I think will also give us a sense of some scholarly issues.
Okay, so section one, which is chapters one through chapter five verse five—and by the way, not to get sidetracked too much here, but don’t get thrown by sections ending in the middle of a chapter like we have here, you know, chapter five verse five. It’s just the chapter divisions are the responsibilities of medieval monks and maybe they had too much mead now and then but they put divisions, chapter divisions, sometimes in places that are curious and don’t always make a lot of sense, at least to us. So that’s why I, sometimes, tell students just to, in your mind, take these chapter numbers out of the way entirely and just read the story and sometimes things make a little more sense. But anyway, so don’t let it throw you that I have a section that ends in the middle of chapter five. It’s not my fault, alright?
Okay. So this section deals with the struggles David faced to become king. And Saul and his son are dead. Right? They died at the end of 1 Samuel. But that doesn’t mean David is free to take over without oppositions. He has opposition right from the beginning. And even though 2 Samuel begins with David, you know, lamenting Saul and Jonathan’s death at the end of the previous book, there is still a Saul party out there that doesn’t like David. In fact, David is anointed as king in chapter two of 2 Samuel, but only over Judah, the southernmost tribe, his own home tribe, the tribe of his birth. The tribe that has allegiance to David. See, they are quick to crown him king. The rest of the kingdom, the other tribes to the north were under the control of Ishbaal, a surviving son of, guess who, Saul.
Now, Saul’s commander—his military commander Abner, he made sure of Ishbaal’s throne, of his stability. He supported the Saul dynasty. Now, your English Bible likely refers to him as Ishbaal, which means something like the “Lord’s man.” But if you have a decent study Bible, you’ll see that this is his name from the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is called the Septuagint—I’ve done several podcasts that deal with the Septuagint, I won’t repeat that stuff here—but that’s the name that we get from the Greek version. The Hebrew has Ishbosheth, not Ishbaal, but Ishbosheth, which means “man of shame.” Okay, folks. See, this is not rocket science. His mother didn’t name him “man of shame.” That is the name the writer gives this rival of David, the son of Saul. It’s sort of like opponents of a recent former president of the United States referring to him as Donald Tax Duck, or Diaper Donald, or Agent Orange, or Hair Apparent. That’s the same kind of idea, you give people you don’t like names that will embarrass them. Okay?
Anyway, we read in this section that there was war for a long time between the house of Saul and of David, so the tensions were real. Few welcome David with open arms. Saul’s commander Abner, he does wind up defecting to David’s side—you know, he knows a winner when he sees one—but then he’s killed by David’s commander, Joab, who reasonably doesn’t trust Abner and probably doesn’t want a rival either. So soon thereafter, we have more intrigue. We have Ishbaal, Saul’s son, again, is assassinated [Hums]. Now this story has David being very disapproving of all this killing. But many scholars read between the lines here a bit and they see these deaths that help David’s career as a bit too convenient. And they see David’s condemnation of them as a bit over the top. And actually these condemnations of all this killing that benefits David, this is cited by many scholars as evidence of the writer’s propagandistic spin on David. “Oh, he hates it. He’s a great guy. He doesn’t want people killed,” but he really benefits from their death and you wonder, what role did he play in it? And I think personally, this hypothesis makes a lot of sense to me. I think this is a valid and good way of reading this book a little bit between the lines, but I think we’re invited to. Anyway.
Okay, one more point, if I may, on section one. David’s reign begins with military conflict between the tribe of Judah, as I just said, and the rest of the tribes, which are the northern nation called Israel. Later, after Solomon’s death, as David’s son takes over for him—after Solomon’s death, the kingdom that was united eventually under David, and especially under Solomon, that kingdom divides into two nations right at this very same fault line: Judah in the south, everybody else in the north. When the nation split into two after the death of Solomon—in other words, it was a geopolitically natural division, not a random one, which you know, mirrored a tradition of antagonism between north and south.
And this all gets a bit complicated, and I don’t mean to dump and run here, but this has led over the years to some speculation that the whole idea of a united monarchy may not reflect history very carefully. The nation with this huge fissure along the border of Judah, suggests that there was no true unity at all, but rather persistent conflict among warring tribes. So unity was more of a later fantasy on the part of the writers. And if it ever was united, it hung by a thread for two generations, two—merely two generations, folks—before it quickly dissolved at the first opportunity, which we read about in 1 Kings chapter 10 and so on. And the only reason—see David would have had any traction as king of united Israel, is because his competition was conveniently eliminated. So just think of it this way, the tribes were not so much drawn together in unity as they were coerced into some sort of unity, at least in the mind of the writer. Like I said, I hope that’s not too confusing. It gets a little bit complicated, but that’s just how many scholars think of all this transition of power and things like that.
Okay, at any rate, this section ends with David, after seven years of reigning as king over Judah only, he is then anointed, and only then anointed, as king over all Israel for another 33 years. So we have here a 40 year reign total, which is a suspiciously round number. A common one in the Hebrew Bible, which connotes like a complete period that was under God’s direction or some such thing like that. But again, this round number of 40 suggests that the story is not about relaying brute facts of history. But it is an interpretation of David’s reign as marked by divine providence and we’ll see something similar with the reign of David in 1 Kings.
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Okay, this brings us to section two, which is chapter five verse six, through chapter 10, which are the good years. David is a major character in the Hebrew Bible and he will wind up becoming the king par excellence of later Judaism and we get that largely from these chapters. But it’s worth noting that these good years were brief. I mean, the story gives no obvious chronology of how long this period took, but these six chapters, they really do fly by.
So first, David, as king, establishes Jerusalem as its capital by routing its inhabitants. And they’re called the Jebusites. Now Jerusalem is located to the very north of the tribe of Judah. It is a good strategic site, one reason being its proximity to the northern tribes. See, it’s somewhat analogous to choosing Washington DC as the US Capital because of its location near the Mason Dixon Line. After David captures Jerusalem, he battles the attacking Philistines—remember, these are the good years where he captures Jerusalem and battles the Philistines—and after defeating them, he captures the ark. The Philistines, you might remember, they had taken the ark in 1 Samuel 4, but David now takes it back and brings the ark not to Jerusalem, but to the home of a guy, Obededom the Gittite, and he leaves it there for three months. Interesting. Why doesn’t he just take it to the capital that he just founded? Well, because along the way, as they were bringing the ark back from the Philistines, a certain guy named Uzzah, he reached out to touch the ark to keep it from falling over—and of course, this resulted in his immediate death, which seems extreme—and I think because it is—but he probably dies, not by like a random act of divine anger—I’m not trying to justify this by way—but he doesn’t really die from a random act of divine anger, but because he was not ritually pure to touch the ark, which is a symbol of God’s presence. At least that’s what I think. I’m engaging here in a little bit of learned speculation, but I’m not trying to justify this because, why would being impure result in somebody’s death? All this kind of stuff, these questions come up. But anyway, the point is that after three months, David feels it’s safe to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but very carefully. Right? Sacrificing an ox and a fatling every six paces. Wouldn’t want to repeat the Uzzah incident and I don’t blame him.
Now in this section, there is a passage that is among the more central in the Deuteronomistic History and this is 2 Samuel 7:1-17. This is Nathan’s prophecy. Nathan is David’s prophet. You can call him a court prophet. He’s a prophet who hangs out with kings as opposed to some prophets like Hosea and Amos, who are sort of outliers. But this is a court prophet, he’s prophesying. And he prophesied to David that he will have an everlasting dynasty through his offspring. And here, the offspring that’s really in view, he’s not named, but it’s certainly Solomon, David’s son. So this is a promise that God will be with David, and that he will not take his steadfast love from Solomon, even if he sins against God. Sure, he’ll be punished by human means. Like there’ll be war or something like that—which is part of the Deuteronomistic historian’s ideology, war as punishment for disobedience—but regardless, the tie between God and David’s offspring will have no end. Now, of course, this anticipates the division of the monarchy into north and south, which Solomon was largely responsible for instigating, but God will never reject Solomon and his legacy as he rejected Saul’s. So that’s the promise, “I’m not going to give up on you like I did on him.” And that’s what is special about the “Davidic Covenant.” That it will go on, it will continue.
Now, one reason this passage is so pivotal and attracts so much attention is that it comes into rather obvious conflict, should I say, with the fact that the southern nation of Judah went into Babylonian exile. In other words, the House of David came to an end. No kings, no line of kings, they’re done. See, God’s supposed steadfast love that will establish the line of David forever, as Nathan says, seems to have an expiration date. And Psalm 89, in fact—which is one of my favorite psalms—with great energy takes God to task for not holding to his promise to be with David and his line through thick and thin to never reject them. Sure, punish them, but never let the lineage of David and Solomon slip. See, in effect, Psalm 89—which I would love to do a podcast just on this psalm—Psalm 89, more or less calls God a liar, for allowing the exile to happen. “You promised, and now you broke your promise.” Yeah, it’s a great psalm, really, but we can’t jump onto this as much as I’m tempted to. The bottom line is simply that the writer’s hope is in the Davidic line. This is God’s choice for whom he will back. Not the northern kings, but the southern kings.
Elsewhere in this section, section two, right? We read of David’s successful battles, this is like chapters 8 and 10, which is to say David’s kingship is moving along swimmingly. Kings win wars if they have divine favor. They lose them if they don’t. See, success in battle is evidence of God’s stamp of approval. Things are looking up folks. This once enslaved people who spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness and who put up with generations of judges that came around now and then to rule them? Well now they have their king, they have their man, a man after God’s own heart. What could go wrong? Well, that brings us to section three: chapters 11-20. The totally crappy years. Okay.
Chapter 11 contains one of the better-known stories of David’s life, his rape of Bathsheba. Now I called it a rape, as most do, because when the king sends messengers summoning a woman to come to his palace, right—a king sends messengers, probably with spears, summoning a woman to come to his palace—a woman who’s left home alone while her husband is at war, by the way—you know, she’s not being asked out on a date. This is not an offer she can simply refuse. It is an order. Now we don’t get Bathsheba’s take on all this, the only line she has in this whole story is announcing to David later on that she’s pregnant by him. That’s all she says. But we don’t get her take on this, but the circumstances are clear enough from what’s presented in the story. This is what’s happening. She’s doing this against her will.
Now we see trouble brewing here already in the first verse of this story. This is the first verse of chapter 11. It goes like this, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle” actually, [Chuckles] I have to stop here. I always have images in my mind of Hagar the Horrible, remember that cartoon? Where he sort of takes his briefcase and goes out to war like it’s what you do when you get up in the morning, you come back and eat dinner and stuff like that? It’s sort of like that here, you know, “It’s springtime, it’s wartime. Let’s go out guys,” you know, and, and that’s what’s happening. The weather turns. It’s good for fighting. And David, we read here continuing with his verse, “David sent Joab”—remember, that’s his commander—”with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” That should raise alarms. Don’t slide over that too quickly. See, David here is pulling a Saul. Rather than engaging in battle with Goliath himself, Saul, remember? He hands the duty to David, right? Well, here too, rather than doing the kingly thing and being out there in the battle, David remains behind.
So one day, as the story goes, while on his roof, David caught eye of a woman bathing below. And she’s right there next door. Now had he been sneaking glances at her in the past? Hard to say. He does need to inquire who the woman is, so he doesn’t seem to know her name, but that doesn’t mean he hadn’t seen her before. But anyway, they do the deed and then she becomes pregnant.
Now David, the “man after God’s own heart” and always the quick thinker, he summons her husband Uriah the Hittite to come home from the battle, and he tried to entice Uriah to take some R&R with his wife so David could pin the pregnancy on him. Now Uriah the Hittite—that is, he’s not an Israelite, right—he’s more noble than David is. He refuses to do that, citing that his comrades were in battle, right? Where David should be. And he can’t very well go and enjoy himself while they are risking their lives. So David, not at all flustered, he tries next to get Uriah drunk and get him to sleep with his wife that way, but no sale. So David next resorted to, what I’m sure any of us would do in the same circumstance, he has Uriah assigned to the frontline and give orders for the army to pull back and leave Uriah exposed so he could be killed in battle. And he was. So now David is free to marry Bathsheba—scot free.
Except Nathan the prophet, he confronts David with a parable of a rich shepherd with many flocks and herds, but who takes the lone ewe lamb from a poor man. And David went berserk and ordered that the rich man should die for this and then Nathan reveals to David that duh, this story is about him. He’s the rich man who took advantage of a disenfranchised man. Then Nathan tells him that their child—right?—the one Bathsheba is pregnant with—he will die. And he survived seven days after birth, which, you know, many have a lot of sympathy for this, many feel that sort of a misplaced punishment. I mean, why should the child die? He didn’t do anything. Anyway, he does die. David is repentant and Bathsheba conceives again and bears a son whom they call Solomon, also known as Jedediah, which means “Beloved of Yahweh.”
Now this incident sparked a series of events that eventually led to David needing to flee Jerusalem for his own safety—and frankly, in my opinion at least, it throws a wet blanket on David’s reign and the very positive vibe we all got from 2 Samuel 7 and David’s eternal dynasty. And we begin to see the aftermath of David’s rape and murder but after a brief interlude, which reports how the battle with the Ammonites, which began in chapter 10, it comes to a close in chapter 12 and this is sort of like David’s last hurrah before all the bad stuff starts happening to him.
So the next story about David’s personal life—we’re still in the same section here, folks—the next story about David’s personal life is in chapter 13. And there we have the story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar. Yes, another rape story, and one that is, I feel, intended to be connected to the Bathsheba story. See this story involves David’s daughter Tamar, her half brother Amnon—right, because David had multiple wives—and her full brother, Absalom. Now, Amnon apparently has quite a crush on his half sister, so much so that he faked sick so that when his father David comes to visit him, he can request “Oh Dad, give me Tamar to come take care of me?” This is his way of getting her alone, right. So David then orders Tamar to wait on her brother—by the way, not unlike David ordering Bathsheba to go to his house, so this may not end well, just like that incident didn’t end well. So there’s Amnon with Tamar and Tamar pleads with Amnon not to do this heinous thing, but he did it anyway. So she tells her full brother Absalom what happened, who then reports it to David. Surely he’ll do the right thing. He doesn’t. David doesn’t have a good track record with the treatment of women. We are told that he became angry about it, but he refused to do anything about it. Why? Because Amnon was his firstborn and therefore slated to be the next king. So once again, David is more interested in cover up and spin than justice.
Now, Absalom had no intention of allowing his sister to be shamed. So he waited two years. Why two years? Well, presumably to see if David might change his mind or perhaps biding his time in gaining Amnon’s trust. I sort of think it’s more that. But after two years, Absalom got his revenge. He had Amnon murdered by his servants after getting him drunk. Absalom flees of course, but David misses him so much, especially after a little persuasion from the “woman of Tekoa”—this story is in chapter 14, you’re gonna read it yourself, just hang with me here—remember, Nathan told David a story to get him to convict himself over the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Well, this woman of Tekoa told David a story to convict him that Absalom might be brought home without any further bloodshed. Similar scene as we saw with David and Nathan. So Absalom comes home and stays in Jerusalem and bides his time for two more years. That’s how long it took for him to gain the support that he needed to usurp the throne from his father, David. Gee, David, way to go. Your reign is barely getting underway and you’ve got this eternal dynasty promised and it’s already under threat by someone from your own house. Great job.
Anyway, with a lot of readers, I actually have a lot of sympathy for Absalom. He did the kingly thing in trying to hold accountable those who did wrong. Now like David, who fought Saul’s battles for him—again, the Goliath story—he did the kingly thing, Absalom is also playing the role of king in bringing some justice to the crime against Tamar. David does not come out of this smelling like a rose.
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So after a few scenes where Absalom gets conflicting advice about what to do about David, he avails himself of his father’s concubines—which is to say, he has sex with them—which is a blatant grasping for David’s throne and for David’s power. Something similar happened, by the way, with Ruben, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. This is in Genesis 35, where he slept with his father’s concubines. And that’s going to happen again, at least, somebody is going to try to do it again, to a challenger to Solomon’s throne in 1 Kings, right? Lying with the king’s concubine is a way of claiming royal power and this is a thing in the Bible, right? So it’s a thing here.
So Absalom gained a strong following, and was actually declared king in the town of Hebron. And that’s a major city, it’s a big one that pops up in Bible stories a lot and it’s about 20 miles south of Jerusalem—if you have your map in front of you—which also happens to be where David was first proclaimed king earlier in the book. But David at this point, he’s just a hot mess, right? And so he flees Jerusalem. We’re in chapter 15 now. And he doesn’t return until Chapter 19, during which time Absalom is killed in a battle between David’s army and Absalom’s followers. Now, David did plead that his commanders not kill Absalom in battle, but they did anyway. I mean, you know, why leave a rival alive, right? It just doesn’t work that way.
But this death of Absalom led to David’s line which is made famous by the William Faulkner novel where David says, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom. Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom my son, my son.” Touching, I suppose, though one wonders where David’s compassion was for his daughter? Also, Absalom’s death, let’s not forget, removes a clear rival to David, someone with a proven track record of being a rival of David. And it also opens up, his death also opens up the door for the younger son Solomon to eventually succeed David. So as I mentioned earlier, here is another example of a convenient death that suits David, but the writer is spinning this a bit to make David remorseful about the death of his son, which, you know, he supposedly had nothing to do with—and that’s exactly what many scholars question.
Anyway, before leaving this incident of Bathsheba, I want to mention something briefly because I find this so interesting and just so—such a wonderful, almost example of the intricacies of biblical narratives. In Genesis 38—yes, we’re in Genesis here for a second—we have a story that seems to come out of nowhere, and it is a story that echoes these scenes of David and the rape of women, whether it’s Bathsheba, which he commits, and Tamar, which he does nothing about and doesn’t execute justice. Now, if you want to know more about how Genesis 38 connects with these stories, just go to our website and search for Tamar, and I’m sure something will come up.
But let me just drop some hints here to whet your appetite. The main characters in Genesis 38 are Judah, he’s one of the 12 sons of Jacob, and Judah is also the tribe David is taken from. So he’s one of the main characters. The other is a woman named Tamar. Yes, another story involving something David-ish that has Tamar in it. And this story also involves an unjust sexual exploit, this between Judah and Tamar. And one of the more intriguing parallels between these stories—again, just trying to whet your appetite here—is that Judah’s wife’s name, right, Tamar is not his wife, Tamar’s actually his daughter-in-law and…Okay, it gets complicated. But leaving that to the side, one of the more intriguing parallels is that Judah’s wife, her name is never given. She’s only identified twice as the “daughter of Shua.” In Hebrew, “daughter of Shua” is Batshua. Batshua—which is oh, so close to Batsheva, Bathsheba. It’s just one letter different in Hebrew.
Anyway, my point in this little side path is that this story in Genesis 38 foreshadows or echoes David’s misdeeds in part perhaps to hold him accountable indirectly. He doesn’t get condemnation from the Deuteronomistic historian in 2 Samuel 11. Things don’t go well for him, but there’s nothing there about divine retribution or whatever. So perhaps this is holding him to somewhat accountability, but in a gentle, indirect, politically correct way. But perhaps also, this story in Genesis 38 serves to exonerate David a bit, you know? See this sort of thing, of the mistreatment of women, has been part of the tribe of Judah’s history since the beginning. And so we’re not going to be deterred by this incident, from keeping a positive evaluation of David, right? That’s very important to the Deuteronomistic historian, a positive evaluation of David. I also like mentioning chapter 38, because it speaks to the sophisticated nature of the literary composition of the Hebrew Bible, and also—one of my hobby horses, folks, bear with me—how much of Genesis really has the monarchy in view, because that’s when it was written. It’s preparing you, Genesis is preparing you, to understand the stories of the monarchy that we see in Samuel and Kings. And I’ve covered the monarchic themes in Genesis and various places on the website as well, so we won’t get into that.
Anyway, section three ends with David being king once again, and showing mercy to Shimei, who supported Absalom. He also made nice with Saul’s remaining son Mephibosheth, who we met back in chapter nine. But David also got rid of this guy Sheba who was a Benjamite, as was Saul, by the way. And Sheba, because of his Benjamite-Saul connection, was fomenting rebellion against David—so he got himself killed. And his general Joab did the deed but David here masterminded it. It’s more explicit here, David’s role in getting rid of political rivals.
And one thing that grabs my attention in chapter 19—this is the last thing I’ll say about section three—I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating, is how clear the political fissures are between the tribe of Judah and the northern tribes. If you go to chapter 19:40-43, David was supported at this point—remember, he’s regaining his throne—he was supported at this point by Judah and half of Israel, half of the north. See, it seems there was never a time when the north and south didn’t have some issues between them. And again, this ancient faultline gave way to the divided monarchy after Solomon’s death. So all this, just, you know, keep your eyes and ears open before the period of the divided monarchy for how Judah and Israel are talked about. They’re already talked about as separate entities.
And all this now brings us to section four: chapters 21-24. This section is an epilogue to David’s reign and ties up a loose end or two. And it forms a nice bookend with the very beginning—not of 2 Samuel—but of 1 Samuel, remember, originally 1 and 2 Samuel were one book. Now you may remember from that episode, that Hannah’s song of thanksgiving—she’s the mother of Samuel—her song of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2 begins as a praise to God for her miraculous pregnancy—she was barren—but ends with praise for God’s anointed, which is David. That’s where her whole, her whole story is going to come to a good conclusion when her son Samuel anoints David as king. And she’s already praising, not by mentioning his name, but it’s pretty clear who she’s talking about, she’s praising God for God’s anointed—for David and all the good he’s going to do to bring justice.
And now we are at the end of the book with some stories of David, not the least of which is a song of thanksgiving of his own, that’s in chapter 22, which is a long one. But in brief, chapter 22—which, by the way, is essentially the same as Psalm 18, okay—but this is a song about God’s steadfast care for David. So all’s well that ends well, and these two songs are bookends to the story of David as a whole. It’s turning out great.
Anyway, as we wind down this episode, let me share with you some highlights from section four in order. Okay, so the first is the story of David avenging people called the Gibeonites, avenging them because of Saul’s massacre of them and we read about the story in chapter 21. And it’s a flashback to something early in David’s reign. Exactly when is not exactly clear, and it’s not clear what incident this is referring to, since there is no story where Saul attacks Gibeah.
But the story seems to be a reminder here at the end of the book, right? We’re bookending things. It’s a reminder of Saul’s failed reign and the horrible things he did, and David’s godliness and righteous reign by avenging these people who were massacred by Saul’s army. And then there’s a brief note about the exploits of David’s men, which seems designed to show how well respected he was by them, because remember, David’s awesome, right? And that’s the note we’re ending on here in 2 Samuel. Now, one verse in this section here that’s gotten a fair amount of attention is chapter 21 verse 19, it has to do with Goliath, okay? And many of you are aware of this, I know we’ve done TikToks and Instagram videos on this, and we’ve talked about it in podcasts, it’s sort of a big deal. But here’s 21:19 and I’m just going to read this verbatim: “Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and El-hanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” Which, by the way, is also how Goliath’s spear is described in the story in 1 Samuel.
Now, the reason this gets some attention—and I’m sure you know this already—is that despite protests from some well intended apologists, this story contradicts 1 Samuel 17, where Goliath also again described as having a spear shaft like a weaver’s beam, he was killed by David, not in Gob, but in the Valley of Elah. And now here, we have one of David’s warriors, Elhanan, killing the weaver-beam-spear-shafted Goliath at Gob—location unknown, or at least, I couldn’t find where it was—and it’s commonly attempted by some to reconcile these two stories but that’s hard to do and I think it’s only necessary if you’re not used to seeing and accepting and, frankly, embracing contradictions in the Bible. And this is certainly one of them. Having said that, you might be interested in knowing that 1 Chronicles 20:5 seems to be an early attempt at reconciling these two stories, because there we read that Elhanan killed who, not Goliath, but Lahmi, the brother of Goliath. Which is nowhere in the Deuteronomistic History. It’s just the Chronicler doing his thing.
So in chapter 23, we read of the exploits of David’s “Mighty Men,” 37 in all. And the point of this seems to be to pump up David’s military exploits, at least the ones he was in charge of and the people under him. And one thing this story adds is some conflicts that are frankly missing in 2 Samuel, but had to have been there, conflicts with the Philistines, right, Judah’s hostile neighbors. The only other incident involving Philistines is in chapter five, right after David came into power, so talking about the Philistines a bit more, this fills in more of the conflicts that would have reflected the reign of David.
Now the last chapter, chapter 24, ends on a bit of a down note, but then a slight uptick. We read here of David’s sin of numbering his troops, and the consequences of that act for the nation as a whole. Now, for some reason, [Sighs] utterly unstated, we read here in chapter 24 that the Lord is angry with Israel. And so what does God do? And this is where it gets very odd. The Lord instigates David to sin by numbering his troops. And this gives God a reason, I guess, for punishing the people. He instigates David to sin so that he can punish the people for something he’s angry about.
And I have to say, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but, you know, nobody asked. So here’s what happened: once David becomes aware of the sin, he repents, and the Lord—again, this is so odd—he doesn’t just forgive him, but he grants him the choice of how exactly God is going to punish Israel. He repents, but God’s going to punish him anyway. But he is going to give them a choice of three things: You can either pick famine, or being attacked by your enemies, or some sort of pestilence, disease or whatever. And David chooses pestilence. And you know, frankly, it all seems a bit bizarre for God to do this and apparently 1 Chronicles 21:1 does too, because there, in relaying the same story, what does this writer do? Well, he says that Satan incited David to number his troops rather than the Lord, right? Sort of problem solved, although that doesn’t really solve the problem of why God would punish David for being incited by a higher power. But anyway, it’s really an odd story. I mean, things are going so well, we’re getting a good vibe about David, and then we get this thing that comes crashing down, as if maybe to remind us that David wasn’t all wonderful, just had his bad side.
But one positive thing does come out of the story—and this is how the book ends—is that David, he erects an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite—right, this is in, Jebusites lived in Jerusalem so we’re in the Jerusalem area here. And this threshing floor is where the pestilence came to an end. So one of David’s prophets, his name is Gad, he tells him that this would be a great place to build an altar. And it also happens to be in Jerusalem. Aha! So David prayed for the cessation of the Lord’s wrath and then he erects an altar on the very site where the temple will later be built under Solomon. So David buys the land, and it is here that Solomon will build the temple. Not to stress the point too much, but this is the big deal. So David’s last deed is what? His last deed as functioning king is an act of repentance, forgiveness, and setting things right after his transgression, which involves the temple. So yes, this is a good place for Israel’s temple, which will be so central to Israel’s life for centuries to come.
Well, folks, that’s how 2 Samuel ends. David’s story, however, is picked up in 1 Kings 1 and 2 with his old age and death, and we’ll get to all that in my next solo episode. So thanks for listening, folks. And until next time, see ya![Outro music begins]
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You’ve just made it through another episode of The Bible for Normal People! Don’t forget you can also catch the latest episode of our other show, Faith for Normal People, wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People podcast team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Natalie Weyand, Stephen Henning, Tessa Stultz, Haley Warren, Nick Striegel, and Jessica Shao.[Outro music continues and ends]