The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

1 and 2 Samuel

Synopsis:

          While it seems probable that the author of 1 and 2 Samuel did compile their work from various sources, the simple fact is the author compiled the book of Samuel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to convey certain truths in fulfilment of their own concerns. As interesting as it may be to know where contributions to the book came from, such studies will not assist in understanding the purpose of the author’s presentation of the rise of David, and his relationship with Yahweh. Therefore, this essay will concern itself with the book of Samuel as a coherent work as the author intended it to be read. As such, this essay will consider the relationships between the narratives, and how they communicate that David was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. The narratives concerning David’s anointing, ascension, and the preservation of his kingdom will be considered in detail as motifs for the author’s thesis.

——

The purpose of the author’s presentation of David was to demonstrate how David was a man after Yahweh’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Before attention is given as to how the rise of David and the following succession narrative fulfils this verse, the verse itself must be taken into consideration.

          The way the NIV renders the verse – “the Lord [Yahweh] has sought out a man after his own heart” – gives the impression that there is something intrinsically appealing about Yahweh’s selection. Baldwin understands this verse as reflecting positively on David as one who is “… prepared to let the Lord’s will … be a guide for his life.”[1] While this can be said of David’s military campaigns, it barely applies to the rest of his life. Gordon understands this verse as Yahweh choosing a man according to his desires and as opposed to the people’s desires (1 Samuel 8:22).[2] The New Century Version perhaps offers a better rendering – “The Lord has looked for the kind of man he wants.” The lack of intrinsic appeal in David is certainly recognised by himself in response to the promise given him – “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18). It is to this end that the author presents David as having ascended the throne on the basis of Yahweh’s sovereign choice, and not on his astuteness.

Through the presentation of David’s career, the author intends to demonstrate that: 1) David was not an expected, and thereby popular, choice; 2) David’s accession to the throne was not at the expense of Saul’s life, character, or rule; 3) the preservation of David’s kingdom was due to Yahweh’s provision, and not David’s astuteness.

•1.     David’s unexpected choice

David is first introduced into the narrative of Samuel as Yahweh’s chosen during a secret anointing (1 Samuel 16). David’s selection is not expected by all present. Even Samuel, who expected Eliab to be the succeeding king, had to be instructed otherwise by Yahweh (vv6-7). So unexpected was the choosing of David that he was not even presented before Samuel (v10). Instead he was out tending sheep (v11). Upon his presentation before Samuel, David is described as “… the youngest … with a fine appearance and handsome features.” (1 Samuel 16:11-12). This is a contrast to the tall, warrior figure that was personified in Saul that Samuel was originally looking for. The mention of his position in the family, Klein observes, is a continuation of Yahweh choosing the younger over the older in the Old Testament (cf. Jacob over Esau, Genesis 25:23; Ephraim over Manasseh, Genesis 48:8-22).[3] Therefore, by human standards, David would have hardly passed as a king thereby asserting Yahweh’s selection of him. Yahweh’s appointment of David is emphasised by the events and circumstances surrounding his anointing. David is said to have the Spirit of Yahweh upon him (1 Samuel 16:14), and his victory over Goliath is a further indication of Yahweh’s selection of David. [4]

•2.     David’s ascension to the throne

The author goes to great lengths to demonstrate that David’s rise to power was due to Yahweh’s sovereignty. David was liable to the charge of ending the Saulide dynasty (Samuel 16:5-9) Interwoven throughout the narratives of David’s ascension s the testimony from others that David would be King. This again emphasises Yahweh’s sovereign choice (1 Samuel 23:17; 25:31; 28:17), and even that of Saul (24:40).

          The author demonstrates that the relationship between David and Saul did not begin as one of enmity. David is portrayed as a servant of Saul, called to be in Saul’s court to soothe Saul’s anxiety caused by the evil spirit sent from Yahweh (1 Samuel 16:14-23). This relationship was changed at the initiative of Saul. David proved himself to be a mighty warrior, and the singing of David’s praises by the women stirred envy in Saul (1 Samuel 18:5-9). This marked a change in the relationship. The author remarks that, “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12). From this time on, Saul sought to eliminate the threat that David posed. Not the other way around as Shimei had supposed. The author records on two occasions Saul attempted to run a spear through David (1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10), and sent him on dangerous military missions hoping that he would be killed in battle, only to have David succeed in his mission (1 Samuel 18:24-27).

          Having failed to eliminate David discretely, Saul begins a murderous pursuit of David on the basis that David is his enemy (1 Samuel 19:17) which is recorded in chapters 22 – 26. In what shall be called the pursuit narratives, the author does record that on two occasions, David had an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not (24, 26). Instead, David earnestly seeks reconciliation with Saul (24:22; 26:25).

          Interestingly, the two accounts of David seeking reconciliation with Saul are divided by the account of Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25). In this account it becomes evident that vengeful murder is within David’s capability. The main concern in the passage is one of bloodshed which needed to be explained to David by Abigail (v26). Even though Nabal has wronged David, it would be wrong of David to spill blood in revenge, since it is for Yahweh to remove David’s enemies (v33), and this is to characterize David’s rule (v28). It is this insight of Abigail which shapes David’s theology in his next encounter with Saul. Not only does David refuse to take Saul’s life because he is Yahweh’s anointed (v9), he also anticipates Yahweh’s action in his death (v10). Therefore within David’s rise to power, the author acknowledges David’s murderous traits, which reappear in the succession narrative. However, he demonstrates that these have not been employed against the person of Saul thereby vindicating David from being implicated in Saul’s death or the breakdown of the Saulide dynasty.

          When Saul is killed, the author again demonstrates that David is not to be implicated in 1 Samuel 31. It is recorded that Saul died in battle taking his own life after being critically wounded (vv3-4). At the time, David had taken refuge among the Philistines. The author again stresses that David had not abandoned his King, nor his homeland. Rather, it was for self preservation that David sought refuge among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:1). While among the Philistines, David, furthered Israel’s security in the Promise Land under the guise of fighting for the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:8-12), and enriched the towns of Judah with the plunder from war (1 Samuel 30:26-31). Therefore, David could not be charged with conspiring against Israel, or his king, Saul.

          Upon hearing of the death of Saul, David is recorded as being struck with grief along with his men (2 Samuel 1:11-13). Nor does David decorate the Amalekite who brought David the news. The Amalekite gives a different version to the events recorded in (1 Samuel 31:2-6). The Amalekite tells of how he killed Saul and had taken the crown from his head to present to David. The Amalekite’s motive in providing an alternate version would appear so he could earn David’s favour and be rewarded.[5] However, David perceives a greater issue at stake which is expressed in v14 – that the Amalekite had raised his hand against Yahweh’s anointed. Just as David had refused to lift his hand against Saul (1 Samuel 24:6; 26:11), and been kept from bloodshed (25:26, 33), so too he maintains his court with the same dignity. David, after further interrogation of the Amalekite, orders him to be executed (v15). David takes the same action upon hearing the death of Ish-Bosheth from Recab and Baanah (2 Samuel 4:7-12).        

          The author now vindicates David against the charge of eradicating the other members of the house of Saul. While a war does occur between the houses of Saul and David (2 Samuel 2:8 – 3:1), this was not instigated by David. Rather, they were instigated by Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and was answered to by Joab, who was acting as David’s army commander. This is in contrast to David whom, in the meantime, was concerned that Saul had received a proper burial (2 Samuel 2:5-6). In the course of the war, Abner had killed Asahel, Joab’s brother (vv 18, 23) which provoked bitter rivalry between Joab and Abner. While David had managed to form reconciliation with Abner after Abner defected from Ish-Bosheth (3:9-10, 21), Joab had no knowledge of this, and sought vengeance against Abner by murdering him (3:27). Again, the author is concerned to distance David from the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty by including David’s speech in the narrative declaring his innocence, and cursing Abner and his family for his actions (3:28-29). Again the author is concerned to draw attention to David’s grief over the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty (3:31-35; cf. 1:11-12, 17-27). Such actions distant David from the demise of the Saulide dynasty, and demonstrate that David’s ascension to the throne was due to Yahweh’s election of David and not political manoeuvring. As the author records, “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.” (2 Samuel 3:36-37). So David was able to assume Kingship over Israel in place of the Saulide dynasty (5:1-5)

•3.     The preservation of David’s kingdom.

The so called “Succession Narrative” covers 2 Samuel 9 – 1 Kings 2. These chapters contain David’s management of his kingdom after ascending the throne. These are set against Yahweh’s covenant with David which contain the promise of an everlasting throne, and a son who would succeed David and build the temple (7:12, 13, 16). Throughout the Succession Narrative, David and his family are portrayed as having little or no astuteness, capable of deception and being deceived, immoral, and barely able to keep a grasp of his throne or kingdom. While there are many narratives that illustrate this throughout his 2 Samuel, the narratives of the war against the Ammonites, David and Bathsheba, Amnon and Tamar, Absalom’s revolt, and David’s return have all been selected for their interrelatedness, and crucial contribution in their portrayal of David as King.

          David lacks the astuteness that may normally be associated with a king which affects his administration of the kingdom. Upon the death of Nahash, King of Ammon, David sent his condolences to Hanun on the basis of an existing friendship (2 Samuel 10:1-2). While his intentions may have been sincere, his inability to discern the political environment and make effective communications to the Ammonites led to a breakdown in diplomatic relationships (vv3-4). The Ammonites had reason to be suspicious of David. His imperial activities in Moab and Aram (2 Samuel 8:1-9), along with the events of Saul (1 Samuel 11:1-11), provided evidence for the Ammonites to suspect David of ulterior motives. The author records that David also dedicated articles to Yahweh that had been taken from the Ammonites (2 Samuel 8:12). However, Gordon suggests that this was anticipatory of chapters 10-12 as there is no mention of actions being taken against the Amonites in vv1-8.[6] While this oversight led to the continuation of David’s imperial activities in the region against the Ammonites, securing Israel in the Promised Land (2 Samuel 10:7-19), future oversights would result in David’s downfall.

The account of David and Bathsheba marks the low point in David’s moral life (2 Samuel 11). The author informs his readers that the time was spring when it was customary for kings to go to war, though this time, David himself had remained in Jerusalem (v1). This is a variation on David’s activities during war. Previously, David had to “talk his way” into a battle (1 Samuel 17:32-37). The text also gives the impression that he was present on the battle field during his rise to power, the taking of Jerusalem, and expansion of his empire (1 Samuel 27:8; 30; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1-14). Later in David’s reign, the text makes it explicit that David was present on the battle field only to have his men refuse to have his company on future campaigns (2 Samuel 21:15, 17). On this occasion, David had been fighting against the Ammonites with Joab as his proxy while he remained in Jerusalem (10:7). Only when the situation deteriorated for Israel did David join the battle (v17).

          The author records David’s abuse of power to sleep with Bethsheba. Clearly she was not pregnant at the time since she is bathing to become ritualistically clean (v4).[7] It was as a result of sleeping with David that Bathsheba fell pregnant (v5). David realises he is in the wrong and seeks to cover up the scandal by encouraging Uriah to sleep with his wife (vv6-8). Uriah’s character in the narrative is interesting as he seems to personify what David’s conscience should have been. David’s initial cover up failed since Uriah had refused to sleep with his wife because as he explained, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields.” (2 Samuel 11:11). Noble concerns that David had previously maintained and acted upon (2 Samuel 7:2; 8) had now been abandoned by David for lust and the taking of what is not his, while Uriah, a Hittite (vv3, 6, 17, 24), maintains those noble concerns by refusing to take what is rightfully his.

          Having his initial cover up fail, David plots to have Uriah killed in battle by giving instructions to Joab, who does not hesitate to partake in David’s murderous scheme. David’s intention in the death of Uriah was to make it look like he died in battle, while David in his alleged mercy marries the now widowed Bathsheba who was carrying his child to avoid the appearance of an adulterous relationship. Notably, there is no expression of remorse on David’s part as recorded in relation to other deaths, nor any attempt by the author to distance David from the events or justify his actions. It is these adulterous and murderous tendencies that David passed on to his sons who would later threaten David’s Kingdom (2 Samuel 13). Therefore, David’s kingdom did not prevail on account of his morality.

The account of David and Bathsheba is immediately followed up by Nathan, the prophet (2 Samuel 12). When confronted with Nathan’s parable he is unable to perceive that Nathan is about to confront him with his actions concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. This inability will later serve to jeopardise his kingdom with the uprising of Absalom (2 Samuel 14). 

          Absalom’s sister, Tamar, had been raped by Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22), Absalom’s half brother by Ahinoam (2 Samuel 3:2). Absalom was born of Maacah (v3). In revenge, Absalom murdered Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-20), then fled to Geshur to escape justice (v37). However, in escaping justice, Baldwin comments that Absalom also forfeits his succession to the throne.[8] That Absalom is next in line for the throne is slightly puzzling given that Kileab is David’s second born (2 Samuel 3:3). However, there is no other mention of Kileab in Scripture except for 1 Chronicles 3:1 where he goes under the name Daniel. Nonetheless, Absalom would express his kingly aspirations later on in the narrative.

          What began as a friendly gesture by Joab to unite an estranged son back to his father developed into a political uprising which saw David flee Jerusalem. Despite the grievous act committed by Absalom, David still long after him, and Joab sought to reconcile the two men (2 Samuel 14:1ff). Gordon comments that Joab was concerned with more than the reconciliation of father and son.[9] Absalom was now David’s heir-apparent, and needed to be in a position to succeed David. Joab used the woman from Tekoa to exploit David’s weakness in having a lack of astuteness. It is possible that David recognised Absalom’s rite of succession and realised he needed to be located in Jerusalem rather than left in exile. Though Solomon was the one sworn to succeed David (1 Kings 1:13), there is no account of such a promise in 1 or 2 Samuel. Only the general promise that Yahweh would raise up David’s offspring to succeed him (2 Samuel 7:12). However, Absalom had murdered, and thus David may not have considered him to be an appropriate identity for his royal court (2 Samuel 14:24).

          Upon Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, the author informs the reader that Absalom was highly praised for his handsome features which brought him attention and popularity (v25). It is of interest to the author’s presentation that he should make comment concerning Absalom’s appearance now rather than earlier in the narrative. The only other person to be distinguished from all of Israel because of their appearance in the presentation was Saul (1 Samuel 10:23). Therefore the comment anticipates the upcoming actions of Absalom.

          After five years of dwelling in Jerusalem outside the royal court, he forces his way back into the court by providing David with an ultimatum via Joab – “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”‘ Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” (2 Samuel 14:32). While there is no recorded conversation between David and Absalom, it is apparent that David restores him fully with a kiss (v33). This placed Absalom in a position where he was able to openly pursue his kingly aspirations indicated by his acquisitions of a chariot, horses and men (1 Samuel 15:1). He then set about a propaganda campaign exploiting David’s poor administration of justice, whether alleged or actual, for the next four years (vv2-6).[10] The fact there was tension between Judah and the other tribes of Israel upon David’s return from exile may suggest there was some truth in what Absalom was claiming (2 Samuel 19:41-43). With the support of the people, he was able to claim Kingship in Hebron, including support from key personalities from David’s court (vv10-12). Such a political move forced David to flee Jerusalem for the sake of his court (v14). Such a disaster needs to be seen as a result of poor management, and unwillingness to administer justice on David’s part.

          This not only had implications for David’s court. It also had implications for the covenant that Yahweh had formed with David. David’s “everlasting throne” had apparently come to an end (2 Samuel 7:16). David rightly recognised that the covenant would benefit all of humanity. Had this cosmic promise been abandoned because of David’s mismanagement? The answer is a resounding “no” as the author demonstrates Yahweh’s preservation of David.

           Though David has lost power, there are three elements in these narratives that work together to restore David to the throne. Firstly, the actions of Hushai served to give David more time to make preparations for war (2 Samuel 17:7-13). Hushai was effectively planted by David as a spy in Absalom’s court to frustrate the plans of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:33). Hushai did this by appealing to David’s experience and reputation as a warrior making Ahithophel’s plan appear not as well considered, and best not followed (2 Samuel 17:14).

Secondly, David had the support of key people who were able to ensure David’s success. An unnamed owner of a well was prepared to conceal David’s two informers after they had been discovered by a young man who informed Absalom (vv17-19). Support was also given to David from those outside of Israel (vv27-29). This allowed David to prepare for war against Absalom.

Thirdly, just as David did not take the removal of Saul into his own hands (1 Samuel 26:10), David now refuses to end his son’s life (2 Samuel 18:5, 12), though probably more out of fatherly compassion than reverence. Notably, when David does hear of Absalom’s death, he mourns to the point of demoralising his troops (2 Samuel 18:33 – 19:4). David only stops mourning when confronted by Joab (19:5-8). Absalom is removed from power not by the direct intervention of David, rather by the freak accident of getting caught by his head in a tree while ridding his mule, and Joab and his men disregarding David’s command by ending Absalom’s life (2 Samuel 18:9-10). Again, the author distances David from the death of his rivals, and demonstrates that David’s enthronement was due to divine election and not human initiative.

The notion that David’s return to power, and the continuation was based on Yahweh’s intervention is further emphasised by his handling of affairs of Mephibosheth and Joab. In the affair of Mephibosheth, David is unable to distinguish the truth concerning Mephibosheth’s absence from his company when fleeing Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:24-30; cf. 16:104). David’s resolve was to issue a compromised verdict ordering both parties (Mephibosheth and Ziba) to divide Saul’s estate. Again, the promotion of Amasa into Joab’s position (19:13) may have been an attempt by David to reunify the kingdom as Amasa had led the rebel army (17:25). However, this decision would result in another tragedy with the murder of Amasa by Joab (20:10).

Despite David’s faults, one thing may be said for David – he recognised Yahweh’s sovereignty. David knew it was for Yahweh to remove Saul (1 Samuel 26:10). David “inquired of the Lord” before embarking on military campaigns (1 Samuel 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19, 23), and in times of national disaster (2 Samuel 21:10). David was also repented when confronted with his sin as opposed to Saul, who while confessing attempted to justify his actions (2 Samuel 12:13; cf 1 Samuel 15:13-25). However, this seems to emphasise Yahweh’s sovereign choice of David rather than any positive reflection of his character. Before forming the covenant with David, Yahweh had to inform David just how sovereign he was (2 Samuel 7:8-11).

David fulfils the author’s purposes by providing an ideal model for kingship. While David himself is far from being pure and sinless, the most important aspect of David’s reign was that he was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. It is this aspect that makes the office of kingship compatible with the identity of Israel as Yahweh’s covenant people, and provides a theology of messiahship in anticipation of the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant which came in Christ.

Bibliography:

Ackroyd, Peter R., ‘The succession narrative (so-called)’. Interpretation  35 (1981): 383-398

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman. An introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel. Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Klein, Ralph W.  Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel. United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983

Seaton, John.     ‘The rise and fall of King David in the purposes of 1 & 2 Samuel’. Dissertation Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1990.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 105 [2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 134[3] Ralph W.  Klein, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983),  161[4] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 140[5] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 208

[6] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 244

[7] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 253

[8] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 252

[9] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 266

[10] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 270

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October 23, 2007 - Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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