2 Samuel 24

Ah the bible, you would never mistake it for hagiography. The final story of Israel’s greatest king, concluding this long pair of books about him, is unflattering and strange. Anti climactic.

He takes a census of fighting men. For some reason this is a great sin, and a God gives him a sort of multiple choice “chose your punishment.  He chooses plague.

He feels the weight of it, touchingly comparing it to punishing sheep for the sins of the shepherd. He buys a threshing floor, some sort of rural building, to offer a sacrifice and ends the plague. And the book.

Say wha?

Commentator says the census is a sin because it is about owning the army, taking pride in it.  Its a boast, a failure to give God the glory. All of his advisers and generals tell him not to do it, but he does anyway.  Its a strangely real way to end the book.

 

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2 Samuel 23

Davids last words express his confidence in God, his satisfaction that his house is right, referring perhaps to his confidence in the afterlife, as in Psalm 23, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He also compares righteousness to bright morning sun, to light, brightness after rain, which brings new growth. Ever the shepherd, eh. I was instantly reminded of one of my favourite passages in Judges, Deborah’s song “…may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” There is a clarity to David, he sinned, but it was bought out into the light. He remained a strangely uncomplicated, poetic soul. 

The reference to daylight also recalled the discovery of his sin back in chapter 12, when Nathan the prophet compared David’s secret sin to the public judgement, bringing it out into daylight.

Then a list of all the mighty men he knew, who fought with and for him. Lastly Uzziah, who he had killed.  A credit roll on an amazing life.

 

2 Samuel Overview

The story of the King who most closely embodied God’s ideal.

He would not seize the throne, he would only accept it if God gave it to him.

He would not be vindictive against his enemies, or even politically calculating. Some of their wars were caused by neighbouring countries not comprehending his kindness, thinking it was a trap.

Faced with rebellion, he ran away, and eventually returned to the Kingship with a heavy heart.

He forgave without considering self protection, he mourned the death of his enemies. When his son betrayed him, his fatherly love overrode political considerations.

He drove his generals crazy, but he was also a brilliant warrior leader. He was undignified, artistic, spontaneous passionate.

God loved him. God loves mankind, but David let his love be seen so much. Key interaction: when David wants to build God a house and God says let me build you a house. Amadeus.

He was guilty of lust, murder and pride. His failings blew up his family. His reign was marked by constant war.

Through it all God was acting, pulling strings, there are words of messianic prophesy. Most of all David really loves God. That is above everything else for him.

David’s refusal to actively try to replace the Lord’s annointed King
1 Starts with David’s lament for Saul, yes who wanted to kill him, and Jonathon. David deeply believed that God is king and respects the Lord’s annointed
2 David talks to God and won’t seize the rule. Civil war breaks out, but he waits for God
3 David loves his enemies. Its almost over neat how he mourns the death at the hands of one of his lieutenants his last impediment to the throne, but I buy it.
4 Everyone except David is pursuing the throne. He won’t do it. Another overenthusiastic assassin brings him a step closer to the throne, expecting reward he gets death

Great things in David’s kingship
5 David is finally made King, establishes Jerusalem as the capital. He obeys god and is given victory against the philistines. He is the picture of God’s obedient king
6 Joy as the Ark comes to Jerusalem, quintessential David moment. And lessons too, don’t do God’s work your way, he needs servant not managers
7 David wants to build God a house, God says, no I’ll build you one. David accepts, loves Gods messianic word. Ps23 extra rich “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”
8 Davids wars lead to peace. He’s doing the work the people were supposed to do in Joshua
9 David finds Jonathon’s lame son, Sauls grandson, and makes him part of the court. Counter intuitive love of enemies.
10 David’s attempt at kindness is met with suspicion and sparks a war. Picture of David is not weak but good. So often we associate badass with strong

David’s sin, family and political crisis, and his unique character
11 Right at the height of success, David jarringly murders over lust for Bathsheba
12 Sin matters, its all bought out in the light by the prophet. David will not know military peace again, and they lose the baby they conceived.
13 David’s family falls apart with a story of lust, incestuous rape and revenge. I consider that its not punishment of God as much as absence of God
14 One son murdered another, the support of wise people engineers the almost impossible forgiveness of Absolom, the living one by David
15 Absolom leads a rebellion against David to the extent he is on the run hiding in the desert… again!
16 Great chapter about the pluses and minuses of loving your enemies as various spared enemies either exploit, rejoice or help David in his downfallen state.
17 Setting up David’s return, chapter shows the spiritual reality governing even the most Machiavellian of lives
18 A powerful misdirect, the old 1-2-3. Third message of death to David in the book, previously Saul and a rival to the throne. This time his son. He doesn’t shoot the messenger, he just deeply cries and mourns. Emotional ambush!
19 Empty victory. Wearily David steps up to being King again, broken but dutiful, flowing with mercy.

Old David: greatness, foolishness, love of God and tiredness
20 More rebellion, more of general Joab being a practically effective general where David will not. Another wise women (the women of Samuel… worth a study). David is old and over it, Nathan’s prophesy that he is doomed to live by the sword must have rung in his ears.
21 David is forced to allow Gibeonite neighbours to exact revenge on Sauls’ remaining offspring bar one to honour an ancient promise in Joshua. He is old, Israel starts killing giants without him…
22 Old, pride broken, David sings to God, ending 2 Sam as 1 Sam started, a song about God’s transcendence above earthly power.
23 David’s last words, his confidence in his God, and list of mighty warriors and battles they fought, ending poignantly with Uzziah who he had killed.
24 Last chapter is story of a plague as punishment for David taking a census of fighting men, and him sacrificing on an altar to please God.

2 Samuel 22

It’s all God.

As the end of David’s life approaches, he’s singing to God. 

And the message is, God is everything. He lights the path, he provides it. He made David everything he ever was, every achievement, every victory, every escape from trouble, all God. 

It’s a simple message, but how many celebs with a lifetime of greatness behind them truly again this perspective? There is no pride here. 

It’s. All. God.

2 Samuel 21

Thrown right into an example of why you would dread being king. David administers justice for the Gibeonites, a tenant of the original occupiers of the land, which means allowing them to kill 8 Israelites. He handles it and as fairly as he can, seeing that they get a proper burial and the families are looked after. 

The story is framed a bit like an Aztec style human sacrifice. There is a famine in the land until it is done, and the doing of it brings prosperity again. 

But I think it’s a lesson in justice, justice requires death. Jesus’ death could be viewed as a human sacrifice. The blood is not purchasing of some rain and blessing from God, it’s righting a wrong. 

Then there is the story of the Israelites being the giants, relatives of Goliath. This is bridging the story of David round in a big loop from the first demonstration of his greatness, when he slew Goliath, to the decline of it. Israel is starting to slay their own giants without him.

2 Samuel 20

Another rebellion.  David slowly losing grip.

The Israelite grumbling is exploited into another rebellion by a guy called Sheba, which is quelled in this chapter.

The rebellion is quelled, but there are some long story threads woven in here.

We learn the fate of the 10 concubines who David inherited from Saul, and who were palace administrators, almost like the white house staff, and passed to Absalom when he was king – a sign the people were intended to take as that David was not coming back politically “dead”.

But he did come back, and ironically treated them as if Absalom was alive for the rest of their lives, ie: cared for them as widows, did not take them back again as his concubines.

This is all a feminist disaster, viewed through the standards women have now achieved, but of course by the standards of the time they faired better than many. They  were probably quite noble women, daughters of local kings or land owners. Their passing from man to man was probably 90% like having a new boss as much as a new sexual partner. Such was their lot, they led lives of relative safety and ease though never escaped being political pawns and their formal personal lives were prescribed.

Joab is a great general who has won many battles but he is ambitious, and he sees the political more than the spiritual perspective. He killed a brother earlier, and David and he have the dark bond that he helped David kill Uzziah – Bathsheba’s husband.

Joab has been demoted because he killed Absalom. David seems to have been worn out by Absalom’s rebellion, and part of him no longer cares if he is King.  He put Absalom’s general Amasa in charge of hunting Sheba… and Amasa took longer than needed to gather the troops.

Is Amasa disloyal?  I mean, politically putting the last rebel’s general in charge of hunting the next rebel… it makes no sense.  It was done because of grief, David for his son.

Joab takes matters into his own hand and kills Amasa, as he did his brother and Absalom. He is politically effective, ambitious, typical of a person in his position.

The rebellion is resolved without too much bloodshed because a wise woman in the town where Shea is hiding out bargains… save the town we’ll give you sheba.  Women so often have the practical, sensible role to play in this book!

Anyway, its business as usual, David stays being king but his affairs are a mess.  And its a business chapter, from a spiritual perspective, its just a working out of the human-ness and decline that Nathan the prophet declared would be David’s lot for his sin.

Maybe I’m viewing it through the lens of tiredness. Its the end of the year, the weather is hot, unpleasantly so, I just want to be on holidays.

2 Samuel 19

Private grief, public face.

David’s grief over his usurper son Absalom is overwhelming him. David escaped his rebellion to a foreign land, he’s “won”, but because victory meant the loss of his son, David is in a massive depression. 

It’s created a power vacuum. New king dead, Old king AWOL. David’s general Joab, who I sort of love, gives him a general-Patton-like reality slap and pep talk.

It’s all very well to love your enemies, but they’ve just saved many lives, all of those of David’s friends and supporters – David should spare a bit of love for the living and loyal!  For the good of the nation he has to get out there and be king! 

If not there will probably be another civil war. There is simmering tension between Judah and Israel always. David was Judah’s king before the civil war united the nation, so that is his base.

David man’s up. He channels his grief into mercy. This is the most beautiful thing in the chapter. We get a series of anecdotes of David letting bygones be bygones with enemies because he doesn’t want more death. 

Shimei, who was hilariously belligerent, now asks and receives mercy; Saul’s lame grandson Mesthispotheth gives a feeble explanation for why he ran off to the usurpers side, no worries. Another 80 year old leader is torn because not coming on the victory march with David will cause offence, but he’s old and tired. Take it easy, David says. 

David does two returns, the symbolic crossing the Jordan into Judah, echoing the people coming to the promised land, and then the journey to Jerusalem, entering Israel, foreshadowing Jesus’ journey to Calvary. 

The Judeans and Israelites both love him again, but like squabbling siblings, get a bit fierce about who loves him more. Seeds of future struggle there. 

David is fulfilling the role of king out of duty, but in his heart, god is king and he is clearly full of regret and grief. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of pride. From all that flows a river of mercy.

Help me to make you king and swallow my pride, father.

2 Samuel 18

OK its all about how David reacts.

There is a battle, David wants to ride with them, but the grizzled, wiley general Joab says no, and strategically he has to agree, he’s too valuable a chess piece. But he asks them to be merciful to Absalom, his usurper son

The battle is in a forest, unfocussed, dangerous – 20,000 men die, “more claimed by the forest than the sword.”

And it works out that Absalom could easily have been spared, Joab had a clear choice.  But like a proper military man, he finishes him, finishes the bloodshed and the battle.  I think I know why he didn’t want David on the battlefield.

They run with news to David.  Joab carefully picks who will take the news.  We wince.

2 Samuel has hung off three decisive battles, the defeat of Saul, the end of the civil war that unified Israel, and now the defeat of the impatient heir.  The last two times, David loved his enemies so much that he killed the jubilant messenger in a rage.  Now his son is dead, Joab knows it, we know it.

The running of men to tell David is played out with considerable suspense.  But its a misdirect. David doesn’t kill anyone this time – he simply cries, he wails for his son.

The useless son who turned the people against him, who wasted his leadership skills and charisma undermining David and now contributing to the slaughter of many countrymen.

“If only I could have died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!”

Love.

I pray for my family every day. They aren’t as bad as Absalom, but they aren’t always that great either.  My parents loved me too despite many faults, til the day they died.  This is a picture of the love of God, which David has learned at such a deep level. Crying over the one sheep who is lost.

David is a great leader, he’s been a relentless and mighty warrior, his battle will seemingly never end, as the prophet declared, for his sin. He’s the classic bold leader who always seems to win because he’s never afraid of losing. But inside he’s still that boy tending sheep, singing.  Whatever in him that ever cared about the politics is gone. The lord is his shepherd.

2 Samuel 17

We don’t get David’s victory against his usurper son Absalom in this chapter, but we get a massive spoiler: god has decided it.

It’s a bit like when harry potter takes the lucky spell – everything goes right for David.

Absalom has a super adviser, Ahithophel. He advises to attack David straight away to consolidate the insurrection, because, David and his core men have just run away from Jerusalem and will be the most tired, weak and friendless they will ever be.

And he says, just kill David and bring the rest of the men home without a massacre. They will unite under you because there is no one else. It’s pretty great advice.

David has a loyal friend planted in the palace, a sort of spy, who also advises: to wait a bit… And they follow his advice.

Ahithophel’s next bit of advice is to himself: you’re done for, you’re in the losing team, go and hang yourself, which he does.

And so it plays out. The friend in the palace, who bought some time, gets news out to David who gets allies and supplies to strengthen the men…

So where is god? What are we learning?

One thing, is very familiar. Today I sometimes wonder how powerful God could be when so few people are Christians.

The work of the world, the glamour, the important stuff all seems to go on without regard for the tiny band of church people who claim to have the answer.

But it was no different then. David is a true believer, but most people in Israel act exactly as they would if God didn’t exist. His son clearly didn’t receive his father’s faith.

David’s closest adviser, this Ahithophel is recognised as gifted in wisdom by God, but in his heart he is Machiavelli – total self interest.

And when his wisdom fails him, he has nothing else. His identity doesn’t come from being loved by God, so he kills himself. He’s put all his stock in his own brilliance.

And the people at large were only too happy to give their hearts to a populist leader who undermined David and promised the moon and stars. That was the basis of Absalom’s coup.

They are swayed by charisma, like the people today. There are very few people then or now who really love god in their heart.

It’s worth remembering that. So tempting to think that the good old days were so much better.

2 Samuel 16

David turns the other cheek and often refuses to be political to his own disadvantage.  Now he is a vagabond again – Israel’s king, wandering about the countryside trying to survive, while being usurped by his own son Absalom.  We get some quite telling portraits of the two men in this chapter, which are great examples of the grace filled life – and its opposite.

He meets Ziba, his enemy Saul’s old servant who he left serving Jonathan’s lame surviving son, Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. Most Kings would have had them killed long ago, but David has been kind to these former enemies who were definitely in the anti-David camp during the civil war, in memory of his love for Jonathan and his respect for the god given position of Saul, as his anointed king.

Ziba is there with a loving cart of goodies for the troops. During this low time Ziba is repaying David’s decency.

Mephibosheth? Back in Jerusalem on the side of the usurper, pining for the end of David and new glory days.  He has completely despised David’s kindness and turned on him at the first opportunity.

Was David wrong to show him mercy?  In earthly terms, yes, he doesn’t deserve it and from a practical point of view he’s a rallying point for opposition. But David views himself as accountable to God for his ethics, not man. David does grant Ziba all the property he gave to Mephibosheth for his kind loyalty.

Next they meet another supporter of Saul, part of his extended family, who single handedly and continually rains down curses, rocks and dirt on David and his men.  What he says is in some senses quite fair, if showing a pro-Saul spin.  He calls David a man of bloodshed, which he really is, and says his current usurped situation, a parallel of what he did to Saul, is God’s punishment for all the bloodshed in Saul’s house when David took the throne. That’s a little unfair, given how many opportunities to pro-actively seize the throne from Saul David ignored.  But there was much bloodshed.

One of Saul’s men wants to quickly dispatch this man, Shimei by cutting off his head, but David defends him saying this is what the Lord has told him to do: “The lord has spoken to him”.

So as they continue along the road, bedraggled and tired, probably hungry again, Shimei goes along with them shouting abuse and throwing rocks and dirt the whole way. David cops it – after all he says, his own flesh and blood is doing the same. David showed an absurd – in practical terms – amount of loyalty to Saul who was unjustly violent towards him at every opportunity, and now extends the same to Saul’s old supporter.

He does it because of God, and perceives this man as a kind of prophet, telling God’s truth. Talk about love thine enemies and turn the other cheek…

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a different kind of behaviour is being modelled. When David evacuated he left 10 concubines to look after the palace.  His son, Absalom very publicly enters sexual relations with the women.  This is a means of politically signalling an irreconcilable break with David.  There can be no going back after that, everyone must choose to be on David’s side or Absalom’s. And all the cards are in Absalom’s hand at the moment.

Absalom did this on the advice of Ahithophel, who is an interesting character who we’ll return to next chapter.  He’s a bit of a Samson type.  God gave him a great gift of insight and wisdom, and both David and Absalom desire his advice.  But like Samson Ahithophel abuses and wastes the extraordinary gift God has given him.

This advice, about the concubines, is an astute political power play to consolidate the moment, but ethically corrupt before God. Last chapter ended with a kiss between father and son after David reached out to Absalom with a very painful process of forgiveness. Now the son is taking his father’s throne, his women, his palace, his people’s hearts.

Should David have left Absalom in exile?  His return is a disaster. But forgiveness is its own reward, before God. David is working on the struggle with his own sinful nature to live a grace filled life.

And yes, that is the thing to do.

And before I go, spare a thought for concubines.  The second class citizens of a polygamous system.

Their situation seems to range from what we would traditionally think of as mistresses – long term, possibly quite loved, non-wives – to total sex slaves.  They can’t attain the status of wife, I think, because they are foreign.  They are generally captives of war, though there were also some traditions of them being free to leave if they chose.  If allowed to be free, they would abandon any children and a life of luxury and privilege if they did – a classic asymmetric “freedom” of the disempowered.

Sometimes they would be female circumcised and/or sterilised. So, worst case scenario, they were merely another object of plunder along with gold and livestock: the best looking women of the enemy forced into a brutal, mutilated life of sex slavery. I don’t think this was completely true of the biblical Israelite concubines because they keep producing children in these stories.

I don’t know if the fact that David left 10 behind to mind the palace shows a certain level of trust and genuine relationship between him and them.

Whether or not David was good to them, they certainly would have been reminded of their vulnerable position when Absalom took over and claimed them for himself.

Sorry, long entry, quiet Saturday morning. Lots to think and pray about grace and being accountable to God.

That concept of “God sees everything” is one of the most hated and parodied by atheists and God haters.  They portray us as living in paralysing fear of an invisible and capricious bogeyman, a pathetic life.

But I’m convinced that God’s laws are good – love your neighbour as yourself even when your neighbour is not watching or there is no obvious benefit to you. Because love is an end in itself. That’s right and the best of humankind, not pathetic.

Atheists call it ethics and so do I.  They also, in the end, think its good, give or take an argument about state recognition of same sex marriage (which I personally am not against in any event).

I’m not always good at it. There is a great wisdom in this chapter about how to love your enemies, which is being prepared to hear the truth in what they say.  I pray that like David I will struggle to be always getting better at it.