Well well. It took me almost 5 months in between my Ruth and 1st Samuel posts, and it has now taken … 3 1/2 months in between 1st & 2nd Samuel. I meant for that to be much shorter. Procrastination and distractions from other crap has gotten me once again. Some shitty stuff happened, then onto the holidays which have actually been a bit more hectic than usual this year, then in typical “me” fashion I got sucked into another TV show and spent my free time catching up on that instead of reading 2nd Samuel (before you judge me about Covert Affairs, you need to check out season 3 because I swear to god it suddenly got kinda awesome, which is why I got sucked in). Plus I think I’ve just been in a weird headspace lately that seems to involve a complete lack of motivation for anything productive; I dunno what the hell is wrong with me. Once December came along I finally forced myself to get productive and read 2nd Samuel though, and now here we are.
So what happens in 2nd Samuel? I mean … there is some stuff, and I guess some of it is semi-interesting. It basically follows the rest of David’s life (or most of it I think, because he doesn’t die at the end but he seems to be very old) after Saul is killed, including his rise to power as the king of Israel and then his rule as king. Let me attempt to give a synopsis that isn’t ridiculously long:
The tribe of Judah wastes no time after Saul/Jonathan and co. are killed (at the end of 1st Samuel), and appoints David as king. However, there is a problem with this, which is that some of Saul’s crew are still alive and they have NO interest in David as king. So Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, appoints Saul’s son Ishbosheth as the king of all Israel. Aawwkwaarrd. So how does this little issue get resolved? With battle and bloodshed of course! Is there any other way? The houses of Saul and David war against each other for a long time, but Team David grows stronger while Team Saul grows weaker. Eventually, Team Saul winds up imploding on itself when Ishbosheth accuses Abner of sleeping with one of Saul’s concubines. Abner is so angry with the lack of trust from Ishbosheth that he decides to switch sides and join Team David instead. David makes an ally of Abner, only to have Joab (commander of D’s army) randomly kill Abner shortly thereafter. Team Saul finally bites the dust once and for all when a couple of their own people kill Ishbosheth and bring his head to David. David is NOT happy about this, but in the end, it opens the door for him to become king of all Israel. He is 30 years old.
David’s first move as king is to attack the people of Jerusalem and take it over. He does just that, and then some other king of an allied area sends carpenters to build a palace for him in Jerusalem, and he becomes more and more powerful because the “Lord God Almighty is with him.” He names Jerusalem as the City of David. As soon as our old pals the Philistines hear of all this, they try to attack, but of course David’s army defeats them. In the meantime, David also takes a bunch more wives and concubines and has a lot more kids, cause he is a pimp. Time passes and David rules like a boss and continues to smite the shit out of other people/nations left and right: The Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Hadadezer’s army, Arameans, etc. Baller.
Eventually around chapter 15, one of David’s sons, a dude named Absalom, starts to scheme against daddy. He’s extremely patient and persistent too, because he literally spends either 40 or 4 years (depending on which version you read) cultivating a persona of a very friendly, empathetic and well-respected person amongst the Israelites. And that’s when he sets his plan to take over in motion. He basically starts rumblings amongst the people, and when David gets word of it, he decides that he needs to escape Israel for a while to avoid being attacked and overthrown by Absalom. He takes his household and officials and soldiers and other loyal people with him. But he strategically sends a few folks back to Jerusalem as spies for him, namely: Zadok the priest, his son Ahimaaz, Jonathan son of Abiathar (different Jonathan than Saul’s son/David’s dearly departed buddy), and Hushai the Arkite. Hushai’s job is to go back and pledge his loyalty to Absalom, and then try to sabotage any plans that Absalom makes to attack/overthrow David.
And that is exactly what Hushai does. He convinces Absalom (against some better advice from another seer-type named Ahithopel) that he should take his whole army out to find David and kill not only David but ALL his men and everyone who is with him. Then he sends Jonathan and Ahimaaz to give the intel to David so David can be prepared. It works, and David’s army defeats Absalom’s army, and 20,000 men are killed. Yay! In the
midst of the battle, Absalom finds himself in a precarious situation when he’s riding his donkey and the donkey goes under a tree branch too fast and Absalom basically gets caught in the tree by his head. He’s hanging from the tree by his head. Someone informs Joab of this, and Joab (with the help of several soldiers) proceeds to kill Absalom by stabbing him three times with a javelin, and then letting the soldiers finish him off. This is despite the fact that David had specifically instructed the army commanders to NOT kill Absalom, but take him alive. David then hears about this and is beside himself and mourns and cries for his son.
Joab finally has to tell David to get his shit together and stop mourning for Absalom, because he was their enemy and it makes David look weak in the eyes of the Israelites. David then pulls it together and comes back home to Jerusalem with the help of the house of Judah, which apparently causes friction with the rest of the tribes of Israel and they fight about it. But David resumes his reign as king. Some other random weird things happen in these last few chapters, but I’ll touch on those in the “Good Stuff” and “Bad Stuff” sections. 2nd Samuel ends with David being really old and singing songs of praise to God, but then the very last chapter of the book takes a bizarre turn: God gets mad at Israel again for unknown reasons, and tempts David to take a census of Israel. David does it, but then feels terrible about it and begs forgiveness from God (even though God was the one who told him to do it in the first place, and what the hell is so wrong with taking a census anyway??) So as punishment, God sends a plague through Israel that kills 70,000 people. Ummmm … ok. Seems logical. David then stops the plague by building an altar to God and sacrificing animals on it. Because I mean, duh. That’s how you stop plagues. It works, of course.
That is the not-so-short synopsis of 2nd Samuel. Let’s get to the Good and Bad stuff now:
Like 1st Samuel, there are a few things in 2nd Samuel that could be considered good … ish, particularly when taken out of context. Namely:
- In chapter 9, David decides that he wants to do something nice for a descendent of his old buddy Jonathan, to honor Jonathan’s memory. Saul’s old servant Ziba tells David about Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, who is crippled in both feet. He tells Mephibosheth, “I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” He also brings in Ziba and his whole clan to work for Mephibosheth and M’s family is included in this as well. M and fam then always eat at the king’s table from that point forward.
- This is a great example of a terrible story that has one glimmer of a nice element: In chapter 11, David sees a hot (married) chick named Bathsheba from a distance, bathing. He sends out some peeps to go and bring her to him and he sleeps with her, and knocks her up. David is now in a real pickle, especially because she’s married. So how does he decide to deal with the problem of Bathsheba’s hubby Uriah (who is a really good guy, btw)? He instructs Joab to put Uriah on the frontlines of battle (they’re at war at the time as usual) so that he’ll be killed!! And he is. And David then takes Bathsheba as his wife! Great guy, David. The absolute only good thing that comes out of this is the following:
- Nathan, a prophet of the Lord, tells David a morality tale to convince David of what he has done wrong. You can read chapter 11 if you want the details of the story, but it contains one verse that is the one and ONLY thing in the bible so far that has made me say, “Awww!”: “12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.” How cute, but don’t get too attached to this sweet little lamby though, cause she ends up dead and cooked (by someone else who steals her) by the end of the story. But in any event, at least we have one extremely rare example (so far) of the Bible pointing out that just one of the horrific things that have occurred is actually … WRONG. Most of the time, people just do horrible shit and God is either thrilled with it or completely indifferent.
- This chapter actually explicitly mentions that God does not approve of what
David did, which is good, but then guess how God punishes David? By killing the child that David impregnated Bathsheba with, via illness. Errr … just when we thought things were looking up. The Bible has a real way of pissing on its own parade, doesn’t it?
- In chapter 16, when David and co. are on the run from Absalom, they enter a town called Bahurim, and some Benjamite named Shimei taunts David and his peeps and throws rocks and dirt on them. He says stuff like, “The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!” To be fair, he kinda has a point with the “man of blood” thing. Anyway then in chapter 19 when David comes back to take his throne again after defeating Absalom, Shimei begs him for forgiveness. Joab’s brother Abishai wants to kill Shimei for what he has done, but David stops him and says it would be wrong to put Shimei to death. He has mercy on Shimei, and gives him an oath that he won’t kill him.
The thing is, I find it quite dangerous that any of these stories can so easily be taken out of context and make David sound like the greatest guy in the universe (and certainly this happens all the time). Because if you don’t take the time to fully read the books, you won’t know that at least 95% of the time, David is not doing things that are all that admirable. For instance, when Shimei tells David that the Lord is punishing him for being a “man of blood,” he’s actually completely wrong – The Lord is doing the exact opposite: He is REWARDING David on a regular basis for being a man of blood, and not only that, but taking it a step further and helping him do it. Let’s not forget that the entire reason David was chosen by God over Saul in the first place was because Saul disobeyed God’s commandment to kill all the Amalekites (including women and children). David, on the other hand, is a virtual killing machine most of the time, which seems to be exactly what God was looking for in the perfect king of Israel. The fact that he occasionally performs some acts of kindness doesn’t have even close to the same meaning when you take it in the context of all the horrible things he’s spending so much of his time doing.
As usual, there is plenty of bad stuff in 2nd Samuel to discuss. I’ll just pick out the more interesting examples:
- You may recall that at the end of 1st Samuel, Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua are killed by the Philistines. Well in the first chapter of 2nd Samuel, an Amalekite dude shows up to David’s place and tells him that he witnessed Saul being killed. He says that Saul was dying and begged the Amalekite to put him out of his misery, so he did. He then took Saul’s crown and band from his arm and brought them back to David as a gesture of goodwill and respect. The guy had no reason to make the effort to bring this stuff back to David except to do what he felt was the right thing. And how does David repay the man for his efforts? He kills him.
- You may recall that in 1st Samuel, Saul had promised his daughter Michal to David if he could bring Saul 100 Philistine foreskins. David brought back 200 foreskins for
good measure, but Saul still didn’t give him Michal. In chapter 3 of 2nd Samuel, David rectifies this situation – He tells Abner (while Abner is proposing to switch alliances from Ishbosheth to David) that he’ll agree to the alliance IF and only if Abner brings Michal to David to take as a wife. So he does. Problem is, this woman already has a husband. No matter. “Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back home!’ So he went back.” David got what he wanted, and that’s all that matters.
- In chapter 6, David and his men go and get the Ark of the Covenant from Abinadab’s house (we last left it there for 20 years in 1st Samuel). At one point, while the ark is being transported on a cart pulled by oxen, the oxen stumble, and Abinadab’s son Uzzah grabs the ark to make sure it doesn’t fall. Then, “the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” Umm, wow.
- Later in chapter 6, the ark finally makes it to Israel. Everyone is dancing and celebrating, and David apparently gets a little too wild, dancing nearly naked in front of everyone. His wife Michal is NOT happy about this, and chastises him for it. Michal then has “no children to the day of her death.” Is this a punishment for her being a buzzkill to David??
- In chapter 8, while David is ruling Israel like a boss and smiting cities left and right,
there is a description of how he smites the people of Moab: “2. David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought tribute.” Uhhhh … like I said: ruthless. killing. machine.
- In my synopsis of 2nd Samuel, I mentioned the story of how David enlisted his buddy Hushai as a spy against Team Absalom. Hushai purposely gives Absalom different (and worse) advice than Absalom’s trusted seer-type advisor guy, Ahithophel. Well, what I didn’t mention is that chapter 17 makes it clear that God is behind this – “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” The result of this is that Ahithophel is so ashamed that Absalom didn’t take his advice, that he commits suicide over it. God is all, “eh.”
- When David leaves Jerusalem to escape Absalom, he takes his entire household with him except for 10 concubines, which he leaves to take care of the palace while he’s gone. When Absalom takes over the palace, he sleeps with the concubines (that story is jacked on its own; read ch. 16 if you want details). In chapter 20 when David returns home, he “provide[s] for [the concubines], but [does] not lie with them. They [are] kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows.” Nice way of saying “thank you” for holding down the fort while he was gone.
- In chapter 21, three years of famine overtakes Israel. David asks God how he can stop the famine. God tells David that it’s a punishment for the fact that Saul had previously slaughtered the Gibeonites, even though God had marked them as “off limits” because of a peace treaty the Israelites had made with them some time
earlier. So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do to atone for this. The Gibeonites tell David that if he brings them 7 male descendants of Saul that they can execute, then all will be forgiven. So David does just that – He gives them “Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,” to put to death. And the Gibeonites follow through on it: they kill all 7 of them and purposely leave their dismembered bodies out in the open. We then have the heartbreaking story of Rizpah (mother of 2 of the victims) trying to protect the bodies from birds “from the beginning of the harvest until rain fell from the sky.” God is clearly pleased by this though, because he then stops the famine.
- I already mentioned this in the synopsis, but the last chapter of 2nd Samuel involves the completely random and illogical census story. God kills 70,000 Israelites with plague because David takes a census (after God himself tempts him to do so). Why does God gotta be such a dick all the time??
You know, with every book I read of the Bible, it becomes more and more apparent what is really going on here: Bad shit happens to the Israelites, they look for some way to explain why it happened, and only thing they can think of is that God is punishing them for one thing or another. The land goes into famine for 3 years – God must be punishing them for a past sin by Saul. A plague strikes the land and kills 70,000 people – maybe God is punishing them because David took the census. David’s buddy Uzzah dies – It must be because of that time he touched the Ark to stop it from falling down. A crazed maniac guns down 20 children and 6 adult faculty at an elementary school in Connecticut – it must be a result of us removing God from the school curriculum, or living sinfully, or whatever. We still do the same shit today, but not quite as often, because we have better scientific explanations now for stuff like natural disasters and diseases.
But it’s human nature to need to find a reason why bad things have happened, and we go to whatever we have available to us to find that reason. These days we can turn to science more often, but in the times of 2nd Samuel, they didn’t have any of that. All they had was their supernatural belief system to use as a reference and for context. So that’s what they used. And unfortunately most of the explanations involve God being a huge raging asshole. Is he getting a bad rap or is he really that terrible? I have no clue, but all I can do is report what the Bible tells me.
Anyway, as for a rating of 2nd Samuel, I will put this one pretty much exactly on par with 1st Samuel in terms of the ratio of good stuff to bad stuff. So:
Here’s to hoping I can get my shit together and get through Kings 1 in less than 3 1/2 months.