posted on Oct, 31 2014 @ 06:04 PM
2 Samuel has a particular interest for students of history, as the only book of the Bible where it’s possible to follow the messy details of
It can be read around (and may have been written around) the career of David’s nephew Joab, the son of his sister Zeruiah.
He spends the book, apart from a brief interval, as the leader of David’s armies.
The biggest crisis which he faced in David’s reign was caused by the troubled young man Absolom.
Absolom was third, in order of age, among the sons of David.
His first reason for being troubled was the forcing of Tamar, his full sister, at the hands of their half-brother Amnon.
When David heard about the event, he was very angry but did nothing. Through some combination of weakness and indulgence, the older David was never
able to control his family’s behaviour.
Absolom took her under his wing, instead, and waited for an opportunity to avenge her.
A couple of years later he held a “sheep-shearing”, which was obviously a festive occasion (the pastoral equivalent of a harvest supper).
Absalom invited his brothers, got them all drunk, and gave the signal for his servants to attack Amnon and kill him.
Then he fled for refuge to (his grandfather) Talmai king of Geshur.
Absolom stayed in exile for three years.
Meanwhile, Joab could see that his father needed little prompting to take him back.
So Joab briefed a woman from Tekoa to act out a part in front of the king. She was to tell him the story of her own son, threatened with punishment
for the murder of his brother, and win him round to a decision that her son should be pardoned.
Then she applied the moral to the case of Absalom.
David recognised Joab’s hand in the business, but agreed to allow Absolom to come back.
The only catch was that he was not to be allowed into the king’s presence.
After a couple of years under this restriction, Absolom thought he would appeal to David through Joab, but Joab refused to come to him.
Then the servants of Absolom received fresh instructions; they were to set fire to the barley in one of Joab’s fields, which succeeded in attracting
The end-result, through Joab’s agency, was that Absolom was reconciled with his father.
The returned Absolom was the idol of the people.
He was the Prince William of his time (just as Prince Charles was the Prince William of his own time).
He was without blemish, and one of the marks of his beauty was the speedy growth of his hair.
It was weighed at the end of each year, when he had it cut, and came to a full two hundred shekels “by the king’s weight”.
He made a big public display of wealth and power, with “a chariot and horses and fifty men to run before him”.
He also set out to convince the people that he would make a more sympathetic ruler than his father.
“Absolom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate; and when any man had a suit to come before the king for judgement…Absolom would
say to him “See, your claims are good and right; but there is no man deputed by the king to hear you…Oh, that I were a judge in the land! Then
every man with a suit or a cause would come to me and I would give him justice”…So Absolom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
Finally he came out into the open and had himself proclaimed king in Hebron.
Seeing that he had lost the people at large, David abandoned Jerusalem and fled across the Jordan with his remaining followers.
Absolom moved north to occupy the city.
On advice, he carried out the symbolic act of taking over David’s concubines, which was a way of proclaiming his succession;
“They pitched a tent for Absolom upon the roof, and Absolom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel”.
He was also advised to send twelve thousand men to pursue David’s party while they were “weary”; they would panic and flee, David could be
struck down, and the coup would then be complete and irreversible.
But he followed instead the (deliberately bad) advice of a friend whom David had left “embedded” in Jerusalem, that it would be better to wait and
gather a larger army from the whole of Israel.
The actual result of this advice was that David himself, taking refuge in Mahanaim, was given time to recover and gather his own forces.
When Absalom was ready, his army crossed the Jordan in pursuit of David.
David sent out his troops in three brigades, two of them led by Joab and his brother Abishai.
His men did not want him to put himself in danger, and they probably did not want him to interfere in the running of the battle, so he stayed behind
in Mahanaim and awaited events.
Absalom put his own army under the command of another of David’s nephews, Amasa the son of Abigail.
The two armies met in pitched battle in the forest of Ephraim and Absolom’s army was defeated with great slaughter.
Joab was told that Absolom was caught in the branches of a tree.
“Then why haven’t you killed him?” asked Joab.
But what about the king’s instruction to the commanders? “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absolom”.
Joab said “I will not waste time like this with you”, and took three darts in his hand to kill Absolom himself.
On the news that the battle had been won, the king rejoiced.
On the further news, that Absolom was dead, the king mourned.
This completely undercut the sense of triumph in his army, so Joab read the old man a lecture which was positively brutal;
“You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life…I perceive that if Absolom were alive and all
of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord that if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this
So the king went out to greet his victorious army, and to smile for the cameras, as it were.
And he may have thought, not for the first time, that the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him.
Where is the theology in this story?
In the absence of any direct intervention by God, though the characters frequently appeal to his name, we can only learn about him indirectly.
In the first place, we can recognise real politics in the details of this narrative.
Gibbon described history as a record of the “crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”.
“What it’s all about is the dirt”, as one of my tutors used to say.
We can see from the rough-and-tumble nature of these relationships, tinged with brutality and treachery, that events are taking place in the real
This is history, not legend.
And the implication is that the relation between the God of Israel and his people is embedded in the world of history, not restricted to the world of
In many cultures, stories about the gods belong only to the world of legend, and the gods are correspondingly distant.
This God maintains himself close to his people, in the middle of real-world events.
It’s obvious enough, in the second place, that the protagonists in these events are filled with flaws.
Even David has his weaknesses, and he ignores the spirit of at least one of the laws of Moses.
This is evidence that a good relationship with God does not depend on being perfect, and that must be encouraging for the rest of us.
These are real people, in short, and God is prepared to work with them as real people.
Finally, if this is God promoting the kingdom of David and developing his own plans, he’s clearly working very indirectly, which says something
about his methods.