Chapter 3: History. <I>The King Walks before You ( I Sam. 12 — I Kings 11)</I>

From Faith to Faith -- Essays on Old Testament Literature
by B. Davie Napier

Chapter 3: History. <I>The King Walks before You ( I Sam. 12 — I Kings 11)</I>

We shall not elaborate evidence of a double or multiple source tradition underlying Samuel and Kings. Inconsistencies in fact and point of view and the duplication of episodes are apparent even to the casual reader; and detailed analysis of the text is easily accessible in any standard Introduction to the Old Testament.1 We are skeptical of some of the common criteria of literary priority, however; and we reject the view that the "later" sources (often late only editorially, not in substance) are necessarily less accurate, less dependable. If the "later" sources are interpretative, as they are, so are the earlier. We do not think there is anywhere in the Bible a purely objective, detached account of sequential events. If we have such an account anywhere in the Old Testament, it is II Sam. 9-20; but even here we are given an interpretation of human events through the eyes of profound faith. We have also to remember what we have emphasized before, that the later "documents" used in the compilation of the Pentateuch and the historical writings have obviously made use of older and, on the whole, factually reliable sources.

Early and late, Israel’s historians are better understood in Aristotle’s definition of a poet. Aristotle’s historian was a mere chronicler of sequential events; his poet was one who distilled from the chronological catalogue its essence, its universal judgment and meaning.2 This is not to say that the writers of history in Israel are unconcerned with matters of fact. They are profoundly concerned with the visible structure of the event precisely because they regard the ultimate function of historical writing to be the communication of meaning in history. If absolute precision in detail is of secondary importance, the essential structure of what in fact occurred is crucial because the meaning is always in terms of divine nature, divine will and divine intention. The essence of history, which must of course be extracted from. the actual event, is the revelation, the self-disclosure, of God.

What we term earlier and later sources do sometimes differ in detail; but we suspect that they differ in the representation of a given event not always because they were compiled in different centuries, but because the two sources reflect opposing contemporaneous interpretations. For example, we think it reasonable to suppose that the establishment of the monarchy was viewed, at the time,3 in the two different and opposing interpretations now combined in I Samuel. Many in Israel, perhaps most, looked on the innovation favorably, as reflected in the "A" or earlier source; but we do not doubt that even at the time the step was regarded with disapproval among conservative Yahweh loyalists. Certainly some of these regarded the monarchy as an affront to Yahweh and as an easy road to apostasy, and this is the point of view of the later "B" source. Israel’s historians who stand further from the event will of course use the records at their disposal in such a way as to emphasize their own disillusionment with a monarchy that has failed to realize the high hopes of its founding; but we are hardly therefore justified in dismissing the B source as inaccurate or unhistorical. And in any interpretation of Old Testament history compiled from a plurality of sources, it is important to recognize the essential unity commonly underlying differences in representation of both detail and point of view. Old Testament history is always understood as history in which (1) Yahweh acts (2) toward the fulfillment of his own purposes. Thus, the two conflicting narrative strands both understand that the institution of monarchy results at Yahweh’s instigation, through the instrumentality of Samuel. This is no less true of B (see I Sam. 8:4-9) than of A (I Sam. 9:15 if.)

We are therefore unwilling always and automatically to accord higher historical validity to the "older" source, or superiority of interpretation to the "prior" source. In modern as well as ancient times we understand history to be more than the accurate record of event. It is also the interpretation of the event, an interpretation to be sure requiring knowledge of the contemporary understanding of the event, but never complete until set in the perspective which only time can give. We must record and interpret the Stalin-Roosevelt-Churchill era knowing not only the limitations of the interpretation but indeed of the record itself! Both the record and the interpretation will ultimately be determined by future generations of historians and writers. The essence which we extract, the meaning which we read, may or may not be theirs; but the history of this era remains incomplete until it is rerecorded and reinterpreted in the perspective of the future. And this is to speak of the wholeness of history, as true of ancient history as it is of modern history. The Old Testament possesses this wholeness in marked degree, and to devaluate the later material is to prefer a partial history, and even a distorted history, to a whole history.

And Samuel said to all Israel, ". . . behold, the king walks before you; and I am old and gray.., stand still, that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the saving deeds of the Lord which he performed for you and for your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt. . . . [I Sam. 12:2, 7 f.]

The speech that follows, placed upon the lips of Samuel as a farewell address, suggests some kinship in point of view with that which characterizes much of the book of Deuteronomy. In its present form substantially from the seventh century but embodying older material, Deuteronomy proclaims an absolute correlation between the faithfulness of Israel and her national security. So does the speech before us in I Sam. 12:

If you will fear the Lord and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, it will be well; but if you will not. . . . [12:14 f.]

Do we therefore conclude that the speech actually dates from the seventh century? Possibly -- in its present form. But the content of the historical summary, if not the form (vv. 8-13) , has the ring of authentic antiquity and may well have been drawn from a source similar to the cultic credos which we find in Deut. 26:5-9, 6:20-24 and Josh. 24:2-13.4

In any case, editorial design here conforms to a consistent pattern, a pattern which reflects the faith of the community of Israel: at every decisive transition in her recorded history she hears from the lips of the preceding period’s most influential figure a summary of her past precisely in terms of "the saving deeds of the Lord." We are, she affirms repeatedly, where we are and what we are because of what Yahweh has done. This is the import and function of the postexilic prayer of Ezra (Neh. 9), in which the long centuries are remembered and interpreted as God’s activity in history. But several centuries earlier, Israel reads the whole book of Deuteronomy with its repeated emphasis upon what God has done as "the words that Moses spoke to all Israel" (Deut. 1:1) at the close of his life. And similarly, when possession is taken of the land and Joshua’s work is done, we read as if from his lips that magnificent confessional recital of past events in Josh. 24:2 ff.

So, in transition from tribal confederation to monarchy, Israel appropriately hears on the lips of Samuel a summary of the past as essentially the story of "the saving deeds of the Lord."

A. Saul (I Sam. 13-15)

We do not know the length of Saul’s reign. As the Revised Standard Version indicates in I Sam. 13:1, two crucial facts are missing -- Saul’s age when he began to reign, and the duration of his reign. Nor can we fix exactly his dates in history. We may guess that he reigned for not less than twenty years, and that he died about 1000 B.C.

In the brief section now under discussion, little comment is needed on chapter 14. Israel, outnumbered and out-equipped by the Philistines, wins a victory made possible by the personal courage, daring and combat skill of Saul’s son Jonathan and his loyal aide (14:7). It is an account which richly informs us of the mind and temper of the age. We note especially Saul’s ban upon eating (v. 24) ; Jonathan’s innocent violation of the prohibition and his remarkable protest against its woeful inexpediency (vv. 27 ff.) ; Saul’s religious scruples in his insistence that the sacrificial procedure be properly carried out; his apparent assumption of the role of priest (vv. 31-35) ; the clear indication of the nature of the Urim and Thummim as sacred lots cast to determine divine will (v. 41) ; and finally, the incidental insight we are given into the profoundly democratic nature of Israel’s early monarchy in the effective popular protest to Saul’s sentence of death upon Jonathan (vv. 43-45).

Chapters 13 and 15 may best be considered together because the two stories say essentially the same thing. In both, Israel is interpreting the reign of Saul: Saul transgresses the commandment of God, made known through Samuel, and is divinely judged, again through Samuel, with loss of the kingship.

The two stories concern different events, to be sure. In chapter 13 (as in 14:31 ff.) , Saul takes upon himself the priestly function of Samuel (vv. 11 and 12) In chapter 15, he violates the explicit commandment of Samuel, which is tantamount to the commandment of Yahweh: he fails to observe the ancient practice known among the Hebrews as the herem, by which the defeated enemy is totally destroyed on the spot as an act of devotion to the deity. The fact that this is in our eyes an appallingly brutal concept is irrelevant to our understanding of Israel’s interpretation of the event. This is Israel under Saul in the eleventh century B.C., not the Western nations of the twentieth century A.D. At a later time Israel herself would have repudiated the practice. But Saul, a child of his own age, believed with Samuel and with ancient Israel that the herem was the will of God.

We may add here, therefore, parenthetically, that whatever else we may mean when we speak of inspiration and revelation in the Old Testament, we certainly do not mean any radical or miraculous emancipation from the general mores, perspectives and knowledge of the age. The vitality of the Old Testament literature and the vigorous communication of its faith are primarily due to the intimacy of its relationship to historical reality.

The circumstances of the two stories in I Sam. 13 and 15 differ, but they express the same understanding of Saul’s reign. Israel reads and records history, as it does myth and legend, through the eyes of faith. Saul’s failure to establish himself and his descendants at the head of the monarchy is due to his disobedience and the consequent divine judgment upon it. In these two narratives, we have the turning point of Saul’s reign. In the covenant community he has violated the terms of kingship -- obedience to Yahweh. The judgment is expulsion. To be sure, Saul continues in nominal rule until his death; but from this point on in the records of his reign he not only is in process of losing the kingdom, but stands in tragic awareness that it is already lost (see, e.g., I Sam. 23:17)

We cannot know to what degree Israel identifies her own life with that of the king. Certainly she sees herself and all men in the story of the Garden (Gen. 2-3) , which is strikingly similar in structure to the story of Saul. A comparison of the two stories will give us a better understanding of Israel’s interpretation of the reign of Saul. The correspondence is due, of course, not to any conscious literary dependence of one narrative upon the other, but to a consistent and unifying quality of faith in Israel: human sin and divine judgment are regarded as fundamental and formative realities in experience and history.

It is Yahweh who places man in the garden and Saul in the kingdom -- both under the most propitious circumstances. The one condition that both must observe is obedience to Yahweh. But this condition is willfully violated by both, and on the same grounds -- the reasonableness of the disobedient act. There is even an effort on the part of both man and king to shift the blame to someone else. After Samuel’s brilliant retort to Saul’s overeager, guilt-betraying protest of obedience (I Sam. 15:13-14) , and his indictment of the king, Saul attempts at once to clear himself and to justify his action:

. . . I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.[See vv. 21-22; cf. 13:11 f.]

In just the same way is man’s disobedience in the garden rationalized:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave some to her husband, and he ate. [Gen. 3:6]

And when he is indicted, man too attempts to shift the blame:

The woman whom thou gayest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. [Gen. 3:12]

Samuel’s answer to Saul, coming as it does in a context of eleventh-century superstition and brutality (the herem) , is all the more to be appreciated as a shaft of clear inspiration. Despite the particular comparative (sacrifice) employed, Samuel enunciates a central quality of the faith of Israel that is also implicit in the story of the garden: the universal condition of life is obedience of God. Certainly Samuel’s specific words are not only addressed to the king but to all Israel:

To obey is better than sacrifice

and to hearken than the fat of rams.

[I Sam. 1:22b]

The comparison between man in the Garden and Saul in the kingdom does not stop here. In both narratives, when the condition of tenure is violated, appropriate judgment is announced and executed. The judgment is expulsion! It might be argued from the analogy of Gen. 2-3 that in the faith of Israel the sin of Saul is essentially the sin of all men. In any case, Israel knew in the story of Saul her own disobedience; and she came to know in the sixth century the same judgment upon it -- the expulsion of the Exile.

It will become apparent as we move on in the narratives of Saul and David that we cannot but regard Saul with sympathy. He stands as a profoundly tragic figure on the pages of Israel’s history. His public life begins with the highest promise. He possesses the physical and moral attributes of a king -- physique, initiative and courage. He is elevated to prominence as a result of a combination of personal qualities, all contributing to his stature as a leader (I Sam. 11) Among these, we note what has been called the "charismatic" quality which the historical narratives refer to in this way: "And the spirit of God came mightily upon Saul . . ." (11:6) We remember these attributes. But we remember, too, the odds against him -- the critically low ebb of the life of the Israelite confederacy; the steady depletion of life and goods under the incessant raids of neighboring states to the east and south; and the multiple group and tribal loyalties offering obstinate resistance against efforts toward unity. And always there were the Philistines! Here is an eloquent description of Israel’s impotence under Philistine domination:

Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, "Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears"; but every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle. . . . So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan. . . . [I Sam. 13:19, 20, 22]

We speak of odds: Saul not only begins without army -- he began without weapons!

Even a highly endowed personality like Saul’s could hardly hold out against such odds, and under such tensions. The remainder of Saul’s life as king is one of increasing emotional agony, plagued with a steadily advancing sickness of spirit and a deepening sense of persecution at the hands not only of subjects and friends, but even of daughter and son.

We remember, too, that in some quarters in Israel that tragic life continued to command respect. David, Saul’s successor, consistently refused to violate either the person or the office of Saul and composed at his death a deeply moving lament (II Sam. 1:19-27) And one of Israel’s historians records this estimate of Saul’s accomplishments:

When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, lie fought against all his enemies on every side. . . . And he did valiantly. . . and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them. [I Sam. 14:47f.]

B. Saul and David (I Sam. 16 -- II Sam. 8)

It is obvious that Samuel’s farewell address in I Sam. 12 is somewhat premature. Saul’s failure to observe the herem in chapter 15 is corrected in person by the prophet-priest Samuel "before the Lord in Gilgal" (15:32 ff.) The gruesome details hardly suggest an old man on the brink of the grave. And now Samuel, who has been Yahweh’s instrument in making one king, proceeds at once with the making of another (16:1-13)

We find it difficult to accept at face value all the details of the narratives about Samuel. We observe an abnormally wide range in character. In the most primitive representation Samuel is a "seer" possessing and exercising on a fee basis certain occult powers (so, in the main, I Sam. 9:1-10: 16, and ch. 11 from the earliest, or A, source) But he is also repeatedly cast directly or inferentially in the role of priest; or stress is placed upon his function as a prophet (in the sense, simply, of a spokesman for Yahweh; so, e.g., ch. 15) ; or he is represented as the Judge of all Israel (so, e.g., 8, 10:17-27, and ch. 12, in the main from a later, or B, source) These later narrative strands have tended to "modernize" Samuel’s role as prophet and seventh-century Deuteronomic editing has doubtless idealized his function as judge. On the other hand, we see little reason to doubt that Samuel did exercise a multiple function in Israel; that he did in fact combine in himself certain qualities of seer, priest, prophet and judge, consistent, to be sure, with his age and time; and that he performed substantially as represented the function of king-maker in early Israel.

So now in a narrative placing heavy stress upon Yahweh’s election, Yahweh’s choice, David, the youngest son of Jesse, is anointed king by Samuel. As with Saul, the narrative imputes at once the "charismatic" quality to David, the free "gift," the "endowment" of the spirit of Yahweh:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. [16:13]

If, as scholars in textual analysis believe, this narrative (16: 1-13) is from the B complex and that which follows (vv. 14-23) is a part of the A source, we must remark the editorial skill that combined them; for immediately we read:

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. [16:14]

The charisma (a Greek term that literally means "gift" or "endowment") has passed from Saul to David! The memory of early Israel, standing very close to Saul, is preserved here. This contemporaneous or nearly contemporaneous view of the tragic king explains the phenomenon of his emotional instability in its own terms: the positive character of the younger Saul ("the Spirit of Yahweh . . . ." i m:6) is not now merely neutralized, it is negativized! The history states it very simply: "an evil spirit from Yahweh tormented him" (16:1 4b) And tragedy is compounded for Saul, although he does not yet know it, in this bitter irony: the man to whom the charismatic quality has been transferred, the one to whom the kingdom is to be given -- this same son of Jesse alone has gifts to soothe Saul’s tormented spirit. David is brought into the service of Saul -- and (v. 22 ) "Saul loved him greatly."

And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. [16:23]

If the young Saul was possessed of kingly attributes, Israel’s historians would have us understand that David is the kingly man par excellence. The popular -- and no doubt at points contemporary -- estimate of David is repeated throughout the history:

Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. [16:12]

[He is] skilful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him. [16:18]

Saul has slain his thousands,

And David his ten thousands.

[18:7, 21:11, 29:5]

The words of Abigail addressed directly to David also reflect the popular estimate:

. . . my lord [David] is fighting the battles of Yahweh; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live [but this, as we shall see, is extreme hyperbole!] . . . the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. [I Sam. 25:28 f.]

. . . everything that the king did pleased all the people. [II Sam. 3:36]

David administered justice and equity to all his people. [II Sam. 8:15]

So, too, these two statements to David from the wise woman of Tekoa:

. . . my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil . . . my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth. [II Sam. 14:17, 20]

Early and late in Israel, David is remembered as the king and the hopes of subsequent generations for the fulfillment of the covenant promises always tend to center in the re-establishment of the Davidic era under another David, a son of David, "a shoot from the stump of Jesse. . . a branch . . . out of his roots" (Isa. 11: 1)

There is hardly a literate person in the Western world who does not know the outline of the story of David’s conquest of the giant Philistine, Goliath (I Sam. 17) In its present form it is a relatively late narrative which duplicates (vv. 55-58) the episode of David’s introduction to Saul already recounted under different circumstances in the preceding chapter. Furthermore, the actual feat of the slaughter of Goliath is attributed to one Elhanan in II Sam. 21:19.

And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan, the son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, slew Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

Whatever the explanation of the contradiction, it is remarkable that this notice remained in the text of the books of Samuel; and its very presence testifies to the integrity of the process of transmitting the text. As a general critical principle we must acknowledge the probability that the heroic deed was performed by the lesser man and subsequently transferred in tradition to the greater man. It is almost impossible to conceive of the transfer in reverse.

What, then, of the historicity of David’s feat, if Elhanan, one of David’s mighty warriors, and not David himself, slew "Goliath, of Gath [= the Gittite] . . . the shaft of [whose] spear was like a weaver’s beam" (I Sam. 17:4, 7, in part) ? It is clearly the same Philistine champion in both accounts, and we can hardly accept the effort of the writer of Chronicles to remove the contradiction as he does with an augmented sentence:

And there was again war with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft . . . [I Chron. 20:5]

There is evidence that the story of I Sam. 17 may originally have been considerably shorter than in its present form. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, and completed in the closing centuries of the preChristian era, omits vv. 17-31 and 55-59 in one of its best extant manuscripts. This removes not only the duplication of David’s introduction to Saul (16:19 ff. and 17:55 ff.) but the discrepancy within chapter 7 between Saul and David’s meeting before the fight with Goliath (vv. 32 ff.) and Saul’s question to Abner after the slaying of Goliath, "whose son is this youth?" (v.55). We can hardly accuse the Greek translators of deliberately curtailing the text for these reasons. It is much more probable that they translated exactly what they found in the Hebrew manuscript before them and that literary tradition had preserved a shorter and perhaps the original form of the story.

This leaves us, nevertheless, with the problem of Goliath. We think it is a problem which inheres in the name of the Philistine champion, not in the feat. David’s performance of such an act of personal heroism is quite consistent with the general portrayal of the younger David: indeed, such a deed as this goes far in explaining the ease and speed with which he gained such prominence and popularity in Israel. But we are inclined to think that the Philistine giant named Goliath was in fact dispatched by Elhanan and not by David. If we are right in these assumptions, the best explanation is that only the name of Goliath is an essential error of the present story and that it is a later addition to the narrative in the only place where it appeared in the original story, namely, at 17:4. We are not, therefore, inclined to refute the substance of the story of David and Goliath, but only the name of David’s antagonist.5

A new motif is now introduced, chapter 18, with startling abruptness -- the love between Jonathan and David. These first five verses also appear to be from a later source (they are omitted too in the same manuscript of the Greek translation) , but the information imparted, though premature and out of sequence, is certainly in essence true, as subsequent narratives testify.

Saul’s jealousy takes form at once and in extreme degree, not only because of David’s great popularity (18:7) but also because Saul recognizes that David now possesses the charismatic quality, the peculiar endowment of Yahweh which Saul himself had previously possessed.

Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. [18:12]

Saul’s torment appears to be a deep emotional illness. Twice he makes an attempt on David’s life. Failing each time, and driven to further demonic measures by the love of Michal, his own daughter, for David, he sets what he hopes will be a fatal price on Michal’s hand -- the foreskins of a hundred Philistines. There is a note of brutal, ironic humor here. The Philistines did not, as the Israelites, practice circumcision and all Israel must have felt delight and a certain rough amusement in the feat of David and his men circumcising in death not merely a hundred, but two hundred, of the uncircumcised enemy! The chapter concludes, appropriately, with this notice:

Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that all Israel loved him, Saul was still more afraid. So Saul was David’s enemy continually. [18:28 ff.]

The relationship between Jonathan and David is introduced again in chapter19, with Jonathan interceding with his father on David’s behalf. We are given insight into the real sickness of Saul: here, and again later, Saul renounces his jealousy, only to be seized by it again, irresistibly. Again Saul makes an attempt on David’s life, while David is playing before him. Again Saul follows up his person-to-person attempt with a carefully planned scheme, only to be foiled this time by the deception of his own daughter.

The account of David’s taking refuge with Samuel at Naioth is intimately revealing of the psychological complexion of the religious beliefs and practices of the time, even though we are unable to explain the situation completely. This time Saul’s efforts to take David are frustrated by a religious phenomenon known among the Canaanites and common in early Israel.

Saul sent messengers to take David; and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. [19:20]

Two sets of messengers, and finally Saul himself, undergo the same seizure, all in explanation, apparently, of a kind of proverb about Saul -- " Is Saul also among the prophets?" (See the duplicate and differing explanation of time same proverb in I Sam. 10:10-12.)

This kind of ecstatic prophecy differs radically from that of the great prophets of Israel who appear later, from the eighth to the sixth centuries. What is described here is an observable psychic phenomenon, an uninhibited ecstasy that culminated, at least on occasion (as with Saul) , in a state of trance. The seizure was induced by group participation, and was obviously contagious. Apparently both the participants and the observers explained the phenomenon as a temporary seizure by "the Spirit of God." Significantly, the word used for deity here is not Yahweh, a term peculiar to Israel, but the widespread general designation elohim. This seizure is not the same as the more permanent endowment with the Spirit of Yahweh, the charismatic gift, that Saul and David experienced. Rather, it is a momentary and sporadic "possession" by unseen powers, induced by primitive group dynamics, and expressed in ecstatic behavior. The same phenomenon is known to have existed among Israel’s neighbors and it has persisted in the history of religion down to our own time, when, even in certain contemporary Christian sects, it may still be observed.

Now, chapter 20, David finds Jonathan:

What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life? . . . truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death. [20:1, 3, in part]

This history offers an incomparable study in relationships -- David and Jonathan, David and Saul, Saul and Jonathan. It is also a penetrating study of character. The narrative and the dialogue are marked by subtlety, and an exceedingly deft, though simple, appeal is made to the full range of emotional response. Saul, already a tragic figure, now suffers the anguish of alienation from his own son and David learns that if he is to live at all, he must live in exile.

In what follows we want merely to underline, as it were, certain points of the text. From I Sam. 20 through II Sam. 6 the narrative thread is coherent and, with the exception of I Sam. 24, the great bulk of the material is drawn, apparently, from the same early source.

Take special note of the following:

The portrayal of the despicable Doeg, the Edomite, chief of Saul’s herdsmen (I Sam. 21-22)

The colorful four-verse episode of David before Achish, king of Gath, one of the five Philistine cities, with Achish’s retort to his retinue in angry humor (21:12 if.)

The nature and character of David’s outlaw band (22:2)

David’s cordial relationship with the kingdom of Moab (more often a bitter foe of Israel) , and the sinister implications of his parents’ refuge there (22:3 f.)

Saul, suffering now the ravages of a deep sense of persecution (22:6-8 and cf. 23:21 quoted below)

Saul’s torment reflected in his unwarranted and unmerciful slaughter of the priests of Nob (22:11 ff.) ; the lone escape of Abiathar (v. 20 f.) ; David’s profoundly sensitive, deeply revealing response to Abiathar; and the classical simplicity and dignity of the language:

I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house. Stay with me, fear not; for he that seeks my life seeks your life; with me you shall be in safekeeping. [22:22 f.]

David’s faithfulness to Yahweh, tinged perhaps with expediency, but devoted and uncompromised; the implicit reminder that the Spirit of Yahweh continued to rest upon David; and the historian’s (and Israel’s) conviction that David is peculiarly Yahweh’s man (23:2, 8 ff., 14b).

Jonathan’s words to David, potently suggestive (in) of the now thoroughly desperate character of Saul’s continuing jealousy and (2) of the total eclipse of any personal ambition in Jonathan by his love and admiration for David:

Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; Saul my father also knows this. [23:17]

Saul, now a pathetic figure, fighting a battle already lost in his own mind, persuaded that from the narrow circle of family out to the broad circle of the world, everyone is against him; seizing gratefully upon the offer of the Ziphites to surrender David to him:

May you be blessed by the Lord; for you have had compassion on me. [23:21].

Saul, in spite of everything, still the courageous defender of Israel against the Philistines (23:27 f.).

The death of Samuel (25:1).

The charming story, intimately reflecting the times, of David, Nabal and Abigail (ch. 25) , concluded, appropriately, with the succinct notice of David’s loss (?) of Michal (25:44).

The stunning account of David’s refusal to take matters of the kingdom and the covenant -- Yahweh’s kingdom, Yahweh’s covenant -- into his own hands in his refusal to take the life of Saul, Yahweh’s anointed (ch. 26, compare the duplicate account, ch. 24) ; David’s magnificent speech, fraught with implications for the story of Israel’s faith (26:17-20, cf. 24:8-15) ; and Saul’s response eloquently portraying not only the deep sickness that possessed him, but the stark tragedy of Israel’s first king who would -- but could not -- realize his intrinsic greatness (26:21-25, cf. 24:16-22)

David’s flight (again? -- see 21:12 ff.) to Achish of Gath, his occupation of Ziklag, his activities there and his relationship with Achish (ch. 27)

The tragic Saul again, unable to elicit any response from Yahweh (28:6) and knowing therefore (always in the faith of Israel) the most extreme aloneness and alienation, a living death; Saul turning to the dead (28:7 ff.) in the person of a medium of Endor, in an action which he himself had at some earlier time prohibited (28:3b) ; Saul hearing (as he and Israel apparently believed) the sentence of death from the dead Samuel (28:15 ff.) as earlier he had heard the sentence of expulsion from the living Samuel.

David’s release (it must have been to him a reprieve) from the Philistines en route to the battle against Israel in which Saul and Jonathan lose their lives (ch. 29) ; the sack of Ziklag by Amalekites in his absence (30: 1 ff., and note especially vv. 6-8) ; the successful pursuit (the Amalekites do not significantly appear again on the pages of Old Testament history) ; and the highly judicious decision arrived at (30:21 ff.)

Saul’s death -- hardly suicide; Israel’s total defeat; and the brave act of gratitude by the men of Jabesh-gilead (ch. 31)

The stray Amalekite (!) reporting (falsely?) the death of Saul and Jonathan to David (II Sam. 1:6-10) ; David’s violent response (1:15) ; David’s deep sorrow and sense of bereavement not only in the loss of Jonathan, but of Saul (1:11 f., 17) ; and David’s lament, unsurpassed in world literature, acknowledged on every hand to be the original composition of David himself (1:19 ff.)

David’s establishment at Hebron as king over Judah, the southern confederation of tribes, probably with the consent of the Philistines, even their approval (2:1-4) ; David’s generous and unimpeachably sincere (albeit politically astute) message of appreciation to Jabesh-gilead vv. 4b-7)

The re-establishment of the house of Saul (2:8 ff.) in the territory of Gilead to the east of the Jordan by Saul’s commander, Abner, in the person of the weak Ishbosheth (better, Ishbaal or Eshbaal, the bosheth, meaning "shame," being a later editorial substitution in names compounded with baa1, the most common Canaanite term for deity) ; the tentative "game" of war (2:14) between the troops of Abner and those of Joab, David’s commander, and the vivid description of the circumstances of Asahel’s death at Abner’s hands; and finally the concluding notice:

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker. [3:1]

David’s insistence (difficult to understand in view of the portrayal of Michal’s character) that Michal he returned to him (3: 13 ff.): is it possible that David wants Michal, the daughter of Saul, as a reinforcement to his kingship?

The confirmation of Abner’s expressed apprehension at having to kill Asahel (2:22) : deserting to David, he himself dies under the binding custom of blood revenge at the hands of Asahel’s brothers (3:30)

David’s sincere (but again, astute) lament over Abner, reflecting not only David’s continuing loyalty to the house of Saul, but his concern to unite the kingdom by winning over the adherents of Saul (3:31-39)

The same act of loyalty to Saul and Jonathan in the violent recompense of men who take the life of Eshbaal (Ishbosheth. 4:12)

The request that David rule over the northern tribes of Israel (5:1 ff.) ; the remarkable feat of the capture of the city of Jerusalem, in Canaanite (Jebusite) hands until now, and the stratagem by which this was accomplished (vv. 6-10) 6

David, the historian, and Israel’s understanding of the meaning of these events culminating in David’s rule over the united kingdom:

David perceived that Yahweh had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. [5: 12]

The Philistines’ discovery, apparently for the first time, that David is no vassal! (5:17-22)

The revealing story, in intimate touch with the religious mind and practice of the times, of the bringing of the ark of the covenant into the capital city of Jerusalem (6: 1-16) ; Michal’s bitter scorn of David (vv. 16, 20) ; and the implication of divine judgment upon her (v. 23).

II Sam. 7 represents a later source than the bulk of what we have just outlined; but if we are concerned with Old Testament history, we are also concerned with the faith of Israel reflected in her historical writings, regardless of when the particular historical narrative assumed its present form. This chapter frankly represents the prophet Nathan as being in the wrong when he renders a decision on his own (vv. 1-3). His own word to the king is premature, and in error. The "Word of Yahweh" countermands Nathan’s word (vv. 4 ff.) The account reflects the view that the truth spoken by a prophet, if it is the truth, does not come from the prophet himself, as a result of his own insight and genius, but from Yahweh, and by His Word.

We ought also to note that while the words of David’s prayer (vv. 18 ff.) are hardly his in a literal sense, the general quality of the prayer is an accurate testimony to the inestimable significance of David for the life, vitality and spread of Yahwism.7 Indeed, if any credence at all is to be given to the parallel account of the history of David in Chronicles -- and we think it is -- David had considerably more to do with the ultimate erection of the Temple than the Kings account would indicate (see I Chron. 28:11-19)

The notice of II Sam. 8:15 stands as an appropriate conclusion to the first phase of David’s life and history:

So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered

justice and equity to all his people.

C. David (II Sam. 9-20; I Kings 1-2)

II Sam. 9-20 has been described as "the unsurpassed prose masterpiece of the Hebrew Bible."8 Together with I Kings 1-2, certainly by the same author, it is written, if not by an eyewitness, by one who stands very close and in intimate relationship to the events described.

Chapter 9 recounts David’s kindness to the last surviving member of the house of Saul, the lame son of Jonathan (see II Sam. 4:4) , here named Mephibosheth, but more accurately called Meribbaal (as in I Chron. 8: ~ and 9:40) David’s goodness here must be weighed against the tragic execution -- to be sure, "justified" in the ancient scheme of blood revenge -- of other surviving members of the line of Saul in II Sam. 21, an episode almost certainly occurring in the earlier years of David’s reign. Chapter in 10 gives a vivid picture of Joab’s (and David’s -- see 10:15 ff.) remarkable generalship in battle. It shows us too a surprising dimension in the character of David’s loyal and competent commander-in-chief, Joab, who says, when the battle is set against him,

Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people,

and for the cities of our God; and may Yahweh do what seems

good to him. [10: 12}

1.Late one Afternoon . . . (II Sam. 11-12)

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab. . . . It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch . . . . [11:1-2]

Our historian not only knows the ways of David; he also knows the ways of language, and how to use it economically. As a comparable example of the writer’s sensitive portrayal of the David-Joab relationship we cite now his notice that when the Ammonite city of Rabbah is ready for the ax the ever-loyal Joab sends for the king to strike the final blow and take the credit (12:26 ff.) !

Any attempt to adorn this story would be the rankest literary sacrilege. No word, no phrase, no subtle implication relieves the character of the king as adulterer and murderer. Correspondingly, there is not a whisper to diminish the man Uriah. He is a Hittite; but so far from employing this notice in derogation, the narrator assumes that his readers will understand the significance of Uriah’s name: in token of "naturalization," he has taken a Yahweh-name, Uri-yah ("Yahweh is my light," or, perhaps, simply "Yahweh is light") His loyalty to David, to Joab and to Israel, his integrity, and his great stature as a man are forcefully portrayed here; the inclusion of his name in one of the lists of David’s most renowned warriors attests to his achievement in Israel’s military establishment (see II Sam. 23:39)

Nathan, who replaces Samuel as prophetic spokesman in the story, is precisely and courageously in the line of Israel’s unique prophetic succession. The prophetic act is divinely motivated, if not impelled (12: 1) The prophet speaks not his own but the given word -- "thus says the Lord . . ." (12:7) The prophetic condemnation is based not alone on the violation of a man-to-man relationship, but, since all life is judged by the righteousness of God, upon the violation of the divine-human relationship -- "Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?" (12:9) And the judgment of God is unequivocally declared (12:10 ff.)

The judgment on David is strikingly appropriate. Again in the literature of Israel the "punishment fits the crime.

You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife [12:9]. . . . Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house [v. 10]. . . . I will raise up evil against you out of your own house [v. 11].

We recall something of the same appropriateness of judgment upon Saul. His sin was disobedience; his judgment, expulsion from the kingship and separation from Yahweh. David’s sin of violence is judged with violence (the sword does not depart from his house) ; and for his sin in the intimacy of sex, David is plagued with evil out of his own house, by tragedy within his own family.

If the story of Saul recalls to mind man’s sin of disobedience in the Garden, his expulsion from it, and his separation from Yahweh (Gen. 3) , the story of David bears an imprecise but suggestive resemblance to the Cain-Abel narrative of Gen. 4. There is no valid external reason for the sin of either Cain (see Gen. 4:6, 7a) or David. Neither acts under provocation -- or rather, both commit the act of violence under provocation from within themselves. To David as well as to Cain, Yahweh might have said, "Sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:7b) Neither Cain nor David does master it, and the sins of both lead to violence. Both commit a violent act within the existing community, which both understand as derived from Yahweh, as owing its very existence to him. David’s sin is also against his brother, his covenant brother "Uri-yah." If Cain is his brother’s keeper, certainly King David, of all people in the community of Israel, is the keeper of Bathsheba and Uriah. Both Cain and David admit their guilt -- Cain, to be sure, by implication (Gen. 4:13) The judgments against the two are essentially the same. David soon suffers evil out of his own house. He becomes a fugitive, driven out (in a very real sense from the face of Yahweh; so, II Sam. 15:24-26) by his own son, Absalom. And, in both cases, the same limitation is set upon the judgment: both Cain and David are assured that their lives will be divinely protected (Gen. 4:15, II Sam. 12:13)

This general similarity between the two stories does not necessarily mean that one story was derived from the other, although it seems likely that both written accounts originated in the tenth century. Nor does it mean that the facts in the David story have been distorted in order to make it conform with the Cain-Abel myth. The similarity does, however, point up the coherence and the unity of the faith of Israel, a faith that preserves myths and records history with a consistent perspective and understanding. As in faith Israel sees the broken human community (both God-man, Gen. 3, and man-man, Gen. 4) in the Genesis myths, so in faith Israel surely sees the brokenness of her own community in Saul (God-man) and David (man-man) Of course, in Israel the king is never merely an individual. He is Israel. In his sin Israel sins; in his judgment Israel is judged. At the same time, the king is also himself, an individual man, a covenant person. Israel does not see this as an either/or proposition. The king is both one and many, bearing in himself the totality of the nation just as the three principle characters in Gen. 3-4 are at once themselves and all men.

Recall these lines of T. S. Eliot:

What life have you if you have not life together?

There is no life that is not in community,

And no community not lived in praise of GOD.9

It happened late one afternoon. It has happened in human history on repeated afternoons. David or Cain or any one of countless others said to a brother, "Let us go out into the field." And when they were in the field, he rose up against his brother and killed him. Then God said, "The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me. . . .

David and Cain. Israel and mankind. In the faith of Israel, Yahweh is Judge in history.

2. Absalom had a Beautiful Sister. . . (II Sam. 13-14)

Nathan said to David, ". . . Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. . . .’" [II Sam. 12:7, 11]

As Saul’s historian sees the king’s sin of disobedience as the turning point of his reign (I Sam. 13 and is) , so David’s historian understands that the life and career of the king turn upon his sin with Bathsheba. Up to this point, David’s life has been, on the whole, singularly blessed, emphatically triumphant. But from this point on the days of his years are lived under unremitting harassment. Formerly, David’s life had been "bound in the bundle of the living" (I Sam. 25:29) ; now it is bound in the bundle of the suffering.

In Nathan’s incisive parable (II Sam. 12:1-5) , David has been brought to see clearly his own shameful part in the conventional triangle of David-Bathsheba-Uriah. He must now witness a grotesquely modified re-enactment of the situation, in which his role of adulterer is played by his son Amnon, his role of murderer by his son Absalom, and the role of the violated woman by his daughter Tamar. The murdered member of the triangle is, again, his son Amnon. The life of David is in truth now bound in the bundle of the suffering, the anguished, the tormented!

The historian rightly leaves the reader to his own devices in assessing Absalom’s motives for murdering his brother; but we wonder if it is only the indignation of the full brother over his sister’s shame that leads him to violence. Looking ahead to Absalom’s arrogant rebellion against his father, so soon to follow, we wonder if this is not also, and perhaps chiefly, a convenient excuse for removing the king’s oldest son Amnon, who might have proved an obstacle to Absalom’s own consuming ambition. Then, too, although marriage with a half-sister is expressly forbidden in later legislation (see Lev. 18:9), it is clear that in David’s time Amnon might have married Tamar, had he wished. And apparently it would have been with Tamar’s consent, since she herself suggests it in remarkably gentle words (II Sam. 13:12 f.)

We note, too, that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) includes a line at the end of II Sam. 13:21 that may well be authentic. The Hebrew text reads:

When King David heard all these things [i.e., what had happened between Amnon and Tamar], he was very angry. [II Sam. 13:21]

The Septuagint adds:

Yet he did not vex the spirit of Amnon his son, for he loved him because he was his first-born.

The author might have added -- King David remembered the shame of his own guilt. If the Septuagint is authentic, it suggests how remarkably indulgent David was toward Amnon, and, apparently, toward all his children.

Following his murder of his brother Amnon, Absalom goes into exile for three years. He is given refuge by his mother’s father, the king of Geshur (probably a district of Bashan east of the Jordan) What of the king during these years? The historian compresses three years of David’s life into a single verse:

And the spirit of the king longed to go forth to Absalom; for he was comforted about Amnon. [II Sam. 1339]

David’s historian never insults the perceptiveness of his readers. His only commentary lies in his incomparably deft and skillful use of language. He is a member of the community of Israel. He writes about that community. He writes for that community. He and the Yahwist employ essentially the same techniques in imparting form, coherence and interpretation to their literary works. Both remain faithful to what is "given" -- the Yahwist to the traditions which he employs, and the historian to the events which he records. Both narrators bring to bear a literary and interpretative artistry by the primary means of a highly perceptive selectivity and arrangement of material.

Chapter 14 concludes what the narrator obviously regards as the most significant episode in a seven-year span of David’s mature reign (see 13:23, "after two full years"; 13:38, "Absalom [was in Geshur] three years"; 14:28, "Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence") These seven years have been compressed and unified into a single event. It is announced in 13:1 with the words,

Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister. . . .

It is concluded with the last verse of chapter 14, with the statement that Absalom

came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom.

We may remark in chapter 14 the reflection of Joab’s deep devotion to David (14:1); the implication of the king’s accessibility to his subjects (v. 4) ; the stratagem which Joab and the wise woman of Tekoa employ, strongly reminiscent of Nathan’s parable (vv. 5 ff.) ; the brilliantly vivid and authentic quality in the description of the interview; David’s intimate understanding of Joab (v. 18 f.) ; the name Absalom gives to his daughter (! v. 27) ; the spoiled Absalom’s wantonly rude treatment of Joab and Joab’s docile (now, but not later!) acceptance of it (vv. 28 ff.)

3. Absalom got Himself a Chariot. . . . (II Sam. 15-20)

The complexities of government in Israel increased with David’s years; and now, obviously, he is unable to give his subjects the personal attention that they had enjoyed during the period of the early monarchy. Absalom capitalizes on this easiest of all popular criticisms of the king, and works quietly for four years at gaining popular support for himself (15:1-6).

It is difficult to believe that David was unaware of Absalom’s rebellious intentions. In fact, the historian later records the anonymous, but certainly accurate, testimony that "there is nothing hidden from the king" (18:13) David always had the support of a large group of intimate and intensely loyal friends, even in the days, soon to come, of his greatest danger. It is even doubtful that David was fooled by Absalom’s pretext for going to Hebron (15:7-9) One suspects that David simply refused to face the seditious implications of his son’s actions.

Absalom’s choice of Hebron as headquarters for launching his rebellion was shrewd indeed. Hebron was an ancient and venerated religious center, but, even more important, it had been David’s capital for more than seven years. Even David, with all his political astuteness, would not have been able to move the seat of Israel’s government to Jerusalem without leaving behind some disaffection in Hebron. Absalom must have doubted, too, that David could ever bring himself to attack Hebron.

Absalom was an arrogant man, consumed with ambition; but he was no fool. He set about winning over Ahithophel, a court counselor of David whom the narrator regards as the personification of wisdom:

Now in those days the counsel which Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the oracle of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.

[II Sam. 16:23]

Obviously David could have launched a successful attack on Hebron at once. Although "the people with Absalom kept increasing" (15:12) , David’s military organization under Joab was intact, and it was a trained and seasoned unit. But there are two obvious reasons why David could not bring himself to crush the rebellion: (1) his loving indulgence of his son -- he could not himself force the attack; (2) his tenderness toward Hebron, its inhabitants and its sanctuary.

No other episode is more profoundly revealing of the man himself than David’s evacuation of Jerusalem. This same episode also reveals the consummate personal loyalty of those who knew David best and who served him most intimately. The exchange between David and Ittai is all the more moving when we remember that Ittai is a foreigner, a Philistine, apparently in command of "the six hundred Gittites who had followed [David] from Gath" (II Sam. 15:18)

Then the king said to Ittai . . . ,"Why do you also go with us? Go back, and stay with the king [Absalom!]; for you are a foreigner, and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday [not, of course, to be taken literally], and shall I today make you wander about with us, seeing I go I know not where? Go back, and take your brethren with you; and may Yahweh show steadfast love and faithfulness to you."

But Ittai answered the king, "As Yahweh lives, and as my lord

the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for

death or for life, there also will your servant be."

[II Sam. 15:19-21]

Again, the narrative itself, as read by the sympathetic and sensitive reader, constitutes its own best commentary; and again, therefore, we call brief attention to points in the biblical text which, in our judgment, ought to be specially noted:

The maturity and depth of David’s faith. He will not hold the

ark as a personal talisman. He sends it back, with these words:

If I find favor in the eyes of Yahweh, he will bring me hack. . . but if he says, "I have no pleasure in you," behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him. [15:25 f.]

The priests Abiathar and Zadok, loyal to David, return to Jerusalem with the ark (15:27 f.) to be joined soon by Hushai, "David’s friend" (a court title for an official adviser -- 15:32 ff.) If David’s spirit is broken (note 15:30) he is still able to exercise the astute powers of strategy always characteristic of him.

Which is the liar, Ziba, the servant of Meribbaal (Mephibosheth,16:1-4), or Meribbaal (see now 19:24-30) ?

David and Shimei, Scene I: the stature of David, the man, portrayed under the despicable Shimei’s abuse (16:5-14) The depth of David’s faith is again evident (16:12) ; and the gentleness of David is all the more remarkable when we remember that these are his most miserable hours. In some respects, these are also his most valiant hours.

What ought we to make of Absalom’s remark upon meeting Hushai (16: 16 f.) ? Is it possible that the statement carries the inference of concern on the part of the son for his father? Does this suggest some relief (perhaps with 14:27) in the callousness of the character of Absalom?

Absalom’s irrevocable commitment to the act of rebellion. Upon Ahithophel’s shrewd advice, he "goes in" to his father’s concubines. This is the final gesture of rebellion. Absalom has taken the place of his father -- "in the sight of all Israel" (16:20-22)

The outcome of David’s strategy. Absalom accepts the false counsel of Hushai against the strategically sound counsel of Ahithophel. And Ahithophel, knowing that the plan cannot succeed and that the rebellion is doomed, plays the role not of the spoiled child but of the unqualified realist. He takes his own life (17:1-23)

David at Mahanaim, in the east Jordan territory of Gilead. It is significant that David is given refuge, and cordial refuge, in the place where earlier Abner had set up the throne of Saul’s house for Eshbaal (Ishbosheth). The notice here (17:27-29) is an eloquent commentary on the thorough way in which David won by gentleness and kindness the allegiance of Saul’s supporters.

David in anguish for the safety of Absalom (18:1-5). It is not a king, not the mighty David of old, who stands alone at the side of the gate pleading with Joab, Abishai and Ittai, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom." It is the pathetic figure of a father who loves even the son who would take his life.

The battle is joined (18:6 ff.) Absalom is fast caught in a tree, not by his hair, as artists (?) persistently portray it, but by his head (18:9) Joab is -- Joab! His loyalty to David is absolutely unimpeachable. But he is tough and practical, and he sometimes, as here, makes his own decisions as to what is best for the king (18:10-15).

A difficult text in 18: 18. The Septuagint reading differs from ours, giving support to the sense that David had the Absalom memorial erected. And the notice that Absalom had no sons is in conflict with II Sam. 14:27, which may be a late addition. But the present verse is not above suspicion and its text has suffered some abuse in transmission.

Ahimaaz and the Cushite (probably Egyptian) and the bearing of the report of Absaloin’s death to David (18:19-32) Here again is the vivid, intimate character portrayal, the subtle inferences, the effective dialogue which the narrator draws with such skill. Joab and (almost too late) Ahimaaz fear the old David who more than once struck down in wrath the bearer of tragic news. But that David is no more.

The description of the broken David:

And the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said,

"O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" [18:33]

Joab is -- Joab. When victory is turned by the king’s grief into mourning, it is Joab -- surely no one else could have done so -- who shocks the king back into a state of responsibility and self-control, back into reality (19:1-7) And here the narrator betrays his genius in what he does not say. When the rebuke is administered, we read,

Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. [19:8a]

The self-abuse of those among the northern tribes who have participated in or countenanced the rebellion of Absalom (19:8 cf.) In effect they say, "What fools we have been! Let us escort the king back to the capital!"

The betrayal of David’s partiality to the South, where no such spontaneous demonstration has yet appeared, in David’s words to Zadok and Abiathar:

Say to the elders of Judah, "Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king?" [19:11]

David and Shimei, scene II (19:16-23) : the stature of David the man portrayed no less than in the first scene (16:5-14) Here the stature of David the king is also portrayed, as it is in the two episodes which immediately follow (the settlement of the Ziba-Meribbaal controversy, vv. 24-29; and the good Barzillai’s farewell of David, vv. 31-40.)

Sheba’s short-lived rebellion. Obviously David has not succeeded in fully unifying North and South (19:41-43) His partiality to Judah angers some in Israel, and Sheba, a Benjaminite representing one of the northern tribes, enlists these malcontents in an act of secession (20:1 f.) , although hardly on the scale suggested in the phrase "all the men of Israel" (v. 2) Now David demotes Joab and makes Amasa, Absalom’s former general, commander-in-chief (so, almost certainly, the import of 20:4) And again, Joab is -- Joab (20:4-10) If the notice of I Chron. 2:16 f. is correct, David had two sisters (perhaps only half-sisters but presumably daughters of Jesse) : one, Zeruiah, was the mother of Joab, Abishai and Asahel; the other, Abigail, was the mother of Amasa. This would mean not only a close relationship between David and Joab (and the same relationship between David and Amasa) but an even closer kinship between Joab and Amasa. It may be that the narrator acknowledged the close blood ties between Joab and Amasa in 20:9. But it is strange indeed that in such a patently well-informed history as we have in II Sam. 9-20 and I Kings 1-2, there is nothing that reflects the narrator’s awareness of Joab and David’s close blood relationship. II Sam. 17:25, the only other notice which gives us any clue as to the identity of Zeruiah, also sees her as the mother of Joab and the sister of Abigail (Amasa’s mother -- not to be confused with Nahal’s widow and David’s wife, I Sam. 25) ; but both women are daughters, not of Jesse (David’s father) but of one Nahash, presumably David’s friend the king of Ammon (see our comment above on II Sam. 10) Should we substitute the name "Jesse" for "Nahash" in II Sam. 17:25, or is I Chron. 2:16 f. in error? Whatever the answer to the question of David’s relationship to Joab and Amasa, Joab’s cold-blooded murder of Amasa is the brutal and repugnant violence of one grandson against another -- whether the grandfather be Nahash or Jesse! It is certainly not our intention to "improve" the character of Joab. His adroit, if nasty, dispatch of Amasa does not even have the justification of blood revenge which obtained in his murder of Abner, who, we recall, had under some real compulsion taken the life of Joab’s brother Asahel (II Sam. 2: 18 ff.) Yet the murder of Amasa "fits" the consistent Joabian role! If Joab is personally ambitious, he is also convinced that he himself is David’s best and most loyal commander. The decisive factor in crushing Sheba is speed -- and Amasa has proved his incompetence (20:5). To the eminently practical Joab, there is only one solution. He effects it at once!

This is the most appropriate place for us to make another comment on the relationship of David to the sons of Zeruiah, a relationship involving tension. At least three times in the narratives about David, he speaks out in anger, annoyance and even frustration at their violent ways. Upon the death of Abner, Saul’s commander, David composes a dirge which ends with the line

as one falls before the wicked [Joab!] you have fallen. [II Sam. 3:34b]

And the deeply disturbed king then says to his servants:

Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? And I am this day weak, though anointed king; these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me. Yahweh requite the evildoer according to his wickedness! [II Sam. 3:38 f.]

And twice, in the scenes with Shimei (II Sam. 16:10 and 19:22), when Abishai counsels violence, David bitterly deplores the spirit that longs to resolve every problem by force in the words

What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah!

David himself would build and unify the kingdom quietly and slowly by kindness, mercy, love and forgiveness. The sons of Zeruiah would build and unify the kingdom by purge and violence. One can hardly escape the implications of an antithetical relationship between David the king and the sons of Zeruiah. The Chronicler, rewriting the history centuries later, either fails to see, or ignores, the tension. The sons of Zeruiah are never once reprimanded in the Chronicler’s history (see I Chron. 11, 18, 26 and 27)

4. Now King David was Old . - . (I Kings 1-2)

As happened in the case of a number of books in the Old Testament, material which the editors could not appropriately insert elsewhere, they placed at the end of the book. I and II Sam. were originally a single book and in the closing chapters (II Sam. 21-24) we have a miscellaneous collection of writings, some old and reliable (21:1-14, 21:15-22 and 23:8-39, and ch. 24) , some (22:1-23:7) relatively late.

The remarkable historical narrative of II Sam. 9-20 is continued and concluded in I Kings 1-2, with an account of David’s last days, Adonijah’s abortive attempt to take the throne, and Solomon’s accession.

To class Adonijah as a pretender and to compare him with Absalom, as some interpreters would do, is hardly warranted. He is next in line for the throne (I Kings 1:6 and 2:22) ; and it is a fair inference from the narratives that until David’s senile period, Adonijah was his father’s choice. If he had strong and influential opposition (including Nathan the prophet, 1:8) , we also note that two of his supporters are Joab and Abiathar, both intensely loyal to David. Abiathar was the sole survivor of the priestly family of Eli and, like Joab, played a very important role in David’s career. It is hard to believe that either man would have supported any aspirant to the throne not approved by David.

Since David is obviously in his dotage, one strongly suspects that the chief conspirators, Nathan and Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother) , are putting words into David’s mouth which he never spoke:

Nathan said to Bathsheba ... "Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your maidservant, saying, "Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne"? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words." [I Kings 1:11-14]

And it is certainly significant that the narrator never suggests that Nathan’s actions in this case are in response to the prophetic word of Yahweh. This is again (as in II Sam. 7:1 ff.) a Nathan acting on his own. If an illegitimate claim is made and substantiated it is not that of Adonijah, but Solomon.

I Kings 1 is a busy and trying day for an old man tottering on the edge of the grave.

So Bathsheba went to the king into his chamber [v. 15]. While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in [v. 22]. Then King David answered "Call Bathsheba to me." So she came [28]. King David said, "Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah. . . ." So they came before the king [v. 32].

It is no wonder that David dies in the next chapter!

The plot is successful. The conspirators elicit the authoritative word from the lips of the senile king, and Solomon reigns in David’s stead. I Kings 2 must also be read in the light of the narrator’s deft art and impartial description and in awareness that vv. 3-4, 10-12 and 27 are editorial (Deuteronomic) additions -- as they obviously are. If David’s charge to Solomon with respect to Joab and Shimei (vv. 4-9) actually represents a communication from David, one strongly suspects it to be an act of senility again contrived by Nathan and Bathsheba; for it is totally out of character with the king as we have known him. We understand very well, however, that Nathan and Bathsheba and Solomon would go to any lengths to secure David’s authority for the purge; nor do we doubt that, if they failed to secure it, they alleged that it was given.

Solomon’s first official acts are the expulsion of Abiathar and the brutal, unwarranted execution of Joab and Shimei. Those are the first of a number of conspicuous reversals of the policies of David and they symbolize in a deeply sinister way the tyrannical reign of Solomon.10

This section, II Sam. 9-20, I Kings 1-2, is the masterpiece of Old Testament history. It is intimately informed of the events and circumstances and persons which it treats; it is given phenomenally impartial expression; and it is wrought in literary form with unparalleled skill. But contrary to some," we do not hold that this is a superlative prose masterpiece because of its "objectivity." Consonant with all biblical history, this is an interpretation of history, history interpreted in the strong perspectives of the covenant community.

In succeeding centuries this community increasingly remembers David not as a king but as the king, the Person in whom the fulfillment of the covenant hope is promised again, peculiarly symbolized, meaningfully previewed. The memory of David irresistibly shapes the images in which the faith of the community is projected. The day of covenant fulfillment will center in another "anointed one" (Messiah) of the type of David, the seed of David, the throne of David, the son of David.

Such is the image of hope in succeeding generations. But something of the hope is already conveyed in this early historian’s work! Something of the hope is already implicit in his interpretation. David is a man who at his best is a Yahweh man, Yahweh’s anointed. Here is one who at his best is an instrument of Yahweh’s self-disclosure, possessed of Yahweh, revealing Yahweh; one on whom, peculiarly, the spirit of Yahweh rests,

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.

[Isa. 11:2]

A thousand years later a "new" covenant community read this story of David and interpreted and understood its own cent

ral covenant Person as "son of David."

5. David and the "Son of David"

Repeatedly the writers of the New Testament endorse and reaffirm the relationship. Jesus is David’s son -- so in the Gospels, Acts and Romans; and so in II Timothy, Hebrews and Revelation.

Their use of this term of relationship reflects their interpretation of Old Testament history and prophecy: David is regally, royally, the prototype of Christ. They also believe it literally, genetically: Jesus is of the seed of David. It may well be also that they meant it in a sympathetic sense: Jesus is David’s son emotionally, spiritually, experientially -- in the positive meaning of the semitic idiom, like father, like son. If David is the royal prototype, if he is the physical ancestor, he is also the personal prototype of Jesus.

It is written:

Now [David] was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And Yahweh said [to Samuel], "Arise, anoint him; for this is he." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon David from that day forward. [I Sam. 16:12 f.]

It is written of Jesus, the Son of David, that he

increased. . . in favor with God and man [Luke 2:52]

and that he

came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." [Mark 1:9 ff.]

Like father, like son. Both refused the temptation to use their divinely given authority to alter the nature and design of the kingdom which both acknowledged to be God’s kingdom. In the case of David, the theme is twice repeated. With Saul at his mercy, he refuses the immediate satisfaction of his own ambition and declines to take the matters of the kingdom out of the hands of God and into his own hands. The temptation of Jesus, son of David, is appropriately on an infinitely grander scale, but the appeal of the temptation is the same; and its conclusion might without sacrilege be added at the close of the stories of David’s temptation to take the life of Saul:

And behold, angels came and ministered to him. [Matt. 4:11]

Like father, like son. Both take the city of Jerusalem in a full measure of triumph perhaps never known by any other conquerors. We have no record of David’s actual entry into the city; but that it was truly a singular triumph is attested in all that subsequently transpired there. Jesus, the Son of David, moves into the city a thousand years later with ultimate consequences far more revolutionary. As the populace spread their garments in the way, Matthew appropriately records that they cried,

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! [Matt. 21:9]

Like father, like son. At both extremes of this millennium, the shouting dies, the praises cease. Sweetness is turned bitter; devotion is become rebellion. David easily can, but will not, quench the little flame; for it is his son Absalom who revolts. He chooses, rather, voluntarily to quit the throne and the capital. It is written:

David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. . . . [II Sam. 15:30]

Jesus, the Son of David, has only quietly to turn about, shake off from his feet the dust of the streets of Jerusalem and return to his own Galilee. Instead, we read that when the disciples and Jesus had sung their last hymn together, they went out to the mount of Olives to a place which was called Gethsemane (Mark 14:26, 32)

Like father, like son. David commits the uncertain future to divine will. Refusing to take the ark with him, he says simply,

If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back. . .; but if he says, "I have no pleasure in you," behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him. [II Sam. 15:25 f.]

Jesus, the Son of David, dreading the immediate future like any other son of man, prays,

. . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Matt. 26:39]

Like father, like son. David goes forth to his Gethsemane and to emotional crucifixion driven by a rebellious son.

O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son! [II Sam. 18:33]

Jesus, the Son of David, suffers Gethsemane and crucifixion by other men equally in rebellion against their father. There was even a trial for both David and Jesus, the Son of David. As David evacuated the city of Jerusalem, a man of the house of Saul, named Shimei, cursed and threw stones at David as he and his men went along the way from the city. David forbade that any should touch him and later forgave him. Jesus, the Son of David, after formal trial, is brought before the whole battalion of soldiers, who, kneeling before him, mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat upon him. They stripped him twice in the mocking exchange of garments and then, at last, led him forth (Matt. 27:27 if.) His only response was given later: "Father, forgive them . . ." (Luke 23:34)

The community of the New Testament understood and accepted the interpretation of David as the king of ancient Israel, as peculiarly the Yahweh-man, as uniquely foreshadowing the fulfillment of the covenant purpose; and from that interpretation, already given in the history of David, they understood and interpreted the work and mission of Jesus.

Biblical history is often very good history, accurate history, sensitive history. It is also always interpreted history, whose direction and meaning is drawn directly from Israel’s faith in the reality of the Yahweh covenant.

D. Solomon (I Kings 3-11)

The actual dissolution of the united monarchy followed immediately upon the death of Solomon, but the process of the North’s disaffection clearly began before David’s death and continued throughout Solomon’s reign with a steadily increasing intensity. The ultimate blame for the total alienation of Northern Israel falls directly upon Solomon.

At the conclusion of the Kings account of Solomon’s reign, one of Israel’s historians records the conviction that the tragedy of division was the direct judgment of God upon the apostasy of Solomon.

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord. . . . Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this has been your mind . . . I will surely tear the kingdom from you. . . . [I Kings 11:9, 11]

This judgment is immediately mitigated "for the sake of David" in two respects: (1) it will not be accomplished until after Solomon’s death and (2) one tribe will be left to Solomon’s son.

In view of this sweeping theological deprecation of Solomon, it may appear remarkable that the history retains the fabulous estimate accorded the king by tradition. In I Kings 3 we read a highly idealized and pious account of Solomon’s humility and wisdom. Following the story of his thoroughly brutal purge in chapter 2, his prayer in 3:7-9 is, to say the least, out of character. Even more out of character are the words of Yahweh in vv. 12-14. In view of our own realistic appraisal of Solomon we are bound to read v. 15a with an emphasis hardly intended originally. "And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream!" Appropriately to this build-up of Solomon, there follows at once that popular tale of the two harlots, intended to illustrate not only the great wisdom of the king, but also his accessibility to the meanest of the population. This about a king whose pride and ostentation are unparalleled in biblical history!

Chapter 4 makes the modest claim that Solomon "was wiser than all other men" (v. 31) It asserts in v. 20 that under Solomon "Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea: they ate and drank and were happy." Elsewhere, however, it describes the elaboration of the structure of Israelite government (cf. 4:1 ff. with the relatively simple structure of officialdom under David in II Sam. 8:15 ff.) , including the sinister notice that one Adoniram "was in charge of the forced labor" (v. 6) We also read of the division of the kingdom into twelve districts (shrewdly violating tribal divisions in a well-calculated effort to break down tribal loyalties) each with its overseer charged with the responsibility of providing sustenance for the royal establishment -- a simple daily diet (v. 22 f.) conservatively estimated as sufficient to feed between four and five thousand persons!

This same Solomon, allegedly wisest of the wise, "raised a levy of forced labor out of all Israel; . . . thirty thousand men" (5:13). Even if the draft was executed impartially, the bulk of the labor force was drawn from the North, with four or five times the population of Judah, and employed in the main in Solomon’s ambitious building program in Jerusalem.

Chapter 6 describes the building of the temple. The temple area was no doubt considerable but the structure itself was small -- sixty by twenty cubits, that is, probably, about ninety by thirty feet. It was used for individual, not congregational, worship and comprised two rooms; one -- we might call it the main sanctuary -- 40 x 20 x 20 cubits (a double cube) , and the other, the holy of holies, a perfect cube, 20 x 20 x 20 cubits,12 containing the ark with its guard of two cherubim described very precisely in 6:23 ff. The temple was in reality not an Israelite but a Phoenician creation, achieved by virtue of Solomon’s alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre and ruler of Phoenicia (ch. 5), and designed and executed by Phoenician architects and skilled craftsmen.13

There follows in chapter 7 the account of the building of Solomon’s own royal palace, also Phoenician in design and execution, and a far more ambitious undertaking than the temple. Solomon’s vast building program further included strategic fortifications at Jerusalem, Hazor, Meggido and Gezer (9:15 ff.) ; and the wealth, the splendor and the extensive commercial enterprise of Solomon are all reflected in the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit in chapter 10. There is no doubt that Solomon’s was a dazzling reign and our composite record of that reign reflects his adulation by some in his own and subsequent generations.

But it was a magnificence bought at a terrific price and in defiance of Yahwism. The present text of Kings, drawn from many sources, is the editorial achievement of Deuteronomic historians of the sixth century B.C. who, though regarding Solomon with nostalgic admiration, nevertheless incorporate material reflecting the perspective of stanch Yahweh loyalists. Of such is chapter 11, with the exception of certain Deuteronomic qualifications intended hopefully to mitigate the judgment of Solomon: so, e.g., v. 4, "when Solomon was old," and v. 6, "did not wholly follow Yahweh" (!)

Chapter in is comparable to the narratives of sin and judgment upon which the accounts of Saul and David turn (I Sam. 13 and 15, and I Kings 11) We are presented with three kings of the united monarchy -- Saul, David and Solomon. Three sins are seen as ultimately determining the structures of the reigns -- disobedience (Saul) , violence (David) , and now apostasy (Solomon) Three prophets proclaim the divine judgment -- Samuel, Nathan and Ahijah. Saul’s disobedience ends in his expulsion (cf. the story of Eden in Gen. 3) ; David’s violence in tragic alienation within his own family (cf. the Cain-Abel narrative of Gen. 4) ; and Solomon’s arrogant disregard of Yahweh in the disruption and confusion of the Israelite community (cf. the Babel account, Gen.11)

It is Solomon who is judged in I Kings 11 -- but not Solomon alone, as it is also not Saul and David who alone are judged. In that ancient binding concept of community it is king and people who are judged. It is Solomon’s but at once also all men’s sins of apostasy, idolatry, the turning away of the human heart from God that brings the judgment of disruption, cleavage and tragic disunity.

And Yahweh said, . . . "Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech." So. . . they left off building the city [of God].

The essential language of Solomon and his prideful supporters in Judah became unintelligible to Northern Israel. The covenant community was broken asunder and two centuries later, the prophet Isaiah recalls the day of separation as an event of singular tragedy (Isa. 7:17)



1 E.g., Pfeiffer, op. cit., pp. 340 if.

2 As discussed by R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1946) , p. 24.

3 In support of this view see John Bright, The Kingdom of God (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1953) , p. 33, n. 24.

4 See further von Rad, op. cit., pp. 8 if.

5 See the extended footnote in T. H. Robinson, A History of Israel, Vol. 1 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1932) , pp. 287 f.

6 The present text is unsatisfactory. See T. H. Robinson, op.

7 See Albright, op. cit., p. 25.

8 Pfeiffer. op. cit., p. 341.

9 From "The Rock,’ Collected Poems, by T. S. Eliot, p. 188. Copyright, 1934, by Harcourt, Brace & Co. Used by permission of Harcourt, Brace & Co. and Faber & Faber, Ltd.

10 We are in substantial agreement with the interpretation of son, op. cit., pp. 239 if.

11 See R. H. Pfeiffer, "Facts and Faith in Biblical History" Journal of Biblical Literature Vol.70, no.1 (March, 1951), p.5

12 The text of I Kings 6 is obscure at points and an exact reconstruction of the temple is hardly possible, although many have attempted it. Ezekiel’s description of the restored temple in Ezek. 40-48 and Josephus’ detailed outline of Herod’s temple are of some help. Perhaps the most satisfactory attempt at reconstruction is that of Garber and Howland: see "Reconstucting Solomon’s Temple" by Paul L. Garber, The Biblical Archaeologist Vol. xiv, no. 1 (Feb., 1951)

13 Fertility symbols apparently adorned the temple in profusion (see I Kings 6:29) Around the outside of the temple side chambers were built, for what purpose we do not precisely know. At times they may have been used for representations or images of other deities. Solomon himself certainly made provision for the worship of many other gods than Yahweh.