Archive for September, 2010

Day 268: 2 Samuel 1

            1-10: At Ziklag David receives word that Saul and Jonathan are dead. The messenger who brings the news claims to have killed Saul himself as an act of mercy. We know that is not what happened, but then the man produces Saul’s crown and armlet, so he must have witnessed Saul’s death and plundered the body before the Philistines found it. Maybe the fact that Saul’s crown was gone had something to do with their wanting to decapitate him. The messenger apparently knew that Saul and David had been enemies and thought killing Saul would result in David rewarding him. Too bad: If he had simply told what he had seen he might have lived.

            11-16: David and his men all mourn for Saul and Jonathan. His men probably are mourning more for Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines. Remarkably, the messenger, evidently not knowing what David has just been doing, tells David that he is an Amalekite, albeit a resident alien. David orders his execution, and once again, as so often happens, the messenger is killed.

            17-27: David composes the first of his psalms to be recorded in the Bible. “The Bow,” it is called. “The Book of Jashar” is lost, but the song is reproduced here. “How the mighty have fallen” is the recurring lament in verses 19, 25 and 27. The verb – “have” instead of “has” – tells us that it is intended to apply to both Jonathan and Saul. Saul’s other two sons seem to have been completely forgotten. Jonathan is especially praised and lamented.

Day 269: 2 Samuel 2

            1-4: David inquires of God (probably through the priest Abiathar and the ephod, which is variously described in commentaries as a breastplate and as an amulet) and moves his men from Ziklag, which is in Philistine territory, to Hebron. They settle in the surrounding villages. The people of Judah lose no time in anointing David king over Judah. He is not yet king of Israel.

            4-7: David makes an attempt to expand his influence by courting the favor of Jabesh-Gilead, one of Saul’s strongholds.

            8-11: Abner, Saul’s uncle and the commander of the army, having survived the battle, now takes the reins of power and makes Saul’s son Ishbaal king over everything but Judah. (Ishbaal is called Ishbosheth in 1 Chronicles.) Ishbaal is 40 years old, which gives us some feel for how much time has passed since Saul was anointed in I Samuel 10. Ishbaal’s reign is only 2 years. David sets up Judah’s capital at Hebron where he reigns for 7½ years. However, these numbers don’t work unless a few years pass before Ishbaal is crowned, because David’s ascension as king of all Israel comes shortly after Ishbaal is dead (see chapter 5).

            12-17: Well, you knew the two-kings situation couldn’t last, didn’t you? Joab, David’s military commander, and Abner meet at Gibeon in the territory of Benjamin. We are not told why Joab is there, but it is significant that David’s soldiers are across the border into Israel. Abner and Joab agree to a contest between the young men which quickly turns bloody and deadly.

18-23: A skirmish results, and Abner and his remaining troops retreat. Joab’s little brother Asahel pursues Abner. Unable to persuade him to desist, Abner kills him.

24-28: Joab continues the pursuit until sundown when he and Abner agree that enough is enough.

29-32: Abner and his men retreat to the northeast, Joab and his men head southwest, burying his brother Asahel in Bethlehem on the way to Hebron. David has lost 19 men; Abner has lost 360! There can be no doubt that the rival kingdoms will not be friendly towards each other; this skirmish is a harbinger of what will come when Solomon’s reign ends many years later.

Day 270: 2 Samuel 3

            1: The chapter begins with a note that David is growing stronger while “the house of Saul” (Ishbaal has become such a nobody that his name isn’t even given) is growing weaker.

            2-5: Here is a list of sons born to David in Hebron, each one by a different wife. We will see that the accumulation of wives often results in palace intrigues that weaken the country. According to custom, Amnon would be heir to the throne, but Amnon will be undone by the same kind of lust that will get the best of his father David as well.

            6-11: Abner, commander of the armies of Israel (the northern tribes that still identify with the house of Saul) has a confrontation with the king, Ishbaal. Significantly, the name Ishbaal, “man of the Lord,” does not appear in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew text refers to him as Ishbosheth, which means “man of shame.” The king accuses Abner of having sex with one of his father Saul’s concubines, seeing that as a threat to his authority. Abner denies the charge and in anger declares that he will go over to David. Ishbaal is so afraid of Abner that he backs down.

            12-16: Abner conducts secret negotiations with David. David, ever the politician, sees that claiming his right to Saul’s daughter Michal will help him win over the northern tribes, and demands her as a condition of accepting Abner’s defection. The story here is not complete: it appears that David and Abner make an arrangement whereby David will assert his legal right to marry Michal and demand that Ishbaal (the Hebrew text uses Ishbosheth) hand her over. Ishbaal does so, and shows why he doesn’t have what it takes to be king.

            17-19: Abner makes secret arrangements with the tribal leaders to depose Ishbaal and accept David as their king, paying special attention to the leaders of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe.

            20-21: Abner visits David’s camp, secures David’s agreement, and departs peacefully, presumably to begin the work of discarding Ishbaal.

            22-25: Ah, but don’t forget about Joab, who is David’s commander-in-chief, and as such is Abner’s main rival. When Joab returns to the camp and hears that David has met with Abner and sent him away peacefully, he complains to David. David’s response is not recorded, but apparently is ambiguous enough that Joab thinks he can deal as he wishes with Abner.

            26-30: Joab sends for Abner, who returns to Hebron unbeknownst to David (or maybe not!), and takes him aside and kills him, thus avenging the death of his brother Asahel.

            31-39: Joab’s actions could have spelled disaster for David’s greater ambitions, but David turns the event to his own advantage. He publicly mourns Abner and praises him highly, while denouncing Joab (the “son of Zeruiah”). Nevertheless, he stops short of punishing Joab, turning that job over to God – “The LORD pay back the one who does wickedly in accordance with his wickedness!” When word of this public posturing reaches the other tribes, they are pleased, and convinced that David has nothing to do with Abner’s death.

Day 271: 2 Samuel 4

            1-3: Ishbaal is dismayed at the news of Abner’s death. Note that verse 1 literally reads, “Saul’s son heard that …” His name is not given. We are introduced to two guerilla leaders, Baanah and Rechab, and are told that they belong to Benjamin, Saul’s tribe (and Ishbaal’s).

            4: An aside: We are introduced to Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, David’s best friend. In the panic following the news of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death, the child had been injured and crippled for life. We will hear more about him later.

            5-8: We return to Baanah and Rechab. They enter Ishbaal’s (Ishbosheth’s) house and murder him, behead him, and carry his head to Hebron and present it ceremoniously to David.

            9-12: David cannot afford any suspicion that he has any part of the assassination, and he reacts just as he had when the Amalekite messenger claimed to have finished off Saul – he has “the young men” kill them. David’s brutality is not given much attention in our Sunday school literature, but is certainly again evident here: he has the assassins’ hands and feet cut off, and their mutilated bodies hung in a public place. Ishbaal’s head receives an honorable burial. That’s David – always calculating!

Day 272: 2 Samuel 5

            1-5: All the tribal leaders come to Hebron and a coronation ceremony is held making David king over all the tribes. David is 37 years old now.

            6-10: David’s first act as king is to establish a new capital city, a bit further north and more central than Hebron. He chooses Jerusalem, variously called Salem and Jebus in earlier passages. He fortifies the fortress within the city walls and calls it the City of David.

            11-12: A long and prosperous relationship with Lebanon seems to have its starting point here. We are not told how this alliance comes to be, only that Hiram of Tyre offers to build a palace for David; a gift from a wealthy neighbor, and perhaps calculated to avoid becoming one of David’s conquests.

            13-16: Eleven more sons are born to David, but their births are spread out over a number of years. This passage hints that they are all sons of concubines, but we will see that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, becomes a powerful broker in David’s later administration.

            17-21: Good news: David repulses a Philistine attack after inquiring of the LORD. Bad news: David and his men confiscate the idols left behind by the Philistines. I see a red flag.

            22-25: Another victory over the Philistines, this one won by the use of superior tactics revealed to David during his consultation with the LORD, probably through the office of the high priest.

Day 273: 2 Samuel 6:

            1-5: David’s second major decision as king is to establish Jerusalem as the religious center of the country by relocating the Ark of the Covenant there. He could have sent someone to fetch it, but instead makes it a huge undertaking involving 30,000 elders because he wants the whole country to know what he’s doing. Without “inquiring of the LORD,” a great parade is organized, with David leading it, dancing like mad. The music must have been heard for miles.

            6-11: But the LORD is not willing to cooperate, and one of the priests, Uzzah, is struck dead when he touches the ark. No explanation is offered as to how this happens exactly, but the effect of it is that David is humbled, at least for the moment, and realizes that maybe the LORD isn’t going to be quite so easily assimilated into his grand plans. The ark is left with Obed-edom, and Obed-edom prospers for it.

            12-15: But when David hears that all is well with Obed-edom, he decides to try again, this time without the 30,000 elders apparently, but still with some festivity. He is careful to begin this second attempt by offering sacrifices to God. Note also that David is wearing the signs of the priestly office. The confusion of military, administrative and religious authority flares up every now and then in these historical accounts of the era of kings, usually with bad results. Still, David seems determined to have a relationship with God, and that bodes well for him. He will come to be called “a man after God’s own heart.”

            16-19: Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, is disgusted by David’s public display as the ark comes into the city. It certainly is not the kind of thing her father would have done. After sacrifices and offerings are made, David distributes food to every attendee – bread, meat, and raisins. You’d vote for him, wouldn’t you?

            20-23: Back at home, though, things are not going so well. Michal is jealous at David’s wild behavior, accusing him of exposing himself to the ladies. David retorts that he was exposing himself for God, who had made him king in place of her father. Apparently they have different bedrooms after that.

Day 274: 2 Samuel 7

            1-3: We are introduced to the prophet Nathan, another of the holy men with whom David has surrounded himself. Nathan is not a “yes man” by any means, as we shall see. David asks for his advice on building a “house” for the ark, and Nathan gives him a “thumbs up.”

            4-17: But God has other plans. Nathan is told that David is not the one to build God’s house. Instead, God says that he will build David a “house,” meaning a dynasty of his own sons and grandsons succeeding him on Israel’s throne. Nathan reports this to David.

            18-29: David is humbled by Nathan’s report, and goes into the tent to pray. He acknowledges God’s mighty work in Israel’s past, and claims the future God has revealed to him through Nathan.

Day 275: 2 Samuel 8

            1: Much has happened that has not been reported to us. David holds sway over a vast territory, subduing the Philistines, which means his kingdom extends to the Mediterranean Sea.

            2: He defeats the Moabites on the other side of his kingdom, his cruelty displayed in his treatment of prisoners of war.

            3-8: David’s rule eventually extends from the Mediterranean to the northern Euphrates, including Damascus (in present day Syria).

            9-12: Other kings in the region are careful to ally themselves with David. It is not clear whether king Toi of Hamath is an ally, or bought his independence by paying tribute to David. David’s military exploits continue against the nations to the south – Edom, Moab, Ammon and so forth. He now rules over a large area from the Red Sea in the south to the Mediterranean in the west to the Euphrates in the north and east – though not nearly as great as the empires before his time (Egyptian and Hittite) or after his time (Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian). David happens to live in a time when those great empires are either on the wane or not yet arrived, but his rule represents Israel’s heyday. Not before or after is Israel ever so influential in the Middle East.

            13-14: Again David’s cruelty is highlighted. He is very successful in battle, but his tactics are merciless.

            15-18: David organizes his kingdom, appointing leaders over the military, religious and administrative arms. Jehoshaphat is “recorder,” which probably means the kingdom’s record-keeping system is under him, including information that will facilitate taxes and military drafts. Seraiah is “secretary,” which seems to mean Secretary of State. Benaiah is a military leader, and is put over mercenary forces: “Cherethites” are thought to be from Crete, and “Pelethites” to consist of Philistine troops. It appears that David now has a substantial standing army supplemented by mercenaries. The reference to David’s sons as priests is surprising and disturbing.

Day 276: 2 Samuel 9

            1-8: David determines to look after whatever remnant of Saul’s family there may still be, and finds Mephibosheth the cripple, the son of Jonathan, who had been David’s best friend. He restores to Mephibosheth the land owned by Saul, which must be rather extensive since Saul was the son of the wealthy Kish (1 Samuel 9:1). David’s actions here serve two purposes: it serves to ease any lingering animosity on the part of Saul’s followers, and it keeps the remaining direct descendant of Saul squarely under David’s thumb.

            9-13: David appoints Ziba, Mephibosheth’s caretaker, and his fifteen sons as stewards of Mephibosheth’s land and crops and other holdings. But Mephibosheth is kept close to David, being required to eat at the king’s table. We learn that Mephibosheth has a son, Mica, and we wonder if some trouble is waiting around the corner having to do with succession to the throne.

Day 277: 2 Samuel 10

            1-5: The king of the neighboring Ammonite kingdom dies. His son Hanun ascends to the throne, and David sends envoys with condolences. Ammon is the territory east of the Jordan opposite Jericho. Hanun’s father was Nahash who, years before when Saul was king of Israel, besieged Jabesh-Gilead. It was Saul’s first military campaign, and Nahash was defeated (I Samuel 11). Now it seems Nahash somewhere along the way became an ally of David; either that, or was a vassal king under David’s authority. That would explain the suspicion with which his envoy is treated. They are arrested, humiliated and sent back to David.

            6-8: Hanun’s actions are tantamount to a declaration of war, and the Ammonites prepare for battle. They hastily arrange a coalition of troops from the surrounding Aramean territories, which sounds like the coalition David had defeated in chapter 8 (Hadadezer is mentioned in 8:8 and in 10:16). The Ammonites defend the gates (presumably of Rabbah, their capital city) while the Arameans stay in the open country, so that when Joab brings his forces to attack Rabbah he will be outflanked.

            9-14: Joab recognizes the situation and deploys his troops accordingly, dividing them into two armies under him and his brother Abishai. The Arameans quickly melt before Joab’s forces (after all, it isn’t their city, is it?), and the Ammonites retreat into the walled city. Joab leaves Abishai to blockade the city while he returns to Jerusalem to report to David.

            15-19: The Arameans reorganize themselves under Hadadezer (who had been defeated by David before – see the 8th chapter) and recruit allies further afield to come to their aid. David takes the field against them and defeats them soundly. They surrender and David annexes their territory.

Day 278: 2 Samuel 11

            1: Spring is the time for kings to go into battle, but not David. He sends Joab to finish the job at Rabbah. He should have gone himself; that would have kept him out of trouble.

            2-5: From his rooftop he sees Bathsheba bathing, sends “messengers” to bring her, sleeps with her and gets her pregnant. Such things happen when important people think they are above the law.

            6-13: What to do? Cover it up, of course. He sends for her husband Uriah, a Hittite mercenary serving in his own army, currently besieging the Ammonite capital. He gets a battle report from Uriah and sends him home, but Uriah does not go home. The next day David asks him why, and Uriah explains that the ark and Israel and Judah are “in booths.” (It is interesting that he makes a distinction between Israel and Judah although at the moment they are one nation.)

            Here is an intriguing aspect of the story. The phrase “in booths” might also be rendered, “in Succoth.” Succoth is the Jewish festival of booths, the annual observance of remembrance of the time when the Israelites lived in tents in the wilderness for forty years. The implication is that Uriah, a foreigner, is more true to Jewish traditions than is David, the king!

            David gets him drunk and tries once more to get him to sleep with his wife Bathsheba so that David’s adultery might remain hidden, but Uriah stays at the palace again.

14-21: David gives him a message to take to Joab, and he faithfully obeys the king. The message tells Joab to see to it that Uriah doesn’t survive the siege of Rabbah. The loyal soldier carries his own death warrant. Joab sends Uriah on a suicide mission against the city and Uriah is killed along with other soldiers. This is an aspect of David’s sin that isn’t often considered: it isn’t just that he has Uriah murdered, but “some of the servants of David” as well. “Oh, what a tangled web…”

Joab gives the messenger careful instructions about how to report the incident to David.

22-25: The messenger doesn’t report exactly as Joab instructs him, but rather goes ahead and includes the news about Uriah. This man is obviously informed about the fate of many messengers! David shrugs off the news of the loss of his own men; thus plumbing the depths of how low his own morals have descended.

26-27: Bathsheba mourns publicly for the prescribed length of time, then David marries her, and in due time their son is born; but God is not pleased.

Day 279: 2 Samuel 12

            1-6: We met Nathan back in chapter 7 and saw then that he is not one to simply tell the king what he wants to hear. Now Nathan, acting as God’s mouthpiece, comes again to David. Even though David acts to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba, it is doubtful that anybody in the palace has been fooled. Perhaps you have noticed as well that God has not been consulted or even mentioned since chapter 7.

            Nathan approaches David with a sad story about a powerful man who takes advantage of a less powerful man. David is incensed by the story and is ready to punish the imaginary perpetrator.

            7-14: Nathan drops the bomb: “You are the man!” I can hear the words ringing off the stone walls. Nathan bores in unflinchingly, making David understand the full spiritual import of what he has done. God has given David everything, he says, and David has responded by treating God with utter disregard. He makes sure David understands the long term consequences of his actions; he has set an example that others will copy – they will think that’s how a king is supposed to behave – and the deed will come back to haunt him in the days to come. To his credit, David denies nothing, but confesses his sin. Nathan informs him that God will not punish him with death, but that his son will die.

            15-19: The baby becomes gravely ill, and David does his best to dissuade God from letting it die, praying and fasting. A touching scene ensues with his servants not knowing how to break the news to him, but David has always been a keen observer of people, and he intuits what has happened.

            20-23: Upon hearing of the baby’s death, David gets up, bathes, splashes on some cologne, goes to worship (the “house of the LORD“ is not the temple, which hasn’t been built yet, but probably some convenient location within the palace compound) and sits down to dinner. His servants are astonished and impressed and ask why; his response is basically that he attempted to get God to spare the child and since those efforts have failed he may as well get on about his business. He will die himself one day, he says, but he can’t bring the dead back to life.

            I am not trying to paint David in an unfavorable light. I am trying to present him as the text presents him and in so doing overcome the kindergarten niceness that has informed most of our notions about the kind of man he was. David was not a nice man. He was capable of incredible cruelty, like making the defeated Moabite soldiers lie down on the ground and measuring them off with a cord to determine the ones who would be put to death and the ones who would become slaves (8:2); or slaughtering the men, women and children of the Amalekite towns when he pretended to be a Philistine mercenary (I Samuel 27:8-9). There are other flaws as well. But he was also the man God chose for the specific task of bringing stability to Israel, and in that he succeeded.

God chooses flawed men and women: there are no other kinds from which to choose.

From chapter 12 on David’s administration will sink into deepening corruption. It is no accident.

24-25: David and Bathsheba have another son. David names him Solomon. Nathan, however, names him Jedidiah, “Beloved of the LORD,” which signals that Solomon will be the heir to David’s throne and that Nathan will be his champion.

26-31: The end of the battle of Rabbah is now told. Joab is successful in breaching the walls, and summons David to come and take credit, which David does. The crown of the chief Ammonite god Milcom, which apparently had adorned a statue, is placed on David’s head as a sign of his conquest. (His son Solomon will in the years to come become a worshiper of Milcom, but that is another story.) David enslaves the population of Rabbah and puts them to work on his pet projects.

Day 280: 2 Samuel 13

            1-6: The troubles in David’s family begin when his eldest son Amnon falls in love with his half sister Tamar, sister to Absalom. Amnon is the son of David and Ahinoam (see 3:2). Absalom and Tamar are children born to David and Maacah, princess of Geshur (see 3:3). Tamar is a virgin – that is, she is available for marriage – but Amnon apparently thinks she is off limits to him because she is his half sister. (But Abraham and Sarah were half siblings – see Genesis 20:12). Amnon’s first cousin Jonadab, David’s nephew, advises him to pretend to be sick and ask for Tamar to bring him something to eat so that he can be alone with her. He does so, and David suspects nothing.

            7-14: The ploy works. Amnon is left alone with Tamar, and rapes her. Note that she was willing enough to be with him, and even suggests that he speak to their father David, but he cannot wait.

            15-19: Having used her, Amnon dismisses her. She protests, but he has her physically removed from the premises and she is devastated.

            20-22: The plot takes a dangerous turn now as Absalom’s hatred for Amnon swells. But Absalom is capable of suppressing his feelings and biding his time, and is thus a dangerous man who will cause David and the whole country immeasurable grief.

            23-29: Absalom waits two full years for his revenge. He plans a festive gathering at Ephraim (away from Jerusalem, in other words) and when David refuses to go, Absalom insists on him sending Amnon. David is suspicious but relents. Absalom arranges an ambush and has his servants murder Amnon. The other princes flee on muleback. It occurs to me that in this act Absalom is just like his father David, who on at least two occasions has given the task of killing his enemies to his own “young men” (1:15, 4:12).

            30-33: David receives news that all his sons are dead, and begins to mourn, but then is “assured” by his nephew Jonadab that only Amnon has been killed. Jonadab is the one who came up with the ploy that allowed Amnon to rape Tamar.

            34-36: No sooner has he spoken than a watchman announces the arrival of the princes on their mules. They all gather and bewail the death of Amnon.

            37-39: Absalom flees to his grandfather Talmai, king of Geshur (see 3:3). He stays there for three years until he is sure his father David’s grief over Amnon is spent.

Day 281: 2 Samuel 14

            1-3: Joab, seeing that David is pining over Absalom’s exile, recruits a woman from Tekoa, a town about 10 miles south of Jerusalem. This is the first time in the Bible Tekoa has been mentioned; it is known mostly as the birthplace of the prophet Amos. Joab tells her to dress as if she were in mourning, and gives her careful instructions of what to say when she is admitted into the presence of King David.

            4-7: She tells David that her two sons have fought and one has killed the other. We are immediately reminded of Cain and Abel. She says the family wants to kill the son who lives, thus depriving her of both her children.

            8-11: There ensues a discussion difficult to follow. David apparently defers judgment at first, telling her to go home until he decides what to do. She presses for an immediate judgment, hinting that he may be incurring some guilt by not giving her an immediate answer. David thinks she is afraid for her own safety, and promises his protection. She then alludes to an avenger of blood, implying that an active hunt for her son is already under way. David then promises her that her son will be protected.

            12-17: Now she comes obliquely to the point. If David will protect her son who murdered his brother, why should he not protect his own son who murdered his brother? God will not let an outcast be banished forever, she says, and we again recall the story of Cain with the protective mark.

            18-20: David, always an expert at reading people’s motives, guesses that Joab has something to do with this, and the woman confirms his suspicions.

            21-24: David summons Joab and tells him to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem, but that he must go to his own house and stay out of David’s sight. Joab seems to me to be a little too grateful.

            25-27: We get a character snapshot of Absalom at this point. He is a handsome man, with particularly striking hair. The hair will come into play later, by the way. We are told that he has three sons who are unnamed here, and one daughter whose name is given. Her name is Tamar; she is named after her aunt, Absalom’s sister who was raped by Amnon – the very event that started this gathering disaster.

            28-33: Absalom is up to something. He will not allow Joab to ignore him, going to the extreme of burning one of Joab’s barley fields to get his attention. He sends Joab to the king with a challenge: kill me or reinstate me as your son. If David reinstates his palace privileges he knows that will be tantamount to a full pardon. If David kills him – but he knows his father David will not kill him.

            He is right. David kisses him and removes the curse. Absalom knows that his father David has never lifted a hand against blood kin. Absalom, on the other hand…

Day 282: 2 Samuel 15

            1-6: Absalom, with his display of chariot and horses and runners, is clearly setting himself up as heir to the throne in place of Amnon. But he wants more than that. He stations himself in a strategic location so that he can commiserate with anyone who comes to David with a problem, and over a period of four years ingratiates himself with a sizeable part of the population.

            7-12: His plot is beginning to take shape. He requests permission to go to Hebron in keeping with a fictitious vow to the LORD. 200 men go with him, although Absalom keeps his plans a secret from them for the moment. Once in Hebron he begins the ruse of offering sacrifices, and sends messengers to all the tribes to tell them that he is about to become king of Israel. Obviously he has been laying the groundwork for some time. He then sends to Jerusalem for Ahithophel, David’s own counselor, who is apparently in on the plot to depose David.

            13-18: David gets word of Absalom’s doings and loses no time at all in fleeing from Jerusalem. He hastily puts together an entourage of families and courtiers and soldiers and immediately evacuates the city, leaving behind part of his harem to look after the palace. Other key operatives are left behind as well, but we’ll find out about that later.

            19-23: We meet Ittai the Gittite. He is a mercenary soldier only just come to Jerusalem, probably recruited by David along with his band as part of David’s military establishment. David sees Ittai and all his people coming with him out of Jerusalem and bids him return because he hasn’t been there long enough to have developed any sense of belonging. But Ittai insists on his loyalty to David, and David passes him on. In short order he will be a commander on a par with Joab.

            The people of Jerusalem gather to bid farewell to the king. David and his rather considerable retinue cross the wadi and head out toward the wilderness beyond.

            24-29: Abiathar and Zadok bring the ark of the covenant, but David sends them back into the city. Abiathar has been with him since his outlaw days when Saul was chasing him around the country, and David knows he can be trusted. Abiathar and Zadok will be his eyes and ears within the palace, and their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan will be the messengers to take information to David.

            30-31: As David ascends the Mount of Olives weeping, he receives word that his counselor Ahithophel has gone over to Absalom, and he is shaken by the news. He prays for God to negate Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom.

            32-37: Hushai is another trusted friend and counselor to David. He wants to go also, but David sends him back to offer his services to Absalom in hopes that his counsel will counter that of Ahithophel. So, David’s defense is organized. Hushai will counsel Absalom and report to Abiathar and Zadok the priests whatever is going on. They in turn will gather information from whatever sources they can develop and the young men, Jonathan and Ahimaaz will deliver messages to and from David.

            David has reached the summit of the Mount of Olives and can look back over Jerusalem as he prepares to descend the other side and head into hiding. It has been many years since he has lived in the wild, but his training as an outlaw guerilla leader in his younger days will save his life and his throne now.

Day 283: 2 Samuel 16

            1-4: Ziba, whom David has made caretaker of Saul’s crippled son Mephibosheth, brings supplies. When David asks about his charge, he says that Mephibosheth has stayed behind, convinced that the kingdom will now fall into his hands as the legal heir to Saul. David gives all of Mephibosheth’s land and other holdings to Ziba. (But is Ziba telling the truth?)

            5-8: They haven’t gone far when another member of Saul’s family, Shimei, comes out slinging rocks and cursing David, calling him a murderer, and screaming that now he’ll get what’s coming to him.

            9-14: Abishai wants to kill Shimei, but David stops him, letting Shimei follow them throwing stones and insults. David’s reasoning is that perhaps God will pity him because of the cursing. They stop at the Jordan to rest.

            15-19: They escape just in time, for Absalom has arrived in Jerusalem. Hushai, David’s trusted friend and counselor, wastes no time in carrying out David’s plan. He offers himself to Absalom, and Absalom accepts him after some hesitation.

            20-23: But Absalom values more the counsel of Ahithophel, whose intelligence and wisdom is equally respected by David. Ahithophel tells Absalom to go in to David’s concubines on the palace roof in sight of the people. Such an act would be a strong public signal that he has indeed overthrown his father. It is also exactly what Nathan prophesied would happen (12:11-12).

Day 284: 2 Samuel 17

            1-4: Ahithophel gives Absalom strategically sound advice. Strike at David before he has time to organize his defenses. Kill the king and the people will fall in line.

            5-14: Although Absalom is pleased with the idea of doing away with his old man, he asks Hushai for an opinion as well. Hushai, planted there by David, builds David up until he sounds nearly invincible. Then he gives counter advice; secure the kingdom first, and when the people have rallied to you, then go on the hunt for David yourself. The people will ensure your victory. This advice plays to Absalom’s excessive ego and Ahithophel’s counsel is defeated.

            15-20: Hushai passes the word to Zadok and Abiathar to warn David about Absalom’s plans. They in turn pass the word via a servant girl to their sons Jonathan and Ahimaaz waiting at En-rogel just south of the city. However, all this is witnessed by a boy who informs Absalom that something is afoot. Absalom sends a search party, but Jonathan and Ahimaaz are safely hidden in a well, aided and abetted by the owner and his wife. The search party is led astray and return to Jerusalem when their search fails. It seems David still has friends in the countryside.

            21-22: Jonathan and Ahimaaz leave their hiding place (you might say they were “well” hidden) and hurry to give David Hushai’s advice. David and his entourage quickly retreat across the Jordan.

            23: Ahithophel commits suicide. At first it seems to be an extreme act on his part, but on second reading we see that it is a very deliberate, well-thought-out suicide. Ahithophel knows that Absalom’s decision to accept Hushai’s advice spells doom for the attempted coup, and decides that his family will fare better if he is not alive when David returns to power.

            24-26: David travels a dozen or so miles north to Mahanaim. Absalom and his troops cross the Jordan to Gilead, east and south of David’s position. Absalom appoints Amasa his general. David’s general is Joab, Amasa’s wife’s first cousin. Amasa will not have a pleasant military career.

            27-29: An interesting scene unfolds. Shobi from Rabbah comes, along with two other city rulers (one of whom, Barzillai, will reappear later), and brings David and his entourage ample supplies. Shobi is the son of Nahash. David defeated Nahash in I Samuel 11 in the battle of Jabesh-Gilead. After Nahash died, David besieged his capital city, Rabbah, and deposed his son, Hanun, who had embarrassed David’s envoys. Shobi is apparently Hanun’s brother. It looks like the Ammonites have been thoroughly subjected.

Day 285: 2 Samuel 18

            1-5: David has a sizable force with him, and divides them into three parts, under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai. He offers to lead them, but is counseled to stay in the rear. They reason that they can lose a considerable number of soldiers, but if David is killed it’s all over. David orders them to “deal gently” with Absalom.

            6-8: The battle rages, and David’s forces are victorious, killing many of Absalom’s soldiers; and even more are lost in the forest.

            9-15: Absalom is fleeing on a mule when the mule runs under a tree and Absalom’s hair gets caught. He is left hanging helplessly. Someone tells Joab, who is furious that Absalom wasn’t killed in spite of David’s orders. Joab thrusts three spears into Absalom’s heart, but that apparently didn’t kill him for we are told that ten of his “young men” then surrounded and killed Absalom. “Young men,” it would seem, were particularly dangerous in those days. But if Absalom had gotten a haircut he would still be alive today.

            16-18: Absalom’s body is buried in a pit in the forest and covered with a heap of stones while his army flees. It is explained that the monument to Absalom in the King’s Valley is not his tomb, but one he had erected to himself while he was alive because he had no son to carry on his name. He did have a daughter, though, named Tamar.

            19-23: Ahimaaz wants to tell David, but Joab sends a Cushite (Egyptian) mercenary instead, remembering what sometimes happens to messengers who bring bad news to the king. Ahimaaz insists until Joab gives him leave, probably thinking the Cushite has a good head start. Ahimaaz takes a shortcut. At this point in the story, the listeners all hold their breath to see if Ahimaaz arrives first, and survives his bad news.

            24-27: The drama is extended as a sentinel sees someone coming. Who can it be? Then he spots another runner. Which is which? Finally he identifies the first as Ahimaaz! David heightens the tension when he remarks that Ahimaaz is a good man, and therefore will surely bring good news.

            28-30: Ahimaaz is no dummy. He does indeed bring good news. The king’s enemies have been defeated. When David asks about the fate of Absalom he pretends not to know what has happened to the prince.

            31-33: The Cushite arrives also with good tidings that the battle is won, but when David asks about Absalom the Cushite tells him what he does not want to hear. And now, instead of responding in anger, David collapses in grief, and the messenger is spared.

Day 286: 2 Samuel 19

            1-8: It is becoming apparent that Joab is the real power in the country now. He boldly goes to David and tells him to stop crying because he is destroying the troops’ morale. David does as he is told, and takes his seat in public where the troops can see him, and their morale is restored.

            9-10: We are given a glimpse of the political discussions taking place around the country. David fled, which means that he technically abdicated the throne. But Absalom, the crown prince, is dead. Shouldn’t they bring David back? It would seem that Joab, by killing Absalom, has saved the country from falling into civil war.

            11-15: David sends word to Jerusalem, to the leaders of the tribe of Judah, that the rest of the country wants him back. Shouldn’t his own tribe take the leadership in this? He offers Amasa, Solomon’s military commander, Joab’s job if he will bring the tribe of Judah to receive David. The response is favorable, so David prepares to return. Tribal representatives meet him at the Jordan near Gilgal to escort him back to Jerusalem.

            16-18: Shimei, the man who had thrown rocks at David when he fled Jerusalem, is quick to come and beg forgiveness. Ziba, too, to whom David had given all of Saul’s family property because he had been told Mephibosheth had turned against him, hurries to the Jordan to help the king’s family cross over. What is he worried about?

            19-23: Shimei begs for his life, and Abishai (one of David’s three commanders) argues for his execution. David, ever the politician, sees that sparing Shimei’s life will get him points with the northern tribes (“the house of Joseph”), and spares him.

            24-30: Ah, here comes Mephibosheth, and we hear the other side of the story. It seems that Ziba might have misrepresented this surviving son of David’s best friend Jonathan, son of Saul. David is weary at this point and takes the easy way out; he rules in favor of both. Divide the property, he says, and Mephibosheth declares that David’s survival is more important than half the estate, but we can safely assume that he accepts his half of the estate.

            31-40: Barzillai, who provided David with provisions during the flight from Absalom (17:27) accompanies him to the Jordan. There is a touching conversation in which David beckons the old man to join him in Jerusalem. Barzillai is from Gilead, an important strategic part of the kingdom and one David understands must be kept in the fold. Barzillai begs off but offers Chimham in his stead, an offer that David accepts. Verse 40 notes that all the people of Judah but only half the people of Israel accompany him. He has not yet consolidated his return to power.

            41-43: A conflict ensues between the people of Judah in the south (David’s own tribe) and the people of Israel in the north, which comprises 10 tribes (Levi is without territorial holdings). Israel is miffed because they were the first to think of reinstating David, but the people of Judah beat them to it. The argument ends unresolved. In a sense it never will be resolved even though it will be a number of years before the rift is made permanent.

Day 287: 2 Samuel 20

            1-2: The grudge between Judah and Israel results in another attempt to overthrow David. Sheba, from the tribe of Benjamin, attempts a coup. Saul was a Benjaminite; this dispute is an extension of the conflict between David and Saul. Sheba succeeds initially in drawing off the support of the northern tribes. Notice that there is now a regular reference to what will become two separate countries: Judah and Israel.

            3: We interrupt this tale to bring you a breaking news story: What became of the king’s concubines who were publicly violated by Absalom? Our diligent reporter has found that David has put them in seclusion. They will be provided for from the king’s treasury, but never again will they entertain the king.

            4-10: David summons Amasa to gather the armies of Judah together, but Amasa delays. David then asks Abishai to pursue Sheba. Joab, ever bold to protect his own interests, goes out behind him. He meets Amasa at Gibeon and murders him in cold blood.

            11-13: A curious detail is added: the body of Amasa draws the attention of passing warriors, so is dragged away from the road and hidden.

            14-22: Joab pursues Sheba to Abel of Beth-maacah in the extreme north, well on the way to Damascus. He lays siege to the city, and a wise woman agrees to throw Sheba’s head over to him if he will cease and desist. He agrees, she tosses, and Joab’s position as commander of the army is re-secured.

            23-26: He returns to Jerusalem where he resumes sole command of David’s military. David reorganizes his administration. Benaiah is still over the mercenary forces. Adoram is in charge of the forced labor. This is the first mention of Adoram and the first mention of forced labor; it is a new department in David’s government. It is a sign that not all is well in David’s kingdom. Jehoshaphat retains his position as royal records keeper (see 8:16). Sheva is a new name as secretary, unless it is a form of the name Seraiah, who was mentioned before (8:17). Zadok and Abiathar retain their positions as priests, but Ira the Jairite is a new name and occurs only here as David’s private priest.

            The list suggests that David’s leadership has undergone subtle changes, but also shows some stability of his inner circle of key officials.

Day 288: 2 Samuel 21

            1-6: The land suffers a three-year-long famine. David finally “inquires of the LORD,” and is told that the famine has come because Saul put Gibeonites to death! Why would the famine come in David’s time instead of in Saul’s? What exactly is the incident in question, for we haven’t read anything about it up to now? An “explanation” is given in verse 2, but that is the first mention of it.

            Gibeon was a settlement of an Amorite tribe known as Hivites (Joshua 11:19) a half dozen miles north of Jerusalem. Joshua 9 tells the story of how they tricked the Israelites into letting them remain in the land, and no trouble is recorded concerning them from the time of Joshua until now.

            David is the only one who knows that Saul is at fault for the famine, which is suspicious. He takes it upon himself to negotiate a settlement with the Gibeonites, and they ask for 7 descendants of Saul to be handed over to them, and David agrees.

            7-9: David rounds up two remaining sons of Saul (whom we haven’t met) and five grandsons (including one named Mephibosheth, not to be confused with Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan) and hands them over to the Gibeonites, who execute them on their holy mountain in Gibeon. Thus David effectively eliminates any challenge from the descendants of Saul without doing it himself.

            10-14: Rizpah, mother of Saul’s two sons, publicly mourns the death of the 7 and guards their bodies for perhaps a week or more. David is touched by her devotion and brings the bones of Saul and Jonathan from Jabesh-Gilead and gives them and the 7 an honorable burial. The writer of this account remembers that after this, God “heeded supplications for the land,” meaning that the famine ended. Of course, he has already informed us in verse 10 that the harvest is past and the rains have come.

            15-17: War erupts with the Philistines again, and we are surprised that David leads his troops into battle. A large Philistine warrior has it in for him, but Abishai fells the giant before he can carry out his threats. David’s men insist that he no longer take the field for fear he will be killed.

            18-22: More exploits of David’s men against large Philistine warriors are recorded, including one involving Goliath the Gittite, who sounds like the Goliath David is supposed to have killed when Saul was king.

Day 289: 2 Samuel 22

            1-4: The introduction tells us that David penned this psalm when all his enemies were subdued, but it reads like a psalm of expectation and faith that God will do such a thing in the future. This is Psalm 18, by the way. It opens with words of reliance on God, who is trustworthy.

            5-6: David’s plight described here could be any one of a half dozen situations.

            7-16: He calls on God for deliverance, and God hears his voice and responds with indignant rage at his enemies. All creation shakes at God’s anger. 

            17-20: David pictures God’s hand reaching down and snatching him out of danger. He imagines that because he has escaped so many close calls God must delight in him.

            21-25: But God’s delight is well deserved! David has been such a righteous man. He has obeyed all God’s laws and is blameless in God’s sight. Do you suppose he wrote this while Bathsheba, his partner in adultery who husband he murdered, crocheted in an easy chair next to his desk?

            26-31: Everyone imagines God as being something like themselves, but God pulls down the haughty and raises up the humble. David gives God credit for his victories.

            32-43: David describes God’s help through the years. I wonder if Paul was reading this Psalm when he used the imagery of armor for the Christian life (Ephesians 6:14, I Thessalonians 5:8).

            44-46: David credits his widespread success to God’s intervention.

            47-51: The psalm ends as it began, with praise to God. 

Day 290: 2 Samuel 23

            1-4: This chapter forms a collection of details about David’s reign and the organization of his administration. It begins with another of David’s poems, this one in the form of an oracle. It is reminiscent of the oracle of Balaam of Beor (Numbers 24:3), and is an example of a form of Oriental pronouncements from this period.

            5-7: Because of God’s aid, David’s exploits have been successful, unlike those of his enemies.

            8: The remainder of the chapter extols the exploits of David’s men whose deeds became legendary in old Israel. Josheb is not mentioned elsewhere, and we know nothing of the Three aside from these verses. They likely had no formal standing as “The Three,” but that became a title by which they were remembered.

            9-10: The second of the Three is Eleazar son of Dodo, another hero over the Philistines who is not mentioned elsewhere.

            11-12: The third of the trio is Shammah, a fairly common name, but this individual is unknown but for these verses. He, too, killed a bunch of Philistines.

            13-17: Another story of the Three, though they are unnamed here. The story also illustrates why David’s soldiers were so loyal to him.

            18-19: Another group known as the Thirty achieved legendary status after David’s time. Abishai we’ve met before, of course, as one of the three generals of David’s army and brother to Joab.

            20-23: Benaiah has been mentioned before as well, as the commander of David’s mercenary forces (8:18, 20:23). Here the story is told of his victory over an Egyptian, by taking the man’s own spear and killing him with it. Too bad: the Egyptian was a handsome man!

            24-39: Thirty-seven members of “the Thirty” are named including Abishai, who was the brother of Joab and Asahel whom Abner killed at the very beginning of David’s reign (3:27). A surprise entry is in the last verse: Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba, one of David’s own elite soldiers whom he had killed to hide his adultery with Uriah’s wife.

 

Day 292: 2 Samuel 24

            1-9: David summons Joab and orders him to conduct a census of the “people.” The royal scribe who compiled these records adds a note that God put the idea into David’s mind because God was angry with Israel, but we are not told why God was angry with Israel and we aren’t sure whether “Israel” here means the northern tribes only or the whole country. In any case, Joab protests, but David stands firm – something he has seldom done where Joab is concerned. The census takes nine months and twenty days, the better part of a year. When they are done, we discover the probable reason David ordered the census: only the men available for military service were counted – 800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah.

            10-14: We meet another character, the prophet Gad. Actually, we met him back in the days when David was running from Saul (I Samuel 22:5), so he has been with David all these years but hasn’t been mentioned again until now. David is sorry he took the census (perhaps because the act of counting only military-aged young men alarmed the whole country) and prays for forgiveness. Gad receives a word from God that David can choose one of three penances: 3 years of famine, 3 months of hiding, or 3 days of pestilence. We are not told why God thinks David should be punished, since God is supposed to have put the idea of the census in David’s mind from the start. Probably there were records of a census, and records of a terrible plague immediately following, and later scribes filled in the rest of the story. David tells Gad he would rather fall into the hands of God than into human hands. That would seem to leave two of the three choices – famine or pestilence, but David does not choose between these two.

            15-17: God, however, does, and sends 3 days of pestilence in the form of an unidentified plague that kills 70,000 throughout the nation. God spares Jerusalem, however, and the “angel” that brings the plague is stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (The Jebusites were the original occupants of Jerusalem.) David sees the carnage and prays for God to spare the people.

            18-23: The prophet Gad comes again and tells David to build an altar at the place where the plague has stopped. David dickers with Araunah to buy the threshing floor to avert the plague, and Araunah agrees.

            24-25: David pays him 50 shekels for the threshing floor and the oxen, builds an altar and offers burnt offerings and the plague stops. David, more than any other king of Israel, often assumes the authority to perform sacred duties usually reserved for the priests.