Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Friday, April 28, 2017

BIBLE: 2 Samuel (1-9)

In 2 Samuel David finally becomes king in his own right.  But that doesn’t mean his problems are over.  In some ways they’re just beginning.  The old set of problems (having to live life on the run from Saul) gives way to a new set of problems (having to deal with internal divisions as well as external enemies).  An allied Amalekite soldier comes to David with the news that Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle.  He says Saul had been badly wounded and asked him to kill him before the Philistines did.  The Amalekite says he was just complying with Saul’s request.  He brought the crown from Saul’s head and the bracelet from his arm to give to David.  David “mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.”  Was David’s grief sincere?  We don’t know.  We do know that Saul is dead.  But if the Amalekite thought he would get rewarded for his services he was badly mistaken.  David asks, “How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?  And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him.  And he smote him that he died.”

The pathway to be king of Israel still hasn’t been made clear for David.  Saul has another son named Ishbosheth.  So “Abner, the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s hosts, took Ishbosheth, the son of Saul…and made him king…over all Israel.”  Meanwhile David has become king of Judah and sets up headquarters in Hebron.  “Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.”  We learn that “Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.  And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah…”  Abner had taken Rizpah for one of his own concubines.  This may not seem like such a big deal to us now, but in that day it was a very big deal.  Recall how the Iliad starts out.  Agamemnon had to give up his own concubine in order to appease Apollo.  Then, just to prove his power, he decided to take Achilles’ concubine instead.  This was an outright insult and infuriated Achilles.  In 2 Samuel Abner is making a direct threat to the power of Ishbosheth.  Abner can see which way the wind is blowing.  Ishbosheth’s power is falling; David’s power is rising.  So Abner takes a gamble to go over to David’s side.  This is risky business.  Remember what David did to the Amalekite?  David respects the office of king, even if he doesn’t respect Ishbosheth.  By turning to David Abner is taking his life in his hands.

David holds a secret meeting with Abner and they negotiate terms.  David accepts Abner.  Joab does not.  Joab is captain of David’s “hosts” and when he learns about the secret deal he tells David that Abner “came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.”  Does Joab really think that?  Does he smell a dirty trick?  It’s hard to tell because Joab isn’t an objective bystander.  Abner had killed Joab’s brother in one of the battles so Joab has an ax to grind anyway.  The secret deal was just the excuse Joab had been looking for; an excuse to kill Abner.  And that’s just what he did.  When David finds out he wants the whole world to know that he had not ordered the death of Abner: “I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner: Let it rest on the head of Joab…”  These are the new kinds of problems David was to face.  If he thought being king would be smooth sailing he was badly mistaken.  Being a shepherd boy fighting bears and lions taught him courage; killing Goliath had set him up as a major political and military figure; hiding from Saul with a band of outlaws made him something of a folk hero; kind of like Robin Hood.  But was David ready to be king and rule over this raucous country?  Ready or not, the responsibilities wouldn’t wait.  Now David would find out what kind of man he really was.


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