Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Friday, May 05, 2017

BIBLE: 2 Samuel (10-18)

After waiting many years and enduring many trials David finally becomes king of Israel.  He’s about as well prepared as any king to face enemies on the field of battle.  David was a man forged by constant conflict and toughened by war.  But he was also a human being; and a passionate human being at that.  He could dance with religious ecstasy in public or shed bitter tears over the death of someone close to him.  He could display sound judgment but he was also capable of making terrible mistakes.  Up to this point David made good decisions most of the time.  But once he becomes king he begins making mistakes.  It starts with a little relaxation of his normally aggressive nature: “And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah.  But David tarried still in Jerusalem.”  Question.  Why was David staying home while his troops were away in battle?  After all, this was supposed to be “the time when kings go forth to battle.”  Isn’t that what the Israelites wanted in the first place?  They had specifically told Samuel “we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”  David is not fighting their battles; he’s hanging out at home in his palace.  This was the start of many problems that begin to plague David.  While Joab and the rest of the troops were out in the field fighting the enemy, “David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.”  The beautiful woman was Bathsheba.  The story of David and Bathsheba is almost as famous as the story of David and Goliath.  What happened to David?  The heroic slayer of giants became a deceitful king who used his power to indulge his desires.  That may be the key term: power.  Like many people before him and many people after him, David didn’t always use his newly-gained power wisely.  This seems to be a universal human trait that’s reflected in many Great Books readings.  Agamemnon misused power in the Iliad.  King Lear misused power in Shakespeare’s play.  Faust misused power in Goethe’s play and leaders today continue to misuse their powers.  That may be a permanent part of the human condition.  We don’t always know how to use our powers wisely and wind up using them for selfish purposes.  David had the power to act decisively in the rape of Tamar, but he didn’t.  Instead he just gave his son Amnon a mild slap on the wrist.  This infuriated Absalom (who was David’s son too).  Absalom was also Tamar’s brother and Amnon’s half-brother.  He eventually got his revenge by killing Amnon and fleeing.  David’s biggest worry wasn’t the Philistines.  It was his own family.  These intense internal family conflicts often deteriorate into blood feuds and are also reflected in the Great Books.  Agamemnon was killed by his own wife Clytemnestra because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia.  He did it to advance his own power as leader of the Greek expedition to Troy.  Their son, Orestes, killed his own mother in revenge.  King Lear’s daughters end up killing one another because he misused his power.  And in the Faust play Gretchen accidentally poisons her mother so she can spend time with her lover Faust.  In 2 Samuel sons turn against their fathers.  Jonathan turns against Saul and Absalom turns against David.  But we don’t have to turn back to the old classics to make sense of David’s story.  Modern psychologists like Freud would have a field day with it.  David can’t maintain order in his own family.  In fact, he can’t even maintain order in his own soul.  David is torn between his duty as king, his responsibility as a husband and father, and his desire as a man.  He dances with joy and cries with grief.  He knows fear, anger, lust, and regret by personal experience.  He’s a fully human creature with all the dreams and disappointments of life on full display.  There’s probably a little bit of David in all of us.  That’s why his story never grows old.       


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