OT History Part 7: True Monarchy -- 1011-971 BC (David)

Table of Contents

Chapter 7.1: King of Judah

2 Samuel 1:1-10 -- The day-long slaughter of the Amalekite raiders after 3 hard days of marching called for a good rest. David and his men had been home three days when a messenger from the Battle of Gilboa found his way to Ziklag. The man had adopted the mourner's costume: intentionally torn clothing and dust on his hair. Prostration before David was as much a part of mourning the slaughter as it was honoring David. The context paints the picture of a younger fellow, not quite of legal age, but perhaps old enough to serve as someone's armor steward. The interview produced news that was unlikely to be a surprise to David. However, the close questioning was necessary to make sure his next move was legitimate. The messenger's story was partly a lie, under the assumption it would curry David's favor.

1:11-16 -- David immediately assumed a mourning posture and it was obvious he expected everyone else to follow. It must be noted here that in Jewish theology, while death was inevitable and Saul's the more so for his sin, death was never accepted as simply "a part of life." It was seen as a corruption of God's plan. Thus, public mourning was in part to honor the dead, but also to sorrow over sin's fruit.

At evening, it would have been "tomorrow" in the Hebrew mind. The day of mourning was past; now to the business at hand. With no other testimony to contradict the messenger, David publicly executed him. As much for daring to kill the Lord's anointed, this act was legally equivalent to ensuring there was no doubt David had no desire to see Saul dead. No one could accuse him of having any part in it if he didn't rejoice.

1:17-27 -- What follows is a martial song, a lament that would have the same stirring effect as "remember Pearl Harbor" had on American troops during WW2. Various elements in the song can be explained, but it would be extremely difficult to make a full translation of the cultural impact. In the last few lines, David makes a personal note regarding Jonathan and their mutual covenant.

2:1-3 -- As usual, David inquired of the Lord before making a significant move. He could hardly rule as king from his remote home in Ziklag. The Lord revealed that David's reign would begin in Hebron. This would be the largest urban area in Judah at the time. The name "Hebron" means "Brotherhood of Cities" -- a series of hilltop towns centered on the old Kiriath-arba from before the Conquest. This was where the giant Anakim had their capital and its conquest was a powerful symbol of success for Israel. David moved his entire army and their households to Hebron.

2:4-7 -- Here the tribal elders of Judah, including the Calebites and Simeon, met David and declared him their king. They also advised him it was the men of Jabesh-gilead that provided burial for Saul and his sons. David's first act as king was therefore an outreach to that city and to the Gileadites in general. He sent messengers to proclaim his favor on their final honor of Saul, with a promise of a concrete reward. However, his power to reward them might depend on whether they joined in supporting his reign. If he could win the support of this now-famous city, it would go far in establishing his claim.

2:8-11 -- David's message arrived too late. Abner, the shamed chief of the bodyguard whom David had rebuked at the last confrontation with Saul, had taken the last survivor of Saul's family, Ishbaal, and presented him as the new king. Some time later, scribes changed that name to Ishbosheth, when it became politically incorrect to use the word baal in its original context. While it had a variety of applications, ranging from simply the term a woman called her husband, to any man of importance, it was the religious use of the term for addressing the pagan gods of the Canaanites that brought the term into disrepute. Thus, baal ("lord") was usually rewritten bosheth ("shame").

Abner's quick action was a sin, for it was widely known that God had chosen David as the next king. Oddly, he chose the town of Mahanaim, meaning "Two Camps" -- an obvious symbolic meaning in this case. David was reluctant to press his claim on an unwilling population. The text describes how Ishbaal was recognized first in Gilead, then the whole tribe of Asher, the residents of Jezreel Valley, then Ephraim, and finally Benjamin. His reign lasted but two years, though there was a lag in switching everyone's allegiance over to David. Thus, David stayed in Hebron a total of seven-and-a-half years.

2:12-17 -- Abner went with troops to press Ishbaal's claim. They camped at Gibeon, Saul's former royal city. Joab, as Abner's counterpart, brought David's troops to meet them, presumably for battle. The two men met to parley, facing each other over the Pool of Gibeon, a landmark situated in an open field, unknown today. Abner suggested they hold a contest. This was somewhat similar to what was suggested by Goliath when he demanded Israel send forth a representative champion to face him. In this case, it was a dozen from each side. They clashed in the open field nearby. Joab's troops must have had the better training, for they all used the same tactic. Rather than facing off as we might expect, David's men simply tackled their opponents, grabbed them by the head and stabbed the soft space between the rib cage and the pelvic girdle. The scribe notes that was the origin of its name in his day: The Field of Sharp Swords. As was often the case, the results of the contest stirred the rest of the troops to attack with assurance. Abner's troops fled the field.

2:18-23 -- No one can say with certainty why Joab and his brothers are named as sons of their mother, Zeruiah. Such a reference to maternal parents was quite rare in ancient times. A good guess would be that she had been widowed at least once between their births. At any rate, the third brother, Asahel, was particularly fleet of foot. He took it upon himself to focus his pursuit on Abner. Abner warned him off, to no avail. Fast as Asahel may have been, Abner was a much stronger fighter. He simply stopped, planted his feet and without turning thrust his spear straight behind him. Since the head of the spear was typically facing forward, the butt end was what Asahel ran upon. This would have been the heavier sort of spear, also called a lance, versus the lighter javelin. Javelins were thrown in combat, but too light for hand-to-hand fighting. Most heavy spears had a short taper on the butt end to enable planting it in the ground briefly when the first onslaught of enemy lines clashed. This was also the best way to defeat horses drawing chariots. Asahel was being foolish in pursuing Abner and seeing him fallen pretty much slowed the momentum of pursuit.

2:24-29 -- A bit farther behind in their pursuit, Asahel's elder brothers were also determined to catch Abner, the leader of the opposition army. By the time they caught up with him, he was at the top of hill above them. The scribe's description was well known in his day, but lost to us now. The fierce Benjamite troops rallied to Abner, taking a commanding position on the hilltop. He called to Joab below and warned the tide of battle could turn at any moment. Joab's answer indicates he realized that things had gone far enough. He remarked that his troops would have pushed on until dawn, as was their normal tactics. Since Abner suggested a truce, he was willing to go along. The verbal exchange indicates to the reader the sun was going down. Abner's remaining troops marched all night back across the Jordan to Mahanaim.

2:30-32 -- Joab assembled his troops for a body count, and noted a loss of 19 men, plus his brother Asahel. For their loss, they netted a solid victory, having killed 360 of Abner's men. They would have stripped the slain of weapons and armor as a standard practice, so the count of enemy fallen would be rather precise. For their part, they also marched overnight, returning to Hebron at dawn. As a man of noble birth, it is noted the body of Asahel was carried back and placed in his father's tomb in Bethlehem, which was on the way back to Hebron.

Chapter 7.2: A Partial Judge

From the very first, David shows he is a complete failure as an administrator. As combat commander, he is unsurpassed. As a charismatic king and shepherd of the Hebrew people, he is the standard others must strive to match. As administrator making smart personnel decisions, he is hopeless. Even his political maneuvering is pretty smart, but he fails time and again to act as impartial judge in ridding his court of troublemakers. We call him noble for supporting the royal prerogatives of Saul and Saul's household, but he goes too far in keeping a sentimental attachment to certain people. He loved too much, and could not bring himself to do what was wisest at times.

2 Samuel 3:1 -- This verse is more of a summary that belongs with the previous chapter. That first battle set the tone for the bitter feud that followed.

3:2-5 -- All the while, David begins to build a family in Hebron. Each of these sons is born to a different mother and we discover that David has added to his harem. Maacah of Geshur comes from an area very near his rival's throne in Mahanaim; marrying her may have been purely political. Her homeland was just east of the Sea of Galilee.

3:6-11 -- The real power behind the effort to maintain Saul's dynasty was Abner. Ishbaal knew this and may have been looking for a way to assert himself. His accusation against Abner is most likely bogus, but correctly captures the sort of power Abner held. A royal heir inherits the harem of his predecessor. To claim access to the harem is to claim the throne. Ishbaal was whining about Abner's de facto control of the kingdom and accuses him of treason.

Abner's retort basically asks if the king regards him as a supporter of that usurper in Judah. On the contrary, all his immense power and influence has been turned to keeping Saul's dynasty alive. Had he wished to betray Ishbaal, he could easily have done so by now. With this unforgivable insult, Ishbaal succeeded in making his best ally into his worst enemy. Abner quotes the prophecy he had previously fought against on behalf of Ishbaal. The young king was left silent, implying he was also powerless. The charade was over.

3:12-16 -- Abner offers to come over to David's side and use his influence to bring the northern part of the nation under his rule. David welcomes the offer, but sets one strong requirement: that Abner return Michal to him. While this is politically proper, in that his marriage to Saul's daughter strengthens his claim to the throne, it is most likely illegal. While it is true Saul's giving of her to another man was forcing her to commit adultery, not to mention a major public insult, for David to reclaim her is tantamount to adultery, too. Still, his prior claim was honored by Ishbaal's court. Abner took custody of her, threatening her second husband in the process.

3:17-21 -- Abner made good on his promise to make David king of all Israel. Apparently he had previously resisted a strong element in the northern tribes wishing to embrace Samuel's prophecy about David. He signified his intent to now go along with that. Critically, the writer also mentions he persuaded the Tribe of Benjamin to transfer their loyalty, as well. Their stamp of approval would deflate anyone else's resistance, since Saul had been one of their own. The celebration was appropriate honor for Abner and his entourage of representatives. Abner promised his next appearance would be at the head of the official crowning delegation.

3:22-27 -- Joab's embrace of the blood feud was completely unwarranted. His younger brother died in combat and it was childish to hold Abner personally accountable. All the more so since Abner tried his best to avoid killing Asahel. Joab might have been the better warrior and commander, but he was far beneath Abner's honor.

When Joab came back at the head of a victorious raiding party, he was told he had just missed Abner. They specifically mentioned that Abner was sent away in peace, as a friend of David. Joab rushed in to tell David he was foolish for believing Abner and that he was spying. It didn't matter what David said, because Joab was determined to take revenge. He secretly sent messengers to catch Abner and persuade him to come back. Joab went out the gate to meet him, pretending to have a private conversation and pulled him into one of the numerous small chambers found near the gate of every large city. These would normally be used for public legal matters and would be the easiest place to meet strangers coming into town. During war, these served as guardrooms and armories. Joab murdered Abner, having the element of surprise. Had it been a fair fight, things might have turned out different.

3:28-30 -- David's public excoriation of Joab was hardly going far enough. The man had committed murder and David refused to take proper action. While this may have had political overtones, the real fault is David's own character flaw, which would haunt him all his life. We also learn the Abishai was complicit in Abner's murder.

3:31-39 -- In an effort to further distance himself from this crime, David insured full military honors for Abner's funeral, requiring Joab and Abishai to participate publicly. David's mournful lamentation was yet more shame heaped on Joab. The public took notice of David's extravagant mourning over Abner and approved of his sentiment. Still, David fell short of proper response and it would cause him grief later. Joab, faithful and mighty warrior, was an incurable troublemaker, constantly jealous of others' glory.

4:1-3 -- Still, some good came of Abner's death, in that Ishbaal and his court realized it was all over. The scribe of our text pulls together some loose ends here. After Abner's departure, Ishbaal was at the mercy of his own Benjamites. Two of his captains were from a Benjamite clan that had been enriched by Saul, when he gave them one of the old cities of the Gibeonite Alliance, Beeroth. To do so, Saul had to drive out the resident Gibeonites, who had a promise they could stay, after finagling a peace treaty with Joshua (Joshua 9). They fled to Gittaim, also known as Gath, and still lived there at the time this was published. Thus, Saul sinned in this and the clan that occupied Beeroth also sinned. This was a subtle indicator these two captains could not have been honorable men.

4:4-8 -- There is an abrupt introduction of Mephibaal (recall earlier notes about changing the suffix from baal to bosheth; see 1 Chronicles 8:34). This was Jonathan's sole surviving son, five years old when his father died. In fleeing with the boy, his nursemaid dropped him and permanently crippled his feet. Thus, we note that, while the royal line of Saul is about the pass, there is one survivor of Saul's household.

We return to the scene at Ishbaal's court. Like most places in the world where daytime temperatures in summer can become intolerable, the custom in Israel was to take a sort of siesta during the hottest part of the day. The young king was resting as expected and the captains entered under the pretext of fetching rations for their troops. The soldiers would normally have been fed from the king's larder. Even the most rudimentary palace would have been built with an outer court, probably open air, with outer rooms for servants and a kitchen near the family rooms of the king. So it was just a few steps from their supposed errand to the king's bed and they removed his head.

These two escaped by heading straight down the Jabbok Valley and across the open plain along the Jordan River, crossing it at night. Sometime the next day, they arrived at Hebron, bringing their grisly trophy to David. Their pious exclamation that God had avenged David by their hands was just for show. These men were not even as honorable as mercenaries.

4:9-12 -- Apparently David had asked them to describe in detail how they came to possess this head of Ishbaal. His response indicates he knew and there had been no time for a runner to arrive before them. So David uses their words and declares that, as surely as the same Lord lives, so they too shall receive their just reward. Notice that his order to execute went to the "young men" -- a term usually denoting those old enough to volunteer as armor bearers, but not old enough to draft as warriors. They are essentially teenagers in training to become soldiers. For them to execute army captains would be heaping shame on the condemned, for it indicates they were not regarded as proper men. The act strips away their rank. To dismember their bodies of hands and feet was a very strong symbolic condemnation reserved for thieves and murderers. Hanging corpses near the pool would guarantee maximum exposure, since someone from each household in the city would pass there at least once each day. The news would spread quickly.

David is quick to execute judgment on strangers, but utterly fails to balance things. He shows far too much favoritism to those close to him.

Chapter 7.3: Crown and Throne

From here on in our study, the primary focus will be the text in Samuel and Kings. These appear to have been the records maintained by the Schools of the Prophets and perhaps eventually stored in the Temple. However, we will frequently make reference to the royal court records we know of as Chronicles. At times we will refer to some of the prophets.

2 Samuel 5:1-5 -- The rest of the nation finally come to Hebron and declare their loyalty to David, making him their king. Whatever speeches they made, the resounding theme was that David was chosen by God and this was backed up by his unfailing battle success, even under Saul. Insofar as Saul was no more than a warlord, David was better at it. The account by the school of prophets was that David ruled in Hebron over Judah seven-and-a-half years. The balance of his 40-year reign was in Jerusalem, which included all of Israel. Keep in mind the name Israel is ambiguous at times, meaning the whole nation in some contexts, as well as the 10 northern tribes apart from Judah and Simeon in other places.

When the tribal delegations came, they were escorted by all the armies from each tribe. These armies were composed of various professional warriors, most of whom were noble families, major landholders who could afford the expense of weapons and the time to train. There were also the hordes of conscripts, performing their duties as soldiers under various arrangements that amounted to taxation in man-days paid by peasant households. These same tribal delegations also brought along huge caravans of food and related supplies. These supply trains would have been staged to arrive over the three day feast, keeping the festivities well stocked. All of this was a form of tribute, voluntarily brought under the same management plans as mobilizing for war. They had long practice at it. However, this included luxuries reserved for high holy days.

1 Chronicles 11:10-12:37 tracks the various troop counts. It also relates the history of David's army, from the days when he hid out at the cave in Adullam, through his stay in Ziklag and his service to Achish, to his reign in Hebron. While it is unlikely that this massive army at his coronation would have remained with David year-round, there was a dual purpose here. Certain actions required the whole army.

5:6-10 -- David had long been in love with the area of Jerusalem. It is quite certain he knew that Abraham had prepared to sacrifice Isaac on the peak of Mt. Moriah above the ancient city. There was but one thing standing in the way: the stronghold still manned by the Jebusites from before the Conquest. The people were a mixture of Amorite and Hittite. The city often went by the name of the apparent ancestor of the lot, Jebus. Ancient records refer to it as Uru-salim, which is obviously similar to Jerusalem. While David led his men into battle, he was more than a mere warlord. Thus, as a true king he would order his loyal combat leaders to carry the honor in leading their own companies. The actual breakthrough was accomplished by Joab.

The army would have marched into the area, with their approach and intent known to the inhabitants well in advance. The occupants would have closed the gates, barred them after having gathered supplies for a long siege. We get the feeling there had been a long-standing tension between David and the leaders of the city. The structure itself was called The Millo, a term referring to a man-made terrace, by which the foundation was extended out over the slope of the ridge, increasing the difficulty of attack. The fortress thus had a steep drop on three sides, since the ancient city was built on a narrow ridge extending south from Mt. Moriah. The hilltop above it was holy ground from ancient times and avoiding desecration made that approach difficult. Attacking troops would be quite vulnerable to just about anything dropped from atop the wall. They boasted that their blind and lame could have held off David's men. The only weakness was the east wall. The sole source of water for the city was a spring which lay below the natural line for wall building.

Recent archaeology findings shed light on the likely scenario. The spring once bubbled out of the hillside from a chamber inside the limestone bluff. Some time before, the city dwellers had cut a shaft down to the chamber, probably dropping a ladder inside to allow access. By expanding the chamber, they minimized water loss. The Hebrew text is a bit ambiguous, but it seems that the original exit out in the Kidron Valley was enlarged, allowing access to the chamber far below the floor of the fortress. Some troops slipped in via this unlikely entrance, fought their way to the gates and got them open, allowing a full invasion.

David renamed the place Zion, "Landmark." Never again would the center of gravity in Israel move with each new leader or judge. Because of the taunting, the nickname in David's court for Jebusites, some of whom still lived in small pockets in the land, was "the blind and the lame," and they would never be allowed to enter the palace on pain of death.

5:11-16 -- Hiram had arisen to power over Tyre, an island city off the coast of modern Lebanon and was celebrated in ancient literature as a powerful warrior and very wealthy trader king. He may also have been the titular high priest of their religion, which would eventually become deeply evil some 300 years later. At this point rather early in his reign, he offered an alliance by sending David a gift: enough cedar and workmen to build a real palace. We have a picture of David becoming the first real king of Israel, with all the trappings, including sumptuous quarters, a large and ever-growing harem and enough children to populate a small town. Other alliances came along and helped to stock the harem. We note a minor difficulty in the Hebrew text with different spellings between Samuel and Chronicles. This merely serves to illustrate that ancient Hebrew had no written vowels; some words could be pronounced and spelled differently depending on who was saying or writing them. Also, it shows that there is some inevitable loss of precision over time and in translation of some minor details. When compared to other ancient documents, though, we are amazed at the lack of variation and very little remains in doubt.

5:17-25 -- The Philistines were hoping to take advantage of the unsettled situation with David's coronation and mobilized for war. While the valleys around the city were rather narrow, the main Kidron joined others into a broad open area a short distance to the south. This Rephaim Valley was connected to the Sorek, which formed a broad highway inland from the Philistine Plain. Once in bivouac in Rephaim, they would send out the usual raiding parties to capture the grain harvest. Eventually, they would attempt to take Jerusalem. David had moved from his more vulnerable palace down to the now rebuilt and improved fortress. As usual, he sought the Lord's advice on whether he should respond and whether he should expect victory. Jehovah answered both questions in the affirmative. David attacked from the direction of an old pagan shrine village, called Baal-perizim, "Lord of the Breakthrough." The name denoted a rather strong flowing spring. In his victory celebration, David changed the connotation from that of a pagan Baal to the God of Israel, who was Lord of this particular breakthrough. He paints an image of water bursting through a dam. It is noted that the Philistines had brought some of their pagan idols with them. This was an ancient practice, as reflected by the earlier Israelite urge to carry the Ark of Covenant into battle. The pagan images would have been made and decorated with expensive materials, so became a part of the battle plunder.

The Philistines were not done yet. The came up again and occupied the same valley. Doubtless they had made plans based on the last battle. Thus, when David inquired of the Lord, he was warned to come around the south side of them, which would be quite unexpected. Stealth and surprise attacks in battle were rather uncommon in ancient times, since the movement of large numbers of troops was rather hard to conceal. The scribe makes note of the memorable signal Jehovah set, telling David to listen for the sound of troops in the mulberry trees overhead his position. This time the Philistines fled north and were pursued as far as Geba and Gezer, indicating the path of their flight. Geba is in northern Benjamin, while Gezer was far to the west just in Philistine territory. Most likely the pursuit went through Beth Horon, the city split between the head and foot of a long stone stairway. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 14:8-17 is almost the same word for word.

To our knowledge, the Philistines did not recover from this. Their power had fluxed a bit from the time of Samson, but had generally followed a long decline starting with the battles shortly before Saul's coronation. It seems their power had been broken for good under David. By choosing the old Jebusite citadel, David symbolically broke down the last Canaanite stronghold within the Hebrew heartland. He also built a capital city that was easily defended and located in a place not previously claimed by any tribe and could not be associated with either Judah or Israel. It would later become God's symbolic throne, as well.

Chapter 7.4: God's Throne in Zion

2 Samuel 6:1-5 (1 Chronicles 13, 15-16) -- Recall the Ark of the Covenant was last seen resting in the home of one Abinadab, in Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:1-2). That city was the southernmost of the old Gibeonite Confederation that made peace with Joshua (Joshua 9). The city had gained a nickname, Baalah Judah -- "The Lords of Judah." This indicates that it had become the home for many of the highest noble families in the Tribe of Judah and may help to explain why the residents of Beth-shemesh deferred to them (1 Samuel 6:20) on how to handle the Ark. The parallel passage indicates that Abinadab kept it in his manor on a hilltop. He had consecrated his son Eleazer to care for it, meaning he could not do other work.

There could be several good reasons for bringing the Ark up from it's erstwhile home in Baalah. The obvious one is to help cement David's hope of making his city the new center of gravity for the nation. If his and God's thrones together were in the same place, challenges to his authority would become far more difficult. While this may have been a part of David's thinking, it is more likely he intended to protect the Ark from any recurrence of past adventures. Keep in mind the new royal city of Jerusalem was one of the best situated, easier to defend than most. Baalah was a bit too close to what was then Philistine territory. David was careful to call together the elders of all Israel for consultation and made it a point to officially include the Levites. These had been scattered throughout the land, having no real sacred duties for the most part.

Oddly, David did not have the Levites move the Ark in accordance with the Law of Moses (Numbers 3:31). Rather, two of Abinadab's sons -- Uzza and Ahio -- neither of them the one he had consecrated to the task, were the movers. Recall that the knowledge of the Law had declined deeply during the Period of Judges, so it may have been largely forgotten. Conspicuous by absence is David's usual inquiry of the Lord on what to do. So the Ark was simply placed on a new cart, copying what the Philistines had done (1 Samuel 6:7f), which in itself was not completely wrong. The concept of "holy" was rooted in the idea of something set apart for a single, divine purpose and not for common use. As long as no human hands touched the Ark, that was fine. The caravan was accompanied by great music and celebration.

6:6-11 -- We cannot know the exact path, but it's likely they took the most direct route possible, not more than 5 miles (8km). As the journey passed near a threshing floor on the way, Uzza reached out to steady the Ark and died on the spot. The obvious reason is that he was neither a Levite, nor otherwise authorized to touch it. However, even the Levites had to carry it indirectly, not touching it, but putting poles through a set of rings built into the corners of the wooden frame. It could also have been because he treated it no better than simply a good piece of furniture, steadying it with a rather casual hand, touching the Ark itself rather than one of the poles. David himself seemed not to understand, for he over-reacts, calling the place Perez Uzza -- "Breakout against Uzza." He had it dropped off at the nearest home, which belonged to the Levite family of Obed-edom, who had originally lived in their allotment under the tribal division of land far south. The term "Gittite" means "from Gath (Rimmon)," which had been a part of what Dan had failed to conquer (Joshua 21:25) in southeast Philistia, not far from David's city of Ziklag. This household of Obed-edom began receiving notable blessings for the Ark's presence.

6:12-15 -- When David heard of these blessings, he put two and two together and realized the cause: it was being handled by Levites. Thus, after a short layover (3 months; 1 Chronicles 13:14) in the Levite's home, David made plans to finish the trip properly. First, he set up a proper tabernacle to shelter it. Then he called for the Levites to prepare themselves ritually to handle the Ark. Finally, the Throne of Jehovah was moved into the City of David. To celebrate, David donned a linen ephod and little else. When the first six steps of the journey passed without incident, David was flooded with relief that this time it would work. He ordered a huge sacrifice readied for its arrival.

6:16-19 -- David set the example by completely abandoning himself in the moment, dancing wildly, singing and playing music. It's a safe guess the shelter for the Ark was in the open courtyard always found in the shadow of ancient palaces. At the approach of this noisy celebration, David's wife Michal spotted him acting rather unkingly in her mind and felt ashamed. It would seem she was deeply affected by the fear of embarrassment Saul held during his reign. One can sense she felt David was slandering her family by association. Unaware of this, David acted the over-joyed host, having the Levites offer burnt offerings (olah, whole burnt offering) and peace offerings (shelem, priests kept edible portions). It was his place to pronounce the dismissal blessing and he also gave to all in attendance a substantial meal to take away.

6:20-23 -- Coming in the door of the palace, David's family would have stood assembled in ceremonial waiting. There he pronounced the blessing of the day on them, as well. Michal had sharp sarcastic words about David's undignified performance, likening it to the shocking behavior of low-life scum on the street who would expose themselves to young girls. In truth, it was more like a boy in training for the priesthood, wearing only a linen ephod. Her comment clearly referred to some alleged former glory under Saul's reign that was lost with David. He reminded her that glory is whatever God says it is and it was He who put David in Saul's place. David was ready to grovel as a slave for God's glory. In all this, those young girls she mentioned would be the first to recognize the rightness of David's actions. They would jump at the chance to take Michal's place, which she would now lose. From then on, David had no conjugal relations with her, relegating her to the gravest disgrace any Hebrew woman could face.

7:1-3 -- The Chronicler places in this context the gift of a stone and cedar palace from Hiram of Tyre (1 Chronicles 14). While David enjoyed such royal accommodations, during a time of peace, he became painfully aware that his Lord seemed left out in the cold by comparison. This thought plagued him greatly and he asked of Nathan the Prophet what to do about it. Nathan's response was to note that Jehovah had prospered everything David did so far and that he should continue acting according to his conscience.

7:4-17 -- However, the Lord sent word to Nathan that night that David was not the right man for building a temple. First, Jehovah saw no shame in associating Himself with nomadic tent-dwellers. On the contrary, it was to such a life, from the comfort of settled urban dwelling, that He originally called Abraham. Perhaps by reading between the lines, we see a risk that David would assert reflective glory for himself by having the honor of building God's House. David went from shepherd boy to shepherd of God's People; was that not honor enough? Furthermore, Jehovah had plans to establish the House of David as a permanent dynasty over His People and His Land. There was no reason to rush around and build up a mighty edifice in the name of the Lord. The Lord would build a temple for Himself in the flesh and history of His People, a history yet to come. David's job as warrior was not yet finished and warrior was David's calling. This time of peace was just temporary. There were more conquests in store for David and he should focus on that task, to insure first that Israel was truly secure. A son born in his household would build that temple soon enough.

7:18-29 -- When David heard this message, he went down to the tabernacle. He entered as one in his master's court. Without having been specifically bidden to enter, he appeared on the general principle of being ready to obey any command that might come. Finding a place in the corner to wait, he dropped to his knees, and then sat back on his heels. In this mode, he spoke quietly, remarking how the Holy One of Israel should even notice him. There was no question of debating what God had said. This promise of a permanent dynasty, the one greatest possession any man on earth could ever wish, was far more than he had dared to ask. To be made the shepherd of God's own People was beyond fathoming itself. David clung to that promise with his whole being and resolved that, for his part, Jehovah should never regret this decision.

Chapter 7.5: Conquering Lands and Hearts

The year is approximately 996 BC. Following the Lord's revelation that David was called to conquest, and to secure the land on all sides for Israel, the king began warring against every adversary. It was the one thing he did best.

2 Samuel 8:1-2 (1 Chronicles 18) -- Whatever the status of Philistine Gath had been in the past, by this time it had become the chief city of that nation -- "Bridle of the Mother City." This was the city where David was once a servant of the local ruler and had been the home of Goliath. It was also a natural gateway for attacks into Israel. By capturing this city, David finally silenced the long-standing threat to his people. It's likely the bridle was some religious object that symbolized the city as "mother" over the others.

The description of David's conquest of Moab is difficult to translate. It could be that he divided their troops into three ranks and killed all but one rank. It could also be that he killed everyone above a certain height, given that a "cord" (line) could have been standard measure of length. This would mean mostly killing adults. Either way, it seems brutal by modern Western standards. Worse, it seems odd that he would fight someone who had previously harbored his parents from Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-5). We must bear in mind, though, that such harboring was not simply a way of getting back at Saul, but a sign that Moab held animosity against whatever government ruled Israel. When David ascended to the throne, he became de jure their enemy and they his. This is the same nation that had asked Balaam to curse Israel at the end of the Exodus.

8:3-8 -- The Kingdom of Zobah is not well known. As with many smaller city-states of that time, its borders might fluctuate from time to time, different families might seize the throne, etc. In this case, all we know is that a family line descending from a fellow named "Rehob" once ruled over a ridge of land that stood between the Lebanon Valley and the wadi that fed into the sources of Lake Huleh, running down past Dan. This ridge-top kingdom, running mostly north and south, extended up as far as another small kingdom, bordering the Euphrates River, called "Hamath." At various times, these two appeared to take turns dominating each other. Early in David's reign over Israel, the ruler of Zobah, titled Hadadezer (reference to a pagan idol, "Hadad is his Helper"), of the House of Rehob, went to war against Hamath.

David may have been looking for a good opportunity to take control of this region just beyond his northern border. Who can say what friction had arisen? It may have been a simple matter that David had an alliance with Hamath. David attacked from the army's rear. Just off to the east sat Damascus, with a territory essentially covering what we know today as Syria. Their army came out in support of Hadadezer and both lost the battle to David. While it is noteworthy the numbers are, as usual, a bit confused in translating from Hebrew, the net result is that David captured a huge army. Up until this point, Israel still fought on foot and still regarded horses and chariots as playing with pagan gods. Most of the horses captured were hobbled by cutting their leg tendons. They could still serve ceremonial purposes, but not pull a chariot. David also plundered their treasures and stationed garrisons in the defeated kingdoms. He kept most of this plunder in preparation for the temple he was told his son would build.

8:9-14 -- The king of Hamath expressed deep gratitude for David's rescue of his kingdom. The gifts brought by the prince of Hamath were added to the collection for the temple. Mentioned in passing is the list of border nations David held and from whom he received tribute. Adding to all this was a successful battle he fought in a place called the "Salt Valley," a region of the Rift Valley just south of the Dead Sea. There is some confusion between Hebrew texts, because one calls his enemy Syrians, while another the Edomites. While the latter makes more sense, given the battle was on their ground, they may have hired Syrian mercenaries for the job. Either way, the victory was an upset, for the battle became a primary reference showing David was a major figure in the region. We also note the Edomites became a tributary of Israel.

8:15-18 -- David's name also became synonymous with justice in Israel. All the generations past had seen periods of relative justice interspersed with near chaos. Under Saul, once Samuel had passed, there was no judge, as Saul was neither capable nor willing. Thus, David returned the sane standard of justice, something commonly attributed to kings as a boon to their nation. He also developed a fully organized royal administration: Joab as General of the Army, Jehoshaphat as Chief Administrator, Zadok and Ahimelech Chief Priests (essentially bearers of the Ark of Covenant), Seriah the Chief Scribe and Benaiah as chief over the Cherethites (Royal Bodyguard) and Pelethites (Royal Messengers). These last two services were mostly Philistines, it seems. There had long been Philistine converts who gave their loyalty to David. Recall that ancient kings wisely chose foreigners for sensitive missions, since there was little chance they could be subverted by partisan concerns from family or tribe. Their professional future lay in the king's safety and prosperity. A usurper would likely execute them first thing. David's sons held positions of power, too, though it's unlikely they were literally "priests" in a religious sense.

9:1-4 -- True to his promise, David asks if there is any survivor of the house of Saul to whom he could show "covenant faithfulness." Ziba had been a chief steward of Saul's property during the latter's reign. In the process of carrying out David's search order, he would be one of the first the royal servants would ask. He knew of a survivor and his whereabouts. For the time being, we see Ziba as a faithful servant, loyal to his new king. He described Meribaal and how he was lame and had been living in Lodebar, one of the cities known as Havoth-jair (Judges 10:1-5). There is some doubt as to who was Meribaal's benefactor, because many Hebrews would be given the name of a dead relative. Machir is a clan of Manasseh, but also the name of the fellow here who hosted Meribaal, in a city in Manasseh's tribal allotment.

9:5-8 -- Who knows what passed through Meribaal's mind when summoned to the throne? He may have expected imprisonment or death, but seems to have been manly in facing it. David's statement indicated he detected an element of fear and bade him dismiss it immediately. David promised to return to him possession of all the personal property held by Saul. This would elevate Meribaal to the wealth and status of a prince. David confirmed that status in designating for the young man a place at the family table. This included a place in the royal quarters of the city. Meribaal's response was not a genuine request for information, but a way of expressing deepest gratitude.

9:9-13 -- David then gave Ziba the commission to manage Meribaal's property on his behalf. It became Ziba's primary charge in life and his entire household would have been involved. To "provide food" for Meribaal was a phrase meaning to ensure the fellow could live like nobility. To have "a place at the king's table" did not mean literally room and board, per se, but that he was welcome as a member of the court and household. Whenever there was a formal meal, Meribaal had a good seat at the table. Otherwise, he was free to eat from the king's kitchen if we wished. In later times this would be merely symbolic.

Chapter 7.6: Losing While Winning

2 Samuel 10:1-5 (1 Chronicles 19) -- Many scholars connect the events in this chapter with those in chapter 8, from the previous lesson. There's no particular reason for insisting this be a separate event, since so little is known in the first place. Indeed, it would seem that vanquishing the Syrians once and having garrisons in their lands would assure they were not able or willing to rent their troops out for yet another battle with their new master, David. More than likely, this chapter describes the unknown provocation that caused the battles in chapter 8.

It seems David planned only to secure his own border. Thus, we can be sure most of his warfare was aimed at that, though he was quite willing to take advantage of anything that helped his people. We know of this ruler of Ammon, Nachash, as the leader of the attack on Jabesh-gilead, right at the beginning of Saul's reign (1 Samuel 11). How it is he befriended David is not known, but David had not forgotten. Having no official reason for hostility, David sends a delegation to the capital with appropriate gifts for a funeral. The nobles of Ammon are convinced David has his sights on them and that this delegation is actually a spying mission before invading.

Their advice to the heir of the Ammonite throne, Hanun (more properly, Chanun, "Favored One"), was to treat them shamefully. The delegation would have been elder noblemen, not soldiers, and they would dress in longer garments than most men. Real men also had full beards and these had one side shaved off. This was much worse than simply shaving the whole thing, since it would be clear they had one to begin with. This half-shave and exposure of legs by cutting off the outer garment in the back would be as much an indignity as tar and feathers today. Just as hot tar on skin and subsequently peeling it off would leave slow-healing wounds, so these men could not appear in public again until their beards had regrown. David kept them secluded in Jericho until they could show their faces in public again.

10:6-8 -- If they had been under pressure from David before, real or imagined, the Ammonites were most certainly in trouble now. They knew they stood no chance against the army of Israel under David, so they hired mercenaries from the previously mentioned Zobah. They also got a few from Maacah, a small kingdom of Canaanites near the new city of Dan and a few from Tob, the city-state just east of Israel's border near Gilead. These were all natural allies with each other. When they had mobilized and moved down to Ammon, David responded by mustering the Army of Israel.

10:9-14 -- Apparently the battle took place at the capital of Ammon, Rabbah. As the troops of Israel marched to engage, they found the home warriors in front of the city and the mercenaries out in the field. This was a classic move. Attack the city and be hit from the rear, or take the field army and get hit from the rear. Joab wisely divided his troops under his own and his brother's command to attack on two fronts. Noteworthy here is that he didn't seek a miracle, only a fair chance to get the most from his soldiers. Whatever the Lord did in response was left to Him.

As with most warfare in ancient times, it was a matter of chasing the enemy from the field. The mercenaries fled Joab and the Ammonites facing Abishai decided they were out of luck. There was no immediate need to destroy the city or pursue and kill the hired army. Any further actions from David against Ammon would find them hard put to resist. It is almost certain that the battles in chapter 8 followed this. Ammon itself would face David's full wrath later.

10:15-19 -- With the embarrassment of their loss, the ruler of Zobah brought in his own extras from beyond the Euphrates. This bunch assembled at Helam, just north of Tob, on the verge of the desert wilderness to the east. When the armies clashed, it was the enemies of Israel, as usual, who melted. Because of the similarities in the numbers here with chapter 8, we have one more reason to see that this is the same story with a different angle.

We are left seeing that most political conflict had multiple and complex causes, just as today. On the one hand, we know that Zobah had plans to attack Hamath, perhaps as the last area near him that he didn't control. He appeared to have strong influence in Damascus, as well as somewhere beyond the Euphrates, perhaps in Charan. Thus, it makes a sort of sense to try taking Hamath, bulging into his domain at the river. He may have been gathering and equipping an army for this expedition, but rented them out to Ammon as a warm-up. When he saw that he now had to take care of Israel first, his plans for Hamath had to wait a bit longer. With David's victory, all of that was forgotten. Hamath would have breathed a sigh of relief and sent the gifts we looked at in the last lesson. It is well to note that Scripture seldom includes every detail to satisfy our curiosity.

11:1 -- Having finished the business with Zobah and the Syrians, David turned his attention to Ammon. The grave insult was as much against the God of Israel as Israel itself. David's commission was to secure the nation and Ammon was not yet pacified. Most likely the campaign against Syria consumed the whole of that year's war season. Ancient nations seldom fought in winter, when food would be hard to get and weather a problem. Thus, we see the issue with Ammon waited until that next spring. The armies clashed in the field, but Ammon had no hope of doing more than delaying the inevitable. The siege of Rabbah began. David himself stayed in the royal capital.

11:2-5 -- Besieging a city was seldom quickly done. David would keep the messengers running back and forth to the front, but would otherwise have little more than the organization of support to occupy him. While it is certain his commanders encouraged him to stay out of the battlefields for safety's sake, this was not something David liked. It's likely he tried to keep busy, but his heart was with his troops. Unable to sleep one evening, he went up on the roof. While we might expect he would have gone to pray, he didn't get to that. Instead, he spied a woman taking advantage of the cool evening and washing herself in the open court of her home, obviously close to the palace.

Here we see most clearly that David was what we today would call a "skirt-chaser" -- with his entire harem, he never had enough women. Taken with her beauty, he decided to find out who she was. His servants informed him her name was Bathsheba ("Daughter of an Oath"), daughter of the man who had sheltered Meribaal and married to Uriah, a noble Hittite warrior on David's military staff.

While it's unlikely Bathsheba intended to expose herself, since it was not full daylight, we note she offered no resistance to David's invitation. David was quite the man, both in appearance and charm, with great power to boot. The scribe slyly notes she was just past her monthly feminine discomfort, so should not have gotten pregnant -- but she did. She duly notified David, as the only hope to protect her from shame. David's motives are not obvious. He would probably want to prevent her being stoned as an adulteress because he genuinely cared about her. Whether he was worried about his own skin is not so certain, given his character, though it would seem natural.

11:6-13 -- Laying siege to a city might not involve fighting daily to gain entrance, but it could. It usually involved camping a large force outside the city, blocking all traffic in and out. The residents inside would slowly starve to death. When it appeared the folks inside were growing desperate, attacks on the gates and other weak points would begin. Giving honored individuals a break during the long wait was not unheard of, so David's message would raise no eyebrows.

The Hittite warrior class was intensely proud and held to a high standard that would compare favorably to the medieval code of chivalry. Uriah gave a full report of the siege activity. David dismissed him by telling him to spend the night in his own bed at home. Uriah's ethics forbade this, so he stayed in the guardhouse. Even with feasting and getting drunk, Uriah refused to violate his code of honor.

11:14-17 -- Having taken it this far, David saw only one way out of the mess. Uriah must die. It was not uncommon for even a nobleman to be illiterate, so sending Uriah's death warrant in his own hand was probably quite safe. Whatever else the letter said, it indicated to Joab he should, if necessary, make an assault just so that there would be an opportunity to get Uriah killed. The best of the city defenders came out to engage and Uriah died with several others. Joab's loyalty to David was sufficient reason for him to carry out an execution under cover of battle.

11:18-21 -- Joab prepared the usual battle report, but added a footnote that supposedly only David would understand. Knowing how David talked, he briefed the runner on what he might hear, adding that if David had a harsh rebuke for Joab's work, he should remark on the demise of Uriah. Only a man mentally unfit to serve as runner would fail to grasp something of the intent.

11:22-25 -- The messenger did his duty, reporting to David the events of battle. While the trapped residents of Rabbah might be running low on food, it was sure they had amassed plenty of weapons before the siege. Archers would be used to prevent the attackers from beating down the gates too soon. There would be a wide kill-zone around the city walls as long as the arrows lasted. When things were getting tight, before everyone began to faint from hunger, the troops inside the wall might rush out now and then to try and break through the lines, or perhaps try whittling down the odds against them. One such rush was beaten back and the Israeli soldiers nearest that gate pursued them back inside. When the pursuit got too close to the wall, archers would stop them from following the fleeing defenders inside. It was this sort of thing that killed Uriah. David's response was to let Joab know he had done well and added a typical encouragement to finish the job soon.

11:26-27 -- To all appearances, the whole mess was now covered and life could go on as normal. While covering David's sin had cost the lives of more than just Uriah, he was prepared to accept that. They might have been as easily lost in battle anyway. Bathsheba received the official notice of her husband's "honorable" demise and went through the standard period of mourning. When that was done, David took her into his harem. This would appear quite honorable, as the best means of supporting a good man's widow. She now had the best compensation a soldier's widow could get.

For all the appearances of honor, though, nothing was hidden from God.

Chapter 7.7: Out of Control

David has demonstrated a lack of personal restraint. The humility of his youth now forgotten, he would come to realize there was a high price to pay for self-indulgence. He was also was a man of passion, but passion cannot point the way in every area of royal leadership. David has shown he is one of best warriors in human history and will reveal he is one of the worst administrators in human history.

2 Samuel 12:1-6 -- Nathan comes to visit David during this time and proceeds to tell a story. David assumes it is an account of actual events, but it's a parable. A wealthy and powerful man with innumerable herds took the one and only lamb, a beloved pet, owned by a poor fellow in the same town. This was to avoid the obligation to offer his best to a guest. David declares the rich man deserves to die, but shall at least make restitution four-fold, according to the Law (Exodus 22:1).

12:7-14 -- Once he had David's attention, Nathan revealed the nature of the story. Not only did David have wives he married himself, he had concubines from Saul's harem and could have had any number more. Instead, he let his lust get the best of him and it ended in killing someone unjustly. David quickly confessed the righteousness of God's judgment of him. While his standing with God was restored, the consequences of his poor choices were already running rampant.

David would have to live with strife in his household. It would start with sex and would see his precious harem violated. There would be constant turmoil in his household because he no longer had any credibility to act against his equally passionate and unruly sons. Doting on them instead of God's justice, they would cause him no end of anguish.

A very difficult principle is enunciated here and many miss it. Nathan says that David's sin as God's man has given power to God's enemies. That power sets them free to blaspheme, or to defame the name of Jehovah as Creator and Master of all. The glory of God is our strength and defense against evil. When that glory suffers, so does our defense against evil. It delivers power into the hand of Satan over various parts of our lives. In this case, it gave Satan the authority to demand the life of a child. Morally, David is guilty of that child's blood.

12:15-23 -- Indeed, the child of adultery becomes ill. While it yet lives, David does his manly duty of seeking God's face on behalf of innocent life. His commitment to the task was so resolute that his servants mistook this for yet another expression of David's passion. When the child died, they were afraid David would take it hard. However, David already expected it. His fasting was but intercession, just in case God changed His mind. Having failed, David had nothing else to do but go no with life. David's passion here was not the self-pity of mourning.

12:24-25 -- David did his best to comfort Bathsheba for the loss he caused. Most likely this meant spending extra time alone with her, more so than usual. In the end, she conceived again and this time God sent word via Nathan this one was blessed. While this child's name was Solomon ("Peace" with God) he was given a second royal name as was common in those days: Jedidiah ("Beloved of Jehovah").

12:26-31 -- Meanwhile, back before this second child was even conceived, Joab managed to break through the fortifications the Ammonites had built to protect their water supply. Since we know that the city was built next to a river, this may have been a sluice that brought water into the city, or simply an extension of the city's fortifications to include protected access to the river. The Hebrew term is rather literally translated "water fortress." Either way, in a matter of days, they would be dying from thirst. It was for David to show up now and take the credit for the final battle, or Joab would certainly claim it. The relaxed atmosphere of the long siege was over and it was time to bring in the whole army.

Here we see rather strong evidence it was Joab who had advised David to stay away from the siege in the first place, making all this trouble possible. While he was indeed David's best warrior, he is not David's best friend. Joab was a soulless, worldly man, 100% soldier with no heart for what's good and right beyond a mere human level. Because he did not know Jehovah as David did, as his personal Lord, he pulled David away from a deeper trust and obedience of God. To Joab, Jehovah was simply his national deity, no different from any other.

David did indeed lead the final battle. He went through the various symbolic acts of eastern kings victorious in battle. He took the Ammonite crown for himself, which weighed some 66 pounds (30kg) and plundered the city of their considerable wealth from trade tolls levied on passing caravans. Rabbah was near a major stop on the King's Highway. To insure they did not rise up again, David levied a heavy labor burden on them. Almost the whole tribe was engaged in work reserved for slaves.

13:1-6 -- David's demonstrated lax attitude about sexual self-control was the gateway for his sons' rampage. With such an example, why should his sons not demand whom they wished? Absalom and Tamar were children of Maacah of Geshur. Amnon was born to David by Ahinoam of Jezreel. At this time, it was most likely that David observed the ancient custom of giving each of his wives separate quarters within the palace grounds. Their children would live there until they were old enough for their own home within the sprawling hilltop residence. Single daughters would be guarded most carefully, seen in public only on holidays, if at all. Their distinctive garments were rather expensive, multi-colored gowns that set them apart from everyone else.

Amnon became obsessed with Tamar. His abnormal behavior came to the notice of his cousin, Jonadab. This cousin was a son of David's brother, Shimeah. Jonadab was one crafty fellow, who paid attention to palace politics, an astute observer of the king's behavior and moods. He persuaded Amnon that the only chance he had of talking to Tamar alone was to feign illness and make a request that Tamar hand feed him.

13:7-14 -- Such a request was odd, but not odd enough to raise alarms. It's the sort of thing David might do himself. David told Tamar to go to Amnon's quarters and she went. The Law of Moses forbade marriage between half-siblings, though it was common enough in those times. Amnon decide to throw all caution to the wind and seize the moment. Note that royalty were, as usual, seldom physically alone. He had to specifically order his household servants out and have Tamar bring the whole operation into his private bedroom. Rather than take advantage of the chance to reveal his love for her, he simply raped her. She resisted as much as she could and warned him it was all unnecessary. Lawful or not, there was a good chance David would have gone along with a marriage between them. Then he could hold her to his heart's desire.

13:15-20 -- Once his lusts were fulfilled, Amnon decided she wasn't worthy. He compounded his crime by rejecting her completely. Had he simply kept her there, he might still have gotten away with it. Instead, he kicked her out, symbolically locking the door behind her, indicating she could never return. Following custom, she signified her chance at a normal life was over. She tore her gown near the collar, put ashes on her head and went out with a hand covering her shame. She ran into her brother, Absalom, first. He advised her she could take refuge at his house. This was as much as he could do for her at the time.

13:21-27 -- David was angry, but hardly had moral standing to take action. His sons surely knew of the whole story about Bathsheba. However, Absalom did not forget. He planned his revenge carefully. He made sure no one suspected his rage. He continued acting toward Amnon precisely as before.

The wait was two years. As David's sons prospered and pursued their own wealth, Absalom was hosting a sheep-shearing feast about 16 miles north of Jerusalem, at Baal-hazor, on the way to Shiloh. He invited everyone in the royal family to celebrate with him, but David suggested that was too many mouths to feed. So Absalom pressed for at least the attendance of his brothers, especially Amnon, the heir-apparent at the time. David had no real excuse to resist.

13:28-29 -- Sensing his one best opportunity to avenge his sister's rape, Absalom had already briefed his servants on how to help him. There’s no doubt Amnon was the guest of honor; when he was drunk enough, Absalom would give the signal and they would kill him. The other sons immediately fled. Notice that they road mules. This is the first mention of them in Scripture. At that time, horses were used only to pull chariots. Hebrew culture still forbade riding horses as pagan. Besides, it was still more difficult to ride horses since the stirrup would not be invented for another 1500 years or so. Onagers, with a different body motion, were slightly less likely to throw a rider. However, mules were even easier. Oddly, this sort of cross-breed of horse and onager was also forbidden under Mosaic Law.

13:30-33 -- It's doubtful Jonadab had expected Amnon to rape Tamar or he might not have been so helpful. It's not necessary for him to be seen as a bad guy, just very sharp about human nature. He was sure to have guessed Absalom's intent for revenge and the extent of his action. When the first runners from Absalom's sheep-shearing party arrived, they had missed the conclusion of things and assumed it was a mass slaughter of the king's sons. So David and his servants believed the report and responded appropriately. Jonadab advised them it was not likely, since Absalom was involved and with only one motive. While not a party to the plans, he saw all too clearly what it was about.

13:34-39 -- Absalom probably expected his own execution would follow, since he had killed the heir-apparent and put himself next in line. Never mind what it looked like; he stayed with his mother's family in Geshur. True to Jonadab's guess, the king's other sons rode into view over the ridge to the north of Jerusalem. Most likely, this long entourage came down the western side by the ancient trade route, coming around through the Hinnom Valley and thus were in full sight of the city guard on the north wall and west walls. The palace mostly stood on a high terrace against the northwest corner of the city. The whole city wept loudly and publicly, as was customary then.

David clearly doted on this second son of his. We can only guess that David saw Absalom as yet another victim of his own failure to do the right thing. He owed a great debt to his son for favoring his elder unjustly. This surely intensified his natural feelings for his son. Most likely David declared him banished, but could not get over losing two heirs in one day.

Chapter 7.8: Absalom Plots Revolt

David had been in the habit of taking cases on appeal, even on small matters. When Nathan brought his metaphorical suit before David, it was indeed a trivial case and could easily have been handled by any elder who knew the Law. Joab takes advantage of this in promoting his own favorite policy.

2 Samuel 14:1-7 -- Joab was not truly David's best friend. He believed that Absalom was the best choice for heir to the throne, despite Absalom having forfeited his place in the line of succession. It didn't matter to Joab that Absalom deserved execution as a murderer of the heir before him. Joab took advantage of David's passionate love for his one flesh and blood by maneuvering him into bringing Absalom back from exile.

Joab went back to his home town, not far from David's, and convinced a well-spoken elderly lady to play a role before the king. She was to bring a fake lawsuit that would play on the David's indulgence for family and trap him into releasing Absalom from exile. The old woman told a story of two sons that had fought in private and one was killed. In ancient Israel, one of the male relatives of the victim would be appointed as an avenger to execute justice. It would seem from the bare tale she told that the survivor deserved execution, according to the Law. However, the loss of all heirs and extinction of a family line was considered a supreme tragedy in Israel.

14:8-11 -- Apparently David's answer was to put her off, taking the case under advisement until he could discuss it with the elders who should have already handled this matter. So far, David is right. She has appealed to the highest court and he should not rule on so little information. Her response was to accept upon herself any guilt that would fall to David if he ruled improperly. This was a release of sorts, implying by the highest possible oath that her explanation was accurate. She was willing to stake her whole property and life itself on her verity. This left David with no excuse for withholding judgment. He hedged a bit further by promising to insure she wouldn't be harassed until he was ready to rule on the case. She made it clear none of that mattered if her son was turned over to the avenger's execution. With no where else to run legally, David ruled that the social necessity of a surviving heir outweighed the strict rule of law.

14:12-17 -- She went on as if to present another case for David's judgment. If this principle held with one, why not with another? Why not allow the king's own son to have the same courtesy? Thus, she had actually been appealing on behalf of Absalom, that his sentence should be lifted, as he was the heir. David was enough overwhelmed by the moment that he forgot her story was not quite true. David most certainly did have other sons and there was surely one of them already eligible for heir to the throne. Her explanation of the true reason for coming into the king's presence was filled with hyperbole about how the nation suffered because Absalom was under sentence.

14:18-24 -- It is here revealed that Joab had been pressing David on this matter for quite some time. Whatever Joab's reasons, it was certain to have been personal. The king gently ordered the woman to reveal whether Joab had put her up to this. She answered courteously in confirming his suspicion. David responded directly to Joab, which made the general quite happy. David tried to limit the damage by demanding that Absalom be forbidden to enter his presence. He knew all too well his own weakness.

14:25-27 -- Under these conditions Absalom returned and lived in his own quarters within the palace grounds. It was essential for the reader to understand that Absalom was a very angelic man in appearance. To see him was to be taken with his good looks. His thick flowing mane grew each year approximately 3 pounds in weight, enough to need cutting for sure. Even his daughter was the envy of women in her beauty. According to tradition, this second Tamar married Solomon's son, Rehoboam.

14:28-33 -- Tiring of this game after two years, Absalom tried hard to contact Joab to plead on his behalf. Joab avoided him, having been warned by the firmness of David's command not to present Absalom for a full pardon. Living in isolation from the court was just too much and Absalom provoked Joab by an act that would force him to come in person. Absalom ordered his servants to set fire to Joab's barley field. Ripe grain burns easily while standing in the field. As expected, Joab came to present a grievance and Absalom explained his desperation. He knew his father had no heart to execute him and his message via Joab would surely bring the desired result. David indeed gave in and allowed Absalom a greater measure of pardon, though it's obvious David could not restore succession rights.

15:1-6 -- Absalom knew his father would not allow him to succeed to the throne. Still, he never let that stand in his way. He hired some fifty men to be his official entourage, wowing folks wherever he went with his importance. This was more ostentatious than most kings would have dared. Seeing that David was such a poor administrator, Absalom studied the situation for a way to gain advantage. Having been forgiven so much, he was seized by an incredible arrogance that he truly deserved to rule in his father's place. Over the next four years, he set about his own judicial reforms. This might normally be seen as the acts of a faithful son serving his father, the king. In all this, his true aim was to steal the hearts of the national leadership.

Before litigants could come before the king, they would be filtered up through the court system common to all Semitic nations. Elderly men of learning and rank would sit in the gates of the city and hear cases. On simple matters of contract and property disputes, they were universally regarded as competent to judge. The assumption was that they had lived long enough to see it all and knew what would and would not work to keep social stability. More serious matters would be passed to a higher court. As the capital city of the nation, this gatehouse court in Jerusalem would offer preliminary hearing for matters worthy of the royal court. It was their job to sift out the petty local disputes from major cases.

In this setting, Absalom found his opening. Men of means not yet wizened by age might still serve well as judges and Absalom's interest in justice would be laudable. Overhearing some major cases, he would take aside whomever he deemed best connected politically and sympathize with them. He would draw them out by asking where they were from and note that their city or tribe had no official advocate in the king's court. Then he would lament that he was not yet a judge so as to secure their rights. If someone was sufficiently impressed by this show that he came to bow before the prince, he would be treated with high honor publicly. In other words, Absalom was the ultimate politician in an age when such was uncommon.

15:7-9 -- Translations saying this lasted forty years are probably incorrect, a scribal error, because it conflicts with the timeline established elsewhere in Scripture. More likely it was four years. We note by this time David had long given far more attention to the more powerful northern tribes, neglecting his old power center in Hebron and the allies in the Negev. These were first to crown David as king and had kept him safe from Saul. Absalom had lived more or less under house arrest for the past six years. David seemed oblivious to the revolt forming under his nose. Thus, Absalom sagely chose his final move, by convincing his father he owed a vow to God that required visiting Hebron. Hebron was Abraham's old home, the family burial plot and first known center of worship for Jehovah.

15:10-12 -- Having already curried favor all over the nation, especially in the south, Absalom made plans to announce his usurpation during this visit to Hebron. There were a couple hundred big shots with him who didn't know, yet it would appear they were in on it. Absalom had left no stone unturned in seeking those disaffected with his father. Recall that Bathsheba was daughter of Eliam, who had taken a powerful position in Lo-debar. Eliam's father, Ahitophel, still had his home in Giloh, just a few miles northwest of Hebron. While serving as one of David's counselors, he apparently had a grudge against David, too. A good guess is that Ahitophel had been angered by the family scandal between David and Bathsheba. Absalom sent for him while in the act of offering sacrifice on the old altar of Abraham in Hebron. Day by day, while Absalom tarried in the old mountain top city, his supporters grew into a massive throng.

15:13-23 -- Before Absalom had a chance to make his announcement, one of David's messengers warned the king what he saw, that a revolt was surely brewing. David was instantly the military tactician and ordered an immediate evacuation of Jerusalem of the entire royal household. Time was of the essence. Fleeing the city would buy time and introduce an unexpected element in Absalom's plot. There would be no easy pickings here. Had David stayed, the mere act of setting siege to the city would have brought war fever to the nation most assuredly in Absalom's favor. Those sitting on the fence would more likely come down on the side of a clear victor. On the run, David was the most difficult adversary, as everyone would surely remember. This is the situation under which David rose to prominence. David left ten concubines to keep the house. They would have had authority over the slaves who were bound to the palace facility itself, as the status of concubine was somewhere between slave and wife -- both, yet neither. David led the way to the path across the Kidron Valley just east of the walled city, and then stood near the city wall. There he took account of who was with him: the Royal Bodyguard, the Messengers and his own personal troops, Philistines from Gath who had given their loyalty to David personally. They had remained all this time with him, well known by the term Gittites ("those from Gath").

David argued that Ittai had joined staff too recently to be seen as a threat to Absalom. Recall that foreign servants were viewed as non-partisan. David tried to convince Ittai there was no need to uproot his entire household, as there was no threat to him. Ittai made the point that his own safety was not the issue. He came to serve David, whether he was king or slave, alive or dead. Such loyalty ended any argument David might have raised.

15:24-31 -- Zadok and Abiathar brought the Ark of Covenant, along with the whole Levite service that had been staying in Jerusalem. David ordered them to take the Ark back. He regarded the city as more God's place than his own. If Jehovah allowed him to prevail, he would return to the Ark's resting place. If not, having the Ark along would not help him. Zadok's position as official seer and high priest should have been enough to protect him personally, along with the rest of the Levites. Besides, David had real need of loyal spies in the city. He told Zadok of his plans to camp in the plains of the Jordan Valley. As events warranted, Zadok could send either his son or Abiathar's with news to David there. This loyalty was not forgotten, as Solomon later elevated the House of Zadok to primacy in his temple, over the old House of Eli.

This whole sad convoy brought great mourning to the folks living in and around the city. As they crested the far side of the Kidron, they took the road leading to Jericho. When David heard that Ahitophel had gone over to Absalom, he prayed God would make this very wise counselor look foolish before his son.

15:32-37 -- The final key to David's hope for return was Hushai the Archite. His official title was "King's Friend" and meant a particular position as close advisor. David asked Hushai to return and pretend that he was loyal to the throne, not so much the man on it. He was further asked to be the prime conduit of information passed to the sons of the priests, so to David. Hushai obeyed and returned to the city. He didn't have long to wait. Absalom came to find the palace vacant. Rather than besieging the city, he simply marched in as the new king.

Chapter 7.9: Friends and Enemies

Everything depended on the friendship of others. David had little need of counsel in this situation; he was in his element. However, as in the past when on the run, he was always in desperate need of support. Absalom had the upper hand, but was too young to know what came next. He relied heavily on the advice of older men.

2 Samuel 16:1-4 -- The path of escape led from the city wall, down into the Kidron Valley, up the valley a ways to a cut that ran up the opposite side. This cut gave way to a pass between two small hilltops, which pass itself became a cut on the far slope downward. As David brought up the rear in this long train of escapees, he passed between the peaks and was met by Ziba. This is the Ziba whom David had directed to manage the lands Meribaal had inherited from Saul.

Ziba had brought a hearty snack for everyone in David's household. The small army of troops with David would naturally have had some rations ready for short notice situations. It was the family household that would have been most needy. We can only guess that Ziba had, in the course of conducting his master's business, come to cast a envious eye on the property or Meribaal. Taking advantage of the David's vulnerability, Ziba's thoughtfulness concealed an opportunist's greed.

While it is not clearly stated, Ziba's story about Meribaal's treachery was a lie. Meribaal could hardly have thought he would manage to knock off Absalom and keep David from returning at the same time. Ziba had carefully calculated David's response to this story, as the king awarded him ownership of Meribaal's inheritance. We should not see David as harshly judging Meribaal, but simply rewarding Ziba. Ziba's thanks were perhaps his one moment of honesty.

16:5-8 -- David's path from there is not exactly known. Bahurim doesn't appear on Bible maps, but we can guess it was in the tribal district of Benjamin, for the man coming out to meet David was clearly a Benjamite, of the same clan as Saul. This Shimei threw stones at them, not to injure, but as a sign of contempt. The road appeared to have run along the edge of a ridge here and Shimei followed them atop a parallel ridge, from across a narrow valley.

16:9-14 -- Shimei's curses were technically illegal and justified the offer of David's guards to execute him. Yet David was absorbed in his sorrow, showing a deeply depressed mood. This is in part atonement for sin, because David knew it was his failures that brought on this whole affair. His response was, "No, I deserve this." If not, then it was typical of God to take a sinner's curses and make them blessings. Somewhere in that vicinity, they all stopped for rest and a meal. This was probably but an hour or two out of Jerusalem.

16:15-19 -- We are given the impression that Absalom had entered Jerusalem right behind his father's departure, certainly on the same day. Immediately the tension between Ahitophel and Hushai set in, as Hushai greeted his new king. Absalom's questions should not be taken as a concern for insult to his father, but a justifiable suspicion. Hushai was able to deflect that suspicion and was accepted as a counselor to Absalom.

16:20-23 -- Ahitophel urged Absalom to strengthen his position in the eyes of the people. The symbolic act of taking the royal concubines was not an abhorrent or especially evil act. It is what one would expect a usurper and conqueror to do. It was just another ritual in claiming the throne. However, it was also proof Absalom was burning his bridges. There was no going back, no making peace with his father. Absalom meant to secure his position and would surely kill David at the first opportunity. This public act of taking the women would make it clear to all his supporters that one of the two men would have to die before it was over. Such advice from Ahitophel was brilliant, as was everything he said.

17:1-4 -- That was the last chance Ahitophel had to shine. God had honored David's request to make him look a fool. The counselor asked Absalom to send the bulk of their current forces in pursuit of David. This was an excellent idea, as it gave the best chance to catch David at the only moment he was vulnerable. David having fled in such disarray, with no more than 1000 warriors at hand, a good organized attack as Ahitophel suggested could hardly fail. It would be their best chance to kill David, the only one that really mattered. Once that was done, all other resistance would fade to a level hardly worse than Saul or David faced during their reigns. Only so long as David lived could a concerted resistance be expected.

17:5-14 -- When Absalom asked for second opinion, Hushai sprang the trap. His claim was that, while David and his men might be disorganized, they'd fight fiercely like any cornered carnivore. Further, this was the best fighting men in the nation, led by the best commanders in Israel's history. This would be no quick and easy capture. Hushai proposed instead something that appealed very strongly to Absalom's arrogance. He suggested that the whole national army be mobilized and that Absalom himself lead. At the head of a far superior force, he could expect to ride in victory regardless of David's wily tactics. No city could hide him. Absalom fell for it.

17:15-22 -- The two sons of the priests felt it best to keep out of sight. En-rogel was the name of a spring outside Jerusalem, situated in the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys, and was across from the southern tip of David's capital city. There was probably a small village there and this was most likely the local laundry center or "Fuller's Field" during the monarchy. The arrangement was for the young men to wait there for a message from a young servant girl who could come and go into the city unnoticed. Most likely she was in service to someone at En-rogel.

On one of her trips into the city, delivering finished laundry and retrieving the dirty, she came and told them a message from Hushai, warning of Ahitophel's counsel. Hushai's advice would only delay things but a few days, so he warned David not to camp in the plains of Jordan on the near side, but to cross over to the East Bank and take refuge in the cities. Despite their best efforts, a lad spotted Jonathan and Ahima-az and reported it to someone at Absalom's court. Still, they had time to get as far as Bahurim, where Shimei had cursed David.

We don't know what sources of water may have existed in this unknown town, but we do know it was common in the area for people to dig water pits or cisterns to catch rainfall in this rocky land. The man with whom the messengers took refuge had such a cistern and they hid in it. The opening would have been as small as possible to limit evaporation loss, but still had to be just large enough for a man to enter for digging it in the first place, plus cleaning it out later. Most of them had some sort of covering cut to fit. The maid servant tasked with processing the grain simply buried the covering in a heap of grain.

When Absalom's armed pursuit arrived, she dutifully misdirected them. Once the searchers left the area, the two men were pulled out of the cistern and continued their mission. They warned David not to dally in the plains of the Jordan, as pursuit may come soon. So, all that night they continued fording the Jordan. By dawn, everyone had at least the river between them and any attack.

17:23 -- Ahitophel was now in an impossible position. He had publicly switched his loyalty from David to Absalom. There was no chance of reconciling with David, especially after advising Absalom to take the harem. He was quite certain his advice to pursue immediately was the one hope of winning. When he failed to convince Absalom of this, it was certain David would win. David would surely have him executed. Even if, by some chance, Absalom should succeed against David, not only would Hushai have taken the senior position, making Ahitophel less important, but he would have been proven wrong. His spotless reputation for perfect wisdom would be gone, his career finished. Thus, his suicide was not a simple matter of childish personal pique. He felt it was better to end his life while still quite the man, than to die in shame and be executed as a criminal. Indeed, his kin felt safe giving him the standard burial in the family cemetery.

17:24-26 -- David managed to get all the way to Mahanaim. This was quite a powerful city at the time and carried the mystique of being the home of "Jacob's Ladder," which the patriarch had seen in a dream on his own flight from the land.

When Absalom had mustered the national forces, he led them across to Gilead, indicating they were all around Mahanaim. At this time, the area was still heavily forested in places, so a massive bivouac would have been no great challenge. While Joab had fled with David, Absalom chose a new commander from the same part of Judah. There is some confusion over the man's family line among the various texts used for translation, but we will assume he was Ishmaelite, since there's hardly any reason to mention his ethnic background if he was an Israelite. This is also supported in 1 Chronicles 2:17. This Amasa was the son of one of those Ishmaelites that traveled to Canaan with Moses on the Exodus. His mother was of the same family as Joab's mother.

17:27-29 -- Though Absalom had the might of the Army of Israel, he did not have the whole of it. The tributary Ammonites came out in support of David, as well as Ahitophel's relatives living in Lo-debar of the Cities of Jair. Also there was Barzillai from Rogelim, another large city in the north of Gilead. His name suggests he was of Aramean stock. These brought equipment and supplies of food and it is implied they brought troops, as well. The stage was set for a great battle.

Chapter 7.10: Victory and Grief

Not every tribe and clan in the nation went over to Absalom's side. While the partisans might not have engaged in battles amongst themselves, they were ready to fight if mobilized by their favorite.

2 Samuel 18:1-5 -- David mustered all those willing to remain loyal. This would have been by far the better trained, more seasoned of Israel's warriors. Absalom would have drawn a rather younger crowd. In the standard practice of the day, conscripts were grouped in companies of about a hundred each and a cadre of professional warriors was placed over the companies. The companies were grouped into battalions of a thousand each. Most ancient battle formations would find a professional group in the lead, on each flank and as a rear guard. The main body would have been conscripts. Battles were less about mass casualties and more about persuading the enemy forces to break and flee. Well-disciplined conscripts could win a battle simply by not breaking ranks.

David divided his forces into three battle groups, showing a growing distrust for Joab. One group was under the command of his very faithful friend, Ittai from Gath. He was careful to publicly order his son be spared, if at all possible. We get the feeling he viewed this whole thing as little more than a youthful indiscretion. Actually, it's just another example of David's favoring of kinship over justice. His commanders refused to let David go into battle over them. They knew all too well this was about killing David or Absalom; winning battles was simply the means.

18:6-8 -- Unlike most battles out in the open fields, this one took place in the forests that once stood in Ephraim's land. We are not told how the battle moved from Gad and the vicinity of Mahanaim. The veteran fighters were much better prepared to take advantage of the terrain, which itself killed more than died by the sword.

18:9-16 -- Absalom rode a mule, a symbol of royalty in a nation fighting afoot. Apparently he tried to flee a company of his father's soldiers, but his head got caught in a low-hanging branch, while his mule ran out from under him. (Josephus, the Jewish historian, is responsible for the false image of Absalom being caught by his long hair.) One of the battle messengers brought word while the troops simply surrounded the still-suspended young usurper. When Joab groused that Absalom was not killed, the soldier reminded him of the stern warning David gave. This time, Joab was right. Absalom could not be allowed to live, no matter what his doting father might say. Joab made sure to finish off the young man.

18:17-18 -- With Absalom dead, the rebellion was over. Joab announced this with a signal understood by all. The remaining rebels fled, as Joab called off the pursuit. Absalom received a criminal's burial. Even today, in the Middle East, people will toss stones on the grave of a major criminal figure. The bigger the heap of stones, the more grave the offense. Absalom's cairn was quite large. The final epitaph is to note that his three sons had apparently died, for Absalom had erected a monument to himself as childless, but the location is unknown today. The so-called Tomb of Absalom in the Kidron Valley was created during the latter Roman Empire, with no foundation beyond myth.

18:19-23 -- Joab knew that David would interpret the arrival of Ahimaaz as a signal of good news and this was not exactly true. So Joab insisted the message be carried by a Cushite. Ahimaaz pestered Joab until he got permission to at least go back to the city, but Joab held him off long enough to give the Cushite a head start. No doubt Ahimaaz was quite the runner. While the messenger took the most direct route, Ahimaaz dropped down to the Jordan Valley, rather like a highway in those days and managed to pass the Cushite.

18:24-32 -- The City of Mahanaim had inner and out gates. David took a seat in one of the alcoves that were usually found in such a structure, between the two gates. The chamber above the gate was higher than the wall running off to either side. From there, the watchman had the best view. These chambers would have had a portal of some sort through the floor that allowed communication with those in the guard posts between the gates. The watchman spotted each of the runners individually and David decided the news was good, since they came alone on different paths. Ahimaaz was recognizable to the watchman and arrived first. Having no official dispatch, he would have simply reported what he saw, that there was an awful lot of shouting between David's warriors. His wording indicates it was quite an unusual scene, not typical of warriors after battle. The Cushite brought what he believed was good news. His answer was typical of victorious announcements, wishing that all the king's enemies could meet such an end.

18:33 -- David went into mourning immediately. We are assured it's a good thing to mourn the loss of family, but this very public demonstration was quite extravagant. His outcry indicated he wished he could join Absalom in death. We rightly condemn David for not seeing this also as the hand of God. While David might well suffer depression for a sad end to a tragedy of his own making, at least by neglect, he utterly fails as king and commander for not keeping his mourning private, especially over one who had caused his supporters so much grief.

19:1-8 -- When Joab found out about this travesty, he confronted his king with the harsh reality of politics. David's overly indulgent behavior got them into this mess. Now that many had taken tremendous risks on his behalf, exerting themselves to the utmost, he repays them poorly, with nary a word of thanks for anything. If David didn't correct this situation immediately, he would never sit on the throne again. Joab hints that he would take the lead in deserting David over this. So David composed himself and went out and sat in the public speaking place in the gate of every city. His presence there was automatically a call to assemble. The enemy had all fled, everyone skulking home in shame and his servants needed a good word.

19:9-10 -- For a time, David remained in Mahanaim, in a sort of internal exile. The nation of Israel was bitterly divided over whether to let him regain his throne. The better argument was made by those supporting David's return, recalling how he had vanquished all the nation's enemies. Even though many had lined up behind Absalom, he was now dead, so to whom could they give their loyalty now if not David? Still, the political impasse led to no one taking action. The context indicates that the ten Northern Tribes were completely indecisive about it.

19:11-18a -- It was only natural then, that David appeal to his own tribe of Judah to get things rolling. He could rule the Southern Tribes, at least. He sent a message prompting Zadok and Abiathar to visit the elders of Judah and get them moving, as they were the most obvious choice. If he couldn't get the support of his own relatives, he couldn't be king anyway. He even went so far as extending an olive branch by offering to promote Amasa, his nephew and Absalom's commander, to Joab's place as military Chief of Staff over the nation's troops. This was also a public notice to punish Joab for defying orders to save Absalom. Thus, it should be clear David harbored no hard feelings and no one needed to fear for his life over this rebellion.

This worked, for the eldership of Judah moved unanimously to call David back as King. In a grand ceremonial journey, they met him at the Jordan near Gilgal with a ferry to cross in comfort. Even David's erstwhile enemies met him there -- Shimei, along with a large delegation from Benjamin and Ziba, who had swindled Saul's estate from David.

19:18b-23 -- Shimei made a fine speech begging forgiveness for his insult. Abishai still wanted to execute him, but David made clear this was a day of forgiveness and restoration. Unlike pagan potentates, who often killed a symbolic representation of those who rebelled upon returning to their throne, David was gracious. He took that day as sacred to the Lord. He gave Shimei a strong royal oath of pardon.

19:24-30 -- Meribaal had not been in Jerusalem on the day David fled. During Absalom's brief stay, there was all the more reason to stay away. Upon David's return, Meribaal came to meet him at the city gate. He bore the obvious signs of one who had been in mourning, by neglecting his appearance. When David asked what had happened, Meribaal explained that Ziba had said he would saddle a donkey for him to ride so as to accompany David into exile. Then Ziba simply took off with the load of food and lied to David about the situation. Meribaal hadn't left his home the whole time. Still, Meribaal was so grateful David was back, he really didn't care about the loss of his inheritance. David, having too much else to worry about, simply made a quick judgment to return half the property back to him. Meribaal didn't care either way and wouldn't press the case against Ziba.

19:31-39 -- Back before boarding the ferry to cross the Jordan, David had said farewell to his good friend, Barzillai. David offered the old man a place in the Royal Court, but Barzillai declined. He was too old for such a move and could hardly have enjoyed it at this point. He preferred to remain close the family grave, since he would surely need it soon. Rather, he asked the favor be offered to someone tradition identifies as his son, but may have been any favored young relative in his household. Thus, Chimham joined the Royal Court on Barzillai's behalf.

19:40-43 -- As we have seen in the past, the elders of the Northern Tribes were a contentious bunch. While they dilly-dallied over renewing David's place on the throne, Judah took appropriate action. The leading lights of Judah were escorting the King back to Jerusalem, along with the loyal portions of the Northern Tribes. This most likely was not the most powerful leaders. Those with the greater power had gone over to Absalom and were the ones who approached this royal entourage a little too late for the crossing.

Their complaint presumed a falsehood, that they were good loyal servants of David, too. They acted as if betrayed, rather than as traitors, by not having been invited to the party. The big shots were covering their shame with bluster, saying they had more right to lead the parade than Judah and that it had been their idea in the first place. We don't know the substance of Judah's response, but it clearly made Ephraim look foolish.

It is clear at this point, more than ever, there is a firm division between the Northern Tribes led by Ephraim and the Southern Tribes led by Judah. More, we can see a glaring lack of honor in the former's actions. When the heat was on, their loyalty to David's throne and to Jehovah melted quickly.

Chapter 7.11: Peace Never Comes

Even as David resumed his throne, there was yet more strife, instability and rebellion. Further, though the Philistines were beaten repeatedly, they rose from time to time in a futile attempt to regain their ascendancy.

2 Samuel 20:1-2 -- During the confrontation between the leaders of Judah and those of Ephraim, a particularly obnoxious Benjamite named Sheba declared a revolt. Using an old phrase from the nomadic days under Moses, he encourages the Northern Tribes to cease following David and "return to your tents." It conjures the image of demobilizing and returning to the farm. Since the nation had long since traded their tents for regular homes, this was no more than political rhetoric. However, it proved effective for the moment; for we are told most of the Northern Tribes took his advice and dropped out of the parade. The folks from the Southern Tribes remained in the escort.

20:3 -- In a brief footnote of sorts, we see that David did not mistreat the ten concubines disgraced by Absalom. Rather, he declared them widows and provided them an appropriate retirement. Joining the king's harem offered grand luxury, but high risks. Most kings of that day would have killed the women, sold them off as slaves, or simply tossed them out on the street to live as prostitutes and beggars.

20:4-13 -- While everyone was settling back into a normal routine, David gave his first commission to Amasa, the new commander of troops. He was to muster the troops of Judah in three days and report back for further instructions. Amasa would have to contend with folks not knowing he had replaced Joab, or who wouldn't accept that. There was also the completely unsettled political situation, with many elders still not fully convinced David should be king. Along with all the other mass confusion, things must have fallen apart in Amasa's hands, because he missed the deadline.

Sensing that this business with Sheba could get out of hand quickly, David ordered Abishai to take whatever troops were available in Jerusalem and pursue the rebels. Note that he by-passed Joab altogether by speaking with his brother. Once en route though, Joab would hardly consent to a secondary role. Leading the Royal Guard, the Messenger Corps, Joab's own troops and the battle cadre who normally took charge of the conscript formations, they set out northward.

Following the path taken by Sheba and his gang, Joab led the little army past the landmark stone near Gibeon. From a side road, Amasa approached to meet them. Joab was wearing his full battle gear, including a sword hanging in a sheath at his left side. It would have hung at an angle with the handle pointing somewhat forward for grasping with the right hand. Joab probably bumped into something and the sword was tipped out of its sheath. Recall most swords were only about 12 inches (30cm) long. Joab caught it in his left hand, and then simply held onto the sword as he walked up to his cousin, Amasa.

In a gesture still seen today, he grabbed Amasa's beard in his right hand and pulled close for the standard Middle Eastern greeting of a kiss on the sides of the face. Amasa would have placed his hands on the upper arms of Joab. While thus distracted, Amasa never noticed the sword in Joab's left hand. Joab stabbed Amasa in the stomach just once. Certainly fatal, it also guaranteed a slow and painful death. Joab understand nothing but his own ruthless ambition.

Joab and Abishai immediately returned to the task of chasing down Sheba and the rebels. One of Joab's lieutenants stood in front of Amasa as he died noisily and shouted to encourage the men to keep up with Joab, as an expression of their loyalty to David. However, the grisly sight was just a bit too much for some of the men, who simply stopped and stared at the writhing figure of Amasa. So the lieutenant dragged the body off into the field, out of hearing range from the road and covered him with a cloak. This broke the spell and the troops continued their mission.

20:14-15 -- It probably took at least a week for Sheba and his gang to travel the length of Northern Israel, ending up in the rich valley north of Lake Huleh, in the vicinity of Dan. Along the way, he managed to gather some more troops, but apparently the whole revolt began to wither. The rebel forces holed up in the city of Abel, an old capital of the Kingdom of Maacah. While this this small nation was a tributary of David's, their allegiance was no doubt weakened a bit by their support of Absalom, whose mother was from the royal house there and was where Absalom had been exiled after murdering his elder brother.

This Abel-beth-Maacah had long been a chief city, with several dependent villages in the surrounding area. It was also at times a place famous for its reputation as an arbitration city. Many wars had been averted by going there, under the city elders' wise guidance, settling disputes both great and small. Such a reputation would have included serving as a refuge city and necessitated not keeping too many troops, only enough to stay neutral. This probably explains why there was no army in the valley when Dan attacked to gain a place during the Period of Judges.

Having chased Sheba and the rebels to Abel, Joab ordered his troops to begin piling rocks and soil to form a ramp up the side of the city wall. Sheba may have taken refuge deceptively, claiming their protection from unjust persecution. Thus, Joab had not bothered to follow the Law's requirements in Deuteronomy 20:10ff by giving the city residents a chance to parley. When the ramp was as high as possible, given the materials, it would have still been somewhat short of the top of the average city wall. However, the difference could be made up by battering with logs to knock loose the closely packed stones. In an age before cement was discovered, stone walls were carefully fitted together in a time-consuming process and sometimes coated with mud or similar materials. The result was certainly sturdy, but could be eventually knocked loose with a battering ram.

Throughout the Old Testament, we note that women often lead the way in trying to settle problems without bloodshed. Thus, a very wise woman, no doubt on the arbitration council, called out to Joab and asked him to hold off a minute so she could talk to him. Joab agreed and got an earful. The woman enlightened him to the city's heritage of peacemaking. She described herself as fully loyal to King David, implying the city was as a whole and noted that this was one of the administrative centers for the area, responsible for funneling a great deal of taxes to the throne. Finally, it would be an incalculable loss as one of the oldest cities in the kingdom.

Joab replied that he really wasn't interested in destroying anything. He only wanted to arrest Sheba for challenging David's authority. If the city handed him over, Joab and his army would go away. The woman told Joab to be ready to play catch, because Sheba's head was on the way. Then she spoke to the city leadership, who promptly agreed to the wisdom of sacrificing one refugee for the good of all. They quickly behead Sheba and tossed his head over the wall. Joab signaled to all the troops arranged around the city to stand down. They reassembled into formation and marched away with their prize.

20:23-25 -- These last few verses close the Temple Journal regarding David's reign. The chief officers are identified. David never managed to replace Joab, because Joab kept murdering his replacements. Adoram's position as Revenue Chief actually was mostly about the forced labor started by David, a taxation-in-kind where men were drafted for royal building projects. The Recorder was a records custodian, keeping track of the details necessary to run the Kingdom. The Royal Scribe was a different position, since the ability to write was quite rare and far more complicated and time-consuming than today. The Prime Minister was from Jair, which helps to indicate just how strong the support for David was in that part of Gilead. The final chapters in 2 Samuel were clearly added later by a different writer on the Temple staff. They appear to cover incidents during his declining years.

21:1-6 -- Sometime during this chaotic reign of David, the nation was hit with a drought that continued three years. This guaranteed a famine. When David inquired of God, he learned that Saul had broken the covenant Joshua had made with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). We recall that the two captains who murdered Ishbaal (2 Samuel 4:1-3) had come from the City of Beeroth, which Saul had stolen from the Gibeonites. The refugees from that attack had fled to Gath (probably the northern Gath) in Philistine territory. Given that the Tabernacle had been erected on the high place near Gibeon sometime during David's reign, we can surmise the Hivites of Gibeon had begun pressing their complaint directly to God. The result was the drought and famine.

David summoned the Gibeonite leaders and asked what it would take to break the curse, since they were the aggrieved party. They didn't want any monetary settlement from Saul's estate and didn't want David to execute anyone in the nation. Relieved, David said whatever else they wanted, he agreed up-front to provide. Then they lowered the boom: They wanted seven descendants from Saul's household. Their promise to "hang them before the Lord" is really not that specific in the Hebrew language. The phrase implies merely some form of execution, though we could guess it meant impaling on wooden poles standing upright in the ground. However, they would do it in the shadow the Tabernacle.

21:7-9 -- Keeping his covenant with Jonathan's household, David passed over Meribaal in favor of better symbolic choices, from his point of view. He arrested the two sons Saul born to his concubine Rizpah. He also grabbed the five sons of Merab, the other daughter of Saul that had been promised first to him (1 Samuel 18:19ff). Some texts have the name "Michal" here, but that's not possible; she died childless (2 Samuel 6:23). These seven men were turned over to the Gibeonites. They were executed on the same hill where the Tabernacle then stood, at about the beginning of the time of barley harvest.

21:10-14 -- The timing is noteworthy, for it puts their execution around the first of April. At this time, the bereaved Rizpah went up to the flat space of rock where the bodies had been ceremonially exposed to be picked clean by vultures and other scavengers. This represented the severe shame of covenant-breaking. It didn't matter if the creatures never got their meal; the ceremonial execution and placement of the bodies was the point. The woman essentially spread a tent over their bodies and guarded them. This prevented the birds from lighting on the bodies and the carrion eaters of the night. She stayed until the second rainy season, late in December.

Two significant points arise. First, the bodies would have rotted, then dried, then the fleshy parts would wither and fall away, leaving only bones. Second, this latter rain was sufficient notice from God the curse was past. David took advantage of the opportunity to tie up some lose ends. He exhumed the bones of Saul and his sons buried in Jabesh-gilead and collected with them the bones from Rizpah's 6-month vigil, burying them all honorably in the same grave with Kish, Saul's father. The drought was over.

21:15-22 -- The rest of the chapter notes that Goliath had four relatives still around to cause trouble. The material is paralleled in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8. The phrase "son(s) of the giant" in Hebrew is actually a generic term, referring to any surviving member of the Anakites. During one incident, the giant Ishbi-benob ("His Dwelling is in Nob") was leading the Philistines and charged David when the latter had gotten weak, most likely aging a bit. Abishai just managed to kill the giant. The captains got together and insisted David wasn't going out to fight any more, as the risk of his death was too great.

During a later incident in Gezer near the famous Valley of Aijalon, the Philistines had brought out Saph ("Like a Basin" wide, perhaps tubby) who was killed by a hero named Sibbechai. At the same site, a later battle saw Lachmi ("Big Eater"), a brother of the former Goliath, killed by one of David's cousins from Bethlehem. Yet another battle took place in Gath itself and some unnamed giant with six digits on each limb was killed by David's nephew born to his brother Shimea, named Jonathan. Thus, we note the Philistines rose up in revolt from time to time and the Sons of Anak were still a problem.

Chapter 7.12: Sin and the Temple

Readers are reminded that minor discrepancies in the Hebrew text between Temple records of Samuel-Kings and the court records of Chronicles are seldom irresolvable. Given that we have no copies from the time close to original publication, we should expect a few scribal mistakes to creep in over the centuries. We do well to remember the numerous copies and manuscripts in various languages, spread over a wide geographic area, have given us a text more certain than the works of Shakespeare coming far later and in our tongue. Usually the differences are in numbering. Numbers were represented by words that often had other meanings, as well. Sometimes a simple matter of point of view -- the prophetic/priestly view of Samuel-Kings versus the official scribal report in Chronicles -- can account for many differences in detail.

We need not examine in detail every verse and chapter. 2 Samuel 22 is a copy of Psalm 18. Also, we note that chapter 23 is another Psalm followed by random accounts of why certain men were promoted. Noteworthy is Joab's absence, stricken from the record for his crimes. The heroes deserved their place in the record.

2 Samuel 24:1-4 (1 Chronicles 21) -- Late in David's reign, he is stricken with hubris. Over a long and successful career, David managed to humble every enemy of the Nation of Israel. However, this nation was often divided, failing to follow God's anointed king with a whole heart. For this and other sins, the Lord had determined to judge the nation. We are permitted to see between the two sources just how this works. The sin of the nation puts them out from under the covering of Jehovah's mercy. Without that protection, they are under His wrath, personified as Satan. By leaving the protection of God, Satan is permitted to bring a temptation for which David has no resistance. In his pride, David decides to call a census. More than just counting noses, this sets up the means for a more precise and oppressive taxation, as well as the count of men available for conscription. As with modern times, it required a bit of prying into the every man's affairs in a very intrusive manner, often costing the citizens a week or more in lost time better spent doing other things. A census is not in itself sinful, but was required by God at least twice in the Book of Numbers (hence the name). This census was not ordered by God. Despite Joab's many character flaws, he knew this census was not a good move. He warned David so, but David insisted.

It was the count of eligible soldiers that formed the basis of this census. Bearing in mind the ancient practice of counting professional warriors and conscripted troops separately, not every professional warrior remained near Jerusalem. Only a few were kept permanently quartered as staff in or near the palace. Most were noblemen who owned great property and spent most of the year managing their business affairs. The conscripts were essentially peasants, those whose lives required working full time just to live. They would naturally have some limited experience in sword-play, but only in the off-season when there was no work to do. Local noblemen typically organized these training events and would keep some rough count of available men. The census bypassed their rough count, demanding that everyone stop what they were doing and present themselves in some local assembly area to be counted. Our trouble comes in that the numbers of conscripts would be easily confused by names of ranks for the noblemen. [Review the footnote on Hebrew counting and numbers.]

24:5-9 -- We learn the route Joab took: crossing the Jordan, counting his way north up the Gilead side. From there he crossed back over and north to Dan, and then down the coast, weaving inland and back as he worked his way down to the far southern wilderness. From there he swung back up to the Judean Highlands and into Jerusalem. Given what we know of the land and people, a million is not too high a number. The Chronicler notes Joab skipped Benjamin and Levi. The count took almost ten months.

24:10-14 -- David's conscience was stricken. When his heart was ready, the Lord sent Gad the Seer to announce the bad news. Again, we see a discrepancy between Samuel and Chronicles, but it would appear that the counts of three were the theme: 3 years of famine, 3 months of fleeing an enemy, or 3 days of plague. Having regained his senses, David knew immediately God's mercy in wrath was a far better place than any trouble from humans. Thus, the Lord chose the plague.

24:15-17 -- This was no ordinary plague, but was directed by the hand of an angel. The angel began his work in Dan and rolled south across the nation. Having arrived just north of Jerusalem, just as he was about to strike the city, the Lord relented. The angel stopped and stood over Mount Moriah. David knew this was his chance to act and wasted no time. Announcing his contrition, he went out to the flat space of ground above the city. In one of the rare glimpses of how the Lord's angels manifest themselves, we are told that this one appeared to hang in the air, yet low enough to remain visible and identifiable. We are never advised in Scripture how they appeared; beyond some vague resemblance to men, no one mistook their appearance unless it was part of the plan.

24:18-25 -- The man who owned the bit of real estate was a surviving Jebusite with a Hurrian name. Because Hebrew is written with consonants and no vowels, it can be read as either Ornan or Araunah. The man's sons had fled upon seeing the angel, but he himself continued his work threshing the grain he had harvested. A good guess is that he knew whatever happened next would require his responsible hands to act. Upon seeing the king and his servants approach, Araunah paid proper respects by prostrating himself at David's feet. David explained his mission, asking to buy the place. Araunah answered as anyone in the Middle East today might answer, especially to someone of high importance. Further, his offer was perfectly matched to the need. However, David insisted the offering must cost him personally, since the sin was his. Scholars vary on what to make of difference between the two texts here: 50 shekels of silver versus 500 shekels of gold. Most likely one amount was for the oxen and equipment, while the other for the real estate. In any case, David paid a pretty high price.

Tradition says this was the same ground we know today as the Temple Mount. This accords well with David purchasing the place as a gift to God. We are reminded that the Tabernacle constructed in the Sinai Wilderness was standing at Gibeon. David desperately needed to make his offering to God there in the presence of the angel while he was stopped. Had he rushed off to the Tabernacle, it would have been a couple hours or so longer. The angel keeping his sword of death unsheathed, pointed at Jerusalem, indicated things were not yet settled. Once the offering was made, the sword was put away and angel withdrew.

1 Chronicles 22 -- The Chronicler connects the purchase of the threshing floor with the building of the Temple. The reason is obvious: the Tabernacle standing at Gibeon is a problem. We are not told, but it seems the Ark of Covenant must have been moved to the Tabernacle, where it belonged. Since the king served at the pleasure of Jehovah, why not build the Temple near the throne? Obviously this met with the Lord's approval. Mount Moriah had long been a holy place, both for pagans and with the Hebrew Nation since the time Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. David had been forbidden to build this, so he simply went about collecting adequate materials for both the structure and new furnishings. He also sought the Lord for plans, to insure this was not the work of mere man. Thus, he was able to hand over to Solomon the full set of drawings, the details of the furnishings, everything.

David knew early on that Solomon was God's choice to succeed him. David had been a man of war and could not afford to be distracted from the task in order to build such a monumental thing. Solomon would be a man of peace, so it was important to train him differently. The character of his reign was administration, not conquest. This Temple construction was not something that would be finished quickly. Solomon spent the next few years working on little else. That's why David gave his son the task long before retiring from the throne. Solomon would not dedicate the finished Temple until he had ruled fourteen years. It cannot be understated what a monumental task this was. We get the sense David had not gotten too involved in the details of preparation. Solomon would have needed to take a detailed inventory of all the materials available, and then compare with the details of the Temple structure. It seems David was waiting for Solomon to have the plan well in hand before he could retire.

The Chronicler continues noting the administrative details worked out during this period of transition. In chapter 23, the Levites are reorganized according to their new duties. The priests were lined up in the rotation of duties in chapter 24 and the musicians in chapter 25. The next two chapters cover a host of administrative tasks for the management of the Temple activities and facilities maintenance. Having taken a census, the information was not wasted. The army was reorganized for a wholly different mission. We are told elsewhere their tactics and equipment was generally modernized during this time. This all takes us to the end of chapter 27.


Ed Hurst
26 June 2004, revised 06 February 2016

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: People of honor need no copyright laws; they are only too happy to give credit where credit is due. Others will ignore copyright laws whenever they please. If you are of the latter, please note what Moses said about dishonorable behavior -- "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23)