Wednesday, June 11, 2008

David Becomes King: 2 Samuel 1 - 5:4

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

With Saul disposed of, the way is theoretically cleared for David to take over the kingship of Israel. The first two chapters of 2 Samuel contain a strange story about the death of Saul which has nothing to do with the one at the end of the previous book - a foreign Amalekite appears in David's camp and claims that he is the one who killed Saul, and, even more humiliating, that Saul begged for death before the end. Furious, David kills him. Then he mourns, probably more for Jonathan than for Saul, though the Bible says he lamented the loss of both. Then he goes to Hebron and proclaims himself king.

The Israelites, as it turns out, have other ideas, and it's time for another civil war - a real one this time, the sort we haven't seen since Judges. Saul's general Abner tries to establish what today we'd call a military junta, under the formal figurehead Ish-Bosheth, one of Saul's surviving sons (probably a young one, since he wasn't at the battle with the Philistines). Thus David is king only of one tribe, Judah, which was with him at Hebron. The war drags on, but eventually Abner is cast from Ish-Bosheth's government after the latter falsely accuses him of sleeping with a royal concubine. Abner tries to defect to David, and bring David's first wife Michal with him, but the job is botched - David's other general Joab, returning from a raid, is convinced Abner is a spy and therefore murders him. David is forced into mourning again. He also curses Joab for the action, in a most creative fashion:

May Joab's house never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.


Next, it's Ish-Bosheth's turn - the rogue king of Israel is murdered by two of his own mercenaries. They rush off to tell David the good news, presumably thinking he will be pleased. He isn't - David promptly seizes both men and has tem executed rather violently (first, their hands and feet are cut off, then the bodies are hanged.

It's hard to figure out what David thinks about the killing of the other kings, beginning with Saul. He certainly has some interest in putting forward this notion that a king - any king - is one of the "Lord's anointed," even after the Lord explicitly turned his back on that king (as happened in the case of Saul). It's an ancient form of the divine right of kings, and will serve David well once he is king. And he is indeed king - with Ish-Bosheth out of the way, he orders all the elders to assemble at Hebron and anoint him king over all Israel.

The Samuel sections are deeper narratives which make more interesting reading, but they're also not particularly prone to theological considerations. This is political intrigue, not theology. We'll get to that later. In the meantime, God continues to play a fairly minor role in events, occasionally answering questions from David but usually in terse, one-sentence affirmations of things David is already thinking.