We get a second book of Samuel, even though Samuel died halfway through the last one. We did see Samuel one time after his death as an especially pissed off ghost: does this second book indicate that he will keep turning up as an undead cranky old man? I hope so! But probably not.
When last we left David, he had just returned home to Balmoral after being thrown out of the big war between Israel and the Amalekites, and Saul and Jonathan had just been killed in said war. Now, we open with an Amalekite straggler running up to Balmoral with dirt on his head and torn clothes to tell David that Saul and Jonathan are dead and the Israelites have lost big time. David asks how this Amalekite knows this, and the Amalekite says he personally mercy-killed Saul after Saul failed to finish himself off on his own sword. This seems like an awfully big coincidence, and I also have no idea why this Amalekite would be so keen to find David and tell him this. Indeed, David immediately kills him for his trouble. Then, David mourns and rips his clothes and sings a lament to the dead.
“Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions,” David sings, still completely delusional. “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: they love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women,” he continues, somewhat more plausibly.
Now that Saul is dead, David asks the LORD if he should return to Israel and the LORD says, sure, go to Hebron, so David takes his whole crew and goes to Hebron and is crowned King of Judah at long last. But of course it cannot be that simple — a man named Abner who served under Saul crowns one of Saul’s other sons, Ishbosheth, King of the Rest of Israel. So, these two kings rule their separate Israels for about seven years and then they decide to have it out. They meet by the pool of Gibeon and say, “Let the young men now arise, and play before us.” What this means is, “Let the young men now arise, and hack each other to death in front of us, to see which of us will rule.” David’s young men get the best of it, so Abner runs away and he is pursued by three brothers. He kills one, and then he says to another one, Joab, who he can’t shake, “Listen, are we just going to keep fighting forever and ever? We know it won’t end well!” So Joab calls off the chase and goes back to David, and Abner and his men go off somewhere.
The two houses continue to war, with David mostly winning the battles, and David starts having kids (he has six), and then a surprising incident happens: Abner sleeps with Saul’s former concubine, and Ishbosheth scolds him for it. Abner, who apparently cannot tolerate even mild criticism, throws his loyalty entirely to David and tells Ishbosheth he’s going to install David as king over all of Israel and then he goes and tells David this and offers to serve him.
Guess what David wants as proof of loyalty? His old wife, Michal! Remember, Saul had married her off to someone else when David spent all that time in the wilderness. So Abner goes back and takes Michal from her husband, who follows her weeping, and he restores her to David. Obviously, we’re not told what Michal thinks about any of this, as she’s merely property and her desires do not matter at all.
Abner now tells all the people that David should be king over everything, not just Judah and the people are like, sure, sounds great! And they get to rejoicing. But one person is not thrilled about all this: Joab. He fusses at David that Abner killed his brother and is duplicitous and evil and why would David partner up with him? And then Joab (who we will see is a real self-starter, and doesn’t typically wait much for direction) invites Abner to meet him somewhere private and kills him. David is furious and curses Joab and his house, and then makes the entire nation mourn for Abner as if he were some major beloved national hero and not a bit player we’ve only known for two chapters now.
Meanwhile, two captains in Saul’s army decapitate Ishbosheth while he is napping and bring his head to David, thinking they will be rewarded. David tells them about how he killed the Amalekite who sought to curry his favor by telling him he had killed Saul, and he’ll kill them, too. The way to David’s heart is not through murdering righteous men of God, even if they are technically his enemies in this power struggle! David has the two mens’ hands and feet cut off, and their bodies strung up over the pool in Hebron.
Now, all the tribes of Israel finally come forward and swear allegiance to David as their king, and we get some kind of timeline to ground everything that’s been happening: all the nonsense with Saul took until David was 30 years old, and then he reigned over Hebron for seven years and six months, and now he will reign over all of Jerusalem for 33 more years. David still faces a bit of resistance — specifically, the Jebusites say he cannot rule them until he exterminates all the blind and lame from their city. I think? It’s unclear. David responds to this by either killing or having someone else kill all the Jebusites, or just the blind and the lame, or both. And then he establishes some castles and takes a bunch of wives and concubines and has a bunch of kids, and does two battles with the Philistines which the LORD gives him victory in.
A couple of things I’d like to address in a futile attempt to provide some conventional narrative structure to the Biblical experience: one, we never hear what happened to good old Achish who hosted David and vouched for him when he was pretending to be a defector. In fact, we never get any closure whatsoever on the whole “David is a double-agent in the land of the Philistines story,” and I for one miss it. And two, the same person did not write both I Samuel and II Samuel, because II Samuel has a sort of more poetic and obscure style which is really hard to follow. I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what is going on. I Samuel was much more straightforwardly written.
In fact, I forgot to look this up for I Samuel so if you’ll pardon the brief digression: per Wikipedia, Jewish tradition holds that Samuel wrote up to the point of his death in the tale, with prophets Gad and Nathan taking over from there, but “modern scholarly thinking is that the entire Deuteronomistic history was composed in the period c. 630–540 BC by combining a number of independent texts of various ages.” This is because of clear anachronisms in the text.
Well, that sure clears everything up.
Back to the story: now that all is right with Jerusalem again and it has one proper king, David decides to retrieve the ark of the covenant. If you recall, the ark of the covenant has been hanging out in a random town after the LORD killed 50k of his own people just for looking at it, making the survivors nervous about having it around. So now, they all go to get it, and they throw a big parade with everyone dancing and singing and playing instruments as they bring the ark back to the seat of government. But on the way, the cart that the ark is being transported on shakes a little bit, and a guy named Uzzah puts his hand on the ark to steady it. The LORD immediately smites him dead.
David actually takes exception to this! Is this the first time one of the LORD’s anointed leaders has acknowledged when the LORD is massively overreacting? I think so! Anyway, David says that given that the LORD obviously has no chill when it comes to the ark, he actually doesn’t want it in his house. He suggests they instead drop it off in another random town for awhile. David leaves it in some poor guy’s house for three months, but the LORD, who presumably doesn’t want David to be afraid of the ark, blesses the guy and gives him good fortune to convince David to give the ark a second chance. So, David does. They continue the aborted parade, and when they get to the castle grounds, they offer up a bunch of burnt sacrifices and have a big celebration feast “and David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.”
I love this. Just picture David capering as hard as he possibly can before the ark, dancing his very heart out.
Meanwhile, David’s recently recaptured wife, Michal, is watching all this from an upper window, and she thinks David looks like a total asshole, and later, she tells him so. She takes him to task for dancing around in his underwear in front of the handmaids of his servants like a shameless fool. So, I guess this answers the question of how Michal feels about having been forcibly carried away from her most recent husband and taken back into David’s custody. David says that he was dancing before his LORD, and that furthermore, he’s going to “be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou has spoken of, of them shall I be had in honor.” I’m not sure, but it seems like he is saying, “get used to it sweetie, because not only will I dance around in my underwear all I want, but I’m going to fuck every maid in this house on top of it.” And he famously does go on to do this, so I think that might be a fair interpretation.
For Michal’s response, we’re told only “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” The proper punishment for a woman who not only has but also expresses an opinion about something!
We now enter a peaceful time. One night, David is sitting around at dinner with Nathan the prophet and David observes in passing that he lives in a house made of cedar, but the ark is just surrounded by some curtains. Apparently, the LORD really likes this, because that night, he pops up to speak to Nathan and he says for Nathan to tell David that the LORD is going to support him and his family forever. Nobody ever thought to build the LORD a cedar house before, and the fact that David has done so has just really tickled him. He says that he’ll conquer all David’s enemies and make of him a great name, and even if/when he or his descendents screw up, he’ll punish them, but he won’t abandon them or raise up somebody else in their place. This is quite the promise! When David hears this, he…well, he frankly spends a whole chapter brown-nosing the LORD in a pretty undignified way, let’s not dwell on it. It’s embarrassing even to read.
David next conquers and slaughters many people and many lands, and enslaves populations, and foreign leaders pledge allegiance to him, and he also sets up a cabinet. David wants to honor his dead lover Jonathan, so he asks if there’s anybody left alive from the house of Saul that he can show kindness to, for Jonathan’s sake? And so his men find for him a servant from the house of Saul, named Ziba. I at first assumed this servant was about to be the beneficiary of David’s largesse, hahahaha I’m so American! Instead, David asks Ziba if there is anybody left alive from the house of Saul that he can show kindness to, for Jonathan’s sake? Ziba says that Jonathan does have one living son, Mephibosheth, who is lame, and so David summons him to his house and restores to him all of Saul’s lands and invites him to eat with him, David, every day. He also tells Ziba that he and his entire family are enslaved to Mephibosheth now, which Ziba claims to be thrilled about.
Next, the king of Ammon dies, and his son, Hanun, succeeds him. David liked Hanun’s dad who had been kind to him, so he sends his servants to express sympathy. But Hanun’s intimates say, don’t be fooled, David is clearly sending these people to spy on the city in advance of him coming in and conquering us. So Hanun takes David’s servants and shaves half their beards and cuts their garments up to their buttocks and then sends them out of the city with their asses hanging out.
This is hilarious! I love Hanun! Can we pivot this entire Biblical record and focus on Hanun and the Ammonites instead?
David’s servants are so embarrassed they make David meet them outside of the city and David tells them to hang out in Jericho until their beards grow back. Presumably they have already gotten themselves some pants. I guess it was really, really embarrassing for men of this time period to have clean-shaven faces! So much so, you literally could not go home again. And I have to say, having seen some typically bearded men clean-shaven for the first time, I get it. Beards can cover for a multitude of chins.
Anyhow, after this, David’s troops have no choice but to go to war with Ammon, so Joab and his brother Abishai go together to lead this war, and there’s a lot about battle strategy that I can’t be fucked to recap, and the Syrians get involved somehow, but by the end of the chapter, the Syrians are fully conquered and have learned to serve Israel and not throw in with the Ammonites again. I’m sure that alliance will last.
Get ready to hate David! It’s Bathsheba time!
David’s men are still out warring, but David’s just hanging out around the castle, and he peeps on a sexy woman bathing on her rooftop. This is a bad, bad day for Bathsheba! Having noticed her, David sends his men over to bring her to him so he can rape her, which he does, and then he sends her home again. But she gets pregnant. Bathsheba is married to a man named Uriah, and as if that name wasn’t misfortune enough, Uriah now finds himself in an impossible situation. First, David summons him and asks him how things are going in the war, and after Uriah tells him, David instructs him to go home and wash his feet. And David, guiltily, sends a bunch of meat after him. The usual “sorry I raped your wife and knocked her up while you were in battle, but then, I am a king, so let’s not make a big issue of it” present. But Uriah doesn’t go to his house; he sleeps in the palace doorway with the servants. When David hears this, he asks him why, and Uriah says that the ark as well as all the men of Israel are camping on the battlefield, so how could he go into his house and eat and drink and sleep with his wife while they’re out there? This is…a bit pointed to say to the king who has been having no existential struggle with lounging around the palace fucking other people’s wives while Joab fights his battles for him. Uriah really picked the wrong moment to strike a righteous pose. Also, more importantly, the whole “wash your feet” thing was meant to suggest that Uriah should go home and sleep with his wife, which would have provided an explanation for the pregnancy, but since Uriah didn’t do that, David now has to kill him. So, David sends Uriah back to battle and he writes Joab a letter and says, hey, will you do me a favor and put this guy on the front lines so he gets killed as quickly as possible?
Joab does this, and then there’s a bit of a confusing part, but it seems like he also makes some dumb decisions that result in other people getting killed, and so he tells a messenger to go tell David the bad news, but then when David starts to get mad, tell him that Uriah also is dead from the same battle. David is happy at this news, but Bathsheba is not! She mourns her husband deeply, but her fate is sealed; she’s compelled to marry David and bare his child.
The LORD is pissed at David about this, but we know before we even read further that He’s not pissed that David raped and abducted a woman against her will; He’s pissed that David took another man’s property. He sends Nathan to David to tell him a super on-the-nose story about a rich man with a ton of flocks taking a poor man’s one single sheep that the poor man loved as if it were a pet to slaughter and feed to a guest instead of one of his own. It couldn’t be more obvious, but David doesn’t get it. He hates this rich man!
“Who is he?” says David. “I’ll kill him!”
“Thou art the man,” says Nathan.
Then both of them turn and do a big reaction shot at the camera.
For David’s punishment, the LORD decrees that his wives will be taken and raped in front of him by his neighbor. And if you feel like that’s more a punishment for David’s wives than for David, then you must be new around these parts. He also kills Bathsheba’s baby. But they immediately have another one, and name him Solomon.
Joab and David plunder more cities, and grow wealthier and enslave many people until it’s time for us to pause for another domestic drama: this time, one of David’s sons, Amnon, is in love with his half-brother Absalom’s half-sister Tamar. I think. I’m not super clear on how these people are related, but the two guys are sons of David and Tamar is Absalom’s sister, so this is my best interpretation of what that all means.
Amnon confides in his cousin, Jonadab, and Jonadab who is very “subtil” explains to Amnon how he can contrive to rape Tamar. I don’t know that Amnon really requires a special plan for this; it seems fairly easy at this point in time for any man to rape whoever he wants, it’s constantly occurring. But for whatever reason, Amnon invents a ruse. He pretends to be sick and then tells David that he would like for Tamar specifically to visit him at his sickbed and make him some food. David seems to think this is reasonable, and commands that Tamar do it. When she does, Amnon tells her he’s going to rape her, and she requests that he not do that because it will ruin her life, and Amnon should instead just ask David if he can marry her (so, legal rape) and she’s sure David will say yes. But Amnon prefers to just rape her right then, and he does so. After that, he immediately hates her and tells her to get out, and she again begs him not to do that, so he has his servant toss her out and lock the door. At this time, the king’s virgin daughters all wear rainbow dresses (which sounds colorful and fun were it not a big garish advertisement for your unpunctured and purchasable status), and Tamar now puts ashes on her head and rips up her dress, since she’s ruined.
David and Absalom are both mad about this (in part, because Tamar is Amnon’s sister; otherwise this probably would have been fine with everybody), but Absalom really doesn’t let it go, and two years later, he invites all David’s sons to a big sheep shearing event. David isn’t that into letting them all go, but in the end, he relents and Absalom has his servants kill Amnon there. Now, again — it doesn’t really seem necessary to orchestrate an event for a murder; murder seems easy enough to accomplish in this society. But maybe David runs a really tight ship at his house, and if any of his children want to rape and kill each other, they have to come up with some sort of scenario that makes it possible. Anyway, some servants tell David that Absalom has killed all of his sons, and David is bereft, and Absalom runs away. But then, Jonadab (how has no one killed Jonadab?) tells David not to worry, because Absalom only killed Amnon and indeed, the other sons come home, and then David really misses Absalom and wishes he hadn’t run away, because nobody minds if it was just Amnon that was murdered.
What became of Tamar, you might be asking? Lol, as if that matters to anyone! She’s never mentioned again.
Joab realizes that David misses Absalom, so he hires a “wise woman” to go before David and pretend to be in mourning and tell him this story. I guess we’re getting into parables now as the Biblical writing becomes more sophisticated, but they are still pretty rudimentary parables, because basically (as we saw earlier with the Bathsheba-as-a-sheep one), the teller just tells the exact same story they’re meaning to be representative about, but as if it happened to strangers rather than the person they’re talking to. That’s what this wise woman does — she says that she’s a widow who had two sons and one killed the other, and now everybody wants to kill the murderous son, which would leave no heir to her dead husband. David says go home, and if anyone hassles you, I’ll deal with them. And she says, aha! Then why haven’t you brought home your own son who killed his brother?
She also says this, though, which is rather lovely: “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means that his banished be not expelled from him.” There’s not a lot of nice writing (or nice sentiments) in the Bible, but this is both!
The king immediately asks her if Joab put her up to this, and she says indeed, you’re very smart, my lord, it was Joab. David tells Joab, fine, I get your point, bring Absalom home, but tell him I won’t see him.
So, for two years David won’t see Absalom, but meanwhile, everyone else loves Absalom because he’s extremely handsome and when he cuts his hair every year, it’s so thick and lustrous that it weighs at two hundred shekels. I assume that’s a lot of hair; let’s hope he took the time to mail it in to Locks of Love. Absalom has three sons and a daughter, who he names Tamar. (Again, we don’t know what has happened to Tamar the Original, who he apparently loved so much, he committed a murder and ruined his life for her honor, but then, she’s not a virgin anymore, so I guess her name is mud.) Finally, Absalom gets sick of being ignored by David, so he asks Joab to come talk to him about it, and when Joab ignores him, he has his servants set Joab’s fields on fire. That brings Joab a-running! Joab is mad and asks why Absalom would do this, and Absalom says because you were ignoring me, and Joab…accepts this! He’s like, ok, fair enough, and he asks David to see Absalom, and David says sure. And when Absalom bows before him, David kisses him, and I guess all is forgiven.
Up until this point, I thought Absalom was basically a good guy and we were having another prodigal son type tale, but it turns out Absalom is a usurper and this is going to be another long tedious Saul v. David style tale, and I don’t know that I have the patience for it. I’m bored just looking at it.
Absalom puts an army together and then he posts up at the gate of David’s property and when people came to consult with David, he waylays them and says, “ah, David can’t see you. Don’t you wish he’d appoint a deputy who could help you when he’s too busy to? Like, say, me?” And in this way, Absalom builds up his popularity. Forty years of this go by (??) and then Absalom feels sufficiently supported to declare himself King of Hebron.
At this point, the story becomes increasingly hard to follow. I think Gad or Nathan here is also bored and has resorted to drunk-writing. There are like fifteen people introduced in as many verses — Ahitophel the Gilonite, Itaai the Gittite, Zadok, Abiathar, Ahimaaaz, Jonathan son of Abiathar, Hushai the Archite, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, Shimei the son of Gera, and I don’t know who all the fuck, just a giant parade of bit players with insane names doing insignificant shit that we don’t need to hear about. People are sending messages to each other and switching allegiance, and David immediately decides to flee Jerusalem with his entire posse, leaving ten concubines behind to keep the house while they are gone.
I don’t get this at all. How is David so weak that the second Absalom declares himself as king of what is basically a territory, David flees the entire country? And hasn’t the LORD been 100% in the tank for David all this time? Why doesn’t David put on his magic smock and ask the LORD to get Absalom in hand? Also, it seems like David takes the entire nation of Israel with him (we hear about every damn tribe crossing some bridge or something), and he certainly takes the ark. But then he sends the seer (Zadok) back into Jerusalem with the ark and some other people to do some sort of test of the LORD’s allegiance, and he sends Hushai back to spy on Absalom’s group and pass word along to the Zadok faction, who will then relay it back to David.
I mostly just want to hear about the concubines who were left to hang out in the palace by themselves. Can you imagine how happy they were? What a time! Ten women left the hell alone for awhile in the coziest digs in Jerusalem? You know they were shitfaced drunk and draped in David’s daughters’ rainbow virgin satins by the time the twelve tries of Israel were a mile down the road.
Meanwhile, back in the wilderness, Shimei, who is a descendent of Saul, has happened across David’s party, and he starts throwing rocks at them and kicking dust in their general direction, and the entire army stops and David is like, “Excuse me?? How dare you!” And Shimei continues to taunt David, and David’s guy is like, “Let me go and behead this fool,” and David is like, “No, no. That’s what he wants, he wants to get a rise out of us. We shall ignore him!” And they pass on and Shimei runs along the cliffs next to them and kicks dirt on their heads and pelts them with rocks as they go (Twitter). Is Shimei the best character the Bible has given us so far? Probably!
Over in Hebron, Hushai has arrived to pretend to join up with Absalom, and after they talk about it and Absalom is convinced Hushai really means to defect, Absalom asks Ahitophel for some advice on what he ought to do next. And GODDAMN IT ALL Ahitophel tells him that he should go rape all David’s concubines so everyone in Israel can see the insult and see that Absalom felt free to do it.
I knew it. I knew it was too good to be true that we’d be given a detail about some nameless servant class women if they weren’t going to be politically raped later. If they hadn’t been, we never would have heard about them. Oh, well. I hope they had a really nice vacation in between David and Absalom. Fuck all these guys, for real.
After this, Absalom asks Ahitophel and Hushai what he should do next, and Ahitophel says, go kill David and then bring all the people back and you’ll be king, but Hushai gives some long contrary advice that I don’t really understand that boils down to “it’d be a bad idea to do that right now, you should do it later.” Everyone agrees that Hushai gives the better advice (and we’re told this is because the LORD was intervening, but I think the LORD could be taking a lot more direct action in this situation if He were really involved). David’s messengers (these two priests he’d sent back with the ark) have this sort of long Rosencrantz and Gildenstern caper that involves them hiding under some corn in a well, but they eventually make it back and tell David what’s going on, and David and all his people flee across Jordan as Absalom chases after them with his new captain, Amasa. And Ahitophel is so offended that everyone liked Hushai’s plan better that he goes home and hangs himself, which is a bit of an overreaction imo. Then, some people with complicated names bring a lot of food to David and his people.
Finally, David gets around to organizing the massive amount of men who are with him into armies. Again, I do not understand why David fled Jerusalem in the first place. He takes the entire country with him! But even given that, why is he only just now organizing his army? David’s captains are Joab, Abishai (Joab’s brother), and Ittai the Gittite, who I can only assume is a muppet. They all go to battle in the wood of Ephraim and twenty thousand men are slaughtered, but we are told that “the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured” and I am unclear about what this means — Ents?
We’re told that Absalom is riding his mule under an oak tree and rather than get knocked off the mule, his head actually gets caught in the tree and he’s stuck there. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but I just do not feel like Absalom is presented as an especially formidable opponent! I don’t understand why David has run from him in the first place! A man tells Joab about Absalom being stuck up in the tree, and Joab says, why didn’t you kill him, and the man says that David told them all not to kill Absalom, because he is his son, after all. So Joab goes and kills him himself and a bunch of his men also crowd around and they just basically make a piñata out of old Absalom.
A couple of very stupid men actually race each other to tell David this news, and David weeps and wishes it had been him instead. In fact, David carries on so much that Joab tells him to get ahold of himself, that he’s being really ungrateful after this war, and the people are feeling like he would rather all of them had died and Absalom had lived which is a real kick in the nuts after they just went to war for David. So David pulls up his socks and goes back into Jerusalem and everyone who’d betrayed him comes and apologizes, even that trickster Shimei, and David says not to worry about it, and then the various tribes start competing and arguing about which of them David loves the most.
Here’s where I have to admit something kind of embarrassing: I think Joab is kind of sexy. I mean, he’s a ruthless murderous asshole, yes, but he’s decisive and pragmatic, he gets shit done, he doesn’t mince around, his decisions make logical sense, and he is consistently great at his job. He does not fail at anything he sets out to do, there’s never even a question about his competence. He doesn’t get himself into foolish entanglements or make anything more complicated than it needs to be. He’s loyal to his brother and only his brother, and he is not taken in by fools. And he’s not a kiss-ass! I can’t help it, I’m into it.
In a brief interlude, we’re told that David continues to feed and house the ten concubines his son had raped, but that he never slept with them again, and “So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.” I don’t know whether this is a punishment or a reward. I mean, I know which David thinks it is.
Because the Bible only has this one story, immediately, we are introduced to another usurper — Sheba, son of Bichri, a Benjamite (which if you recall was Saul’s tribe). Sheba blows a trumpet and declares, hey, don’t follow David, follow me. And every tribe except Judah is like, ok, sounds good! And immediately they follow after Sheba. David asks Amasa (who if you recall was Absalom’s Joab) to assemble the army but Amasa takes too long about it, and when the army finally does ride out, Amasa is wearing Joab’s outfit, for some reason? His sword falls out of the unfamiliar sheath. Joab goes up to Amasa and says “hey, how’s it going” and grabs his beard to kiss him (?) and then stabs him in the gut like he’s Arya battling the Night King. Why? Unclear! I don’t know if Joab feels threatened by Amasa, or if because Amasa previously worked for Absalom he cannot really be trusted, or if this is because Amasa raided Joab’s wardrobe, or because he took too long getting the army on the road, or what. But anyway, Joab and his brother Abishai are back in charge and they ride up on the city where Sheba is hiding out and start to storm its walls. But a “wise woman” pops her head over and calls out to Joab to please not kill them all, that they are lordly people. And Joab says he doesn’t want to, but Sheba has challenged David’s reign. And the woman says, oh, is that all you want, we can handle that, and straight up beheads Sheba and throws his head over the city walls! And Joab is satisfied with that and takes the head home to David.
This is how wars should always be handled! Tidy, fast, results in very little bloodshed, and we don’t have to read about long and tedious battles! I love these stories throughout the Old Testament where some random woman just heads off (hee) a lot of nonsense by acting quickly and giving whatever loud, violent man is nearby what he wants before he has a chance to escalate things further. Like when Abigail just fed David’s troops behind her husband’s back.
If you’ll forgive another aside, I have to say, Nathan or Gad or whoever is writing this book is not a very good storyteller even by the admittedly quite low Biblical standards of narrative. II Samuel veers from anecdote to anecdote and there’s no organization and no sense of building toward anything. There are a lot of extraneous details and asides that are introduced as if they will have some significance, and then they don’t come up again. I just want it on record that I’m really having to work through this one; it’s not easy going.
Now there are three years of famine and when David asks the LORD about it, the LORD says that this is because Saul slew the Gibeonites back when he was alive. That seems like bullshit! Why would the LORD do a famine for that NOW? And why do a famine at all? And why wait for David to ask why it is happening? And why would David wait three years to ask? So many questions.
The Gibeonites are Amorites and the children of Israel had at some point sworn not to mess with them, but Saul went and killed a bunch of them anyhow. So now David asks them what they would like in terms of vengeance, and they say to hang seven sons of Saul. David delivers up seven sons (sparing Jonathan’s son, of course), and the Gibeonites hang them, and then David collects their bones and also collects the bones of Saul and Jonathan and he buries them all together, and the famine ends.
Next, there are more wars with the Philistines and in particular, there are a series of four giants that are slain in various battles, one of them having six fingers and toes on each hand and foot. In one of these battles, David passes out and somebody has to save him (from being slain by one of these giants), and after that his men tell him not to come to war anymore, because he’s so old he’s a liability.
The next chapter is David singing a very long song of praise and gratitude to the LORD, and listen, all things considered, I do not actually think the LORD has been much help to David! It seems like the LORD has been singularly hands off. He’s answered a few questions over the years when directly asked, and he’s claimed to have orchestrated some of David’s war victories. Overall, though, it seems like David’s long reign has been pretty needlessly fraught and rocky, and the LORD could have helped a lot had He wanted to, and He just flat didn’t. For one thing, the LORD could have just killed Saul right off and spared David decades of trouble, and He could also have probably helped David avoid the whole Absalom interlude. And it seems like rather than hundreds of years of war with the Philistines, the LORD could have just done some widespread smiting. All I’m saying is, I feel like the LORD didn’t help David the way he helped Moses, and David’s giving Him a lot of credit here when really, David’s been pretty self-made.
There’s a long chapter with a lot of names that I think is a sort of random war record of who all the great generals killed, but I don’t really follow it, or when it’s meant to be taking place.
Now all of a sudden we’re told the LORD is mad at Israel again. We are not told why. He just had a nice song sung to him by David and then there was a long dry chapter of names, and these seem like things that the LORD typically loves, so what’s His problem? Anyway, he wants David to do a census. Joab complains about it, but David makes him do it anyway. It takes nearly a year; they physically travel all over Israel and count everyone up. I guess they can’t use the “chop an oxen or a woman into bits and mail them around” postal system for census-taking purposes. There are 800,000 valiant male soldiers in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. For some reason, David feels terrible about this, and apologizes to the LORD and says he’s sinned greatly and been very foolish. I have literally no idea what is going on at this point.
The LORD goes into the prophet Gad, and Gad (as the LORD) says that David can pick between three punishments: seven years of famine, three months of David fleeing before his pursuing enemies, or three days’ pestilence in the land?
What kind of fucked up mind game is this? This is new for the LORD! Is He just bored? What is He even mad about? And obviously, the answer is three days’ pestilence! How is this even a question?
David picks the pestilence, obviously, and 70,000 of the LORD’s people die. Why? Why not! What else do any of them have to do? This was before mass media; the LORD had to make his own fun.
David apologizes to the LORD again, and says that he alone sinned, so why is the LORD punishing the people? Which first of all, has David met the LORD or heard any of the history of Israel? This is par for the course! And secondly, again, what did David do? But finally, even though David is right, why is he asking this as if he is confused about the situation? He and the LORD had a clear agreement: three days of pestilence! The punishment might be arbitrary and harsh and inexplicable, but they both ironed out the details at the beginning; the consequence here was not unclear! Anyway, Gad tells David to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, where we were earlier told the destroying angel of the LORD has been hanging out. There, David should do a burnt offering and the plague will end. So David does, and Araunah helps, and the LORD ends the pestilence and also the second book of Samuel.
And as I’d suspected, we never got a second appearance of pissy ghost Samuel, so overall, I feel cheated.