Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Second Book of Samuel

Samuel has already passed away when the second book of Samuel starts. The judge of Israel is long gone and now Saul, the violent and unstable king of Israel, has died. The next anointed king David should be thrilled, right? Not even close. David grieves over Saul's loss, which is just astonishing. He also mourns for his best friend Johnathan, who was a truly honorable man. David's ascendancy to the throne does not begin with joy, since it seems like he expected Johnathan to be at his side for all of the upcoming events and is struck by his loss.

And actually, David doesn't take control of all Israel at first. One of Saul's younger sons, Ishboseth, is Israel's puppet leader. David rules over the tribe of Judah, while Ishboseth rules over everything else. This continues for seven years, and the balance of power shifts because of a shake up with the military commanders. Ishbosheth's captain Abner and David's captain Joab develop a personal vendetta, and things get really messy and complicated. It's hard to know who's in the right, because Abner slept with one of Saul's concubines (a big no-no), killed Joab's brother Asahel, and turned on the weak king he had been supporting, but when Joab tricks Abner and kills him, David says Abner was a more righteous man than Joab. We seem to be dealing with a lot of morally ambiguous people here, because Joab later does some great things for David and offers him good counsel. There are many strong, smart men surrounding David who let themselves stray morally, and now their bad deeds are a matter of public record.

David strays, too. 2nd Samuel records his big mistake, or rather series of mistakes, with Bathsheba. Chapter 11 says "at the time when kings go forth to battle...David sent Joab and all his servants with him, and all Israel...But David tarried still at Jerusalem". This is a horrible case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. David's supposed to be out with his troops, but instead he's at home with probably not too much to do. So he sees this beautiful woman and even though he knows she's the wife of one of his soldiers, he brings her up to his house. Now, David already has at least seven wives. His needs aren't just being met, he's got a woman for every day of the week! And yet he steals someone else's wife, because he has the time and opportunity to do so.  But Bathsheba gets pregnant, and since her husband is away, David knows his sin is going to be revealed in about eight months. David has her husband killed in battle, and after Bathsheba mourns for her husband, David brings her into his own house permanently.

The ending verse of Chapter 11 says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,” which is an understatement to say the least. All of David's family troubles, and they are many, start at this point. His baby with Bathsheba dies, his oldest son Amnon rapes his own sister, his next-oldest son Absalom kills Amnon and leads a rebellion to try to overthrow's a hideous family history that was sparked by one man's choice to take what he wanted and to do what made him feel good. A man of God has to show restraint, or everything he's worked for will fall apart.

David also does great things for the Lord during this time. He gathers all the materials necessary to build the temple; gold and cedar wood and other costly materials. He takes in Johnathan's lame son, Mephibosheth. He's considered an excellent leader of his country and he writes many Psalms. It's just sad that we remember him equally for his passion for God and his major life-destroying sins.

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