The following continues my effort to translate the King James version of the Bible to modern language. I have finished with First Samuel and am now in Second. This takes the story to David’s death.
This chapter, too, suffers from some lack clarity. It seems that the times were in great tumult. One gets the impression that Absalom very nearly succeeded in overthrowing David. Chapter 16 seems to be about the beginning of the end of the attempted coup. Loyalties seem quite up in the air, since no one seems to know who is going to be in charge when the dust settles. Zibo, a servant Mephibosheth, whose importance escapes me at the moment, approaches David as a supporter, but Shimei, of the house of Saul, curses him and throws stones at his party. A big deal is made of David’s defense of his right to do so (David actually spares his life). A big deal is also made of Ahithophel’s role as a trusted counselor of both David and Absalom, although how he manages both is not made clear.
Somehow I am reminded of Saul’s penchant for falling asleep where David was apt to visit him. These guys, other than being very brutal, hardly strike me as leaders of great forces. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we are supposed to realize that this was mostly a bunch of squabbling between tribes in a pretty dysfunctional time. Maybe the Old Testament is best viewed as a history of how it actually happened, rather than how it was supposed to happen. Sort of a counter-example rather than an example. Well, I suppose that is best couched in terms of “according to George.” I just wish we read this whole thing without the aura of “religion” or “dictated by God” attached to it.
Ahithophel offers to take 12,000 men out to capture David’s forces, slaying David and repatriating the survivors to Absalom, who seemed to have the upper hand with the Israelites at that time. But Absalom calls for Hushai’s advice as well. Now Hushai was one of David’s double agents, and his advice countered Ahithhophel’s nicely. Absalom takes it, but apparently somewhat hesitantly. Husai sends word of the conflicting advice to David via messengers who hide in a well to avoid Absalom’s attempt to detect them. It’s all very convoluted–the stuff of good theatre. Anyway, David and his forces escape and Ahithhophel goes home and hangs himself, Absalom changes the general who commands his forces from Joab to Amasa, apparently a less skilled leader, and David moves his forces to Mahanaim, where the locals provide lots of support.
David runs what may be the first census, although it seems limited to fighting-age men, and divides his forces in thirds led by Joab, Joab’s brother, Abishai, and Ittai,the Hittite. He plans on leading the whole lot in person, but is dissuaded by the people, according to Second Samuel, and sends the force out without his actual presence. This proves important because he publicly commands the three generals to treat Absalom gently. Joab ignores the request/command and later kills him.
Absalom gets caught by a branch of a tree and pulled off his mule during the battle with David’s forces (I am not making this up) and is found hanging there later by Joab’s men, who apparently ask Joab what they should do, since they all heard David say “don’t hurt him.” Joab says something to the effect of “use him for a pin cushion, or I will.” Then he does.
Absalom was hardly alone, as some twenty thousand supporters of Absalom died in that forest during the battle with David’s men. As soon as Joab kills Absalom, he calls off the attack and the forest is credited with the majority of the casualties.
Now Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz, wants to be the messenger that bears the news of David’s victory to him. Joab, perhaps because he knows of David’s tendency of punishing messenger’s combined with the recollection of David’s explicit order not to hurt the kid, forbids it, and sends Cushi instead. Ahimaaz is insistent, however, and Joab eventually relents, approving a different route for him.
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think it accidental that Cushi is the last to arrive at David’s locale bearing bad news. I might trip along the way, too. But, if my suspicions are well founded, I can make no sense of what is reported in the rest of Second Samuel: The death of Absalom is actually conveyed by the late-arriving Cushi. Ahimaaz having hedged his report and then having stepped aside and awaited Cushi’s arrival at David’s command. Thereafter, Second Samuel goes quiet on the fate of either messenger.
Maybe Ahimaaz sensed something when David inquired about his son. Maybe the author(s) of the book just got distracted. Maybe nothing happened to either Ahimaaz or Cushi. Maybe someone needed toilet paper and tore off a piece of the original scroll a thousand years before the diocese approved its inclusion in the Old Testament. Maybe the rest of the story is covered somewhere else. I just don’t know. That’s part of the problem with taking all of this too seriously.
It’s history! It’s old history.True, it shouldn’t be changed, but the winners wrote it. If the authors were smart, and they wanted their writing to last, they wrote it under the guise of religion. But we don’t have to read it as if God, not Samuel, picked Saul.
I’m just saying.
Joab doesn’t take kindly to David’s usual lamenting over the loss of his mortal enemy, even though, this time, it happens to be his son, and threatens to withdraw his support if David doesn’t take it back. Never mind that Joab had violated David’s expressed instruction not to harm his son. Following Joab’s chastisement, though, David sets himself up in the city gate, and all Israelites pass before him. There arises a debate over whether David should be invited back as king. David solicited support from Zadok and Abiathar, the priests. He agrees to have Joab stay on. But, Amasa is to be the leader of David’s forces.
Eventually everyone agrees to have David return as king. There appears to be a lot of groveling that has to go down to make everyone happy, though. Luckily, David is amenable to it all. The last one mentioned is Barzillai, who is aged eighty years, and wants to stay out of the tussle so he can be buried in the family plot. Barzillai sends Chimahm in his stead.
The chapter ends on a note of discord between the Israelites and the Judaeans. They both want to claim David as their own. If my Bible makes it clear where the Lord comes down on this, it escapes me. It does, however, say that the Judaean’s had the more fierce voice.
Sheba, the son of Bichri, leads a rebellion against David during which Amasa responds to David’s command to pursue the rebels too slowly. David, fearing Sheba’s escape, sends Abashai to do the job. Joab, who is in Abashai’s force, takes advantage of the situation to slay Amasa when he does show up, by disemboweling him. As Amasa bleeds out in the road, his men are instructed to pass the soon-to-be-dead body on the way to join David’s men in the fight. David’s forces catch Sheba at a town called Abel, where “a wise woman” betrays Sheba, chucking his head over the wall in return for Joab’s lifting the siege. The chapter ends with a listing of how Israel is divided up as a military entity thereafter. Joab is highly rewarded, coming out in charge of all the host of Israel..
During David’s reign there is a three year long famine brought on by drought. However, when David asks the Lord the reason, he is, according to Second Samuel, told the drought is brought on as punishment for Saul’s destruction of the Gibeonites. David asks the surviving Gibeonites how he can make it right. They will be satisfied with seven of Saul’s offspring (men, of course), whom they will hang. David agrees to let them have the seven. He chooses to spare Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s handicapped grandson, but Mephibosheth. Rizpah’s son, and his brother–actual sons of Saul–were not so lucky, being amongst the seven the Gibeonites hang. Rizpah makes a scene over the loss of her sons, and, somehow related to all of this, David takes the bones of Saul and Jonathan from their original resting place in Jabesh–gilead and reburies them, along with the bones of those hung by the Gibeonites, in the sepulchre of Kish in the city of Zelah. All of which means much less to me than it apparently meant to those who wrote it. Along with the preoccupation the authors had for “son of x, y, and z”–which is sort of understandable as a way of differentiating Mephibosheth, the son of Saul, from Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul–this preoccupation with relationships grows somewhat tiresome. I think it shows a bit more than this, though.
For one thing, it reminds us of how many fewer people there were in those days. A few years after this, David took a census of all Israel and Judah, showing a population of some 1.3 million men, possibly only those of fighting age and ability. That means total population of about 3 million. Today, the population of Israel is about 8 million, although I have made no effort to compare size or density, I was not surprised. l trusted my gut, since population has become so much more of a concern for our time then it ever was for theirs. As I suspected, the population now is much higher than it was in David’s time.
For another, things have gotten so crazy lately that the solutions of Samuel’s time no longer seem so outrageous: maybe what we need today is exactly what, at first, seemed so outrageous. Take terrorism, for instance: the acts of terror, if you include the nutcases who just happen to own a gun, now come so frequently that I cannot keep up with them with my appeals to repeal the second amendment via my blog. Maybe the experiment with democracy in America began with the American Revolution has truly failed. Maybe what is needed is a Donald Trump, or someone just like him, in charge of a super power. Maybe that’s just what the world already has in Putin. Maybe it would have been better, in the long run, if Hitler had won the war. At least that way we might have had a chance to win a majority of the real decision makers over. As it stands, though, there is virtually no chance of winning over a majority of the decision makers. At least in America. It is, for now, a democracy, and there are simply too many of us.
How did I get to this conclusion? Let’s look at population for a moment. Every day the world’s population increases by about 200,000 people. I wish my following would increase by a comparable amount daily. Even for a month or so. A month. Let’s see . . . that would be about six million people. Six million every month! But they are not likely to be on my side, anyway. Besides I would have to wait for them to be twenty-one (or maybe just eighteen) before they could even vote.
Of course, nothing really moves by increments. And that applies as much to population as it does to my following. Well, perhaps not quite as much on my end as I would like. The point is that there are just too many people, and too many more now, a second or two later, to change paradigms in midstream, so to speak. Who knows? Maybe climate change, and/or extreme weather events, will convert several million people in one day of news cycle. But I would be surprised.
People today try (as, I assume, they did in the past) to do the right thing. When people do the wrong thing, as we sometimes do, it is often because we have no hope. But we don’t need to be hopeless.I think the thing we have to do is lower our expectations. Unfortunately, to make lowered expectations acceptable we have to see the degree of danger we are in. I use “we” (the last time) here to mean any living thing. I am of the opinion that every living thing is at risk from climate change. It is easy to see, by looking at other planets in our own solar system, that it is easier for nature to make a planet lifeless than to make it hospitable for only a few species. Take Mars, for instance. As far as we know, Mars is sterile. If we discover otherwise, the news will be all about the discovery of life off planet Earth, which, despite the contradiction of religious doctrines all over the world, has long been viewed in the scientific circles as a virtual certainty.
With these lowered expectations the first realization that follows is that we have been using, and, indeed, thinking of, “we” in the wrong way. “We” no longer should be thought of as being a term which refers only to human beings. “We”–and I hope I will adhere to this convention hereon out–should refer to all living things. “We” must be the living and “they” everything else.
The second realization that follows is really a corollary of the first. Terraforming another planet is not nearly so difficult as we humans thought. All that is really necessary is making the space hospitable to some of us, not to humans. In time, if the space is truly hospitably to some of us, life will evolve to a comparable level as we currently think of it today on Earth. Humans, as such, may not make it. But some of us (the living things) will. Life will survive. That is not such a small feat.
My brother likes to dismiss my attempts to get some of us off the planet with “he would be happy with sending pond scum to Mars.” Yes I would. But if you think that would be easy, you have no idea how big a job it would be.
Where do we get such siblings? He even supports Trump, I think.
But I digress.
Where was I? Oh yes. Chapter 21 of Second Samuel. After all this, David takes on the Philistines again, this time in response to their wanting more war with the Israelites (you have to admire their persistence, if nothing else). In this encounter, the leaders of the Philistines are the sons of the giant, Goliath, and at least one has six digits on every extremity, twenty four in all, which does not go unnoticed. Although David does not personally do them in, his men do.
David, in fact, is pulled off the battlefield feint, apparently, and told not to join future campaigns because of the risk it brings to “the light” of Israel.
David composes (and delivers) a song of praise to the Lord, which, to this reader, seems as much aimed at the human audience as the Lord. In particular, there is an awful lot of telling God all about how God went about delivering David from his travails. This looks to me to be something God would already know. Who but the human audience needs to hear this? The text spends a lot of time telling us all about how God blessed David because David was so virtuous. Typical is this quote: “he delivered me because he delighted in me.”
Of course, if you want to be remembered as God’s chosen one, perhaps telling everyone hearing your voice why God chose you was not such a bad idea. But, again, I wax rather skeptical. You can also read this as humility, giving all of the credit to God. I just have a bit of disbelief that God would vest as much praise on the man David has proven to be. To me he seems to have been a pretty good example of what men ought not be.
I’ve commented earlier on how the author seems to change to a much more David-oriented person following Samuel’s disappearance from the scene. Now it’s beginning to feel like David has actually taken over as editor.
Again, I’m just saying.
In Chapter 23 we get a kind of introduction to David’s band–sort of like what goes on at a music concert when the person who is the real reason audience members came introduces the band members: a bit of the high points of the player’s resume are listed, followed by his (or her) name and instrument.
Translating Chapter 24 is not so easy, for a lot appears to be either missing or just unclear. David decides to do another census. Joab objects, but David prevails. When you think back on it, this sort of makes sense. There was, doubtlessly, a considerable cost that came with such an undertaking: travel was much more difficult and dangerous then; locals probably were sometimes hostile to outsiders; being counted was probably equivalent, in many people’s minds, to being ruled by; and those asking intrusive questions were usually outnumbered by those being interrogated. David would probably not be embarrassed by the results of a census. All of which fits with Joab’s opposition and David’s support. Little, though, seems to justify David’s remorse for his inequity in insisting on doing it or God’s punishment for his doing so. The result of the count, by the way, was eight hundred-thousand men in Israel and five hundred thousand in Judah. Here it is clear that we are talking only about able-bodied fighters. The census took nine months and twenty days to complete. The Lord gives David a choice of one out of three bad things to choose from: a seven year famine in the land; a period of being on the run from his enemies for three months; or a three day pestilence in Israel.
David begs off making a decision, and leaves it up to God, who brings on the pestilence option. Seventy thousand men die. When the text says ‘”men,” it usually means it. Any way you look at it, though, that’s a lot of people dying in just three days. To end the plague, David is told by the prophet Gad, his seer, to buy a threshing floor from Araunah and build an alter on it
David does so,despite Araunah’s objections to selling the land or offerings (he thinks they should be gifts), and the pestilence is stayed at Jerusalem. No mention is made of the previous time limit of three days.
The First Book Of The Kings (Not to be confused with First Samuel, which was originally called First Kings–there must have been four “Kings” then)
David is still alive when The First Book of The Kings begins and I feel obligated to follow the story until he passes so here goes. . .
By this time David is old and, as the very old are apt to do, suffers from a chill which is not cured by being wrapped up in clothing. So David’s entourage decides to get him a pretty virgin to keep him warm on lonely, cold nights, I guess. (Now, I’m old and I get cold sometimes, so why doesn’t my entourage get me a virgin? But I guess times have just changed too much. No reason to take it personally.)
Anyway, David may have other problems by this time, too, since he never has intercourse with the woman the entourage provides, Abishag, a Shunammite. Seeing all this, I assume, Adonijah, son of Haggish, decides he wants to be king. Who could blame him? Besides, as becomes clear later, Adonijah was one of Solomon’s brother’s. Exactly how this all worked is not clear to me, since he was just identified as the son of Haggish, whom I have never heard of before. I suppose Haggish and Bathsheba must have known each other (in the Biblical sense) at some time. This may explain David’s later actions, but I just don’t know.
Anyway, Adonijah manages to align some pretty impressive support, including Joab, and starts sitting in David’s place as king. But he apparently does not approach Nathan, the prophet, for support or inclusion in the new regime. Nathan solicits Bathsheba’s support in making an appeal to David to intercede on behalf of Solomon, her son by David, as successor.
David throws his support to Solomon, and, with Nathan, Zadok, and Benaih, son of Jehoiada as accomplices, arranges to have Solomon anointed as king during a party, held seperately, celebrating Adonijah’s ascension to the thrown. The wind is taken out of Adonijah’s support, and the rest is, as it were, history.
In this chapter David dies, and I am released from this task, which has become much more disillusioning than I ever thought it could be. Until I read the text from start to finish, with the goal of telling what is actually recorded there, I had little idea of how brutal these people were. No wonder the people of the Middle East hate each other and always want to fight. This is still their religion. And, since we spent most of our time in the Old Testament (or the letters of Paul, who was definitely an Old Testament dude) it remains mine. But perhaps this task will have freed me from that mindset.
Before David goes, though, he blesses Solomon and praises himself a bit more. He also makes a list of those alive who have wronged him and how, as well as a few of his favorites. Solomon’s earliest acts seem to be devoted to evening the score on David’s part. Joab he puts to death for his support of Adonijah, the murders of Amasa and Abner (no mention of Absalom is made, btw), Shimei is confined to his house but later slain for leaving it, and Adonijah dies because he asks Solomon to give him Abigshag, the one woman David is reportedly never intimate with, although I suspect it may have been more due to his almost having got between Solomon and the thrown,
I intend to skip the rest of the Old Testament and resume with the New. I hope Christ will be a bit of fresh air.