The old film, David and Bathsheba, may have been nominated for Oscars, but there is no indication in the Bible text that the start of this story was a ‘love affair’, watch how David and Bathsheba interact and draw your own conclusions.
I’ve recently been watching students discuss the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah in 2 Sam 11-12. I have also been watching the Christian media in the USA discuss Bill Hybels and how the Willow Creek organisation has responded to accusations against him.
In some ways the two stories seem not at all alike. It sounds as if Hybels is not accused of adultery, still less of the level of abuse of power that the quasi-rape of Bathsheba revealed in the king after God’s own heart. Hybels has not organised a death to cover up his sin.
There is, however, a similarity at the heart of the two stories. In Samuel, Saul, for all his failings, remained a king in name, but with few of the trappings of kingship as the ancient Near East understood them, while David accumulates the toys that went with royal status: palace and palace guard, courtiers and advisors, and even leisure-time…
This is what leads him into temptation and disastrous failure (notice what he is doing at the start of 1 Sam 11). I could not, therefore, help noticing this sentence in the report about Hybels:
That meant a number of one-on-one meetings: often at his beach home in Michigan, on his yacht, on his jet, or at restaurants near Hybels’s summer home.
We can argue forcefully that some of these things are potentially quite harmless, restaurant meals for example. Some of us may have a family bach or even ‘beach home’. Yet the sum total speaks of the sort of privilege our culture sees as the ‘right’ of k̶i̶n̶g̶s powerful leaders.
I am working on some ideas I delivered orally a few years back and at that stage did not finish polishing with a view to publication. Basically the idea is that if we read David’s story as told in Samuel-Kings1 through the optic of his relationship to death, unsurprisingly the episode in 2 Samuel 10-12 where he arranges Uriah’s killing to cover up his taking of Bathsheba is seen clearly as the turning point, such a reading also makes sense of David’s puzzling response to the illness and death of his first child with Bathsheba.
I realise I have not posted here about our travel plans for later this year. We will be visiting and teaching in (at least)1 two places:
View across the hills near Baguio – envy us!
Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, Baguio Philippines. Where Barbara and I will each teach a course (OT Intro for me and Pastoral Counseling for her). I visited APTS as Menzies lecturer last year and am really looking forward to returning to a lovely place and people. Since Barbara will be going too, this time we hope to see a bit more of the northern part of the Philippines as well.
Sri Lanka produces much of the best high grown tea in the world.
Colombo Theological Seminary, Sri Lanka. Where again both of us will teach, in my case on 1 Samuel as an introduction to reading biblical narrative texts. We’ve both visited CTS before and had a lovely holiday seeing more of the country last time. Christians in Sri Lanka (though still smarting from loss of status following the colonial period) have a special place as a religious minority that includes both ethnic groups in a strife torn land.
We will leave towards the end of July and return in late September. We have a nice family (with experience on a lifestyle block in the UK) from Bethlehem College to look after the house and animals while we are away.
The men illustrating the Ha’aretz report (above) were NOT “covering their feet”.
In conversation on Bob’s blog, related to my post below about foot as a possible euphemism for male genitals in the Bible, he points out that there are cases where the phrase “cover his feet” is clearly euphemistic for “going to the bathroom” – to use a more contemporary American euphemism. I entirely agree. It is. Clearly when Saul in 1 Samuel 24:3 goes into the cave to “cover his feet” להסך את־רגליו he is as the Living Bible said going “to the bathroom” (cf. Judges 3:24).
I am left with two problems, do two case make sufficient precedent for seeing euphemisms everywhere, and more importantly, how does this euphemism: “cover … feet” = “go to the bathroom” work? The way it seems to me to make sense is that when one needed to relieve oneself in the fields or on a journey one squatted, thus “covering one’s feet” with ones robe, and hiding the action from passers by. Thus it seems to me the clear euphemism is “cover the feet” = “relieve oneself” and not “foot” = “male organ”.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) via Wikimedia Commons
In comments on the previous post Jeremy raises the question of 1 Sam 15. Which seems a worse problem. There (1 Sam 15:2-3 ) Samuel, in God’s name, instructs the newly anointed king, Saul, to slaughter all the Amalekites. He explicitly orders that non-combatants like women, small children and babies be included in the massacre. Saul then wages war on the Amalekites, successfully, but takes spares Agag the Amalekite king and the best of the flocks and herds (1 Sam 15:9) keeping the best and slaughtering what was not “good”.
Samuel then chases after Saul and is greeted by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle, which Saul claims that “the people” have “spared” (1 Sam 15:14-15). It becomes clear that Saul’s sin is twofold, first he has become so great in his own estimation that he not God is the arbiter of his actions (1 Sam 15:17), secondly he has “swooped on the spoil” (1 Sam 15:19).
A Karen family after their home and paddy rice burned by Burma Army troops (photo Free Burma Rangers)
Saul’s wrong, which seems to be the point of the story, the reason it is told, is that he places himself over God, and that he is greedy for spoil.
Saul’s sin then is unexceptionable, pride in one’s own authority or greed for spoil and self-advantage1 are wrong. What is left totally unacceptable in the story is Samuel’s claim that God orders the killing of a whole people.
There are a number of possible approaches here:
Firstly one might claim that this again is hyperbole. Despite the specifications this might be an extreme case of Ancient Near Eastern war language. This is probably true, but the specification not to spare babies makes it an unsatisfactory answer as this draws attention to the claim that God commands war, and war does inevitably involve innocent suffering.
Secondly, one might consider the possibility of God’s commanding warfare. Here I can only say that while in comfortable, middle class Western contexts a God who takes sides and even commands war may seem “uncivilised”, if thought of from the perspective of the brutally oppressed in many other contexts such a God would be considered a saviour. Such people pray that God will intervene to protect them from the physical and economic violence of the oppressor.
Thirdly, and more radically one might notice that here we have a narrative. In this narrative it is Samuel who repeats to us (and to Saul) God’s commands. Clearly we must not always take the words of characters in biblical narratives as truth. Characters often lie. They can even lie about what God has said (see 1 Kings 22) where on one of the two occasions (1 Kgs 22:15b cf. 1 Kgs 22:14; or 1 Kgs 22:17) Micaiah does not tell accurately what God has said.
Perhaps most radically one might ask whether the biblical writers have correctly understood and interpreted what they tell us. This option is not open to an American fundamentalist, who needs to assert that Scripture is inerrant. It is a possibility to be considered on other views of Scripture. Or equally ask whether we have perhaps not understood and interpreted correctly! The details of Scripture are often difficult and complex, what matters is perspicuous. It is perspicuous throughout the Bible that God is loving and merciful. Can such a loving and merciful God command desperate warfare? Given the broken, spoiled and desperate world that we see around us, probably. Was this such a case? I do not know!
In the light of all this, what also seems perspicuous to me is that the message of this story is NOT murder babies and commit genocide, but do not claim absolute authority and do not be greedy for advantage. Messages like that were the reason this story was told, to take other messages from it is to abuse the story.
Especially when, as the commander, one seeks to transfer the blame to others? [↩]
A lot of these Ogoh-ogoh monsters are set on fire in order to get the Bhuta Kala, evil spirits, out of our lives - by pakec
As an INFP (on the MBTI) I naturally tend to avoid obvious solutions in favour of more “creative” ones – often to the exasperation of innocent bystanders, like parents, spouse, colleagues and in more recent days children. As a preacher, this tendency means that I have seldom treated the familiar Sunday School Story passages. I even once did a series on “The Censored Bible: Books you have never before heard preached“. We (or I at least) had great fun with Obadiah, Song of Songs, and the like :) I even once preached on the stirring story of Micah (no, not the prophet, the hero in Judges 17-18 ;)
This failure means that it comes as quite a shock working through the E100 series of readings for my 5 Minute Bible podcasts. First it was stories like the escape from Egypt, with the slaughter of innocent Egyptian babies, now it’s David and Goliath (well actually it’s 1 Sam 16, but the two are part of the same E100 reading, picked so the titles suggest because of the good old sunday school story). 1 Sam 16 uses the word רוַּח “spirit” more often than any other chapter. Clearly the divine spirit leaving Saul, and inspiring David, is a major theme. But perhaps more striking is the use here (and only elsewhere in the fun story of Micaiah ben-Imlah) of terms like “evil spirit” and “evil spirit from God”.
Oops! Now how will I discuss that one in 5 minutes?
What would you say to people using E100 to get a quick overview of the Bible about Saul’s “evil spirit of God” (1 Sam 16:16)?