Damien F. Mackey
In a scene reminiscent of Homer’s The Iliad (which borrowed many of its ideas
from the Bible), the champions of Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, and those of David,
will fight hand to hand at Gibeon, where the Sun had stood still
to enable Joshua the extra light needed to defeat the Amorites (Joshua 10:12).
JOAB, ABISHAI AND ASAHEL
‘I am this day weak, though anointed king;
and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too hard for me.
May the Lord reward the evildoer according to his wickedness’.
2 Samuel 3:39
Reverend C. Spurgeon, when preaching on this particular text back in 1860, made some useful points about King David and his deteriorating relationship with the sons of his sister, Zeruiah:
…. [David] was hunted about by the remorseless cruelty of Saul till he became like a partridge upon the mountains, and the feet of the wild roe were not more used to flight than those of David.
A band of men gradually gathered round him, over whom he became the captain, and he lived the life of an adventurer, the leader of heroic soldiers, who at once protected their country from its foreign foes, and sheltered its disaffected subjects. At last Saul fell in battle upon Mount Gilboa, and Jonathan, the heir-at-law to the throne, also fell upon that dewless mountain. David was assured of the death of Saul by the fact that the head of the king was brought to him by an Amalekite, whose crime he punished with death, though the rogue hoped to have been rewarded with abundance of treasure.
David’s own kinsmen at once recognized him as the leader of their clan and he, in Hebron, began to reign over Judah and the south of the country. But the mass of the nation had not yielded to him and Abner, the commander-in-chief of Saul’s standing army, fearful lest he might lose his influence, and be supplanted by Joab, who naturally would become commander-in-chief under David, set up Ishbosheth as the successor of Saul. And so there became two kingdoms; David was the acknowledged head of the one, and Ishbosheth, the master of the larger part of the territory. Abner was playing king-maker and he soon showed that he felt his power and meant to use it. Having engaged in a quarrel with Ishbosheth, on account of Abner’s desire to take to wife a concubine of Saul, he at once resented the interference of Ishbosheth, and determined to put down the king whom he himself had put up. He came to David, therefore, and made terms with him, upon which he would give up to him the kingdom, and Ishbosheth would cease to be his rival. Joab hears of this, and not wishing to be supplanted, and perhaps seriously believing that Abner was not honest, follows after him, entices him back, and just outside the walls of Hebron, a City of Refuge, slays him in cold blood—a most dastardly and treacherous murder! David had nothing to do with it; he did his best to exonerate himself from it, and pronounced an awful curse upon Joab, the murderer, and upon all his posterity. He had not, however, the manly courage to summon Joab to the bar as a murderer. David was afraid of him; the man had all the army at his back—and instead of being, as in his youthful days, fearless of man, David became for a while a time-server and permitted the guilty to escape. He prepared a glorious funeral for Abner, and made Joab walk as mourner in the train, accompanied by his king, who sang a poetic and mournful dirge over the bleeding corpse. Then David said to his courtiers and friends, “I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too hard for me. The men who have been my bravest comrades and stood by me in the darkest hour, have been too hard for me. They have compelled me to submit to an action which my soul detests; they are criminals whom I cannot punish. The sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me.”
We may be anointed and yet weak. Every Believer is an anointed king. He was really anointed in the Covenant of Election before the world was. When Jesus Christ was set up from everlasting, His people were really set up in Him. When He was proclaimed King, and when His Father promised glorious honors to Him as the result of what He would do, His people were really constituted a royal priesthood in the Person of their Representative and Covenant Head. Every child of God also was actually anointed when Jesus Christ ascended up on high and led captivity captive and received gifts for men. When Jesus took His seat at the right hand of the Eternal Father, amidst the songs of angels and the shouts of cherubim, all His elect in Him did virtually take their thrones. “For He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
But in our souls, our anointing time comes in that hour when, being called by Divine Grace and washed from sin, we begin to reign over sin, self, the world, death and Hell, by virtue of our union with Christ. Every Believer is a king today! It may be that he does not wear his crown, and lives beneath his dignity; yet he is a king by Divine right. He is of a kingly, no, of a Divine race—he is sprung from the loins of the King of kings, and he is soon to enter upon his full dominion—for when Jesus shall appear, then being like He is, he shall reign with Him forever and ever!
The Christian is then, today, in many more senses than I can now stay to enumerate, an anointed king, and yet it is quite possible that he may be groaning out, “I am weak;” for weakness and Divine anointing may stand together! You may be the object of God’s grandest purposes; and yet in yourself, you may be the meanest of men. God may yet intend to accomplish by you the greatest marvels, and it may be necessary that, as a prelude to these wonders, you who are God’s anointed should be compelled to feel very deeply your utter weakness!
God’s children are often very weak in faith—they stagger at the promises through unbelief. It is not always in their power to “set to their seal that God is true.” They always have the seal of God on them, but they cannot always set their seal to God’s promises. There are times when the strength of the flesh through sin has overcome the powers of the soul— when we can get no further than to cry, “I would, but I cannot believe; I do not doubt His love to His people, but it is a grave question with me, whether I am one of His people at all.” Christians have ebbs of faith as well as floods; they have winters as well as summers; they have times of drought and years of famine. Sometimes they are diminished, and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow; the eyes of their faith grow dim and the light of God’s Countenance, being withdrawn from them, it becomes a woeful day for them, and they sigh and cry, and groan, and scarcely can call their lives their own. “Oh,” cries one, “that is my condition, but I thought I could not be a child of God, for I said, ‘If it is so, why am I thus?'” Oh, this is a common failing with the Lord’s people! Think not that your name is cut out of the register because of the weakness of your faith; for there are many in Heaven whose names on earth were Little-Faith, and Ready-to-Halt, and Despondency, and Much-Afraid! You may be an anointed king, and yet exceedingly weak in your faith.
God has given them power to tread on serpents, and to defy the violence of flames; He has girded them with a majesty unrivalled and unequalled; He has put a crown of pure gold on their heads; even now He has shod them with badgers’ skins, and clothed them with blue and purple, and fine linen. He has made them kings and priests unto God, even this day, and they dwell in the curtains of Solomon! They have His Providence for their provision; they have His angels for their servitors; they have His Heaven for their last resting place, and His bosom for their reposing place today; and yet are they often weak, and often cast down by reason of trouble, and the strength of the flesh, and the perversity of their corrupt hearts. “I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too hard for me.”
My dear Brothers and Sisters, let me remark that David at this special time felt his weakness more particularly because he was in a new position. David had been an adventurer in the cave so long, that he had grown used to it, and you never find him saying when he hid himself in Engedi, “I am this day weak.” No, after the first season of bitterness, I believe he came to love Adullam’s dreary cave; and the bleak mountains were dear to him; but he has come into a new place—nations are at his feet—men bow before him! It is a new position and he says, “I am this day weak, though anointed king.”
Whenever you make a change in life; whenever God calls you to another set of duties, you will surely find out what perhaps you do not now believe—that you are weak, though anointed king.
Here, too, David had come into new temptations.
…. David had now no more the temptations which beset a venturer, but those which cluster thick around the throne; for where there is the honey of royalty, there will surely be the wasps of temptations! High places and God’s praise seldom well agree. A full cup is not easily carried without spilling, and he who stands on a pinnacle needs a clear head and much Grace.
And then further, David had now come into new duties. It was his duty to have taken Joab, and have made him suffer the full penalty of the law for having killed Abner. A king must defend the oppressed and avenge the murdered—but David fails to perform the new duty, for he feels that he is too weak.
Let us remark that David was weak only in the flesh, and that the Christian is truly only weak there, too. Why was David weak? “Because,” he said, “the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me. I cannot subdue them; I cannot keep them under; I cannot manage any kingdom while such turbulent spirits as these interfere and intermeddle with everything.” Ah, David, and did you not know this before? How different is this from your language when you were but a lad! Did not the Philistine say to you, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the fowls of Heaven.” Did you know yourself to be weak then? And yet you said, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Ah, what a fall is there, David! Ought you not now to have said the same? “Joab, I come to you in the name of the Lord God of Hosts, and though all the hosts of Israel are at your beck and command, I will do equal justice to strong and weak, and your murderous spirit shall die and suffer because of what you have done in this, my kingdom.” Oh, that David’s virgin throne should have been stained with the unavenged blood of a murdered man! Here was lack of faith, you see. David had as strong a God as ever; but he was weak in the flesh. And that, my Brothers and Sisters, blessed be God, is the only weakness a Christian can know! We are never weak in our God—we are always weak in ourselves! Whenever you are in the midst of a difficulty, and you sit down and say, “I cannot do this,” who ever thought you could? You ought to have known that you could do nothing! But if your difficulty is ever so severe, and your position ever so trying, is the Everlasting Arm too weak for your defense? Is the Eternal Eye unable to see through the difficulty? Or has Eternal Love failed you? “Oh, but I am so weak!” Of course you are! And the weaker you are the better! But Jehovah is not weak; the Eternal One faints not, neither is He weary; there is no searching of His understanding. David was weak because he lived by sight; if he had lived as in the days of his youth, by faith in the Covenant God who had anointed him, he never would have complained of weakness, but would have done his duty, even should Heaven itself totter about his ears!
…. Why was not David strong? Why, because of the sons of Zeruiah, yet these sons of Zeruiah were his greatest strength! What could he have done without Joab and Abishai—Joab the man who smote the garrison of Jebus, and Abishai who slew 300 men in single-handed fight? What could he do without these? These were David’s mighty men, those who always led the van, and with a tremendous shout dashed among the Philistines and scattered the uncircumcised! These were David’s glory! Often, I do not doubt, as he walked in the midst of his companions in Engedi, he would look on Joab and Abishai and say, “What noble helpers! What men! How trained in the daring deeds of war!
With feet leaping from crag to crag like the wild roe—with eyes piercing through the cloud of the battle—with arms whose crash is as the tempest, with faces terrible as lions making the stout-hearted tremble!”
These were David’s pride, his glory, his strength, yes, and they were his weakness. So is it with us. Whatever is our strength in the flesh is sure to be our weakness in the spirit.
…. David’s kingdom did not shake, even when his heart failed him; and it would have stood just as fast if he had knocked away Joab and Abishai who seemed to be the props that supported it. God had sworn that David should sit upon the throne—David’s strength lay in God’s truthfulness, not in Joab’s valor. It was David’s business to believe that come what may, God’s purpose must stand, and God would do all His pleasure. ….
In a scene reminiscent of Homer’s The Iliad (which borrowed many of its ideas from the Bible), the champions of Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, and those of David, will fight hand to hand at Gibeon, where the Sun had stood still to enable Joshua the extra light needed to defeat the Amorites (Joshua 10:12). Abner was leading the Benjaminites, whilst Joab, son of Zeruiah, led David’s men (2 Samuel 2:12-17):
Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side.
Then Abner said to Joab, ‘Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us’.
‘All right, let them do it’, Joab said.
So they stood up and were counted off—twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim [“Field of daggers”, or “hostilities”].
The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men.
Verse 18 tells that: “The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel”.
But not for much longer.
The fleet-footed Asahel would go off in pursuit of Abner, only to be killed by him – this becoming a pretext for Joab, later, to get rid of Abner (vv. 18-23):
Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. Abner looked behind him and asked, ‘Is that you, Asahel?’
‘It is’, he answered.
Then Abner said to him, ‘Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons’. But Asahel would not stop chasing him.
Again Abner warned Asahel, ‘Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?’
But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died.
In The Iliad (Bk XXII), the one being chased by the hero is, not “a wild gazelle”, but “a fawn”: “Achilles was still in full pursuit of Hector, as a hound chasing a fawn …”.
Now, Joab and Abishai will take off in pursuit of Abner, but they will eventually call a halt to it for the time being (vv. 24-30). For “revenge is a dish best served cold”.
- 32: “They took Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb at Bethlehem”.
David the anointed king, now dwelling in Hebron, had accumulated six wives by this stage, each of whom gave David a son (2 Samuel 3:2-5):
Sons were born to David in Hebron:
His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel;
his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel;
the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith;
the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah.
These were born to David in Hebron.
If Dr. John Osgood is correct in his stratigraphical locating of David: “One can assume that some repopulation by Israelites took place in this strong city, and it is certain that there was a place of habitation at Jericho during David’s reign (see 2 Samuel 10:5) MB IIC/LB I by this scheme”, then MB II Hebron would, I think, represent David’s 7-year reign in that city:
“Philipp Hammond was the first archaeologist to excavate Hebron, during the 1960’s. In the southern part of the tell, Hammond exposed portions of the cyclopean city wall, which he dated to the Middle Bronze Age. Avi Ofer followed during the 1980’s, and Emanuel Eisenberg in 1999 exposed another segment of the same city wall on the northern side of the tell and, using pottery and scarabs from the related floors, securely dated it to the Middle Bronze Age II (1750–1550 BCE).
Figure 2. A segment of the cyclopean wall exposed in 2014. The large polygonal stones were set on a layer of smaller stones and marl (lime-rich mudstone), leveling the bedrock. The wall stands over 14 feet high, and originally was probably at least twice as high (photo: Assaf Peretz).
The Middle Bronze Age wall exposed on the south side is nearly 200 feet of continuous wall. Several other MB sites in the central hills were fortified by similarly sized walls, as Jerusalem-the City of David, Shechem and Shiloh. The wall stood about 15 feet high in places, nearly 12 feet thick, but was probably originally at least double in height. This massive city wall, built of huge rocks (up to six feet in size), would have been visible from afar to passersby.
Some scholars have suggested that this cyclopean wall is the reason Hebron developed a reputation as a city originally built by (mythical) giants (ʿanaqim), though other scholars have offered a more prosaic suggestion that that the original meaning of ʿanaq was not “giant” but a clan name, related to the Amorite clan yʿnq mentioned in second millennium B.C.E. sources.”
Soon, David will have Saul’s daughter Michal back as well.
Perhaps because of the bloody crime that David will commit later in the case of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, three among his oldest sons will die violent deaths. For, had not the prophet Nathan foretold (2 Samuel 12:10): ‘Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own’?
Abner’s falling-out with Ishbosheth, over Abner’s having taken one of King Saul’s concubines, would become an opportunity for King David to reclaim Michal.
Abner’s own days, though, were numbered since he would now be coming within range of the vengeful Joab.
2 Samuel 3:7-14:
Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, ‘Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?’
Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, ‘Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba’. Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.
Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, ‘Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you’.
‘Good’, said David. ‘I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me’. Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, ‘Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins’.
Abner then got busy rousing up all of Israel to accept David as king.
But Joab and Abishai would find an opportunity to kill Abner for the sake of their brother, Asahel. This is the stage at which the antics of the sons of Zeruiah begin to wear down the once resolute David (v. 22-37):
… David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace. So Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing’.
Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.
Later, when David heard about this, he said, ‘I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family 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’.
(Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.).
David still had enough of the prophet about him, though, to call down some pretty terrifying curses upon the sons of Zeruiah, “running sore or leprosy”, “leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword”, “lacks food’.
However (vv. 38-39): “Then the king said to his men, ‘Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!’”
DAVID’S MIGHTY WARRIORS
Whilst we have been making our way through the life of King David, we have come across a mix of assorted characters, some of these being wise and noble, others treacherous and miserable wretches.
One of my favourites is King Achish of Gath, who, when confronted by a dribbling David, exclaimed: ‘Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?’
Another standout must be the “intelligent and beautiful woman”, Abigail, whose wise intervention had prevented David from embarking upon his kingship with his hands filled with blood. How different was she from her “surly and mean” husband, Nabal, a fool both by name and by nature – perhaps a typical Calebite (‘Dog’).
Then there was the dominant figure of King Saul, surely bi-polar, now praising David and begging his forgiveness, now wanting to impale him on his spear – relentlessly hunting him down. The ‘trigger-happy’ King of Israel would even take a cheap shot at his eldest son, Jonathan, heir to this throne.
As Abigail starkly contrasts with her husband Nabal, so does Jonathan with his father Saul.
Jonathan, a great prince, athlete, and soldier, is, at the same time, self-effacing, and prepared to lose himself – like the Morning Star – in the brilliant light of the Sun, David, the chosen one.
After the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, with David now in Hebron, the people of Israel will acknowledge him as had Jonathan much earlier (2 Samuel 5:1-5):
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler’.’
When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
There follows the chronological note (v. 4): “David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years”.
If his son Solomon’s 4th year, when Solomon began to build the Temple of Yahweh, had really occurred 480 years after the Exodus (I Kings 6:1), then David’s first year of reign in Jerusalem must have dated to roughly 445 years after the Exodus.
Getting back to our characters, Nabal will not be the only dolt whom we meet.
There are those others who, failing to ‘read’ the sentiments of King David, will blunder in and slay someone dear to the king, or someone whom David has, in his mercy, decided to spare. Two more such of these are the ‘shonky brothers’, Rekab and Baanah (vv. 5-12):
Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away.
They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, ‘Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring’.
David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!’
So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.
In the course of these narratives about David (some of which I have not so far discussed), one shall also read about certain shrewd types of men and women – such as Joab will employ – whose insights and counsels are much valued. There is, of course, the witch of Endor, most skilled at séance. Or the oracular-like ‘psychologist’ Achitophel, about whom we read this remarkable statement (2 Samuel 16:23): “Now the counsel of Achitophel, which he gave in those days, was as if a man should consult God: so was all the counsel of Achitophel, both when he was with David, and when he was with Absalom”.
John Dryden famously wrote about the sage: https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/john-drydens-absalom-achitophel-how-does-257013
One passage in John Dryden’s poem Absalom and Achitophel, in which Achitophel definitely tries to poison Absalom’s mind, consists of lines 230-302. In this speech, Achitophel begins by flattering Absalom, calling him an “Auspicious prince” (230). He then claims that Absalom seemed destined from his very birth to become a king. Next, he emphasizes Absalom’s present popularity, calling him “Thy longing country’s darling and desire” (233). His praise of Absalom then becomes almost idolatrous and blasphemous when says that Absalom is his people’s . . . cloudy pillar and their guardian fire:
Their second Moses, whose extended wand
Divides the seas and shows the promised land;
Whose dawning day [an allusion to Christ] in every distant age
Has exercised the sacred prophet’s rage . . . (232-37)
The implied allusion to Christ in the passage just quoted then gives way to explicit praise of Absalom as a “savior” (240), and in general the language of this section of the poem can fairly be called sacrilegious.
However, having just given Absalom extreme praise, Achitophel now shifts to playing on the young man’s fears.
He tells Absalom that the latter’s
. . . fresh glories, which now shine so bright,
Grow stale and tarnish with our daily sight.
Believe me, royal youth, thy fruit must be
Or [that is, either] gathered ripe, or rot upon the tree. (250-53)
Achitophel’s strategy, then, is double-edged: he plays to Absalom’s pride as well as to his insecurities. He reminds Absalom that opportunities are often fleeting, and he also reminds Absalom that David, once popular, has now lost much of the people’s love and respect.
Finally, having played to Absalom’s sense of weakness, Achitophel now emphasizes David’s weakness as well:
What strength can he to your designs oppose,
Naked of friends, and round beset with foes? (279-80)
As the speech concludes, Achitophel once more reminds Absalom that the strength the latter now possesses is a strength he may very well lose if he fails to take advantage of his present opportunity (297-302).
Dryden, in concocting this speech, implies that Achitophel possesses shrewd insights into human psychology. At the same time, Dryden shows that he himself possesses such insights as well.
Striding above all of these characters, though, ‘like a Colossus’ (to continue the literary trend), is the Divinely-elected David himself. His long life was filled with heroic and noble actions. David’s heart was tightly knit to Jonathan’s because Jonathan, too, was noble and heroic.
David, with his refugee band of 600, a mixture of heroes and scoundrels, habiru wanderers, can remind one of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
As with the mighty Samson mowing down the Philistines with his effective Jawbone weapon, and the youthful David so defiantly facing up to the hardened Gittite warrior-giant, Goliath, one can only gape in awe at the heroic exploits of David’s Thirty Mighty Warriors, haggibborim (הַגִּבֹּרִים) (2 Samuel 23:8-39).
Not to mention “the Three” (vv. 8-12) who rose in stature, for heroism, above even the Thirty. One of their most famous exploits was when they put their lives at extreme risk in the face of the Philistines to fetch the “longed-for” Bethlehem water for the thirsty David (vv. 13-17):
During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, ‘Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. ‘Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!’ he said. ‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ And David would not drink it.
This was truly epical stuff, and it gives us a further glimpse into the rare make-up of David. Reading this passage, though, I have often wondered how the down-to-earth, but likewise brave, soldiers of the Australian Mounted Infantry, who so famously charged Beersheba in 1917 to secure the wells, would have reacted under the same circumstances.
We are not told what David’s Three heroes said as their king poured out the water, admittedly as a libation, but I am sure that what some of the Aussies would have said under similar circumstances would have been unprintable.
David, tender-hearted and forgiving, on the one hand, could be cruel and vengeful, on the other.
The King of Moab had agreed to shelter David’s own father and mother (I Samuel 22:3-4): “… David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, ‘Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?’ So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold”.
Hence I find it most surprising to read later on (2 Samuel 8:2): “David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought him tribute”.
Thus we find David alternatively being referred to as an ‘angel of God’,
“… in the Books of Samuel, we find the expression ‘like the Angel’ four times: 1) ‘My Lord the king (David) is like the Angel of God’ (2 Sam 19,27). 2) Achish said to David (1 Sam 29,9): ‘I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an Angel of God.’ Then, 3) a ‘handmaid’ said to David (2 Sam 14,17.20): ‘My Lord the king is like the Angel of God to discern good and evil.’ And 4), ‘My Lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the Angel of God to know all things that are on earth’,”
and as a “man of blood”, ish haddamim (אִישׁ הַדָּמִים). “Blood” in Hebrew is dam.
I know the feeling.
A fill-in Hebrew teacher, she having asked me my name, “Damien”, shrieked: “Man of blood!”
(As far as I know, though, my name arises from the uncommon Greek name, Damianos, Δαμιανός, meaning “One who tames [conquers, masters, overcomes]”. I have been named after the Belgian leper priest, now Saint, Damien of Molokai.
David acquired this unhappy epithet, “man of blood”, despite the best efforts of his future-wife, Abigail, who had spared David from unnecessary bloodletting in the case of Nabal’s household.
The Benjaminite, Shimei, another of those less appealing characters in the drama, will hurl that very epithet against a David under extreme duress from his son Absalom (2 Samuel 16:5-8):
As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!’.
And it was because David was indeed a man of blood, that the Lord had – according to David’s own testimony – rejected him from building the Temple of Yahweh (I Chronicles 28:3): ‘But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name because you are a man of war and have shed blood’.’
Then there are, amongst our characters, those “sons of Zeruiah”, who were ‘too hard for [David]’.
We know very little about Asahel (he “was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle”) because he had been cut off early by Abner – probably due to Asahel’s own stubborn tenacity. But perhaps this was one of the very qualities that had made him so mighty a warrior that he was, as we read, “Among the Thirty” (2 Samuel 23:24).
Asahel is listed first amongst them, in fact.
Abishai was yet far higher in standing, “held in greater honor than the Three” (vv. 18-19):
Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.
We do not read much more about him.
But he will famously and typically, in the case of Shimei’s cursing, react like a son of Zeruiah (2 Samuel 16:9): “Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head’.”
To which David will, for his part, react in that idiosyncratic way of his, whilst also taking a swipe at ‘you sons of Zeruiah’ (vv. 10-14):
But the king said, ‘What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’ David then said to Abishai and all his officials, ‘My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today’.
So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.
Joab, surprisingly, is not listed among the gibborim, the Mighty Warriors.
But he will now, in the conquest of Jerusalem, prove that he, too, was a most courageous man.
In 2 Samuel 5:6-8, we learn that the seemingly impregnable Jerusalem was at that time in the hands of the Jebusites, a people descending from the prolific Canaan (Genesis 10:16):
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off’. They thought, ‘David cannot get in here’. Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.
On that day David had said, ‘Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies’. That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace”.
It is thought that Melchizedek had ruled there, in Abram’s day, when Jerusalem was simply “Salem” (Genesis 14:18). I, though, have suggested in an earlier Volume that “Salem” may not have been at the site of Jerusalem.
In the days of Joshua, its king was the Amorite, “Adonizedek” (Joshua 10:1).
Mention of “Jerusalem” (יְרוּשָׁלִַם) as early as the Book of Joshua, however, must be an anachronism, like “Rameses” in Exodus 1:11, and “Pharaoh” in the Books of Genesis and Exodus (as already discussed). For, later again, during the Judges era, its name is recorded as being “Jebus (that is, Jerusalem)” (Judges 19:10), now under Canaanite occupation.
But, because of the error-inducing chronology that presently confuses such matters – e.g. with El Amarna wrongly dated to c. C14th BC – the mention of “Jebus” is deemed historically wrong (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jebusite):
“The identification of Jebus with Jerusalem has been disputed, principally by Niels Peter Lemche. Supporting his case, every non-biblical mention of Jerusalem found in the ancient Near East refers to the city as ‘Jerusalem’. An example of these records are the Amarna letters, several of which were written by the chieftain of Jerusalem Abdi-Heba and call Jerusalem either Urusalim (URU ú-ru-sa-lim) or Urušalim (URU ú-ru-ša10-lim) (1330s BCE). Also in the Amarna letters, it is called Beth-Shalem, the house of Shalem.
The Sumero-Akkadian name for Jerusalem, uru-salim, is variously etymologised to mean “foundation of [or: by] the god Shalim“: from Hebrew/Semitic yry, ‘to found, to lay a cornerstone’, and Shalim, the Canaanite god of the setting sun and the nether world, as well as of health and perfection”.
The above-mentioned king of Urušalim (= Jerusalem), Abdi-Hiba (Abdi-Heba), properly identified as king Jehoram of Judah (c. 850 BC), would rule the city more than a century after King David had taken it – from whence time it was called Jerusalem.
The historical texts, revised, do not in any way contradict the biblical narrative here.
Rather, they confirm biblical history.
From the parallel account of the taking of Jerusalem in I Chronicles 11:4-9, we learn that it was Joab who first managed to enter the city, thereby securing for himself (as promised by David) the rank of commander-in-chief:
David and all the Israelites marched to Jerusalem (that is, Jebus). The Jebusites who lived there said to David, ‘You will not get in here’. Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.
David had said, ‘Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief’. Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command.
David then took up residence in the fortress, and so it was called the City of David. He built up the city around it, from the terraces to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city. And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him.
As Roger Waite has explained (“The Lost History of Jerusalem”)
“The city was taken by way of climbing up the water shaft that went from the Gihon spring at the base of the hill straight up to the top within the walled city. This shaft may be the same shaft that is today called “Warren‘s Shaft”. We are told in the parallel account that:
Joab, the son of Zeruiah, went up first and became chief (1 Chronicles 11:6)
Joab was the first and other soldiers followed in surprising the Jebusites and conquering them. David changed its name from Jebus to the City of David. From the Millo, close to the centre of the city, he began constructing new buildings.
The name Millo means “fill-in”. To the immediate north of the Millo was a hump called the Ophel. To the south of the Millo was the original Mount Zion which was more elevated at the time than the Ophel and was where the citadel was located. David filled in the area between the citadel of Mount Zion and the Ophel to create more level land”.
Well, did David call it “the City of David” or “Jerusalem”?
A distinction is given here (http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/davidcityof.html):
“David took from the Jebusites the fortress of Mount Zion. He “dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David” (1 Chronicles 11:7). This was the name afterwards given to the castle and royal palace on Mount Zion, as distinguished from Jerusalem generally (1 Kings 3:1; 8:1)”.
Roger Waite tells how confused has become the geography of Jerusalem (op. cit.):
“In Psalm 137:5-6 we read: “If I forget you O Jerusalem let my right hand forget her skill! If I do not remember you let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy”.
The Jewish people until the last century lost sight of the true geography of King David‘s Jerusalem. The original Mount Zion of David was thought to be the hill at and to the south of the SW corner of the Old City. With the discovery of Hezekiah‘s tunnel in 1880 the original City of David was properly relocated to the ridge above the Gihon Spring to the south of the SE corner which is to the south of the current walls of the Old City.
New historical information has come to light showing that the Temples actually stood directly above the Gihon Spring in the original City of David and not on the so-called Temple Mount to the north of the City of David.
Just as the Jews forgot the true location of the original Mount Zion and the true geography of the original City of David, evidence will be shown that they have also forgotten the true location of where the Temples once stood”.
Archaeologically, the era of King David is, as according to the scheme of Dr. John Osgood (that I follow for this period): MB IIC/LB I.
Conventional archaeologists, such as Dr. Eilat Mazar wondering “Did I Find King David’s Palace?”: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/did-i-find-king-davids-palace/ will not – if Osgood is correct – find anything Davidic in Iron Age I-II.
Dr. Mazar is hopeful, nonetheless:
In future seasons we hope to continue the exposure of the Large-Stone Structure. But what can we say at this point? Archaeologically, it appears that it was built either at the very end of Iron Age I or at the beginning of Iron Age IIa—either slightly before or slightly after 1000 B.C.E., about when the Bible tells us King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites/ Canaanites. Since no remnants of earlier construction were found beneath the building, it seems that this area was outside the Jebusite/Canaanite city.
Could the Large-Stone Structure have been the Jebusite fortress that David conquered, the Fortress of Zion mentioned in the Bible (2 Samuel 5:6–10)? This is unlikely, for it would mean that the citadel did not exist in the Canaanite city during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages and most of Iron Age I, because it was constructed only during the very last days of the Jebusite regime. That is difficult to accept, particularly in light of the character of the construction, which points to an imaginative new initiative with highly sophisticated building techniques, as reflected in the large scale and enormous efforts invested in constructing it.
Since it is unlikely that this was the Jebusite citadel, what else could it be? Perhaps a new temple? But this flies in face of the long tradition, confirmed by the archaeological evidence, that Mount Moriah, where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac (Genesis 22), became the site of the Temple (see 2 Chronicles 3:1)—namely the Temple Mount, several hundred feet north of our site. It is indeed unlikely that the Large-Stone Structure was the site of a temple.
What is left? Could this be the brainchild of a visionary new ruler who planned to expand the city with a temple to be built on the hilltop to the north? Did King David, now the ally of the Phoenicians, renowned for their building capabilities, authorize them to build a magnificent new palace for him outside but adjacent to the northen boundary of the old Canaanite city, shortly before the construction of the projected new Temple to its north?
The Biblical narrative, I submit, better explains the archaeology we have uncovered than any other hypothesis that has been put forward. Indeed, the archaeological remains square perfectly with the Biblical description that tells us David went down from there to the citadel. So you decide whether or not we have found King David’s palace.
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, biblical minimalist supreme, has almost completely managed to lose King David by futilely seeking evidence for him during the Iron Age:
“During David’s time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.
“Of course we’re not looking at the palace of David!” Finkelstein roars at the very mention of [Eilat] Mazar’s discovery. “I mean, come on. I respect her efforts. I like her—very nice lady. But this interpretation is—how to say it?—a bit naive”.”
And Finkelstein has completely lost David’s son, Solomon: “”Now, Solomon,” he continues with a sigh. “I think I destroyed Solomon, so to speak. Sorry for that!””
King David and the Ark
David would now rule as a genuine king, with a great and fortified city, an army, a large family (now including Solomon), and with powerful allies such as Hiram (2 Samuel 5:9-16):
David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent envoys to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David. Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.
After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him. These are the names of the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet.
Then, having twice more conquered the Philistines (vv. 17-25), David was able to bring up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-15).
Reading vv. 13-14, it might appear that David had gone so far as to adopt the rôle of priest:
“When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, [David] sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might …”.
Moreover, we are told in 2 Samuel 8:18 that “David’s sons were priests”.
A possible explanation of this seemingly irregular situation may be this one: https://bible.org/article/melchizedek-covenantal-figure-biblical-theology-eschatological-royal-priesthood
3.2.3. The Davidic Covenantal Nature and Melchizedek in Ps 110.
As most agree, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are strikingly alike. In 2 Sam 7:8-17 God promised David exactly the same things as He did to Abraham (God promised protection [v.9], land [v.10], peaceful death [v.11], a descendant [v.12], and a kingdom [v.12] as an everlasting promise [v.13, v.16]). As discussed in the previous section, David had two functions as a king-priest like Melchizedek, even though his priestly function was limited. It is also evident that David brought righteousness and peace to Israel as a king. But the peace seemed to be only a limited one. In 2 Sam 7:11 peace was restricted to the personal matter. Both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants show a kind of development in the term of function. Abraham was neither a king nor a priest, but he performed these two functions in part. David was a king-priest and also did two functions in part, but in a more developed form. 60 The structure of Ps 110 shows the indispensable relationship between the kingship and the priesthood, that is, the priesthood was fulfilled through the battle image of the kingship and the kingship through the holiness image of the priesthood. The Davidic king is elected as a ‘priest’ according to the order of Melchizedek before the holy people who offer themselves willingly (vv.3-4) and performs a peaceful ritual after the final victory (v.7). Thus, the priesthood of the Davidic king seems to be for representing the holiness of his people and for celebrating the final victory. Melchizedek also showed this image in Gen 14 by bringing bread and wine in order to celebrate Abraham’s victory.
Christopher R. Smith, for his part, asks: “How could David’s sons have been priests?”
“So the explanation that makes the most sense to me is that David’s sons were considered priests in the order of Melchizedek. As I explain in this post, quoting from my study guide to Deuteronomy and Hebrews, “After the Israelites conquered Jerusalem, their own kings took over the title Melchizedek from the Jebusite kings who formerly ruled there. Since those kings had also been priests, the Israelite kings assumed an honorary role as priests and interceded for the nation in prayer. But they were not allowed to offer sacrifices; this was reserved for the descendants of Aaron under the law of Moses.” “Accordingly,” as the New American Commentary explains, “Davids sons would have possessed the inherited title and performed whatever duties were associated with the office.” But these duties would not have included any of the functions reserved for the Levitical priests, so that there would have been no violation of the king-priest boundary”.
A later king of Judah, Uzziah, would presume to play the part of priest (2 Chronicles 26:16): “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the Temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense”.
Consequently (vv. 19-21):
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s Temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.
When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him.
King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and banned from the Temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.
But, in the case of David, it will not be the King of Judah who will suffer an affliction, but his wife Michal. This is what happened (2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20-23):
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the Ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!’
David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor’.
And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
David, king, priest and now prophet.
John R. Salverda, who thinks that the Greeks derived their hero Cadmus from David, has likened David’s frenzied dancing before the Ark of the Covenant to Dionysian revelry:
“David’s Dance, Dionysian Processions
Perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome in recognizing the idea that the Greek mythological character Cadmus may be based upon the Hebrew historical figure David, is in accepting the notion that the great Israelite King could have had a role in promulgating the lewd dionysian rite of the phallic procession. But, on the other hand King David was notoriously famous for dancing naked in front of the Ark, in the company of other “worthless fellows,” exposing themselves to the slave girls (2nd Samuel 6). Was this not, at least some form of a phallic procession? Samuel Sharpe (1799-1881), the famed Egyptologist, bluntly tells us; “The ark of Osiris (identified by the Greeks with Dionysus), with the sacred relics of the god, was ‘of the same size as the Jewish ark, … carried by priests with staves passed through its rings in sacred procession, as the ark round which danced David, the King of Israel.” In the Scriptural account, King David seems to be giving his approval to the adoption of a more vulgar form of worship than, based upon the stark disparagement of Michal, the Israelites had been accustomed to. In fact, this is just the kind of licentious revelry which one would expect to have occurred when Dionysus entered Thebes, and Cadmus danced as in Euripides and his “Bacchae”.”
However the pagan Greeks may have interpreted it, God, apparently had taken no offence whatsoever at David’s enthusiastic form of worship, He making this magnificent promise to David through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:11-16):
‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a House for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’
David is completely overwhelmed (vv. 18-22):
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
‘Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!
What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears’.