This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings, in this case the story of King David, one the greatest in world literature. A headline from world news is selected for the reader’s concern; and sometimes for its relevance to the bible reading.
40 Coptic churches burnt in reprisal for Egyptian Christians’ support of the Army
2 Samuel 16:1-23
New English Translation (NET)
David Receives Gifts from Ziba
16 When David had gone a short way beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth was there to meet him. He had a couple of donkeys that were saddled, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred raisin cakes, a hundred baskets of summer fruit, and a container of wine.
2 The king asked Ziba, “Why did you bring these things?” Ziba replied, “The donkeys are for the king’s family to ride on, the loaves of bread and the summer fruit are for the attendants to eat, and the wine is for those who get exhausted in the desert.” 3 The king asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?” Ziba replied to the king, “He remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give back to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’” 4 The king said to Ziba, “Everything that was Mephibosheth’s now belongs to you.” Ziba replied, “I bow before you. May I find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”
Shimei Curses David and His Men
5 Then King David reached Bahurim. There a man from Saul’s extended family named Shimei son of Gera came out, yelling curses as he approached. 6 He threw stones at David and all of King David’s servants, as well as all the people and the soldiers who were on his right and on his left. 7 As he yelled curses, Shimei said, “Leave! Leave! You man of bloodshed, you wicked man! 8 The Lord has punished you for all the spilled blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you rule. Now the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. Disaster has overtaken you, for you are a man of bloodshed!”
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!” 10 But the king said, “What do we have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he curses because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David!’, who can say to him, ‘Why have you done this?’” 11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son, my very own flesh and blood, is trying to take my life. So also now this Benjaminite! Leave him alone so that he can curse, for the Lord has spoken to him. 12 Perhaps the Lord will notice my affliction and this day grant me good in place of his curse.”
13 So David and his men went on their way. But Shimei kept going along the side of the hill opposite him, yelling curses as he threw stones and dirt at them. 14 The king and all the people who were with him arrived exhausted at their destination, where David refreshed himself.
The Advice of Ahithophel
15 Now when Absalom and all the men of Israel arrived in Jerusalem, Ahithophel was with him. 16 When David’s friend Hushai the Arkite came to Absalom, Hushai said to him, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”
17 Absalom said to Hushai, “Do you call this loyalty to your friend? Why didn’t you go with your friend?” 18 Hushai replied to Absalom, “No, I will be loyal to the one whom the Lord, these people, and all the men of Israel have chosen. 19 Moreover, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? Just as I served your father, so I will serve you.”
20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?” 21 Ahithophel replied to Absalom, “Have sex with your father’s concubines whom he left to care for the palace. All Israel will hear that you have made yourself repulsive to your father. Then your followers will be motivated to support you.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom had sex with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.
23 In those days Ahithophel’s advice was considered as valuable as a prophetic revelation. Both David and Absalom highly regarded the advice of Ahithophel.
This passage begins with the contrast between Ziba and Shimei: both are expressing their self – interest; but Ziba places his own future beside David’s by showing loyalty and affection in a bad time; whereas Shimei takes advantage of the bad time to vent his family hatred of the on e who rules in its place. Neither does things by halves. Ziba takes trouble to bring food to David; Shimei risks his life to express vituperation.
The author takes great care to show David’s dignity, as well as his continuing capacity to secure friendship. He accepts his own responsibility for his misfortune and commits himself to God’s will, while nevertheless trying to nudge God’s will towards his own ultimate victory. He accepts the humiliation in the hope that things may yet turn his way.
The power of this narrative can be seen if we realise that the gospel writers have learned from it in their depiction of Jesus’ “humiliation”, his arrest, trail and crucifixion. There too we see people who show kindness to the victim and those who curse him. And indeed Absalom’s rebellion is David’s “passion” his moment of suffering, where he is weighed down by the evil in his family, and by bearing it without complaint finds a way of rising again. Yes, this is only a dim foreshadowing of the role of “suffering servant” but it’s not an exaggeration to see David in his defeat as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”-without ceasing to be a mafia boss who always knows how to buck the odds.
Ahithophel is another shrewd mafioso who has calculated the odds and decided that the rebellion can succeed if it follows his advice, which is casually brutal. In effect he tells Absalom that he has to demonstrate his hatred of his father and show that there will be no going back: public sex with his father’s harim will be effective because this proclaims his greater virility as the alpha male who sends the old worn-out leader into exile. There is absolutely no consideration of what the concubines may wish or feel; they are chattels who count for nothing except their value as trophies of victory. Of course the reader remembers Nathan’s prophecy that because David’s sexual crime was secret, its punishment would take place “before all Israel in the light of the sun.” Is there any evidence that God has lifted a supernatural finger to bring all this about? No, there is none. A complex web of human action and reaction has apparently brought it about; yet the author wants his readers to see it as nevertheless an act of divine justice.
Again and again this author teaches us that an act of God is not some exceptional occurrence that cannot be explained by worldly agency, but is rather the suffering labour of the Creator God, in and through all worldly agencies, to fulfill God’s unique vision of his universe, “And God saw it, that it was good.”