bible blog 1124

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Muslim Brotherhood commits to non-violence and asks international support

Muslim brotherhood protest

Muslim brotherhood protest

2 Samuel 18:19-33

New King James Version (NKJV)

David Hears of Absalom’s Death

19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run now and take the news to the king, how the Lord has avenged him of his enemies.”

20 And Joab said to him, “You shall not take the news this day, for you shall take the news another day. But today you shall take no news, because the king’s son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” So the Cushite bowed himself to Joab and ran.

22 And Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite.”

So Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?”

23 “But whatever happens,” he said, “let me run.”

So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

24 Now David was sitting between the two gates. And the watchman went up to the roof over the gate, to the wall, lifted his eyes and looked, and there was a man, running alone. 25 Then the watchman cried out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he came rapidly and drew near.

26 Then the watchman saw another man running, and the watchman called to the gatekeeper and said, “There is another man, running alone!”

And the king said, “He also brings news.”

27 So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.”

And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.”

28 So Ahimaaz called out and said to the king, “All is well!” Then he bowed down with his face to the earth before the king, and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king!”

29 The king said, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant and me your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was about.

30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

31 Just then the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “There is good news, my lord the king! For the Lord has avenged you this day of all those who rose against you.”

32 And the king said to the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

David's grief

David’s grief

So the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!”

David’s Mourning for Absalom

33 Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

Imagine all this happening in the age of the tweet, the text and the email: David would have had instant news of his forces’ victory and the death of his son. Here the drama is extended because a messenger has to run with good news and bad news. It’s clear from earlier episodes in Samuel that bringing news to the King is a perilous occupation. That’s why Joab restrains Ahimaaz and gives the dubious privilege to a foreigner, possible a slave. Still Ahimaaz gets there first but is smart enough to give a vague answer about Absalom, leaving the Cushite to make a blunt declaration. All this, with the added perspective of someone looking from the height of the city at the runners is very skilfully sketched by the author, keeping the readers waiting for what they know  will be David’s most terrible sorrow. 

And when the author depicts this moment he doesn’t fail the reader. David’s anguish is wonderfully expressed in his brief but shocking outburst. It is perhaps the most naked expression of human feeling in the entire bible, and its vehemence opens the reader’s mind to a truth that may have been hidden until this moment; that Absalom is very like David, in fact we might call him a failed version of his father. Both men are strong, handsome, ambitious and sometimes ruthless. Both are killers. Both have plotted the overthrow of an anointed king by gaining the approval of the people. Both have tasted exile and defeat. Perhaps in his grief David remembers that it was his own dereliction of duty which left Absalom to kill the half-brother who raped his sister. David knows all this and does not turn away from the dead Absalom to assert the crucial differences between them, but howls his love for the son caught in a net not wholly of his own making. The reader knows that this is inappropriate behaviour for a commander whose troops have just risked their lives to save his bacon, but it is the means by which the author captures the reader’s heart for his flawed and magnificent hero.

And there’s something more. As the anointed leader, David enjoys a privileged relationship with God; and transmits God’s justice to his people. Now if David’s justice

also an image of God?

also an image of God?

represents God’s justice, what does his love and grief for his rebellious child represent? The author makes no explicit identification but the image of a passionate, feisty and grieving God emerges nevertheless from the story of the great king and his people.

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