Bahurim – 2 Samuel 16:5

“When King David came to Bahurim…” (2 Samuel 16:5)

           The significance of the location of the cursing of David by Shimei is, by and large, overlooked by commentators. If a comment is made about the town, it is usually an attempt to locate where Bahurim may have been: it was a ‘village in Benjamite territory’[1], situated somewhere ‘upon the road from Jerusalem to Gilgal…not far from the Mount of Olives’[2]. Alter goes a step further. He not only locates the village ‘on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives’[3] but also observes that a Davidic supporter is present in Shimei’s hometown, and so he concludes:

‘What appears to be reflected is a political reality in which the populace is divided between loyalists and supporters of the usurper.’[4]

            Bahurim is really not about geography or politics. Bahurim is about David’s past and his identity.[5] The key to understanding the significance of this village is found in Bahurim in 2 Samuel 3. This chapter has the only previous reference to Bahurim and the context centred around David’s first wife, Michal, a daughter of Saul.[6]

            After Saul’s death, the attempt by Abner to place the Saulides under Davidic rule,[7] was met with David’s demand for the restoration of his marital rights. Saul had given Michal to David and then had taken her from him and given her to another man, Paltiel.[8] David was insistent that Michal be returned to him before any covenant agreement was made between him and Abner.[9] If Abner wanted to broker a peace deal with David, then the return of his wife was the one and only condition demanded by David as he reigned in Hebron over Judah. No Michal, no covenant agreement (2 Sam 3:12-16). Bahurim is the location of this return, much to the distress of Michal’s new husband, Paltiel.

            This Michal-Bahurim association is underlying the covenant-marriage metaphor which is an implicit major theme through 2 Samuel 16-17. The dispute between David and Absalom will find sharpest expression in the question of marital rights over the concubines left in Jerusalem.[10]

            Bahurim is no mere geographical snippet which has been included in order to enliven the drama of the event. It is the sin of David with Bathsheba which damaged the covenant between the LORD and David. In that case, David acted like Saul and took away the wife of another man. Now when David comes to Bahurim, that broken covenant is to be restored. For King David, Bahurim signifies the restoration of his marital covenant rights. It is at Bahurim that David had that which was stolen from him – his first wife, Michal – returned to him.

Bahurim is the village which conjured up the memories of the tension between Saul and David, between Benjamin and Judah, between father and son, between the first king of Israel and the anointed one in waiting. Bahurim was the centrepoint for the restoration of justice for David, the anointed one, who had spent so long in exilic flight from Saul.            

In short, Bahurim is the place where David has returned to him that which rightfully belonged to him. It was at Bahurim that David’s wife was returned; it was here that the broken covenant was made whole again (3:16). Bahurim signifies the restoration of the covenant. The double use of ‘King David’ and the geographical location of Bahurim serve to bring to mind these important events at the founding of the Davidic throne. 

[1] Baldwin, 1 & 2 Samuel, 263. All references are to commentaries on 1 and 2 Samuel by the Authors.

[2] Keil-Delitzsch, Samuel, 303. Compare Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel, 588.

[3] Alter, 1 & 2 Samuel, 291.

[4] Alter, 1 & 2 Samuel, 300. Alter is commenting upon 2 Samuel 17:18. Compare  Evans, 1 & 2 Samuel, 213.

[5] This identity question finds further backing from Fokkelmann observation that the name ‘Bahurim’ means ‘chosen’. Fokkelmann, 196.

[6] See 2 Samuel 3:16. Compare two other references in 2 Samuel 17:18 and 19:16.

[7] Abner has been falsely accused by Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, and this ill-treatment moved Abner, the army’s commander, to defect from the Saulide dynasty to the house of David. 2 Samuel 3:9-10.

[8] 1 Sam 18:27, 25:44. David earned the right to marry Michal and she was given to him by her father, Saul, (1 Sam 18:27-29). David is thus the son-in-law to the first king of Israel, however, while David is a fugitive, Saul takes Michal and gives her to another man (1 Sam 25:44). As a result, David takes another wife, Ahinoam of Jezreel, who bore his first born son, Amnon. Despite Saul’s action, it is to be noted that Saul refers to David as ‘my son’ in 1 Sam 26:17.

[9] 2 Sam 3:13.

[10] Abner has been falsely accused by Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, and this ill-treatment moved Abner, the army’s commander, to defect from the Saulide dynasty to the house of David. See 2 Samuel 3:9-10.

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