Nibbling on 2 Samuel 11

Here are some notes on 2 Samuel 11.

Dale Davis notes the change of pace between 2 Samuel 10 and 11. Lovely quote from Claus Schedl:

“Whereas the progress of the Ammonite war is recorded in quick, sure strokes, almost too briefly, the events at the royal court are described in comfortable detail. In the one, it is only the course of the war that is important; in the other it is the exploration of human character.” (Davis, 2 Samuel, p 115).

Bill Arnold really brings out the theme word ‘send/sent’ through the chapter. The verb ‘send’ (slb) is used 23 times in 2 Samuel 10-12 (p 520). He argues that “their sending is all about human power structures and about who has access to the most strength in order to dominate the other.” (p 521).

I like how Arnold draws out this theme but I wonder if there is something more than just the ‘power’ theme. I don’t quite know what but just find myself feeling a little dissatisfied with this. I don’t agree with Bill’s comment with respect to 12:27 which has the final use of this theme word: ‘Joab sent messengers to David…’ Arnold concludes that the details in this final paragraph (12:26-31) serve to “highlight the irony of David stealing the credit for Joab’s work while he has also stolen Uriah’s wife” (p 539). I really don’t see this being the conclusion at all – on the contrary, it is Joab who is pushing David into action. It seems to me that the paragraph is much more positive about David than Arnold’s comment conveys. This is not about ‘stealing credit’ but about finally receiving the crown of the Ammonites after all the drama of these three chapters. It is to be noted that the crowning follows straight on from the birth of Solomon, and, I would argue, this provides a link to the theme of ‘righteousness’ which flows through these chapters and will be the theme of 2 Samuel 13-20. Indeed, I suspect this is where the apostle Paul draws ‘the crown of righteousness’ notion from (see 2 Timothy 4:8). That is an argument that takes some unpacking but will be running through the exegesis of 2 Samuel 13-20. (I’m kite-flying an idea that I’ve had for a while linking this to Paul’s comment…and it is still definitely in my ‘I wonder’ box).

Phil Moore has written a 60 day devotional on 1 and 2 Samuel (Moore, 1 and 2 Samuel). It’s generally a good, little book helping the layperson to make their way through the books of Samuel. I like it but did struggle a bit with his section on 2 Samuel 11 (pp 204-08). In this chapter Moore is focussed on 2 Samuel 11 but throughout he is jumping ahead to David’s repentance in 2 Samuel 12. He writes: “God wants us to be encouraged that sinful but repentant people are still the kind of people he can use.” (p 207). There’s nothing wrong such a statement but the problem is that he’s still in 2 Samuel 11. I feel his tension – this chapter leaves us uncomfortable. But I think that is very much the point of it – we are to be confronted by the reality of David’s sin. With the horror of sin. With those haunting words: ‘But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD’ (11:27).

I don’t want to be too harsh on Moore – I know that pastoral tension where you want to be helping your parishioners and so you want them to move from sin to repentance. But, at the very least, I think Moore needed to join this section with 2 Samuel 12 if he’s going to focus on repentance. Because the one thing that 2 Samuel 11 does not have in it is any sense of contrition by David about his sin.

Unfortunately, Moore seems to compound the analysis by closing with reference to Joseph resisting temptation. Again, there is no real problem with this. And, of course, one feels the desire: as pastors we want to move our people not to sin in the first place: ‘So let’s not be like David who looked, lusted, lapsed and lamented. Let’s be like Joseph…who refused to go even to first base with temptation’ (Genesis 39).

I’m all for what Moore is seeking to do. And I realise he is providing ‘bite sized’ devotionals. Nonetheless, it does highlight a tendency we have (I certainly do!) And his approach is not where we are in this particular chapter – 2 Samuel 11 – which is explicit the bite for that day. This chapter, 2 Samuel 11, is all about keeping “the spotlight and the responsibility squarely on David” (Davis, p 116) and we are confronted full on by his sin. In his defence, Moore does go through David’s fall but it’s all enclosed by phrases like: ‘God wants to encourage us that he can still use us in our sin and weakness…’ (p 205). The problem I have with Moore’s approach is that it diminishes the reality of ‘our sin’. 2 Samuel 11 confronts us with David’s sin and, in the very first instance that has nothing to do with ‘encouragement’ but everything to do with ‘confrontation’. Our natural inclination is not to face our sin…2 Samuel 11 is all about spelling out what sin is like.

If you want to get a good feed on what that is like, then turn to John Woodhouse. The much longer commentary by John Woodhouse powerfully brings this out…I’ll quote him in the next post.

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