Studying a passage like 2 Samuel 16 raises many questions. Here are some questions and notes I’ve had as I reflected on 2 Samuel 16:5-14.
When does the narrative refer to David by name and as ‘the king’? Or as King David? Is there any significance in the choices made? How can it be right for David to be returned to Jerusalem as king of Israel? It is this theme of righteousness which is key in this section.
In 2 Samuel 16:5-6, I believe that double use of the phrase ‘King David’ is very significant. (Note that NIV omits one use thus viewing it as merely stylistic preference.) In particular, it draws connection back to the first use back in 2 Samuel 3.
And here is a list of the main echoes of 2 Samuel 3 in the narrative of 2 Samuel 16:5-14:
- The cursing of King David occurs at Bahurim (v 5) which is the very place where Abner proposed that David be king over Israel (3:16-17).
- Shimei is from the ‘house of Saul’ (v 5) and the Abner episode is centred around the war between the house of Saul and the house of David (3:1,6).
- Shimei’s accusation is that David is a ‘man of blood’ (v 7) which is the language David uses after the death of Abner as David distances himself from the ruthless action of Joab (3:27-28).
- Shimei refers to the vengeance of the Lord (v 8), while it is Joab who takes his own vengeance for the death of his brother, Asahel (3:30).
- Shimei speaks of David having taken the place of Saul (v 8) which is precisely what Abner swears he will accomplish for David (3:9-10).
- The image of a dog’s head is used in each passage by men consumed by anger (3:8 and 16:9).
- Both passages involve the sons of Zeruiah (3:39 and 16:10).
- Both passages centre around whether it is right to kill a man of the tribe of Benjamin (3:33-37 and 16:11).
- Both passages highlight the fact that David is not only ‘king’ but king ‘today’ (3:39 and 16:5,12).
- Both passages specify that Absalom is a son of David (3:3 and 16:8,11).
- Finally, both passages centre around the treatment of concubines, although this is not explicit until later in chapter 16 (3:7 and 16:20-23).
In short, it can be seen that every verse from 16:5-12 inclusive has at least one direct reference to 2 Samuel 3, while verses 13-14 reiterate the experience of the journey through Bahurim. (Walter Brueggemann notes Ridout’s structural observation regarding the chiastic shape of the passage: A v 5, B v 5b-6, B’ v 13, A’ v 14. Brueggemann, 177, .)
What do we make of this strong connection?
The significance of these connections is that they draw the reader back to the foundation of David’s kingship. The question which is really at stake is what is the house of David built upon? The essence of Shimei’s charge against David is that his foundations are fatally flawed because his kingdom had been established in bloody violence. Now, claims Shimei, those corrupt actions are being revealed for what they were and justice from God is being meted out to him and his house. But, in fact, this judgment of Shimei is clearly incorrect as the details of 2 Samuel 3 make plain (eg 3:39). Shimei’s very judgement thus provides part of the basis for David’s return as king. As David will declare in 2 Samuel 22:17-22:
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
21 “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
23 For all his rules were before me,
and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
24 I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
25 And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight.