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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Readings 2 Samuel 17&18

(Sunday) 2 Samuel 17:1-23
David's prayer (and intervention) work. Hushai contradicts the advice of Ahithopel and convinces Absalom not to attack his father. The narrative implies that David would have been vulnerable to such an aggressive move, probably because he had only the force of 600 personal body guard. I have been asked why God saved David when he had sinned so much. It is important to remember that God is acting on behalf of His people, for purposes beyond our understanding. There is a personal connection with David, of course, but it is not simply that. Our individualism leads us to ignore that God loves His people. What happens to individuals is most important for what it means to the whole people.

Ahithophel commits suicide in response to Absalom rejecting his advice. Is it loss of face (they are a shame culture)? Is it the realization that Absalom will now fail and David will succeed so he is avoiding David's wrath? The Bible does not give the reasons, perhaps an ancient reader would think it obvious. He hangs himself, while David, aided by his inside informants (who escape their pursuers in a manner similar to the spies in Judges), escapes to safety. The Providence of God is through human instruments.

(Monday) 2 Sam 17:24-18:8
Absalom chooses Amasa over Joab as general of the army. The brief lineage illustrates one aspect of this tragedy; the two generals are nephews of David and first cousins. The civil war pits brother against brother. The Biblical family-always at war with one another (Cain and Abel) the fruit of orignal sin... David wants to lead the army, but his men refuse. They understand that this is not a war, it is focused on David alone. If he dies all is lost. So Joab and two others generals are sent while David remains behind at the gate (recall Absalom had fostered the coupe at a city gate). The victory over the rebel army is complete and we are told the forest consumes more than the sword (Lord of the Rings has a similar story). More mystery...

(Tuesday) 2 Sam 18:9-18
Previously David had requested that Absalom be "covered" ("deal gently with the young man"). The text makes clear everyone knows it. Encountering David's men, Absalom (the beautiful) rides under a tree and is caught by the neck in the branches. As the mule rides off he is left hanging (an image of his relationship with David). A long speech from the soldier who finds him reiterates that David wants Absalom spared. The Hebrew word play is rich. The soldier says he would not take money in his hand to kill Absalom, then Joab takes three sticks in his hand. [Alter argues the Hebrew is sticks, not darts.] The Hebrew tarq'a means to jab/pierce (with sticks and the sound of bugle call). He is jabbed in the heart while in the heart of the tree (tying back to the heart shaped dumplings of his sister Tamar and the multiple heart references in the previous chapters). Absalom is slaughtered and shamefully buried under rocks (with a brief reminder of the commemorative pile of stones  Absalom had piled in his own honor in the past).

Joab proves to be a most complex character. He is the one who brought Absalom back to David, now against David's request, he slays the man. The Bible does not explain the motivation for either act. Perhaps the writing, like a work of art, is meant to be interpreted by the reader? At any rate, we are reminded of the problem with people. In the end, each of us does was we think best, many times in conflict with the wishes of others. Can anyone ever be trusted? [Jn 2:24-25 "Jesus on His part would not entrust Himself to others, because He knew all people and needed no one to testify about everyone; for He Himself knew what was in everyone."]

(Wednesday) 2 Sam 18:19-33
This is an unedited rendition of David finding out about the death of his son. [A couple weeks ago a shortened version was read at our Sunday eucharist and it was the primary focus of the homily that day and the subsequent blog post]. Ahimaaz, the priest Zadok's son, wants to deliver the message to David. Joab, calling him son prefers another deliver the bad news. Joab sends a Cushite (Ethiopian) instead, but Ahimaaz prevails and, taking a flatter route, is able to overtake the first man. The greeting "Shalom" (all is well) introduces the exchange, "Is it shalom for avshalom?" Like the priest Eli, David will learn of the death of his son at the city gate. Ahimaaz deftly avoids clearly answering the question (Alter says the Hebrew is somewhat garbled, reflecting the stumbling attempt to communicate). The Cushite  announces the death without fanfare. We know David's response

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