Bible Commentator

Messengers of God: A Theological And Psychological Perspective

Moshe Reiss



David by Michelangelo

‘And Michal Saul’s daughter loved David’ (1 Sam. 18:20). ‘And David said ‘It is  not a light thing to be the King’s son-in-law seeing that I am a poor and insignificant’ (1 Sam. 18:23). The sight of him [David] filled her [Michal] with contempt’ (2 Sam. 6:17).

Jonathan loved him as his own soul’ (1 Sam. 18:1). ‘Jonathan lies slain upon the high places. I am distressed for you my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women’ (2 Sam. 1:25-26)

David’s life as described by the text can be viewed in two discrete and separate  parts. The first stage begins with his anointment as King-elect by Samuel, the Prophet (while Saul is still the King) and ends with Saul’s death. The second stage begins with his appointment as King first of Kingdom of Judah and later as King of Israel, his unification of the tribes and ends with his death and Solomon, his son’s, selection as King.

In the first stage he is depicted as heroic fighter and  healer protector of his mentally unstable King Saul despite the King’s attempts several times to kill him.  Their relationship was originally positive when Saul was David’s sponsor. He is described during this first stage as God’s  ‘chosen one’. He is wise and the Lord is with him. He is the servant of God. He is loved by all Israel and more specifically by Saul’s son Jonathan and Saul’s daughter Michal.

Stage one is recorded in the First Book of Samuel. The story continues to unfold into the first ten chapters of Second Book of Samuel. The main events are a transition to David’s appointment as king of Judah, his triumphs and the  consolidation of his power over the remaining northern tribes, over Saul’s descendants, and his defeat of Israel’s enemies  His ultimate triumph is conquest of Jerusalem and its establishment as his capital. David is the recipient of one of highest praises from God. David yearns to build a house for the Lord and the Lord says you will be my house, your dynasty will be My house. Having received this blessing and  consolidated his power as King, a strikingly different aspect of his personality emerges. He commits adultery and orders a premeditated murder for his own personal benefit. It is not surprising that  enormous problems ensue with his children: his daughter is raped by a brother, one commits fratricide  and then rebels against his father and another attempts what some consider a coup d’etat. This David is much more sinner-like than the previously described ‘Saint’ David. No longer is the Lord with him, but rather he is punished by God. It is hard to reconcile these two different David’s.

During the first stage of his life David demonstrates qualities of courage, aggressiveness and is very clever in protecting himself from his King who seeks his death. (Can his friendship with Jonathan, the king’s son be considered political or protective?) He hides among the enemies of Israel (the Philistines!) and becomes a renegade of the state. During the second stage he is depicted largely as a sinner and is punished. 1  David transgressed three of the ten commandment; coveting; committing adultery and ordering a murder.

David is politically very wise and uses the brilliant Joab as his military chief. In Stage two of his life he is however more passive than courageous. This second stage focuses primarily of his family life. His successful exploits of political and military exploits are a thing of the past. As a parent one would be hard pressed not to see him is weak,  indulging and a failure. Is he a Saint or Sinner or as Carlson says blessed in the first phase of his life and cursed in the last phase. 2 Can the public man be blessed and the private man be cursed?

David’s reputation among Jews and Christians is extremely positive, almost mythic. He is the `quintessential winner’. 3 We seem to have forgotten or at least have forgiven him his sins. His reputation is based on his unification of the Jewish people, defeat of Israel main enemy, the Philistines, winning an empire from the Sinai desert in the south to mid Syria in the north as far as the Euphrates River, the establishment of a dynasty which lasted hundreds of years (in Judah) the  establishment of Jerusalem as the  capital of the Jewish people and with his son Solomon, the building of the  Temple. Thus was created the `Golden Age’ of Judaism. As a result  the prototypical `Messianic’ title was bestowed upon him by Jews and Christians.  Indeed in his mission and death Jesus is seen as the descendant of David, born in Bethlehem, David’s birth town and preached and died in Jerusalem, David’s capitol. Jesus was proclaimed by Christians as the Messiah. The future Jewish Messiah is called the `Messiah ben David’.

The momentous turning point in David’s  life is his being the recipient of God’s blessing (in II Sam. Chapter 7). However, soon thereafter, David  blinded by hubris and acting as an abusive and despotic king has an illicit sex affair with a married woman, married to his own soldier’s Uriah’s wife. This act of power, clearly against God then results is his coldly having his soldier, Uriah, killed.  David as we shall see was punished by God.  And we shall see his personality undergoes a change. Can it be that David in his youth was a `Man of Faith’ chosen by God and when actually King becomes a `Majestic Man’?  Is it possible that being `Majestic’ has a  corrupting power? Are we to learn of the destructive power of Kingship on even good men? 4  Is David, like Joseph narcissistic - we do not have enough information about his family life to answer that question, although we will discuss it later on. Does he, as Jung described have a shadow power that develops in his middle age?

In David’s deathbed testament to Solomon, his successor, he instructs  him to have faith in God. `Observe the laws of YHVH, your God’ (I Kings 2:3). In the next verse but one, David tells Solomon whom to kill, including Joab his wisest counselor.  Solomon does as he is instructed and also kills his own brother Adonijah.


David and Goliath

David and Goliath by Degas

At the time David first meets Saul fact to face Saul is a failed king and David has already been anointed as the next king.

When David is anointed by Samuel, we are told that the spirit of God came upon him and departed from  Saul, the King (1Sam. 16:13-14). This is a clear statement of God’s blessing of David and His cursing of Saul. God sponsors David, and God rejects Saul.  Saul acts depressed and his servants seek a healer who turns out to be David. The healer is described as `a valiant man, a man of war, prudent in speech, handsome and with the Lord’ (16:18). In the previous chapter (15)  Samuel had told Saul he had lost his dynasty; and a new king chosen. Could Saul have suspected that this remarkable person would be his successor?  Commentators note that Saul was afflicted by depressive melancholia. Having been brought to the heights of exaltation as the first king of Israel, he succumbs to depression when informed by Samuel that his dynasty will end. Saul asked Jesse, David’s father, to send the young man as a companion. And indeed when David played his harp `Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him (16:23).  David the musician became the personal attendant to Saul.

The Philistines assembled their armies with their leader Goliath. This giant of a man challenged any Hebrew to fight him. David had three brothers in the army. He brought them food and their father's good wishes. While he was with his brothers Goliath repeated what he had said for forty days; his personal challenge to fight any Hebrew in single combat. David opportunistically inquires about the reward for killing Goliath. The people respond: the King’s daughter, riches and making his father free (perhaps of taxes). David volunteers and declares  to Saul I will go forth and fight Goliath. Saul does not appear to recognize David as the youth who played music and healed him. But David says to Saul `The Lord who saved me from the paws of the lion and the paws of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine' (17:37). Upon seeing the young man stride towards Goliath Saul inquires of Abner, his military commander, whose son is he (17:55)? This question shocks the reader since Saul and David have just spoken and had a previous healing and lyrical relationship. They have met when David soothed Saul (16:21-23). They had met again when discussing the challenge of Goliath (17:32-39).  Abner answers `as my soul lives I do not know’? How do they both not know? Saul repeats  whose son is this  `stripling’? 5

With no armor and only his slingshot, five stones and his shepherd’s staff, David approaches Goliath. David said `I come to you with the name of the Lord of Hosts' (17:45). David miraculously slays Goliath.
Upon slaying the giant Goliath using a slingshot the young David decapitates him. David both brings the head to Saul, ‘his new and surrogate father’ and ‘to Jerusalem’ his future capital (I Sam. 17:54,57). Since simultaneously this is impossible the text is recognizing David’s attempt at relating to Saul as a surrogate father - Saul asks a second time ‘whose son is this’ - and that he will soon enough defeat his new father and become the king with his capital in Jerusalem.  David who refused Saul’s armor as being to large, then takes Goliath’s armor - even larger than Saul’s -  for his own.

When David appears to Saul, he still does not recognize him and asks again `whose son are you’? I am the son of your servant Jesse says David.  Why does Saul not recognize the youth who played for him and helped him recover from his depression? Why are we told this three different times - twice by Saul and once by Abner?. In each case the question stressed by Saul is not who are you, but whose son are you? Perhaps the question is one of astonishment - can this be David, son of Jesse, my musician? Can my musician and healer also be a man of war? Can Saul have been jealous that David accepted the physical combat and challenge of Goliath while he himself had not.

`And it was, as David  finished speaking to Saul, that Jonathan's soul had become attached to David's soul and Jonathan loved him as himself'. Saul took him [David] that day and did not allow him to return to his father's house' (18:1-2). These three verses (17:54, 18:1-2) are a foreshadowing of the remainder of Saul's life. Saul attempts to coerce Jesse's son David, the conqueror of Goliath, to be his surrogate son. But we already know how Saul treated his natural son - he was willing to kill him (14:45). Jonathan  recognizes the superiority of David, he recognizes God’s will, his father Saul does not. The word ‘love’ from one person to another is rare in the Bible and this is the only time we have a man loving another man. What Jonathan needs is to love a father figure. Saul is unable to love his son(s) or his daughters. He will shortly again attempt to kill Jonathan. Jonathan is painted in the Bible as the opposite of his father, he is truly heroic as contrasted to his tragic father. Saul did not recognize David, he did not recognize what his son recognized, the superiority of David as God’s chosen. 6

Jonathan gives David his robe, the robe of Princeship and they make an as yet undefined covenant. Saul appoints David his General of the Army. He continues his successful exploits and the people sing  `Saul slayed his thousands, David his tens of thousands’ (18:7). Saul says `what more can he have but the kingdom’.  Saul became enraged  as David played the harp in order to remove the evil spirit from Saul. While David is attempting to heal his King, Saul attempted to spear him twice. David escaped. Saul realized that the spirit of God was with David. Since Saul was an accomplished warrior was he also ambiguous about killing one with God’s spirit. He had already heard from Samuel  that God had chosen a successor. Could David be the anointed?

And Saul removed him as his commander and made him captain of a thousand (18:13). Was this a reduction in rank? `David went out and came in before the people’ `And David behaved wisely in all ways’(18:13) and Saul was afraid’ (18;15). `All Israel and Judah loved him as he `went out and came in before them’ (18:16).  Not only Jonathan but all Israel recognized what Saul refused to recognize.

As everyone loved and respected David, so Saul hated him and considered him an enemy. `David was more successful than all Saul's servants, and his name was highly esteemed. And Saul spoke to Jonathan, his son and to all his servants to put David to death.' (18:30, 19:1). With these two verses we can only conclude that Saul had become mad. He must know, as we the reader do, that Jonathan loves David and his servants highly esteemed David. Saul then attempts to convince Michal, David’s wife and his daughter to cooperate in his plan to kill David.  Evil spirits from God continually plagues Saul, after each he attempted to kill David. His attempts fail because of Jonathan or Michal, and with God’s help. 7

David and Jonathan
David and Jonathan by He Qi

In chapter 20 Jonathan and David define  their covenant. Jonathan commits to speak with his father on David behalf. David is understandably concerned about his life. Saul’s reaction to his son’s overture is extreme and violent.  `You are a perverse and rebellious son’ (20:30) and you have chosen the man who will succeed me.  And Saul throws a spear at his own son. Jonathan then relates his father’s madness to David . Jonathan said to David   `The Lord be between me and you and between my seed and yours forever’. (20:42) Later on Jonathan says to David  `You shall be the next king and I your assistant’ (23:17). Jonathan understands David’s destiny as his father refuses. Jonathan sees David as a father figure who can protect him, while Saul sees David as the son who will destroy him. This completes the covenant between David and Jonathan.   One could see this as an abdication speech by Jonathan to David. Jonathan fully recognizes that David is God’s chosen.   While the covenant fails to protect Jonathan, it is not due to David. Jonathan, never rejects his father and chooses to follow his father knowing that this path will result tragically.

Another additional incident occurs in which Saul commits mass murder exposing another facet of Saul’s madness. David has escaped and survived once with the intervention of Michal’s and once with the intervention of Jonathan’s. In the interim  David seeks Samuel for assistance. Saul sends messengers to capture David. They join Samuel. Eventually Saul personally embarks on the mission to capture David.  But he himself joins the group of ecstatic  prophets. Saul later discovers that the priests of Nob extended refuge to David. His commander Doeg, the Edomite, tells him that David took his coveted trophy, the sword of Goliath. Edomites are one of the descendants of Esau who live by the sword. Why the sword of Goliath should be at Nob is unexplained. Saul went to Nob and ordered his soldiers to kill the eighty five priests for protecting David. The soldiers refused and Doeg killed all of them personally. Saul or perhaps with Doeg killed all the men, women, children , cattle, donkeys and sheep (22:16-23). (One priest  escaped to inform David.) There are several hyperbolic or mythical elements told here. Did all eighty five priests simply allow one man, Doeg, to  kill them? Did all the professional soldiers who refused to kill the priests of God wearing the priestly ‘ephod’ simply allow it? What happened to the ‘rebellious’ soldiers. Saul who could not kill all the men, women, children , cattle, donkeys and sheep of Amalek decided to kill the Israelite priests, their families and their herds. Is this Saul’s symbolic attempt to kill Samuel, his surrogate father? The next incident has David’s joining the Philistines and becoming an outlaw of the state.

David finds Saul asleep in a cave and cuts off a part of his robe. (A similar motif as when Samuel told Saul that God had rejected his dynasty Saul tore off a piece of Samuel’s robe.) He does not take advantage of the king and refuses his soldiers request to kill him explaining his behavior that he is the ‘Lords anointed’ (24:5-7).  David displays chivalry and honor. David then tells Saul `I spared you` (24:11). Saul responds `you are more right than I’. This statement is identical and echoes that uttered by Judah, (David’s ancestor) to his  daughter-in-law and future wife Tamar (Gen., 39:26). But Judah meant it. 8

Saul mounts an army to fight David. By then David is a renegade, has an army of the discontented and soon will join the Philistines. His associate Abishai (son of David’s sister, Zeruiah) sneaks up on Saul. Abishai says let us kill Saul who is sleeping on the ground. David once again says no `We can not kill God’s anointed’ (26:9).  He takes Saul’s spear and water can and departs. Over the hill David announced aloud that he had chosen not to kill the King of Israel. Saul said let there be peace between us (26:25).  But David disbelieved Saul and went to the land of the Philistines. David lived there for 16 months. David refused to be vengeful or commit regicide for the second time.  Saul who had numerous times tried to kill David is spared by David twice. How does Saul react in his murderous rage against the man who not only was his son-in-law and the best friend of his son, but who refused to kill him twice?


David and Saul
David Sparing Saul by R. Dadd

At the opening of the second Book of Samuel King Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua have fallen in the lost battle against the Philistines. David laments their death and mourns his friend Jonathan. `I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan, you were very pleasant to me. Your love was more wonderful to me than the love of women’ (II Sam. 1:26). The death of King Saul raises the issue of succession to the throne.

Saul’s cousin Abner, his military commander, installs Saul’s surviving sole son Ishbaal (or Ishbosheth) 9 though not prepared for kingship, as king over the northern tribes of  Israel, with its capital east of the Jordan River at Mahanaim. David, as the commanding hero of the army  has become king over his own tribe of Judah, with its capital at Hebron.
The fact that David was chosen by popular demand by his own tribe Judah resulted in a civil warfare between the two parties.  Ishbaal is the son of Saul and David is Saul’s son-in-law. Abner negotiated an agreement with David, bringing the northern tribes to David’s side, thus reuniting all of Israel in a single kingdom. While Joab (another  son of David’s sister Zeruiah), is fighting the civil war, David is negotiating with Abner a peace treaty. Joab returns  having defeated the Abner’s army and carrying back the spoils of war. Abner has received David’s compliments and twice told `go in peace’ (3:21,22) while Joab  was ignored. Joab is angry with his King, and says to David, that Abner is a spy, meaning that just as Abner was a traitor to Ishbosheth so he can be a potential threat  to you. Joab were originally friends, both are charismatic heroic army commanders,

Joab went out to kill Abner `but David knew it not’ (3:26). The text tells us that Joab killed Abner for the death of Joab’s brother Asahel. Asahel was killed during the previous war and Joab killed Abner directly after a treaty of peace had been signed by David. The text does not justify Joab’s action. David angrily holds a public funeral for Abner and mourned him. Is David concerned that that the murder of Abner will endanger the United Kingdom, he and Abner had negotiated? David curses Joab and declares that God will take vengeance. David reveals to us that he is too weak as compared to Joab to take vengeance himself (3:39). David, the slayer of Goliath, appears in a different light, as if intimidated by Joab. He is being compared to Ishbosheth who was similarly intimidated by Abner, his commander. What has happened to  David, the hero of I Samuel as we enter II Samuel and he begins his reign as King of Judah? This is the first incident of several to follow 10 in which a pattern of passivity begins to surface. David seems unaware of a number of events beginning to occur and remains passive even upon discovering the truth. This passivity starkly clashes with the active David that we saw during the lifetime of Saul.

After  Abner death, Ishbaal is murdered, without David’s prior knowledge and he invokes his wrath on the killers. 11 He was now recognized by all as king of Israel. He soon proceeded to capture the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, to make it the capital of his united kingdom - a capital that came to be known as the City of David. There he established his royal household and his growing family of wives and children.

Could David have been implicated in the death of Saul? Saul was killed in a war against the Philistines. David at the time was in the Philistine military under Achish.  Achish was amongst those  fighting Saul (I Sam. 29:1-2). When David says to Achish that he wishes to ‘go out and fight against the enemies of my Lord, the King’. Who was the King referred to, Achish or Saul? 12 Could David have been implicated in the death of Abner? The narrator tells us three times that David said to Abner ‘go in peace’ (II Sam. 2:21,22,23). Abner was the only military leader David had to fear. With his death David rule of all Israel was a foregone conclusion. He was also either Saul’s uncle (I Chron. 8:33) or his cousin (I Sam. 14:50) as well as Saul’s commanding officer. What had David offered Abner  in exchange for a peace treaty – the equivalent position of Joab in the north and the elimination of Ishbaal? 13

His death and shortly afterward Ishbaal’s death cleared the way for David’s success as King of all Israel. 14The next obvious question is was David responsible for Ishbaal’s death? 15 Ishbaal we are told ruled for only two years (II Sam. 2:10). David rules for seven and a half years in Hebron. (II Sam 2:11). Did David rule in Hebron over Judea when Saul was still king? The text tells us Ishbaal was killed by Benjamites, then killed by David. But Benjamites were the tribe of Saul. Why would Benjamites kill their own king? Was this part of the deal struck which Abner’s before his death, unknown to the killers of Ishbaal?

The text suggests that David’s rise to power was completely free of any guilt. McCarter raises some doubts by asking these questions.


Star of David
Star of David by Phillip Ratner

After David, became King of Israel, he moved the Ark with the Tablets of the Covenant and installed them in Jerusalem which he declared the religious and political capital of Israel. David himself now lives in a ‘house of cedar’. He seeks the approval of the Prophet Nathan to build a house of cedar for God to dwell in  (7:1).  Nathan tells David ‘all that is in your heart go do, for the Lord is with you’ (7:3). God, however, objects and says to Nathan. 16

‘Go and tell my servant David, `YHVH says to him this: Are you to build Me a house (Ba’it) for me to live in?  I have never lived in a house (Ba’it) from the day when I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have walked in a tent and tabernacle.  In all my travels with the Israelites, did I say to any of the rulers of Israel whom I had commanded to shepherd my people Israel, why do you not build me a house (Ba’it) of cedar?’ (7:5-7)

God immediate response is quite remarkable:  ‘Go and tell My servant  David:’ God calls David my servant. Before this only two Hebrews were  called God’s servant;  Abraham (Gen. 26:24) and Moshe (Num. 12:7,8).  17 Thus God is comparing David to the two founders of Judaism, Abraham and Moses. 

But thereafter God is very critical of David. ‘Are you to build Me a house for me to live in? . . . [I] have never lived in a house’ (7:5). God rejects a house for Him to live in.  All the gods have houses(of cedar or otherwise) so did David assume that God also needed a house? Shamai Galander questions whether God was raising the issue of ‘shall  you   build’ or is the issue a  ‘dwelling’ for God? 18    Was David, the recently crowned King of Judah and Israel trying to tie God down, to be the God only of Israel and not of the entire the world? Was this the beginning of the nationalistic God of Israel? Was God suggesting that the creator of the world does not need a permanent abode, his omnipresence covers the world?

Is God also asking whether David is being arrogant enough to suggest that he - David - has decided that God needs a house? Regina Schwartz suggests that with the two pronouns ‘you’ and ‘Me’ God is asking do you propose to be my patron? 19 Does David not realize what his son, Solomon will realize? When Solomon dedicated the Temple (Ba’it) he says ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold,  heaven and the highest heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built!’ (1 Kings 8:27)   20 The key issue as we will see is ‘a house for me to live in’.

Then God continues to Nathan:
‘This is what you must say to my servant David. YHVH of Hosts says thus: I took you from the pasture , from following sheep, to be the leader of my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you went; I have gotten rid of all your enemies for you. I am going to make your name as great as the name of the greatest on earth.  I am going to provide a place for my people Israel; I shall plant them there, and there they will live and never be disturbed again; nor will they be oppressed by the wicked anymore, as they were in former times. Ever since the time when I instituted Judges to govern my people Israel. And I shall grant you rest from all your enemies, and I shall grant you a dynasty (Ba’it) (7:8-11)

Like Moses, David had been a shepherd. Like Abraham `I will make of thee a great name’  (Gen. 12:2),  David name was made great.  Abraham was promised  and I will ‘give you this country as your possession’ (Gen. 15:7). David rules or will shortly rule the land from Damascus to Sinai and defeat all Israel’s enemies. To Abraham the promise is in the future (‘will’), to David the promise is past tense. The promises to Abraham have been fulfilled with David.

Then God says to David ‘I shall grant you a ‘Ba’it’ - a dynasty. In a remarkable change and word play God says I do not need you to build me a ‘Ba’it’ (house as a structure), but you will be my ‘Ba’it’, my dynasty!  As will be seen this ‘Ba’it’ is promised forever.

‘And when your days are over and you sleep with your ancestors, I shall appoint your heir, your own seed, from your bowels  to succeed you and I shall make his sovereignty secure.  He will build me a house (Ba’it) for my name. And I shall make his royal throne secure for ever.  I shall be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does anything wrong, I shall punish him with a rod such as men use, with blows of men. But my mercy will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your dynasty (Ba’it) and your sovereignty will stand forever before me and your throne be secure forever’ (7:12-16).

The Psalmist later affirms ‘I have made a covenant with my Chosen One, sworn an oath to my servant David I have made your dynasty firm forever, built your throne for all generations’ (Psalms 89:4-5). ‘I shall never withdraw from him my faithful love’ . . .  I shall not violate my covenant’ (Psalms 8:30).

When God spoke to Moses just before his death He said `You will soon be sleeping with your ancestors, and these people are about to play the harlot by following the gods of foreigners of the country’ (Deut. 31:16). God speaks in a more forgiving tone to: David ‘I shall appoint your heir, your own seed . . .  And I shall make his sovereignty secure’.

The former passage suggests future problems with the Covenant after the death of Moses. The latter passage suggests a covenant of optimism. The punishment for sin will be manlike and not Godlike. God does not threaten as He did to Moses that He will  destroy the people. (Ex. 32:32). He will never destroy David’s dynasty as He had done to Saul

When God says your son shall ‘build a house (Ba’it) for God’s ‘name’, ( I Kings 5:17) a ‘house’ is suddenly  acceptable, but only for my name. A house for my dwelling like other gods, no, but a house for my name, yes.

David is the first successful king of Israel, defeating the threatening Philistines and expanded the borders of Israel. He wants God to have a dwelling where He will be the protector of the people of Israel alone.  But God the creator of the world and the protector of all people rejects that role. I cannot dwell in your house, but I can have a house for my name. 

What is the significance between a house for my dwelling and a house for my name? The significance of the name of God first appears when He meets Moses at the burning bush.  Moses is given his mission to go to the Pharaoh and tell him to release the Hebrews from Egypt.  Moses asks who shall I tell him sent me. God says to Moses my name is `Eheh asher Eheh' and tell the children of Israel `Eheh' sent me [Moses] to you.' (Ex. 3:14).

This ambiguous term can mean ‘I am the God who existed before time and will exist after time, the universal God’ who created the world. God tells Moses that for  ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai, but I did not make my name ‘YHVH’ known to them' (Ex. 6:3).  To the Patriarchs God was their father, the father of the Hebrew people.   By my name. 'YHVH', [a variant of 'Eheh'] ‘ (Ex. 6:6) was unknown to them. To Moses he will be the God of the entire world.

God  says to Moses ‘I know you by name and you enjoy my favor’ (Ex. 33:12). Moses asks God to `show me your glory' (Ex. 33:18). And God responds `I shall make all my goodness pass before you, and before you I shall pronounce the name YHVH.  I am gracious before whom I am gracious and I take pity on those whom I take pity' (Ex. 33:19).  The people will receive God's grace and atonement as a result of God knowing Moses’ name. This is symbolized for Moses by then hearing God pronounce His name - YHVH. Just as God knows his name, so Moses now knows God's name.' (Ex. 33:22-23). 

At the giving of this covenant of Sinai God proclaims `Lord, Lord, You are a suffering and abundant in goodness and truth’ and ends with ‘[I will] visit the iniquity’ on their sins (Ex. 34:6).  This covenant has two parts, mercy and punishment, obligations and responsibilities. These are based on the issues of God’s name and God’s knowledge of Moses’ name.  This covenant is a universal covenant between the people of the world, the people of Israel and God, the creator of the world. The Israelites were to be a kingdom of priests, to follow more strict behavioral laws as a symbol of the  universal laws - the Ten Commandments.  As Moses says toward the end of his life `I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life’ (Deut. 30:19).

As God predicted the people failed (Deut. 31:16).  The people requested a secular king similar to all other nations. While God rejects Saul’s monarchy as a secular monarchy, he realizes that universal laws without being mediated by nationalism had failed. Thus he gives to David a nationalistic monarchy, but mediated by David’s being God’s vassal. That was the compromise in the covenant given to David by God.

When Solomon builds not a house for God to dwell in, but a Temple for the name of God (I Kings 5:17) he says in his prayer of dedication  ‘Even the foreigner, not belonging to Your people Israel, but coming from a distant country, attracted by Your name - for they too will hear of Your name, . . . listen from heaven where You reside, and grant all that the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may acknowledge Your name . . . and know that this Temple, which I have built, bear Your name (1 Kings 8:41-43).  This Temple has a universal message as stated by Solomon.

The Davidic covenant is nationalistic and ends with `I shall be to him [Solomon] a father and he shall be to Me a son’ . . . If he sins I will chasten him, `but my mercy shall not depart from him’ . . . `And your dynasty and your sovereignty will stand forever’. (5:14-16). This covenant  appears to be free with no conditions or requirements. God’s protection appears to guarantee Israel regardless of their deeds. But the Temple built by David’s son soon became the symbol of his father’s nationalism. There is a potential conflict between these two covenants; that given on Mt. Sinai to Moses and that  given to David on Mt. Zion. The Zion covenant appears unconditional. `Your dynasty and your sovereignty will ever stand firm before me and your throne be forever secure’ (7:16). When the Temple was build by David’s son Solomon, the Israelites believed that it would last forever and was God’s guarantee of David’s dynasty. This created a theology of optimism.

David’s first marriage had been contracted in the long past days when he was a young hero at the court of King Saul, David was the ‘wonder boy’ shepherd who had soothed Saul’s madness and suddenly became a warrior - a slayer of giants. Saul first promised his older daughter Merab to David in return for defeating the Palestinians. After David accomplished his task he finds that Saul, for no stated reason had married her off to another man. Did Michal convince her sister that she loved David and did Merab let her have him? We are not told whether Merab loved David although we are told that Michal loved David.Michal, the King’s younger daughter, fell in love with him. 21 This is a unique instance of the Bible telling of a woman in love with a man (I Sam. 18:20)  22. No indication is made of David’s reciprocating her love, only that he was quite willing to wed the princess, and be the King’s son-in-law , noted three times (18:18,23,26).  The King set a bride-price that required the would-be groom to risk his life  - the foreskins of 100 Philistines. David in fact provided 200 of them. There is something humorous about King Saul’s demand of circumcising Philistines known specifically in the Bible as the uncircumcised.23 When David marries Michal we are told ‘and Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David; and Michal Saul’s daughter loved him. And Saul was more afraid of David’ (18:28-29). What an interesting combination, Saul was more afraid because God and Michal favored him! When Saul later sought to slay his son-in-law, Michal risked her father’s often violent wrath to help her husband escape (19:11-13). She herself, however had been left behind and her father the king gave her in a second marriage to Paltiel ben-Laish. 

Years later when David was first approached by Abner, he demanded the return of Michal as one his terms for negotiations. He even send the demand to Ishbaal, with a reminder of the perilous mission - the bride-price of Philistinian foreskins - he had undertaken to win her. Ishbaal actually acceded to this demand, and had Michal sent back to David, to the great dismay of the forsaken Paltiel, wailing and lamenting, following her part way to the journey back to her first husband.  The reader is informed  of Paltiel’s reaction however Michal’s reaction is significantly absent.  Did she still love David?  As David’s first wife did she expect to be Queen and discover to her great dismay several other women sharing his bed? Shortly after Michal rejoined David we are told that he took ‘more concubines and wives; more sons and daughters have been born to David (5:13). 

Is it possible that David’s determination to re-possess Michal was calculated. Can David be determined to regain her because he expected that his re-marriage with the Saulide princess would consolidate the loyalty of the northern tribes? Did David hope that Michal would bear him a son who would found a dynasty to unite the claims of the Houses of Saul and of David.

Nothing more is said of Michal’s relationship with David until the great day when the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem. In the past it had been kept in Shiloh, was later captured by the Philistines, then returned by them to Kiryat-Jearim, where it stood virtually neglected for some 30 years. David having declared Jerusalem the royal and national capital of Israel, now made it the religious capital by delivering to it the Ark. In a celebration of this occasion, complete with sacrifices and blasts of the shofar, the King himself, girt in the linen ephod worn by priests, whirls with all his might before the Lord (II Sam. 6:14).  It is the supreme moment of his life, and leads directly to his house being declared the dynasty of God.

In the above incident Michal, is identified here as the daughter of Saul, and not as the wife of David. She is caught between being the daughter of Saul the former King and her husband the present king who fought bitterly over the kingdom during his lifetime and after Saul’s death fought a civil war for years as to the legitimate successor. In the celebration David is noted as dancing before the Lord, in Chronicles he sings to God an intoxicated hymn to the Lord (I Chrn. 16:8-36). When she helped David escape through a window she was noted as being David’s wife (I Sam. 19:11). However she ‘looked out the window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord, and she [Saul’s daughter] despised him for it’ (6:20).   As David came to bless his family she did not even wait for him to enter the palace, but went out to meet him, the sooner to pour out her rage and venom.  In the first and only dialogue she has with David she said: ‘Did not the king of Israel honor today - exposing himself in the sight of the servant’s female servant’s, as one of the riffraff might expose himself!’ (6:20). These are very strong words to describe the feelings of the woman who had once loved David and risked her life for him, remarkably scornful and sexually debasing language towards her husband and king from a once devoted wife. She accuses him of exposing himself to the lowest of the low, his male servant’s  female servant’s. The man is now the King of Israel, she is noted as the daughter of Saul, the previous King of Israel  and she exposes herself as an elitist. Did she, perhaps, sense that he demanded her back, tearing her away from a loving husband, not out of love for her as a person but rather as was valuable dynastic property and a pawn in his political game?

 To what did Michal allude to when she said he ‘exposed’ himself? He was wearing an ephod, the priestly robe. Did she mean he was not wearing a royal robe? That, unlike her father, he was not a king with legitimate, sovereign status? Was she aware that her father, King Saul had allowed the Ark to be abandoned and languish in  Kiryat-Jearim, and had not linked the sacral past to the monarchic future. Conversely David directly connected the past to the future and in fact appointed two high priests, Abiathar who was from the House of Eli in Shiloh in the north, and Zadok who was from Judah. David understood how to join the northern tribes and Judah together, a task Saul had been unable to accomplish. He also established the monarch as a vassal of God, with both Divine and secular legitimacy, an issue that had been neglected by Saul. He clearly understood that she stated that he, David had usurped illegitimately the kingship from her father and his descendants. Perhaps Michal thought that her husband David was an opportunist, and that he had taken over Saul’s kingdom after her father and her beloved brother Jonathan had died heroically. She may have thought that David was responsible for the murder of her brother Ishba’al and Uncle Abner, even though David punished Ishba’al’s killer and rejected Joab’s murder of Abner.

David responded  by telling her that the Lord had chosen him over her father and over her father’s house, and made him prince over all Israel. David added that he would find honor among those she had scorned (21-22). The passage concludes with the remark that Michal remained childless all her life. There is a clear connection between the incident and this final statement, that she was barren as a punishment for David’s thinking her insolent. Michal rejoined David when he lived in Hebron, he and his army conquered Jerusalem, he built a palace and had a war with the Philistines, brought the Ark from Kiryat Yearim to Jerusalem which took more than three months. This all happened during the period between Michal rejoining David and the incident over the Ark. The time is totally unspecified but could easily have been several years. (David moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem when he was thirty seven years of age.) Since David is known to have been very fertile does this suggest that he, in fact did not have sexual relations  with Michal since the time she rejoined him until the Ark incident and then thereafter? In any case, it thwarted any plan David may have had for an heir who would link his house to Saul’s.  David converted  her into a living widow. Since God rejected her father, Saul there could be no child from her confusing the dynastic purity of the Davidic dynasty.

There is an additional possibility issue we wish like to note.

Ahinoam Bat Ahimaatz
Who is Ahinoam?  King Saul was reported to have a wife named Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaatz (I Sam. 14:50), while David after his exile from Saul’s court took a wife called Ahinoam of Jezreel (25:43). 24  Is it reasonable that these are two different women with the same name?  Given that  this is an otherwise unique name, that does not appear elsewhere in the Bible, it seems unlikely. In Hebrew, both names are not only unique but quite odd  - Ahinoam, i.e. ‘the brother of Noam’. Is there a Noam and who is he?  Who is her father Ahimaatz  - ‘the brother of Maatz’?  Is there a Maatz and who is he?  The use in Hebrew of names which connect two thoughts is not unique - Abimelech means father of the King. Only once is the connector name (‘ahi’) used twice as in Ahi bat Ahi, Ahimelech ben Ahitub. In this case it means the brother of the king, son of the brother of good (I Sam. 22:9). In no other case does the latter part of the name refer to another name.

In the Book of Ruth we find the first mention of David. ‘There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed, he is the father of Jesse, the father of David’ (Ruth 4:17). But Ruth is the mother of Obed, not Naomi who was Ruth’s mother-in-law from a previous marriage and therefore Obed’s surrogate grandmother.  I would like to suggest that the Naomi may be the female of Noam; Noam itself as noted above is an unknown name in the Bible.   The name Maatz is also unknown in the Bible, but the name bears a remarkably similarity to Boaz. In Hebrew the last letter of Boaz is a ‘zayin’ and the last letter of ‘Maatz’ is a ‘tzadik’, but both have a very similar sound, and have occasionally been used interchangeably. Boaz is an elderly man marrying a young woman  (Ruth 3:10) and David is a young man marrying an older woman (Ahinoam). There is only one relevant comparison in the Bible that can be made to the ‘Ahi bat Ahi’. When Boaz meets the man who is a closer redeemer than he, a man he refers to as his (ahi) ‘brother’ (but he is not his brother) he calls him ‘Ploni Almoni’. This is a Hebrew euphemism for Mr. No Name the son of No Name or Mr. So the son of So. (The ben of Ploni ben Almoni is omitted.) Thus in the Book where every name has deep significance we have a character named ‘No Name’. This man is a closer redeemer for Naomi’s land and her dead husband’s name than Boaz. But he refuses to redeem Noami’s name and marry Ruth. The latter three letters of each of his No names are ‘oni ben oni’. This can be compared to ‘Ahi bat Ahi’

The author of the Book of Samuel (who may have also been the author of the Book of Ruth) was aware of the names used in the Book of Ruth and played a subtle pun on them when he decided to name Saul’s wife Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaatz and then use the same name as another woman David married. Why would the author of Samuel give the same name to Saul’s wife and to one of David’s wives if he did not intend for us to infer a connection? His aim was to help the reader draw the conclusion that David married her. In the immediate verse after we are told that David married Ahinoam the reader is told that Saul married off his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to ‘Phalti the son of Laish’ (1 Sam. 25:44). Just as David married Saul’s wife, Saul married off David’s wife to another man. Apparently even in Davidic times the adage of what is good for the goose is good for the gander applied. The key question is when did David Marry Queen Ahinoam? If this event occurred after Saul’s death and David’s appointment as King of Judea, then it is in the usual way of a Queen marrying the successor King. The interesting question is why the author places this event during Saul’s life and thus suggests that David kidnapped the Queen.

When Nathan, the prophet admonishes David for having taken Bathsheba he says in the name of God ‘I gave you your master’s household and your master’s wives into your arms’ (II Sam. 12:8).  The master is clearly Saul. What does ‘wives’  mean if not that Ahinoam, wife of Saul who became David’s wife? In one of Saul’s angry outbursts against Jonathan he calls him the ‘son of a rebellious woman’ (I Sam. 20:30). Is Saul suggesting that Ahinoam also loved David? 25 Did David with his enormous charm and magnetic charisma succeed in seducing Jonathan, Michal and Ahinoam? 26

Ahinoam bat Ahimaatz, this very odd combination of names suggested that the author of the Books of Samuel played a very subtle series of word puns to suggest that David inherited or kidnapped Saul’s wife and then married her as a partial means of getting his kingship.

The  Story of Bathsheba

David and Bathsheba
David and Bathsheba by M. Chagall

We are introduced to the story of David and Bathsheba  by being told that `at the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab and his servants and all Israel [to war] ...  David tarried in Jerusalem’ (11:1). What had the people said to Samuel about there need for a king - he will `wage our wars’ (I Sam.  8:20). What is David doing in Jerusalem when all the people are out fighting the war? Is David middle aged and no longer passionate about war?  (Having moved to Jerusalem when he was thirty seven years of age, It is reasonable to calculate David’s age as mid forties at this time.) While he tarried on his roof, David saw a beautiful bathing woman, naked  and his passion so arose that he sent messengers for her, took her and lay with her fully cognizant that she was married to one of his soldiers, Uriah, who was away fighting.  It is unclear whether there was any force on David’s side.  Did Bathsheba agree to this liaison and thus is she equally guilty of adultery or was she sexually exploited by David? Could Bathsheba have planned this encounter? Did she not know that the King could see her bathing from his roof? Why would she stand naked and bath in front of the potential sight of the king if he were on  his roof? Might it be considered that she seduced him?  27 It would appear that the bath was a ritual bath taken after her menstrual period. In that case she may have believed that she was fertile and it was possible she would become pregnant. In ancient times (as well as today) the belief was that the most fertile days were immediately after menstruation. 28 Thus it will be clear that David is the father when she sends a messenger proclaiming her pregnancy.  Could she even be considered to have planned the pregnancy?

The words that this is a purification bath are not in the verse where it is stated that David saw a woman bathing, but in two verses on. ‘David send messengers, they took her, and she came to him. He lay with her and she was sanctified from her tumah’. (11:4) The Hebrew word ‘tumah’ can mean her menstrual blood. This is as it is usually translated  But term is not used when David saw her coming out of her bath (mikvah - a purification bath 11:2) but after David slept with her, in an act of illicit sex. Thus she was ‘tumah’, because of her act of adultery.  Can the text be implying that by sleeping with David, God’s chosen one, Bathsheba was sanctified from the ‘tumah’ of her illicit act? 29  If not why is the phrase not where she was bathing in verse 2? If so that is an extraordinary concept, that breaking one of the Ten Commandments can be considered an act of holiness. 30

Was this their sole interlude? The fact that she sent messengers, rather than tell him personally, suggests that David having alleviated his lust, did not need her again. 31  What reaction did Bathsheba expect from David? David, not wanting the liaison to be recognized, orders her husband to return home. David expecting Uriah to sleep  with his wife will believe he is the father of the unborn child. But Uriah comes to the Kings Palace does not go home but rather remains with the king’s servants. When David questions why this behavior, he responds that it is unthinkable for him to go to the pleasures of his home and wife while Israel and its Ark are in danger of war. Uriah shows himself to be a loyal citizen (despite not being a Hebrew) and self sacrificing  soldier.  (Could he have suspected his wife and David’s cuckolding?) The text is, of course, criticizing  David for not leading his army in war and instead sleeping with the wife of one of his soldiers who is battling the enemy. 32  David entices Uriah to drink hoping he will then go home, but David’s attempted cover-up is unsuccessful. David was no doubt astounded that a soldier rejects the opportunity to sleep with his beautiful wife before going back to the wars. Uriah’s behavior is almost saint-like. His position is according to Maurice Samuel’s grating and either hypocritical (because he knew of the cuckolding 33 ) or brutally pedantic and tactless. 34

David  then develops another strategy, creating a capital crime to conceal a lesser  crime. Given David’s sexual exploits it is unclear why David so feared a scandal?  When confronted with his problems with Saul he twice allowed God to handle his problem as he did with his wife Abigail (chapters 24-26). He sends a secret message, by the hand of Uriah  to Joab, his Commander, to place Uriah in a dangerous place to ensure his death (11:15). Joab obeying his king sets up a battle which his men will lose and indeed an unspecified number of soldiers die. Joab is  concerned about the number of soldiers who died. But Joab apparently could not figure a way for only Uriah to die and thus sacrificed a number of soldiers.  Joab feels guilty over the loss of lives and expects David to be angry. Presumably David had thought that Uriah could be killed without endangering other soldiers. But to send Uriah out alone might have made  the whole scandal public. 35 That is what Joab feared and avoided. He sends a  messenger to tell David of the battle loss and tells him that when David get angry over the battle loss, he is to inform David of Uriah’s death.  But, in fact, David does not get angry and apparently is unconcerned about the sacrifice of soldiers. He tells the messenger to inform Joab `Let not this thing be evil in your eye, for the sword devours many times this number’ (11:25). So apparently Joab’s guilt was not shared by David.

We are then told that David took Bathsheba as his wife, after her mourning period.  Did Bathsheba understand her husband’s death as related to her relationship with David? How did she make peace with herself after her husband’s death/murder? This chapter is a scathing criticism of David despite Jewish commentators attempting to `cleanse’ David’s guilt.   36  `The thing David did was evil to the Lord’ (11:27). David may have lightly attempted to convince Joab this thing was not evil, but God knows it is evil.  David had provoked heaven, 37  his ‘offence is rank, it smells to heaven, 38  and will be punished.

Nathan the prophet came to David to recount a parable that told of God’s view.  It is about a rich man with many flocks and herds taking the only ewe lamb of a poor man. David says the punishment for this should be death. 39  Nathan then reveals to David he is the rich man,  Uriah the poor man,  Bathsheba is represented by the ewe and the flocks and herds (although not stated) are David’s concubines and wives. David is accused of two sins - murder and adultery.  40  For murder his punishment shall be ‘the sword shall never depart from your household. (II Sam. 12:10). 41 For adultery his punishment is  `[God] will raise up against you evil out of your own house .. Your wives .... will lie with your friend ... in sight of this sun ... you shall not die....the child that is born to you shall surely die’ (12:11-14). 42  Thus the evil David denied to Joab  will bring evil to his own house. David readily admits his sin, Nathan responds that God will forgive, but he must be punished. David’s immediate acceptance of his own crime saves his life but not that of the unborn child. `And the Lord struck the child’ (12:15). Over the course of David’s life these punishments all materialize. The child dies, his son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar, Absalom kills his brother Amnon and sleeps with his father’s wives in the sunlight of the roof (the same roof in which David first saw Bathsheba) and rebels against him.  David tragically discovers that his private life cannot be separated from his public life.

David prayed on behalf of the child and fasted but after seven days he died. When he knew the child died he got up, washed, anointed himself and ate. His servants were astounded expecting him to now mourn.  But David understood differently. The child was just born and had made no attachment to David. (Apparently the child was not even named.) David mourned him before his death as well as prayed for the child.    David goes to comfort Bathsheba (as she is called for the first time and not the wife of Uriah) who having given birth to the child had formed an attachment that David had not developed. He comforted her and lay with her. How long did she mourn for the unnamed child? How did she react to his ‘laying with her to comfort her’? His range of actions and reactions to emotions and feelings seem quite limited.

Given David’s lack of control of his emotions, it seems reasonable that she must have understood  that he had Uriah killed. How does Bathsheba  react to this? Or perhaps she is like Gertrude, Lady Hamlet, who cannot believe that the new King of Denmark could have killed his brother and her husband? She became pregnant and the child, when born is named Solomon. If  Bathsheba had agreed to this adulterous relationship does Jewish law (halakha) then consider her subsequent  marriage to David legitimate? Can murdering your adulterous lover’s husband make  Solomon a legitimate child and heir? Or can he be considered a ‘mamzer’ not to be admitted into the ‘congregation of the Lord, even unto the tenth generation’ (Deut. 23:3)? How long after the birth of the child and its death (seven days after its birth) did he lay with her; she was ritually impure for at least forty days (if the child was a boy, eighty days if a girl)? If that was the case the child would be a ‘mamzer’.

Nathan then says the Lord names him Yedidyiah, beloved of God. As we shall see Nathan, the prophet  becomes the child’s protector. Thus despite David having a child with a woman, both of whom committed adultery and whose husband he had murdered, God makes the child one of His chosen. If we needed any indication that David, regardless of his sins, was God’s chosen this would be more than sufficient. Is it possible that God chooses people unrelated to their worth and related only to His purposes?


David and Abigail
David meeting Abigail by Rubens

David’s wife Abigail is not only beautiful but wise. She is known in Jewish tradition as an ‘ashet Chayil’ a righteous or accomplished woman (Pr. 31:10).
Abigail is the wife of Nabal, the fool. When he refuses David provisions for his army, (in his war against Saul), David prepares to kill him. Abigail intercedes, she supplies David with the provisions and begs him in the name of the Lord who will make him king not to shed her husband’s blood. This wealthy woman refers to herself four times in her brief talk as ‘your maidservant’ (I Sam. 25:24,25,27,31). According to the Midrash she ‘exposed her thigh’ and David requests that she ‘do his bidding’. She claims she was menstruating’. ‘Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt’ (I Sam. 25:33). 43 Was this for not killing her husband or for not having sexual relations with a menstruating woman? Despite this the Midrash says she had sex with him at night - stains cannot be seen at night. After providing the food (and perhaps the sex he demanded) she declares that he is God’s chosen. She is the first person to declare that David will be King though he is at the moment a poor renegade. She prevents God’s chosen from murdering her husband. She then asks David that after he will have become King of Israel to remember her. He will, of course remember her well before he becomes  king.  She is clearly being shown as the wise woman in contrast to her foolish husband. She has been compared to the wise woman of Proverbs 31 with her many accomplishments. 44 The Talmud considered her the most important of David’s wives, the most beautiful, after Sarah and Rachel.   In paradise her place borders next to Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs. 45

David listens and blesses her. Her husband dies of natural causes - he drank himself to death in anger as the result of Abigail having provided for David and his men’s needs. The text also tells us that the Lord  struck him (25:38). After his death David marries her and inherits Nabal’s  valuable estate. Abigail is the only wife David actually requested in marriage (I Sam. 25:40). It is clear that David admired and perhaps loved Abigail. They have a son, Chileab, 46  but both disappear from David’s life. Why does the only woman David may have loved  disappear from the text? Could David not deal with a loved woman 47 or did the text writers feel it did not fit David’s image?  Or was she so wise as to disappear from this ‘strange’ family?

Levenson and Halpern ask in an intriguing article ask  who is Abigail and who is Nabal? 48  Nabal’s name means fool and glutton. He asks ‘Who is this David’? . . .  many are the slaves who break away from their masters. (I Sam. 25:10-11). This is a foolish outburst. Everyone in Israel knew David and knew that after being a hero he broke away from Saul. His question is rhetorical. His slaves tell his wife of their master’s foolishness and she decides to take things into her own hands. She is as wise and beautiful as he is a drunken and a fool. The next time we read of him he is drunk and then dies because God smote him’. (I Sam. 25:38) But who is he? Nabal is from the family of Caleb, (I Sam 25:3) and rules the area around Hebron and Bethlehem. Salma is the grandson of Caleb (I Chron. 2:9-7, 50-51) and the father of Boaz (I Chron. 2:9-17), the great great grandfather of David. David ancestors thus are also from the same area. Thus we have David and Nabal, two ancestral relatives, attempting to control the area around Hebron. Caleb wife is Abigail. Who is Abigail? According to the Book of Chronicles David has a sister named Abigail (I Chron. 2:16). So it may be that Nabal married David’s sister to guarantee his rule over Hebron. Are there two Abigail’s – one David’s third wife and one his sister, who were sisters-in-law? Or is possible that both are the same. That implies that David married his sister after the death of his rival Nabal to inherit her estates. Could David marry his sister - it was not unheard of in the ancient mid-east. 49 Like with Abner, Ishbaal and Nabal a death helps David’s rise to power, and two marriages one to Ahinoam and one to Abigail help David’s rise to power.

All four of these women  (discussed above) were related to men  who conflicted with David (Saul, Uriah and Nabal) and all died.

If Ahinoam, the wife of David is indeed previously the wife of Saul, she plays a significant role in the disasters of David’s latter life.  Michal is described as the daughter of Saul who loved David, is used by her father  as a snare in an attempt to kill him, saved his life, but is nevertheless abandoned  by him, married off to another by her father and then is scornful to David and remains barren. Her barrenness stands in stark contrast to David’s sexual conquests and virility. Abigail uses  her wisdom to prophecy, is beautiful and humble and does not inspire illicit desires. She is the only wife David obtained without violence, in fact she prevented violence against her husband.  Bathsheba is noted as being the wife of a soldier, as being beautiful, David lies with her illicitly and has a child with him and David has her husband killed. Bathsheba (unless she seduced him) is the only of the noted wives who was chosen by him; the others - Michal and Abigail chose him. She is the only  wife whose life continues in the ongoing story of the Davidic dynasty.
David’s relationship with women is surprising for a Hebrew leader. We are told of David’s six wives and ten concubines. Previously the most sexual of Jewish hero’s, Jacob had two wives and two concubines

Amnon and Tamar - A Chip Off The Old Block 50
‘Absalom, son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar. Amnon loves his sister Tamar. He pined for her to the point of making himself sick, for she was a virgin’ 13:1-2).   This story of twisted human relationships begins with Tamar’s relationship first with her full brother Absalom and then with her  father David, both of whom, it is implied, have a responsibility for her protection.  Amnon is the eldest son of David. Absalom, the second son is also the grandson of the king of Geshur and thus is double blue blooded and potentially double throned to Geshur and Israel.  Amnon pined for her  ‘for she was a virgin’. (13:2)  The implication is his love was because she was a virgin’.   His cousin Jonadab suggested a plan.  When his  father David came to visit him he asked to have Tamar ‘prepare the food before my eyes that I may see and eat from her hand’ (13:5). And Amnon asked his father to have his sister Tamar ‘fry two cakes before my eyes that I may eat from her hand’ (13:6). The term ‘fry’ and ‘cakes’ have the same root in Hebrew ‘lavav’. coming from the word for heart, meaning love cakes. The double use of ‘lavav’ for  love cakes is used by Amnon to his father David and he then said ‘that I may eat from her hand’. How could David be so blind as to not  realize the implied lustfulness of his son’s request? Did Jewish princess’ venture out alone without bodyguards to protect them? David co-opts Tamar to prepare food for Amnon. Tamar came, at her father’s request, and kneaded the flour and made the love cakes before his eyes. The terms kneaded the flour (ha’betzek va’taloosh) is used in Hosea (7:4) as a male sexual organ rising.  51 These sexual innuendoes and the double entendre seem clear, at least to the modern reader. Amnon asks everyone to leave and says to Tamar ‘bring the cakes into the room that I may eat from your hand (13:10).  Amnon then said ‘come lie with me my sister’. ) These are the precise words Mrs Potiphar used in trying to seduce Joseph - with the exception of my sister.) She refused and implored him to ask David for permission for them to marry. Such a union may have been permissible given that they had different mothers. Also it is a usual response to having sexual relations with a virgin. When the Prince of Schechem slept with Jacob’s daughter, Dinah he offered to marry her. Why in fact would David not force Amnon to marry Tamar. Amnon rejected this proposal  and `he overpowered her and forced her’ - (13:15). He raped his virgin half sister. Even after the rape Tamar said to her rapist brother ‘do not send me away’ (13:16). At once he began to hate her as much as had once loved her, called his servant to send this ‘thing’ (13:17) from my house and had her literally thrown out of his house.

Amnon manipulated his father, King David with premeditation, using his father to facilitate his purpose of physically and violently possessing his father’s daughter. The rape and incest can only be viewed as pathological behavior by the eldest and favored son, the heir to the kingdom. We are told that David `became very angry’, but we read of no admonition let alone punishment.  52 David failed to  protect the honor of his daughter; and likewise failed as a father teaching his son the consequences of his despicable action. David should not only have been angry he should have acted to punish Amnon.

Tamar fled to her full-brother Absalom for refuge. Why did she not go to her father, why only to her brother? Did she believe David would never punish any of his sons?

In an interesting commentary J. Sasson notes that David is noted as having 19 sons, Tamar is noted as ’the sister of my brother Absalom (II Sam. 13:4). Absalom is also noted as having three sons, unnamed and one daughter named Tamar (14:27).  Is the raped woman Tamar actually Amnon’s niece and not his sister. There is no Hebrew word for niece and niece and daughter are words often interchanged. 53 Did Amnon actually rape Absalom’s daughter? If that is the case then Tamar actually went to her father’s house. Absalom told her to be calm, perhaps hoping that David, the King would punish the heir to the Kingdom and perhaps Absalom would then become heir to the throne. When David did not react, Absalom planned and executed Amnon and fled. When he returned he no longer had respect for his father and King. 54

Absalom, now driven by hatred of Amnon, planned his revenge over a two years period.  Finally, he arranged a celebration to which he invited David. David declined. The text does not tell us any reason for David’s refusal; did he already not trust Absalom? Absalom’s  then invites his brothers and  Amnon  specifically. David first says no but allows himself to be persuaded.  Is it not reasonable to suppose that  David was aware that Tamar had taken refuge with  Absalom and his feelings about his sister’s fate? Why, then did he agree that  Amnon should be a guest at Absalom’s feast? Did Amnon not know of his half-brother’s rage against him for his crime? David seems oblivious despite the transparency of Absalom.

Absalom orchestrated the occasion to effectuate the murder of Amnon,  thus avenging Tamar. For the second time, a son of David manipulated his father to commit a fraternal crime. David had, unwittingly played his assigned role first by being a passive accomplice in the rape of Tamar and then in the plot to murder of Amnon.

David, distressed with Amnon’s death, mourned `his son all the days’ (13:37). Absalom fled knowing his father’s anger. He fled to his maternal grandfather’s, the King of Geshur. Perhaps had David not reacted so passively to his daughter’s rape and his own part in it, Absalom might not have taken the law into his own hands. By taking the law into his own hands Absalom learnt that his father was passive and weak, certainly as a father and probably as a King.

There are many parallels between David and Jacob. Most salient is the two fathers who failed in their paternal responsibilities. Both Joseph and Amnon took advantage of paternal favoritism to gratify their own whims. Jacob allowed Joseph to antagonize his brothers, and sends Joseph to visit with them, thus putting his favorite son in the hands  of brothers who hated him. Jacob did nothing when his daughter Dinah was violated, and it was her brothers who took vengeance for the crime. David did nothing when his daughter Tamar was the victim,  and it was her brother who took vengeance for the crime. Jacob resents his sons Simeon and Levi for the deadly justice they wreak on the people of Shechem, but takes no action. David mourns Absalom’s execution of the guilty Amnon. Absalom  finding his father weak, acts on his own and eventually attempts a coup de etat against his father.

When Tamar visited the house of Amnon she wore a tunic of many colors, the apparel worn by virgin daughters of the king.  When she was driven from Amnon’s house she rent this tunic. She is no longer a virgin, hence not marriageable. The exact word - tunic of many colors  - (in Hebrew Kutonet Passim) appears only one other time in the Bible -  to describe the tunic that Jacob gave to Joseph (Gen. 37:3). After Joseph shared his grandiose dreams with his brothers, his father, Jacob was well aware of the anger and jealously between Joseph and his brothers yet he sent the boy off to a journey alone, wearing his tunic of many colors,  to seek his brothers.

There are other parallels in the story of the sons of Jacob and the sons of David. In both cases there is a woman named Tamar, who is involved is a sexual scandal.  The first Tamar, is an ancestor of David. In that story interpolated in the midst of the Joseph story, Judah recognizes that he had wronged Tamar and makes amends. This is in contrast to David who does not make amends. Joseph’s brothers  tear his tunic while Tamar tears her own. When Mrs. Potiphar attempts to seduce Joseph she retains his tunic to prove his guilt. The words Amnon used to have everyone leave his room except Tamar when he meant to assault  her are:  ‘take everyone out from before me’ (13:16) - are the exact words Joseph used to clear the room when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers (45:1).

We have noted earlier David’s lack of emotionality and in the case of his ordering the murder of Uriah, an almost pathological reaction to being found out. Here we find the pathology going rampant. David’s illicit affair with Bathsheba and his conspiring to murder Uriah, her husband, may have been seen by Amnon as a right to any action he chose. Amnon’s lustfulness called ‘love’ turns to hatefulness. The desiring of the forbidden is what he lusted. Once obtained it loses its intrinsic value and becomes scornful.

There is an additional part to this story. Amnon, the first born of David, son of Ahinoam (II Sam. 3:2), was (on the assumption that the two Ahinoam’s are the same person) Michal’s half  brother, they had the same mother and Michal was also his step mother (his father’s wife). Did Michal come to David, the man she loved and find her mother in his bed? Could this explain her sexually oriented rage? Did David  make Michal a living widow by refusing to have sex with her?  Is Amnon taking vengeance for his mother Ahinoam and his half sister Michal by raping Tamar? The word brother ‘ahi’ is mentioned 13 times , sister ‘ahot’ nine times and son nine times, in the twenty verses that describe the rape (2 Sam. 13:1-20). Amnon the ‘ahi’  rapes his ‘ahot’. It is worth recalling that Amnon’s mother is called Ahinoam bat Ahimaatz. Tamar as the full sister of Absalom and the heir after Amnon, is a perfect tool Amnon’s revenge. Tamar after the rape and being violently dismissed from Amnon’s house tears her cloak as she becomes a living widow without ever having been a wife as Michal had become a living widow.

Thus David may have created the political and personal atmosphere for Michal’s anger over the Ark and Amnon’s anger. Amnon’s act of rape may then be viewed as an act of vengeance in the name of his mother and his half sister Michal. Absalom’s vengeance, partly allowed by David could be the final end to all Saulide descendants.  

This no doubt the beginning of God’s vengeance to David after his illicit relations with Bathsheba and after killing her husband Uriah. ‘I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house’ (12:11).


Amnon and Tamar
Amnon and Tamar by Guercino

Absalom was in exile for three years. David missed his son Absalom and we are told was comforted for the loss of Amnon. David’s attitude toward Absalom is predicated  on the readers interpretation of the last verse of chapter 13 and the first verse of chapter 14. The usual translation is that David longed for his son Absalom having been comforted (after three years) for the death of Amnon. And Joab understood the kings longing for Absalom. However as Fokkelman noted the Hebrew can be read as the king longed [‘al’ against] Absalom for he still mourned for the death of Amnon. And Joab knew of the kings heart i.e. David’s  hatred of Absalom. 55 If the usual translation is correct why would Joab need to devise such an elaborate parable told by the wise woman? Why would not Joab simply go to David himself? He is David’s Commander and confidant and he murdered Uriah for David.  And then why does he not respond to Absalom’s request to see his father? If Fokkelman is right then Absalom could have requested of Joab that he wished to return from exile. Joab realizing that this was the heir to the crown acceded in his request and developed the elaborate plan with the wise woman of Tekoah.

The text tells us that Joab decided to act on Absalom’s behalf. Joab contacts a wise woman to tell the king a parable. My husband is dead and my two sons fought with each other, one son killing the other. The family demands blood revenge and wishes to execute the remaining son.  But if he is also dead I will have nothing.56 The woman’s eloquently presents the issue of justice versus mercy. David opts for mercy, says I will protect you. The woman responds that she is still fearful about her son. David responds again that he will protect her and takes an oath to protect her son. Having extricated David’s oath for `her’ son the woman suddenly changes her tone to one of reproach and begins the transition to the true story. You have not taken back your exiled son. You have declared that he (Absalom) must die, would God do that?
She switches her tone once again and says `My Lord the King’ I am [your]  servant.   I know the king will protect me and my son.  She continues as if the parable were her true story. But when she says to the King that he will `discern the good and the bad’ David realized that she has raised a new subject, since he has already oathed to protect `her son’. (14:16-17). And David responds by telling her to be truthful and answer his questions. `Is the hand of Joab with you in all this’? (14:19) The king then says to Joab you have won `you have done this thing’ (14:21). Is David happy about being deceived? He compromises letting Absalom come to his house in Jerusalem, but not to the Palace.

Absalom returns to Jerusalem but for two years has no contact with his father.  After Absalom’s being in Jerusalem for two years, not seeing his father, Joab knew that David was still angry over Amnon’s death and thus would not easily respond to Absalom’s seeing him. This would seem to confirm the meaning of 13:39 and 14:1 noted above as does Joab first refusal to convince David to finally see Absalom (14:29-33).

Absalom asked Joab to see him intending to ask him to intervene on his behalf again for his father.  Joab refused, knowing the request that would be forthcoming. Absalom sets Joab’s field on fire in order to attract his attention.  This spectacular attempt to get Joab’s attention tells us about Absalom. He is in a rage, still being exiled from the royal house. A fire is a very dangerous way to get someone's attention. Fires in the dry season often do rage out of control and both the house of Joab and his family could easily have been in danger. Absalom tells Joab I should have stayed in Geshur where he was perhaps the king-elect.  Did Absalom develop the idea of rebelling against his father during these two years or during the earlier years in Geshur? Joab sees Absalom and he is asked to request of the king that Absalom see him.  Finally David agreed and allowed Absalom to see him.

Immediately after the reconciliation scene between David and Absalom we hear of Absalom beginning his treachery.  Standing outside the gates of Jerusalem in a chariot with fifty men he proclaims `who will appoint me judge in the land’? (II Sam. 15:4) This provocative statement is suggesting that the kingdom needed a better judge/king. People approach with judicial problems and Absalom gives them ‘justice’. In this way he is acting  as his father’s surrogate.  And indeed `Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel’ (15:6). This statement is very similar to the earlier statement during Saul’s reign ‘All Israel and Judah loved David (I Sam. 18:16). Absalom continued in this role for four years. Was David so ignorant or passive of this clear challenge w to his authority? Could he have been unaware of what  Absalom was doing for four years?
Absalom asked his father for permission to go to Hebron with 200 soldiers. Why does Absalom need 200 soldiers? To declare himself King! Why does David agree? Can he never say no to his children?

 One of David’s key counselor’s Ahithophel joins the Hebron conspiracy to enthrone Absalom as King.  David understanding the strength of Absalom flees Jerusalem, leaving his concubines at his palace. Why is David so passive and weakened? Why did David not consult Joab? Why had  David done nothing all the time Absalom was at the gates of Jerusalem usurping his power? And why did he allow Absalom to go to Hebron with soldiers?

Absalom conquers Jerusalem.  Absalom attempts to usurp his father’s throne by symbolically taking `his father’s concubines before the eyes of all Israel’ (16:22), fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy (12:12). But more than that he is dispossessing his father by possessing his concubines in sight of Israeli menfolk. David goes into self imposed exile,  then gathered his army and calls Joab and the war ensues. 

David tells his commanders to `deal gently for me with the youth, with Absalom’ (18:5). As a father as well as a king he feels no outcome will be satisfactory. His son has rebelled and the likely result is his own death or Absalom’s. He has already buried two sons and we have seen how devastating their deaths were for him. He will either be defeated and his life work, his victories, his conquests and his dynastic ideal  forgotten or he must  bury another son.

David’s men, led by Joab win the war.  Ironically his hair, previously praised for its beauty gets entangled in the thick boughs of a tree and he hangs by his hair.  Joab takes three darts and puts them in Absalom’s heart. He then has his ten armor bearers kill Absalom. 57  David mourns his rebellious son. `O my son Absalom, my son Absalom, would that I had died in your stead, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ (19:1) This is repeated in verse 5. David is deeply  mourning his son's death despite Absalom's rebellion. Mourning for a dead son is non-contestable but one needs to question whether he mourned so openly and publicly at Tamar’s rape. Mourning for  a rebellious son who has raped his concubines as a public statement of dispossessing his father is a statement that David, King of Israel has lost the ability to reign.

Joab  speaks harshly but wisely to his King - he informs him that he has embarrassed his servants, his children and his concubines. By use of hyperbole Joab suggests that,  by mourning Absalom, David appears to `loves those that hate you and hates those that love you.  Would you prefer Absalom alive and all of us dead’  (19:7) Joab warns David to go and address those who saved you lest no one will be with you. Joab is attempting to save David’s throne. He is pointing out to David that his first responsibility  is as king  and secondarily to his children. David obeyed Joab, but deeply resents his  commander commanding him.


Absalom's Death
Absalom death by J.S. von Carolsfeld

What do we know of David’s childhood? Very little is recounted in the text of  David’s relationship with his own father, Jesse. When Samuel, the religious leader of Israel came to the Bethlehem to complete a sacrifice he specifically purified Jesse and his sons. However Jesse failed to bring David, his youngest son who was taking care of the sheep. David was summoned only after Samuel or rather God rejected all the sons presented and inquired as to the existence of other sons. David was then anointed in the presence of his brothers and presumably his father, although he is not explicitly mentioned (I Sam. 16:11-13). 

The only interchange we have between Jesse and his son David are instructions to bring food to his three brothers who are fighting Philistines. The statement is a mere  directive bereft of warmth. David (the anointed future King) went the next morning and when David’s eldest brother, Eliab sees him talking to other soldiers about the war he says angrily ‘Why have you come down here, whom have you left to watch the sheep’. David responds equally angrily ‘What have I done? May I not even speak’ (I Sam. 27:-29). Eliab, the eldest, was rejected by Samuel, David, the youngest was anointed. We have seen the conflict between primogeniture and ultimogeniture before in the Bible and this is yet another example. The brothers certainly, and presumably Jesse, saw David being anointed by Samuel. What did they think this implied? Only one king had been anointed, Saul. Did they not understand its significance? Did anyone question Samuel or David? David was already the King’s musician. The underestimated lad will slay the giant Goliath and eventually become King of Israel.

But what of David’s mother who remains unmentioned and unnamed?

Given the lack of a relationship with his father and the apparent conflicts with the brothers, Jewish postbiblical commentators have developed  a ‘mother fantasy’ about his birth. One version suggests that David was born out of a fantastic form of ‘wedlock’. In this story,  David’s mother masqueraded  herself up as Jesse’s mistress and became pregnant with David. 58  That is an intriguing comparison to Leah masquerading  as Rachel. Was the mother unloved and the mistress loved? In another version the mother was accused of adultery, and David became the families slave. 59 While these are clearly elaborated midrashic mythology, they are attempting to explain  David’s lack of a positive father and a missing mother image.  (It is interesting to note that David’s name  means loved and children are more often named by mothers in biblical texts.)

David’s brothers despite being blood relatives are not mentioned in any significant way again. 60 Frequent mention is made of other family members, in fact nepotism seems the prevalent mode of career advancement in the Books of Samuel. The lack of comment about his brothers is therefore particulary surprising. The only direct relatives of David mentioned are Joab, Abishai and Asahel, all are noted as sons of David’s sister Zeruiah as well as Jonadab his nephew, the son of David’s brother Shammah. 61 Jonadab conspired with Amnon in the rape of Tamar and thereafter disappears.  Zeruiah sons appear to comprise a unique position in the Bible, whereby children are noted as sons of their mother, not their father. David’s other sister Abigail has a husband named Ithra (or Jether) and is noted (II Sam. 17:26;I Chrn. 2:17) but Zeruiah’s husband is never noted.  It is difficult not to think  of this as an insult to David’s older sister, a husband-less wife. Since Joab and his brothers are David’s nephews, but appear to be his contemporaries in age is  it possible that Jesse have two wives and Zeruiah was a much older a half-sister and that Eliab whose anger we noted earlier was a half brother? We are not told.

David refers several times to the ‘sons of Zeruiah’ in terms of rebuke and repudiation. Among the sons of Zeruiah are Joab, David’s very important military commander with whom David had an ambiguous relationship.  David is Joab’s uncle, although they appear as contemporaries in age. Despite David using ‘sons of Zeruiah’ as a term of rebuke, he knows his nephew’s talents as a military commander and accepts his family loyalty. He have already discussed Joab’s leadership position in the civil war as well as the ultimate result;  David being appointed King of Israel and Judah. At the end of that war Joab killed Abner, who had killed his brother Asahel. Joab claims that since Abner was a traitor to Ishbaal he could not be trusted. David was very distressed since he had recently signed a peace treaty with Abner and had granted him peace. Despite his military commander killing his former enemy, David made a public funeral and delivered an oration condemning his death. David states that he is too weak against the ‘sons of Zeruiah (II Sam. 3:39).  In the next incident Joab murders Uriah, his own soldier and perhaps his personal armor bearer for the benefit of David. Joab reconciles the relationship between Absalom and David after Absalom’s murder of Amnon. But then during Absalom’s revolt Joab kills  Absalom in direct defiance of David’s orders who asked his commanders to ‘treat Absalom gently’ (II Sam. 18:8). Joab believed the sole punishment for a rebel was death. David mourns Absalom by stating ‘O Absalom, my son, would that I had died in your stead’ (!9:1)

In the rebellion against Sheba David appoints Amasa, the son of David’s sister Abigail and Absalom’s military commander as commanding officer. When he failed to gather an army, David appoints Abishai, Joab’s brother as commander. Joab kills Amasa, his cousin and helps his brother defeat Sheba. Joab has Sheba killed thus defeated another dangerous rebellion against David. The last time Joab and David meet the King tells him to do a census of Israel. Joab tries to dissuade the king since he knew that a census was forbidden except at God’s request. For the census the king and the people are  punished. In this short incident Joab again attempted to be protective of David (II Sam. 24:1-9).

Both Abner and Amasa  whom Joab killed, are formerly commanders of opposing regimes and therefore traitors, but can also be seen as potential competitors to Joab. Joab won the war against Ishbaal, against Absalom and against Sheba. Is Joab the heroic military commander of the Davidic regime or is he evil as David suggests ?

David’s demise is recounted in the first two chapters  of I Kings. In the introduction we are told that David was old and `stricken’ and his body was without `heat’. A young beautiful virgin was summoned to minister; to `heat’ him. But `he knew her not’ (I Kings 1:4). No one  brings in a physician, nor the priests to pray, nor his  advisors or nor his prophet, but a young virgin to `heat’ the King. What is the purpose of this problematic introduction to the end of David’s life?  The young `virgin’ Abishag can not warm the King. Is it to emphasize David’s  impotence, not only sexually, but  dynastically? Is it to emphasize sexuality as a dominant theme in his life? It seems most plausible that it comes to underline that their cannot be a separation between the public duties of a king and his dynasty and private morals of human kings.

Adonijah 62  realizing his father is near death and impotent can be seen to advantage and declares his own succession. The text compares him to Absalom.  Adonijah planned succession is introduced in the exact same words `prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him’ as used in Absalom’s rebellion (II Sam. 15:1, I Kings 1:5). We are told that David became aware of this and did not reject it (I Kings 1:6).We are then told that Adonijah slaughtered animals as a sign of his `succession’ (I Kings 1:9) just as Absalom had done (II Sam. 15:12).  Adonijah is described as is Absalom. 63 But their actions are different. We have been told that David is impotent and no longer able to function. David had not declared a successor and Adonijah is the crown prince. David if he did not expressly approve his succession, he clearly is noted as not rejecting it. He is supported by Joab and some of the priesthood. Others of the priesthood (Zadok), Nathan, the prophet and Shimei the Benjamite oppose Adonijah. Adonijah invited all his brothers to a feast but failed to invite Solomon and Nathan. David had not declared his succession and we are specifically told that he did not say to Adonijah `Why have you done this?’ (I King 1:6). Adinojah is not acting as his dead brother, Absalom, rebelling against King David. There is a conflict between the brothers, Adonijah had the right of succession and Solomon sought it.  On the other hand David seems oblivious to the succession problem.

Nathan appeals to Bathsheba (who has not appeared in the text for two decades) asking whether she is aware that Adonijah has become king and David knows it not (II Kings 1:11). David who could not know Abishag also did not know about Adonijah. This is not accurate since Adonijah has stated that he was seeking the succession, not the Kingship. His father was near death and his father, at least did not disapprove.  Nathan suggests that both her life and her son Solomon’s are in danger and he implores Bathsheba to go to David and say to him that he had promised the kingdom to Solomon, her son. If that  were true would   Bathsheba not recall the incident herself? Why does she need Nathan to remind her?  Bathsheba acting in accordance with Nathan goes to David and cleverly adds to Nathan’s instructions saying Adonijah has crowned himself and then `I and my son Solomon’ shall die’ (I Kings 1:19,21). She then mentions Joab as supporting Adinojah, cleverly playing on the antagonism between David and Joab. 

Nathan himself then comes  supporting  her. He questions if  David has approved Adinojah as his successor? The Hebrew is unclear whether this is a question or a sarcastic comment. It clearly is not Nathan’s belief. He then states that he, as well as Zadok,  Benaiah and Solomon were not invited to the sacrifice. He ironically asks whether David had approved all this? Did he know that they are proclaiming ‘Long live King Adonijah’ (1:25). This is not reported in the text, in fact the text carefully avoids suggesting that Adonijah declared himself King. Nathan is speaking rhetorically, knowing that David has not spoken either way and he is inciting David to act. The synergistic effect of Nathan comments when combined with Bathsheba’s is psychologically brilliant and works. David responds to Bathsheba ‘I swore to you by the lord God of Israel saying, Solomon your son shall be king after, and he shall sit on my throne in my stead (1:30). David realizing his incompetence decides to anoint Solomon not after his death but immediately. He is anointed as ‘nagid’ (1:36) like Saul and only later as actual king. David calls in Benaiah, Nathan and Zadok and tells the latter two (the prophet and the priest) to anoint Solomon as king. David has finally acted and resolved the dynastic problem.
It is worth noting that the text has never told us that David promised the kingdom to Solomon.  Did Nathan and Bathsheba  play a trick on the sick old man who may have forgotten what he had promised. 64 Bathsheba does not herself think about going to the King, nor does she respond to Nathan about remembering such a promise? Nor does David  respond by saying yes, I remember.  It is reasonably apparent that Nathan, the prophet  has invented this story. He was not invited to Adonijah party and perhaps felt his position and his life were at stake. The succession remains valid and may be God endorsed despite the apparent deception as is true of Jacob’s deception of his father. Solomon never speaks until he is crowned by his father.

David does say later after Solomon has been anointed `Blessed be YHVH, the God of Israel, who has granted one of my offspring's to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it’ (1:48).65  Why does David say  `one of my offspring's’ and not `my offspring Solomon’, if in fact he had chosen him before the intervention of Bathsheba and Nathan?

In his last talk to Solomon David tells him to follow God’s law. He then tells him to kill Joab and Shimei, the Benjamite. Joab did not know that David would prefer Solomon and thus may have considered Adonijah as the rightful and appropriate King. At his deathbed David tells Solomon, his successor to kill Joab for the killing of Abner and Amasa. It is interesting that David does not include as a reason the killing of Absalom (1 Kings 2:7) nor his backing of Adonijah.  Would Solomon have thought that killing Absalom was an appropriate punishment and that Joab had  in fact preserved the dynasty for him? David may have considered that Joab was more dangerous to the young and newly appointed King than valuable as a wise older counselor

Perhaps David was warning his son against the powerful Commander with whom his own relationships had always been ambiguous.  David takes his vengeance at his deathbed.  Shimei supported Solomon against Adonijah.  David tells Solomon I promised not to kill him after he cursed me (II Sam. 19:17), but you should kill him. Shimei is also a Benjamite  and a Saulite and David may been eliminating all potential contenders to Solomon’s  throne.  Following his father’s advice Solomon, as one of his first acts, kills Joab.

Shortly after David’s death  Bathsheba requests of her son to give Abishag to Adonijah at his own request. Bathsheba had defeated Adonijah’s coup d’etat and then asks her successful son Solomon to give the virgin to the defeated half-brother - as a consolation prize? 66. Why does she consent? Taking the dead King’s concubine as we have learnt from Ishbosheth (II Sam. 3) is a dangerous act. Bathsheba must know that her asking her son to give Abishag - the last woman to lie (even if unsuccessfully with the king) - to Adonijah is his death penalty? Is she really protecting Solomon’s kingdom from a potential competitor, his older half-brother? Was Bathsheba jealous of Abishag? Why does Adonijah act so foolishly? Does he feel a need to sleep with his father’s concubine and succeed as his father failed like his brother Absalom did? Solomon acts, naturally enough as if it were  another attempt by Adonijah to get the kingdom and  has his half-brother killed. 67

Is David a more a worthy King than Saul, or is Saul flawed and destined to fail while David was chosen and fated to succeed? David’s sins are more serious than those of Saul’s, but David is chosen and blessed. The tragic Saul is intertwined with the flawed Samuel and their symbiotic relationship is tragic. Can David be considered a successful fighting warrior and yet an unsuccessful king?

Despite the little we know of David’s parental and sibling family, we can surmise that their were serious problems. David’s own father seemed to ignore his youngest son, perhaps in favor of his eldest, Eliab. David attached himself to Saul as a father figure. Saul not only failed as a father figure but tried to kill his adoptive son as well as David’s adoptive brother Jonathan. David in his turn failed with his first wife, Michal, daughter of Saul.

While David’s first son from Bathsheba was dying we are told that he grieved so that when the child died his servants sought to withhold the information fearing some irrational act on David’s part (II Sam. 12:18). When Amnon was killed by Absalom David mourned his son everyday (II Sam. 13:37) perhaps for three years. The wise woman of Tekoah comes to David as a mother seeking protection of her son. David promises to save her son (II Sam. 14:11). But the son is really Absalom and David cannot save him. Absalom  rebelled against his father and was killed. David’s mourning was so extreme as to question his ability to reign.  When Adinojah rebels, if he rebelled, David cannot discipline him, but he allows Bathsheba and Nathan to overcome him in favor of Solomon. The most emotional moments we find in David’s life are his relations with his sons. 

As a father he is a failure. He does not punish Amnon for raping his own daughter Tamar. He fails to prevent Absalom from killing Amnon. When Absalom rebels against his father and Joab kills him he rages against Joab. He was passively ready to let Adonijah become king. Only when the prophet Nathan tells him Solomon is to be king and does he react and choose his  successor

David is both a king, a father and husband and these roles are intertwined. As king he acquired a kingdom, from an existing king (Saul) and founded his own dynasty. Saul’s children do not acquiesce in the change but are defeated and killed. The only hero of Saul’s children, Jonathan, had acquiesced, but was killed with his father. Despite David’s apparent respect for the Kingship of Saul and his refusing to kill him when he had the opportunity, he does replace him as King. It is interesting that David has no child with Michal, Saul’s daughter, which might have resolved the Saul-David problem.  It is would appear that was David’s choice i.e. not to sleep with Michal. Did David’s children see his usurpation of Saul as an acceptable model? Public duties and private desires and acts cannot be separated.  David’s needs in regards Bathsheba interfered with his public duty.

As a Father he has six wives, ten concubines  and at least 19 sons and daughters. 68  In the political sphere he founds a dynasty; in the private sphere which child is to be the successor? Thus the political sphere cannot be separated from the private. 69 Dynastic problems from his many children plagued David’s life. He also had problems with Saul’s children. His connections, both positive and negative with others is multisided.

One could claim that the relationship with Bathsheba was the critical act that impacted the rest of David’s life. Four of David’s sons die, three before him and one immediately after his death.  Each death is related to an unjustified sexual act; the unnamed first born out of the adultery of David and Bathsheba, Amnon who raped his half-sister, Absalom who rebelled and raped his father’s concubines and Adonijah who requested Abishag after David’s death. Despite David’s relationship with Bathsheba beginning when he was a middle aged man (II Sam. 11), it is remarkable how little we are told about David after he meets Bathsheba (from II Sam chapters 11-24 and 1 Kings 1-2) that is not a consequence of that event.

The traits he exhibited during his young life were aggressiveness, slyness, hubris, extroversion and acting towards a goal, helped him survive until his Kingship came to pass. After all he had been anointed as a very young man.  He voluntarily and aggressively defeated the giant Goliath. He endangers the priests at Nob. He incredibly joins the Philistines, the enemies of the Israelis. He can be described as a rogue outlaw - an enemy of the state. When he becomes King his position is quite different. He needed to become a statesman. The traits of his shadow self remained. As Karl Jung noted in middle age men change from extroversion based on the outer world (towards a goal) to introversion based on their inner world and act based on intuition and less towards a thinking mode. David failed to accomplish the change required of him towards statesmanship and thereby failed as a king and parent. As a parent his failure is obvious. As a King his dynasty lasted only one generation, that of his son Solomon and at Solomon’s death the kingdom that David united split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel.

While David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, perhaps can be understood as (in contemporary terms) a mid-life crisis; particularly as defined by Jung, his decision to order the murder of Uriah is, to the author, non-understandable. He is the recently crowned king of Israel, a successful warrior and blessed by God.  He oddly stays home while his army is fighting but the fighting is under his successful commander Joab. Why is David so concerned about a illicit affair in which the woman becomes pregnant? Why is public knowledge of the affair so important for him to behave so callously, with no conscious, as to appear in the text as an oriental despot or an evil King comparable to Ahab? In the remainder of his life, he may be passive to the sins of his sons, but he does not again appear almost as a sociopath. He does not act as being corrupted by power but rather as in many ways as passive. He is not a Lady Macbeth! Yet Baruch Halpern notes that ‘his enemies keep dying violently’. 70

David is too passionate in everything. He is the great Hebrew poet-musician writing the beautiful Psalms. The Psalms (many of which have been included in Jewish liturgy and later in Christian liturgy) began a mode of sacred poetry with continued with the prophets (particularly Jeremiah), and ancient and Medieval poems. The same emotionality that gave him the ability to write the beautiful poetry appear in his relations with his sons. His mourning of the death of three of his sons, the unnamed  child of his illicit relationship with Bathsheba, Amnon and Absalom are all described in touching and extreme ways. He goes out unarmed, except by his passionate belief in God to fight the feared giant Goliath. He is too great a lover and a hater of Michal, of Abigail, of Bathsheba and of Jonathan. After the death of his and Bathsheba’s child he comforts her by sleeping with her. Is this a sensitive manner to comfort her or insensitive lover, who believes his charismatic power can solve problems? His passionate love of God allows him to repent after each sin. When he realizes that his adultery with Bathsheba is about to come into the open, he reacts callously and irrationally, almost as his passionate response to other events in his life. Perhaps he feared appearing too human. And yet his description in the text is the most human of all biblical personalities. 

David is not like Moses, a humble servant of God, whose only interest seems to be to protect the Hebrew people, even from God. Moses role is to be the spiritual leader of his people and take them to Mount Sinai to be sanctified as a people of God. He himself is god-like Ex. 4:16; 7:1). The people are sanctified to be a `kingdom of priests’; to provide a universal system of ethics.  They may rebel, but the covenant is forever. While Joshua conquered the promised land, the people have not become a nation yet. Before being a `light unto the nations’ they must have respect as a nation. That is what David accomplished through the books of Samuel - the end of Judgeship and the beginning of the Monarchy. The first King Saul - a transitional figure - combined as he is with the last Judge Samuel failed. But monarchy succeeds, not because David is painted as a saint but because he succeeds. He succeeds as a brilliant military leader in his youth conquering the largest territory ever rules by the Hebrews. And he succeeds because he is God’s chosen. He acquires his kingship through a fight with Saul his predecessor whose flaws were obvious.
David is heroic (kills Goliath), a healer to his King, chooses not to kill Saul (twice), is the great friend of Jonathan, and marries Saul’s daughter. His dynasty is in danger against his son Absalom who almost succeeds in taking his father’s throne. He is sexually promiscuous, committing adultery and having Bathsheba’s husband killed and having numerous wives and concubines. In this he is like other ancient despotic kings. He can be considered the first (and perhaps only) truly human figure in the Bible. He succeeds in combining the tribes of Israel and making a nation of them and conquering Jerusalem where his successor Solomon will build God’s house - the Temple. And this makes him the great king and Messianic model.


1 If Saul `sinned’, David sinned boldly. Noll, K.L., The Faces of David, (JSOT, Sheffield, 1997)Series 242, Pg. 45.

2 Carlson, R. A., David, The Chosen King, (Almquist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 1964)

3 Polzin, Robert, Samuel and the Deuteronomist, (Indiana University Press, 1993) pg.156.

4 Lord Acton almost three thousand years later stated that `power corrupts and absolute power corrupts  absolutely’. He was referring to the Pope’s being granted the power of infallibility.

5 The Hebrew for stripling is `ha’alem’. Rashi, the great Jewish commentator, says `ha’alem’ implies Saul’s lack of memory. Thence a symptom of depression.

6 Gros Louis suggests that David is both a public and private man and this introduces his public life. Gros Louis, K.R.R., Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narrative, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1974), Pg. 210. Pyper, H.,  David As Reader, (E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1996) pg. 102.

7 One wonders whether this can be seen as comparable to the Lord hardened the Pharoah’s heart’ (Ex. 9:12; 10:20,27). Is Saul simply an instrument of the Lord to punish His people?

8 The comparison to Jacob and his sons Joseph and Judah will appear again with Amnon and Absalom.

9 IshBaal means the man from Baal - the idol and Ishboshet means the man of shame; very odd names.

10 Amnon raping Tamar, Absalom killing Amnon, Joab killing Absalom after his rebellion against his father, David and the coup d’etat of Adonijah at the end of David’s life.

11 Could David have been implicated in Abner’s death? The narrator wishes to dissuade us of any such notion. He notes three times that Abner went in ‘peace’ (II Sam. 2:21,22,23). The death of the only serious military competitor to David, the Commander of Ishbaal’s military, was a convenient death for David. Similarly could David have been implicated in Ishbaal’s death, the only remaining serious competitor to the throne?  McCarter, Apology, pg. 501-502.

12 P.K. McCarter, The Apology of David, JBL, 99/4, 1980, Pg.  500.

13 J.C. Vanderkam, Davidic Complicity In The Deaths of Abner nad EshBaal. JBL 99/4, 1980, pg. 530-531.

14 McCarter Pg. 501.

15 McCarter Pg. 502.

16 Underline and bold added.

17 Each of the these `servants of God’ has a covenant established as does David.

18 Galander, S.,  David and His God (Simor Ltd., Jerusalem, 1991), Pg. 76.

19 Bach Alice, ed. Women in the Hebrew Bible, (Routledge, N.Y., 1999)  pg. 341.

20 The Kokzker Rebbe , a nineteenth century Hasidic master when asked ‘Where is the dwelling place of God’ answered ‘Wherever they let God in’.

21 Some of the Rabbis claimed that David married both sisters (BT San. 19b).

22 Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (NY, Basic Books, 1981) pg. 118.

23 To the extent that their is a connection between circumcision  and castration (as noted by, among others, Theodor Reik,  Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies, (N.Y., 1958)   pg. 105, is Saul attempting to give his daughter an impotent and castrated husband?

24 The name itself is very odd, meaning the brother of Noam - a male name. Jezreel served as the military base for Saul’s army before his disasterous battle with the Philistines (I Sam. 29:1). Saul and Jonathan died in Jezreel (II Sam. 4:4). It is interesting that this Ahinoam comes from the place where Saul and Jonathan are to die.

25 Saul may be using a slang such as ‘son of a bitch’. In addition Saul is irrational and thus this evidence alone would not be sufficient.

26 The author recognizes the radical nature of the suggestion that David married the wife of Saul, that the two Ahinoam’s are the same person. It would mean that David married a woman twenty or so years older than himself and the mother of his friend Jonathan and his wife Michal. The evidence is clearly speculative but the evidence is also consistent.  It adds to the explanation of Michal’s anger and as we shall see later may also help explain Amnon’s raping of his sister Tamar. It also explains why the author of the Books of Samuel would choose such an extremely odd name for two, of what at first appears two different women.

27 The text (II Sam. 11:4) is so tight that this speculation suggested by Jack Sasson is possible. He will discover how pedantic Uriah is shortly. One also wonders how Bathsheba, a sexual being could live with a pedantic saint like figure. Perhaps she can be compared to Anna Karenina who could not tolerate her pedantic husband Alexei, after meeting Konstantine Levine. Or Madame Bovary who married to a pedantic physician meets a charismatic young lawyer Leon Dupuis. She cannot escape from her husband who destroys the young Leon and she kills herself. Another speculation is that David raped Bathsheba. In Bach, Alice, Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997) pg. 137, 149-150. In the tale as told she is the passive object of David desire. But as we shall later when she and Nathan conspire to have David appoint Solomon as his successor she is a very clever woman. Nathan tells Bathsheba what to say to David, but she adds her own words which are much stronger than Nathan’s and succeeds remarkable well (1 King 1: 13-21).

28 See Hertzberg, H.W., I & II Samuel, (S.C.M. Press, London, 1964) Pg. 310.

29 The term in Hebrew for sanctification is from the Hebrew ‘kodesh’. When Judah send his friend the Adullamite to repay the prostitute and receive back his pledges he asks for the the ‘kodasha’ (Gen. 38:21).

30 That concept was developed 2,500 years later by the Sabbatai Sevi, in his false Messianic movement. See Scholem, Gershon, Sabbatai Sevi, The Mystical Messiah, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1973) chapter 6.

31 Samuel’s, pg. 225.

32 In the Book of  I Chronicle, a history told from a pro Davidic perspective, the whole incident is not mentioned.

33 Meir Sternberg discusses this in great detail in The Poetics of Biblical Narrative (Indian University Press, Bloomington, 1895).

34 Samuel’s pg. 227-228.

35 Was this already known? David had sent messengers to bring Bathsheba. And after Uriah died, David married Bathsheba and she gave birth shortly afterwards.

36 Most Jewish commentators find numerous halakhik excuses justifying David’s adultery. One of the exceptions is Don Isaac Abravanel who accuses David of five separate sins. Op cit. Rosenberg, Pg 316-319. The whole incident of Bathsheba and Uriah is excluded from the history as recounted in Chronicles.

37 Fokkelman, J.P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Volume 1, King David, (Van Gorcum, Assen, The Netherlands, 1981) Pg.  71.

38 King Claudius, murderer of Hamlet’s father in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Claudius then says ‘Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will; my stronger guilt defeated my strong intent’. One wonders whether David would realize as Claudius did at this point in the play, that his guilt is more relevant than his prayer?

39 The penalty for stealing is not death, but the penalty for murder which is what David did is death. David is not sentenced to death because he repented.

40 While the parable is a fine literary device, the poor man does not die, the lamb dies. The lamb could also be Bathsheba who also does not die, but is violated. Her consent is never mentioned.

41 The sword is used as a symbol of the Majestic man in the blessing of Ishmael, Esau and Joseph.

42 The punishment for adultery is death for both the man and women (Lev. 20:10). Both David and Bathsheba are allowed to live.

43 Ginsburg, L.,

44 Bach, Alice, The Pleasure of her Text, (Trinity Press, Philadelphia, 1990) pg. 30-31. In another Jewish tradition this chapter of proverbs was written by Bathsheba to describe to her son Solomon the virtues of the wife he should choose. Of course the tradition also proclaims he choose 1,000 wives.

45 BT Meg. 14a, quoted by Admiel Kosman, Ha’aretz, May 27, 2001, pg. B5.

46 The Rabbis claimed that ‘Kil’an’ meant he resembled his father physically and mentally. Bach, Women, pg. 142.

47 As opposed to a man Jonathan, whom he could love.

48 J.D. Levenson and B. Halpern, The Political Import of David’s Marriages, JBL, 99/4, 1980 and J.D. Levenson, I Samuel as Literature, CBQ, 40, 1978.

49 Levenson and Halpern, pg. 511-513.

50 Fokkelmann, JP, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Vol. 1, (Van Gorcum, The Netherlands, 1986) pg. 99, quoted in Gray, Mark, Amnon: A Chip Off The Old Block, JSOT, 77, 1998, pg. 45.

51 Gray, Amnon, pg. 45.

52 According to the Septuagint and the Qumran Samuel the text continues `But he did not trouble his son, Amnon, because he loved him’. This is not inconsistent with the Masoretic text.

53 Esther is noted as being the daughter of her uncle, presumably the brother of Mordecai, and adopted as his daughter. When Abraham tells the King of Gerar that Sarah is his sister, Jewish commentaries state he was not lying because she was actually  his niece as well as his wife (Gen. 20:2).

54 J. Sasson Absalom’s Daughter, pgs. 187-196, in Dearman, J.A. and Graham, M.P., The Land that I Will Show You, (JSOT 343, Sheffield, 2001).

55 Fokkelman, pg. 126-129 and Alter. Robert, The David Story, (Norton, N.Y., 1999) pg. 275.

56 That was not true for David, but it may be true for Absalom’s sister. Did Tamar die in the midst of our story? Did she commit suicide? We learn later (14:27) that Absalom named his daughter Tamar - after his dead sister?

57 According to the Qumram scroll Uriah the Hittite was Joab’s armor bearer, his personal servant. David had Joab kill him. Could Joab’s killing of Absalom be personal revenge. Polak, F.H., David’s Kingship - A Precarious Equilibrium, pg. 135-136,  in Reventlow, H.G., Hoffman, Y., Uffenheimer, B., Politics and The Politics in the Bible and Postbiblical Literature (JSOT, Vol. 171, Sheffield, 1994).

58 Ginsburg,  Legends of the Jews,  Vol. IV (JPS, Philadelphia,1947), Pg. 82.

59 ibid

60 With two exceptions, when David gathered an army the text notes that ‘David’s  brothers and his father’s whole family joined him’ (I Sam. 22:1) and of his bother Elihu mentioned in I Chron. 27:18.

61 Sometimes called Shimeah.

62 Adonijah is the fourth son after Amnon, Kileab (son of Abigail) and Absalom.  We are not told what happened to Kileab or Abigail. She being wise as well as beautiful may have taken her son  realizing the dynastic problems that would ensue.

63 Despite the suggestion that Absalom and Adonijah are brothers they are only half brothers having different mothers. They are compared in being handsome and rebellious.

64 See Fokkelmann Vol. 1, pg. 353-354 and especially footnote 12.

65 Underline added.

66 Alter, David, pg. 377.

67 In an intriguing novel entitled ‘Bathsheba’, the Swedish author T. Lindgren suggests that Bathsheba conspired to protect the succession for her son, by playing on the conflict between Amnon and Absalom and setting up Tamar, resulting in Amnon’s execution by Absalom. She then conspires to have Absalom come after his voluntary exile expecting a rebellion by him. And finally she tells Solomon of Adonijah’s request for Abishag. (Lindgren, T., Bathsheba, Tr. By T. Geddes, (Collins Harvill, London, 1989).

68 Born to David in Hebron - 6 sons from six wives (3:2-5) and born to David in Jerusalem eleven sons and daughters. The only daughter mentioned among twenty progeny is Tamar. (5:14-16).This comparable to Jacob have twelve son noted and only one daughter, the raped Dinah. It is highly unlikely that two men with 31 sons had only two daughters. Daughters did not count.

69 Gunn, Peter, The Story of King David, Chapter five.

70 Halpern B., David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001) pg. 76. Halpern notes the violent deaths of Saul, Jonathan,Abner, Abishai, Uriah, Amnon, Absalom, Amasia, Nabal, Asabel, 7 Saulides, an Amalike who claims to have killed Saul, the Gibeonites who killed Ishbaal, Sheba, Joab and Shimei.