December 09, 2008

Breadcrumb: A few surprises

Two rather surprising facts from our most recent reading. First, if you want to humiliate someone, Old Testament style, what you need to do is shave off half their beards and cut their clothes at the buttocks. I mean, who wouldn't be humiliated by something like that? (2 Sam. 10:4)

Second, if you thought your hat was heavy, consider the plight of the ex-king of Rabbah, whose crown weighed a talent of gold. That's about 75 pounds. Yes, a 75-pound gold crown, that David took for himself. You have to wondering whether Rabbah's king, or David for that matter, ever actually wore the thing, or whether they just kept it as decoration. On today's royal exercise regimen: neck extensions! (2 Sam. 12:30)

December 08, 2008

Breadcrumb: Like my own son

We might remember from 1 Samuel that David's best friend was Jonathan, Saul's son. Jonathan died at the end of 1 Samuel, but he left behind a crippled son named Mephibosheth. In 2 Samuel 9, David finds out about Mephibosheth and wants to show him kindness for the sake of his father, David's best friend. Mephibosheth is understandably worried, knowing that his grandfather Saul was David's enemy. But David sets Mephibosheth up with Saul's lands, Saul's servants, and a place at David's own table amongst his own sons. For the rest of his life, Mephibosheth is well taken care of. It just goes to show that you never can tell with David.

December 07, 2008

2 Sam 8-12: Ancient Israel -- The Soap Opera

(Today's passage covers David's many conquests; his kindness towards Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son; his defeat of the Ammonites and Syrians; his affair with Bethsheba, and the aftermath thereof.)

In today's passage, we see the odd reasoning of David's mind. It seems he acts first and rationalizes later, trying to do what's right, but when that fails, doing what's necessary.

Perhaps an example is in order.

In 2 Samuel 11, David is staying at home in Jerusalem while his general Joab besieges Rabbah. While he's walking along a rooftop, he sees a beautiful woman, Bethsheba, bathing herself. David is smitten and has her sent over. He sleeps with her and she conceives a son. (2 Sam. 11:1-5)

Now, David doesn't want any trouble. So he has Bethsheba's husband Uriah sent back from the fronts on the pretence of getting an update about the war. David sends Uriah home, assuming he'll sleep with Bethsheba and thus will be able to claim that the child is his own, letting David get off home free. (2 Sam. 11:6-8)

But Uriah doesn't go home. Instead, he sleeps on the porch of the palace with David's servants. David is dismayed and asks Uriah why he didn't go home. Uriah answers (and I paraphrase), "The ark sleeps in a tent. Israel and Judah sleep in tents. My lord Joab, fighting at Rabbah, sleeps in a tent. How can I, in good conscience, sleep in my house?" (2 Sam. 11:11)

David gives Uriah two more days, but each day Uriah sleeps with the servants and not in his own house.

Now, David had done all he could to fix his mistake, but Uriah refused to take the bait. If Uriah couldn't claim the child as his own, there was only one thing to do, David reasoned, which was to have Uriah killed so that he could rightfully claim the child himself. So David sent a letter, delivered by Uriah himself, to General Joab, telling him to place Uriah at the very front of the troops. Joab does, and Uriah is killed in a hail of arrows. (2 Sam. 11:12-17)

Joab sends back a messenger, who tells David everything that happened. Joab thinks that David will be upset, but that's only because he doesn't know the back-story. David tells Joab not to worry and to press his attack. Meanwhile, he, David, waits until Bethsheba is finished mourning and promptly marries her. (2 Sam. 18-27)

But all is not well. Even though David thinks he was being remarkably sneaky about the whole affair, God knows everything, and God is not happy. God sends Nathan, his prophet, to chide David with a parable about two men, one rich and one poor. When a traveller arrives from far away, the rich man chooses to slaughter the poor man's only ewe instead of taking one of the many sheep from his own fields. (2 Sam. 12:1-4)

David is outraged at the rich man, until Nathan tells him, "The rich man is you." David sees the error of his ways, and God lessens the punishment from "you will die" to "the child will die." (2 Sam. 12:5-14)

Indeed, the child falls ill, and David does everything in his power to intercede. He fasts. He sleeps on the ground. He prays. But after seven days, the child dies anyway.

The servants are afraid to tell David, thinking (quite understandably) that if David mourned so much for the child while it was still alive, he would be completely inconsolable now that the child was dead. Instead, David hears the news, gets dressed, and sits down to a meal. (2 Sam. 12:15-20)

The servants are confused. "Why," they ask him, "are you eating, now that the child is dead, when you were fasting while it was alive?" (2 Sam. 12:21)

And here, I think, we see the true genius of David. He replies, (and again I paraphrase) "When the child was alive, there was still a chance God would show mercy to me and allow him to leave. Now that he's dead, I can't bring him back, so what's the point in fasting?" (2 Sam. 12:22-23) Here we see David thinking clearly, logically, and ruthlessly. He's done all he could, but the past is past. Once there's nothing to do, there's no point in bemoaning the past. It is time to move on.

And move on David does, sleeping with Bethsheba again, who conceives Solomon. He also deals the finishing blow to Rabbah, just for good measure and to tie the whole story together. (2 Sam. 12:24-31)

December 06, 2008

Breadcrumb: A case of mistaken identity

In 2 Samuel 7, David is feeling guilty: he has a beautiful cedar palace, and the ark (God's house) is housed in a tent. He asks Nathan, God's prophet, whether he should build a house for God. In a dream, God replies to Natahan that David should do no such thing. Instead, he promises to establish David's "seed" and "establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son." (2 Sam. 7:13-14) What we have here is a case of mistaken identity. Jews claim the passage refers to Solomon, David's son, whereas Christians take this as a reference for Christ, David's descendant. The parallel continues through to verse 16, in which God says he will "chasten him with the rod of men," but that "my mercy shall not depart away from him." So who's right, the Christians or the Jews? It depends on who you ask.

December 05, 2008

Breadcrumb: Never murder a king

In 2 Samuel 4, for the second time in as many readings, we encounter a case of regicide. Two of Ishbosheth's captains, Rechab and Baanah, see which way the wind is blowing and decide to take matters into their own hands. They go into Ishbosheth's house during the king's midday nap on the pretence of fetching wheat, and then they stab the king through the belly. The decapitate the corpse and bring the severed head to David, thinking that they'll get what's coming to them for killing his biggest rival. And they do get what's coming to them, though not in the way they thought, because David has them both killed for regicide. And here we see how well David plays his cards: he's making it absolutely, unequivocally clear that you don't kill kings, even if they happen to be your enemies. We can only assume that the message stuck when he himself was king, because he reigned for a full 33 years before he died.

December 04, 2008

2 Sam 4-7: Settling in

(Today's passage covers Ishbosheth's murder, David's conquest of Jerusalem and some Philistine armies, the return of the Ark to Jerusalem, and God's promise to David that he'll establish his line forever.)

As 2 Samuel 5 opens, David is the undisputed king over all Israel. All the tribes have pledged their allegiance to him, and all that remains is for him to set himself up in proper kingly style. He is, I should mention, 37 years old, and will reign until he's 70, which isn't a bad run in the "king" trade. (2 Sam. 5:4-5)

The first order of business is to find himself a capital. David choses the city of Jerusalem, which until now hasn't been a particularly important city, all things considered. Despite the overconfident boasting of the inhabitants that David can be held off by "the blind and the lame," David conquers the city and names it after himself. (2 Sam. 5:6-10)

Now there's the issue of having a proper kingly residence, which is provided -- surprisingly enough -- by Hiram, king of Tyre. Hiram not only sends David cedar trees, but also carpenters and masons to build a palace (NIV; "house" in the KJV) suitable for him. (2 Sam. 5:11-12) Meanwhile, David settles down with more wives, more concubines, and produces yet more children. Eleven of the sons are named, so David's got at least a dozen new children who will, we presume, all be vying for the throne eventually. (2 Sam. 5:13-16)

So David's got a city, he's got a palace, and he's got heirs. The only thing that's missing is the ark, which is still at Abinadab's house, where it was left in 1 Sam. 7. David gathers up 30,000 men to go return the ark to the City of David (aka Jerusalem). They play music. They dance. But then something happens: as the ark is jostled, Uzzah, Abinadab's son, reaches out a hand to steady it. This, as we've learned from previous books, is a Really Bad Idea. God hates it when people touch his ark, so he kills Uzzah right on the spot. (2 Sam. 6:6-7)

David is so frightened by the whole experience that he leaves the ark at the house of Obed-Edom, a Gittite. It isn't until he sees how much God blesses Obed-Edom that David decides to finally bring the ark into Jerusalem, three months later. Again the dancing, again the music-making. In a wonderful turn of phrase, "David danced before the LORD with all his might." (2 Sam. 6:14, KJV) The ark is returned with great spectacle, sacrifices, and blessings.

But all is not well. Michal, David's first wife, recently returned to him at his specific request, doesn't like all this merry-making going on with the servant girls. She complains that David "uncovered himself" (KJV) before the servants. David dismisses this out of hand, and then presumably never sleeps with her again, because she dies childless. (2 Sam. 6:16-23)

And so, with the exception of Michal and the Philistine leaders, everyone is happy. The ark is back, Jerusalem is conquered, and David is the undisputed king over all Israel. Long live the king!

December 03, 2008

Breadcrumb: How many women does one man need?

In 2 Samuel 3:1-5, we find out that after settling in Hebron, David had six sons by six different women. The first two were by his two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, but we don't know whether David was married to the other four. Regardless, when Abner decides to defect to David's side (see the latest essay), one of David's conditions is that Abner bring him Michal, Saul's daughter and David's first wife. Granted, Michal and David had once loved each other. But back in 1 Sam. 25, we found out that Saul had given Michal to Paltiel instead, because David was in Saul's bad books. But a deal's a deal, so Abner summons Abigail, sends Paltiel home, and brings her along. (2 Sam. 3:13-16) And we'll read about the outcome of that tomorrow. Hint: it doesn't end well.

December 02, 2008

Breadcrumb: I killed the king!

At the very beginning of 2 Samuel (1:1-16) that we read a second account of Saul's death, this time as it was told to David. We read in 1 Sam. 31 that Saul had been wounded by arrows, asked his armour-bearer to finish him off, and when the latter refused, Saul fell on his own sword. Now we read that, in fact, it was an Amalekite who killed Saul when he was fatally wounded. How do we know? Because the very same man took Saul's crown and bracelet to present them to David and tell his story. And what, we might ask, did this noble soul receive for his efforts in putting Saul out of his misery? David had him killed. Just goes to show that you should never murder the king, even if he asks you to.

December 01, 2008

2 Sam 1-3: He who lives by deceit...

(Today's passage covers David's anointment over Judah, the civil war between the houses of David and Saul, especially as played out through their generals Abner and Joab.)

Welcome back to Daily Breadcrumbs. I know it's been a while, but we're now ready to pick up where we left off, with Saul dead and David poised to inherit the kingdom. After all, Samuel had anointed him way back in 1 Samuel 16, so it he should have been a shoe-in.

Of course, things are never that simple.

It turns out that Saul had an as-yet-unmentioned son named Ishbosheth, who was about 40 years old at the time of the king's death. So while David gets himself crowned king of Judah, Ishbosheth sets himself up as king over the rest of Israel with Abner as his general. We might remember Abner from 1 Samuel, where he served Saul. (2 Sam. 2:1-11)

Abner goes out with some of his men to negotiate with Joab (one of David's generals), his brothers, and his men. Abner suggests a "friendly" wrestling match between a dozen men of each side, whereupon his dozen stick daggers into the sides of Joab's dozen, thus sparking off a civil war. (2 Sam. 2:12-16)

In the course of the first battle, Joab's brother Asahel pursues Abner, who gently and then not-so-gently tries to dissuade him. When nothing else works, Abner resorts to sticking the butt end of his spear into Asahel's stomach so hard it comes out the other side of his body. (2 Sam. 2:18-23) Joab and his other brother Abishai pursue Abner to Ammah, where the latter joins forces with the Benjaminites, calls for a truce, and surprisingly gets it. Both men go home to their respective kings and there matters lie, at least for a time. (2 Sam. 2:24-32)

But then Ishbosheth does something foolish indeed: he accuses Abner of sleeping with Saul's concubine. Abner goes into a rage. He has been a loyal, devoted member of the Saul family faction; how dare Ishbosheth accuse him? In fact, he's so livid that he decides to be a loyal follower no longer and defects to David's side, bringing with him the elders of Israel, the Benjaminites, and pretty much everyone else who used to be loyal to Ishbosheth. David gladly takes on the highly experienced general, throws a feast, and lets Abner leave in peace. (2 Sam. 3:6-21)

On the surface, it looks like everything's going well for Abner, but that's because we've forgotten about Joab. Joab returns to Hebron, which David has made his interim capital, to find out that Abner had been there and departed. Quickly and secretly, he sends out men to bring Abner back, takes him aside for a private parley, and runs his sword through Abner's stomach, avenging Asahel's death. (2 Sam. 3:22-27)

Now it's David's turn to be livid. He lays all the blame for the murder on Joab and his family, mourns Abner's death, and fasts all day. The people take this as a good sign, that David had nothing to do with Abner's murder, and all become loyal David followers. (2 Sam. 3:28-39) Frankly, it's pretty easy to see why David was upset: Abner wasn't only a great general but a great negotiator, able to use cunning and force whenever either was required to get the job done. He might not have been the most loveable character so far, but he certainly had what it took to play politics at the highest level.

June 10, 2008

Daily Breadcrumbs on semi-permanent hiatus

Hello, all my faithful readers. I know it's been longer than the two weeks I promised in my last post. In fact, I seem to have lost my motivation for Daily Breadcrumbs. I will continue to do my private readers, and I will occasionally update Daily Breadcrumbs if something particularly relevant strikes me. For the time being, though, I'm putting Daily Breadcrumbs on semi-permanent hiatus. Thank you all for your support and your comments.

In the future, I may reincarnate Daily Breadcrumbs into a new blog, featuring Daily Breadcrumbs-type posts alongside more general thoughts on religion and culture. I will, of course, be sure to update you if this happens.

Until then, happy readings.

-- Julie, the girl behind the Breadcrumbs