Monday, January 27, 2014

2 Samuel: Manufactured Crises

It seems that in my outrage over God declaring public rape of his wives as David’s punishment for what he did to Uriah and Bathsheba, I kind of forgot to comment on an additional punishment. Remember how it was learning that Bathsheba was pregnant that prompted David to murder her husband? Yeah, God made the baby suffer a seven-day illness, and then killed it. No Biblical punishment is complete if innocent children aren’t killed, after all.

So over the next several years, God’s “punishment” to David plays out. It starts with one of David’s sons, Amnon, raping Tamar, who is the sister of one of David’s other sons Absalom. The Bible isn’t exactly clear on the relationships, but I assume Tamar is described as Absalom’s sister and not Amnon’s sister because they had different mothers. Which still leaves us with Amnon raping his own half-sister. David hears about it and gets angry, but apparently didn’t do shit to punish Amnon. So about two years later, Absalom murders Amnon in retaliation and then flees into exile.

Skipping a lot of details because it’s just pure politics and family drama, David eventually invites Absalom to return to Jerusalem. Once back home, Absalom dedicates himself to conspiring to take the throne from his dad and eventually manages to stage a successful coup. David flees Jerusalem, leaving behind ten of his concubines “to keep the house.” As decreed by God, Absalom ends up publicly raping all of those concubines to show all of Israel that he’s defeated David.

After a short exile, David’s loyalists eventually defeat Absalom’s army in battle and Absalom is killed against David’s orders. David then makes such a huge show of mourning for Absalom that the commander of his army Joab had to take him aside and say “Hey, there’s a bunch of people out there who just fucking died in battle for you, and a bunch more who risked dying on your behalf. And now they’re all starting to think that you’d be just as happy if they’d all died so long as the guy they were fighting for you against got to live. How about you show them some gratitude, you fuck, before they abandon you completely?” So David made a half-hearted show of listening to his people for a bit, but fired Joab anyway.

But don’t worry about Joab. He eventually got his job back after murdering his replacement for not carrying out David’s orders quickly enough.

Oh, you remember those concubines that David abandoned to get raped? He locked them up in a house by themselves, and other than providing them with food and shelter he basically ignored them for the rest of their lives.

Ninety percent of the rest of the Second Book of Samuel is just more politics and war. David forgave a bunch of the guys who’d rebelled against him under Absalom. Some dude named Sheba exploited arguments between the tribe of Judah and the rest of Israel to try and declare himself king, but his people eventually sold him out to save their own asses.

Later, there’s a short bit about how there was a three year famine in Israel. And only after people have been starving for three years does God mention to David that he’s causing it because Saul once attacked a bunch of Gibeonites (if you recall, the Gibeonites were the people who sold themselves into slavery to the Israelites under Joshua in order to avoid genocide). So David has to go make peace with the Gibeonites in order to end the famine. And the Gibeonites demanded that to make up for the deaths amongst them at Saul’s hand, David needed to give them seven of Saul’s descendants to kill. This seemed totally reasonable to David, apparently, so he did it. And totally reasonable to God, apparently, since he ended the famine.

Let’s see… then there’s another war with the Philistines, in which the Israelites killed four giants (one of who was named Goliath – what a coincidence!). David came so close to getting killed in that war that his commanders refused to let him go into battle anymore. This is followed by David composing a really long song that mixes a lot of sucking up to God with a lot of blowing his own… horn.

This is immediately followed by a passage that is attributed as being David’s final words. Which is kind of weird, because David isn’t dying anywhere in Second Samuel. His last words are just randomly thrown into the middle of stories about stuff that isn’t even happening near the time of his death. What excellent narrative structure!

This is followed by listing all the heroic dudes who served David, and some of their exaggerated accomplishments.

All of that before we finally come to something that includes God being an active participant in the story.

2 Sam 24:1 Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he incited David to go against them, saying ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

There is no reason given, either before this passage or after, for why God is angry at Israel. Nor is it explained exactly why ordering David to count them is somehow a punishment for them. Now, there’s a rule way back in Numbers about how the priests are supposed to collect a tax whenever they take a census and no mention is made of David collecting that tax, but whatever. It’s never explicitly referenced as the reason for what happens next after David has the census performed (and for the record, the result is 800,000 men of fighting age in Israel and 500,000 in Judah, which can only be hilariously overblown numbers for the population at that time).

2 Sam 24:10 But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said teo Yahweh, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But no, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.’ 11 And when David arose in the morning, the word of Yahweh came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying 12 ‘Go and say to David “Thus says Yahweh, three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.”’ 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, ‘Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days of pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.’”

So consider what we’re being told here. God is pissed at Israel for no stated reason. So he orders David to perform a census in order to manufacture a bullshit reason to punish them. But of course, God’s manufactured reason for punishing Israel is because David did what God ordered him to do! This passage could have dispensed with all of that story and just said “God pretty much just wants to fuck you up, whether you obey him or not, but sometimes he likes to put a thin veneer of reason on it just so the true dumbasses among you can think there’s a justification for it.”

Now, David’s response was that he’d take either of the punishments that doesn’t involve him being defeated by other men (basically, the famine or the pestilence), and he’ll leave it to God to decide which it will be. Which I kind of like to think of as David just throwing his hands up and saying “Fuck it! You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, so just get it over with! All I ask is that you do your own dirty work, so everyone can see that it’s you being a douchebag!”

So God picks the pestilence, and kills 70,000 people.

God acts through an angel, who’s dispensing death from by the threshing floor owned by some guy named Araunah. The prophet Gad tells David that he can end the plague by building an altar at the threshing floor. So David buys the threshing floor and some oxen to use as a burnt offering from Araunah for fifty shekels of silver. Then he builds the altar and sacrifices the oxen, and the plague ends. And with it, so does the misnamed Second Book of Samuel.

The Book was longer than the number of posts on it would suggest, but most of it is pure politics and I kind of skipped over it in the retelling. Maybe an extreme obsessive might be able to construct theological meaning out of all that stuff, but it just didn’t seem worth it to me.

Take care until next post!

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