Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2 Samuel: Rough Draft of Game of Thrones

Let’s get started on the Second Book of Samuel, shall we? When The First Book of Samuel left off, Saul was finally dead. The Second Book opens with David getting the news. And he gets it from an Amalekite man who claims to have been part of the Israelite camp at Saul’s final battle (which seems like a silly thing to claim, given the Israelites’ god-ordained violent anti-Amalekite racism). And this man claims that when Saul was injured and his sons dead, the king had asked the Amalekite to kill him to prevent his capture (which, according to First Samuel, is bullshit, but the guy could have just been making up the story to make himself look better, since as far as most people knew David and Saul were enemies). He tells David that he did as Saul asked, and then brought Saul’s crown and armlet to David.

David displays his gratitude in true Biblical fashion: by killing the Amalekite for having “killed God’s anointed.” David then composes a poem of mourning for Saul and Jonathan, which included a line about how Jonathan’s love for him was “extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.”

At this point, David leaves his little Philistine town to move to the city of Hebron in the lands of Judah with his ragtag group of brigands. And here, the people of Judah (to whom, you might recall, he’d been sending gifts from his raiding) declare him king.

So there you go. God and Samuel had anointed David king years back, and now the people have finally acknowledged it, right?

Ummm… no. Recall that Samuel had done his anointing in secret. Nobody fucking knows that God supposedly wants David to be king – Judah just wants him because he was from their tribe, kicked a lot of Philistine ass in the name of Israel, and kept sending them gifts of looted wealth. Meanwhile Abner, the head of Saul’s army, was still under the impression that Saul had been king and that his surviving son Ish-bosheth ought to inherit. So he declared Ish-bosheth king over all of Israel.

This, predictably, leads to a years-long civil war with God’s chosen people actively killing each other over who should be king. While David generally gained ground, the real turning point came when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of nailing one of Saul’s old concubines. This provoked Abner, who was the real power in Ish-boseth’s kingdom anyway, to decide to switch sides. So Abner goes around behind his purported king’s back, politicking his little ass off to get the Benjaminites and others to throw in with him.

Once he’s secured as many turncoats as he can, Abner meets with David to make the agreement official (part of the agreement involves Abner taking Michal – David’s first wife, the daughter of Saul, whom Saul had taken back and given to another husband when he and David were on the outs – away from her current husband and delivering her back to David). Joab, however, is convinced that Abner is just blowing smoke to sucker David, plus he’s pissed at Abner because he’d killed one of Joab’s brothers during the war.

So after Abner left his meeting with David, Joab sent some of his own men to capture Abner for him. When they bring him back, Joab stabs Abner to death. David’s reaction, upon hearing about it, was to declare a curse on Joab’s family and descendants. I’m not sure whether that’s because he was the kind of dick who punishes a man’s family for the man’s crimes, or the kind of dick who declares a curse because he knows it’s just meaningless words but will look to his ignorant subjects like he did something meaningful.

Afterwards, David made everyone make a show of mourning for Abner, and he refused to eat anything else for the rest of the day. This, apparently, convinced everyone that he’d had nothing to do with Abner’s death, because I guess people hadn’t become cynical about their rulers yet.

News of Abner’s death gets back to Ish-bosheth, which takes the wind right out of his sails and those of his remaining followers. So much so that two of his father’s raiding captains decide that it’s time to just outright betray and murder the poor guy. So one day when he’s asleep, they sneak into his house and kill him in his bed. Then they chop off his head and go deliver it to David.

David’s is no more welcoming of this than he was for the guy who’d claimed to kill Saul. He has both men executed. Then, with the last of Saul’s sons finally dead, the remainder of Israel at last accepts David as their king.

So there you have it: the story of how David became king. Pretty much a tale of pure drama, murder, warfare, politics, and betrayal with only the occasional nod in the direction of God. Sort of like a rough draft of Game of Thrones, only with less supernatural stuff and worse writing.

But that’s not the end of Second Samuel, not by a long shot. We’re only in Chapter 5 out of 24, after all. When next we return, we’ll be getting into the exciting reign of David over all of Israel. Until then, be well!

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