Friday, July 29

2 Samuel 22: The psalm recorded in this text is substantially identical with Psalm 18 (Greek 17) in the canonical Book of Psalms. This psalm’s inclusion in the Book of Samuel is consistent with a common practice of placing such com-positions at or near the end of lengthy narrative material. Other examples in-clude Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 32.

In the present work, the place of David’s psalm near the end of Samuel corre-sponds to the place of Hannah’s canticle near the beginning of the book. This correspondence fits a more general pattern in the construction of the book. Thus, First Samuel starts with two prayers of Hannah, and Second Samuel clos-es with two prayers of David (24:10, 25). Chapter 1 of First Samuel describes the regular pilgrimages that Elkanah’s family made to the ancient shrine at Shi-loh, while the last chapter of Second Samuel finishes with David’s purchase of the site of the future temple at Jerusalem. At the beginning of the book, the Ark of the Covenant is in Shiloh, but the Ark has been moved to the new site as the book ends. Sacrifices are offered in each place, whether by the priest Eli or by David.

Moreover, the corresponding prayers of Hannah and David are similar. Hannah’s petition, inspired by her great distress, takes the form of a vow; if the Lord should give her a son, she promises, she will dedicate him to the Lord. And at the end of the book, David’s prayer, made in response to the plague that af-flicts the people through his own sin, takes the form of a resolve to dedicate a new temple to the Lord. David’s resolve, implicit in 2 Samuel 24, is elaborated in 1 Chronicles 21 and Psalm 131(132). Thus, the Book of Samuel begins and ends with prayers in the context of sacrifice.

There are further parallels between the canticle of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 and the psalm of David in 2 Samuel 22. Indeed, these poems form an “inclusion” to the book. Thus, in David’s psalm God is praised for having kept the promises contained in Hannah’s canticle. For example, while Hannah says of the Lord that “He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness” (1 Samuel 2:9), David will say of Him, “He makes my feet like the feet of deer” (2 Samuel 22:34) and “You enlarged my path under me; so my feet did not slip. I have pursued my enemies and destroyed them” (22:37–38). Once again, too, there is the shared image of the shrine or temple. Whereas Hannah’s canticle is chanted at the house of the Lord in Shiloh, David’s canticle says of the Lord, “He heard my voice from His temple” (22:7). This parallel is all the more strik-ing inasmuch as the new temple has not yet been constructed.

Saturday, July 30

Second Samuel 23: This chapter opens with another poem of David introduced by a note in which the king is called, “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” In fact, the inscriptions in the Psalter ascribe more psalms to David than to any other per-son. This pattern of ascription is reflected in the New Testament (cf. Romans 4:6; 11:9; Hebrews 4:7).

Since David is described here as “the sweet psalmist,” It is ironical that this brief poem—a mere five lines—does not appear to be related, by either struc-ture or theme, to Israel’s traditional psalms. In this respect it is quite different from the psalm in the previous chapter of Samuel.

The description of this poem as “the last words of David” means “David’s final composition”—not his literally last words. His truly last words are his charge to Solomon in First Kings 2.

Whereas the psalm in the previous chapter celebrated the faithful Lord’s deliv-erance of his anointed one, the present poem celebrates the faithfulness of the anointed one himself, a fidelity that brings divine blessing to the whole people. That is to say, it portrays an image of the ideal king, whose reign reflects the kingship of God.

David is declared to be at once the anointed one and the recipient of “the Spirit of the Lord”—a conjunction of images taken up later in the Book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, / ?Because the Lord has anointed me” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

The psalm is a poem about the Davidic covenant, a central and dominant idea in the Book of Samuel. As Israel’s ruler, the king is likened to the sun (verse 4), of which Holy Scripture declares that God made “the greater light to rule the day” (Genesis 1:16). The king resembles the sun, not only in general, but more specifically the sun at sunrise; it is he that separates daylight from darkness. Here the sun imagery moves immediately to the theme of fertility, in which “the tender grass rises from the earth,?/ By clear shining after rain” (cf. Psalm 72 [71]:1-7).

Just as this sun and rain of the Davidic monarchy bring about the growth of the grass, so its infidelity is likened to the thorns that sprang up after the Fall (verse 6; cf. Genesis 3:18). Like Adam, who must fight against the weeds, the king is obliged to destroy the noxious plants of the kingdom (verse 7). Once again, we should remark that David is describing the ideal king more than him-self!

The second part of this chapter (verses 8-39) is a list of warriors who distin-guished themselves at various times during David’s long reign.

Sunday, July 31

Second Samuel 24: The story of the plague is placed near the end of the Book of Samuel, because it leads directly to the actual spot where the temple is to be constructed.

The account begins with David’s plan to take a census of the people. Given the two accounts of census taking in the Book of Numbers, David probably thinks precedence is on his side in this matter. As was the case in Numbers, David probably wants this census in order to take stock of his military strength. This impulse would also account for Joab’s role in the story.

Why did Joab, not exactly a paragon of moral probity in Holy Scripture, object to the census? We are not told; but a plausible conjecture observes that a cen-sus is politically risky. If David orders this census for purposes of military con-scription, it may be that Joab is afraid of political backlash within Israel’s popu-lation. That is to say, if David is acting in a high-handed way, it may be the case that Israel will see him acting in a high-handed way . . . and resent it! As we saw in the matter of Absalom’s death, Joab is sometimes more per-ceptive than David in reading the pulse of the Israelites.

Like Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, David is visited with “plague,” maggefah (verses 21,25). Is the author suggesting that David, in order-ing this census, is acting in a highhanded fashion like Pharaoh? Joab seems to think so. In any case, David’s conscience afflicts him as soon as the census is completed. He knows he has done wrong. He prays, and the Lord answers the prayer by sending him a prophetic word.

The Prophet Gad, in reprimanding David, offers him a choice among three pun-ishments: seven years of famine, three months of foreign invasion, or three days of plague.

At the conclusion of the plague, David causes sacrifice to be offered at the very place where the plague ceases—the threshing floor of Araunah. The king’s negotiations to purchase the field from Araunah put the reader in mind of Abraham’s real estate arrangement with the Hittites for the cave of Machpelah in Genesis 23, but the similarities between the two texts appear to bear no the-ological or thematic significance.

This final chapter, narrating David’s sacrifice on the threshing floor, ties the Book of Samuel back to its beginning, where sacrifice was offered at Shiloh, but the purchase of this property, on which Solomon will build the temple, also points the Book of Samuel toward the future, when the sacrifices of Israel will be offered in that very place.

Monday, August 1

1 Kings 1: Even before the events at El Rogel became common knowledge in Je-rusalem, Nathan the prophet learns of it, whether by secret communication or prophetic insight. Nathan observes that his own name is not on the guest list! He sizes up the situation; he can read what is happening.

When biblical prophets foretell the future, it is because of their understanding of the present. That is to say, an understanding of history is a mark of the prophet. In this respect, Nathan shows himself to be the man of the hour.

The prophet ponders: If Adonijah had invited only some of his brothers and declined to invite the others, he might not have shown his intention so glar-ingly. Only Solomon’s name, however, among David’s living sons, is omitted from the list. This makes the situation perfectly clear to Nathan. There is treachery afoot.

He does not wait passively for things to happen. Nathan is a prophet, a person appointed to speak for God. The Word of God is not spoken simply to convey in-formation. It does not return to God empty, “but it will accomplish,” He de-clares, “what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11). The task of a prophet, consequently, is to make things happen. Nathan knows must speak-up.

In what Nathan does in this chapter, we recognize an important quality of bibli-cal prophecy: It is not some sort of “divine dictation.” God is no dictator. He speaks to the prophet within and through the active mind and heart of the prophet, including (in this place especially) his prudence and common sense.

Nathan reasons that only David, his aged king, can remedy the present political crisis. The task is to present the matter to David in such a way that the king is made aware of its gravity and is stirred to do something about it.

Nathan, also, knows his man. In the first recorded encounter of the two men, the prophet employed the dramatic parable of the eye-lamb to address the king’s conscience (2 Samuel 12:1-23). That example demonstrated Na-than’s grasp of psychology and his sense of dramatic narrative.

This time, the prophet decides to attempt something similar. His plan is simple but detailed and thoroughly thought-through. Stage one: instead of directly ap-proaching the king, he determines to use a two-staged approach. He instructs Bathsheba to remind David of an earlier oath—her name means, “daughter of an oath,” in fact—that Solomon, her son, would succeed him on the throne. What, then, she is to inquire of the king, is all this business down at ‘Ein-Rogel?

Stage two: Nathan would come into the royal presence to confirm the same in-quiry. The plan is to make the dangerous situation perfectly pellucid to David.

Why shouldn’t both Nathan and Bathsheba go in together to the king’s pres-ence? Nathan ponders: the king ism after all, old and may become confused. So, instead of two individuals speaking to him at once, it is arguably better to introduce each in succession.

Timing, Nathan knows, is everything. His plan has all the marks of theater and choreography. From a purely political perspective, it is also every-bit as secret and conspiratorial as the actions of Adonijah and his company. No matter. This kind of crisis calls more for the prudence of the serpent than the simplicity of the dove.

Tuesday, August 2

1 Kings 2: In the previous chapter, the reader learned that David’s most recent wife, Abishag, is still a virgin. Adonijah, who has evidently taken a shine to the young lady, wants to marry her. Foolishly, he asks Bathsheba to intervene with Solomon on his behalf.

Bathsheba spots her chance; she has no doubt about how Solomon will respond to this request that David’s young “widow” be given in marriage to David’s own son. So she makes the request on his behalf, and that is the end of poor Adoni-jah.

Bathsheba is now the Queen Mother, the Gebirah. The true place of the Queen Mother in Holy Scripture is amply illustrated by comparing two scenes, in which Bathsheba is pictured as entering the throne room to speak to the king. In the first of these she is described as coming into the presence of her husband, King David: “And Bathsheba bowed and did homage to the king” (1:16). In the second instance, she comes into the presence of Solomon, her son: “And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand” (2:19). A simple comparison of these texts indicates clearly the deference and honor with which a Davidic king expects his mother to be treated. If the king bows down before her, how much more his subjects?

(It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Bible-believing Christians cultivate the deepest, most affectionate reverence for her of whose Son the angel said: “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” [Luke 1:32]. She has from the beginning been invoked as “the mother of my Lord” [1:43], and in their time of need believers have ever sought her intercession with her Son [John 2:1–11]. Among Christians there can be no doubt that in the kingdom of heaven she reigns as Queen and sovereign Lady in glory in the presence of great David’s greater Son.)

The chapter includes Solomon’s fulfillment of David’s instructions relative to Joab and Shimei. Since the former has recently joined an attempted coup in the realm, he is regarded as a continuing threat to Solomon’s throne. His life is for-feit immediately, notwithstanding his attempt to gain asylum in the sanctuary.

Shimei, who does not represent an immediate threat, is treated more leniently, until he provokes Solomon further. Then he is executed, as well.

Wednesday, August 3

Certain unpleasant executions out of the way, Solomon turns his mind to gov-erning.

First mentioned is his marriage to an Egyptian princess (verses 1-2), which forestalls any problems from that part of the world. The wedding is expensive; to supply the bride’s dowry, her father–something of a cheapskate, it appears—destroys a Philistine city (cf. 9:16).

This unnamed pharaoh reigns toward the end of the XXIst Dynasty. It will be re-placed by the much stronger XXIInd Dynasty toward the end of Solomon’s time on the throne.

Next comes the account of Solomon’s prayer and mystic dream at Gibeon (verses 3-15), a city and shrine (cf. First Chronicles 16:39) six miles northwest of Jerusalem. (Josephus speaks of two such dreams of Solomon [Antiquities 8.4.6].) Egyptologists mention similar stories of dream-revelations made to various pharaohs, and Holy Scripture gives other examples (Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, et alii). Especially pertinent are the dreams of the pharaoh in the Joseph story and of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel; these, like Solomon’s, are “royal dreams.”

The wisdom sought by Solomon is, literally translated, “a hearing heart to judge.” That is to say, it is a practical wisdom, which makes prudent decisions in governing and deciding both policies and cases. A first example of the latter is the famous episode of the two women and the one living baby in verses 16-28.

Solomon’s wisdom, the answer to his prayer, causes him to stand at the begin-ning of Israel’s Wisdom Literature. He is credited with the earliest collection of Wisdom sayings that came to fullness in the Book of Proverbs.

Prayer is the first step in the attainment of Wisdom: “If any of you lacks wis-dom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). In the scene at Gibeon, Solomon may be re-garded as the living embodiment of the quest described in the Book of Prov-erbs:

Yes, if you cry out for discernment, / ?And lift up your voice for understanding, / If you seek her as silver,? / And search for her as for hidden treasures; / Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,? / And find the knowledge of God. / For the Lord gives wisdom;? / From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:3-6).

Thursday, August 4

1 Kings 4: In this chapter the reader discerns a variety of “voices” in the de-scription of Solomon’s reign. There is a voice of satisfaction, for example, in the description of the king’s wisdom in verses 29-34. There is also, however, a hint of dissatisfaction in the voice in several other verses that speak of the im-position of compelled labor and services on the people (cf. also 5:13-18).

There are two major differences between the political apparatus of the reigns of David and Solomon. First, that of Solomon is more complex; there are new offices, which reflect the more extensive commercial and geopolitical activities of a new order.

Second, the government of Solomon’s reign is more centralized. Whereas David had relied on the traditional tribal arrangement, Solomon imposes geographical divisions less reliant on tribal borders, and over the sundry territories estab-lished by these divisions he appoints royal representatives answerable to the central government at Jerusalem. Thus, the largely amphictyonic kingdom gov-erned by David is replaced by a highly unified political system. That is to say, Solomon replaces a political tradition with a political theory.

Thus, taxes in support of the monarch—and the monarch’s growing interest in public works—are no longer collected from the tribes; they are paid to tax col-lectors who operate outside of tribal authority and control. Extensive levies of goods and services—forced labor!—are directly laid on the population by dis-trict governors appointed from Jerusalem. The function of these governors is largely fiscal.

Solomon makes a slight effort to disguise this new political format by maintain-ing a division of the kingdom into twelve regions. Since this was the traditional number of Israel’s tribes, the king hopes, perhaps. no one will notice the new arrangement! Any careful observer, however, may observe that the new terri-torial precincts do not coincide with the traditional tribal boundaries. In addition, it is instructive to observe that two of these governors are sons-in-law to the king (verses 11 and 15).

In his imposition of forced labor on the population, particularly with respect to his extensive building projects, Solomon resembles no one so much as the phar-aoh encountered by Moses in the Book of Exodus. And the reader recalls Samu-el’s prophecy that such an imposition would be the lot of Israel if ever they es-tablished a monarchy.

Because of the feeble political systems at either end of the Fertile Crescent (Egypt and Babylon), Solomon enjoyed the freedom to extend his influence, largely through commerce, eastward toward the Euphrates and southward through the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. His father, David, had subdued all the kingdoms in the region that might otherwise have challenged Solomon’s he-gemony over much of the Fertile Crescent.

Friday, August 5

1 Kings 5: We come now to several chapters descriptive of the Solomonic pros-perity of Israel in the mid-tenth century. David, Solomon’s father, taking ad-vantage of the decline of Babylon at the eastern end of the Fertile Crescent and the geopolitical vacuum created by the lackluster Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt at its western end, had carved out a small empire for himself, subduing the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians, and making mer-cantile arrangements with the seagoing Phoenicians to the north.

To all of this fortune Solomon falls heir when David dies in 961. It is possible that in all of history Solomon has no equal in his ability to read both maps and ledgers. His father having incorporated the Edomites to the south, Solomon controls the port and Gulf of Aqaba (Elath) and the Red Sea. This extensive wa-terway affords access to ports along the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the east of Africa, and, through the Indian Ocean, a thousand other places. To the north Israel is bordered by the Phoenicians, whose shipping merchants are delivering and picking up cargo at ports all around the Mediterranean basin.

Looking at this picture, Solomon decides to go into business, serving as the middleman between the Phoenician markets in the Mediterranean and the sun-dry mercantile opportunities around the Red Sea. It proves to be a time of booming material affluence.

Solomon’s economic and political ties with Phoenicia eventually lead to the deep religious and moral infidelities symbolically associated with the most famous of these Phoenicians, a lady named Jezebel.

The present chapter makes clear the mutual dependence of Israel and Phoeni-cia. Until the reign of David, the Philistines (known in Egyptian sources as “the sea peoples”) were able sharply to curtail the mercantile enterprises of the Phoenicians. Once David quelled the Philistines, however, Phoenician trade re-gained its strength in the eastern Mediterranean. As long as Israel controls the coasts of the Levant, the Phoenicians are free to rule the seas.

Moreover, Israel is the necessary link between Phoenicia and the further mar-kets south of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. That is to say, the Phoenicians need Israel and are glad to be part of a large mercantile alliance that has Solo-mon at its center.

A pact between the Phoenician king, Hiram, and King Solomon makes possible the construction of the temple at Jerusalem. The Phoenicians have the building material, and the engineering talent Solomon needs for this project, and Solo-mon has the money to pay for it.