It has been suggested that the entire narrative of David’s rise to power, buy viagra rule, and and downfall can be read without ever once referring to God.(1) Very often when biblical scholars, and even some narrative scholars,(2) survey the topic in their books on biblical history, they fail to mention God as a prominent player alongside David, Nathan, Absalom and the others.(3)
A cursory reading of 2 Samuel would seem to fit this pattern. While the main characters refer to God, and refer to religious practices, God as a character is, for long chapters, silent. At the beginning of the Samuel narrative, the narrator makes an interesting comment on the time: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare.” (1Samuel 3:1) This note by the narrator is important, as it alerts the reader to pay attention when God does speak.
Some have suggested that the reason that God is not seen as a character alongside David and the others is that the author of the narrative has a theology of God that suggests that God works behind the scenes.(4) God cannot be lauded as a hero, or held out in prominence in the narrative, because he by his very nature stays offstage.
If the purpose of the Samuel narrative is to recount the story of how the Israelites ended up in exile in Babylon, then it could be proposed that when, how, and what God says in the story is of special interest to those hearing the story from an exilic perspective. Likewise, modern readers of the Samuel narrative should find significance in the contrast between the silence and speech of God in 2 Samuel.
I will argue that because God is a character in the narrative, his silence and more importantly his speeches are vital to the plot of 2 Samuel. The speeches of God directly answer the theological questions raised in exile, namely, “Where was God?”, “Has God abandoned us?”, and “Does God communicate?” The way in which God speaks, and occasions when God speaks, emphasize the role of prophet in the life of Israel. To examine the relationship between the speeches of God and the development of the plot, I will look at the two ways in which God speaks: through the priestly ephod, and through the prophet. The use and possible manipulation of the ephod by David to serve his own purposes will be examined, as well as the impact of God’s speaking on the plot of the narrative.
Before examining the speeches and silences of God, it is important to mention the foundational assumptions from which I will be operating. First, the character of David will not be read through the lens of Christian hero-worship, wherein David is truly “a man after God’s own heart” and, save for a few indiscretions, can do no wrong.(5) Rather the character of David will be read in a similar fashion as Saul in 1 Samuel, as a king who experiences a rise to power, a plateau of leadership, and decline in power and moral character.(6)
In relating to God, I will suggest that David may at times be manipulating God to further his personal agenda. Second, the authenticity of whether or not God is the one who speaks is important. I will assume that the narrator is a reliable and authoritative source. On the other hand, when characters attribute actions and speeches to God, and those actions and speeches are not verified or supported by the narrator, they are outside of the scope of this work. I will focus on direct speech, as confirmed and authenticated by the narrator.
(1) James Wharton, “A Plausible Tale: Story and Theology in II Samuel 9-20, I Kings 1-2” Interpretation 35 (1981), 346.
(2) See for example, F.F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: The History of Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple. (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1963).
(3) In describing how the author of 2nd Samuel portrays the characters of the narrative Whybray lists off not only major characters such as David and Joab, but also minor characters such as Bathsheba and Ahithophel, but does not list God as a character in the narrative. See, R.N. Whybray, The Succession Narrative: A Study of II Sam. 9-20 and I Kings 1 and 2. (Naperville: Alec R. Allenson Inc, 1968), 35-45.
(4) Whybray, 48.
(5) This seems to be predominant is sermons and devotionals surrounding the life of David, but has also crept into commentaries. For example see, Robert Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986).
(6) Victor Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001) 299.