The second time God speaks through the prophet, it again is unsolicited and in this case, God’s speech dramatically alters David’s position of power. In committing adultery with Bathsheba, and then killing her husband to cover up his indiscretion, David is able to manipulate the situation so that he is in control. No one needs to know what David has done. He is king and as such there is a range of latitude. Without being sought, God reappears and, through the prophet Nathan, confronts David with his sin (12:1-12). While David thought he was in control of the situation, he was not. God is the one who is in control and because of David’s sin, God would “raise up evil from his own household” (12:10).
It is interesting to watch the progression of God’s dealings with David. In chapter five it is a mild rebuke for not understanding that God is the battle-fighter. In chapter seven it is a harsher rebuke followed by a fantastic and unmerited promise. Here in chapter twelve the rebuke is severe. So severe is the rebuke that David repents for sinning against God in all that he has done, not merely for sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah.(1)
The shift from God speaking through the ephod to speaking through the prophet is indicative of how God would continue to interact with Israel. Nathan then is the prototype of the later prophets. In both cases in 2 Samuel when God speaks through the prophet it is unsolicited and plot altering. When God speaks through prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Amos, it is unsolicited but crucial to changing the path Israel is on, if only they choose to listen.
Speaking as Action
The idea that the narrator of 2 Samuel has a theology that suggests God is “working in a hidden way through the hearts and minds of men” would be inconsistent with the magnitude of his speaking in 2 Samuel. It is true that God’s speaking is rare, and it is true that God is working behind the scenes, but that God shows up and speaks unsolicitedly and in surprising ways to up-end the plot and its characters (namely David), suggests a different theology of God wherein God’s speaking is action, action that is just as important and effective (though possibly more dramatic) than only working through the “hearts and minds of men.”(2)
Indeed, throughout the Old Testament narrative there is a tension between God being both hidden and present in Israel. This is seen in the Mosaic narrative, for example, in that the author balances the access Israel has to God with the understanding that at the same time God is free from Israel and does ultimately what he chooses.(3) God can and does choose to act and interact with Israel, as he deems necessary, whether it is behind the scenes or in the foreground.
God’s presence is not just affirmed by characters, or even the narrator attributing victory or blessing to God (e.g., 2 Samuel 5:12). God’s presence is affirmed by his word, and his word is indicative of God actively participating in the life of Israel (and David). From Genesis onward, God’s speaking involves action. The word of God is therefore the act of God. Thus, it is God’s speaking, rather than his working behind the scenes, that propels a theological understanding of the history of Israel.(4) In God speaking, Israel and the reader learn that divine speech is “the power behind his historical identity which is that of a judging yet desisting, forbearing self.”(5)
In the five instances of God speaking in 2 Samuel, God is by his speech actively affecting and effecting the history of Israel. In affirming David’s request (however manipulated) via the ephod to go up to Hebron, God is actively establishing a united Israel under David. In telling David how to fight the Philistines, God is actively taking on the role of king. He has declared himself to be in battle on behalf of Israel; because of God’s action, the Philistines do not stand a chance against Israel. In promising to build and uphold the Davidic dynasty, God is actively establishing Israel’s future in that moment, regardless of how sinful and disobedient the nation of Israel would behave.
God’s word of promise is fulfilled in the Word, who is Jesus (John 1:1). And in speaking to David’s sin, God is confronting, judging and yet still being faithful to his promise. In his speaking, God is actively the one who is all-powerful and unwavering. The character of God is unchanging, and it is his speeches that demonstrate that he is active and will continue to be active in the life and faith of Israel.
Tomorrow: The Conclusion
(1) Hamilton, 334.
(2) Whybray, 7.
(3) Walter Bruggemann, Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme and Text. (Minneapolis: Fortress, Press, 1992), 150.
(4) MacDonald for example, using Karl Barth’s argument that “the sole creative force by which God creates the world is divine speech” argues that God’s speaking is a demonstration of God being “an active personal self.” Neil MacDonald, “Divine Speaking as Godly Action in Old Testament Narrative” in Behind the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation. Ed. Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans and Mary Healy. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 471.
(5) Neil MacDonald, Metaphysics and the God of Israel. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 161.