God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Four

{Previous Entries in the Series: Part one, viagra two, click three}


But God is not always complacent and subservient to David when he inquires. For instance, after the Philistines were defeated in battle, and their idols captured, they returned for a second attempt. David once again inquires of the Lord, and this time gets a dramatic answer with very specific instructions. It is as if God is correcting David’s plan. David is not to go directly up against the Philistines, but rather is to circle around behind them (5:23). This battle would not be David’s, it would be God’s. God would strike the Philistines for David. David in this battle would be dependent on God, and would be God’s support rather than God being the support for David.

In directing David through this divine speech, God is rebalancing and perhaps even gently rebuking David. The role of the king in God’s economy was to be a servant to God, and God in turn is the warrior-king for Israel who protects and defends his people. That God is saying he will go out and slay the Philistines is a speech that should remind the reader of God’s promise and action in the past; in particular of God leading Israel as they crossed the Jordan river into the Promised Land, land that was given into their hands by God.(1)

While initially God is swift to answer David to demonstrate that David is the chosen one, David, like Saul, ends up facing God’s silent treatment. After David’s indiscretion with Bathsheba, and God’s confrontation through the prophet Nathan (to be discussed in the next section), the child borne out of David’s transgression is afflicted by God. David, having already admitted his sin, inquires of the Lord on behalf of the child (12:16). Here, though, there is no immediate response. In fact God does not say anything. David is faced with the ultimate silent treatment.

That God chooses to be silent, especially after his long speech confronting David, is glaring to the reader. In his silence, God is demonstrating that actions have consequences, and now David must decide how to react. That God does not speak again for the rest of the narrative demonstrates not that he has abandoned David, but that he is once again working behind the scenes. Perhaps, even, the reason that God does not speak again is that nowhere in the rest of the narrative (through chapter 20) does David inquire of the Lord.

True, David worships the Lord immediately after the death of his son is announced (12:20), which would demonstrate that he has accepted God’s decision,(2) but as Whybray notes, “not once – not even when he took the momentous decision to abandon Jerusalem to Absalom – are we told that David inquired of Yahweh.”(3)

Tomorrow’s Post: God Speaks Through the Prophet

(1) Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 275.
(2) J.P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: A Full Interpretation Based on Stylistic and Structural Analysis. Vol 1. (Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Company, 1981), 90.
(3) Whybray, 68.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Two

{This is part two in a series. For the introductory post see here}


The Ephod:

Of the five direct speeches of God, order the first three occur when David inquires of the Lord, view and it is most likely that David does so using the priestly ephod. David came into possession of the artifact while being pursued by Saul. Abiathar brought David the ephod, doctor and David used the ephod to discover whether or not the Keilahlites would turn him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:6-12). In total, David uses the ephod to inquire of God eight times in the Samuel narrative, four of which occur in 2 Samuel.(1)

It is not exactly clear how the use of the ephod elicited an answer from God, though it is most likely some kind of system of lots.(2) The ephod, as described in Exodus 28, is a vestment worn by the High Priest (originally Aaron). On the breastplate worn by the priest were two gems, Urim and Tummim.

The ephod was most likely worn with the breastplate and it has been suggested that when someone inquired of the Lord, the ephod would either fall so that one of the two stones would show, or the gems behind the ephod would flash.(3) The ephod may have had pockets or openings for the two stones, and the priest may have drawn out a stone to determine the answer to the question.(4) The stones most likely each had markings on them that were interpreted to represent either a yes or a no answer.(5) Of course, someone had to interpret whether the stone gave one answer or the other, and this was the role of the priest who wore it.

In the case of David inquiring of the Lord, it is unclear if he was going to a priest, who would interpret the lots,(6) or if David was himself doing the interpreting. Yes, Abiathar brought David the ephod in 1 Samuel 23, but further passages make no reference to a priest being present or speaking the answer to David.

The first instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs just after David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. David inquires of the Lord as to where to go now that Saul is no longer pursuing him. David asks two questions, “Shall I go up to Judah?” and “Where shall I go?” (2:1). The first question is not a problem, because it elicits a yes or no answer. The second question does not. “Where shall I go?” requires a more specific answer.

The second instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs after David has been proclaimed King over all the tribes of Israel. The Philistines, having heard the news, seek out David. David asks God two yes or no questions. “Shall I go up against the Philistines?” and “Will you give them into my hand?” (5:19). Despite the clarity of the questions, the answer from God is longer than a simple yes. It is a seven-word yes.

How is it that the ephod, assuming it uses a lots system, is able to provide answers beyond yes and no? Murray suggests that David is actually asking a series of questions and the narrator simplifies the answers from God into one long response.(7) Thus, in 2:1 when David asks, “Where shall I go?” he may have asked a series of questions, such as “Shall I go to Bethlehem?” “Shall I go to Shiloh?” “Shall I go to Hebron?” etc, and eventually the lot was cast yes, confirming he was to indeed go up to Hebron.

More on the Ephod in tomorrow’s post.

(1) Whybray, 68. (If you include 21:1 it is five times, but Whybray, like other scholars look at chapters 21-24 as a separate entity from the Samuel narrative).
(2) Donald Murray, Divine Prerogative and Royal Pretension: Pragmatics, Poetics and Polemics in a Narrative Sequence about David. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 92.
(3) Edward Robertson, “Urim and Tummim: What were They?” Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964), 73.
(4) Johannes Lindblom, “Lot-Casting in the Old Testament” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962), 166.
(5) Robertson, 71.
(6) A.A. Anderson, 2nd Samuel. (Waco: Word Books, 1989), 22.
(7) Murray, 94-100.

God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Introduction

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.