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.