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Not «Who Is on the Lord's Side?» but «Whose Side Is the Lord On?»

Contesting Claims and Divine Inscrutability in 2 Samuel 16: 5-14


Timothy F. Simpson

Second Samuel 16:5–14 is an important text for defining the character of both King David and Yahweh, the God of Israel. In this scene, the points of view of the various speakers battle for control of the narrative, attempting in turn to align their perspective with some aspect of what has been revealed earlier about Yahweh in the larger biblical story. Shimei, relative of the dead King Saul, paints David as a murderer and under a divine curse. Shimei presents himself as God’s instrument of truth and vengeance. Abishai, David’s nephew, first paints Shimei as a seditionist worthy of death, and then David as a kind of moral weakling who has lost his previous vigor and resolve. Abishai presents himself as the upholder of God’s Torah, the traditional family and the values that David himself used to espouse. David, when it comes his turn to speak, cuts a middle path between Shimei and Abishai, agreeing and disagreeing with both in turn. He then makes a startling theological declaration about his relationship to Yahweh that has often been taken to be a sign of faith, but which can more easily be read as a sign of his own hubris, which in turn fundamentally shapes the way in which the reader comes to think about Yahweh.
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Chapter 1: “Confession Is Good for the Soul”


1.For examples of the many new directions in which biblical studies has gone in recent years, see e.g., Fernando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds., Reading from this Place: Volume 1: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States; Volume 2: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in Global Perspective (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995); A.K.M. Adam, Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006); John J. Pilch, Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible: Essays by the Context Group in Honor of Bruce Malina (New York and Leiden: Brill, 2001); Silvia Schroer and Sophia Bietenhard, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible and the Hermeneutics of Liberation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 2003).

2.Lawrence Boadt, in his review of The New Interpreters Bible, Vol. 1, General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus, BQ 58/2 (1996): 326-327, highlights the current situation in introducing the Pentateuch. Joseph Blenkinsopp carefully introduces the present state of historical scholarship regarding sources, editors, etc., all of which is ignored in the commentaries on Genesis and Exodus by Terence Fretheim and Walter Brueggemann, respectively.

3.Cf. some recent work in the area, e.g., Edgar W. Conrad, Reading the Latter Prophets: Toward a New Canonical Criticism (New York: Continuum, 2003); Mark G. Brett, Biblical Criticism in Crisis?: The Impact of the Canonical Approach on Old Testament Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); William G. Lyons, Canon and Exegesis: Canonical Praxis and the Sodom Narrative (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002); Rolf...

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