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

by Timothy F. Simpson (Author)
©2014 Monographs XII, 155 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 152


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.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editor's Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. “Confession Is Good for the Soul”: Owning Up to Methodological and Theological Assumptions
  • 1.1 Canonical Criticism: Privileging Theological Discourse and Reading the Text as Scripture
  • 1.2 Reader-Response Criticism: A Diary of the Reading Process
  • 1.3 Intertextuality: Reading Scripture with Scripture
  • 1.4 Summary
  • 2. “Out with the Old and In with the New”: Surveying the Work of Earlier Interpreters: What has Worked, What Hasn’t and Why A Fresh Approach Is Needed
  • 2.1 Classical Historical-Critical Approaches to David
  • 2.1.1 Leonhard Rost
  • 2.1.2 Martin Noth
  • 2.2 The Literary Reappraisal of the David Narratives
  • 2.2.1 David M. Gunn
  • 2.2.2 J.P. Fokkelman
  • 2.2.3 Robert Polzin
  • 2.3 Contemporary Historical and Literary Approaches to David
  • 2.3.1 Baruch Halpern
  • 2.3.2 Steven McKenzie
  • 2.3.3 Antony Campbell
  • 2.3.4 Robert Alter
  • 2.3.5 Paul Borgman
  • 2.3.6 Robert Pinsky
  • 2.4 Walter Brueggemann
  • 2.5 Summary
  • 3. “The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways”: The Inscrutability of God and Attempts to Co-Opt It for Personal, Political Gain in 2 Sam 16:5-14
  • 3.1 The Story Thus Far
  • 3.2 The Fall and Rise of David: 2 Samuel 15-20
  • 3.3 vv. 5-7a: David on the Run from Absalom, Jerusalem
  • 3.4 vv. 7b-8: Shimei Comes Cursing; Sounds Like a Prophet
  • 3.5 v.9: Abishai Speaks for Tradition; Offers to Settle the Matter Immediately
  • 3.6 vv. 10-12: David Affirms, Rejects Both Shimei, Abishai
  • 3.7 vv.13-14: Narrating the Exit from the Land; Dirt, Stones and Curses
  • 3.8 Aftermath
  • 3.8.1 2 Sam 19:17-24 (ET 16-23): Shimei Begs David’s Pardon
  • 3.8.2 1 Kings 2:1-9: David Instructs Solomon to Kill Shimei
  • 3.8.3 1 Kings 2:36-46: Solomon Kills Shimei
  • 3.9 Summary
  • 4. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References

Editor’s Preface

More than ever the horizons in biblical literature are being expanded beyond that which is immediately imagined; important new methodological, theological, and hermeneutical directions are being explored, often resulting in significant contributions to the world of biblical scholarship. It is an exciting time for the academy as engagement in biblical studies continues to be heightened.

This series seeks to make available to scholars and institutions, scholarship of a high order, and which will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. This series includes established and innovative directions, covering general and particular areas in biblical study. For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion.

In this volume Tim Simpson through the interpretive prism of intertextuality examines a particular text, II Samuel 6:5-14, with an eye towards a new and challenging understanding of David. In his overview of the studies of several scholars whose works have been foundational for an interpretation and understanding of David, Simpson argues that the methodological principles employed have been insufficient and inefficient in providing a textually accurate depiction of David. The author contends that for the most part David has been give a “free ride” in the overwhelmingly positive manner in which he is portrayed. Howsoever, one reads and ← vii | viii → responds to this study, it is sure to generate a widespread conversation. The arguments and conclusions must be reckoned with.

The horizon has been expanded.

Hemchand Gossai

Series Editor

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It takes a village to write a book. I am so grateful to my teachers over the years who have encouraged and inspired me: Lee Hahnlen and Stephen Strehle from Liberty University; James Mueller and Sheldon Isenberg from the University of Florida; David Gunn, James D. Newsome and Walter Brueggemann of Columbia Theological Seminary; David Moessner, Carl Holladay, Vernon Robbins and Luke Timothy Johnson from Emory University; John Carroll and William P. Brown of Union Presbyterian Seminary; and especially David Levenson, Shannon Burkes, John Kelsay and Matthew Goff of Florida State University, who labored for many years to get me through this process. I also wish to thank Nicole Kelley and Dennis Moore for agreeing to serve as readers.

Also worthy of thankful mention are the members of the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Rock Island, IL. On my first day of work in my first church out of seminary, as my secretary left for the day, she hollered out, “Don’t forget Wednesday night Bible Study at 6 o’clock.” My heart stopped because no one on the pastor nominating committee had ever mentioned that being one of my pastoral duties, since, it turned out, none of them ever attended. But others apparently did, and I was unprepared to teach them. So I went with what I knew best and wanted to study the most. I started that night with verse 1 chapter 1 of 1 Samuel, and for the next 39 months I and this intrepid group of Bible students went word-by-word, verse-by-verse through the books of Samuel. This gave me the reason and the opportunity to master the vast secondary literature on the subject, as well as to ← ix | x → try out my readings on actual hearers, some of which have made it into the following pages. I am especially thankful for Jim and Barb Bertelsen, Brian Bollman and Sharon DeFrieze. Without their patience with me and their diligence in studying the text themselves, I would never have learned the material thoroughly enough to have written a dissertation on the subject. Many ministry colleagues have also encouraged me in my academic work. In particular, I want to thank the members of the “San Marco clergy group,” Vince Kolb, Betsy Haynes, Lou Lothman and John Ragsdale, as well as Paul Hooker and Gwin Pratt. In addition to sharing the burdens of pastoral ministry, these folks have challenged me for the last decade and urged me forward at every sign of progress, which were often few and far between.

I have had the constant support and affirmation of my family throughout my entire life, without which I would never have achieved anything. My grandfather, the late Rev. Wendell Zimmerman, was a towering figure in my development. On a Sunday night in early 1992, while on the platform of the church he had founded, he slumped over in his seat in full cardiac arrest just prior to preaching the evening sermon. At the same time on that night, I was at seminary 400 miles away, in my room, hammering out an exegesis paper on 2 Samuel 16:5-14 for a class with Walter Brueggemann due on that Tuesday morning. My mother called me about 7:30 in the evening to tell me that my grandfather was taken to the hospital and was not expected to live. Brueggemann had a policy of not accepting late papers under any circumstances, which meant that my paper had to get done right then. So I stayed up all night working to finish it so that I could leave and be with my family as soon as possible. My grandfather died early the next morning, just minutes after I had printed the paper that nearly twenty years later is the nucleus of what has become this book.

I am also grateful to my parents, the Rev. Dr. Jerry R. Simpson and Wenda S. Nelson. My mother gave me a love for reading and made me believe that I could do anything. My father gave me a love for studying, and convinced me that a life of service and commitment to others was the best and most fulfilling way to live. There really is no substitute for giving a child both confidence and a sense of purpose in life, and I have been blessed to have had both in abundance. My step-father, Randy Nelson, was also an important figure in my life and that of my kids, contributing greatly to getting me through so many years of school. I also want to thank my brother and oldest friend, Jon Marc Simpson, for a lifetime of support and companionship. Everything I learned, good and bad, about being a leader, got tried out on him first, and he loved me always anyway. And I am most grateful for the support and understanding from my children, Stephen, Caitlin and Jacob, and to their mother, Sherri Patray. They, above everyone else, know all of the costs of undertaking advanced theological education and paid that out over many long years as I pursued my goal. ← x | xi →

Finally, I wish to thank my wife, the Rev. Kathryn A. McLean, apart from whose encouragement this project would never have made it off of a thumb drive. She gave freely of her time, even before we were married, driving me to Tallahassee to meet with the department faculty, and to Atlanta to use the library, and then later spent hours typing and formatting page after page of bibliographic material in order to make it all turn out right. When I felt like the obstacles to finishing were too high, which was quite often, she encouraged me to keep at it, never pressuring, always cheering. It was just what I needed, and the primary reason that this book is finally getting done. It is to Kathy, with love and gratitude, that this work is dedicated.

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“Confession Is Good for the Soul”

Owning Up to Methodological and Theological Assumptions

Reading biblical texts in the 21st century has been rendered far more problematic than anyone would have guessed half a century ago. The optimism of biblical scholars regarding the methods employed by such figures as Gunkel and Wellhausen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries pointed to great advances in our understanding of the world of the text and the development of methods that would compel the scripture to give up its secrets.1 Indeed, for much of the past century that optimism remained intact, as researchers pushed these methods to their limits and then devised new ones to pick up where the others had left off. Since the 1960s, however, we have witnessed a dramatic and productive change in the way biblical scholars understand their task, as the philosophical presuppositions of historical criticism have been increasingly undermined as the sole or even the primary object of biblical interpretation. This change is most evident in what many who study scripture within the academy are seeking to uncover: rather than trying to answer the former question of “What really happened?” they frequently seek instead now to answer the question “How is meaning produced by this text (as it stands)?”2 So while there is no longer a univocal view within the academy of how one ought to read a text, thus removing the historical questions from their former position of dominance within the field, the application of newer methodological approaches has created a wealth of insights as the Bible has been read with fresh eyes. The present work seeks to extend the insights of this latent enterprise in the study of biblical texts by applying several of these newer methods to one such (mostly ignored) text from the Hebrew ← 1 | 2 → Bible, 2 Samuel 16:5-14. In it, David is on the run from his son, the usurper Absalom, during which he is accosted by one Shimei, a relative of the former King Saul, who insults David with curses and menaces him by hurling stones and dirt clods at him. It is Shimei’s actions and the responses to them by the characters in the scene, and one not in the scene, that will be the primary focus of this present work. For here we are presented with a variety of perspectives on how the various characters in the scene think that God views this transition in the monarchy from David to Absalom and what the divine plans are for its immediate future. As we shall see, each of the perspectives presented in the scene has validity within the larger canon of scripture, which therefore can be understood plausibly as appropriate moral responses to the situation. Shimei, Abishai and David will offer their opinions in turn, each of them trying to get a hold of the narrative, each of them trying to reframe what has happened, each of them offering a piece of the truth as Israel’s story tells it and as they understand it. Although the matter gets sorted out directly as the story unfolds in later chapters and the question of the succession to David’s throne gets solved in one direction and not the others, the difficulty for the reader of the text at this particular point in the narrative comes in trying to figure out which one of the positions articulated by the characters in the scene most nearly represents what God thinks of the situation, because all of them appear to be reflecting some aspect of his value system as presented in the canon, either implicitly or explicitly.


XII, 155
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
King David Yahweh theological declaration
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 154 pp.

Biographical notes

Timothy F. Simpson (Author)

Timothy F. Simpson earned his PhD at Florida State University. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and teaches at the University of North Florida.


Title: Not «Who Is on the Lord's Side?» but «Whose Side Is the Lord On?»
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170 pages