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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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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...

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