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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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1. “Confession Is Good for the Soul”: Owning Up to Methodological and Theological Assumptions


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...

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