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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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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


Surveying the Work of Earlier Interpreters: What has Worked, What Hasn’t and Why a Fresh Approach Is Needed

As the methods of biblical scholarship have flowered in recent years, creating divergent paths down which an interpreter can proceed, so have the conclusions developed out of those variegated approaches shifted the possible interpretations of the biblical text and the characters inscribed therein. In no case has the controversy been sharpest and results more divergent than in scholarly study devoted to David and his reign. Is David a historical figure? Did he ever actually rule over either kingdoms known as Judah and Israel? Or is the presentation found in the Bible simply an early form of religious fiction, containing enough verisimilitude to make the story real enough to hook a reader, but not necessarily accurate in terms of factual detail? Should the goal of scholarship be the elucidation of the religion of ancient Israel or defining the contours of God as a character in Israel’s sacred story? The quest for the historical David has increased in importance over the years as the earlier belief that the Old Testament contained facts of great antiquity has slowly begun to crumble. W.F. Albright’s argument that the patriarchal narratives were historical faltered first, as did subsequently the arguments of the so-called “Children of Albright,” regarding the Exodus story.1 The most recent line of defense has been drawn around David, and debates between those who accept a historical David in some form and the so-called...

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