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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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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


The Inscrutability of God and Attempts to Co-opt It For Personal, Political Gain in 2 Sam 16:5-14

In this chapter, I will be closely examining the characters in the scene—Shimei, Abishai, and David—and how these characters’ perspectives present with that of a fourth character, Yahweh, who does not himself appear in this scene but who they all invoke. I will also briefly examine the perspective of the narrator of the scene, who offers a fourth, albeit limited perspective on the characters and their relation to Yahweh. In examining the characters of the scene I will use relevant intertextual connections between this text and other parts of the canon as a means of attempting to demonstrate how a reader might “build” a character out of the available materials.

There has, to date, never been a reading of this passage that brings together what I have argued are the essential methodological elements required of this text. I will show in the following chapter that the application of this approach which I have outlined in Chapter One will present the reader with a different and more nuanced understanding of the characters in the story, particularly with respect to their stance as it pertains to the central character of scene, Yahweh, who is nowhere yet everywhere present. Shimei, rather than being the embittered family member of the displaced monarchy, will be read as a conduit of Yahweh’s word to the king, and thus with more sympathy and...

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