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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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4. Conclusion


It is my contention that diachronic reading strategies (i.e., historical criticism in its various incarnations) limit interpretive possibilities of biblical texts. What I have proposed and have attempted to model in this present work instead is an intertextual method of reading the text canonically that focuses on the process of meaning-making within the reader, rather than on an attempt to recover what may have happened, although the approach I have used in no way mitigates against the historical-critical method. To do this, I have demonstrated how such a reading strategy might proceed, particularly with reference to characterization and point of view as expressed by both the dialogue and narration of the scene of 2 Sam 16:5-14. In reading this passage intertextually, I have endeavored to connect it with other related texts not only within the cycle of narratives that treat Saul and David but with the broader textual world of the Hebrew Bible as well, piecing together phrase by phrase how a reader might understand it in fresh perspective.

As I argued in Chapter One in my discussion of intertextuality, it is important that interpretations that utilize a synchronic approach, which values imagination as much as it does information, should advance our understandings of a given text rather than just producing novelty for novelty’s sake. In this book I have striven to meet that important standard. The success of this approach can be seen most clearly in the ways in which my reading of Shimei, Abishai and...

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