David's Kingship over Judah
(2 Sam 1:1-2:7)
The division into books for Israel's great narrative texts is often a late and relatively
artificial operation. The death of Saul is an appropriate point for the book
to stop; however, the story of Israel goes on (and that already begun with David
- despite Stoebe, 23-24). The king and his heir presumptive, Jonathan, have
died. The biblical text turns to the issue of succession. David is presented assuming
the throne of Judah at Hebron. The commander of Saul's army was Abner
(cf. 1 Sam 14:50). He was last sighted in 1 Sam 26, was not mentioned in
ch. 31, and will resurface in 2 Sam 2-3. Two sons of Saul are also named in
2 Sam who were not listed in 1 Sam 14:49; three sons died with Saul on Mount
Gilboa. The two survivors are Ishbaal and Meribaal (also referred to as
Ishbosheth and Mephibosheth, substituting the noun "shame" for the name of
the god "Baal").
Abner brought Saul's son, Ishbaal, to Transjordan (Mahanaim). Why
Mahanaim we do not know. It may have been a safe place for a capital, but
other reasons are likely to have been involved. As the text expresses it, Abner
made Ishbaal king over all of Israel that did not belong to Judah (cf. 2 Sam
2:8-10). A long civil war ensued between Saul's followers and those of David
(cf. 2 Sam 3:1). With the deaths of Abner (3:27) and Ishbaal (4:6-7), the war
ended in David's favor and he is reported becoming king over both Israel and
Judah at Hebron. David's first reported action is to capture Jerusalem as his
own city and his capital. The text then deals with the establishment of David's
power and the remarkable narrative of his middle years.
At this point, as we approach these chapters, it is worth noting that
Chronicles tells a quite different story: "The Lord [Heb.: he] put him [Saul] to
death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. Then all Israel gathered
together to David at Hebron . and they anointed David king over Israel"
(1 Chr 10:14-11:3). Where Chronicles admits of no significant passage of time,
2 Samuel allows for seven and a half years - and fills the time with some four
days' worth of protestation of David's innocence of bloodshed. We can see the
interests possibly at work on either side. 1-2 Chronicles needed an Israel unified
under the temple's founder, David. 1-2 Samuel needed a founder of Israel's
first and only lasting dynasty to be free of the taint of murder. It would be
naive to believe we know which of these versions is historically the more accurate.
Looked at from the point of view of literary narrative, the Samuel text
first tells of David's kingship over Judah and then opens what appears to be a
new unit on the civil war with Ishbaal, heir to Saul's kingdom. Signals for the
structuring of the text are not strong. 2:12 presupposes v. 8; their association
within one block is appropriate. From the point of view of David's defenders,
the first block of text makes clear both David's innocence and his feelings over
the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:1-2:7); the second block makes the
same claim for David in relation to the murders of Abner and Ishbaal (2 Sam
2:8-4:12). After these two blocks, the text moves on to the establishment of David's
kingdom. The overall movement of the book is: David's grieving and
kingship over Judah; civil war between the house of Saul and the house of David;
David's establishment of the kingdom of all Israel.
The first section of text has the following structure.
David's grieving and his kingship over Judah 2 Sam 1:1-2:7
I. Announcement to David of the death of Saul 1:1-16
A. Reception of the news 2-10
B. Reaction to the news 11-16
II. David's lamentation for Saul and Jonathan 1:17-27
A. Basic lament 19
B. Against foes and field 20-22
C. Eulogy of the fallen 23-27
III. David's establishment as king of Judah 2:1-7
A. Move to Hebron from exile 1-3
B. Anointing as king 4a
C. Announcement to Jabesh-gilead 4b-7
Within this, three units can be examined more closely: David's grieving, his
lamentation, and his anointment as king of Judah.
The announcement to David of the death of Saul 1:1-16
I. Introduction: link to preceding 1
II. Announcement of Saul's death 2-16
A. Reception of the news 2-10
1. Arrival of a man from Saul's camp 2
2. Interrogation by David 3-10
a. Concerning the general situation: defeat 3-4
b. Concerning the death of Saul 5-10
1) Encounter with harried Saul 5-6
2) Request from Saul 7-9
3) Death of Saul 10
a) Killed by the Amalekite 10a
b) Crown and armlet brought by the Amalekite 10b
B. Reaction to the news 11-16
1. Mourning for Saul, for Jonathan, and for the army 11-12
2. Judgment upon the messenger by David 13-16
a. Interrogation by David 13-14
b. Death ordered and executed 15
c. Concluding judicial pronouncement 16
As all OT scholars know, the text of 1-2 Samuel is poorly preserved. Careful attention
to its correction and emendation is most important. At the same time
Shemaryahu Talmon's comment, following analysis of the texts from Qumran,
can be generalized and must be kept in mind: "The variance of the Greek traditions
among themselves, and vis-à-vis the Hebrew, appears to preclude a systematic
collation of these widely divergent texts" ("Textual Studies," 327). The
comment is relevant to more than simply Jeremiah and Esther. It is certainly applicable
here in Samuel. Eugene Ulrich makes much the same point: "The
Scriptures were pluriform . until at least 70 CE, probably until 100, and quite
possibly as late as 135 or beyond. Thus we must revise our imaginations and
our explanations . we can see now more clearly that there were multiple literary
editions of many of the biblical books" ("Bible in the Making," 92).
Ideally, before a change is made to any of the ancient texts in the light of
one of the other versions (e.g., MT or LXX, etc.) - or indeed in the light of
other occurrences - both need to have been thoroughly understood. They may
be telling a story differently or telling a different story (e.g., the story of
Hannah or Anna in 1 Sam 1 which is told so differently in MT and LXX as to
be almost a different story [see Walters, "Hannah and Anna"]). We need to be
well informed and appropriately cautious.
The introduction to the account situates it in relation to what has already been
narrated - [= Structure Analysis: I]. After Saul's death, when David had returned
from his pursuit of the Amalekites, he remained at Ziklag and on the
third day the man came from Saul's camp. The introduction picks up the preceding
two chapters (the reference to Saul's death is not necessarily obtrusive,
against Smith, Samuel, 256). The repetition of the necessary background information
would permit this to be an independent story. On the other hand, these
details allow the narrator to integrate this episode with what has gone before.
The time lapse, three days, corresponds well enough with 1 Sam 30:1, presuming
that a single soldier would be thought to travel faster than an armed band of
some six hundred men.
The appearance of the man and the initial stages of the exchange follow
closely the pattern we find traditional for the bringer of bad tidings (cf. 1 Sam
4:12-18) - [II.A.1 and 2.a]. As in 1 Sam 4, there is here a slow though less
pronounced build-up in the narrative. The condition of the messenger - torn
garments and earth on his head - already presages bad news. His first reply to
David intensifies the visual symbols: from the camp of Israel "I have escaped"
(1:3). His reply to David's second question spells out the details: flight and
heavy casualties for the army; death for Saul and Jonathan.
The classic difficulty of this passage emerges with the details of Saul's
death (vv. 5-10) - [II.A.2.b]. Karl Budde's discussion may be summarized in
five points (cf. Samuel, 193-94).
1. In v. 5, David asks about both Saul and Jonathan, while vv. 6-10 concern
2. In v. 8, a question is answered which is asked again in v. 13.
3. In vv. 6-10, the details of Saul's death are not in harmony with the account
in ch. 31.
4. It is inappropriate to assume the Amalekite is a liar, since the text does
not note this.
5. There is some conflict with 2 Sam 4:10-11, where David claims to have
killed the messenger himself (v. 10) and, according to Budde, David does
not attribute Saul's death to the Amalekite.
As a result, Budde attributes vv. 6-10 and 14-16 to his E source (noting their intention
to free Saul of the shame of suicide and David of the killing of an innocent),
while vv. 5 and 13 are classified as redactional links (Budde, Samuel,
193). What is not explained in such an attribution to different origins is why the
allegedly redactional vv. 5 and 13 should be so apparently clumsy.
There is some conflict with 2 Sam 4:10-11; there is more with 1 Sam 31.
The former is scarcely grave. David's statement in 4:10 is not necessarily in opposition
to 1:15. In 1:15, David gives the order which is executed by the young
soldier; 4:10 does not go into detail about the "how" of the execution. There is
even less tension with 4:11. It does not acquit the Amalekite of Saul's death; it
simply does not equate his deed with the cold-blooded killing of an innocent
man in his bed. That the killers of Ishbaal were "wicked men" (4:11) does not
imply that the Amalekite was righteous.
The more evident difficulty arises from the conflict with the account in
1 Sam 31. One approach to resolution is to consider the Amalekite a liar, but
nowhere does the text stigmatize him as such. I cannot share Robert Polzin's
confidence in "the convention of the narrator's omniscience and reliability"
(David and the Deuteronomist, 3). From the outset, we must remember that the
judgment to be passed is not one of historical fact but one of plausibility within
the horizon of the narrative. We may assume, although we need not, that the
content of ch. 31 is known to the narrator and to the audience - as it is to us; in
the narrative, this content is not known to David. David is portrayed as accepting
the man's story and acting accordingly. Whether the different formulation
in 4:10-11 is intended to reflect the passage of time and the possibility of David's
there being better informed as to the actual truth of the matter is a question
that can hardly be answered with any certainty.
Whether the compiled stories present us with an understanding of the
Amalekite as liar is not easily decided. The juxtaposition of 1 Sam 31 and
2 Sam 1 suggests that the Amalekite is to be understood as a liar. But differing
traditions can be juxtaposed without our knowing whether either reflects reality.
Differing views can be brought to expression at different times (cf. Smith, Samuel, 251, 54, 56, for whom ch. 31 could be a secondary addition). The most
that can be said without doubt is that 2 Sam 1:10 and 16 portray a different understanding
of the manner of Saul's death than that given in 1 Sam 31. According
to ch. 31, Saul fell on his own sword (31:4). According to the Amalekite,
acceding to Saul's request, he killed him (1:9-10). According to the narrative,
David explicitly rests the Amalekite's fate upon his own testimony, "for your
own mouth has testified against you" (1:16).
The tensions alleged around vv. 5 and 13 may be largely illusory. Verse
5's inquiry about the death of Saul and Jonathan follows naturally enough on
the reference to both in v. 4. The query, "How do you know?" may be understood
as inviting the disclosure that follows. That it is simply a neutral question
is suggested by the answer that applies only to Saul - I know because I killed
him. The narrative cannot allow David to know already what vv. 6-10 will disclose;
once disclosed, David's concern has to be with avenging the king. For
apologists of David's party, this would make eminent sense; in their eyes, Saul
was David's rival, not Jonathan. The innocence of David's attitude to Saul
needed to be established; the same need did not exist in relation to Jonathan.
The alleged tension between vv. 8 and 13 needs to be viewed in the light
of the two questions asked and their different implications. In v. 8, Saul asks:
"Who are you?"; in v. 13, David asks: "Where do you come from?" The first is
a question of identity; "I am an Amalekite." The second is a question of social
belonging; "I am the son of a resident alien." Whatever of the former, for the
latter David's indignation is given grounds: "Were you not afraid to lift your
hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?" (v. 14). For the son of a sojourner, respect
for the anointed king is demanded in a way that might not have been
judged so appropriate for a foreigner.
The upshot of this discussion is that we are able to treat 2 Sam 1:1-16 as a
unity. We, the audience, are aware of ch. 31 and we are free to regard the
Amalekite as an opportunistic liar or to regard his story as a different tradition
of Saul's end. David, however, is presented as unaware of ch. 31 (hence the importance
of the chronological details in 1:1) and as accepting of the
Amalekite's story. It is intriguing to notice how scholars' pursuit of the historical
event bedevils their interpretation of storytelling.
The Amalekite claimed that he just happened by chance to be, in his eyes,
in the right place at the right time (niqro' niqreti behar haggilboa'
wehinneh .). Given that he removed the royal crown and armlet (v. 10), any
claim to disinterested honesty is open to suspicion.