The second book of Samuel covers David’s rise to the throne and most of his reign over Israel. David is heralded as one of the greatest kings of Israel and followers of God. But many of his actions in 2 Samuel make me question both.
David absolutely expanded and secured Israel as a nation. He defeated every army who fought against him and Israel grew more powerful under his rule. However, David also fought two civil wars, one with Saul’s sons after Saul’s death and another against his own son, Absalom. A third rebellion was stopped by a “wise woman” convincing a besieged Israelite city to behead the rebellion leader to save the city, as David’s men were literally ramming down the gates (2 Samuel 20). David knew how to fight and win battles, but outside of wartime he had trouble leading.
In fairness, the first battle against Saul’s family wasn’t necessarily started by David. Saul’s descendants didn’t want to lose out on the throne and therefore tried to stop David with force. The second, however, stems directly from David’s actions. David had many wives and concubines, the most infamous being Bathsheba. David saw Bathsheba bathing, called her to his palace to sleep with her (although he knew she was married to another man) and got her pregnant. David then orders one of his generals to put the husband “out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die” (2 Samuel 11:15). Once he is killed in battle, David takes Bathsheba as another wife.
These actions anger God and he punishes David’s “utter contempt for the Lord” by killing the son born to Bathsheba, though he spares David’s life. The same day that child dies, David sleeps with Bathsheba again and she conceives another son, who God loves (2 Samuel 12). So ends David’s atonement. This seems a far cry from the God who killed a man’s entire family for, just to use one example, taking plunder from Jericho. God does, however, promise to bring calamity to David’s family, which leads us to the second civil war.
Amnon, a son of David, rapes his half-sister Tamar. Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, finds out about this and, two years later, murders Amnon. This leads to Absalom fleeing from David to avoid being executed. David, mourning his son’s death while ignoring the sibling rape, lets Absalom go. That comes to haunt David, as Absalom wins the hearts of the people of Israel during the years he spends in exile. Absalom eventually gains enough of a following to challenge David’s rule. David flees Jerusalem to muster his own army and soon goes to battle with with his son. David’s forces win and restore his rule, at the price of 20,000 Israelite soldiers and Absalom.
There’s a lot to digest in that chain of events. It starts with David breaking the two of the Ten Commandments by both coveting another man’s wife and committing adultery. God, in an uncommon act, forgives those sins and doesn’t punish David directly. He does kill the infant boy though. Amnon then rapes his sister (forbidden in Leviticus), then Absalom murders his brother (arguably justified by Leviticus, but still fratricide) and later as king sleeps with David’s concubines (forbidden by Leviticus). As a king, father and man of God, David does not have his house in order.
As a counterpoint regarding David’s love for God, earlier in the book, while leading the procession moving the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, David “dances with all his might” in front of the ark. Michal, the daughter Saul betrothed to David before exiling him, sees this and ridicules David. David replies “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this” (2 Samuel 6:21-22). This story is often used to depict the how much David loves God. A king, half naked, dancing wildly in front of the whole city of Jerusalem is not regal but shows that we all, regardless of social status, should not be afraid to show our love for the Lord. But to paraphrase from previous books, is not obedience to God’s laws the best way to show one’s love? For the sake of argument though, David clearly holds God’s opinion higher than any man’s, and that is shown here.
Well, perhaps David holds his opinion of himself slightly higher. In 2 Samuel 24 David calls for a census. This action causes God to become angry, though I still don’t quite know why. David does though, telling God he has “sinned greatly” and “done a very foolish thing” once the census is complete (2 Samuel 24:10). God says he will punish David in one of three ways, and David gets to choose which. “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land?” (2 Samuel 24:13). David chooses the three days of plague and 70,000 people die. On seeing the devastation caused by the plague David says, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep.What have they done?” (2 Samuel 24:17). The answer is nothing. Those sheep died because of David’s self-interest.
David constantly puts his own interests over that of others. Whether it be fighting against Saul’s descendants, or giving some of those same descendants up as human sacrifices (2 Samuel 21: 1-14), or sleeping with a married woman and killing her husband, or choosing to kill 70,000 of his people instead of facing harm himself.
Joab, David’s right-hand man, said to David “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you” (2 Samuel 19:6). I found this to be the most accurate depiction of David. He loved Saul, who tried on multiple occasions to kill him. He loved Absalom, who murdered his own brother and tried to take David’s kingdom. But more than anyone he loved himself. David shows it over and over again.
Thank you for reading,