Ambiguities in II Samuel 14

I studied II Samuel 14 for my weekly quiet time this Sabbath, and, man, was it confusing! Here are some of the dilemmas (and there are more than I list in this post!):

1. Joab noticed that David’s heart was on/against Absalom, so he sought to initiate a reconciliation between the two of them. So had David’s anger against Absalom abated, yet David needed Joab’s prodding to reach out to Absalom (as Josephus says in Antiquities 7:181)? Or was David still mad at Absalom, which was why Joab tried to reconcile them in the first place?

2. Why did Joab want David and Absalom to reconcile? Some commentators are charitable to Joab and assume that he did what he did out of concern for David. Others act like Joab couldn’t do anything right, so he had to have a sinister motive, such as a desire to ingratiate himself to both political factions.

3. Joab sends a wise woman from Tekoa to tell David a sad story, which will hopefully convict David to reconcile with Absalom. She says she had two sons, and one killed the other. She asks David to pardon the killer so he won’t die at the hands of the kinsman redeemer. He’s the only son she has left, and she doesn’t want her name to be cut off from Israel. David agrees to pardon her son, until he somehow discerns that her whole story is fake. She told it to him so he’d pardon his own killer son, Absalom.

Some questions:

a. Does the story match David’s situation? The killer was the woman’s only remaining son. David, by contrast, had Solomon and other sons (II Samuel 5:14ff.).

b. Was the king right to pardon Absalom? The woman exhorts the king to have God in his mind and to pardon his son (v 11), and she states that God does not banish an outcast forever (v 14). Many commentators and preachers say the lesson here is “Be merciful, as God is merciful.”

Yet, in v 9, the woman says, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless” (NRSV). Her message here seems to be that, were the king to pardon her killer son, he would be guilty, for God required the blood of the killer to cleanse the land of blood-guilt (Numbers 35:33). The woman was willing to be guilty before God and even to die, as long as she had one son to preserve her name and her inheritance within Israel. So is God merciful, or just? In some sense, the Tekoan woman’s willing to die in her son’s place, so is she a type of Christ? (Never mind that her story is fictitious!)

Preachers like to appeal to II Samuel 14 to promote forgiveness and reconciliation, but David bringing Absalom back to Israel didn’t have a positive result. Absalom was then able to gain the hearts of Israel, launch a revolt, and banish David from Jerusalem. Mercy can be good, but there’s always the fear that it will allow the evildoer to do more evil.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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