I have four items for my blog post today about I Chronicles 11. I will follow that with some reflections.
1. In I Chronicles 11, David captures Jerusalem from the Jebusites. The notes in the Jewish Study Bible (written by David Rothstein) contrast how this is depicted in I Chronicles 11 with how it is depicted in II Samuel 5.
—-In II Samuel 5, David arguably has a political motive for capturing Jerusalem: “to consolidate his hold over a newly united political entity (Israel and Judah), which emerged only after a lengthy period of political instability” (Rothstein’s words). Jerusalem belonged to the Jebusites, not to any of the Israelite tribes, and so David’s establishment of Jerusalem as the capital city would appease all of the tribes, in that David would not be showing favoritism to any of them. In I Chronicles 11, by contrast, David already has the support of all Israel, even before he takes Jerusalem from the Jebusites. Whereas II Samuel 5 presents David taking Jerusalem with the help of his own men, I Chronicles 11:4 affirms that all Israel accompanied David to take over Jerusalem. David in II Samuel 5 captures Jerusalem to appease the tribes and consolidate his hold over the nation, whereas David already has all of the nation’s support in I Chronicles 11. Why, then, did David see a need to conquer Jerusalem in I Chronicles 11? According to Rothstein, it was because David in I Chronicles 11 foresaw that Jerusalem would be religiously important, which would be true: it would be the site of the Temple.
—-In II Samuel 5:6b, 8, David appears to run all over the lame and the blind to take the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. The Jebusites said that the lame and the blind would be able to hold David’s forces back, and David proved the Jebusites wrong. I Chronicles 11 lacks that, and Rothstein speculates that this may be because it does not want to depict David as prejudiced against the lame and the blind.
2. I Chronicles 11:17-19 troubles some people. David longs for water from the well of his home town of Bethlehem, but the Philistine garrison is there. Three of David’s men bravely break through the Philistine ranks, draw water from the well, and bring the water back to David. David then refuses to drink the water but pours it out as a drink offering to God, for his three men put their lives in danger by getting that water for him.
Some religious readers have problems with this because it appears that David was initially commanding his men to get him the water—-to risk their lives just because he wanted a drink. That looks pretty trivial to them! Consequently, some preachers note that David was merely expressing a wish, not making a command.
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary presents another interpretation: David was not requesting water, but rather something more serious: halakhic guidance—-guidance on how to obey God’s law. David was curious as to whether he could take barley for his men’s animals from Jewish farmers and later pay those Jewish farmers back with lentils that he was about to take from a Philistine field (see vv 13-14). David’s three intrepid men risk their lives to inquire of the Sanhedrin and learn that David as king is indeed allowed to commandeer crops from Jewish farmers and pay them back later. David decides, however, not to benefit from this royal privilege. This, according to the Artscroll, is a view within rabbinic literature.
Some Christian pastors try to get homiletical meaning from I Chronicles 11:17-19: David’s wish was his three men’s command, as God’s wish should be our command.
3. I Chronicles 11:41 refers to Uriah the Hittite. The Artscroll cites Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 7b, which states that the men of v 41 were Israelites, and that they are being mentioned in reference to where they lived, not their nationality. Uriah was not a Hittite, according to this reasoning, but was an Israelite who had lived among the Hittites. This interpretation makes a degree of sense, for why would a Hittite have a name that refers to the God of Israel: Uriah means “YHWH is my light”? Perhaps one could respond that YHWH was honored by non-Israelites and thus a Hittite could have a Yahwistic name, or that Uriah changed his name to Uriah from something else when he joined David’s men. I don’t know.
4. A few evangelical preachers I heard drew from I Chronicles 11 the lesson that Jesus is the only way to God: as all Israel followed David, so should all people follow Jesus, otherwise they won’t be in the kingdom. It’s interesting to me, however, that David in I-II Samuel and I Chronicles honors those who honored Saul, the very one who was against David. David honored goodness wherever he saw it. Yet, those who honored Saul still had to honor David once David became king! Or at least they could not revolt against David. What can a Christian do with these insights, assuming that she wants to draw a typological connection between I Chronicles 11 and Jesus? Perhaps she could say that Jesus honors virtue wherever he sees it, even from non-Christians, but that, at a certain point in time, everyone will have to believe in Jesus and accept Jesus’ authority to be in the kingdom of God. Some may say that the time for this has past: In the Book of Acts, God honored Cornelius’ good works, and God let nations go their own way in the past, but now God is commanding people to believe in Jesus, and God has demonstrated Jesus’ authority as judge by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31). Others may argue that the time when people are expected or commanded to believe in Jesus will come in the future, when Jesus will rule the earth and his authority will be evident to all (something that is not currently the case).
Reflections: The Chronicler makes David look better than II Samuel does, and the rabbis make David look even better than the Chronicler does. You have all these spins, wrestling with who David was and how he related to all Israel. Should all of this spin undermine the religious value of the Bible, for those who seek religious value in this book? It might, for some. I personally see something divine behind all these human wrestlings: I see profound points about God being at work, the importance of doing good, and dependence on God. These ideals are important, even though people fall short, while occasionally manifesting flashes of goodness.