The 2nd book of Samuel picks up where the 1st one finished, with David hearing of the defeat and death of Saul and Jonathan. Upon hearing this, he and all his men tear off their clothes and start weeping. He is told this by an Amalekite, who for unexplained reasons was wandering through the battlefield when he started chatting to Saul (why? Shouldn’t they be enemies?), who asked him to kill him (despite the Bible just saying that Saul killed himself). So the Amalekite mercy kills the wounded Saul brings his crown to David. Why? Out of all the people in the land, why did the Amalekite choose David? Why not sell it or return to his own king? David thanks the stranger who gave him this crucial news and the crown by having him executed.
Although up until this point David has been serving in the Philistine army, absolutely no further mention is made of this. It is dropped as if it never existed. David simply goes to Judah and automatically becomes King. There is no thought required or decision over whether to defect, nor does anyone from the Philistines try to either stop or punish this betrayal. The people of Judah also accept without question this enemy soldier as if they had no other prospective leaders other than this man who is only 23 years old and fighting for their enemy.
However, David’s succession isn’t easy and a long war breaks out between the house of Saul (who control Israel) and the house of David (who control Judah). This Bible doesn’t give much detail, obviously wanting to play down divisions between Israelites so it skips to the end when the sons of the king of Israel’s chief commanders murder him in his bed and take his head to David. David thanks them for ending the war and making him the undisputed king, by cutting off their hands and feet and hanging them. Sure they betrayed their leader, but shouldn’t David encourage that among his enemies?
The tribes then unanimously (or so the Bible would have us believe) unite under David. He then wins countless battles, slaughters innumerable enemies (some even after they surrendered) and received tribute from the neighbouring kings. Now, I just want to pause here. Normally, in this series I just give my thoughts because if I included the analysis of scholars, I’d never finish. However, it’s worth noting that while the Bible implies David created a massive kingdom, there is no evidence it even existed. There is doubt over whether Israel and Judah were united and many parts of the story are historically inaccurate. Some think that this part of the Bible came centuries later, when people wanted to use it as an example of a Golden Age to be aspired to. There are no sources outside the Bible for this era and these people. The Bible is essentially propaganda not history.
We now come to the famous story of David and Bathsheba. One day, David sees a beautiful woman and has her brought to him and he sleeps with her, even though she is married. No word is given of what she thought or if she agreed, the Bible doesn’t care about women’s opinions. You can’t really say no to the king who has a reputation for slaughtering huge numbers of people. David decides to have her husband killed and disguise it in the fog of war (even though at this point he has so many wives and concubines that the Bible doesn’t even try to count them, God apparently has no problem with this). As soon as she is done mourning, he marries her (again no word on whether she wanted to remarry). The Bible tells a clever story of a rich man with huge flocks who steals the only sheep a poor man has. It is then revealed to be an allegory for what David just did.
God declares that David must be punished for what he did. Now, I think it’s good that limits are being put on rulers and that crimes aren’t going unpunished, but why this crime? So far David has massacred thousands of innocent people, why doesn’t God care about that? He wiped out entire towns and everyone in them, surely that’s worse than the murder of a single man? Even worse God doesn’t punish David directly, but instead kills the child born from the affair. David fasts and begs God not to, but after seven days of suffering the child died. Why did the child have to suffer? Why did God not punish David? Or even better why did he not stop David from taking another man’s wife and having him killed?
David’s son Amnon falls in love with his sister and rapes her (the Bible resembles Game of Thrones in so many ways). As soon as it’s over, he hated the sight of her and sent her away. Bizarrely, she doesn’t want to go and says “this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” This doesn’t make any sense. How is being sent away worse than being raped by your brother? What did she want to happen, that they become a couple? She left in tears and the Bible records that she was left a desolate woman. For inexplicable reasons, Amnon was left untouched. I mean David knew it happen, so why didn’t he do anything? It’s against the law and surely he cares about his daughter, yet he doesn’t punish his son for this heinous crime. The Bible has a very warped sense of justice. It isn’t until two years later, that Absalom, another of David’s sons, sends his servants to murder Amnon. David and all his servants tear their garments when they hear this (David tears off his clothes so often that if you made a film of his life it would resemble a porno).
Eventually Absalom is allowed to return after years of exile but this only causes trouble. It is noted that no one was more handsome than him. Everyone who wanted judgement from the King went to him and he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” Absalom became greedy and wanted to become king himself (the line of succession isn’t described so considering the number of wives David had, he probably also had a lot of sons). When David hears this he flees at once before Absalom can kill him. Why? This strikes me as extremely odd because up until now David is invincible and conquered everyone. Why would someone who has won countless battles flee at the first sign of trouble? How did he let his son become so powerful? Nor are the motives of Absalom explained, why did he turn against his father? How did he convince other to also rebel? Yet again, the Bible takes what could be a really interesting story of intrigue and betrayal and skims over it in favour of a story about how a pile of rocks got its name.
There is a great battle where 20,000 men were killed and Absalom is defeated. The fact that we have sons of Abraham slaughtering each other isn’t commented on or discussed. Civil wars are vicious and bitter, perhaps that’s why the Bible skips over it. Either way, Absalom escaping on his mule (wouldn’t a horse be more fitting for a king and generally faster?) when he got caught in the branches of a tree. Some of David’s men hesitate before him, but his one of his generals, Joab, kills him there with javelins. David weeps when he hears this and declares he should have died instead of Absalom. Joab tells him to cop-on and stop bringing shame onto himself by loving those who hate him and hating those who love him. David is a contradictory character as he spends half his time winning wars and slaughtering people and the other time weeping and moping.
Some time after this, there was a famine for 3 years because Saul put the Gibeonites to death (when? The Bible never mentioned this happening) even though they were at peace with Israel (can’t this be said of other people too, why the special concern? There’s another dozen tribes that were attacked for no reason). It’s clear why God is punishing David instead of Saul or why the people must suffer their king’s errors. The Gibeonites demand Saul’s seven sons be killed as revenge and David agrees (despite promising Saul he wouldn’t harm his bloodline). This murder of innocent people in an act of vigilante justice apparently pleases God and he ends the famine.
(Side note: according to the Bible, giants are real and David’s men killed some of them)
God is angry at David so he tells him to make a census of the Israel and Judah. There was 800,000 “valiant men who drew the sword” in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. As usual women and anyone who isn’t a soldier doesn’t count. However, David realises that he has committed a terrible sin (how?). What’s wrong with conducting a census, especially when you’ve been ordered to by God? So God decides that by doing what he was told, David has committed a terrible crime that must be punished. God offers him a choice of a famine for 3 years, flee from his enemies for 3 months or 3 days of pestilence. David picks pestilence, after all 3 days isn’t that long. However, God goes a bit extreme and 70,000 people die. It gets so bad that an angel stretches out its hand to destroy Jerusalem (which was not part of the deal) but God stops the angel (as if we should be thankful for this mercy). David says that he has sinned so why are the sheep (the people of Israel) suffering? David builds an altar to God and the pestilence stops.
So that’s the bizarre justice of God. If you do what he tells you to, he will punish you with famine and death. Kings are punished for crimes of their predecessors. Slaughtering huge numbers of innocent people passes without notice. Incestual rape is not worthy of punishment or any other action. Even if you live a good life, you might still be killed because your leaser committed a crime. Yet some say we get our laws and morals from the Bible.
See here for the rest of the series.