August 12th: “Good News?”

Following Absalom’s treason, David’s role as king conflicts with his role as father, echoing conflicts in our lives and describing the grief of the Creator for the sins of his people.

This Week’s Passage: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, August 12, 2012

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

5 — Absalom merited death for high treason against the king and Judah. Yet David ordered his commanders to treat him gently. How do we get less than we deserve?

6 — Ephraim was a tribe of Israel adjacent to Judah and west of Benjamin and Jerusalem.

8 — Imagine running to engage an enemy or flee from another among trees and rocks. The forest claiming victims would have been discerned as the hand of the LORD.

9 — Mule = sign of kingship leaving Absalom. Hanging in a tree = cursed by the LORD.

15 — The armor-bearers pile on after Joab has speared Absalom.

31 — Joab sent a Cushite to bring news of Absalom’s death perhaps recalling the fate of the messenger who had brought news of Saul’s death.

32 — Is David’s dilemma concerning Absalom any different than God’s with us? For we too merit death for our transgressions yet God is loves us dearly and would grieve deeply should anything happen to us.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This is a short excerpt from the Succession Narrative. Listeners will need to hear a synopsis of what has come before to understand why the army of Judah wants Absalom dead.
  • If verses 16 – 30 are also skipped, then listeners will need to know that the Cushite is a messenger sent by Joab to David to avoid personally sending the bad news.
  • This is followed by Joab explaining how the people of Judah would perceive David’s remorse for Absalom.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

9 — Greek, Syriac, and Targum “was left hanging between heaven and earth;” Hebrew: “was put between heaven and earth.”

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • This transition is omitted from Chronicles. It would have shown David as weak.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: David mourns for Absalom who had committed treason.
  • Emotional Center: “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

David ordered the army to be gentle with Absalom who had led rebels against David and his men.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Bruce C. Birch (“The First and Second Books of Samuel,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1998.) notes that the term “thousands” may have indicated a type of unit rather than a census. Quoting Walter Bruggemann, Birch notes the parallels between Absalom’s suspension in the oak tree and the narrative being “suspended between life and death, between the sentence of a rebel and the value of a king, between the severity of the king and the yearning of a father.” Birch links this episode of David’s life, and the death of Absalom, with David’s transgression with the wife of Uriah. Reflecting on this passage Birch recognizes that we grieve today on hearing of violence and rebellion that tears families asunder, “but have not reached out in ways that would have forestalled violence and rebellion. Issues of poverty, education, familial dysfunction, substance abuse and consumerist values distort the future of many of our sons and daughters who then attempt to seize their birthrights in violent ways …”

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