Study Guide

2 Samuel Compassion and Forgiveness

Compassion and Forgiveness

Then Abner called to Joab, "Is the sword to keep devouring forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you order your people to turn from the pursuit of their kinsmen?" Joab said, "As God lives, if you had not spoken, the people would have continued to pursue their kinsmen, not stopping until morning." (2 Samuel 2:26-27, NRSV)

Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? And Joab said, As God liveth, unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother. (2 Samuel 2:26-27, KJV)

Surprisingly, Joab—who is normally totally violent—is moved by this plea. It's kind of a nice moment, right? It reveals a more human side to this super-warrior—though he's going to change his mind and kill Abner later on.

David asked, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and he was summoned to David. The king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "At your service!" The king said, "Is there anyone remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" Ziba said to the king, "There remains a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet." (2 Samuel 9:1-3, NRSV)

And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan's sake? And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba. And when they had called him unto David, the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he said, Thy servant is he. And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet. (2 Samuel 9:1-3, KJV)

Despite the fact that Saul lost all favor with God, David still demonstrates his fealty to the idea of kingship and being the Lord's anointed—and his love for Jonathan—by being kind to Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son. (It could also be a way of setting a precedent for people to treat his descendants mercifully if they ever lose power. Clever, that one.)

Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so your servant will do." Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons. Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he always ate at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. (2 Samuel 9:11-13, NRSV)

Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my lord the king hath commanded his servant, so shall thy servant do. As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Micha. And all that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king's table; and was lame on both his feet. (2 Samuel 9:11-13, KJV)

Hey. Yet another an example of David's kinder side. Oh, but not so fast. You, perhaps, see a bit of a potential political motive, right?

"[…] Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." Nathan said to David, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:4-7, NRSV)

And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; (2 Samuel 12:4-7, KJV)

By using an animal story, Nathan kindles the human feeling that David lost touch with in the madness of his lust for Bathsheba. It's not only David who should receive credit for repenting, but Nathan, for cleverly finding the right way to reactivate his sense of compassion. He's smart that way.

We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence. (2 Samuel 14:13, NRSV)

For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him. (2 Samuel 14:14, KJV)

In arguing for forgiving Absalom, the wise woman of Tekoa brilliantly appeals to David's (and our) sense of mortality. The metaphor of human life being like spilled water is a haunting one, to say the least.

Absalom answered Joab, "Look, I sent word to you: Come here, that I may send you to the king with the question, 'Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.' Now let me go into the king's presence; if there is guilt in me, let him kill me!" Then Joab went to the king and told him; and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom. (2 Samuel 14:32-33, NRSV)

And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king's face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me. So Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom. (2 Samuel 14:32-33, NRSV)

Joab's a funny guy. He'll help David bring Absalom back to Jerusalem, he'll later kill Absalom, but here he hesitates before asking David if Absalom can have a one-on-one meeting with him. What gives?

Shimei son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, "May my lord not hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; may the king not bear it in mind. For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, see, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king." Abishai son of Zeruiah answered, "Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" But David said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?" The king said to Shimei, "You shall not die." And the king gave him his oath. (2 Samuel 19:18-23, NRSV)

And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king's household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed? And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him. (2 Samuel 19:18-23, KJV)

After Absalom's death, David seems to be in a more tenderhearted and vulnerable mood. Which makes sense, we guess. After all, he's sick of death and pretty over the whole vengeance schtick. His own loss has made him sensitive and kind (in a sad way), as opposed to bitter.

But Barzillai said to the king, "How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? Today I am eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do for him whatever seems good to you." The king answered, "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you." (2 Samuel 19:34-38, NRSV)

And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king? Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee. And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee. (KJV 19:34-38)

David's kindness towards this super old dude provides yet another example of his fundamentally good character (despite his previous sins).

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