Tag Archives: King David

Is King David A New Adam?

Is King David A New Adam?

In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.
In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.

David is indeed a cagey and capable new Adam, both tending and defending the new Eden,” so Robert Barron contends in his recent commentary on 2 Samuel (2 Samuel, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 24). According to Barron, David is a new Adam, Israel is the Garden of Eden, and David’s enemies (e.g., the Amalekites, and even Absalom) represent the serpent. This typological approach is an interesting perspective from which to view 2 Samuel. It definitely causes one to think outside of the box.  While this might seem like an eccentric approach at first, scholars have noted for years the connections between Genesis and 1&2 Samuel. In fact, Barron’s approach is indebted to G.K. Beale who makes similar comparisons (A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Although Barron’s overall approach has an element of typology in it, it would be unfair to characterize the entire commentary this way. In this post I will explore the connections he makes between King David’s kingdom and Genesis and in a future post I will review and evaluate his commentary on 2 Samuel.

How Does David Function as a New Adam in 1&2 Samuel?

According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.
According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.

Barron notes that the dominant theme of 2 Samuel is the “contrast between the kingly path taken by Saul and that taken by David” (p. 3). This contrast introduces such questions as: “Does Israel require a king? What makes a king good or bad? How does the kingship of Yahweh relate to human kingship?” (p. 3). To answer these questions, Barron asserts that it is necessary “to return to the very beginning of the Bible, to the accounts of creation and the garden of Eden” (p. 3). Therefore, Barron’s typological approach is borne out of the necessity of understanding the fundamental problems encountered in the initial episodes of Genesis. He notes, as do many commentators on Genesis, the original couple was created to rule over creation. They were given “dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Thus Adam was the first king. Through “tilling” the soil and “keeping” the garden, Adam functioned as a good king. His rule, like that of the God whose image he was created in (Gen. 1:27), was to be benevolent, not oppressive (pp. 4-5).

Saul's rejection of God's word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.
Saul’s rejection of God’s word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.

Unfortunately, the rule of the first king and queen ended in failure, a “consequence of bad leadership” (p. 5). The reason for expulsion from the garden is a result of rejecting God’s word and seeking to “rule without reference to God” (p. 5). At this point, the typological parallels with 2 Samuel become significant. As Barron notes, the theme of 2 Samuel (and we could also include 1 Samuel) is the difference between Saul’s and David’s kingship. Like rebellious Adam, Saul’s offense is a rejection of the word of God (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul is noted throughout 1 Samuel for making his own decisions without reference to God. This insight is very important in understanding the message of 1&2 Samuel correctly. Scholars such as Gunn and Jobling seek to excuse Saul on the basis of misinterpreting God’s/Samuel’s commands. In the view of these scholars, God (and Samuel) becomes a malevolent presence intent on dooming Saul no matter what he does. However, the parallels with Adam, which Barron draws upon, act as a biblical aid in clearing up this scholarly misinterpretation of the story.

PianoIn a helpful analogy, Barron compares God and his law to someone seeking to learn piano or golf. The instructor lays down certain rules, if followed, these rules lead to a person finding the freedom to become an excellent piano player or golfer. “The lawgiving instructor is therefore not the enemy of the student’s freedom but rather the condition for its possibility” (p. 14). Similarly, Saul’s rejection of God’s commandments is what makes him a failure as king, just as Adam’s rule in the garden failed because of his disobedience. In contrast, as a new Adam, David is the man after God’s heart. One illustration of this is his treatment of Saul. Barron notes that, “David’s stubborn unwillingness to do violence to Saul is another sign of his kingly worthiness, for it indicates that his actions were predicated not primarily on self-interest but rather on an attentive listening to the voice of God” (p. 15).

jacobs-prophetic-blessing-4-638Barron also seeks to demonstrate a connection between Adam and David by tracing this connection through biblical history. Following the history of sin in Genesis 1-11, God makes a new start with Abram. Barron states, “Abram will be a new Adam, cultivating a new Eden and expanding the boundaries of that ordered garden to include all the peoples of the world” (p. 6). The promise to Abram of numerous descendants recalls the original command to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply.” “The royal promise is extended to Abram’s grandson” (i.e. Jacob, p. 7). Through Jacob, the nation of Israel is birthed whom Barron sees as a “‘corporate Adam’ endowed with the privileges and bearing the responsibilities of the first tender of the garden” (p. 7). It is through Jacob’s deathbed blessing that, “the kingly task will be passed on to and through Judah and his tribe” (p. 7).  Barron continues tracing the theme of kingship by noting, “Throughout these opening books of the Bible, Yahweh has not yet found the king in whom his own divine purposes can become utterly incarnate. Hence Israel’s identity remains compromised and its mission unfulfilled.  It is against this rich and complex background that the emergence of Saul and David in the first book of Samuel has to be interpreted” (p. 7). Therefore, “from Adam on, Israel is marked by both good and bad kingship. God (and Samuel) stand opposed to those forms of kingship that mimic the style and substance of the kings of the surrounding nations, but they ardently desire a form of kingship in accord with God’s designs” (p. 8).

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.

Tracing the theme of kingship from Creation to David, not only substantiates Barron’s approach, it also helps to explain what many scholars see as a contradictory view of kingship in 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8-12, scholars frequently note the interplay between positive and negative statements about the kingship. Some are at a loss to explain these seemingly contradictory views, while others see it as the result of a clumsy editor. Barron’s approach demonstrates that kingship has always been a part of God’s plan and purpose. However, it is not simply kingship per se that God seeks to bestow–that is, kingship as defined by the world–but rather a king that would honor and obey God. This is the point of Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12: “If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (vv. 14-15).

While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel's enemies.
While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel’s enemies.

Barron also sees his approach as a helpful way of characterizing Israel’s (David’s) enemies. For example, he is hard pressed to understand God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites. “Why in the world would God decree that this beleaguered little people should be ruthlessly and relentlessly attacked?” His answer is to see Origen’s allegorical approach as helpful in this case. “Origen argues that, throughout the Bible, Israel stands for the ways and purposes of God, and the enemies of Israel stand for those powers that are opposed to God” (p. 9). He continues, “These various peoples are symbolically akin both to the tohu wabohu [formlessness and void] (Gen. 1:2) from which God brought the ordered world and to the serpent that Adam rather unsuccessfully managed in the garden. Though it is not entirely clear why this should be the case, the biblical authors seem to isolate Amalek as particularly expressive of this ‘nothing’ that militates against Israel” (p. 10). Although I’m not so sure that “beleaguered” is a correct designation for the Amalekites, nonetheless, I believe he (and Origen!) are correct in seeing these enemy peoples as a manifestation of the “seed of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). As a result of Saul’s disobedience, Barron asks the following provocative questions: “Might Saul’s unwillingness to slaughter the herds of the Amalekites and to put to death their king symbolically represent the sort of confusion in regard to intrinsically evil acts that undermines God’s purposes? And therefore might one come to sympathize with Samuel’s conviction that Saul has, by this act, effectively forfeited his kingship?” (p. 10). In other words, a king who doesn’t protect his people against their enemies, is no king at all. And just as certainly, a king who does not wage war with God’s enemies, cannot be God’s  (or a godly) king.

Conclusion: King David is a New Adam

While there were times in my reading of Barron’s commentary on 2 Samuel, that I thought he was perhaps carrying the analogy of David as the new Adam too far, I must admit that I always found his interpretations challenging me to think of this narrative in new ways. The above examples I have given are not an exhaustive catalogue by any means of the comparisons made between David and Adam, but they are enough to demonstrate that such an approach is indeed fruitful. I also believe it proves helpful in getting at the significant theme(s) of 1&2 Samuel which modern scholarly efforts sometimes cloud. Like all typological/allegorical approaches, each interpretation must be questioned and validated. But, as I have written elsewhere (Typology: A Key to Interpreting the Bible), typology is an important method that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. Barron’s commentary is an excellent contribution on Samuel studies and in my next post I will review it as a whole.

Where is King David’s Tomb?

Where is King David’s Tomb?

The traditional site of David's tomb on Mount Zion dates no earlier than the early Islamic period.
The traditional site of David’s tomb on Mount Zion dates no earlier than the early Islamic period.

Where is the burial place of Israel’s most famous king? When touring Israel, groups are often taken to the traditional site of the Upper Room on what is called Mount Zion today. The ground floor of this structure is reputed to be the location of David’s Tomb (click here for video). This area is not only a tourist attraction, but a place of contention, as orthodox Jews have been known to block others from entering it (click here to read an article from the Jerusalem Post). I have had the opportunity to visit this site on a few occasions. It is a place believed to have healing powers by some of the orthodox faith where prayers are offered for fertility. The problem is, this is the wrong location for David’s tomb. As noted in a previous post (The City of David: Lost to History), the identity of Mount Zion was shifted from the original hill on which the City of David stood, to the hill west of it. The Bible states that David (as well as many of his descendants) was buried in the City of David (1 Kgs 2:10). The Western Hill, where the traditional site of David’s tomb is, was not part of Jerusalem in the time of David. The traditional site of David’s tomb appears to date from the early Islamic period, although some suggest it is as late as the Middle Ages (see Wikipedia on David’s Tomb, also see the link to the Jerusalem Post article above).

What Evidence Exists for David’s Tomb in the City of David?

In an article entitled, Is This King David’s Tomb (BAR, Jan/Feb 1995), editor Hershel Shanks lists 5 criteria all agree on as a starting point:

(1) King David’s Jerusalem was located on the eastern ridge of the city, south of the present Temple Mount, the area called today the City of David. All agree that this is the original City of David and that it is a mere 10 or 11 acres.
(2) There was a widespread ancient belief that corpses contaminate. Israelite law reflects the belief that corpses impart impurity. Burials were almost always outside, not inside the city. Royal burials were exceptions.
(3) The Bible tells us that the kings of Judah from David to Ahaz were buried “within the City of David”—somewhere in this small 10-acre site.
(4) Nehemiah tells us that the Davidic tombs were in the southern part of the City of David (Nehemiah 3:16).
(5) The proposed site of David’s tomb, and of others adjacent to it, is precisely where one would expect to find the burial site mentioned in the Bible—in the southern part of the City of David, an area that would normally be forbidden to burials.

In 1913-1914 archaeologist Raymond Weill undertook an excavation in the southern end of the City of David (where the Bible locates David’s tomb). He located 8 tombs hewn out of the bedrock, and found a 9th tomb in an additional excavation in 1923-1924 (Ahron Horovitz, City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, p. 150). The largest of these tombs is referred to as T1. Although Weill, and others, believed he had found the tombs of the ancient Davidic kings, objections have arisen that cast some doubt on the discovery. Some have argued:

  1. The so-called tombs are water cisterns from the Second Temple Period (famed archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon made this suggestion and she is followed in this by current City of David excavator, Ronny Reich). They have also been considered to be basements of Second Temple period houses.
  2. The so-called tombs are not impressive enough to be royal tombs. Opponents note that there are other First Temple period tombs to the north and east of the city of Jerusalem (belonging to nobility) which are much grander in style. How is it possible, they argue, that the tombs of these nobles could be grander than the tombs of the kings?
The sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos, a close contemporary to David. Ahiram's tomb is not impressive, like many royal tombs of this time period.
The sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos, a close contemporary to David. Ahiram’s tomb itself is not impressive,. This is true of  many royal tombs of this time period.

In a more recent article entitled Is T1 David’s Tomb? (BAR, Nov/Dec 2012–available at this link), author Jeffrey R. Zorn responds to the objections as follows:

  1. Regarding the cistern theory: a) Cisterns of the Second Temple Period are usually constructed of masonry (which is not true of the T1 tomb). b) The tombs are longer than any known cisterns. c) Certain features such as triangular niches and mortar cement suggest that T1 was altered during the Second Temple Period. d) Finally, even if T1 was used as a cistern in the Second Temple Period, this does not preclude its use as a tomb in the First Temple Period.
  2. Regarding the “not impressive enough to be royal tombs” theory: a) The tombs of the nobility used as comparisons (in the northern and eastern parts of Jerusalem) date from 200 years later. Since they date from a later time period, this disqualifies them. b) Royal tombs that date closer to the time of David, like the tomb of Ahiram in Byblos, are far from spectacular. In fact, while the sarcophagus of Ahiram is impressive, the tomb itself is very plain.

Zorn is convinced that T1 is David’s tomb, while the other tombs (T2-T9) are the tombs of his descendants.

Concluding Thoughts on the Identification of T1 as David’s Tomb

Tombs labelled T1 and T2 discovered by Robert Weill in 1913-1914 are thought by some to be David's tomb and that of the kings of Judah.
Tombs labelled T1 and T2 discovered by Raymond Weill in 1913-1914 are thought by some to be David’s tomb and that of the kings of Judah.

One of the unfortunate things about these tombs is that, to date, they have not yielded a single bone or artifact. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Royal tombs have been the prey of treasure hunters from ancient times to the present. In fact, if Josephus’s accounts are accurate, David’s tomb was raided twice by other royals in Jerusalem! Josephus notes that John Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean ruler from 130-104 B.C.) swiped 3000 talents of silver from David’s tomb in order to pay off the Syrian ruler Antiochus who was besieging Jerusalem (Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, viii, 4). He also reports that King Herod looted David’s tomb (Antiquities, XVI, vii, 1). From these incidents, and other potential robberies, it appears the royal tombs were emptied of their contents long ago.
  2. The area in the southern portion of the City of David also became a quarry area. Ronny Reich dates quarrying activity to the Persian Period (5th century B.C.), but others date it later. It appears that the Romans under the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) used this area for quarrying stones in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which they renamed Aelia Capitolina. This means the original landscape has been greatly altered, along with damage to some of the tombs. One would also guess that any remaining artifacts (if there were any) would have been removed by this time.

Unfortunately, if these tombs were the tombs of David and his royal descendants, there appears to be nothing left except the hollowed out rock which once housed their bones. Because no evidence has been discovered, it leaves many questions unanswered, and therefore, also leaves doubt about whether David’s tomb has indeed been found. One of the weaknesses in Zorn’s argument for these being the tombs of the kings is that they appear to have been altered during the Second Temple period. It seems unlikely that the Jews of this period would have tolerated the desecration of David’s tomb (or that of his descendants). The fact that King Herod still knew where to find David’s tomb, as apparently did others in Jerusalem according to Acts 2:29, suggests it was still largely intact (although already looted). If the quarrying can be shown to have happened much later (i.e., 2nd century A.D. under the Romans), this leaves open the possibility that these were the tombs of the Judean kings. However, if it is proven that the quarrying happened much earlier (the Persian period), this makes it less likely in my opinion, unless the Persians were careful to avoid desecrating  the tombs. However, since ancient Jerusalem was such a small site (only 10-11 acres), and since we know David’s tomb was located in the southeast portion of the city, one wonders whether any other option is possible. So even though there are some doubts, these may well be the tombs of the Judean kings, and if so, we must live with the sad fact that they were looted and destroyed long ago, leaving us no physical trace of David and his dynasty.

David, Saul, & God: Book Review

David, Saul, & God: Book Review

Paul Borgman, David, Saul, & God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story (Oxford: University Press, 2008), 335 pp.

David, Saul, & God is also available at Amazon USA / UK
David, Saul, & God is also available at Amazon USA / UK

After reading Paul Borgman’s David, Saul, & God, I felt like I often do after devouring a satisfying meal. It is definitely one of the best books that I have read on 1&2 Samuel. Borgman’s careful attentiveness to the repetitive patterns in the books of Samuel, as a way of unlocking its understanding of David, Saul, & God, is refreshing and insightful. Borgman contends that uncovering and solving the questions posed by the story of 1&2 Samuel “depends on close attention to the dozen or so broad patterns (he actually enumerates 11) of repetition governing the narrative’s progress” (p. 3). Borgman makes the helpful suggestion that, “The story’s modern audience often misses answers to the central questions driving the drama of David’s story because the text is read in a straightforward manner, rather than in the circular way demanded by the ancient text’s dependence on patterns of repetition. That is, recognizing a developing pattern requires a remembering of what has gone before, a circling-back action of the mind” (p. 4, emphasis mine). Readers would do well to heed Borgman on this point, not only regarding David’s story, but Old Testament narrative in general.

David, Saul, & God: The Main Course

Paul Borgman's book David, Saul, & God is full of "food for thought."
Paul Borgman’s book “David, Saul, & God” is full of “food for thought.”

David, Saul, & God consists of 9 chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. Among the 11 repetitive patterns discussed such as “David’s Multiple Introductions” (pattern 3), “Saul’s fear” (pattern 4), “Sword and Spear” (pattern 5) and “News of Death–Public and Private Davids” (pattern 9), I would like to note two that I found particularly insightful. Readers of 1&2 Samuel have often noted that there is a theme of “Failed Fathers” (Borgman’s pattern 8), but to my knowledge, no one has explored its significance until Borgman (but see my book Family Portraits, where I explore the connection between family failures and national consequences). The failed fathers of 1&2 Samuel include Eli, Samuel, and, especially, David. Borgman notes that the pattern of failed fathers has, in each case, important consequences for the nation of Israel. Eli’s failure with his sons leads to a national crisis in which the Philistines defeat Israel and capture the ark of God (1 Sam. 4). David’s over-indulgence with his sons Amnon and Absalom, similarly leads to national disaster (2 Sam. 13-20). Borgman writes, “Just as Eli did before him, David falters grievously as a father, with momentous negative consequences for the people he is supposed to be ruling” (p. 121). The difference with David, however, is a twist in the pattern, which occurs as he nears death and his son Adonijah attempts to take the throne (1 Kings 1). In this scene, David refuses to allow his self-indulgent son to take the throne. Borgman states, “At his physically weakest…David nonetheless rises to the occasion, evidencing the listening capacities we have seen in the past: he is receptive to advice from good people in the interest of Israel’s well-being” (p. 133). He continues, “What breaks this pattern of fathers-sons-death is the strength of a father standing up to an ill-directed son–displeasing that son for the sake of a greater communal good” (p. 139). Although this last example falls outside the bounds of the Samuel narrative, scholars are well-aware of the close link between the books of Samuel and Kings (especially the first 2 chapters of 1 Kings).

Paul Borgman, author of David, Saul, & God.
Paul Borgman, author of David, Saul, & God.

The second pattern I would like to note (Borgman’s 11th pattern) concerns the contrast made between Saul and David at the end of 2 Samuel. Readers are often puzzled by what appears to be a miscellaneous grouping of material found at the end of 2 Samuel in chapters 21-24. Scholars now recognize that this material is artfully arranged with a chiastic structure as follows:

A  Saul sins, 3 year famine, resolution (2 Sam. 21:1-14)

      B  David’s warriors, leadership (2 Sam. 21:15-22)

         C David’s poem concerning blamelessness and God (2 Sam. 22:1-51)

         C’ David’s poem, ideal ruler and God (2 Sam. 23:1-7)

      B’ David’s warriors, leadership (2 Sam. 23:8-39)

A’ David sins, 3 days plague, resolution (2 Sam. 24:1-25)

Borgman spends chapter 9 looking at the outer two stories of the chiasm (A & A’) involving Saul and David (in chapter 8 he explores the inner parts of the chiasm). Building on the insights of Herbert H. Klement he points out that, “What emerges clearly is the stark difference in the sinning of Saul and that of David” (p. 205). “Not only is there none of Saul’s equivocating response to wrongdoing, there is in David what is inconceivable for the Saul we meet early in his story: a radical willingness to look at himself critically, and further, to offer his own suffering on behalf of communal well-being” (p. 213, see 2 Sam. 24:17). By the end of the story, Borgman contends that we are able to understand why God chose David over Saul. David is a man who, not only repents when he sins, but in 2 Samuel 24 recognizes his own sin without the intervention of prophet or anyone else, and then offers himself in order to protect the nation. As David’s character unfolds throughout the story, we not only learn who he is, but we learn more about who God is.

Odysseus and his men put out the eye of Polyphemus the Cyclops (The Odyssey)
Odysseus and his men put out the eye of Polyphemus the Cyclops (The Odyssey)

In the conclusion to the book, Borgman contrasts the hero Odysseus (and the gods) from Homer’s The Odyssey with David. His purpose is “to shed another angle of light on the dynamic among David, Saul, and God” (p. 221). Here are a few of his observations: “David inhabits a moral world…quite different from that of Odysseus” (p. 227). “David learns and changes from experience to experience; Odysseus, however fascinating, becomes more of what he has always been…” (p. 235). “Athene’s focus in The Odyssey is helping Odysseus become more of what he is, while the biblical God helps David become more of what he can become. But this development is not for David’s sake alone, or even primarily, but for the sake of this God’s unchanging will for communal well-being.” Borgman’s final line of the book is fitting: “In coming to see David, we have come to understand the story’s God as well” (p. 244).

David, Saul, & God: The Hor d’Oeurves

imageI realize that in any fine meal the hor d’oeurves are served before the main course, but please indulge me. After all, it’s my metaphor! Since hor d’oeurves are side items to develop one’s taste for the main course, I think the metaphor is appropriate here. Throughout his book, Borgman carries on a conversation with other scholarly points of view. He does this some in the text itself, but more thoroughly in the endnotes (57 pages of them!). A lot of modern scholarly treatment of David, Saul, & God (meaning the characters in 1&2 Samuel, not Borgman’s book), in my opinion, has fallen prey to the prophet’s critique that some “call evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). In other words, many make Saul the “good guy,” or, more accurately, “the victim,” while David and God become “the bad guys.” Borgman argues strenuously, and I believe effectively, against such an interpretation throughout his book. Again and again, he demonstrates how the repetitive patterns in 1&2 Samuel clearly picture Saul as the “bad guy” (my terminology), God as just and compassionate, and David as, at first mysterious, certainly far from perfect, but ultimately, a man after God’s heart. Rather than crafting his own portrait of David, Saul, & God (and misrepresenting the text as some do–at least in my opinion), Borgman allows the text to speak through his careful reading of the repetitive patterns he explores.

David, Saul, & God: The Bones

bonesThere actually aren’t many “bones to pick” over in this book. In fact in terms of Borgman’s treatment and methodology, I have no quarrel whatsoever (although there are, of course, a few places where I have a slightly different view from him). My complaint lies with the poor editing of David, Saul & God. The book is filled with grammatical and spelling errors and has the appearance of being hastily prepared for publication without being carefully proofread. Errors of every kind exist, from missing words, to words occurring in the wrong order, to wrong numbers for the endnotes, as well as endnotes missing entirely! Perhaps the most glaring error is the spelling error that occurs in the title of chapter 9. It reads in large letters: “Chiastic Conclusion: Final Contrast, Soul [instead of “Saul”] and David Sinning.” Hopefully in a future edition, these errors will be caught and corrected. Although the errors mar the aesthetic quality of the book, the content more than makes up for this inadequacy. I highly recommend David, Saul, & God to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of 1&2 Samuel.

Purchase David, Saul, & God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story at Amazon USA / UK

Absalom’s Hair, or, Give Me a Head With Hair!

Absalom’s Hair, or, Give Me a Head With Hair!

Absalom's hair caught in a tree
Although the biblical text says that Absalom caught his head in the tree, it is probably a reference to Absalom’s hair.

Did you know that in the ancient Near East long hair was frequently a picture of a warrior’s prowess and strength? The most obvious example from the Bible is Samson whose long hair is explicitly connected with his strength (Judges 16:17). Samson’s long hair symbolized his separation to God (the true source of his strength––Judges 13:5) and when his hair disappeared, so did the Lord’s presence (Judges 16:20). But Samson is not the only long-haired warrior mentioned in Scripture. In fact, the man I have in mind is very Samson-like in some respects. He is spoiled, likes to burn other people’s fields (Judges 15:4-5; 2 Sam. 14:30), and is well-known for his long luxuriant hair (2 Sam. 14:26). His name is Absalom, one of David’s sons. Absalom had so much hair that when he cut it each year it was said to weigh between 4-5 pounds! (2 Sam. 14:26). We are familiar with Samson’s connection to hair, but why does the biblical author draw so much attention to Absalom’s hair? There are probably several reasons.

The Significance of Absalom’s Hair

The mention of Absalom’s hair prefaces the story of his rebellion against David. Since long hair was associated with strength, this could be considered an ominous sign, suggesting that Absalom will be successful in overthrowing his father. However, Absalom not only has a fertile head of hair, he is also quite fertile in other ways, having fathered 3 sons and 1 daughter (14:27). Earlier in the story, David’s potency as a father is also connected with the strength of his rule (see 2 Sam. 3:1-5). Therefore, the long-haired, and virile Absalom appears to pose a real threat to the kingdom of David. Add to this his good-looks and charming ways (2 Sam. 14:25; 15:2-6), and Absalom appears to be a winning candidate for the kingship. This is often the basis for choosing today’s politicians. If they look good, and have the ability to schmooze the people, then they are surely the right person for the job!

Looks Can Be Deceiving!

Absalom’s story is just one of many recounted in 1&2 Samuel that teaches us “looks can be deceiving.” In reality, Absalom is none of the things he appears to be. His desire to destroy his father tarnishes his good-looking image. In fact,  Absalom’s hair conspires with the branches of a tree to do him in (2 Sam. 18:9-10–the text reads “head” which in this case is another way of speaking of his hair). Far from being a strong warrior, Absalom proves to be quite inept. Even Absalom’s potency as a father is challenged at his death when we are told that he set up a monument for himself because he had no son (2 Sam. 18:18). Wait a minute! I thought Absalom had 3 sons? I will offer an explanation of this apparent contradiction in my next article, or, for a full treatment of this problem you can read the chapter on Absalom in my book Family Portraits (especially pages 364-365 and 379-380). Meanwhile, we should take the Bible’s advice seriously and not believe everything we see. Patience and discernment are important ingredients of wisdom, and time is a great revealer of the truth!

My Book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press and other internet outlets.

Family Portraits

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel
Available at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press, and other sites

The following interview on my book “Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel” was conducted by my friend and colleague Lindsay Kennedy who is a teacher at Calvary Chapel Bible College York, and an active blogger of all things biblical. You can find his blogs and book reviews, as well as other information, at http://www.mydigitalseminary.com

1. You (almost) exclusively teach OT history (Genesis, Josh-Kings) at CCBCY (Calvary Chapel Bible College York). What first sparked your interest in the Old Testament?

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in biblical studies, a man by the name of Gerald Vinther came to teach during my junior and senior years at the bible college I was attending. He taught OT and the Hebrew language. His classes totally revolutionized my view of God and of the OT. Whether looking at Genesis or the Prophets, he demonstrated the consistency of God’s character between the Old and New Testaments. I discovered a God of grace and love in the OT who desired to have a relationship with His people, just like the God of the NT. My particular church tradition had emphasized the judgmental nature of the God of the OT and de-emphasized the significance of the OT. When we saw the character of God revealed in the pages of the OT, one of my classmates described it as being born-again…again! Since then I have fallen in love with the study of the OT and the God revealed in its pages. Because many Christians don’t know the OT and often have misconceptions about it, and the God revealed in its pages, I have found great joy in assisting others in seeing its beauty and truth, much like I was introduced to it years ago. By the way, this is why I give a special “thank you” in the preface of Family Portraits to Gerald Vinther, and also to my graduate professor in OT, John T. Willis who also had an important influence on me.

2. For as long as I’ve known you, you have been working on this book. What drove you to write Family Portraits?

I was drawn to the books of Samuel in graduate school and have continued to study them for many years. One of the things I noticed in my study was the theme of family and the prominence of four families within 1&2 Samuel (Samuel’s, Eli’s, Saul’s, and David’s). None of the studies or commentaries I have read bring out the significance of this particular theme.  Also, although many character studies have been done on David, Saul, and Samuel, few have been done on the other members of their family, and no book has sought to tackle them all as I do in Family Portraits.

I was also intrigued by the fact that character studies, if done correctly, can assist the student of 1&2 Samuel in understanding its characters in a way that a commentary approach can’t. The sustained reflection on a certain character, noting all the places where they appear in the text, often reveals insights that can be overlooked in a commentary. This approach actually modified my understanding of certain characters like Abner and Joab.

3. This is a book of character studies in 1&2 Samuel, yet surprisingly you have omitted sections on Samuel, Saul, and David. What can we learn from investigating the supporting cast in this story?

As I mentioned in the last question, a number of studies have been done on these three major characters, but very little has been done on other members of the “supporting cast”. In the Preface to Family Portraits, I compare character studies with an artist who paints a portrait. Although the artist may seek to focus attention on a certain person or object within the painting in order to convey his or her message, the person or object is enhanced by everything else in the painting, which might include various colors, shapes, objects, or people. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, is an example of this. While Christ is the focal point of the painting, the expressions and actions of the 12 disciples surrounding him add depth and detail to the portrait and meaning of the painting.

One of the techniques that the author(s) of 1&2 Samuel uses is contrasting various characters with other characters. For example, Hannah is contrasted with Peninnah as well as Eli. Samuel is contrasted with Eli and his sons. Jonathan is contrasted with Saul, and David is contrasted with Saul and Absalom. These are only a few examples of the many comparisons and contrasts made between characters in 1&2 Samuel. By studying the lesser known characters and their interaction with God and the major characters, we are able to discern some of the important messages that the author(s) was seeking to convey to his readers.

4. Family Portraits is unique because it incorporates both academic and devotional material in one place. Who did you have in mind when writing this book?

First let me say that I believe it is extremely important to combine an academic and devotional approach (by which I mean making practical application to our daily lives). I am glad to see that this approach is beginning to catch on in evangelical circles. Far too often books are either academic in nature with no application, or devotional with no solid scholarly foundation. The academic approach runs the risk of being irrelevant and a pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, while at the same time making the Bible appear irrelevant to a modern reader. The devotional/applicational approach can run the risk of a passage meaning whatever a particular author wants or thinks it means, if not backed up with solid research and exegesis.

To answer your question more directly, Family Portraits is written for the pastor, teacher, Bible College or seminary student, and Christian who is interested in a more in-depth treatment of 1&2 Samuel. While some pastors and Bible college students may be familiar with Hebrew and some of the more technical aspects of Bible study, I have tried to be aware of those who don’t have this expertise.  I seek to explain unfamiliar terms and methods and refer to the Hebrew only when it illuminates an important point in the text. Admittedly this can, at times, be a delicate balancing act. Part of my desire is to introduce ideas and methods that the average layperson is unfamiliar with, in hopes that they will be challenged to go to the next level in their own study of the Bible.

5. What do you hope your readers will take away from Family Portraits?

First, and foremost, I hope that Family Portraits helps people to develop a closer relationship with, and greater understanding of, the God of the Bible. Character studies are an excellent vehicle for helping us to see ourselves and how the Word of God applies to our lives. In the characters of 1&2 Samuel we find traits that we admire and abhor, and hopefully learning (or being reminded of) these truths causes us to examine our own lives and seek God’s help in becoming the people He desires us to be.

Second, there are a lot of great books that deal with various aspects of 1&2 Samuel that the average Christian layperson will never to exposed to. In fact, the average layperson may never even know that these resources exist! Some of these Bible study methods and scholars provide wonderful insights into God’s Word. I hope that Family Portraits, in some small way, introduces them to these resources and scholars and encourages them to pursue a deeper study of the Scripture.

Finally, I am hopeful that Family Portraits helps to provide a model for studying Scripture with an academic rigor, but at the same time, with a pastoral heart. As I mentioned in the previous question, and also emphasize in my Preface and Introduction, I believe it is imperative that academic research and devotional application go together. Having said this, I admit my own inadequacy in combining these approaches and don’t pretend to have achieved complete success. I certainly need to continue to grow in both of these areas. Yet it is my hope that Family Portraits is at least an attempt that demonstrates the fruitfulness of this kind of approach.

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press, and various internet outlets.