POLITICS AND PROPHETS
First thing's first, an explanation of a second - and then a second second. But not the third second.
In the Historical section of the Bible, there are three two-part books, starting with 1 Samuel, which brought us Samuel, Saul and David. After King Saul admits defeat, the book ends with David ascending to the throne.
2 Samuel is not the further adventures of Samuel, a la Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, ad nauseum. 2 Samuel is simply the continuation of 1 Samuel, originally written as a single Hebrew scroll which translators decided was just too big to carry around. 'It's a great story - let's make it a part-work.'
The same applied to Kings and Chronicles. This post covers the rest of Samuel and all of Kings, because it ends at an appropriately dramatic point in the story of the Chosen People. 1 and 2 Chronicles serve a different purpose, which we'll cover next time.
2 SAMUEL One common reading of the David story is that he was an ideal king - certainly the best available at the time (and as you'll see, it all gets much, much worse) - but he was not the ideal king. Perhaps a benchmark.
He makes a good start, becoming the King of Judah in the south, with the minor inconvenience that Saul's son Ishbosheth becomes King of Israel in the north. Heard of him? Probably not, because the northerner soon loses his credibility with the army, and is assassinated. That happens a lot in these three books.
David then makes a smart move by defeating the Philistines (for old time's sake), recapturing Jerusalem, and returning the Ark of the Covenant. Why? For two reasons: because the city is on the border of the two territories, and King David intends to build a temple there. After all, God's presence has been housed in a tent until now.
Jerusalem will become the political and the religious capital.
Not that everyone agrees with David's intent (excuse the pun). Like any leader, he has advisors, which in this case is prophet Nathan. He tells David not to build a "house" (temple) for God, because God is going to build a "house" (aka 'dynasty') for David.
There's the choice - glory now or glory tomorrow? Or the day after tomorrow? Or the day after that?
If David can park his ego for a moment, then the obvious question is "Which of my offspring is going to be the chosen route?" That's not a simple question, when you have four sons from four different mothers.
Might it be drunkard Amnon (of mother Ahinoam) who has raped his half-sister Tamar?
Or Absalom (of mother Maacah) who killed Amnon in revenge of his full sister, then rebelled against his father?
Perhaps it should be Adonijah (of mother Haggith) who makes an attempt to grab the throne but is executed by his other half-brother, Solomon.
Familial rivalry sound familiar?
King David prefers Solomon, but even the best boy doesn't have a great pedigree. Solomon is offspring from Bathsheba, she of 'bathing on the rooftop' infamy. The bit of the story that Leonard Cohen missed is that she was already married to an army general serving David who, learning of her pregnancy, has the obedient soldier despatched - in both military and mortal senses.
Having started with so much promise, it's no surprise that David basks in his adulterous guilt, and confesses all to Nathan, who forgives him (on behalf of God),but does not / cannot erase the outcomes. As the outlook for the fallen king starts to diminish, he goes back to his lyre and starts writing and singing about his beliefs. The Book of Psalms features his greatest hits.
2 Samuel closes on a down beat; he might have started with all the promise of not being Saul, but by the end is investing in his army, and buys the land where the Temple will be built. After all, a leader wants to be remembered - like a US President building a library.
And still the nation of Israel-Judah waits for the King who will be the real deal.
The book(s) of Kings present(s) a chronology from Solomon until the end of monarchy in both Israel and Judah. It's 1 Kings Chapter 3 that contains the best known - and most positive - story of kingly wisdom.
Two women prostitutes share a house, and both have given birth within days of each other. "We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us..." (The specificity of the circumstances begins to sound like an Edward de Bono* lateral thinking puzzle.)
Woman A says that her housemate had smothered her own child, and had swapped the babies during the night. Woman B puts the counter-case. Solomon is to decide the outcome. I'll leave you to solve the problem if you don't know the story. In de Bono style, here's a clue: Justice starts with a sword. (Find the answer here...)
When he's not shining wisdom into the confused lives of his people, Solomon's higher purpose is to deliver his father's promise of a Temple. There follows a very detailed plan (echoing the Tabernacle instructions in the Torah), this time associated with Hiram of Tyre. If you have the urge to look him up in Wikipedia, let me alert you to the multiple Hiram mentions across the Historical books, leading to a hypotheses that there were two King Hirams and two artisan Hirams.
What matters most as a current reference is that (one) Hiram is regarded as the principle architect and Master of Works for the Temple - and the inspiration behind Freemasonary.
Then Solomon's good intent starts to go further astray. He marries the daughters of other kings, and presumably as a goodwill gesture, starts adopting their different gods and importing them. Imagine Queen Elizabeth II installing a Buddha and a Shiva into Canterbury Cathedral.
Once you're on a slippery slope, it's hard to stop. Solomon starts expanding his army, uses slave labour on the Temple build, and accumulates obscene amounts of wealth. On the other hand, if he hadn't done the third, how would pre-woke Great White Hunters spend their time? The Great Orange ones too:
After the David'n'Solomon show, the kingdom splits back into two, the result of the rash decisions of King Rehoboam in the south. The north rebelled and chose Jeroboam as their king. While the reasoning of champagne makers in their choice of biblical king names is lost, there does seem to be a relationship between the extreme quantities of alcohol in very large bottles and the behaviour of subsequent monarchs on both sides of the North-South border.
Enter prophet Elijah in the North (where the prophets have the most work to do). Particularly hard work are Ahab and his wife Jezabel, who pressed the cult of Baal on the Israelite kingdom but were finally killed in accordance with Elijah's prophecy. Job done.
Book 2 Kings continues with kings and prophets coming and going, and a patient and long-suffering God only reluctantly bringing punishment to his people who continually let him down. In the Torah, the five books are filled with rules on how God is to be worshipped - the when, the where, and the how.
Instead, the Israel kings continue to lead in the style of Jeroboam, creating new places of worship away from Jerusalem. Sectional splits for a range of reasons, like the Protestant breakaway from the Catholics, and every variation thereafter.
After Solomon there are twenty monarchs in the north, some for a few years, some for a matter of months. A spiral of political assassination and rebellion gains momentum to the point where tribes battle against tribes, then within tribes. That makes for an easy target, as the Assyrians show when they capture Samaria (the capital alternative to Jerusalem) and send the Israelites into exile. Here they go again.
Meanwhile, things are no better in the south. Of its 19 kings (and one queen; that's progress), King Hezekiah and King Josiah attempt Torah-friendly reforms. But as any politician ought to know, if the people won't follow you, you are not a leader - no matter how 'right' you think you are.
Eventually Judah is invaded by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon. Don't forget that for every loser (Judah), there's a winner, which is usually reflected in popular culture. Here is the monarch who built one of the Seven Great Wonders of the World:
Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Jews
Bought his wife a pair of shoes;
When the shoes began to wear
Nebuchadnezzar began to swear
When the swearing had to stop
Nebuchadnezzar bought a shop
When the shop began to sell
Nebuchadnezzar bought a bell
When the bell began to ring
Nebuchadnezzar began to sing:
while for David Gray, 'Babylon' is the epitome of loss and sorrow...
End of Kings (and kings) - but history isn't any kinder to the Chosen People over the next twenty-six books.
- ends -
P.S. * While editing this post, I looked for a link to Edward de Bono and his thinking, for those who might not know of him. Instead, I found his obituary, posted 35 mins ago. Timing is everything.
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